If you haven’t yet heard the name Nore Davis, rest assured knowing you soon will. The 29-year-old comedian began his foray seven years ago, and today shows signs of a longstanding career to come. His energy is infectious, injecting the crowd with a sense of life that not many are able to portray. Both on and off the stage, his ability to be funny is immense, something seen by the likes of Tracy Morgan – whom Davis joined on the road as his opening act.
He recently sat down with The Smoking Jacket to discuss his philosophies on life, the energy of stand up and the highs of being invited.
The Smoking Jacket So how long have you been performing?
Nore Davis: I’ve been performing for seven years now.
TSJ: When I saw you a few weeks ago you got onstage with this energy of a guy who had been doing it for much longer. You seemed so comfortable, almost as if it was impossible to bomb.
ND: Thank you! But that’s not true because I have. [laughs] I have bombed. There have been times where you have all of that energy and people just look at you like what the hell are you saying? I just try to find a mix where I can be fast-paced but clear in my words. I’m always good when I’m packed with energy. I’m not that demeanor where I just stand and tell jokes. To me, that has no energy; that has no life.
I appreciate your compliment and I try to do that every time. I try to get over myself. That’s what every comedian tries to get over, that ego. The crowd doesn’t give a fuck about your personal problems. They paid for a show. So for me, I always try to put away all of my bullshit and just give the crowd a show. And when you open for someone – like I did when you saw me – it’s a team effort. I play my position.
TSJ: Have you always been that energetic onstage?
ND: I think so. Sometimes I go through a phase where I’m low energy; that’s when I’m working things out because I don’t know where people laugh. I try to find the pace, the rhythm and whether or not it sounds right. I also try to do a mix of both in my act because people need a show. I never want to come off boring.
TSJ: There are some guys that do that type of stand up – just up telling jokes or even stories from their personal lives – and they do very well. Are you at all a fan of that?
ND: Oh, I definitely am, but I think it depends on what room you’re in. I came up in the black rooms – as they say, “the urban rooms.” In there, you have to be energetic. African Americans, they paid their money and want a show! [laughs] Where as a conservative crowd is more like do what you want; I have no worries.
TSJ: So you still notice that difference?
ND: Yeah, I do but I don’t see the color onstage. It’s different when you’re up and coming because we don’t have a fanbase yet. We’re just performing for random people. They don’t know me and I don’t know them, so I have to figure out if I have to be energetic to get their attention or be low and just spit some jokes out. The majority of the time it looks like you have to be energetic.
TSJ: What kind of rooms don’t you have to be energetic for? Because I would think that energy is used to your advantage.
ND: Yes, definitely. A room I don’t have to be? The open mic. I don’t necessarily care there. I just try to find the structure of the joke. If I can get a laugh from a group of comics that are trying to work out the same things, if they can get themselves out of their minds and get what I’m saying and laugh, then there’s substance there. So then if I go to a club and put some energy behind it and sell it, it should work.
TSJ: Do the times matter? When I saw you it was the Friday, 10:30PM show. I’ve heard that tends to be the worst. In fact, I noticed that because during the Emcee, the guest and you, the crowd was fine. However, when the headliner came up they got rowdy.
ND: They got drunker. And that show was long, I remember. Friday’s at 10:30, people don’t think about the process of domestic family life. On Friday, people get home; they eat, chill out, and maybe go to a movie. So by the time they come to the 10:30 comedy show they’re hammered and tired. Then they sit for an hour and a half and get restless. It’s like a toddler; move me, hug me, or something; or else I’m going to be annoying! [laughs] That’s why everyone hates Friday’s at 10:30.
NORE DAVIS AT THE COLLEGE STRIP
TSJ: I’ve heard Sunday nights are the best.
ND: They’re usually really good. When there’s a string of one-nights, a club is the best place. You hit it hard and go home. I think the audience has that mentality too.
TSJ: So the question you’re always asked. Tell me how you got into comedy.
