Rodney Laney is doing comedy differently

Chad White

Rodney Laney is a real comic’s comic. Much like most other stage comedian, he has his followers but that’s only because of word of mouth. No one will know his name but that’s okay. Success, to him, is getting the audience to laugh. That’s all he wants to do: entertain. But, getting money and praise wouldn’t be such a bad thing for him either.

Laney has released a new album, I Blame The Publik Skool System, that will forever solidify him in the comedy landscape. I recently had a chat with him about the CD, stage presence, and Jane The Virgin.

How long have you been doing comedy?

Laney: I can say sixteen years. Yeah 2000 I would say.

What were you doing during those years of comedy?

Laney: Just standup and a few interstitials. A few pilots and some movies you’ve never heard of and I don’t even want to talk about. [laughs]

So those were the dark years of your comedy career?

Laney: Yeah I think I’m still in the dark years. What are you talking about?

[both laugh]

At least you got to the pilot stage. Not a lot of people have done that. I read on your website that you did pilots for Comedy Central and MTV.

Laney: MTV was interesting because it was, at the time, the biggest budget they had for this pilot. It actually aired – I never saw it. It was this crazy combination where they would prank these kids. Their parents would leave their house and all these crazy things would happen to these kids when they were gone. Some of it was scripted, most of it was improv and, at the same time, they had the parents in a house not too far from there. The parents had to guess whether or not the kids would get through the pranks or not. So it was too much. [laughs] it was way too much for this simple…now they got things like Ridiculousness. Just watch a video tape. Sometimes simple is better.

It sounds like that old dating show on MTV called Parental Control and then also like a mix of – not Wild N Out – but another lame comedy show on the same network.

Laney: Yeah. I don’t know what they was trying to do. It was this colossal failure.

Speaking of stuff trying to do, your website is [basically] your own hype man. It says that you’re the ultimate showman. Since you’ve been doing comedy for sixteen years now, you’ve got all these bookings ready and all this stuff. What are you trying to do?

Laney: I’m still – how do I say this? I’m having such a good time with comedy right now. I’m in a really good place. Fame and fortune is a lot of people’s motif. It’s not necessarily mine. Don’t get me wrong; if it comes, I’ll take it. I just really want to be one of the great comics. I just love making people laugh. I want to get better at the craft of standup comedy in hopes that that might take me to theaters and stuff like that. I do like acting. I think I’m a pretty good actor. If it takes me into that direction, I’ll go. But, ultimately, I’m true to the comedy game.

You’re like a pure comedian where you don’t want any of the fodder that comes with being the Kevin Hart or Amy Schumer of Louis C.K. You just want to get up on the stage, tell some dumb jokes and hopefully people laugh at them.

Laney: Right. Tell some jokes and hope people laugh and have a good time, man. The only problem with that is before, that used to be enough. Now, with the advent of these overnight sensations, you run into the problem that the comedy club owners just want to sell out the club. There’s a lot of situations where you see people who aren’t comics – you don’t even know what they’re doing…they’re a YouTube hit and people come and watch them. That’s the competition that the purest is up against.

Definitely. I understand. You see all these people who are Twitter hits and YouTube and Vine stars – whatever that means – and they get these breaks that send them to top while somebody else who isn’t well versed or doesn’t want to use social media to that advantage, they’re stuck fighting against the tide.

Laney: Right. Exactly. And I don’t want to not evolve with the times. It’s not like I’m fighting against it. I still want to evolve with it but at least at my own pace. Something that’s comfortable with me. I just want to have fun. I don’t want it to seem too much like a grind. People always have this idea that you should be grinding -- “Grind it out!” -- to get this impossible dream of success on your own terms. That’s what I had to do: define my success on my own terms. Then gravitate toward that and be happy.

How are you getting your name out there if you’re not going this mainline route? If you’re going a backwoods way?

Laney: I’m still a part of Twitter and Facebook. I’m definitely still using social media. Maybe it’s not my main focus. Until I dropped this new CD, I’ve never really had another strong reason other than to promote the CD or some of the things I’m doing besides my shows, which I always do. I’ve always been that comic where people may not know what they’re getting into. I kind of like that. You don’t know. You’re going to take a chance on this guy and then you leave and you’ve been astounded. Now you realize and then it goes back to word of mouth, which is starting to pick up a little bit.

How did you decide what material goes onto I Blame The Publik Skool System?

Laney: What I wanted to do is have a narrative around my journey from growing up in Patterson and my experiences in grammar school. I talk about a little bit of my military experience [too]. It’s all these things that happened. Actually, “I blame the public school system” was a catchphrase I used to always say when I had something I didn’t understand. I would say “I blame the public school system;” It always got a laugh. Then my friends used to say if I ever did a CD, that’s what I should title it. It could almost fit anywhere after you say something silly. Having that in the back of my mind, I worked around it to [discuss] all these things that actually happened around me while I was in school that ultimately shaped my comedy perspective.

It sounds like your formative years really did help shape your comedy and who you are going to be on stage today.

Laney: For sure. I think our early year’s impact most of the things everybody does – not just the comics. You’re writing on the blank slate we all have. In those years when your personality is getting formed, all the experience [is used] to color that blank slate. And you just carry it forward. That’s what I did. I carried the ridiculousness of growing up in an inner city, just spreading it out to the masses. It was hilarious to me. Even then it just seemed odd…” Why is this stuff happening?”

What are you watching right now? Anything that peaks your interest in the comedy world? Or even dramatic world?

Laney: I do love a good drama. As a comic, when you’re watching other comics, you’re in your head about it so you can’t enjoy it like a layperson will. Drama seems to be my [what I’m drawn to]. But now, everything is changing. Because of meditation, I opened up a little bit and even comedy is making a comeback for me. I’ve been traveling a little bit so I’m catching up on anything. I’m actually watching Jane The Virgin. It’s actually pretty funny. When I think about it, I think what I would ultimately like to do is some writing. I look at [that show] and think “I could write that.”

You might as well throw your hat into the writer’s ring. It seems like an easy thing to do for comedians.

Laney: Yeah you could write and either or. Some people prefer being in front of the camera. I go either or though. IS there a way to be in front of the camera, behind the camera and the camera? I’m going to do it all; I’m going to do something different, Chad.

Follow Rodney Laney on Twitter, Facebook and buy I Blame The Publik Skool System here.