Troy Walker takes the Comedy Works stage a few minutes after the show’s 9:45 PM. Donning a backwards Rockies fitted, a short-sleeve button-up tinged with light purple complementing the Rockies logo and relaxed blue jeans, he kicks into gear. The word “mulattos,” racist strippers, the inanity of high school reunions and country clubs in Aurora are topics Walker hits on to make the audience crack up.
Walker, 28, has been doing stand-up for seven-and-a-half years. A lawyer by trade, but working in the financial sector now, he has become a mainstay in the Denver scene. The two-time recipient of the Comedy Works “New Faces” contest twice, he’s performed at various festivals scattered across the country. Tonight he opened for Marc Maron, a veteran stand-up comic whose podcast WTF with Marc Maron and IFC show Maron have propelled him to the highest level of comedy.
After Troy’s 20-minute performance in front of an enthusiastic audience, he took a minute to sit down with 303 Magazine.
303 Magazine: What got you started?
Troy Walker: I just wanted to do it. I remember calling when I was 16. I called the club to try to see if they’d let me in and somebody who was like door staff or whatever they were like, “Nah, you gotta be 21.” I found out later that actually if you had a parent with you you could do it pretty much whenever because it’s about the liquor license. I didn’t know that and they didn’t tell me that. Otherwise I would’ve started way younger, but I always kind of liked making people laugh and joking around and all that kind of stuff.
303: There’s a difference between doing that and getting on stage, how was your first time?
TW: Well, it was good because I wasn’t smart enough to know it was horrible. The first time I went up was this place called The Squire Lounge, run by a guy named Greg Baumhauer, who’s a good friend of mine and a great host and MC, but if you do badly he shits on you and it’s like a whole thing. There’s an air of negativity in that room. I think I didn’t get at the time because I was just stuck on the shit that I had written that was terrible [Laughs]. I went up and did three minutes and I think most of the place ignored me and maybe two people chuckled and I was like, “That was good!” And I just kept going back, pretty much.
303: So did you get heckled or anything like that?
TW: I didn’t get heckled that night because that’s where I started and where I kept going. It’s not really the same now.
At the time, they’d give you about 15 seconds, you had about 15 seconds if they didn’t know you to get a joke to hit or they’d just start talking. They wouldn’t usually yell at you unless you were doing all right [Laughs]. If you weren’t doing even okay, they’d just ignore you and talked. Because it would be packed, this little dive bar and they’d just ignore the shit out of you. So then Greg would tell you to get off, he’d give you a signal to get off stage.
303: You won the Comedy Works New Face twice. How does somebody win “new face” twice?
TW: Well…it’s a contest they do every summer and the first time I won it I had been doing it like seven months or something like that. Because The Squire was so hard, I’d built a set that could win a bar tab [for best set of the night] over the course of that seven months, and took that to Comedy Works and it won the thing. But I had, eight minutes? [Laughs] I didn’t have any real time, so I wasn’t ready to move on past that and I don’t want to call it a fluke, but it was a fluke. Like it happened, I had a set that was good enough to win, but I couldn’t have done weekends. I just didn’t have the experience and material. So they couldn’t move me on, so I had to do another year and you’re eligible for it [the New Face contest] until you’re on the paid list of the club.
And it took me three years to get on that. So there’s was a lot of time between of growing and everything. Even though I’d won it, it didn’t feel like… I don’t know, I assume the way they rationalize it is, you can keep doing it and you only stop being a new face once you’re known to the audiences that comes all the time. So that’s like being on the paid list. That’s my guess.
303: You’re in finance?
TW: I work as a financial analyst. I am an attorney, but I don’t practice. I work as a financial analyst at a firm downtown doing anti-money laundering compliance.
303: How do balance that and comedy? Do you keep the two worlds separate?
TW: I keep them pretty separate. The cool thing is my job is great for it because of the flexibility. You’re there about 40 hours, unless there’s some kind of big deadline or something. Generally you’re gonna be there 40 hours a week, you know that your nights are yours. And your weekends are generally yours. And it’s flexible for travel stuff and things like that, so it works pretty well for having a day job. It is way better than any law thing I can do.
