A comedy club owner once told Comedian Grant Lyon that to get booked, he needed three things: to be very funny, to be easy to work with and to be able to sell tickets.
“I can’t sell tickets yet,” Lyon says, “but two out of three is still pretty good.”
“Pretty good” is an understatement of Lyon’s comedy career. Since he started dabbling in stand-up in college at UC Santa Cruz, he’s made a steady rise in the industry, which includes being named a New Faces of Comedy at the Just For Laughs Festival, winning the Laughing Skull Comedy Festival and making it to the finals in the Big Sky Festival.
The 35-year-old was also recently featured in the second season of the Comedy Central show “Corporate” and he stars in the upcoming feature film “Killer Kate!” Not bad for a guy who started doing stand-up on a whim.
“I’ve always liked making people laugh,” says Lyon, who attended Sacramento Country Day School for his last two years of high school before pursuing collegiate soccer at UCSC. “I didn’t think I could be a comedian—I didn’t know it was an option. My family has a good sense of humor, but it’s not like my parents had old George Carlin and Steve Martin comedy albums sitting around.”
In Lyon’s freshman year of college, his roommate made him listen to an album by the late comedian Mitch Hedberg, who was known for his surreal humor and unconventional, often deadpan, delivery of one-liners. Lyon was hooked. He reports that he burned a copy of the album and listened to it as he walked around campus, committing the material to memory. When he started telling Hedberg’s jokes to friends, Lyon was surprised at the reaction.
“The start of my sophomore year, our soccer team did its pre-season in Costa Rica,” Lyon says. “The last night there, people started getting up and telling knock-knock jokes on the tour bus mic and someone said, ‘Grant, do some Mitch Hedberg.’ I did probably 30 minutes and it felt great. Even then, I didn’t think, ‘I’m funny’—I was just delivering this other guy’s jokes. But then my soccer coach said he wanted to see me write some original material, so I did. I started going to open mics around campus, and in January 2005 I decided to commit to comedy.”
Soon, Lyon was performing around the Bay Area, making a name for himself with his mix of “intellectual but silly” personal and social commentary at festivals like the Great American Comedy Festival, Bumbershoot Music & Arts Festival and Bridgetown Comedy Festival. The Los Angeles native eventually decided that a return to his hometown would yield even more opportunities—and he was right.
In the eight years since he’s been back in LA, Lyon has performed on the TV show “Comics Unleashed” and appeared in a number of national commercials for AT&T, Johnsonville Sausage, Cicis pizza and more. He wrote and starred in a short film, and his sketch videos have been featured online for Funny or Die, MSN and Huffington Post.
“Because we live in a day and age with so many media outlets, the idea of getting one big break doesn’t exist anymore,” says Lyon, who regularly returns to Sacramento to headline at Punch Line Comedy Club (his mom still lives in Rosemont).
“Everybody in the entertainment business has to think of themselves as content creators. You have to do a lot of things to make a living. Stand-up can’t be the only thing I create, so I do sketch videos, podcasts. I’m writing a book. I designed a board game prototype. You can never rest on your accomplishments.”
But you still have to acknowledge when hard work pays off.
“I try to take moments to celebrate the small victories,” Lyon says. “It’s easy not to—intelligent, hardworking people expect a lot of themselves. But I’m trying to do a better job of taking the time to say, ‘This is really cool.’”