If you've ever been to the PIT in Chapel Hill, chances are you've heard of Jonah Lewis, an up and coming stand-up comedian based out of the research triangle area. Jonah grew up in small-town Fuquay-Varina, a fact that regularly makes its way into his act.
In fact, much about Jonah's personal life and journey is included in his jokes. Jonah has cerebral palsy and uses a walker or wheelchair to get around. He says that his disability has given him an interesting perspective on life. And, it definitely hasn't stopped him from accomplishing great things.
Jonah is currently a rising junior a UNC-Chapel Hill, where he performs many comedy shows. That's when he's not busy with his double major in history, with a specialization in ancient/medieval history, and library science. He also performs as an in-house comedian at the PIT and has done several shows with a local comedy group called "Guys in the Hill," which is how we had the pleasure of meeting Jonah.
This young performer stood out from the crowd and was genuinely, endearingly funny...so much so that we just had to seek him out for five quick questions, TAR style!
How did you get into stand-up comedy?
To our surprise, Jonah tells us that he only started doing stand-up comedy a few months ago, back in January of this year. He says, "I had always been interested in comedy from an audience's perspective but really never felt like getting up on stage." He says that he "wrote it off as a stupid idea."
However, all it took was one key night to change everything for Jonah. He explains how, "I went to see a friend of mine perform at a slam poetry night on campus. Everyone who got on stage that night delivered well-rehearsed, extremely thoughtful poetry about some of the hardest moments of their lives, and I remember thinking, if they can do that, there's no reason I shouldn't at least give my thing a shot."
He goes on to explain that, "On a whim, I auditioned for this comedy troupe on campus called False Profits." He says he "walked into the audition with almost nothing prepared and what became a 2 hour venture began. It turns out we were supposed to perform stand-up as part of the audition. I had come totally unprepared and quickly wrote some jokes while waiting for my slot."
Despite the hurried nature of his preparation, Jonah says, "They liked what I put together, and I got a call back for the next night, but I was cut in the third and final round of auditions. I liked it so much that I decided to find an open mic, and now I'm a regular at the PIT on Franklin Street; everything sort of took off from there."
What is the most challenging thing about stepping onto the stage and doing your act?
Though Jonah may love comedy and performing, he assures us that it's not without its stresses. For him, "the most challenging part is the anxiety that comes along with performing for an audience. Writing and rehearsing for a show can be stressful, but I tend to enjoy the process. However, when I actually get up on stage, I have a lot of stage fright. No matter how long I rehearse, I tend to stammer over segueways, and I get a lot of shakiness and panic."
Jonah also tells us that, "on a more technical level, the most challenging part of doing a show is trying to bring some physicality to the stage when my wheelchair restrains me to one spot. I try to combat this by moving my hands and arms along with keeping a rapid pace to seem more dynamic onstage. Overall, I think my stand-up works on its own despite my lack of movement, and hearing an audience laugh at my jokes is a payoff worth all the anxiety I get from performing."
What inspires your comedy?
Like most great comedians, Jonah can cite plenty of influences and inspirations.
He tell us that he's "always been a longtime fan of stand-up," and goes on to say that, "I still spend a lot of my time off-stage as a consumer of comedy."
He also tells us that, "I was influenced largely by comedians like John Mulaney, Tom Segura, and Patton Oswalt in terms of their stage presence and of understanding how to write jokes based on my own life."
Outside of other comedians, he says, "My biggest inspirations are my friends and family, and my own experience from day-to-day. I've always been a magnet for strange situations and people, so when I write jokes, they tend to be based on the most humorous version of situations I've found myself in. Basically, I try to find the funniest interpretation of my life that works onstage."
What would you say sets you apart from other comedians?
Showcasing his wonderful, open nature, Jonah explains, in answer to this question that, "The first thing that springs to mind is the fact that I am a disabled comedian. I live my life differently from most people, and I think that gives me an interesting perspective on life and what I see from day-to-day. I've had very different experiences than people in the audience may have had. I get looked at weird for being in a wheelchair. People treat me differently. I've even been denied service due to my disability. Comedy is about living life and reporting it in a way that not only makes people laugh but provides a window into a different experience than their own. Everyone has something unique about them; mine just happens to be more apparent to other people, which causes them to act differently toward me. Whether I take issue with it or choose to find the funniest parts of those moments is entirely up to me."
Jonah also tells us that "on a more technical level, I think the thing that sets my show apart from other comedians is the amount of work I put into writing and rehearsing my sets. I try to write something new as often as I can, and even when I'm not sitting down actively writing, I constantly revise new concepts in the back of my mind. I also spend a lot of time editing either by myself or brainstorming with friends of mine."
What are your goals for the future, comedic and otherwise?
Jonah has given us such an insight into comedy, how it works, and his unique perspective and experience with it thus far. So, we just had to know what this young and gifted performer sees for himself in the future.
First, he explains how, "outside of comedy, my time is taken up mostly by school, and my foremost concern is completing my degrees."
He goes on to say that, "In terms of stand-up, I am extremely new to comedy, and it has quickly become a passion for me. There's no better form of self-expression. I'd love to be a full-time comedian one day and get paid to do something I love. However, for right now, I want to continue performing at the People's Improv Theatre, as well as find larger audiences to perform for. All in all, my biggest goal is to do a full hour of stand-up comedy as the headliner for the night. Hopefully, I can make something that is significant. I want something I say on stage to mean something to an audience member. Somewhere in all my stories and jokes, I want to make someone's night a little bit lighter. I know we all have things going on in life that weigh us down, and maybe someone can make a connection with my experiences that helps them through whatever they might be going through."
Here at TAR, we think Jonah's goals are incredibly noble and get to the true heart of what comedy is all about. We also have a feeling we'll be seeing more great things from Jonah in the future!
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