By Tyson Paul
History has a very weird way of working out for you. Monroe Martin III has been featured on award-winning TV shows and late-night talk shows. Those accomplishments alone set him apart from most comedians, but when his name is bought up in the history books of comedy, he may be best known for being the last of a dying breed in comedy. Monroe was the last stand-up comedian to perform at the legendary Comedy Cellar before the immediate shutdown of the venue due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the pandemic began almost six months ago, major comedy clubs all over the world have been forced to keep their doors closed. Some club closures have gone from temporary to permanent because of the lack of business. Many comedians went from seeing a nice-sized income performing live on the road nightly to earning nothing at all and nowhere to showcase their skills. Virtual comedy has managed to be a steady opportunity for comedians, but still very uncertain if this can be a lasting solution. No comedy clubs, no way to make a living, and virtual comedy seeing no end in sight, one has to ask…has comedy ended as the way we know it?
Even with the state of comedy currently being unknown, Martin still was able to find time to talk about the business with WOTL’s Tyson Paul. The New York comedian shares his thoughts on the last night at the comedy cellar, being a comic with nowhere to perform, and how he’s still managed to keep the laughs coming during the pandemic. History always speaks for itself and Monroe wants comedy fans to know that he has no problem speaking loud and clear.
I guess the first question for everyone these days is, how are you doing?
I’m doing well. I get to spend more time with my wife and be at home and play video games and podcasts without the guilt of feeling lazy.
When did your comedy fandom begin?
I started watching stand-up comedy in 10th grade. Some of the foster homes I lived in had basic cable in the bedroom, and I would stay up late and watch Comic View and random specials on Comedy Central.
How did you get started in comedy?
I started doing open mics at the Laff House.
Where are some of your favorite places to perform?
I like any comedy venue that treats the comedians like they matter, and does an excellent job making sure the audience is ready for a comedy show. Not just rushing to take their money.
How did you develop your style of stand-up? Who were your influences growing up; both from the world of comedy and elsewhere?
I don’t feel like I have a specific style. I focus on trying to get my points across and ideas out. Sometimes I might do that with a story or a setup punch type of joke, a one-liner, or sometimes I’ll talk and hope it’s funny. I get bored very quickly, and I sometimes project that onto the audience, so I try to switch it up.
Who are some of your favorite up-and-comers in the comedy world?
I have a lot, but I’ll name two. Alex Babbit and Petey D. They are fun to watch because you can see that they genuinely love this shit.
When did you feel like you were a professional comedian?
When I moved to New York, I told myself that I was a professional despite what anyone thought. When you sacrifice comfort for your craft and dream, you’re a damn pro.
Before the pandemic, how often do you perform comedy per week?
4-7 times a week.
You’ve been featured on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Comedy Central, and Last Comic Standing. If you had to choose your favorite television moment, what would it be?
I loved all those moments equally because you get treated like royalty for the time you’re there. Being on TV is great; depending on the show, you get free food, car service, and free clothes; if the wardrobe lady is cool. My favorite was Adam Devine’s House Party for Comedy Central. It was a low-stakes situation. They put my manager and me up in a fly hotel, and we just partied and drank for two days straight in New Orleans. Plus I developed relationships with dope comedians.
You were the last person to perform at the comedy cellar before the pandemic shut down everything. Are you going to make sure someone writes that down as a historic achievement on your Wikipedia page?
I didn’t know I could do that. Now I have to find a Wikipedia hook-up.
Could you describe how that night was at the Comedy Cellar when they announced the shutdown?
Well, I was running late. I got to the venue 10 minutes before I had to go on. So, I didn’t get the chance to talk to many comics; most of them had already gone home. I want to say the show was weird, but it wasn’t; it just felt like a lightly attended late show on the weekday. I felt like the audience didn’t care; they just wanted to laugh. Remember, at this moment, people, including myself, thought this COVID shit was being blown out of proportion. Boy, was I wrong?
Was that the weirdest night you’ve ever experienced at a comedy club?
I legally can’t answer that question. (Laughs)
How long did you initially think this pandemic was going to last?
Two weeks tops!
What type of comics has this pandemic hurt the most? Open mic newcomers, promising up-and-coming features, or established headliners looking to keep their skills sharp?
It hurt the comic that wasn’t really into doing stand-up comedy in the first place. The one that was only doing it to get into acting or something like that. If you truly love the art of stand up, you’ll find a way to be funny. Hence Zoom, IG Live show, and other streaming events.
