MEET A SICC-34 FINALIST: Trenton Davis


Welcome to the third (in a series of five) interviews with each of the finalists in the 34th Annual Seattle International Comedy Competition.

The comedians who have made the finals of this event had to be selected through the months-long application process.  They then competed against fifteen other performers in their Preliminary Week and then against nine other performers in the Semi-Finals Week. Each time, they had to make the top five from that week to move on to the next week. This week, the Finals Week, there are only five comedians.  And only one will be crowned this year’s champion.

If you’ve been following along with this year’s competition here on this website, you’ve seen names and some faces in some group pictures…but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to get to know each of them a bit better.

That’s the point of this series.  So, here’s another interview with one of our finalists!

Representing Chicago, Illinois…Trenton Davis!

Hey Trenton!  You’ve just made the finals of the 34th Annual Seattle International Comedy Competition!  How does it feel?
TD:  Making the Seattle International Comedy Competition finals feels like Will Smith felt at the end of “The Pursuit of Happyness”. Honestly, I had a moment similar to that after the final show of the semifinals, except I was in the car by myself…shouting, crying and laughing all at the same time.  It doesn’t feel like a prize or lottery because I worked for this.  I haven’t counted, but I feel like I’m very close to, if I haven’t already exceeded, my 10,000 hour mark.  I can tell too, because, I’ve been doing comedy seriously since 2003.  In the preceding nine years I’ve won absolutely nothing. My best showing was 4th place in a San Fran based contest. In my tenth year, 2013, I’ve already won two competitions and pray I can make it a hat trick.  10,000 hours – feels pretty sweet.

You’re heading into your third week of this competition.  Any highlights?
TD:  My favorite moment of the competition was probably when I won 1st place at Emory’s on Silver Lake in Everett during week 1. That really gave me the personal confidence that I belonged on stage with some of the other greats in my week like (Steve) Hofstetter, (Sam) Demaris & Parker (Postyeni). Either that, or when walking into the Comedy Underground, one of my fellow contestants whom shall remain nameless pulled me to the side and said “Trenton you’re my pick to win the whole thing.” She said it from a very honest place and, for whatever reason, it felt like confidence being washed all over my soul.  Respect from your peers is always good but when its conveyed in the way she did it, so genuine, it really does stand out as a “moment.”

This competition isn’t easy, to be sure.  What’s been the biggest challenge for you in participating in this competition?
TD:  The biggest challenge for me in participating in the competition was being away from my girlfriend and daughter. Juggling day job and going back and forth between LA and Seattle. Thank God I have cousins in the area and they have supported me at several shows as well as opened their home to me. Family and friend support is priceless!

Let’s talk a little bit about your comedy history.  You’ve lived in a number of great comedy cities!  Where and when did your comedy dream start?
TD:  I did my first ever comedy show in spring of 1997. I was pledging a fraternity at Georgia State and the big brothers made us enter a talent contest.  Up until then my only known talent was playing basketball. I couldn’t just go on stage and have a one on one contest with myself.  The young lady I was dating at the time said, “you should do comedy, you’re the funniest person I know.”  It’s so funny how we remember those small jewels that people say in passing that end up having lasting impacts on our lives. I digress, anyway, I wrote a 3 minute, hacky, set and did really well. The next day it was all over school that “Trenton was a comedian.”  After that I hosted things at my church and did one talent show at a nearby university where I bombed – so I left it alone for about six years.

Wow!  And then…?
TD:  In 2003, I moved to Chicago after college, got a job and got married. It was here where I really began chasing the dream.  I would drive an hour and a half to the south side of Chicago and earn my chops at Riddles Comedy club in Orland Park.  Between 2003 & 2007, I was chasing it – but I didn’t quite know that it was my passion yet. Also, during that time, my marriage was failing, I hated my day job and I was an unhappy person. Monday, May 28th 2007–Memorial Day weekend–during a trip in LA, after not having done any stand up for a while, I went to the Ice House to watch a show.  While there, I watched how this comedian had the crowd in his hands; how he was bringing everyone laughter and, I swear as sure as I’m writing these answers, God spoke to me and said “Trenton why are you not on stage?” Since that day there hasn’t been more than 5 days go by consecutively that I’m not on some stage, somewhere, making people laugh.

And how about comedy heroes–was there a stand-up comic that you admired?
TD:  My comedy hero is Bill Cosby. I remember my entire family of five watching Bill Cosby “Himself” over and over.  My parents didn’t allow us to watch Pryor or Murphy or anything with cursing in it, so I fell in love with how likable Bill Cosby was…and still is!  To this day the one comment that I receive more than any other is “Trenton you’re so likable.”

You’re living in Los Angeles now. What is the comedy scene like there?
TD:  LA’s comedy scene is a lot like shopping at Marshalls or TJ Maxx. Sure, you may find a nice polo but you sure have to go through a lot of bullshit to find it.  It’s like living through American Idol auditions: for every one or two experienced comics, there are literally hundreds that came out too soon, don’t have the chops, haven’t spent time in the trenches but are ready to record a DVD.  My advice to comics is “Don’t come to LA until you are featuring in at least three different clubs.” That means three different comedy bookers have passed you and think you are funny.  Additionally, it’s also like the chicken and the egg personified. To get on the really good shows, you need TV credits. To get TV credits you need to get on the really good shows. So, what do you do? Forgive me if I sound bitter but coming from cities like Chicago and San Fran where talent was paramount – it can be frustrating where networking (literally talking about stand up) is more important than actually doing stand up.  Alas, the rant is over. Such is life and I can’t change it. So, I too must spend hours “networking” at the Comedy Store, “networking” at the Hollywood Improv, and “networking” at the Laugh Factory. Another dichotomy going on in LA right now is that the alternative rooms are packing the heat.  Comedy Central is a lot more likely to scout a Jay Davis show at the Parlour versus hanging out at the Store.  But again, the comics know this so getting in the lineup at one of his events, especially if you don’t have TV credit so no one knows you, is like getting congress to work together on an immigration reform bill.  That’s another reason I wanted to be a part of the prestigious Seattle International Comedy Competition.  I feel like if I have a great showing this week, word will get back to LA.  I’ll be able to put “finalist of the Seattle International Comedy Competition” on my comedy resume and I’m praying the gravitas behind that will help me knock down doors previously too sturdy to budge.

