Feeling The Vibe: an interview with Mike Yard
Comedian Mike Yard will be at the Sandman Comedy Club this weekend. In preparation, Gabe Santamaria told him about stand-up comedy, finding the right public vibe, and… Caribbean chicken fighters? (Yes they are real.)
This week, I was able to speak with the actor Mike Court. I had never heard of him before, so I had to do some research, and found some killer stuff. He worked on Comedy Central The Night Show with Larry Wilmore and has a one-hour special, Axiom, that we find on Spotify, among other streaming platforms. We talked about his time in the Virgin Islands as a child, his entry into the world of comedy in New York City, and his approach to stand-up. Here is our conversation:
Gabé: So how did you get into acting? Because you tell how you were born in the Virgin Islands in your stand-up, then you moved to New York when you were a kid.
Mike: Yes, I moved to New York and had some issues, then I met a friend in my neighborhood who was working at the Museum of Modern Art. And uh, I kind of kept him from getting beaten up, so he felt like he owed me one. I never told him that, I didn’t think he owed me anything. I just thought what they were doing was wrong and I stepped in and, you know, I had a bit of influence in my neighborhood, so they let it live. And he said, ‘You know, I heard you were looking for a job.’ And he put me in touch with a job at the Museum of Modern Art. A place where I never thought I could even go looking for a job. He was my connection to that, and then when I went to work at MOMA, I was surrounded by different artists, some of whom were comedians. And I’ve always liked the stand-up, so I kind of got drawn to them. It was my in. It was a cool vibe because I loved the museum. I didn’t know much about art until I started working there, but then I really started to dig that artistic vibe. Not the money, just the artist.
Gabé: This is the most important part.
Gabé: So I was wondering about some of your documents. You talk about your childhood in the Virgin Islands. I have to ask if it’s real or not.
Mike: What is that?
Gabé: What about cockfighting?
Mike: Yes my boy. It was before I was dragged to New York, I had started to try my hand at cockfighting. Before someone judges me, not everyone lives by American standards, man. In the Caribbean, cockfighting is a legitimate way to make money. I mean, you eat chicken, so why can’t we just let them fight?
Mike: But I touched it when I was a kid. It was my first foray into fending for myself and trying to make myself independent from my parents. I started fighting chickens. Because you can make money with it.
Gabé: I really like this section. I was like, ‘Oh, is this really going on?’
Mike: It was real. I really did that. I didn’t stay in the game for long, as we then moved to New York. I think if that hadn’t happened I probably would have started to take it seriously. It was a legitimate way to make money, man.
Gabé: I come from a Latino background so it’s part of the culture. So no judgments here.
Mike: Some of the best fighting chickens come from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
Gabé: The people of the island.
Mike: Hell yeah. Some of the best chickens come from Puerto Rico. They have the best chickens there. They have thoroughbreds there.
Gabé: [Laughs] Anyway, back to stand-up. So when you step on the stage, is there something you’re looking for right away?
Mike: No, when I go on stage, that’s when I feel the energy for me up there. And then I decide where I’m going to go. I don’t really like to plan. I don’t have a joke book like “I’m gonna do this series” and then everything is regimented. I really go up there and feel the audience and then we go where we go together. I’ve been doing this for quite a long time. I have a lot of material to cover a lot of different topics, so I can pretty much just feel the vibe and then decide where we’re going to go. And I prefer that, because I don’t like to feel like a robot who just repeats jokes. I like, you know, catching a vibe and flowing with the audience.
Gabé: That’s the beauty of the job. Make it yours.
Mike: Yeah. Don’t get me wrong, like, I have jokes that I write, that I write, that I make. But I don’t necessarily have a specific set that I’m going to do every night. I just go up there and feel the vibe from the audience and then go accordingly. He will take us where he will take us. Maybe this will be a night where I talk about relationships, or maybe it will be a place where they want to talk about politics, or maybe it will be a night where they just want to talk bullshit. You know what I mean? It keeps me sane to be able to be flexible and not be so regimented. That’s why I don’t have a regular job. I don’t like to feel like a drone.
Gabé: You keep him really loose and very funny. Something you want to tell the people of Richmond?
Mike: Just be prepared to have fun. Don’t come out ready to be triggered. We’re gonna talk shit. So yes, go out with an open mind and a happy heart, and we’ll have a great time.
Mike was a great interview and very naturally funny with his manners. It was fun getting to know him. Reading this won’t give you the full effect of its laid-back delivery, but you can fix it. You can see Mike Yard do five shows Thursday through Saturday at The Sandman Comedy Club, with RVA favorite Dylan Vattelana starring. Make sure to arrive an hour early for food and drinks. Tickets can be purchased at The Sandman Comedy Club.