I recently saw YouTube interviews from Russell Peters and D.L. Hugley with both comedians saying that they have lost between 70-80% of their annual revenue during this pandemic. Now you’re not a huge movie star or a famous headliner selling out arenas all by yourself, but you do have notable TV credits and a well-known enough name to make a decent living before the pandemic. Can you tell readers how the sudden pandemic revenue loss has affected you mentally?
Mentally? It hasn’t. I’ve been broke longer than I haven’t; I know how to stretch a cookie. Plus, I have a foundation at home. My wife is dope, and I have a nice apartment in NY, which is a first for me.
Are you working right now?
Yeah, I’m doing shows here and there, podcasting, doing weekly Facebook talking head show for BuzzFeed. I’m staying off the road until 2021.
Do you think comedians are at the point now where they’re willing to risk their health for finance by performing live shows again?
Yeah, of course, but I’m not one of them. The money will come from elsewhere.
How has quarantine married life been treating you?
It’s going great. We just ate wing stop and watched Netflix the whole time. I thought we would be at each other necks, but I was wrong.
What are some new things you and your wife learned about each other during quarantine?
She learned that I pick the calluses on my hands when my mind wanders, and I learned that’s how I get her to leave the room.
At what point during quarantine did you almost lose your sanity?
I was close to losing it when they extended it for the second time. That let me know the government had no idea what the hell was going on with the virus, and they are just improving.
What have you learned about your creative process during quarantine?
(Laughs) Nothing changed for me. I work from home anyway. It’s not like I go to a coffee shop and write.
Have you been able to be a part of any of the various different forms of comedy shows (Viral, Outdoor, or Drive-In) that comedians all over the country have been doing?
I’ve done all of them, but I prefer outdoor shows. It’s like being a part of a low-budget comedy festival. The drive-in shows aren’t too bad. It’s more of a novelty. You do them to say you did them.
Do you think that these different forms of pandemic comedy shows are good for comedy?
Yup, I don’t know how it can hurt comedy. If anything, it shows that we are resilient.
How will you find ways to survive if comedy clubs are shut down until summer 2021?
Podcasting, writing jobs, sell a show idea, be part of a digital series. There are so many options out there; failing is a choice.
If the pandemic happened while you were in school growing up would you be a social distance learning student or an in-school learning student?
I was not a good student, so I would pick the one that allowed me to sleep the most.
Do you feel that comedy clubs should be able to reopen with guests mandated to wear face masks and social distancing?
Give us descriptions on your podcast No Need for Apologies?
It’s like listening to your two favorite cousins talk shit about things they barely know.
What are some of your favorite topics that you’ve talked about on NNFA?
Race, music, women, and comedy.
What were your thoughts on Kanye West’s small presidential campaign?
It was funny.
Do you still support Kanye musically still after this presidential run?
Yeah, I will always support him musically as long as he continues to make good music. Kanye isn’t someone I look up to or look to for guidance. So I don’t take his antics to heart. I have no expectations for him beyond music.
You’ve admitted on Comedy Central that you’ve never seen the movie A Color Purple. What are some other things that you’ve never done that shock people close to you?
The first time I heard Snoop’s “Doggy Style” was at the age of 28. I thought Scarface was a lousy movie.
You’ve grown a lot in comedy and life throughout the years. What advice would you give your younger self if you could do it all again?
I feel like early on in my career; I was afraid to make mistakes. I would end up not doing something because I was scared that I was going to mess up. So, I would tell myself, “fuck it do it anyway.”
If you could choose 1 comedy club and 3 comedians to perform with on your perfect show, how would it go?
Let’s make it a small theater. I like comedy clubs, but I’d rather be in a 500 seat theater with my squad Derek Gaines, Chloe Hilliard, Dave Temple. I know you said three, but I’m going to throw Reggie Conquest, Menuhin Hart, and Aminah Imani on too. I felt like you wanted me to say some famous big comic I admired. That would be cool, but the best shows I’ve been a part of have been with my friends. The backstage hang is great, and that energy comes out on stage.
Is there anything coming up for you that you wish to promote?
Yeah. Watch Mindy Kaling’s Late Night On Amazon Prime and the pilot episode of Master of None on Netflix so that I can get a bigger residual check. Listen to my podcast NNFA.