ND: I love answering that one. I got into comedy in college. I went to Pratt Institute and did art advertising. I was always an artist but just in a different medium. Then I did improv. I had fun with it, loved it, but it started getting competitive onstage with how much time we had. Everybody would cut each other off. I started thinking I’m just going to do this by myself. But before all that I loved it, don’t get me wrong. After the group broke up I started doing stand up and I’ve never stopped.
TSJ: Had you always loved it?
ND: I have! In high school I just loved being funny. I never thought I would do stand up. In college I started watching stand up, guys like Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy. I remember I had the Eddie Murphy ‘Raw’ VHS tape.
TSJ: He was like nineteen in that I believe.
ND: Yeah man! Like nineteen or twenty but he didn’t seem like that. He seemed like an adult.
TSJ: No, not at all. The jokes were crisp.
ND: Absolutely. It’s funny; when we’re young we have this idea that we’re old. We want to seem grown, listening to old material. Then when we’re old we want to be young again. [laughs] It’s this reverse cycle. So when we watched Eddie, he was talking about grown people shit when he was young. It’s crazy. So I had his VHS tape and used to watch it faithfully. Then I started really getting into comedy.
TSJ: That competitiveness of improv, you don’t find that all in stand up? I know when you’re onstage alone it’s your time, but off the stage, there has to still be a competitive atmosphere.
ND: Oh definitely! But I can’t worry about that. I just have to be a horse in my own lane, put the blinders up and just run my own marathon. If you worry about what other people are doing you’ll never get done what you’re doing. I really try to be humble. I’m very happy for all of my colleagues who get auditions and pilots; I know mine will come. I’m still working! If I stop then I won’t be working. [laughs] I wouldn’t be putting the work in. I’m in the game.
So yes, it’s definitely competitive, but I don’t worry about that. When it comes to stand up, I just make sure my act is something solid, and maybe so my other peers, when they hear my name, go, “Oh yeah, I’ve worked with him. He’s great. I like him.”
TSJ: That respect is so important in comedy.
ND: Yeah! You want to be a great act onstage and a nice person off stage. I think that’s the way to live it; that’ll get you far. I’m an asshole to with my family. I’ll let them see that. [laughs] They know me and love me so they can tolerate it. [laughs] But with fans or social media, I try to show the positivity of a being a good guy. Because I think I am. I’m doing my thing.
TSJ: It seems you have this old soul, which I love. In thinking back on some of the comics I’ve spoken with, it seems like the ones who have done it longer have a greater appreciation for it and for being a better person. It seems like you’re one of the rare ones who have that now.
ND: Thanks man! I get that a lot, that I have an old soul behind this young face. I’m twenty-nine, which is still young. I feel like I’m still building to find out who I am. Everyone does it at their own pace. There’s no set way to do things; you can’t determine it. All I know is that I’m sitting here talking to you. All I can control is right now. Where I got that demeanor in life, I don’t know. Maybe my ex-fiancée’s mother. She had this great attitude of don’t worry. What are you going to do? Everything will be all right. I really picked that up, because the truth is what are you going to do? I think I’d give her credit because she’s right. What am I going to do man? [laughs] Right? If your coffee spills, get another one! [laughs]
NORE DAVIS AT THE GOTHAM
TSJ: I think that’s a great outlook.
ND: Yeah man. I really try to keep positive. It’s easy to get lost in that ego. Why am I not getting pilots? Why didn’t Kyle interview me! Everything happens for a reason and whenever the stars and planets align, that’s where you’re supposed to be.
TSJ: Do you think that ideology contributes to your apparent-fearlessness onstage?
ND: Yes, definitely.
TSJ: Is there any fear up there?
ND: Oh hell yeah! I have a lot of fear. But that’s why I love it. That’s what drives me; I’m a big risk taker. Before stand up I did street racing. We’d race behind the cops back. I had a couple of accidents where I should’ve been dead. [laughs]
I get that equivalent thrill from stand up. You have these jokes and you don’t know these crowds. I’m making strangers laugh! Then sometimes it doesn’t work. [laughs] That risk, that fear, that’s what gets me. But don’t get me wrong; it still scares the fuck out of me.
TSJ: Should that fear ever go away?
