Friday, May 18, 2018

The Young Hustle Interview

The Young Hustle Show is a monthly weekend showcase at The Chicago Laugh Factory, produced by Clay Hurlbut, St. James Jackson, Nick Ogle, and Skyler Higley. What started in the upstairs of a restaurant two years ago has quickly grown into one of the hottest comedy shows in all of Chicago. 

The next Young Hustle show is at The Chicago Laugh Factory on Friday, May 18 at 10PM. 

For this interview, we sit down with the producers of Young Hustle to talk about starting young in comedy, producing a show with your best friends, and going all in to pursue your dreams. Enjoy!

YOUNG HUSTLE

Okay, real quick: How old is everybody?

SKYLER HIGLEY: Well, you have to mention that St. James is actually 48. [moment of laughter]
NICK OGLE: I’m 24.
CLAY HURLBUT: I’m 23.
ST. JAMES JACKSON: 22.
SKYLGER HIGLEY: 21! 

What is Young Hustle?

HURLBUT: It’s the idea that we’re gonna be awesome, and we’re doing it in an unconventional way by thinking outside the box, and doing things that people said we couldn’t do. We love comedy, we love each other, and we have a great and profound friendship.

HIGLEY: Most importantly, we love ourselves. 

OGLE: Skyler and I joined Young Hustle well after it was established, but we gravitated towards it because all of us want to take this seriously as a career. 

HURLBUT: And we work hard. The ‘hustle’ part is that this is what we all want to do with our lives. 

HIGLEY: To me, it’s about the risk and the commitment. I drove across the country in my shitty car, from Salt Lake City to be here. It’s a weird experience to be in the middle of the country in your car, with all your shit. It felt like I was really going for this, all the way. And it’s how I’m treating comedy. Everything is in my car, which is the comedy. And, I am trying to go to this place, and all I can do is keep driving toward that thing.

JACKSON: Young Hustle is beautiful because the purest hustle is somebody young who’s doing it for just the love of doing it. We love comedy so much. And, we want to be better than everybody else. [moment of laughter]

What would you say is the best part about Young Hustle?

HURLBUT: The best part about running a show with your best friends is that our attitudes are contagious. Being around people who constantly strive to be the best they can be, and who want to maximize on all they’ve been given is a beautiful thing. It makes you better. 

OGLE: I guess you can say it’s “uncool” to tell people that you want to do comedy as a profession, and that you want to be the best at it. It’s very weird. But, all of us are comfortable telling that to each other.

HIGLEY: Let me illustrate this point: Nick and I were up until 4AM arguing over ONE tag...

OGLE: And it was like, two words.

HIGLEY: [laughs] And it’s not even the best joke in the world! There’s no reason to do that, unless you really truly care about what you’re doing. Everybody who produces this show fucking cares.

OGLE: I feel that if you treat your jokes with that type of intensity and focus, it’s going to come across in your performance.


THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED

What was it like to tell your friends and family that you want to pursue a career in comedy?

HIGLEY: Okay, who wants to get into their family issues first? [moment of laughter]

HURLBUT: Whether they’re family or friends, some people will always believe in what you’re doing, yet other people won’t. But, why not become great and prove it to everybody?

JACKSON: I have a lot of friends who half believe. They’re like, “Yeah! Do it! Wait...should you really be doing this?” [laughs] But then, other friends who are half in it only the other way around. They think you MIGHT become great, so they stay friends with you just incase it happens. [laughs]

HURLBUT: My family supports it, but they don’t understand it. And how could they? How would they know? I don’t hold it against any parent.

JACKSON: Mine is the same way. They don’t necessarily care if I’m famous. They do want me to make money at it. Which means that until I start making money, to them it doesn’t count.

OGLE: Yeah, my mom thinks of me doing comedy as a hobby that I need to get out of my system. She keeps convincing me to find ways to use comedy in a law career.

Nick, are you doing the Bill Beteet lawyer/comedian route?

OGLE: Yeah...let’s not mention him...

[moment of laughter]

HURLBUT: SAVAGE! [laughs] Nick, how did you get added to this show? [moment of laughter]

Why do you think people outside of comedy don’t understand this profession?

HIGLEY: Whenever somebody does something that others don’t understand, some people get scared to accept such a new idea. It’s a shift in thinking. We’re not trying to stay inside the structure. Every day you’re supposed to go to work, punch in, do your shit, then punch out. And what the fuck does that mean for anything? To push the rock up the hill, then it’s at the bottom of the hill, to push it back up the hill, over and over again? Are you alive or are you dead? I want to be alive, and that’s why I do comedy.

