“America’s Got Talent” star and comedic sensation Drew Lynch is coming to Madison on April 14. I spoke with Drew over the phone as he made his way across the country on his latest tour. Are you wondering what the comedian has been up to lately, or want to learn more about his perspective on comedy and life in the public eye?
Lynch gives insight into how his stutter has affected his comedy, takeaways from his comedy, his views on his social media presence and advice on the pursuit of dreams. Here’s your one-stop shop for everything you need to know about Lynch before he graces the Orpheum’s stage next week.
Those who knew you from “America’s Got Talent” likely know of your stutter. What’s happened with the stutter since 2015, and how do you feel about the fact that it’s improved? How would you say it affects your comedy now?
As some may know from “America’s Got Talent,” I had a softball injury. It was a grounder to the throat, and then I fell and hit my head on the ground, and I had a concussion because of that. The concussion was something that I went to sleep on, and the next day I woke up and I had to be rushed to the hospital because my motor skills and speech were off. Almost 12 years ago that happened.
It’s been a long journey of not only trying to remedy it but just also living my life with it. There are some days where there are certain triggers or things you get stuck on. I’ve been to speech therapy, seen a neurologist, chiropractors and physical therapists and rehabilitation. I think ultimately it’s been something that I've learned to not make such a big deal about.
And, ironically, it’s become less and less of a thing because of my own lightening up. I always used to think that everything was an attack or people thought less of me because of [the stutter]. Fortunately, my career makes me able to be very self-deprecating by being aware of it.
To speak of how it affects me now, it shows up every now and then. But for the most part, I’m glad I don’t use it as a crutch. I don’t want it to be something I need to have to do comedy; I always want it to be about the things that I’m saying, not the way I’m saying them. I think it’s part of me; it’s a part of my past, but ultimately, it’s just another texture to who I am as a person.
You’ve said before that your comedy has come from a place of “making fun of yourself” as a healing and coping mechanism. The well-known source of this material is your stutter, but have there been any other parts of yourself and your life that have inspired your comedy?
Yeah! I end up making quite a bit of jokes about my height. I think the tentative title for it is “short king?” It’s still just kind of pulling from that same idea of “I want to make fun of myself!” It’s important to know where a joke is coming from, especially nowadays. If it’s something that is potentially perpetuating a wrong narrative, you can’t really go wrong with that when you’re making fun of yourself. I think that’s important.
If you’re gonna weigh in on certain things or topics that could otherwise be polarizing — I don’t think that I ever try to be polarizing — it’s a safe bet to make fun of yourself. But I do want to be fair in how I sometimes make fun of myself and sometimes make comments about something else. I think that comedians have to do not just our job of making jokes but communicating where those jokes are coming from and that they’re not from a place of malice. It’s a challenge for a lot of comics in today’s age, but I also think it’s necessary. You’re communicating, “This is who I am, and these are all just lighthearted and for comedy’s sake.”
How do you feel about your social media presence as a whole? What role has it played in your career?
This is a great question! I got my start on “America’s Got Talent.” I think that show did a great job of telling everybody who I am, like an introduction. But it really became up to me after the fact. It became my job to sustain what was going to happen afterwards. Social media is a tool, it’s a business tool that I think a lot of people are using more.
For me, after I did the show, it all just kinda stopped. Everything just kinda stopped. And now, it’s up to me to gain or build an audience. So that was when I directed a lot towards putting out videos on YouTube. I had a weekly vlog with my late dog Stella; she passed away last year. She and I were always using social media as an outlet to connect with people online. I’ve been very fortunate in that we’ve been able to use social media to connect with others and make yourself accessible to anyone that wants to find you.
How has being on “America’s Got Talent,” then building up your YouTube and internet presence shaped your personal life? Do you find that there’s a large difference between “Drew on stage” and “Drew in everyday life?”
I love that question. I think I’ve let go a lot. I’m a very private person. But lately I've let go of feeling like everyone is out to attack me. Early in my career, when I went on stage after my injury, a lot of people thought it was a gimmick. When you carry around that resentment for people who don’t even know your situation, or they don’t even know you, it makes you that much more private. There’s comfort in knowing I can let go, I can be human, I can have a bad day.
