Nosy People Make Good Comedians
Milwaukee comic Rodney Burayidi develops material by eavesdropping at coffee houses.
While most people writing in coffee shops keep to themselves, local stand-up comedian Rodney Burayidi keeps his eyes and ears open. It’s how he gets his material. But there’s a bit more than simply overhearing snippets of conversations that makes his writing process unique.
“Excuse me, sir” Burayidi, asks a tall guy wearing a Batman t-shirt. “Did you just ask that girl out? Was it because she was cute? You don’t have to pretend like it wasn’t because she was cute.”
The guy is perplexed. He likely isn’t used to being interviewed in a coffee shop by a stranger. But he opens up and a dialogue begins about women, philosophy, and how the old pick-up line, “Well how can I get to know you if we don’t go out to dinner,” has made a full-circle turn.
If this all seems strange to you, you’re probably right. And that’s the point Burayidi is trying to make.
“Nobody is present anymore,” Burayidi says. “Everyone is online! Look around you.” He correctly points out that the crowded coffee house is filled entirely with people wearing headphones and looking at screens.
“Do you remember photo albums?” Burayidi, 26, asks me. “When I was younger, I’d look at photos and I’d be like, ‘Ooh photos!’ and ‘I remember that!’ And then my parents would tell me about them. It was like a moment – a bonding experience around pictures and memories.”
Born in Ghana, Rodney Burayidi has made quite a few stops before settling in Milwaukee. His family life and experiences have been a source of inspiration for his comedic material.
The day job doesn’t make it to the stage often, however. “For me, I can’t talk about that in my comedy,” Burayidi says. “I can’t make it funny. What’s funny about counting by five? Who wants to hear about that?”
Burayidi has been performing comedy for three years, first getting his feet wet in the dorms while attending the University of Wisconsin. Soon after, he performed at his first open mic in Madison. Unlike many first-time performers, he told all of his friends, too.
“I told everybody,” Burayidi says of his first open mic experience. “It went really well because I brought a lot of people. And it wasn’t, like, stupid or anything. I was just telling stories. I went 12 minutes and they didn’t kill me because I had brought so many people.”
He says his influences include Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor, and Bill Cosby. “I like the old school guys,” Burayidi says. “They’re inspiring, and right now I just have to build material to get there. That’s all I want to do is have good material. Build a half-hour. Build an hour. All this working up to headline.”
Recently, Burayidi played host for Los Angeles’ Comedy Film Nerd, Graham Elwood, at the Comedy Cafe in Milwaukee.
Still relatively new to comedy, Burayidi laments the occasional downside, like dealing with hecklers, be they audience members or fellow performers, but focuses on working hard and not caring about failing some of the time on stage when trying new things.
“I’m very self-aware. It takes me a long time. I can be like ‘Oh, that’s not funny,’” Burayidi says of how he approaches writing jokes. “I have material I know works, and there’s so many old jokes I don’t tell anymore, and it’s not that I don’t like them, they’re just not me anymore.”
Talking to strangers about relationships and their philosophies is likely a good sign Burayidi’s current and future material will be authentic and will evolve with the public he is around. Even if that same public watches his act while constantly checking a cellphone screen.
Burayidi performs at the Landmark Lanes on 2220 North Farwell Avenue in Milwaukee on Friday, March 28 at 8 PM. “Expect to laugh,” he says. “That’s all I want to provide.”