ND: No, it shouldn’t. For me, I think it’d get boring.
TSJ: What about the audience – before the show, do you like to see them?
ND: Yes. I think it’s called “checking the temperature of the room.” I like to scope them out, just to check my surroundings. I love doing that. I think you have to. Then you want to see the act before you to see what they talked about just so you don’t step on their toes. That fear is still there when I do that too.
TSJ: Say one side of the room is cold; do you focus on them or balance your time?
ND: I try to balance it. Then mid-set you can either address it or keep going. Every comedian has that choice, to address something or plow the fuck through it. Because we have a microphone; we can talk louder. [laughs] My attitude is why am I fighting for your love? So the people who do like me, I give them a show. They deserve it.
TSJ: So you’ll rarely address something in the audience.
ND: It depends. If it’s something I can get funny from and the side that likes me will appreciate it, I will. But the side that likes me; they don’t deserve any disrespect. They’re with me. The side that doesn’t like me, it’s their loss.
TSJ: How about writing? What’s your process for new material?
ND: Just living life. My experiences. Some stuff will come to me as observation. I call myself “aggressively observational.” I like to also mix that with silly, pop culture references. Then I’ll talk to my family about life, about what’s going on in our lives and if there’s a premise I can pull out of it and take to the stage.
That’s another thing I love about stand up, the excitement of having a new joke. I built it; I crafted it, and if it works and gets a laugh it’s great. I got this from just thinking some thoughts that made people I don’t know explode in laughter. It’s some type of reaction.
TSJ: The new material, do you go to an open mic and try it out or go to a club?
ND: Both. I’ll go to an open mic and try it but I’ll also have a set of A jokes and put in the new player right between jokes I know that will do well. That’s the process; you mix in a new joke with bits you know will kill. Sometimes I put them in the beginning to be risky. If it doesn’t work I have a backup plan. That’s the process that I believe every comedian does.
TSJ: Do you prefer story-form or one-liners?
ND: It usually comes out as story, but to me they are jokes. It’s setup, premise and punchline all under one topic. I guess that’s why it comes out as a story. I also do premise, punchline and act out. Doing some acting gets people going.
TSJ: Since you’ve got an improv background, do you bring that to the stage?
ND: Yeah, I do that with a premise to see where I can go. But the thing is I like to think a lot, and with improv you can’t think. I like to know where I’m going. If I do then I’m very good. If I don’t I’m just looking away from the crowd and slowing down. Then the crowd’s reaction is like what the hell’s he doing? Is this bombing? Yes, it is! But when I know where I’m going I can hit all the jokes.
Then again, if the energy is right, I will improvise a new tag on a joke. And I think that’s a journey for every comedian, where you have a joke, then this big laugh and on that laugh you find a new tag that came from no where.
TSJ: And from then on is that part of the bit?
ND: Yes, where I try to relive that moment with a different audience.
TSJ: Is it ever as good as that first one though?
ND: Yes and no; more of no because that moment is something that’s once in a lifetime. But as an actor or performer you have to recreate those moments. But because they’re different people it’s hard to recreate.
But again, I’m just trying to find my fans. You want to feel comfortable with people. When you have that you can’t lose. That’s what the stage is, finding those people.
NORE DAVIS AT THE BROADWAY COMEDY CLUB
TSJ: I guess it’s that whole thing, you can be funny in front of friends but can you be funny in front of a room full of strangers.
ND: Exactly! That’s the challenge; that’s where people get it twisted. That’s also why a lot of people can’t do it. It’s tough because you don’t know the audiences. You don’t know what’s going on in their personal lives. I like to get a reaction out of them but not trigger them. You have to be aware of your surroundings. I want to get a group of people that I trust and who trust me.
TSJ: When you do get that – where the room is there just to see Nore – do you think it’ll still be challenging?
ND: Oh yes! Those people know the majority of your material. They know what made them hook onto you. So then you have an excitement to craft a whole knew piece for them. They know your sense of humor and persona so anything you say or do will be respected. They trust you.
TSJ: But after a while would it turn into boredom?
