“Dying is easy … comedy is hard.” Actors have been reminded of that adage for several generations, and Clint Black is learning about the latter concept as he prepares for his television debut as a stand-up comic on Secret Talents of the Stars.
Premiering Tuesday night (April 8) on CBS, the series has at least two other country music connections. Jo Dee Messina will be competing as a dancer, and actor George Takei, best known for his role as Sulu on Star Trek, will test his skills as a country singer. Other contestants include actor Danny Bonaduce, Playboy model Bridget Marquardt, singer Mya, TV personality Ben Stein and boxers Joe Frazier and Roy Jones Jr.
Following a test run last week at Zanies comedy club in Nashville, Black talked to CMT Insider about what he’s doing to prepare for the TV series, including calls to comic actors Gary Shandling, Eric Idle and Kevin Nealon.
What made you decide to do this?
Clint Black: My first thought was, “I don’t have any secret talents, and I’ve exploited them all already for everything they’re worth.” And the only thing I could think of … was that I can always tell when a picture frame on the wall is crooked. I’m very good at that.
My manager, who laughs at me a lot, was the one who decided that I had to do stand-up. I remember that feeling in my chest that someone’s standing on it. … I slowly warmed up to the idea. And from that point on, once I agreed to it, it was that I would go through — what do they call them — night terrors? [laughs] I would go through moments of anxiety during the day whenever I’d picture the scene.
Did you write all the material yourself?
It’s all original. I figured that it wouldn’t be authentic stand-up comedy if I didn’t write it myself. And I do have a comedy whisperer, Wayne Federman, who’s helping to make sure I know when something isn’t funny already before I try it out and the audience doesn’t laugh. He’s really good at driving me toward perfecting a joke. Being more clear with it, more concise, and sending me back to the drawing board. But I did want it to be all original.
Did you call any of your friends?
I’ve called them all. Gary Shandling, I think, is going to come do something with me … and Eric’s got Rutlemania opening and a touring company. I don’t know if he is going to be in town, but hopefully it will work out at some point. And Nealon’s in New Zealand, so it’s been really tough, but fortunately I have Wayne. Wayne’s a great stand-up comic. And if I get voted through to the semi-finals, then I think I’ll stand a better chance of getting a little more help from those guys. Just having them come over and goof around with me on camera will be funny stuff to have in the package that the play before I go on and perform.
What did it feel like to be on the stage tonight?
Well, the club wasn’t packed tonight. It was the second time I had gone on stage here at Zanies. The first time, it was packed, and it felt really great. Really great house. Tonight, it was a little thin, and it felt like a little bit more pressure. Maybe my expectations were different now. … But I don’t think probably I will go on stage anywhere and do this and just feel great. I just don’t. I don’t expect it.
As a comedian, what do you do if things aren’t going well?
Potty humor. That’s it. You’ve got to go to the potty humor. [laughs]. You know, I think the saving grace I have is that I love the audience. I love them already, and I feel really comfortable just standing up there looking out at an audience. I have a good feeling with the spontaneity with an audience, but I have to have some things reserved to use as setups to play around with the audience. And if it’s going badly — and it went badly in a few spots tonight — it’s the same thing as it is in music. You pretend it’s going well. And never let them see the sweat running down.
How difficult was it to come up with the material?
Very difficult. I can think of something, and it’s funny to me, and I’ll tell it to Wayne or another friend over the phone. And you hear the silence on the other end, look around for the crickets, and you go, “I’ll call you back.” You go back to work on it. I’ve been working on it pretty hard for two or three weeks now. I had about 30 minutes worth of material that was about 90 percent no good, and so I had to work really hard to make that 10 percent feel more like 20 or 30 percent. That’s the thing: identifying the “A” material and then expanding on that and getting rid of the bulk of what was written. It’s not working.
You’re going to have to come up with more material if you keep winning, right?
Yeah. Thanks for bringing that up. I’m going to have to have two minutes in the first show. If I make it through, I’ll have to have two new completely new minutes. And the thought has occurred to me that it’s not going to be easy.
Terry Bumgarner is a producer for CMT Insider.