Risking It All: An Interview With Mike P. Burton

by | May 12, 2021 | COMEDY

Comedian Mike P. Burton is bringing his comedy to Sandman Comedy Club this weekend. In advance of his arrival, Gabe Santamaria talked to him about learning how to be onstage, comedy vs. acting, and more.

This week I got to interview Mike P. Burton, who will be headlining at Sandman Comedy Club for three days, beginning tomorrow. Starting his stand-up career in New York city in the mid 90’s, he quickly hit the road as a solid act. His high energy storytelling and natural stage ability make his comedy very accessible. Eventually he started warming up the crowds at daytime television shows such as: The Revolution, Bethany, Dr. Oz, and Rachel Ray. We spoke last week about comedy, joke risks, and the new Sandman Comedy Club. Here’s our conversation:

Gabe: Have you ever been to Richmond?

Mike: I’ve been through Richmond for years. I went to high school in Delaware and I went to college in North Carolina, so I was always driving 95 down to the 85 split.

Gabe: Nice. You got started in New York in the 90’s?

Mike: Yeah. ’95, ‘96 started going to open mics.

Gabe: And you were also trying to be an actor at the same time, right?

Mike: I did. I moved to New York as an actor. When you’re just waiting tables you say you’re “between shows.” That’s when I started doing open mics, and it just worked. I kind of discovered that I enjoy doing stand-up more than acting. It was always something I wanted to do.

Gabe: That’s cool. Did you do acting in any ensemble stuff, or is being on stage by yourself… you know, you have more control over the situation? Is the risk different?

Mike: It is, but stand-up the risk is all yours. When it works, there’s nothing better and when it does not work, there’s not a lot that’s worse. In stand-up, there’s no blame to place. Acting: the other actors didn’t give me anything to play off of, I didn’t have the energy, did what the director told me to do… There’s blame that you can place everywhere. The script sucks. Wherever. But in comedy, when they don’t like you, they don’t like YOU. it’s not the writing, because you wrote everything. They hated everything you wrote and performed and stood up there and did. They didn’t like your facial expressions. They hated everything about you. Well, goodnight. Yeah it’s… [chuckles]

Gabe: Pretty unforgivable. What it sounds like.

Mike: It really is. It really is. I think it’s maybe the most honest form of entertainment. As far as that goes. You know immediately whether it works or not.

Gabe: Oh, I agree. It’s a weird boot camp. It’s a strange thing to commit to because for many, it’s not going to go good for a while. But you had some stage experience, so at least you got over that early.

Mike: That’s true. I didn’t have to learn how to be in front of an audience. A lot of comics have to learn how to be in front of an audience and I already had that. So that part was fairly easy. It was the writing then that came in.

Gabe: You never know that a joke is going to be funny until you know the audience thinks it’s funny. Are you confident behind the joke? Like “I know this going to kill the first time I say it”? Or is it always a leap of faith?

Mike: It’s kind of a leap of faith. You have to think that it’s funny. There’s certain situations like, “Okay? This is going to be a bit.” And you try to do it, and you just can’t find it. That’s why you hear a lot of stories of comics couldn’t get [a joke] to work, leaving it alone, and then going back to it even a year or two years later like: ohhh, that’s the joke. It’s okay. I had one like that for a while and it finally started working. I mean, haven’t used it in a while, but at the time, I remember saying to myself, “That’s where the joke is. All right.” But you have to go up with confidence the first time you do a joke. And the first time you do, it is more to hear it out loud than anything else. I’m not a guy who rehearses in front of a mirror. You’re just doing it out loud, and you can kind of feel if there’s something there. Sometimes there’s not, and you go, “Well, I thought there was something there, but it’s not.” And then there’s other times, like “This is going to be good. Okay, I just got to figure this one out, but it’s going to be. This could be a really nice bit when I get it done.”

Gabe: Who are you bringing down as your feature to open the show?

Mike: I have Bill Boronkay. I worked with him for several years off and on different clubs, different situations, and he is a great. I love working with him, I love watching him work, and I’m excited to do another week with him.

Gabe: We can’t wait to have you down. Sandman is a great club. I was there for the grand opening. Anything you want to shout out to the people of Richmond?

Mike: I’m looking forward to it. I mean, brand new club. I look at the lineup. They have great comics coming in. You were there for Finesse, right?

Gabe: Yeah. He killed. So good.

Mike: Love him. The club looks great. I saw the website. I can’t wait to get there.

Very nice guy, I must say. I almost missed the email confirming this interview, but saw it way too late, and he still agreed to do the interview on short notice. You can catch Mike P. Burton performing all weekend at Sandman Comedy Club, featuring Bill Boronkay opening up. Be sure to show up an hour early for food and beverages. Tickets are available at Sandman Comedy Club’s website.

Gabriel Santamaria

Gabriel Santamaria

Band leader of The Flavor Project, Co Owner at La Cocina Studios, Cast Member on The Hustle Season podcast.

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