Comedian Lavell Crawford is a distinctive figure in the world of stand-up comedy. A very large figure, to be sure — but Crawford argues that his size gives him certain advantages when it comes to relating to his audience.
“I think being a big guy, I give them a comfort zone,” Crawford said in an interview with Toledo Free Press Star.
“They see you being a big guy, and you’re happy with yourself. Because everyone has insecurities. I don’t care if I’m the best-looking guy to the most beautiful woman in the world — [there’s] something she don’t like about herself. So when I’m up there, it seems like I take away their fears, I take away my fears, you know? Because I got a high esteem of myself. I don’t care what America thinks about me, I think I’m beautiful.”
The self-confident Crawford will bring his big frame and even bigger heart and sense of humor to the Funny Bone at Fat Fish Blue in Perrysburg for a three-night stint beginning March 28.
“I love it,” Crawford said of stand-up. “It’s almost like it’s my therapy. Some person who’s not good at it, it could probably be a trial by fire, a living hell burning up in your butthole or something. For me, it’s like heaven, you know. I’m in control of my own destiny. Nobody can stop me.
“You just share with some people, and I feel like I’m healing people, because they’re laughing, released from their worries for a while. It’s a great feeling, man. Once I got good at it, I couldn’t see myself doing nothing else.”
It took some effort for the 44-year-old comic to break into the business that has become his passion. He knew he had a knack for making people laugh, cracking up his then-girlfriend with impressions of fellow parishioners at his church and sharing funny stories about his life. But she wasn’t exactly supportive of his hope to turn his abilities into a career.
“She told me not to try it. She thought I would do bad — she wanted to see me crash and burn, you know?” Crawford said. “I kept calling the Funny Bone in St. Louis, where I’m from. I called and called and called and called, and I finally got a call back. They put my name on the list, finally.
“When I went up, I just asked God — I said, ‘God, if I get one laugh, I’m making a career’.”
He got a lot more than one laugh that first night, and many more in the 23 years that have passed since. And as his delivery and material crystalized into what it is today, Crawford said he gained a greater grasp of his ability to control how an audience reacts to him.
“I’ve grown so much where, now, I can have faith; where now, it’s like a natural muscle now, you know. No matter what happens in the audience, I have complete control over my mind, and I have complete control over myself on the stage, and the audience. I don’t get afraid,” Crawford said.
Crawford has seen his star rise rapidly in recent years, with stints on BET and Comedy Central to his credit, but he cites his gig on NBC’s reality competition “Last Comic Standing” as being crucial to breaking through to a larger audience.
“‘Last Comic Standing’ was a wonderful, wonderful experience,” Crawford said. “What it did was, it opened the doors in the mainstream. Like, before, I was known in the urban market, but you know I went from the level of an excerpt in the mainstream comedy world to an exclamation point. What I did was get into the homes of families who might not have ever heard of me if it wasn’t for ‘Last Comic Standing.’ It was a lot of fun.”
And while his increasing visibility as a comic has opened doors for Crawford as an actor — with roles on “Breaking Bad,” “Workaholics” and an upcoming appearance on “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” on his résume — he said that his first love will always be the biggest part of who he is.
“I’m hoping to get into some big hit movies, and also doing a couple of movies that I’ve written, doing my own sitcom — but stand-up will always be the foundation.
Email Toledo Free Press Star Pop Culture Editor Jeff McGinnis at PopGoesJeff@gmail.com.