Lance Edward knows a good joke when it happens to him.
Life, he readily admits, is a better comedy writer than he could ever hope to become. As a comic, his job is simply to recognize when it's giving him A-plus material—like the time his grandmother set him up with a girl from church who, she said, "just gave up an alternative lifestyle."
It's his favorite story to tell onstage, and as with most of his stuff, you really have to hear him deliver it to get the effect. Few of the details are embellished—not even the part when his date drove up in a truck with a license plate reading "BCK2DIC."
"Sometimes real life is so funny," says Edward, 34, over late afternoon drinks at Kelly's Olympian. "I know I'm good, but I'm not that fucking good."
Of course, not many straight male comics these days would touch a bit about going out with "a former butch lesbian," even if the universe dropped it in their lap. But Edward learned long ago that the key to being a successful comedian is trusting your sense of humor, and not worrying about the possible backlash.
And besides, Edward, who grew up in Northeast Portland, has a way of disarming even the most uptight audiences. A student of Martin Lawrence, Jamie Foxx and Def Comedy Jam, his humor leans raunchy, but his demeanor is hardly in your face.
With his easygoing smile and frequent, high-pitched titter, he instead comes across as the funniest dude in your friend group, the guy who can get you gassed for a night out with jokes about the evolution of porn star blowjobs and the experience of shopping for legal weed.
It's a natural role for Edward, because that's pretty much the person he's always been. His obsession with comedy developed at a young age. He'd fall asleep listening to Bernie Mac and Richard Pryor albums, and would skip school just so he could have the television to himself to watch standup.
As a kid, while his mother watched In Living Color in the living room, he'd sneak into the hallway and watch through a well-placed mirror—his mom only found out after he got in trouble for doing the Homey D. Clown routine in school and smacking a classmate over the head with a balled-up sock.
But if there's a single moment that set his life's path, it was when his whole family came over to watch Eddie Murphy Raw on pay-per-view.
"He just looked like a star," he says. "The music, the walk, the intro—that's what grabbed me. I was like, 'I don't know what this is, but I want to do this.'"
Once he started playing clubs, though, Edward quickly realized you're lucky if the host just announces your name correctly. But even when his material was limited to first-draft dick jokes, Edward could still get laughs through his energy alone.
Performing in front of predominantly black crowds early on, he learned you have two jokes, tops, to grab an audience before they tune out. White crowds, meanwhile, taught him not to settle for "sympathy claps."
"I know a participation trophy when I see it," he says. "I don't want you to clap, I want you laughing."
Over time, Edward began to pull more from his real life, developing an act he feels can work no matter who's in front of him. Now, the laughs come easy—two years ago, he stopped working a day job and committed himself full time to comedy. He's bombed plenty, too, of course. But those moments of failure have only confirmed this is the only thing he wants to do.
"That's when you figure out if you love this shit, because that shit hurts," he says. "See if you're willing to get back up onstage to do it again. If not, then that shows what you're made of. But if you are, let's keep going."