UB grad and comedian Gary Vider competing on "America's Got Talent"
Gary Vider was never interested in a job where he would have a 9-to-5 workday.
“I never wanted to get a job that I had to wear a suit for,” Vider said. “I never liked the idea of going to work and being uncomfortable with the stuff that I was wearing and also not liking what I was doing.”
After graduating with an English degree from UB, he became a stand-up comedian.
Vider is currently a contestant on “America’s Got Talent,” where he is competing against other acts to win $1 million and a consistent gig in Las Vegas. He’s currently one of 11 semi-finalists competing in Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
This past February, Vider auditioned for the show after sending in a clip to the producers. He decided to audition for the show because he said it’s the biggest show on in the United States on Tuesday nights.
“I knew from past experiences some other comedians that were able to generate fans from the show because so many people watch it,” Vider said. “I thought that I would be able to do well on the show and I’ve seen other comedians that have been on it and I think the types of jokes that I have would work well so I figured I would give it a shot.”
His comedic influences include people who he has grown up watching in both movies and shows, including Adam Sandler, Jerry Seinfeld, Jim Carry and Mitch Hedberg. To begin his journey into comedy and the art of stand-up, he began watching stand-up routines.
“You kind of just have to figure it out on your own and you can do that just by watching and seeing people who are good and who make you laugh,” Vider said. “You’re going to take a little bit from those people and learn from what they do and then try to apply it. It kind of becomes your class for comedy and you learn from that.”
Vider likes to perform in more of a dry, sarcastic way of joke telling. He also likes to have a possible twist at the end of his jokes to shock the audience. He says there’s not really a particular comedy he practices but that he has shorter jokes as opposed to long stories.
“I get my material from stuff that happens in a day or in my life,” Vider said. “When something strikes me as funny I try to make it a joke. It’s usually something that I’ve come across that may be a little bit odd or interesting.”
Andrew Stott, an English professor and associate dean for undergraduate education at UB, sponsored Vider on an independent study when Vider was Stott’s student and encouraged him to work on his comedy.
“He had to write 20 jokes a week and we would talk about them,” Stott said. “What worked, what didn’t – and we’d rewrite them, find different ways into the jokes and different perspectives on what he was trying to say. Comedy is all about showing the world from an oblique angle, and so we talked about that a lot.”
Once Vider graduated, he moved back in with his parents. He knew he wanted to do stand-up comedy but hesitated to jump right into the business. Vider started looking for writing jobs where he could write jokes for a show or movie. He found it difficult to get hired and realized he was missing a key component: help from the inside.
“They have submission packets but if you send those packets to somebody they are only going to look at it if they know the person – and I didn’t know anybody,” Vider said.
After submitting packets, not hearing back from anyone and being out of college for six months, Vider began working as a waiter to save up money while still looking for a job closer to his dream profession. A year out of school, he got a job in Manhattan as a receptionist. Even though he hated it, it allowed him to move into New York City three months later.
In 2008, Vider started performing stand-up at open mics in New York City bars and comedy clubs. He had to perform in front of people who were trying to do the same thing he was. The open mic scene was full of other comedians starting out.
“When you go on [stage] and tell jokes, the people that are there are half listening and concentrating on what they’re doing,” Vider said. “It’s a very tough environment to get people’s attention. Even when somebody does laugh it could just be a sympathy laugh – you have no idea.”
Vider did open mic for three years and said it taught him how to become more comfortable on stage and gave him a little bit of schooling.
Stott said that stand-up comedy requires more self-motivation than perhaps any other profession he can think of.
“With the exception of active combat or working in a particularly busy ER, I can’t think of a harder job,” Stott said. “Anyone who does it has to be really dedicated, and able to slog through an enormous amount of rejection and hard knocks. Surviving that is not something you can teach.”
As far as the experience on “America’s Got Talent” itself, Vider said it has been incredible. People are starting to know him as more buzz is generated about him as well as more respect in the comedy community. It’s the most TV exposure the young comedian has had. He was on NBC four times over the summer.
Stott said that there’s no doubt Vider’s degree in English helped him get to where he is today – even if it isn’t entirely obvious.
“Some people are wary of degrees that don’t have any self-evident career path attached to them, but that’s what’s so brilliant about a degree in English,” Stott said. “It’s not confined by any one profession but teaches skills and habits of mind such as excellent writing and communication skills, strong critical thinking, the ability to effectively digest and filter large amounts of information, an awareness of history and forms of cultural expression, that can be used in an infinite number of professional settings.”
Vider is currently one of 11 semi-final acts in the competition. Viewers can vote to put their favorite acts into the finals.
Dani Guglielmo is a features desk editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org