Erick Biez is responsible for bringing established and new comedians from the Valley and across the country to local stages, as the 31-year-old Phoenix resident and stand-up comedian hosts comedy nights at various bars and comedy clubs throughout town. Catch him hosting Monday Night Comedy at The Turf in Phoenix every Monday from 10-11:30 p.m., a show that features both local and national comedians. He also runs Copper Comedy at Copper Blues in Tempe and the New Faces of Comedy shows at Stand Up Live and Tempe Improv. Beginning Thursday, September 3, he starts up a new comedy show at Valley Bar in Phoenix, with co-producer Anwar Newton.
When he’s not facilitating laughs on stage, Biez serves hungry diners at Mother Bunch Brewing in Phoenix. He shares his tips for beginning and veteran comedians below, and you can hear him name his five favorite reasons for loving living in the Valley in a video.
What brought you to Arizona?
I was born outside of Cleveland, Ohio, and moved to Flagstaff in 2002 to study writing for TV and film at Northern Arizona University. After college, I moved to Chicago for a year, then moved back to Flagstaff, and then moved to Phoenix in 2010.
What’s your earliest memory of being interested in comedy?
When I was a kid, my dad, sister and I would watch every comedy special, from George Carlin to Dana Carvey. I was really big into Comedy Central from high school on, but I never thought I’d do it. I always wanted to be in bands in high school and college.
One night, I was having a house party in Flagstaff, and had been outside telling stories about being in Ohio or about being in a band, random stories. My buddy said, “Dude, you’re really funny, how come you’ve never done stand-up?” It had never crossed my mind.
In one of my college classes, we had to write a webisode. Each person in the group had to write one episode, and the group had to pick which episode they wanted to read in front of the class. My group picked mine because they thought it was good, and as it was being read, I noticed there were a bunch of people in the class laughing — some of them crying laughing. That’s when I thought my friend was right, that I could totally try comedy.
How did you get into performing?
When I moved to Phoenix, I immediately looked for open mics and signed up for a show, performed two months later and have been performing ever since. My first open mic was at The Comedy Spot in Scottsdale. When I moved down here and typed in “open mic comedy in Phoenix,” that was the first thing to pop up.
The show I performed at is called a “bringers’ show,” where you’re required to bring three people to perform. I had two months to prepare for it and only invited three friends, because I thought, “If I do terrible, I only want to do terrible in front of three people I know.” I went and actually did really good, getting compliments from my friends and other guests and staff members who were there, who asked me, “How long have you been doing this?” They couldn’t believe it was my first night and told me I looked so natural and relaxed on stage. I had been in bands since I was 16, so I never had a problem being on stage.
Why are you passionate about comedy?
Compared to being in a band, with comedy, you’re not reliant on having to have four to five people show up. You don’t have to work your schedule around their schedule.
I love hosting shows. It’s like when I hosted house parties in college — when I host shows, I feel like it’s my responsibility to make sure everyone’s having a good time. I’ve always been a sociable person, and I’m having a good time when I know everyone else is having a good time, as well.
I love writing a joke, making people wonder where I’m going to go with it, and taking a 180 and going down a completely different path. I love clever word play, where people not only laugh at it, but they think, “That’s clever. I like the way he thought of that.”
How would you describe your stand-up comedy?
When I host, I improvise a lot and riff on the crowd. With my stand-up, I really like storytelling and monologue jokes, like the Weekend Update-style jokes from SNL. You just take headline articles, don’t even read the story, make up your own story to it, and write a joke based on that.
I have some good stories to tell, too. Growing up, my dad was a cop and a canine police officer at one point. I talk about how the dog had a job, but I was looked down upon because I was a teenager with no job.
And then, I’ll do random, made-up stuff, where I take a story that has a little bit of truth to it, and then spin it to where it’s unbelievable.
What’s your writing process like?
Anything that’s a funny occurrence, you need to immediately put it down on paper because you will forget it. The whole time I was in L.A. recently, my friend and I were riffing in the car, and by the time we got to our friend’s house, we had forgotten all the funny stuff we had talked about.
I have a note I wrote yesterday, where I was working at Mother Bunch, and I walked by a table that had a baby crying at it. When I walked by and looked at it, it immediately stopped crying. I realized that happens to me all the time, where I’ll walk by a crying baby and look at it, and it will immediately stop crying. They don’t look at me like, “Oh, hey,” they look at me like, “What are you staring at?” I have a confusing face to babies, so I wrote a whole set about wondering why kids find me so freakish-looking.
What tips do you have for remembering material on stage?
