Standup is hard enough to do, even when you have everything going for you, but throw in a baseball to the neck, vocal contusion, and a major concussion and still crack up audiences, well that’s magic.
Actor and comedian Drew Lynch continues to do just that. A sports injury at 19 left him with a stutter, but Lynch hustled and pursued his dreams winning second place for his standup routine on America’s Got Talent in 2015. Since then, he’s been working busily across multiple platforms, from acting and standup to creating various types of YouTube videos/blogs that frequently feature his dog Stella.
ABILITY Magazine met up with the witty 27-year-old to discuss his many platforms and what got him to where he is today.
Lia Martirosyan: How did you get your start in show business? And why comedy?
Drew Lynch: I moved to LA when I was 19 and knocked out my first year of college in high school so I wouldn’t have to go to college, at least not yet. And then I wanted to do the whole actor thing, and when I moved out here I looked so young, I was able to get some good traction in Disney roles and Nickelodeon. I worked at a comedy club because it was a perfect night job, so I could have my days free for filming and auditioning.
And that comedy club had a softball team. I played baseball growing up. I don’t even know how far into the season it was, but I know one game in a grounder hit me in the throat. I fell and hit my head. I had a minor vocal contusion with a major concussion. I went home and slept and woke up the next day—my memory can’t even serve me because I don’t remember that day. All I know is the events that were told back to me from my roommate, who at the time knew from the moment I woke up that I was a little off. Things were blurry and I was dizzy. He rushed me to the hospital and they were like, “Yeah, you had a pretty severe concussion and you went to sleep on it, which is why there are some things that are out of line.
I couldn’t even do simple things like touch my thumb to my other fingers. It had affected my speech greatly. In fact, to a point where I was speaking so much slower. It was more like—I don’t know the word—isolated in the way it sounded.
Martirosyan: How old were you?
Lynch: I was 20.
Martirosyan: So you were already out here, playing baseball, and bam?
Lynch: Yeah. October 2011? It was a coed softball league.
Martirosyan: Oh, the coed will get you!
Lynch: (laughs) Yeah. The girl who hit the ball, four foot eleven, just a beast. Based on the diagnosis of the neurologists and the specialists and all the speech pathologists who had visited me during the short stay in the hospital told me that my voice would get better in two weeks. And it’s been, I don’t know, how many years? It’s certainly improved. At that time it was so traumatizing for me because I wasn’t talking the way I usually had. I had grown up speaking a certain way and to have it feel like, “Oh, no, I don’t have control,” that was so much of a loss for me. No one in the acting world wanted to hire me at the time. I had an agent and a manager and all this traction as far as getting sent out on auditions and—
Martirosyan: You’re saying you have a stutter. But you’re also saying that your voice actually changed as well?
Lynch: I guess my brain wasn’t able to process in the same way that it had. But it was definitely clear that my voice was different at that time.
Martirosyan: Had you ever stuttered prior?
Lynch: No, I didn’t stutter beforehand. But with the stutter, no one would hire me, acting-wise. And that was the only reason I had moved out here. So it was devastating for me. And working at the comedy club, they still had me as their employee, and they didn’t want a legal issue or anything like that. So I was very, very self-conscious about it at that time. I was just aimless about what I was supposed to be doing, because acting had been pulled from under me, and that was my whole passion growing up.
So, at that time, just being around the environment of a comedy club made me want to go onstage, based on suggestions from some comedians who had also heard my story. They said, “Why don’t you just go onstage and talk about it?” I had no idea how to write a joke. I’d only been onstage to do standup maybe two times before, and that was just to mess around or whatever, prior to my injury. So I had some notes I had written on a napkin in the hospital about my feelings, just so I could document it at the very least, not knowing it would ever be something I would end up talking about. Again, based on the diagnosis at the time, I was like, “It’ll be gone. I’ll be better in a few weeks anyway.”
So then I went onstage and had an open mic, and I just started to make jokes or self-deprecating quips about my situation. Back then, it wasn’t necessarily like, “Oh, my goodness, this was the best set ever,” but I could tell the other comedians in the room had a lot of compassion for my situation, because some of them had heard what I had gone through. But they had also felt how emotionally raw I was at that time, because I felt so helpless. I had no direction. It was just like, “What do I do?” I get that this is kind of a long-winded answer, but—
Martirosyan: You know, I’m already sleeping.
Lynch: (laughs) Yeah. It feels a lot like my shows. So in a way, that was kind of a thing that elevated me to a career path that I hadn’t ever really wanted to choose for myself.
