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Southwest Ohio comedian Tabari McCoy wants the last laugh

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Ohio is, historically, a fertile breeding ground for comedians. Yup, our grand old state produces more than music based entertainers. Dave Chappelle. Gary Owen. Arsenio Hall. Nikki Glaser. Bob Hope. Dean Martin.

Tabari McCoy.

Tabari who? I’m betting you paused on that name. Tabari is not a household name. But…if you pause again and think, you may have heard of him. In the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area, McCoy has written articles for several digital/print publications, been a guest on local television shows, and performed in numerous Queen City comedy clubs. Actually, he’s performed in clubs across the nation. And, he’s dropped two comedy albums. So, because of his output and travels, you may have come across his content.

If you do know about McCoy, you know that he’s very funny. His observational humor is warm, but edgy enough. He’s the everyman with out of this world takes on day to day life.

McCoy recently had time to talk about his career; its origins, its ups and downs, and the direction he’s steering it in. I asked him about his beginnings in comedy, and he told me, “I have been doing stand-up comedy since April 2006. I was working as a reporter for a now-defunct entertainment and lifestyle publication of The Cincinnati Enquirer and wanted to do a story on the local stand-up comedy scene. Obviously, I was and had been a fan of stand-up for a minute at this point. As part of that feature – and having had a friend that was dabbling in doing stand-up at the time – I said I would do the open mic night. “

He continued, “Despite the material not being ready for the stage, knowing what I know now – 99.9% of every comedian’s first set is terrible in retrospect – I managed to get laughs. Being a writer by nature, the smart, short, terrible at talking to women (some things never change!) not-on-the-basketball/football/baseball team (past 9th grade, anyway), I was hooked. I had done a few rap battles before as I also loved doing those (and this was before 8 Mile ever came into theaters), but stand-up felt natural. I would still love to drop a hip-hop album someday, but I haven’t quite found a way or the money to make that happen yet.”

I was curious to know what inspired McCoy to be a comedian in the first place. He explained, “I was in a department store with my mother one day and saw a special by a now disgraced legend of comedy that hooked me. (It was playing on one of the display TVs I guess on a VCR.) I had wanted to be a comic for a long time; when I was in elementary school, I recorded a tape of me telling my jokes in front of my best friend. He was the entire audience. And it was terrible. I can’t remember half the politicians currently elected by my state, but I remember that.

"When you’re on stage, it’s just you with no ability to delete that tweet, edit that post or wait for someone to see what you said. It’s all happening in real time and the best comedians say things that hit home and resonate because they either push us to examine ourselves through the avenue of humor or, in some instances, can showcase how ridiculous human beings can be..."

I have always said I like stand-up comedy for two reasons: (1) Comedians are the last truth tellers left in society. Social media has given every insane dingbat a voice and thus made us worse as a society now that they can find each other and create an audience. But when you’re on stage, it’s just you with no ability to delete that tweet, edit that post or wait for someone to see what you said. It’s all happening in real time and the best comedians say things that hit home and resonate because they either push us to examine ourselves through the avenue of humor or, in some instances, can showcase how ridiculous human beings can be, especially when it comes to our ‘isms (racism, sexism, nationalism, terrorism, etc.)”

Tabari continued his explanation, “The second reason I like stand-up is you can have people end up crying from laughing, but it rarely works in reverse. The pureness of laughter – okay, that might be a bit of a stretch, but I’m sure the point will be understood – is that it’s involuntary. It’s a happy emotion. It can release endorphins, lift a bad mood and help provide perspective on something. It is pure and to be able to make a room full of strangers experience that, let alone as a collective group, is just wonderful.”

All comedians have a type of comedy they do. I asked McCoy about his brand of humor, and he volunteered this info, “I would like to think I’m just a bit of a relatable every man who despite his flaws (which I will exploit for your entertainment) I also am worthy of support and who has a humorous insight into this thing we call life. There will be times I might be critical of something at the start where someone will see how I pointed out something hypocritical at the end while acknowledging my own problems. There will be times I might vent my frustrations with something but in doing so, I want someone to know they’re not alone or that this should be so easy to fix, etc.

In short, I’m someone who doesn’t think of himself as special but once I hit that stage, I will do my best to make you feel like you are watching something special.”

I had to ask McCoy about his main inspirations in the comedy world. He replied with, “ Like any comedian worth his salt – I also have no idea what that expression means, but I know it means “that is funny” in this case – I have been inspired by so many of the legends, which is why we know their respective names, often by just their last name:

Pryor, Redd Foxx, Chappelle, Rock, Murphy, Carlin, Burr, etc. I also grew up loving the late Richard Jeni and still regret not seeing him the one time he was somewhat close to Cincinnati at a casino before his passing. I have also come to really appreciate Dick Gregory and am so happy I have the late Robin Harris’ only album as well.