303: What was your favorite city to perform in outside of Denver?
TW: I like Portland a lot. Portland’s a lot like Denver. It’s like Denver with the hipster turned up. But they’re similar kind of cities, their sort of makeup is similar. They feel about the same, they’re both pretty young, pretty healthy. They’re similar so I liked that. Plus the festival I was there for, the Bridgetown Festival, is so awesome that’s part of why I loved it.
303: I’m sure you write often, is there any material that you think is funny that doesn’t work on an audience?
TW: It happens all the time. You’ll have some idea and then you’ll go up and be like, “Really?” [Laughs]
303: What’s that feel like?
TW: At this point, it’s kind of like you go, “Am I wrong?” Because I don’t feel like I’m wrong. Maybe I need to word it differently, maybe play with it for a little bit, and other times it’s a longshot and they’re the ultimate arbiters I feel like.
303: You tried out for Last Comic Standing, but you didn’t get on it. What was the process like with that?
TW: They contacted me through the club [Comedy Works], actually. I think they maybe tried to figure out a way to contact me otherwise, but they ended up talking to Wende Curtis, the owner of Comedy Works who is awesome and anybody who knows her will tell you that she’s the best. She gave them my contact info and I don’t know how they knew about me, I guess from doing stuff around town, going to LA, doing other fests, stuff like that, and maybe somebody I talked to here like a headliner that came through.
They fly you out and they put you up, which is really cool. You get the day you fly in to chill that night and the next day you go do your audition and you walk in and it’s like some producers and Wanda Sikes, some other producer people and a small group of people they brought in to laugh at jokes. Probably thinking they were like P.A.’s [production assistants], people that work for NBC.
TW: Yeah, and you do four minutes. That’s really it. And they tell you whether you got it or not. I think I overthought my set, to be honest. I really do. But I could be wrong.
303: Was your set different from what you did tonight?
TW: Yeah, it was four minutes. Tonight was 20. I think a large part of it was I just overthought it. I think I was so concerned about being ready for TV that I went the other way too much. Because I’m not especially dirty anyway, I probably should have just done [my material], but I didn’t, I was like, “Well let me try to like…”
I think I tried to micromanage it into being a thing they didn’t like. I did well, it wasn’t that I didn’t do well.
303: How did you take being rejected?
TW: I took it fine, man. There was a time when I was a lot younger where I would’ve been like, “That’s terrible! I can’t believe I screwed it up and missed my shot,” and now I’ve been doing it long enough to know that there’s more things. You can’t get everything. They’re looking what they’re looking for and you might be the thing they’re looking for that time, but you might not be. It might not be because of anything you did, or anything you didn’t do. Whatever. They know what they want and you don’t, so you have to not worry about it.
And there’s always more stuff. If you think about all the TV channels on DirecTV’s basic package, like 250 channels. And they all need stuff all the time. They’re always more things [Laughs]. And that’s just TV. That’s not even road work, or writing. There’s always more stuff.
TW: Yeah, podcasts. There’s always more, so I think you just keep plugging. I don’t know, that might be the words of a 28-year old optimist.
303: [Laughs] Still young and idealistic.
TW: Ehhhh. I mean, now. I feel okay today. [Laughs] Catch me tomorrow when it’s all terrible. Everything’s bad. [Laughs]
303: What’s the plan for the future?
TW: I feel like I can grow more here, but I also think I have to start thinking about what else I might do. I might start looking at moving to Los Angeles or something. Trying to take it to another level kind of thing.
303: Any word of advice for people who want to start doing standup?
TW: I think you have to just do it. Go up at an open mic and see if it grabs you, basically. You go in, just like I did, just like everybody does, goes some open mic and you eat shit then you decide whether or not eating shit hurts [Laughs]. If it doesn’t, if you kind of still dig it, or if it’s a thing where if you do badly but you’re the type of person that becomes determined that you’ll figure it out, next you know you look up and you’ve been doing it for a while. That’s really the way it goes.
Follow Troy on Twitter: @TroyWalkeresq