McGinnis: Ohio comic Gary Owen to play at Fat Fish Blue.Written by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Comedian Gary Owen tried to describe what being on stage is like for him: “It’s like, I’ve never done crack, but I think if I did, from what I hear from crackheads, it’s real similar to the first time you do crack,” Owen said in an interview with Toledo Free Press Star. “’Cause that makes you think you wanna do it again. And again, and again. And that’s how it is with stand-up, when you get that first laugh. You want to do it again and again. I’ve never done any drugs, but from what I hear from drug addicts, that’s what it’s like. You try to get that first high. It’s like my drug, basically. My drug of choice is laughter.”
Starting Jan. 26, Owen will get his “fix” near the Glass City, as he begins a four-night stint at The Funny Bone at Fat Fish Blue in Perrysburg. Though Owen was raised in Ohio, this is his first appearance in the area.
“I’ve probably never even stopped in Toledo, I’ve just drove through it,” Owen said. “It’s exciting. For one, you get to see how your fanbase is there, and then also, all your jokes are gonna seem so fresh, because you’ve never been in that market before.”
Owen grew up in Hamilton, a stone’s throw away from both the Indiana border and Cincinnati. His aspirations quickly outgrew his surroundings, as the young comic-to-be strived to escape his meager homestead.
“I grew up in a trailer park. And I didn’t know where I wanted to go, I didn’t know what I wanted to be. I didn’t wanna be stuck,” Owen said. “I knew if I didn’t get out of there, if I didn’t get as far away from there as possible, I’d probably be stuck there.”
The opportunity to strike out from the park came knocking one day — almost literally, as he was woken up by a friend who told him he was enlisting in the U.S. Navy. “And I went down and joined, like, the next day. And it was more just to get out. I didn’t really know what direction my life was going, I just didn’t want to be stuck in a rut. And that’s how I’m headed. And that’s really the only reason that I joined when I did join.”
Owen discovered his true calling while in the service, as he began developing his stand-up act. He even began to make headway in television before he had technically completed his service.
“I actually got on BET, and they called me and said, ‘Hey, you got the hosting job!’ And I said, ‘Yo, I’m still in the Navy!’ I had about nine months left of my duty time, but they let me out a little early just so I could do it.”
It’s very appropriate that Owen made such headway on BET in his early days, as his act has become well-known for its broad appeal and a huge African-American fanbase. His website bio even notes that he was named “Funniest Black Comedian in San Diego,” a surprising accolade given that Owen is, well, not black.
“What it is is, I’m married to a black woman. We have mixed kids. So that’s what I talk about in my act,” Owen said, explaining his appeal. “It’s weird, in my act I come across as a fish out of water. But it’s really not — I’m very comfortable in my own skin, I’m very comfortable in my life. But I do — there are things that I don’t know, and there’s new things that I notice. It’s not a racial thing, it’s more of a cultural thing.
“Where I’m at now is, I can be in front of a black audience, or an all-white
audience, or an over-50 audience, or a college crowd, and deliver the same jokes the same way and everyone will get them. And that’s just being seasoned onstage. It’s not so much that you’re trying to appease the audience, you want the audience to feel like, ‘Oh, I get this guy, I know what he’s talking about.’”
His mass appeal has led to a wide variety of opportunities in movies and on television, including roles in Tyler Perry’s “House of Payne” and the film “Think Like a Man,” which opens March 9. But Owen insisted that as much as he loves working onscreen, it all comes back to his “drug” — stand-up.
“It’s a natural progression. It feeds each other — one of them feeds the next. In the end, I’m always gonna be a stand up. That’s without question. All these movies and TV shows, [they’re] just to help me on the road, build my numbers up. Because that’s always gonna be my first love.”
Email Toledo Free Press Star Pop Culture Editor Jeff McGinnis at PopGoesJeff@gmail.com.