Some of my other favorite comedians are Roy Wood, Jr. (who I actually am fortunate enough to be able to chat with on occasion), D.L. Hughley, the late Patrice O’Neal ... Also, there are plenty of really strong comedians working today people should know about – and YES, I know I didn’t name any women in the list I just said but there are several really funny ladies (Wanda Sykes, Christina Pazsitzky, Sarah Colonna, Taylor Tomlinson, Erin and Mia Jackson – no relation, etc.) I have paid money to see and would again.”

"I just want to be funny, keep getting better and just do such a good job that people in LA or New York have to take notice of the kid from Cincinnati that everyone is talking about. THAT would be great."

So, what is McCoy’s ultimate goal with his career? He revealed, “Not living in LA or New York makes accomplishing a lot of my goals tough (but not impossible). I would still love to have the HBO or Comedy Central half hour or hour special, I would still love to be on The Tonight Show (or any late night talk show, really!) doing a 5-minute spot. I’d be happy to have a recurring role on a sitcom ... But if I was able to rely solely on money from stand-up for a living, that would be enough ... Almost!

I just want to be funny, keep getting better and just do such a good job that people in LA or New York have to take notice of the kid from Cincinnati that everyone is talking about. THAT would be great.”

If you are curious about Tabari’s future projects and plans, he announced, “Right now, my main focus is on recording my third album and first video special the weekend before Halloween at the club where I started, Go Bananas, in the Montgomery suburb of Cincinnati. So many great comedians have come through that club and I’m honored to have my first full headlining weekend there; now, it’s up to me to show why I am worthy of the “headliner” title. Once that hits the streaming airwaves – final landing spot TBD – I hope that it will help me start to get a following which is what you need these days to progress.

Being funny isn’t enough to make moves in the business of being funny in 2022. For some people, their business savvy is far better than their actual material ... And I’ll leave it at that!”

You can imagine that the comedy industry is one that many people are interested in joining. When asked about advice, McCoy offered a creative answer, You can get advice from all angles and there are scores of books written about it, so instead, let me break it down in the style of the late Notorious B.I.G.’s Ten Crack Commandments.

  1. When you’re first starting out / figure out what you’re about / Speak clearly into the mic / there’s no need for you to shout
  2. If you’re a guy and you think you’re going to be all the rage / there’s still no excuse to wear shorts on stage / ladies, you’re also gonna run into a lot of jerks / who can’t focus on your jokes because they’re focused on your skirts / that’s okay, though / just be nice but strong and hold your own / and if they keep talking trash / make sure you show ‘em why they should be scared when you hold the microphone
  3. Working clean is harder and shows more skill than working dirty / Less clubs will book you if profanity is flying out your mouth every 30 (seconds)
  4. Think you’re gonna get credit for stealing jokes from other folks / man you can forget it / once you’re known as a joke thief / a comedy career, you can forget it
  5. Write all the time, keep post it notes, your smartphone and a notebook on you at all times / nothing worse than having a good idea, forgetting it and not knowing the reason to the punchline
  6. Number six, it should have been number one to me / know the difference between doing an open mic / and getting hustled to for someone else to make money while you work for free
  7. Watch a lot of comics, study them like a head coach / so you can see what’s hitting, what’s not / and know the difference before you see a stage and approach
  8. Be careful who you talk trash about / I tell you this is true / because you might say the wrong thing / not knowing who knows who / matter of fact, when you’re new, say less and listen more / otherwise the guys  than hold the prize may not let you in the door
  9. When it comes to getting work, just put in the work / You can be funny / but you won’t make money if the booker thinks you’re a jerk / also, don’t flirt with the club staff and always pay your tabs / otherwise the joke’s on you when they ban your a–
  10. Last but not least, figure out what you wanna say and why you wanna say it / record your set, study it and figure out if anyone else would want to play it / keep putting in work, hit as many mics as you can / and maybe one day I’ll say “Nice job, my man.”

Tabari McCoy is gearing for an upward climb, and if he has his way, the sky's the limit.

Greg Simms Jr. is a veteran content creator and cultural expert who's worked for numerous digital publications over the years. He's a resident of Greene County, but he's always aware of social-cultural events happening all over the Miami Valley. To contact Greg, email him at: grgsmmsjr@gmail.com