Martirosyan: But acting’s still possible?
Lynch: Oh, yeah. I’ve done some acting since. But it was interesting the way that even at the time, especially when we were talking about diversity and the Media Access Awards, one of the big questions that came up was how diversity has, if at all, changed casting in the industry. And it really has. I mean, from first-hand, that was seven years ago, I experienced that no one was interested in that at all. And now there are so many other factors that come into play as far as how someone identifies with what their ethnic background is, disabilities or not. So in that way, it’s really cool that it’s become more accepted. So there’s definitely still a hope to be able to get to do some of the projects I felt I missed out on during that time. But it also showed me that I had to overcome something that would season me and ground me as an adult. I would like to say that beforehand I wasn’t a bad person, but I wasn’t necessarily someone who empathized or showed compassion with people who had day-to-day struggles, or things that they considered to be crippling, be it anything. It could be a physical impairment or something emotional or financial. There are a number of things that were made privy to my perspective, based off of something that changed my life.
Martirosyan: So why the America’s Got Talent competition? Why reality TV?
Lynch: I had auditioned once before for that show, and they told me I wasn’t ready, and I felt like I wasn’t. At the time, dealing with rejection, I was like, “I need this. This is the only thing I need to be able to validate my current life right now.” I was looking for anything to hold onto to be like, “OK, this makes sense for what the universe is trying to tell me.” Because you can only play the victim card so many times. For me, when they told me I wasn’t ready, I had overheard a fellow comedian say that they did 500 shows—500 sets in a year, and then miraculously they were able to get a spot on television. So I took that as a personal goal for myself, to be able to be like, “I’m going to do 500 sets in a year in any different environment, going everywhere: outside, in living rooms, laundromats, Korean barbecues—I’ve been everywhere. And then that way, I’ll go back and audition for America’s Got Talent.” And I did, and I ended up getting to do it.
As a comedian, you’re clamoring to get any opportunity. For me, I was never going to be in a position to say no to it, and I think that that show did such a great job at telling my story and also elevating my jokes on that platform. And the way they packaged it really let me in on something that was deeper than just going onstage and making jokes. In that way, a lot of people have since reached out to me saying, “Your performances and who you were on that show and what your performances meant to me and my family or someone who’s close to me, have inspired me or rejuvenated my outlook.” And that’s something I never could have even foreseen for myself. I was like, “I’m just a guy who’s doin’ jokes.” You know?
People who are inspiring don’t necessarily know they are. They’re just doing what it is they do, and people let that affect them that way. So that was cool. That show did such a great job at saying, “Here’s who this person is.”
Martirosyan: So you’re pleased with the results?
Lynch: Hated it! (laughs) No. Yeah, it was great. And even to speak more on America’s Got Talent, I got so caught up in wanting to win that competition. A comedian has never won that show. To come in second, while it was such an amazing experience, I was happy for the guy who I was competing against, a very talented ventriloquist. But I remember I would do anything to master the results of that moment. I wanted it so badly. That was my own ego speaking again in a way that was almost like me falling back into my old ways of being, “I’m going to try to control this so much,” to the point of wanting something so badly as to not be able to step away and see that there could be something later that’s much bigger. Or there would be something later and reasons why I shouldn’t win the show.
There are a lot of contractual obligations in winning the show, a lot of artistic liberties that you might give up. I’m not saying it would have, but it could have hindered, stifled, or slowed the trajectory of my career. And again, it showed me that I have to be in control of what it is that I do after the fact, despite any circumstance being stacked against me or something looking unlikely. And I should just accept whatever it is regardless and not be like, “Oh, this is the outcome I want, and then I’ll be happy.” If there’s anything this career has taught me, it’s that you can’t do that. You’ll never be fulfilled, and it’ll never end up panning out the way you had hoped.
Martirosyan: One of those personality types has that as a slogan. “I’m submissive when I’m in control.”
Lynch: Yeah, yeah.
Martirosyan: It’s this catch-22 that occurs in certain types of temperaments.
Lynch: Yeah. And it oftentimes feels that way. Sometimes just relinquishing control is so difficult. Especially when you are the person who is in charge. What you put into something is hopefully what you get out of it, and when your own business is contingent on your work ethic and what it is you’re able to do and produce, there is that stressor. That’s what I say about any given entrepreneur, that they would rather work however many hours a week for themselves than for anyone else.
Martirosyan: The old saying that it’s half a day, 12 hours a day.
Martirosyan: Did go back to college?