ND: It can’t turn into a job. If it turns into a job you fail. You can tell on a comics face if it’s like that. You’ll go back after a year and you’ve heard that’s stuff before; that’s when it becomes a job.
TSJ: So I’m guessing you always write new stuff.
ND: Yeah, just keep writing and mixing in new stuff. Then down the line when my time comes to put something together I know I’ll have it. It takes time.
TSJ: With all of those venues of ways to get yourself out there, how do you feel about it all?
ND: Honestly, who am I to say? I’m just a product of it. I reached my goal, to be a full-time stand up comedian. I make my money from this; it’s what I do. Bars, clubs, corporate gigs, high schools; whatever.
TSJ: You do high schools too? How’s that?
ND: They want you to be really clean.
TSJ: That’s funny. Nobody in a high school audience is clean.
ND: Those kids are jerking off and trying to fuck anything they can. [laughs] Once you talk about sex those kids love it. But behind them are the administrators; that’s the people you have to satisfy. You have to satisfy them but keep your dignity and keep who you are. Right now, I’m just trying to build who I am.
TSJ: I know you’ve done TV spots; how do you like that compared to a club?
ND: I really like TV. I did ‘The Ruckus’ and remember it was the most nerve-racking, high-energy thing I’ve ever done. I want to get back there! That one moment where you can’t fuck it up; Eminem – 8 mile! [laughs] But really, with that you almost can’t fail. They have volunteer audiences that know the deal.
But in the club there’s that intimacy. The audience is right there; you can look into their eyes and build your act.
TSJ: That’s intimacy is very cool.
ND: It is. And also, there’s the fact that you don’t know them. You could do well; you could fail. But it’s all about having fun.
TSJ: You mentioned earlier that you came up in the black rooms. Do you think that helped you?
ND: I do! You have to be on it; they don’t take no bullshit. They can sense if you’re scared. I love them though. I still do them. There’s so many types of rooms, but for me, I just think funny is funny. My joke should work in the coffee shops, a hipster room, a bar, college, a theater and a black room. If you can find a comic that can do all of them, there’s a good comic. That’s what I’m trying to build.
TSJ: That’s easier said than done.
ND: It is. And it’s easy to single file yourself. I know some comics do that but I think you need to evolve.
TSJ: I guess it’s just hard to get out of that comfort zone. I’d imagine the road helps with that.
ND: That, and then coming back to do the city. Just like I get bored with material, I get bored with a scene. I know I could create an act to make one type of group like me, but I don’t want to do that. That’s why the city is good; there’s so many different types of people. Plus my colleagues are here; the people I respect are here. I can do like four or six sets a night here in the city.
TSJ: Is New York unique to that?
ND: I think so. In New York you just take a train and cab. Sometimes there’s like three clubs on one street. It’s great for us. It’s never stagnant. I love the mixture. But because there are so many comics here you can’t really do more than ten or twenty minutes, unless you’re a name. So how do you build your act? You have to hit the road. I think you need the road to live and you need the city to be creative.
TSJ: Do you perform in LA?
ND: Only when I opened up for Tracy Morgan. I might open for him again next year. We’ll see what happens, but he gave me some advice that I really took to heart. He said don’t ever perform in LA unless they call you. Don’t go there willingly because you’re just going to be another act in the pile. Stay in New York and hone what you are. Ever since he told me that, that’s what I do. I just don’t like the idea of going somewhere unless you’re invited, you know? You always get the best experience when you’re invited. You don’t know anyone and they don’t know you. This ain’t Facebook. [laughs] When LA calls me, when it’s the right time, it’ll happen. I have something to look forward to.
Don’t get me wrong, that’s not saying I don’t go places. That’s how you meet other comics; that’s how I met Tracy. I love hanging out in comedy clubs.
TSJ: Your idea of being invited to the party, and having had Tracy invite you on the road, it sort of solidifies that idea of respect in comedy. That’s awesome.
ND: It’s huge! It’s always great when people invite you; it’s not forced. That relationship isn’t forced because it’s natural and you let it happen. Why force anything?