Q+A: Dwight Simmons, RAW Indianapolis’s Performing Artist of 2012

For comedian Dwight Simmons, nothing is off limits. His comedy style pulls in all aspects of life, from a recent break-up to his hometown of Indy. His natural ability to get laughs–stemming back to his childhood days–has won over audiences in Indy and the Midwest, helping him to snag the title of 2012 Indianapolis Performing Artist of the Year from RAW: Natural Born Artists, an organization providing resources and exposure for artists and creatives on the rise. Simmons gave us the scoop about his comedy career so far and where we can catch his performances this year.

Your website mentions making people laugh was a way for you to get through difficult times–like a move to Carmel in 6th grade–growing up. When did you realize you wanted to pursue it more seriously?

I started getting on stage and going to open mics in 2008. I wasn’t at all serious about it back then. I’d perform at 3 or 4 shows a month and I thought I was great. Looking back, I was probably one of the worst comedians in the history of comedy. In 2011 I decided that stand-up is what I wanted to do and started to put in the time and effort needed to actually get better. Whenever people ask how long I’ve been doing it, I say 2 years because that’s when I decided to dedicate myself and take it more seriously.

What was the learning curve like going from making classmates laugh to making jokes in front of an audience at a comedy club? What was your first performance like?

In class, there was never any pressure to make people laugh. It was easy to just live in the moment with your friends. On stage, you’ve prepared material and you are hoping to connect with people through it. You are hoping they accept you. It’s fun. My goal is to get back to that carefree child-like presence on stage. That’s when I’ll be happiest.

My first performance went okay. I’m always embarrassed about it because I did two Eddie Murphy jokes verbatim. That’s a huge no-no! Of course people laughed because it was really Eddie Murphy. I was too dumb to know any better, though. It’s much more fulfilling to have people laugh at your own material. But starting out, I was just plain awful.

What’s your process for coming up with new material? Are there any areas of your life you like to draw inspiration from the most?
I try to set aside time each day to write. I’m getting comfortable with the idea that anything in life can be used as material. That is, as long as it’s somewhat intelligent & is funny. I like to delve into my last relationship, my friendships, pop culture, social equality and things like that. Like I said, I’ve only been doing this for two years so I’m really still honing my own point of view on life as a whole. It’s quite a fun journey.

Being from Indy, you get to perform for hometown audiences at local clubs like Morty’s and Crackers. Do you find you have to tweak jokes for audiences outside of the area?

Rarely. I have a bit about Carmel that I like a lot. It’s relatable enough that you don’t have to even have to know of Carmel, IN. I can riff off of the local scene because I’m from Indianapolis but I don’t necessarily need to do that outside of Indy.

On top of being the RAW Performing Artist of the Year you’ve won other awards like Battle of the Comics. How does it feel to get to take home these titles?

It’s always nice to win something but it’s bittersweet. I’m happy to have those credits but comedy shouldn’t be viewed as competitive. I’d much rather be part of a show that isn’t a competition. The competition aspect of comedy is more for spectators and fans I think. I’m so competitive that I get caught up in winning instead of focusing on developing my material and getting better as a comedian. My mom is proud of me though so I guess that counts for something.

One of your goals is to participate in more comedy festivals and take your comedy to more cities. Is there a dream venue or city where you want to perform?

I’m extremely excited to participate in the Limestone Festival in Bloomington this year. They have a CRAZY good array of talent. Looking forward to meeting Pete Holmes, Maria Bamford, Tig Notaro & a bunch of others there. I don’t really have a dream venue…It would be nice to perform at the Playboy Mansion. I think I just want to be funny enough so that I don’t have to try with women anymore. That’s the dream.

Where can our readers learn more about you and where you’ll be next?
I always post about my shows on Twitter–@Fnfunnydwight–and my Facebook page. My calendar is always up to date on my website.
Any advice for an aspiring comedian in Indianapolis?
Go to every open mic & start to network. Go to weekend shows at Morty’s, Crackers and watch the headliners. Become a student of comedy. Indianapolis is a great place to get better as a comedian, & that should be your focus. Most importantly, try not to piss anyone off.
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