Often called “The Andre the Giant of the Comedy World” (actually, I may be the first person to have used that), Owen Benjamin is a very funny and, at 6 feet, 7 inches, very tall dude. With stints on Punk’d and guest spots on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, as well as a nice run on the recently axed Sullivan & Son, Benjamin is humorous in the way an old college buddy is funny now; he may have mellowed some, but he still has some great stories the kids shouldn’t hear. And, better still, he doesn’t overuse dick jokes; something experience teaches.
Benjamin’s standup comes from what is authentically funny to him. By his own admission, Benjamin isn’t very edgy. Rather, he finds humor in the experiences most folks deal with every day. The funny things about owning a dog or being in a relationship or using a urinal or being pulled over by a cop — things most folks can relate to — are the things that drive Benjamin’s comedy.
Recently, Folio Weekly caught up with Benjamin to discuss his height, his piano prowess and his potential alter ego, “The Five Dollar Bandit.”
Folio Weekly: When I search your name on Google, the first two things that come up are your height and your parents’ names. Weird.
Owen Benjamin: Yeah, I am really tall. I guess my parents made me tall so they must be getting the credit. I used to do a joke about how people would be disappointed when they picked me to play basketball because I’m really bad at basketball. Strangers ask me a lot if I play ball. Short people never deal with that sort of pressure; nobody asks them if they ever get shot out of a cannon.
What path did you take to comedy?
I went to college in SUNY Plattsburgh and my first gig was opening for Kevin Hart. I got the bug, I just loved it. After school, I moved with a buddy to L.A. I didn’t really have a plan, I just sort of wanted to get a job at a restaurant and hang out, but I kept doing standup and it grew from there.
What’s a typical day on the road for you?
For me, the way I stay sane on the road; I jog a lot. You have to leave your hotel room; it isn’t healthy to not leave your hotel room. I try to find a nice, pretty area of the city I’m in and usually go for a jog. I also do some writing. I’m also doing a podcast right now called Why Didn’t They Laugh, where I take jokes from recent shows that are either working or not working and I kind of do an analysis of why that’s the case. Over time I’ll show how the joke will work through some changes to the joke.
What is an example?
I show the difference between racial humor in Cleveland and Tampa. I’ll do a joke or a song that has to do with something racial, and in Tampa, the crowd gets really uncomfortable because everyone is really white. In Cleveland, the crowd is so diverse that it kills, and it shows how it’s the exact opposite of what you’d think. Black audiences love it and white audiences are very uncomfortable with it.
What is the funniest thing about Jacksonville?
Last time I was there, someone checked my five-dollar bill to make sure it wasn’t counterfeit. I’ve never seen that before. The girl held it up to the light and used the pen on it. To this day, I still think about it, I’ve never forgotten it. There must’ve been a Five Dollar Bandit in the area.
You use some music in your comedy, but it isn’t your whole act. Is it important to balance the comedy and the music in your routine?
I played piano a lot longer than I’ve done standup. I just wanted to make sure I was a standup before I was a standup who used music. Sometimes that can be a crutch. I wanted to make sure I was a killer at standup before I started breaking out the piano. Once I started headlining more, I realized it was too good not to use, the fact that I could play classical music, it opens up so many doors to jokes that I have to utilize.
As a giant in your field, are there advantages to that in comedy? Are there disadvantages?
It’s all advantages. In acting it’s a disadvantage, because you always look absurd next to everyone. But in standup, it’s a huge advantage because height gives you a certain sense of control and power over a room. So many public speaking jobs get tall people because it gives a great sense of power.
When you’re doing TV or film, are there a lot of people standing on boxes next to you?
Totally. It’s bizarre; it doesn’t make it a little harder. I usually play someone’s brother or cousin or relative, and it’s just very glaring that I’m not related to a lot of people.