Lynch: No, I didn’t. I had a lot of older friends who did. My background was in theater. I had gone to performing arts middle schools and high school in Las Vegas, so again, it was all in preparation for acting. So I had had older friends who were ahead of me and who were in college, and they felt that by taking that path they’d deviated from what they had experience in doing and how many productions they had done. So I took the chance. I was like, “I’m going to do this. I have the advantage of time being in my favor with how young I am and how hard I’ve worked.” My work ethic has never changed.
Again, the circumstance of having a softball alter the way I perceived myself and my confidence and almost inhibit my ability to go out for auditions really threw me, but also revealed what it wa I need to do, which was to continue to go after the things I want and to pursue a creative outlet.
Martirosyan: Are you going to use the softball eventually as part of your logo?
Lynch: (laughs) Yeah. It’s funny, but I have a shirt that has a softball on it.
Martirosyan: Did you do the intro animation to one of your videos I watched of the softball hitting you?
Lynch: I have a buddy who does animation. He animated that. It intros all of the blog-type videos.
Martirosyan: There’s a clip he did coming out to his parents, and then the intro is his child running ahead of him and the ball coming and hitting him—
Lynch: So it’s kind of—I don’t want to say clever, but it’s a short way to set up who I am.
Martirosyan: It is clever!
Lynch: That’s even another avenue, too, exploring digital media and being in this era where a lot of people are creating opportunities for themselves.
Martirosyan: So what you’re doing now with what you’re calling blogs is blogging?
Lynch: I guess so. I have a few different styles of videos. Just in case you don’t like one of my videos, you might like something in this style, or you can hate all of them, like Chet. (laughter) But one of the styles is a blog style that I do with my dog. A lot of people love her and our brand and our relationship together. The dynamic is, she sits perfectly still in a chair and she’ll have little captions that pop up above her in reproof. I just kind of blog about any kind of experience that keeps people informed and updated on what I’m doing. And there’s another day of the week that we upload a standup clip of things that are interactions amongst audience members that are silly or innocuous or fun.
And then once every other week is an animated show, the clip that you referenced. I write each episode and then I cast it and voice it, and then I send it off to one of my editors who puts it together and then sends it to my animator who gives me a two-week turnaround. So we do one video every other Saturday. Naturally, it’s very busy. But it’s a way to be like, “Here’s an unscripted format with a dog to keep you updated. Here’s some standup. This is where I came from. Here’s the visibility on that platform. And then here’s me in a scripted, more adult-like kind of cartoon.”
Martirosyan: So you hire a voiceover with the cartoon to put in the other characters?
Lynch: Yeah. I’ve got friends who are actors. I have friends, is what I’m saying.
Lynch: Let the record show I have friends. I have friends who are actors, and there’s just an endless amount of talented people I know. And people who deserve opportunities or people who are excited to be involved in anything in any capacity. And then my animator is so, so talented. Almost everything I’ve created was—I don’t want to say for preservation—but it was to push myself in a way that I might not be as experienced or in a way that I can improve myself somewhere. So the blog style was to be like, “Here are these experiences or stories that have happened to me, either on the road, at a show or in general.” I want to tighten the writing jokes just in the moment, and then the scripted animated style was to be like, “How do I improve a more structured format of things that are just jokes to put myself in an environment with circumstances?”
Martirosyan: Do you like doing all of that more, or do you prefer standup?
Lynch: I hate all of them. No. (laughter)
Martirosyan: I can tell you don’t like what you’re doing!
Lynch: I don’t want to say I like one more than the other. I’ve always felt, because of maybe my age or how I was introduced to people or whatever, that I—and it’s probably just me projecting my own insecurities onto people and holding them accountable for a thing that doesn’t even exist—
Martirosyan: That’s so mean!
Lynch: Yeah, I know. I’m a terrible person. I sometimes underestimated, so I have to overperform, or prove to more than just myself that this is the tip of the iceberg in terms of what I’m capable of, or what it is that I can do. I only do all these projects to be like, “Here’s this and this environment.” I thrive a lot on people supporting me, but I also thrive on people saying, “You can’t do something,” because I’ll immediately process that as, “Let me show you why it is you’re wrong.” I love all of them, but I guess it all comes back to the heart of standup. It’s such a first-person vocation. All of it relies on the comedian to write it, perform it, and edit it.
Martirosyan: Did you know you had that writing capability when you were in school, studying theater and acting? Did you have that comic mindset in the back of your mind and say, “I really like comedy”?
