Whether you know it or not, Langston Kerman’s been on your radar for a while. The failed NBA ball-boy turned successful Los Angeles stand-up has been everywhere and on everything, from multiple Comedy Central appearances, to his recurring role on Issa Rae’s groundbreaking Insecure, to being handpicked by Chris Rock to write for the Academy Awards. Paste’s Assistant Comedy Editor Yusef Roach was able to catch the industrious Kerman on the way to a flight and chat about his Comedy Central Stand-Up Presents half hour special (which airs tonight), his new album Lightskinned Feelings (which is out today), and how he’s managed to stage a consistently successful stand-up show in a place that abounds with free entertainment.
Listen to a track from Kerman’s album here at Paste.
Paste: Forgive me for being the worst journalist in the world; I’ve been touring Bourbon Country all week, and they’ve been forcing us to drink. Obvious first question: You’re a comic—this is Comedy Central. How stoked are you to have your own televised half hour?
Kerman: You know, honestly? It’s been almost a year since we shot these; which is the weird truth of the whole thing so part of me is just… relieved? It’s finally going to exist, and I get to be done with this material I’ve been, you know, trying to move past for a long time. Obviously I’m super excited; it’s a great opportunity, and I’m really happy with how it turned out, but I’m also just like, “Wow, finally I get to breathe and come up with some new shit and make more of what I want to make and not sort of feel like I’m tied to these old narratives.”
Paste: For sure. How long were you working out this material before you taped it?
Kerman: I mean you did comedy, so you sort of know, like, working on the material is a really relative question. There are jokes in there that are three or four years old, and then there are jokes in here that, at the time of shooting, were only six months old, so it really depends on the joke.
The set itself? I probably took out for like a year, year and a half. Shaping it, molding it into something that didn’t just feel like a run of jokes, but still had a little bit of heart to it and a little bit of something I actually believed in. And now they’re gonna add commercials to it.
Paste: That’s awesome. I’ve been to your super popular show at Milk Tavern, the one you run with Jak Knight in Koreatown. I was at the very first one actually, and have been back two or three times since. It seems like you guys pack that shit out, which is very hard to do in Los Angeles. How do you guys maintain such a fantastic show and audience? Your lineups are incredible, so I’m sure that helps.
Kerman: Yea! I think we put a lot of faith in booking people who we similarly find funny and just wanna make something dope. And by dope that means somebody who actually wants to kick it and leave when their set is over. It feels like a good party vibe almost. Jak and I have been on tour together; he’s one of my closest friends in comedy. I think we know how each other’s energy works and flow off each other well enough that it feels like two dudes that came together to make the same thing, and not just a convenient relationship that we’re both taking advantage of.
Paste: That’s dope. A genuine friendship that blossomed through comedy, and now you get to build together.
Kerman: Yea, I’ve known Jak for like five years now, maybe more. Since we were both much newer in comedy.
Paste: Back to your special: In the past year after taping it, did you just abandon that material?
Kerman: My initial instinct was to abandon everything entirely, and then I got enough headlining dates that I realized that wasn’t possible. You know, if you got to go 45 minutes in Indiana, you can’t uh… I’m not exactly able to just think my way through that, so I’d go back to some of the jokes I know that’d make people comfortable and I know work, as opposed to being “principled” and forcing my hand. As soon as I found a way to not tell certain jokes, I stopped telling those jokes. An honest way of doing it, instead of feeling like I’m cheating the audience.
Paste: When you were headlining and realizing you had to do old material to get that 45, did you start riffing more and adding to old bits and wishing you could redo some?
Kerman: Yeah, there were a bunch of jokes that if I had another run at, I’d do them better and add a bunch of new tags. Just a different energy with it. I think there are a few angles I have a lot more confidence in my opinion now than I did then. But that’s comedy, man. None of this shit is permanent. It’s this ever-flowing, growing process, and so part of it is like learning how to make peace with that? And your own part is continuing to challenge yourself to make new jokes from those old ideas, because that’s how you keep growing as an artist.
Paste: Your album, Lightskinned Feelings, also through Comedy Central, also comes out [today]. That’s an hour-long?
Kerman: 55 minutes, so close.
Paste: Is that going to have some of the same material as the half-hour? Or is it all-new?
Kerman: Big portions of it are parts that got cut from the half-hour. I think when I taped the half-hour I did closer to 40 minutes than I actually did to 30? And, you know, they cut it down to 21 or 22 or whatever it is exactly. Jokes I had been doing on the road already and other jokes that I really like at the time that felt good. All of this material is stuff I’m trying to get rid of as quickly as possible.
Paste: When did you tape the album in relation to the half-hour?
Kerman: I think I did the album in June at the Punchline in San Francisco. I’m really happy with it, it feels like a really nice reflection of what my comedy is—I get to play in it, and do crowdwork, and it really feels like a thing I had a little more control over in terms of the finished product, so I’m excited for people to hear it. The eight people that listen to comedy albums, that is.
Paste: I think personally, I’m a bigger fan of albums—they feel a lot more intimate. I don’t know what it is about headphones, but they kind of make things more real to me. Were you able to get some of those riffs and expansions that you worked on after the televised special into the album?
Kerman: Yeah, I think so. I think a bunch of it is going to show and bleed through.
Paste: Apologies in advance for how lame a question this is, but I’ve always been curious: day of a taping, whether it’s your album or special, are you nervous at all? Can you eat? Do you have specific things you eat? Rituals?
Kerman: I try to avoid rituals at all costs, because then it feels like I’m doing something really important, and I don’t need that kind of pressure. I got drunk, I hung out—I treated it like it was a regular-ass Friday.
Paste: You were able to do that? I guess you are a pretty chill, laid back dude—that’s your vibe.
Kerman: When I say I partied, I mean within reason, I wasn’t actually “drunk,” but I had some drinks and kicked it, hung around New Orleans and treated it like it was a fun day, because that’s what it was. The nice thing about taping a special is that if you really are comfortable in the material you’re doing, then this is the “treat,” you know, the dessert. The meal is the stuff that we’re working on throughout the two years building up to that—that’s the work, and so hopefully you’ve done the work so the day of doesn’t really have to feel like this impossibly high-pressure situation. Which isn’t to say I wasn’t terrified and nervous and all of those things, though it is to say I didn’t feel like I had to add more pressure to it than already existed.
This is just going to be a really fun day with cameras on.
Paste: Last question, I promise. If I’m not mistaken, you’re a big Naruto fan?
Kerman: Yes, I am—seen every episode.
Paste: Okay! Original series, pre-Shippuden—who’s your favorite ninja and why?
Kerman: In the original series, it probably is Rock Lee. It’s either Rock Lee or Kakashi. Kakashi probably energy-wise is the coolest dude to ever exist, so yea everyone wants Kakashi swag. Nobody wants to be thirsty like Rock Lee is, but you definitely want to overcome all your weaknesses and shame like Rock Lee does. He almost took down one of the baddest motherfuckers ever before anyone knew he was one of the baddest motherfuckers ever.
Paste: When he took the weights off in the first Gaara fight? Straight-up tears. Are you having another Milk Tavern?
Kerman: Yeah! We’ll be back Oct. 24 is the plan.
Yusef Roach is Paste’s Assistant Comedy Editor and the cohost of the podcast Death is Imminent. He’s on Twitter @yusefroach.