The majority of people are good, and they just want you to be human. I’ve felt much more comfortable letting go as I’ve gotten older and just trusting that I can be myself and that I can be accepted for it. I think when you don’t think about it too much [being in the spotlight], you’re doing it right.
I recently discovered the TED Talk you did where you talked about the strengths of curiosity versus ambition and how your life experiences have allowed you to realize the power of curiosity. In what ways have you pushed yourself to be curious and step outside of your comfort zone, and what would you say to others who struggle to do the same?
I think the biggest focal point from that talk was the things that we’re good at, we got good at because we’re comfortable. If you challenge yourself to do something that’s a little unordinary for yourself or your comfort level, then you’re able to attack it from a different perspective. When I say the word “attack,” that’s always my approach. My approach to almost everything is, “Let’s get a game plan, let’s attack it, execute that game plan in its entirety and exactly the way that we planned it.” I think with the talk, it became a lot about how your approach to that plan allows you to gain from that. You can actually learn through challenging yourself to not go with that same template every time.
My wife is someone who’s a pretty big inspiration for that — not even an inspiration, she inadvertently taught me — because she’s the opposite. She always comes from a playful place and almost never wants to address those deadlines. She’s someone who’s taught me: if you identify more strongly with someone that has ambition or someone that has curiosity, you gravitate toward your opposite.
By embracing your opposite, that was how I was able to do the talk. I usually like to keep it within the realm of comedy; I was very scared to do it [the TED Talk] — I didn’t really foresee how that fit into my usual game plan or structure. I’ve had so many things go wrong in my life that the more I was overbearing, the more I tried to control it, and the further away it got from where I wanted to go. I think that lesson was almost like a second level of how the development of my speech has gotten to be the way it is. If I think so hard about not stuttering on a word, I’m going to. You have to be able to take a break from that to see something a different way and let it not go well so you can recover and learn a lesson that reaffirms your strengths.
How do you feel about hecklers? Where would you say the line is between playful banter from the audience and disruptive and disrespectful heckling?
I don’t discourage or encourage anything during shows within certain limitations on both ends. I love if there’s a show that feels specific to that audience. So if there’s something that happens unprompted, I love to play with that. Again, like we talked about earlier, so long as it’s in good fun and that it’s not malicious, I love that the audience can leave feeling like, “Ah, that’s something that was unique, that was just specific to our show, that can’t be recreated.”
On the other end of that, if someone does call out and it becomes so much of a distraction, or it becomes clear in the show that other people are not having a good time because of it, that’s when I have to kind of step in and draw the line. Some people love interactive components to a show because that’s the advantage of going to see a live comedy show, but at the same time, there are some people who just want to hear the performer. If a certain joke is monopolized by one audience member, then it’s up to the performer to try to mitigate that. That’s something that I had to develop because I used to think that a lot of people would be heckling me out of a hurtful place.
I used to get heckled because of my speech and people feeling impatient. So, that was a defense mechanism that has shaped into a tool that allows me to funnel little bits and spontaneous moments into my comedy. Something happening from nothing is one of the most beautiful moments in a stand-up show. As long as it’s on the performer’s terms and it’s not becoming so disruptive that other people aren’t enjoying themselves, I think communication with the performer is a good thing.
Is there anything else you want to say? Perhaps anything you’d wish you were asked, or something you’d like people to know about you that doesn’t necessarily manifest in your comedy?
I could talk all day about comedy and about pretty much anything. But, I especially find it amazing that we’re in a comedy boom right now. There’s some people who have so many different favorite comedians, and they’re so accessible because of the social media component. But at the same time, we’re also at a time where there’s a lot of sensitivity in the culture, and I think a lot of it is warranted. We’re in the midst of trying to navigate that all together. Having an awareness of that’s what’s going on, whether you’re an audience member or you’re a comic [is] super important.
Catch Drew at the Orpheum on April 14 at 8 p.m.