News Column

Comedian Mike E. Winfield finds success by not stopping

July 28, 2013

YellowBrix

July 28--Fair Oaks-based comic Mike E. Winfield has performed on "Late Show With David Letterman"; had a small, recurring role on "The Office"; hosts his own show "Off Beat" on the Fuse Network; and plays comedy clubs around the country.

He headlines at 10:15 p.m. Friday at Punchline Sacramento and will be part of Wild 94.9 Comedy Jam 2013, Aug. 17 at the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View.

The Baltimore native lives with his wife, Keisha, and their "several" children.

How do you sustain a national career from Fair Oaks?

I sustain it by just being a dude you can work with. ... Once you're at the top, it's "OK, we have to use the guy; he's selling all the tickets. We have to use him no matter what." But during the process of when you're just coming up, they have a choice, and I'm not pissing anybody off. That alone opens up so many doors. I stay busy, I work. I've got people who book shows for me, I've got management, agents. It's interesting to do this and not live in L.A., even though that's on the short-term goals list. I'm really making some things happen right now.

What kind of comedian are you?

I've been really questioning that because I don't know. I almost want to let the people who watch me describe it because what I do know is I'm talking about things that happen specifically in my life -- everyday-life situations. I do a lot of relationship stuff -- that's a big deal in my life. I'm redefining the "new husband." I think that's what's coming out. I think that's one of the roads I'm going down once I start really coming into my own.

You're a work in progress?

Yeah. That's what happens in comedy. You do a bunch of stuff and eventually you find your own style and your own everything, something where only you do it -- if you're doing it right. It becomes personal and the sooner you get to just being yourself and who you are, the sooner you can really excel in it, instead of being a karaoke comedian who's just doing a little bit of what everyone else does. Right now I think I'm close to who I'm going to be.

How do you create material?

This is my job. Every day I just sit down and write, and when I'm not writing, I'm living life, and that's kind of writing material for me anyway. A lot of it is traveling, and the rest of it just being in a marriage. That alone is so much substance, it doesn't stop. Comedy is the easy part for me in my life. It's the life part of it that's the toughest to deal with. We have children and lot of my jokes are about the fact that we have an age difference. My wife's older and one of my children -- I like to say we're close in age -- I call him "stepman" -- that's a whole section in itself. Being part of raising an old kid while being just a young man myself.

When did you first become aware of stand-up comedy?

The first stand-up I saw was at my cousin's house -- he brought in "Eddie Murphy Raw" -- a VHS tape in his basement. We didn't get everything, but we just heard a big group of people laughing. And we saw Eddie making 'em laugh, saying bad words. It was outrageous and that just showed me, "Wow: There's another career out there." There's different stuff you can do. It's not just going out and being a teacher or doctor.

What else for you? Do you want to leverage this into television and film the way other comedians have done?

I audition quite often, and I landed a role on "The Office." That made it a reality. Now I know I can get on a TV show. Then I got my own TV show, which was a music-comedy clip show called "Off Beat," and I'm doing all this from Sacramento! I'm writing my own show, so yes. Now my whole goal is to sell these shows and sell myself as a part of it. I feel as if I have the demeanor; even my look is made for television, so why not? It feels inevitable, it's just a matter of time. I'm putting in the work, learning and growing.

How do you develop material?

That's one thing that I really get from the professionals. A Louis C.K., a Chris Rock, a (George) Carlin. They were working on so much material at once. So what I'm doing is I'm writing, and every night I'm performing. ... So I'm adding lines, adding sections and I'm just going because at this point I can't fail. The only time I don't have a good show is when I don't try something new, because that means I was too much of a chump to take the risk. I'm just a machine at this point, and I just kind of go.

After that "Eddie Murphy Raw" moment, when did you decide "This is what I'll do?"

I was in a speech class (at American River College), and I would go in front of the room and just read my speeches, and they were laughing, and I was thinking, "Why are they laughing?" This is not designed to be funny at all. I have to get a good grade. I had a teacher that suggested it to me: "Have you ever even tried stand-up?" Whether he was serious or not, to this day I don't know. So I went out and I tried it. It didn't go well, but I felt like, "I can do this." I went back the next time two years later, and I did it again more prepared. Then kept going so I was doing it once a week, then twice a week. It's addictive. And I started getting booked for other stuff. Not stopping is a weird way of continuing. Talent matters, but not quitting is a big factor too.

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