Published on September 15th, 2015 | by Alex Thiel0
Oxford Expat Comedian Matt Owens Returns Thursday Night to Proud Larry’s
Sometimes, if you want lightning to strike, you’ve got to go to the middle of a thunderstorm.
When comic Matt Owens left Mississippi for the entertainment thunderstorm of New Orleans a few years ago, it didn’t take long for the city’s activity to provide his career with a happenstance jolt of energy.
During the filming of the upcoming Bryan Cranston movie Trumbo in November, Owens found himself performing for Cranston, John Goodman, Stephen Root, and—most importantly—Louis CK during Comedy Beast, a regular Tuesday night show at The Howlin’ Wolf.
“After the show, [Louis CK] grabbed me and told me he wanted me to open for him at the Joy Theatre in November,” explains Owens. “I think it gave me street cred.”
Such is the nature of the entertainment business, in which overnight successes are usually years in the making. Owens says that his material didn’t change, but that “it was just having the acknowledgement of somebody who is arguably the best comedian out there, you know?”
He’s since been featured at Hell Yes Fest, as well as playing five nights in New York City back in February. Now, the Ole Miss Theatre alum’s upstart comedy career brings him to Proud Larry’s this Thursday night, as part of his Mississippi-wide “Crooked Hump Tour.” In addition to expanding his own audience, he also seems interested in paying his success forward and taking advantage of the unprecedented comedy buzz in the area.
Owens hasn’t left Mississippi altogether, after all; he crosses state lines at least once a month as curator and host of a comedy show at Government Street Grocery in Ocean Springs. It wasn’t too long ago, however, that Owens had to leave Mississippi just to get a chance to practice his sets at open mics.
“I drove to Memphis for four minutes, sometimes only three minutes [of stage time],” he says. “You spend half a tank of gas [driving] eighty miles from Oxford to Memphis. You go up there and tell three minutes’ worth of jokes. You can’t really get a gauge of whether you’re any good or not, and you don’t walk away from that situation going, ‘oh comedy is amazing!’ You say, ‘oh, what am I doing?’”
At the same time, Owens credits these early efforts as the experiences that honed him into the comedian he is today.
“One of my favorite things about comedy is taking something that you know in your gut is a funny concept,” he reflects, “[b]ut how do you communicate that? Is it a change of phrase? Is it inflection? I think that’s the exciting part—sort of figuring out the puzzle of it.”
“It used to be comedy clubs in bigger cities,” he says. “That was the thing. And then, I think that sort of idea was smashed, and people started realizing that comedy didn’t have to be in the comedy club. It didn’t have to be in a traditional theater.”
“I’m a perfect example of [someone] who really didn’t have an opportunity, who lived in areas of the country where, back in the day, you had to go to New York or LA to be a comedian, and I think things have changed now… [I]t reminds me a lot of the comedy boom of the 80s, I think it’s really hot right now.”
The tour will also take him to the Blue Canoe in Tupelo and Hal & Mal’s in Jackson. Joining Owens on the tour will be another upstart Mississippi comedian, Hattiesburg’s Corbin McDavitt. Oxford local Connor King will open the Proud Larry’s show.
Playing in these smaller towns may seem something of a step backwards after success in one of the south’s biggest entertainment hubs, but Owens argues for the merits of smaller scenes, particularly college towns.
“A perfect example is Lafayette, Louisiana,” he explains. “It’s a destination comedy spot, with some of the nation’s best and biggest comedians. The reason why is because the audiences there love it. Lafayette has a huge university there, so the audience is educated, they’re tech-savvy, they’re interested in the arts, they’re interested in all these kind of things. It’s a lot like Oxford.”
In fact, he’s quick to sing the praises of his former hometown, and relishes the homecoming opportunity: “Everything’s happening in Oxford. On the map, it looks like a small town in Mississippi, but if you’ve been there, you know the people that are there.”
“There’s no doubt it’ll be really, really funny,” he says. “You should catch us both while it’s cheap!”