Lynch: I always loved comedy. In fact, in my spare time in middle school and high school, I read so many plays by Neil Simon and Neil Labute—all the Neils. (laughter) I just loved them. And the injury was such a blessing because sometimes—if you ever hear a comedian’s joke that’s a little bit too long or verbose, like a lot of my answers today—if there’s too much fat on it, you have to cut things out. You have to learn word economy. I was very limited on what I had to say and in getting to the funniest part in the shortest time possible, with the fewest words possible, and there’s no better way to teach someone that than having the inability to do it.
In that way it forced me to get really tight with structure, writing things regardless of whether it was about my stutter or not, in order to understand the structure of jokes. That wasn’t something I necessarily understood about myself, but that was something I knew, so I kind of had to reteach the fundamentals of, “That’s why a joke can have a turn like that. That’s why something like that can make sense or present itself as a reveal.”
Martirosyan: Why do you think so maany comedians are going back to standup now?
Lynch: I could be completely wrong, but I think we’re in an age where so much content is being consumed all the time. And again, there are influxes of things in our industry where it’s like, “Oh, this person or this actor could be popular,” or “This style of show can be popular,” and then it can change in an instant. Just because everything that happens in the time of social media, or any kind of digital media, is consumed so quickly. And the element of live performance is something that cannot be feigned. It can’t even be replicated. Live performance is something that people always want to go back to because the heart of it will still resonate with people forever.
So there are people like Adam Sandler, who just came out with a special on Netflix, which Netflix has done in a huge way.
Martirosyan: I saw it.
Lynch: I haven’t seen it yet. Is it great?
Martirosyan: I liked it. They did a new twist on it.
Lynch: Yeah. And that’s another thing, too. It’s how adaptable you can be. Like Will Smith, who is probably one of the last movie stars, or from the generation of movie stars where a big motion picture would come out and people would go see it, is doing shows on Netflix. He still makes a lot of money doing them, but you can’t necessarily pigeonhole or slash an opportunity of being like, “I’m a movie star.” And in that way, because of social media, people are becoming more accessible as well—people can connect with someone firsthand. And for standup, a lot of these bigger name guys who are from a different generation than me, I have no idea of what their idea is of going back to it. But I think even somebody like Adam Sandler doing a special is such a smart move. He started in standup and then did a ton of movies, and his career spoke for itself for a while, and then to be able to go back to it, it’s great. It’s in demand. And it’s fresh. It’s fresh in a way that people want to be able to know what he’s up to now. Much like musicians when they disappear for a while, it creates a demand. No matter how many times you hear a comedian or a musician announce their retirement, and then they come back, it’s like, you don’t know what’s there until it’s gone. I think standup is a great way to reintroduce yourself. It’s so involved and requires so much of the individual.
Martirosyan: So you write all of your material. How much do you think when you’re onstage—
Lynch: Not at all.
Martirosyan: Zero? How much is improv when you’re up there? Or is everything scripted?
Lynch: Over the years I’ve tried to maintain the standard of some of these big comedians like Bill Burr, Jim Gaffigan or even Louie Anderson, where they get rid of their whole set. They write an hour each year and then get rid of it. And that, for me, is such a good goal.
I want to be able to hold myself to the same standard. It’s my way of saying dress for the part you want. I have material onstage that I can pull out at any given time, but lately I’ve explored the interactions and things that are off-the-cuff in front of the audience. Because again, going back to feeling underestimated or feeling people are unaware of what it is that I can do, it’s a skill set that I’ve had for so long—and it’s content that I can get rid of. That moment will never be recreated that way again. I’m only doing it in the interest of trying to top myself again.
A lot of it is written. You have to have written material, because ultimately people want to see that. And once I can film a special and just get rid of that, or when there is enough demand that people want to see my written material and they see a live show, I will have scrapped all of that material, and started to work on new material in the process. I’ll have fun with off-the-cuff stuff.
Martirosyan: Interesting that you call it “off-the-cuff” and not “improv.”
Lynch: Sure, either one. Impromptu.
Martirosyan: Did you ever finish the joke that you were doing, the OCD joke?
Lynch: I eventually finished it. And the lady for that joke, it was so funny. That lady came up to me after the show and said, “I had a lot of fun with you poking fun at me about it.” It was good that it was buoyant enough that she didn’t feel ostracized or isolated. I never want anyone to feel like I’m personally attacking them. It’s always in good fun. You give a little bit and take a little. I started by making fun of myself, so I don’t want anyone to ever think that I’m above making jokes about myself. We can all take ourselves a little less seriously, I think.