HURLBUT: With Young Hustle, we have no ambition to live a “normal” life.


TALKIN’ SHOP

So, why comedy?

JACKSON: I grew up poor my whole life. I was also bullied, and on top of that I was a bad kid. Experiencing sadness at a young age, I realized the only thing that matters to me is being happy. I’m also very competitive. I don’t play ball, but I play NBA-2K. [laughs] I love comedy because it’s one of the few things I feel I can be the best at. And not in a bad way, comedy is not a competition other than with yourself. It’s the one thing I feel that if I beat myself at this and do the best I can, then I can be successful enough to help myself out, help my mom out, prove a lot of people wrong, and also prove a lot of people right. 

HURLBUT: Growing up a millenial, I watched a lot TV, YouTube, and all that. And, I just wanted to be one of the people on the TV. Once I got the comedy itch I was like, “Okay, this is what I was born to do.”

HIGLEY: I feel like with the escalation of technology, our generation has become a little more existential. Realizing that there’s not only one thing that you HAVE to do, but that your life is an open field and you can do what you want, given the privilege to do that. To have the opportunity and to know there is something inside of you that wants to come out, you kind of have a responsibility to follow that thing. Follow your intuition and do what seems right for you.

HURLBUT: Follow your dreams, because it’s gonna happen to somebody. It might as well be us.

You guys are part of a different generation of comedic inspiration. Who did you grow up watching?

JACKSON: The first one that got me was Spike Lee’s Kings of Comedy. What got me to actually make the jump was Kevin Hart. He gave me the confidence to do this for a living. He loves what he does, and he works hard at it. I love the way he makes people feel. The way I felt the first time I watched Kevin Hart made me go, “I want to make people feel like this every time.”

HIGLEY: Hannibal (Buress) was someone I really related to, Donald Glover, Bo Burnham. I was young when the internet first came out, so all of a sudden content was being shot out of everything.

HURLBUT: Yeah, the only reason I became a comedian was because of YouTube. Because career-wise, I was lost. At 20 years old, I had no idea what I wanted to do. So, I started watching Chris Rock clips. Watching him say what he thinks without caring if people liked it reminded me of how I perceived myself when I was talkin’ shit from the back of the classroom.


OGLE: I was always the kid who found all the funny YouTube videos and then would push them on my friends. I was very annoying.

HURLBUT: Was? [laughs]

OGLE: Still very annoying. [laughs] I’m still that dude. Donald Glover’s old stuff got me into sketch first. Which was around the same time I was watching Chappelle’s Show. Also, my influences come from having a really funny family. My uncle Leroy is hysterical! My cousin Kevin is my favorite cousin because he is absolutely hilarious around the family.


THE YOUNG HUSTLE SHOW

How did the The Young Hustle Show happen?

JACKSON: It started with myself, Clay, and Ali Anabestani—who is in Boston now, killin’ it. The show began in Humboldt Park at a Puerto Rican restaurant. 

HURLBUT: It was upstairs in this Puerto Rican restaurant and there would be like, three people in the restaurant area, yet upstairs was packed. The only reason we moved was because they couldn’t sell alcohol. So, the show moved to a bar, then to a club, and then we parlayed that with The Laugh Factory.

What were some obstacles that The Young Hustle Show had to overcome?

JACKSON: Well, our very first show was missing everything: We almost didn’t have a speaker, almost didn’t have a microphone, and we almost didn’t have enough chairs. Our first show almost didn’t happen.

HURLBUT: We had to drive to St. James’s church to pick up like, 30 chairs.

HIGLEY: And the lord has been with us ever since! [moment of laughter]

What do you think has contributed to The Young Hustle Show’s success thus far?

HURLBUT: We really benefited most from timing. Timing is everything in life. Some people get shows at clubs before they’re ready to run a show at a club. For us, even though it all happened quickly, we gradually moved up and took what we could. By the time we started having bigger shows, we were ready.

JACKSON: And, we booked the best comics in Chicago so that we could stand with the best, because that’s how you get good. And, from there we just kept growing. 

How long has The Young Hustle Show been around?

JACKSON: Young Hustle has been around a little over two years now.

HURLBUT: And since March, 2017 is when we started at The Laugh Factory.

What has kept the show consistent these past two years?

