Corner Tavern sits snug in the middle of Atlanta’s Little Five Points neighborhood, which can be kindly described as a fun, counterculture-oriented part of town, friendly to all kinds of people, and well-stocked in entertainment of the music- and alcohol-based variety. Conversely, it can be described, as it once was to me when I first moved to the ATL, a “pseudo-Bohemian tourist trap.” Even if you’ve never had a pint there, you probably have a neighborhood in your town just like it. Sitting at Corner Tavern’s bar, you see a lot of beards walk in. Big beards, shabby beards, Zach Galifianakis beards, show-off beards, beards on beards on beards on beards. Again, friendly to all kinds. It’s enough to make a guy who’s waiting to interview someone with a beard, someone who’s comedy group is named after this particularly hirsute facially trait, more than a little anxious, as if every dude who walks in is the person I’m supposed to be quizzing. Luckily, Dave Stone is warm and friendly from the start. Clearly, he’s a pro, even though he’s only been doing this stand-up thing for a few years now. He’s even happy to talk beards.
“I don’t know if anybody would,” he responds when asked if it would be weird if a member of his group, the Beards of Comedy, went clean shaven. “But even if they did, it all started off as a joke and as a novelty. But yeah, I will acknowledge that it would be awkward if someone shaved for a while.”
Stone grew up in Canton, Ga., a small town by any measure. The 2010 consensus put Canton at just south of 23,000 citizens, and Stone admits that his upbringing was rural-verging-on-rednecky, but it seems like it suited him well enough. To this day, he’s quick to a joke (When someone tries to bum a cigarette from him through one of Corner Taverns windows, he begs off, then says, as soon as the guy’s out of earshot, “I always want to ask people if I can bum a Kit Kat. I don’t smoke, but, ‘Naw, man, you got a Snickers?’”), even when—especially when—its at his stomach’s expense. Hearing him talk about his upbringing, its clear his parents put him on the road to hilarity.
“It’s kind of a weird twist,” Stone remembers. “I was always envious of kids that had cool parents with the cool records, because my parents listened to country or whatever. Not that there’s no merit in that, but in high school it’s like, ‘Oh, I got this Black Sabbath album from my dad’s collection,’ and all my life I was like, ‘Oh, I wish my parents…’ But what they did do was comedy. Stand-up comedy was exposed to me at an early age, listening to a lot of Bill Cosby records, Clint Wilson. At the time I didn’t notice it, but now I appreciate it. I discovered all of the cool music on my own, but I think being exposed to good stand-up early on had an influence on me.”
After leaving his family home, Stone attended the Connecticut School of Broadcasting in Marietta, a suburb of Atlanta. He wrote a bunch of stand-up material at age 20, but “didn’t have the balls to go on stage.” He did some radio work in Athens and eventually at 99X, the big rock station in the ATL, using the vocal cords that Atlanta magazine recently described as “a powerful voice, deep and resonant, a real radio voice. He was good at projecting it, manipulating it, doing vocal caricatures.” He was learning to be funny, how to entertain people. It wasn’t until he finally got onstage at a taco joint in Midtown Atlanta that he thought he might be able to do this comedy thing.
“I prepared,” Stone says. “I wrote my set about two or three months in advance, I did nothing but try to get a good five minutes together. So when I went up, relatively speaking for someone that had never done it, I felt good about it in the sense that there was material. I had this joke and I had that joke. I hear a lot of stories about a lot of first-timers that go up there and wing it, and that’s not a good combo. No experience with no preparation is not a good combo.”
Eventually, he’d meet the rest of the Beards, Andy Sanford, TJ Young and Joe Zimmerman. These four men, all with fuzzy faces, had solo careers of their own, but they decided to do one together on a lark at an Atlanta music venue called Smith’s Olde Bar. The show led to more shows, and eventually to a West Coast tour. The Beards of Comedy is refreshing compared to a lot of acts, because you get four personalities—four guys who could do just fine working on their own, but occasionally come together to work as one bearded force.
“Obviously the name is a hook and a gimmick, but it’s kind of a satirical take on a gimmick,” Stone explains. “If there is any hype, I feel like we could back it up. I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but I think it’s a good show, and it’s just different enough to where maybe people remember it. ‘Oh, the beards, and there’s four of them, and they were all pretty good.’ It’s just a different take on comedy. And like I said before, it’s about getting in front of people who don’t typically go to comedy shows. I don’t really know what to attribute…I don’t want to say to our rise, because we’re definitely not household names, but there’s definitely a slow burn going, but I’m glad to be a part of it.”
Cardio Mix, the Beards’ second album, came out in November on Comedy Central Records. Not bad for a group that’s only been working together for a few years. The album garnered positive—if few—reviews, popular podcast/website/empire Nerdist calling it “a hilarious showcase of observational comedy ranging from deadpan absurdity all the way to hysterical admissions of the truth.” On it, each beard is given 10 tracks, which shakes out to about 15 minutes each, and the result is a never-boring mix that covers myriad topics spread across four distinct styles.
Like his fellow Beards, who have all left Atlanta for New York in the past six months, Stone recently departed the Peach State. Instead of heading to the Big Apple, though, he went west to Los Angeles, the city he believes has the country’s best comedians. Not to mention, he says, that it seems strategically sound to have Beards on both coasts. The way he sees it, it’s the only way to improve. And if you’re not improving, what’s the point?
“I’m excited to get out there and get in the game,” Stone says. “You want to go where the best comics are. It’s like playing basketball, and by no means am I belittling where I came from, I could go play pickup games with a bunch of 10-year-olds and kick their ass and feel good about myself, but that’s not going to make me a better basketball player. I’ve got to play with the college kids and get my ass kicked and eventually that will make me better. You’ve got to surround yourself with people that are more talented than you are, and New York and L.A. is where that’s at.”