Their lives are jokes: stand-up comedy hierarchy in Jacksonville

Joseph Pike

Picture this — there’s an empty stage aside from a lonely microphone. In front of the stage is a room full of strangers that are there for one thing: laughs. The person entrusted with pulling laughs out of the audiences’ (usually intoxicated) bodies, a near impossible task, is the comic: nature’s underachiever.

In the Jacksonville stand-up comedy scene, there exists a subtle categorization of funny — a hierarchy that separates the funniest from the rest. Although it’s important to keep in mind that what’s funny to one person might not be funny to another, some funny is just funnier than other funny.

Regardless of their ranking in the stand-up universe, comics do what they do because they want to make people smile. And unbeknownst to most, many of these comics in Jacksonville are current or former Ospreys.

Just kidding. No, but seriously.

Luke Engelskirch is just beginning his climb up the comedy hierarchy.
Luke Engelskirch is just beginning his climb up the comedy hierarchy.
Photo by Joseph Pike

Luke Engelskirch, a junior majoring in English at UNF, has just begun his comedic journey. Engelskirch has only performed stand-up comedy one time. He is the absolute bottom of the comedy hierarchy and is only beginning to understand what it truly takes to be funny.

Although new to performing comedy, Engelskirch has been a fan of stand-up for most of his life. He has dedicated countless hours to writing down his inner monologues and funny concepts only to have his slants on life and witty anecdotes heard by virtually no one. He is nervous about following his passion and he his own harshest critic.

For many new stand-up comics like Engelskirch, the hardest part of doing stand-up comedy is simply trusting their material and getting on the stage.

“The one time I did it, it made me happy,” Engelskirch said as he reached for his beer and began laughing.

Engelskirch’s approach to comedy, thus far, is reflective of his own outlook on life. He really enjoys it, but only if there are laughs involved.

What allows Engelskirch to be the starting point in the stand-up comedy hierarchy is difficult to explain, but not hard to understand. He has genuine ability to make people smile, he’s ambitious, even if he doesn’t realize it, and most importantly, he’s done stand-up once before and will do it again.

“There’s a selfish happiness to it [stand-up] that you get,” Engelskirch said. “It’s a real high.”

Before Engelskirch climbs the ladder that is stand-up comedy, however, he must gain more experience, work on timing and delivery, and do all this while finding a style that is truly his own.

The stand-up comics who have gained these attributes embody the next step in the hierarchy.

 

Meet Sam Holcombe, a man with a larger than life mustache who some might call an acquired taste. Holcombe attended UNF for a single summer semester in either 2005 or 2006. He couldn’t remember which.

Holcombe
Sam Holcombe is high up in Jacksonville’s comedy hierarchy.
Photo by Joseph Pike

Holcombe is a genuinely funny person and a self-proclaimed storyteller. He can dazzle an audience with unusual stories from his youth and can somehow make the idea of urinating on a bird hilarious.

“Stand-up comedy is the hardest job in the world,” Holcombe said with great confidence.

When asked if he thought it was harder than being a brain surgeon, Holcombe said without hesitation, “Of course.”

“If you want to learn how to be a brain surgeon, just go to brain surgery school,” Holcombe replied. “But no one can teach you how to be funny.”

Holcombe has been paid to perform stand-up multiple times and is aware of what it takes to make people laugh. He understands the business side.

Although high up in the city’s comedy hierarchy, Holcombe could fall anywhere on any given day due to his subject matter (which some find to be too crude).

Just because he’s a great storyteller and is funny does not mean people will always laugh, and there’s no one more aware of that than Holcombe. Yet he does consistently make people laugh, which is why he gets the nod for the next step in the hierarchy.

To be at the bottom means you are in good company and to be in the middle means you have what it takes, but to be at the top is to be lonely… lonely and funny.

Chris Buck is a professional comedian who knows how to make people laugh.   Photo by Joseph Pike
Chris Buck is a professional comedian who knows how to make people laugh.
Photo by Joseph Pike

Meet Chris Buck, a bearded man with a plan. Maybe not a plan, per say, but he’s prepared. Okay, maybe not prepared, but really, really funny. Plus he graduated from UNF with a degree in political science in, he thinks, in 1999.

“Funny is a big part of [stand-up]… but sincerity sometimes connects to the crowd,” Buck said.

Buck is a professional stand-up comic that genuinely knows how to connect with a crowd. Sometimes, it’s almost like he reaches into the audience’s brains and is able to say everything they want to hear. Because of his ability to connect with an audience, he performs stand-up multiple times a week and is paid for his services most of the time he gets up on stage.

Like Holcombe, Buck is not only a hard worker, but also a dedicated “comedy philosopher” and wants to generate something beyond laughter. Almost everything he sees and hears is a potential monologue or joke, and that’s why he’s at the top of the local comedy hierarchy. Not because he’s necessarily the funniest, because Buck will be the first to tell you that some days he’s not funny at all, but because he understands exactly what funny is.

“Funny, only itself, is funny. There is no other determination other than what is happening with that person in a room,” Buck said when describing the difference between comedy as a business and comedy for comedy’s sake.

The important thing to keep in mind when discussing the hierarchy of Jacksonville comics is that the hierarchy doesn’t really exist among the actual comedians. Engelskirch, Holcombe and Buck are all funny guys. The difference between the three is something subtle. It’s the difference in their timing, their delivery in their act and their confidence when discussing a topic that makes the distinction possible.

What these guys are doing — what all stand-up comics do — is hard. Making people laugh is hard. Comedy is an unforgiving business and that’s why in the end, it’s about nothing but the laughs.

Email Joseph Pike at [email protected]