HURLBUT: We have the benefit of being best friends. So we can be unapologetically hard on each other if it needs to happen. There’s never a problem with miscommunication because we’re always talking to each other anyway.

OGLE: We don’t take this for granted. We do everything we can, “the hustle”, to pack that place out. 

HURLBUT: Plus, we’re lucky to be around at a time where comedy is this hot thing. We’re lucky that St. James and I are from Chicago, because we have a lot of ancillary benefits as far as knowing a lot of people. We’re lucky that Nick is in law school and has a lot of friends. We’re lucky that Curtis and The Laugh Factory believed in us, and gave us a shot at a show.


A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE

How have you made being in a group beneficial to a solo sport like stand up?

HIGLEY: As far as evolution is concerned, the individual never makes it as far as the group does. A group of people that are committed to the group will make it a lot farther. You push each other, keep each other together, protect each other, and help each other out in any way you can.

JACKSON: The coolest thing about this group is, I think Skyler is one of the best writers in this city, I think Clay is one of the hardest workers, I think Nick has one of the smartest comedic minds in this city. As I watch them gain more and more success, it only motivates me to work even harder. Which is something you can’t really get just being by yourself.

OGLE: It’s also nice to do a set and have people watching and commenting on it. Because these guys catch stuff that I don’t.

HURLBUT: Stand up is such a lonely, often at times, sad profession. So it’s nice to have people who are similar in age and in life experience to just be able to talk about it and deal with it.

HIGLEY: It’s great to have a group where you can talk comedy together. 

OGLE: None of us could individually put on a show like Young Hustle.

It’s almost like a band?

HURLBUT: It is like a band.

OGLE: We get to hang out together and pick each others’ brains about comedy. Whenever you hang out with people who are better than you, it’s going to make you better.

HIGLEY: We also genuinely like each other. Clay was one of the first people I met when I moved here, and he introduced me to other comics. Which meant a lot to me because I didn’t know anybody here. I was nervous as shit!

HURLBUT: To be a comedian is to be a little bit of an attention whore, and to be individually motivated. Sure, we all want success for ourselves, but I think the champagne will taste a lot sweeter when you drink it with your brothers.

What do you think about this blanket statement of how stand up isn't good until one has gained a certain amount of life experience?

JACKSON: There’s three arguments I have for this: 1) Funny’s funny. It’s just that simple. 2) All the greats started at a young age! 3) Who’s to say I don’t have life experience?

HURLBUT: Yeah, it’s a grand assumption that everybody’s first 20 years is the same. It’s snobby. But, this is why Young Hustle exists! Because we’re gonna do what we want to do. And it’s gonna be dope! If you don’t like it, fuck you.

HIGLEY: Everybody’s life is different. We wouldn’t be in this situation if we didn’t have thoughts on life. Accepting that you’re going all in with comedy means accepting a premise about life already. If you’ve been able to do that, then you can actually look at things that have already happened in your life and be able to comment on it.

OGLE: Just out of pure logic, anybody who has ever lived has life experience. Even if you’re 10 years old, you can go up and talk about 10 year old life experience. You have just as much of a right to share that. You don’t necessarily have to be talking about the biggest topics. I mean, I don’t know too much about anything, but I can go up and talk about how I don’t know too much about anything. Which is just as valid as somebody who is the smartest person in the room. It’s just a snapshot of the human experience.

Final thoughts, words of wisdom?

JACKSON: In the wise words of Tom Brady— [moment of laughter] Wait, I’m gonna butcher it, Clay hit it...

HURLBUT: We all talk about this Tom Brady quote that hits us hard, and it goes: “What are you willing to do, and what are you willing to give up, to be the best that you can be?”

JACKSON: We come from a mentality of love. On some cliché  shit, we love the game. If you’re gonna do something, make sure you do it with people you love and with people who want to be as great as you want to be. 

HIGLEY: Get enough sleep, but also don’t. The most important thing to do is to work as hard as you possibly can, because that’s the only thing you have control over—your work ethic.

OGLE: I’d like to take this moment to call out every one of my ex-girlfriends... [moment of laughter] Honestly, if you don’t like us, you don’t like greatness. [moment of laughter]

HURLBUT: This is your life. Live it well. Also, watch out for us, ‘cause we’re comin’.

Written & Interviewed by David Gavri
Contributing Writer David Gavri is comedian, producer, and writer who performs all around the Chicago comedy scene