I’ll write down notes in my phone, and before I go on stage, I’ll look at them to see what I have. Sometimes I’ll record a set and listen to it later, too.
What advice do you have for people just starting out?
I see people starting out all the time. There are the bringer shows, and then there are shows like the Monday night ones I run at The Turf, which are a judgement-free zone where you don’t have to bring any of your friends.
The advice I give is that you’re not going to jump on the big shows right away, so focus on doing the weekday shows. If you have a family, you have to have a very understanding significant other to do this job, because you’re out late on weekdays when you’re supposed to be working the next morning. You’re going to go to work tired or hungover sometimes.
It is a good profession for someone to start in young, but if you start late, you’ll still be OK. I didn’t start doing this until I was 27, and I was talking to comics who started when they were 18. It’s still working out, though, and I’m still doing well at it.
It will become addicting and be something you want to do something all the time. It will be mind-numbingly painful when you watch new people make the same mistakes you did.
My biggest thing for new comics, 100 percent, if I can’t stress this 100 times over, is be on time. Punctuality is so important to show runners. Be a half-hour early if you can to whatever gig you’re doing. Not only will you be prepared for the show, and you can text your friends and check out the crowd, but the person running the show notices you’re on time and appreciates that. You’ll be able to help set up if needed, and it’s easier for the show runner to make a line-up — plus, you’ll probably get a better spot in the line-up, too.
When you first start, don’t try to be edgy. You don’t need to be, and when you start writing more, you’ll get good at it. A lot of new comics want to go up and shock everybody, but it’s not good to go up to a bunch of people who don’t know you and offend them. You’re starting this in a room full of strangers. Imagine if you just walked into a party and just yelled a c-word or n-word to a bunch of people who didn’t know your name. Do you think you’re going to get a reputation as a funny guy? No.
What advice do you have for getting over writer’s block?
I don’t think writer’s block is a thing — I call it writer’s panic, where you’re doing your jokes, and nothing really big of significance has happened to you lately. Instead of forcing yourself to write a joke, just wait until something of significance happens to you.
If you want to do writing exercises, do the Weekend Update stuff. Grab a newspaper, or go to Google News, and go through the headlines and write jokes just based on what the headline says. One of the first jokes I wrote was based on a headline I saw that said, “Couple in New Jersey Suing Subway Sandwiches, Claiming Their Footlong Subs Aren’t Actually 12 Inches.” I took that headline and turned it into, “But in Subway’s defense, they weren’t measuring from the base.” Then I was like, “All dudes that laughed at that joke measure from the base,” and then all the girls start laughing.
When you do those headline jokes, a lot of them you can use them for awhile. There was another headline where a man paid his daughter $200 to quit Facebook because she wasted too much time on it. My joke was, “He wanted to teach her a lesson about time management, but he also wanted to teach his son the bigger lesson that women will do anything for money.”
That reminds me that the crowd has to understand that what the person on stage is saying is all jokes. Some of them may be kind of honest, but they’re all doing it for a joke. Everyone off stage is usually a nice guy and will hang out afterwards and doesn’t really think those things.
How would you characterize the Valley’s comedy scene?
I’ve been doing comedy in the Valley for a long time, and we’ve had comics who have left here and done awesome things. Thai Rivera and Pablo Francisco are only just a couple from here. We have so many open mic opportunities, and people can even create their own shows here.
I don’t really have any qualms, but I’d like to see more organization with comics, for them to be on time.
What are your goals?
I thought about going to L.A. in the next year, but I just went out there, and I changed my mind. It was a weird thing to be around, the delusion of some people out there who have the dream but don’t have the talent.
I don’t know if I want to do stand-up professionally or if I want to do something like series writing.
Who’s your favorite stand-up comic?
My number one comedian right now is Doug Stanhope. My second favorite is Dave Attell. Third was Patton Oswalt until I saw Bert Kreischer. The movie Van Wilder was based on his life. He did a single-man show at Stand Up Live and had me crying laughing. I had never seen anything like what he was doing before. He told all these old stories, and after, he went out and hung out with everybody at a restaurant. He was the nicest guy, and I was like, “That’s the kind of comic I want to be — someone people like on stage, but when they’re out, they can hang out with people and be their buddy at the end of the night.”
What is the key to being successful on stage?
Just relax. Find the one person in the crowd you know really well, who you would tell the story to outside the bar off-stage, look at them, and tell the story to them. Every now and then, look around the room and acknowledge there’s a bunch of other people in the room, and then look back at your friend and tell the story.
Learn about other Valley stand-up comedians: