Comedian Mike Yard will be at Sandman Comedy Club this weekend. In preparation, Gabe Santamaria spoke to him about standup comedy, finding the audience’s vibe, and… the fighting chickens of the Caribbean Islands? (Yes, they’re real.)
This week I got to talk with comedian Mike Yard. I had never heard of him before so I had to do some research, and what I found was some killer stuff. He worked on Comedy Central’s The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore and has a one-hour special, Axiom, which can be found on Spotify, among other streaming platforms. We talked about his time in the Virgin Islands as a child, entering the world of comedy in New York, and his approach to stand-up. Here’s our conversation:
Gabe: So, how’d you get into comedy? Because you talk about how you were born in the Virgin Islands in your stand-up and then you moved to New York as a kid.
Mike: Yeah, I moved to New York and I got into some trouble, then met a friend in my neighborhood that was working at the Museum of Modern Art. And uh, I kind of saved him from getting beat up, so he kind of 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 stepped in and, you know, I had a little clout in my neighborhood, so they let him live. And he was like, ‘You know, I heard you was looking for a job.’ And he hooked me up with a job at the Museum of Modern Art. Some place that I would never even thought that I could even go get a job. He was my link to that, and then when I went to work at the MOMA I was surrounded by different artists, some of which were stand-up comedians. And I always loved stand-up, so I kind of gravitated towards them. That was my in. It was a cool vibe because I loved the museum. I didn’t really know much about art until I started working there, but then I really started digging that art vibe. Not the money part of it, just the artist part of it.
Gabe: It’s the most important part.
Gabe: So, I was wondering about some of your material. You talk about your childhood in the Virgin Islands. I’ve got to ask if it’s real or not.
Mike: What’s that?
Gabe: How about cockfighting?
Mike: Yeah, man. That was before I was dragged to New York, I had started dabbling in cockfighting. Before anybody judges me, everybody don’t live by American standards, man. In the Caribbean cockfighting is a legitimate way to make money. I mean, you eat chicken, so why the fuck we can’t let them fight?
Mike: But I dabbled in it as a kid. That was my first foray into hustling for myself and trying to make myself independent from my parents. I got into fighting chickens. Because you can make some money off of that.
Gabe: I really enjoy that section. I was like, ‘Oh, this is really happening?’
Mike: That was real. I really did that. I wasn’t in the game long, because then we moved to New York. I think if that didn’t happen then I probably would have started taking it seriously. It was a legitimate way to make money, man.
Gabe: I come from a Latino background so that is kind of part of the culture. So no judgments here.
Mike: Some of the best fighting chickens come out of Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic.
Gabe: Island people.
Mike: Hell yeah. Some of the best chickens come out of Puerto Rico. They got the best chickens over there. They got some thoroughbreds over there.
Gabe: [Laughs] Anyways, back to stand-up. So when you’re entering the stage, is there anything you look out for right away?
Mike: No, when I get on stage, that’s when I just feel whatever the energy is for me up there. And then I decide where I’m going to go. I don’t really like planning out. I don’t have a joke book, like, ‘I’m going to do this set’ and then it’s all regimented. I just really go up there and I feel the audience, and then we go where we go together. I’ve been doing it long enough. 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 it that way, because I don’t like to feel like a robot just repeating jokes. I like to, you know, catch a vibe and flow with the audience.
Gabe: That’s the beauty of the craft. Making it yours.
Mike: Yep. Don’t get me wrong, like, I have jokes that I write, that I’ve written, that I do. But I don’t necessarily have a specific set that I’m going to do any night. I just go up there and I feel the audience’s vibe and then I go accordingly. It will take us where it takes us. Maybe it’ll be a night where I talk about relationships, or maybe it’ll be a place where they want to talk about politics, or maybe it’ll be a night where they just want to talk about silly shit. 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.
Gabe: You definitely keep it loose and very funny. Anything you want to tell the people of Richmond?
Mike: Just be ready to have some fun. Don’t come out ready to be triggered. We going to talk about some shit. So yeah, just come out with an open mind and a joyful heart, and we’ll have a good time.
Mike was a great interview and very naturally funny with his mannerisms. It was fun getting to know him. Reading this won’t give you the full effect of his laid-back delivery, but you can fix that. You can catch Mike Yard doing five shows Thursday through Saturday at Sandman Comedy Club, with RVA favorite Dylan Vattelana as the feature. Be sure to get there an hour early for food and beverages. Tickets can be purchased at Sandman Comedy Club.