They say that laughter is life’s best medicine, and multitalented comedian Rodney Carrington has earned his Ph.D. in the funny business. Having sold more than three million comedy albums and performing regularly to sold-out shows nationwide, he’s remained one of the country’s top 10 highest-grossing comedians over the past decade.
With his unique combination of music and shtick, Carrington’s down-to-earth, every-guy likeability is a no-fail prescription for laughter, and as fate would have it, his gift for comedy is also what helped him sink his roots in the Sooner state.
Originally from Longview, Texas, Carrington found himself in Oklahoma when he met his wife in Tulsa while first working the comedy circuit back in 1993.
“I was doing a show in front of 11 people in a Holiday Inn lounge. They had a little bitty comedy club there. She walked up to me afterwards and told me I was funny, and that was it,” he says.
“I tried to get her to leave and go back to Texas with me, but 18 years later, I’m still here; I’m an Oklahoman. I love it here. It works great for me because I’m right here in the middle of the country and able to travel all over easily.”
Although he didn’t start out with any plans to pursue a career in comedy, Carrington found he had a knack for it while pursuing an interest in acting and theater in college.
He says that he thought if he could do comedy, he could do anything, because it was so scary to be onstage trying to make people laugh.
So he took a crack at it.
“Oddly enough, the first night people laughed,” he recalls. “Then I spent the next year and a half trying to figure out what I did that first night, wondering, ‘How did I do that?’
“In the very beginning, starting out, it’s really all about how much humiliation you can stand, and apparently I had a very high tolerance for it,” he explains. “You really have to have that tolerance. Then when you start making people laugh, when you get a little taste of it, it becomes your quest – your life’s work – to figure out how to keep doing it.”
A testament to the power of radio, Carrington attributes much of his success to the infamous “Bob and Tom” live radio show, which worked hand-in-hand with his stand-up during the earlier days of his career.
After recording with Bob and Tom, Carrington discovered when he traveled to their markets that people already knew who he was and they liked his comedy.
It became clear that the radio show had continued to replay his material, and over time, as the show grew from 10 markets to more than 100, his exposure and popularity grew along with it.
It was during that time he got a record deal with Mercury Records, then with Capitol, and over the years a true grassroots effect was built; brick by brick, piece by piece, a dedicated “army” of Carrington fans came to be.
Some of the most popular parts of his performances that have always resonated with audiences are his musical numbers, which he says originally came about out of boredom.
“I bought a guitar at a pawn shop and took it on stage one night because I was so proud that I had learned three chords – and a club owner pointed out that if I was going to take that guitar on stage with me I’d ought to think about doing something funny with it,” he says.
But beyond the funny songs, the jokes and stories, it’s what’s at the core of Carrington’s material these days that hits home with his fans – and that’s the personal touch he draws from off the stage as a husband and father at home.
“I’m like date night. Most of the people who come see me are couples – I’d say 95 percent married people. People who have experienced life. My material nowadays is reflective of anything I personally experience as I get older, like marriage and having kids. Most couples can relate to that. The show always continues to evolve because as I’ve grown, my audience has grown right along with me.
“My favorite part of what I do is the moment that I get on stage with the people that like me. They’ve accepted me and I like them, and we get together and I tell them some stuff, and they give me some money and I can pay my bills. It’s an awesome blessing to be able to tell people funny stories and make them laugh – ‘cause Lord knows we all need a lot of that.”