And what’s the endgame for Trenton Davis?  What happens when the dream comes true?
TD:  If the world were my oyster, I would have a career similar to, but not exactly, like Bill Maher.  I would have my own show based on relationships and politics.  We would tackle serious issues (i.e. Prison Industrial complex, White Privilege, racism, unemployment, etc.) but do so with some comedic relief, so that its palatable. Additionally, I would do about two to three big shows a month at theaters versus comedy clubs.  All this would come after being a national touring headliner for approximately two to three years.  This would allow me to come home most every night and also be a good father and a good husband.  I would live in a city with several different comedy clubs and I would make drop in appearances at least weekly to stay connected to my audience and work out new material.  I would perform speaking engagements where I challenge/encourage people to chase his or her dream and I would have a charity that truly helps people take the first steps necessary to get started on their journey.  Finally, I would start some sort of clothing business based in the south side of Chicago. I would manufacture fine clothing and specifically hire ex felons who cannot get work, pay them a livable wage, and help them pull themselves up out of poverty and despair.  When it comes down to it, at the end of my life if all people remember about Trenton was that he was a funny comedian then I’ve failed.  If people say he used his comedic talent to really make a difference, to help people, and to be a great father and husband then, damn it, I’ve won!

You’re one of five finalists in this year’s competition.  You’ve gotten to see and know your fellow finalists.  Any thoughts about Graham Kay?
TD:  Amazing writer!  He’s the most opposite of me, so I really watch his sets and try to learn from him. We learn more from our opposites versus those most like us. His stories are impeccable and his personality is funny both on and off stage. I’m excited to see him do 20 minutes and I know he’s going to be a tough opponent.

Dave Merheje?
TD:  Dave is a freaking ball of energy. But, smart energy–not running around the stage screaming aimlessly…we’ve all seen that. There’s a method to his madness and audiences love it. I’ll admit, I do too. I watch him so that I can learn how to rant. I do want to add small rants into my repertoire to really push the point when I’m discussing certain topics like a nagging wife or the absurdity of my mother asking me if I sold my soul to the devil. I’m excited to see him do 20 minutes and I know he’s going to be a tough opponent.

I’m beginning to sense a trend here, Trenton.  What about Zoltan Kaszas?
TD:  Zoltan?  He’s just funny period. I don’t know if I can put my finger on his style. He’s like the nice guy at the party that you just want to listen to all night. He embodies San Diego’s laid back culture and every word he uses is strategically placed to get the maximum laughter. He’s polished. I’m excited to see him do 20 minutes and I know he’s going to be a tough opponent.

Last, but not least, what about Rodger Lizaola?
TD:  Well, Roger and I were in the first week together so, at this point, I’ve seen him perform every night. Perhaps he’s most like me in that he weaves in race topics but behind a smiling face so its palatable and FUNNY. He knows this area and uses his experience of the Pacific Northwest to weave together awesome sets that are just what the audience ordered. I’m excited to see him do 20 minutes and I know he’s going to be a tough opponent.

People are going to come to see these shows that have never seen you before.  What should they expect to see from you?
TD:  I’m excited about doing 20 minutes and I think I’ll be a tough opponent as well.  I’ve been a full-time feature for approximately two years now, so what they see this week would be similar to a show, if they caught me on the road.  I enjoy taking audiences on a journey.  I introduce myself, tell them who I am, where I’m from, and then after they get comfortable, I tell them the crazy things that go through my head, how insecure I am, and why I have trouble when it comes to relationships.  By the end of a feature length set, the audience knows me.  Perhaps that’s why the preliminary round and semi finals were so tough for me, because often times I had to pull jokes out of the middle of a set that are usually set up better when I have time to tell my story.  This week, I can slow down.  You’ll hear why I left Chicago, why I’m not married, how my mother impacts my life, what breast milk taste like, why I’m insecure and I’ll wrap it all up with a pretty little persimmon bow.

The competition ends on December 1st.  What have you got coming up after that?
After the competition ends, I’m featuring for Bruce Bruce at the Funny Bone in Toledo Ohio, Dec 5th – 8th.  If I win the competition, I’ll come back to Seattle Underground Dec 12th – 15th and after that I’m shutting it down.  I’m going to spend time with Kokoa & Harlyn (my girlfriend and daughter respectively) and do as much of nothing as I can.  I may take a local New Year’s show but if I don’t, and all I get to do is spend time with my family as 2014 rolls in, then I will consider myself a lucky man.

You said you’d be coming back to headline some shows in Seattle if you win the 34th Annual Seattle International Comedy Competition…let’s say you do win, what will you do with your prize money?
TD:  The prize money?  I’ll save most of it, use it to pay for travel for future shows, past due bills, and buy Kokoa a hell of a Christmas present!

Why don’t we call Trenton Davis to squeeze in as much comedy as anyone could possibly squeeze in?

Click here for Trenton Davis’ official SICC-34 Biography.

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