Martirosyan: So what’s next? A little bit of the same? Have you got some new goals in mind?
Lynch: It would be an excellent goal for me to get a Netflix special that has a unique twist. I’ve been fortunate in the number of people who have been advocating for me to be on Netflix.
Lynch: If I can do that and get rid of what I’ve been working on this year and start again next year, then I can hopefully try to bolster my way into a similar bracket as some of my comedy heroes, like Sebastian Maniscalko, who’s able to write so much and get rid of it because he’s in demand. Also, Netflix now comes to him and says, “Hey, we want this for this year.” Or to Sarah Silverman they say, “Hey, we want this this year.” But for right now, I’m not on their radar to the degree that I would like to be. Hopefully, I’ll just keep working towards that, and we’ll see what happens.
Martirosyan: Do you remember what your first joke onstage was that you said to yourself, “Wow, people are laughing at that”?
Lynch: Yes. One of the first jokes that I think I was ever super-proud of was, I don’t ever want to have kids because I’m afraid that they’ll be born with what I have—a disappointed father.
Lynch: That was one of the first ones that I wrote.
Martirosyan: And what did your father say about that?
Lynch: He doesn’t talk to me. He didn’t before I did this.
Martirosyan: Sorry. Did you really do the coming out?
Lynch: No, no, no, I didn’t really—that was a joke, Lia. It was a twist on—you know. It was personal to my story because I grew up with my parents thinking I was gay because I did so much theater and things like that. So despite the fact that I wasn’t, they still weren’t super supportive at first with me doing something like that. My dad was always very much into sports and wanted me to succeed at that. I think it’s very clear that that is not my calling.
Martirosyan: Well, you’re not good at softball.
Lynch: Thank you.
Martirosyan: Too soon?
Lynch: Are you trying to be my dad now since I told you the position was open? Yeah, I know I’m not good at softball.
Martirosyan: When doing standup, what joke did everyone respond to that you never expected?
Lynch: Oh, that’s such a tough question. One of the first jokes I did which, earlier in my career, all my jokes were about my speech, just because it was so apparent. In one of the jokes that I did, I said I wanted to get famous enough that they’d use my voice as a GPS.
Lynch: And obviously that was like a little act-out. “In 1,000 ffffffeet, make aaaa aaaa U-turn.” It was about keeping the buoyancy in what could otherwise be a dark subject matter, or it’s easy for people to maybe feel like, “We need to feel bad for this guy,” and I never, ever wanted that. Only recently in my career have I deviated from that. I rarely talk about my voice now. I just address it up front so you’re aware that I’m aware of it, and then I move on.
Martirosyan: So from your acting background and after the injury, you went ahead and decided, “Let’s try standup comedy”?
Lynch: Yeah. I’d wanted to be an actor my whole life, so I went to a performing arts middle school and a performing arts high school that was focused around theater and the performing arts, and standup comedy wasn’t something that I had ever considered. It’s interesting how there are some skill sets that can be used in both, and then in another way you’re almost drawing from two different aspects of your life. As an actor, you are using yourself, but you’re using yourself to play someone else. And with standup, you have to be so honest and transparent so there is no falseness that the audience can pick up on. Instinctively, if an audience feels that something’s not honest or not real or not in that moment, then they can pick up on it. Or, if it’s planned or contrived, they’re not as receptive. So in a way, standup forced me to be honest with myself and not just with my stutter, but other insecurities or other things that I had to reconcile within myself, and then making those frustrations the butt of what it is I talked about onstage.
Martirosyan: So you’ve been pretty successful. Tell us about your— [Lynch: sneezes] Bless you! —social media— [Lynch: sneezes] Bless you again. [Lynch: sneezes] Wait, if I say three Bless you’s, I think something happens, Beetlejuice or something.
Lynch: Does the blob explode?
Martirosyan: It’s ready to do it anyway. So you have the social media and you’re doing well on YouTube—
Lynch: Yeah. I hate the part where you advocate for yourself, but yeah, my YouTube channel has been the thing that’s helped me sustain a career, or at least an online presence, and translating that into people coming to see my live performances. On YouTube we’ve got about 1.6 million subscribers. That’s cool and something I never thought I would have. There’s a lot of influencers and YouTubers who aren’t necessarily live performers, so in this way I’m trying to almost merge these two audiences by saying, “Here’s me doing standup and here’s a bunch of other shows or platforms that I’m on,” coming from using my platform to help broadcast my abilities.
Martirosyan: Your ability.
Lynch: Yeah, ability.