Joke a Lot: Carbondale Comedy Alum T-Murph Returns!

For former Carbondale comedian Guerterrius "T-Murph" Jackson, one of the perqs of coming back to do
Josh Stockinger

For former Carbondale comedian Guerterrius "T-Murph" Jackson, one of the perqs of coming back to do standup is being able to have conversations with his audience rather than sticking to some shtick.

"Whenever I do shows like that, I don't really do, I guess, what you would call 'material,'" he said. "I just come and have fun. We talk about real things. We talk about town, college life. We have conversations. That's what we do."

Jackson should have plenty of fodder when he headlines the Carbondale Comedians showcase Friday, February 28 at the Hangar 9. The former barber, who says he draws from his own life experiences to make people laugh, has had a lot going on lately, from relocating to the Chicago suburbs to filming an episode for the reboot of BET's Comic View: One Mic Stand.

Jackson, twenty-nine, moved north in December to "really pursue comedy full-time" in the thriving Chicago scene. The BET show, scheduled to air in March, was filmed in August, and Jackson said it's by far his biggest project since his 2012 spot on Comedy Central's Key and Peele sketch show.

Hosted by comedy veteran Sommore, the new season of Comic View reimagines the original series (1992 to 2008) and has a flavor similar to Russell Simmons's Def Comedy Jam, "just not as raw," Jackson said. "It will be three comics or two comics a night, depending on how they platform it."

"It's supposed to air in March," he added, "but that's probably May, knowing BET."

In a recent interview with Nightlife, Jackson, who will be joined by comedians Jay McNamara, Kyler Cook and Sarah Bursich at the Hangar 9, talked about how he ended up where he is today and where he hopes to go next.

Your career seems to be taking off. You've got television projects. You're performing all over the United States. What's been the key?

It's just all about the individuals you surround yourself with, having a different level of work ethic than what a lot of other individuals have. Of course, you have to be funny. But a lot of people will tell you comedy and the entertainment industry is ten percent being funny and ninety percent business. I've always been business-oriented, so when it comes down to it, I'm going to handle my business first, and we'll worry about the jokes later. So that's why I've never had a problem with booking shows. I went from an opener to a headliner because, you know, that's what I wanted. I don't just take any and every show.

Growing up in Kankakee, you were encouraged to pursue entertainment by your mother. How did that influence what you do now?

She definitely got me into the entertainment business young. She took me back and forth to Pivon School [of Theater] in Evanston. She was extremely motivating and supportive. She helped me get an agent when I was younger, and to get out and do a lot of different [modeling] print work... magazines, articles, ads for clothes, textbooks, billboards, all types of things.

Was it ever awkward telling a dirty joke in front of Mom?

It was extremely awkward when I first started. I tried to do a show one time when she was there, and I didn't want to curse. I did pretty bad. It was weird.

So, what led you to comedy specifically?

Just working in a barbershop, being in that aspect, working with individuals on a daily basis. I was always cracking jokes since I was a little kid. Moving on into different arenas of life, I actually had people saying, “Oh, you should do standup.” I never really thought about it, but a couple of years ago, I tried it. I was pretty good at it. I got paid for doing it, and I kept doing it.

Remember your first time? What did you love most?

Just the reaction. Not just being able to make one or two people laugh but being able to make fifteen or twenty people laugh. Knowing your life is funny.

How have you gone about developing your own style?

My style actually came about with me just finding out that I needed to be myself onstage. I was mimicking other comics when I initially started. And then, as I started to mature onstage and get better stage presence, I started to become myself onstage, and essentially find who I am onstage. The person you see onstage is the same person you see offstage.

How did you hook up with Key and Peele?

I have a [comedian] friend, Lil' Rel, and he was booked to do a show at Roosevelt University in Chicago with [Keegan-Michael] Key and [Jordan] Peele. He wasn't able to do the show [because of another opportunity], so he offered me the opportunity to open up for Key and Peele. When I did open up for them, I had a really great set. I asked them to come downstairs and watch it. They came and took a look and were really impressed. After the show, I pulled them aside and asked about becoming a writer on their show. They already had a team of writers. After they told me that, I also let them know, hey, I can act too. So they went ahead, and Key gave me his phone number so I could reach out to him about getting an extra role on the show. I contacted him, like, once a month from that point on. In June, he called me and said, “Send me a headshot.” I was in L.A. for about a week, did a couple shows at the Laugh Factory and the Improv. They didn't know I was a barber, and they actually cast me as a barber on the show. It went from there. They were really down-to-earth, cool guys.

What do you think of the Carbondale scene these days?

It used to be a lot bigger than it is now. It doesn't have a lot of organization or structure to it. But when I first started, there just a lot of individuals like Kyle Scanlan— he also moved up here to Chicago— who helped the scene, helped it get really big and strong. And then, when they left, it kind of died off.

What's next for you?

I'm working on getting a monthly show at Jokes and Notes in Chicago on Sundays. It's in the beginning stages of getting it together. It's coming.

What do you like most about where you are right now?

Just the freedom. The traveling. I've seen places I never thought I'd see before. I've been all over the place. The freedom just to be able to go out and travel, just being able to talk to people. It's something my fiancée always gives me a hard time about: “You're always talking.” Yeah, well, they pay me to talk now.

who: Carbondale Comedians present T-Murph / Jay McNamara / Kyler Cook / Sarah Bursich

what: standup comedy showcase

where: Hangar 9

when: Friday, February 28