As someone who clamors for great comedians on America’s Got Talent on an annual basis, it was a thrill to see Harrison Greenbaum turn up on Tuesday’s episode. It was also a thrill to see him get rave reviews for his audition. He’s a familiar face if you’ve seen Last Comic Standing, or if you frequent many comedy clubs. His work ethic is one of the things that helps him stand apart, with him referencing on the show doing more than 600 shows a year.
If you missed Harrison’s audition, be sure to check that out at the bottom of this article — you’ll be happy you did. To go along with that, check out our email interview with him as we talk about some of his background, his goals for doing the show, and also whether or not he would be interested in incorporating any of his magic skills down the road.
CarterMatt – What made now the right time for you to try to take part in this show?
Harrison Greenbaum – Well, the show finally asked me to be on it, so that was a large part of the decision! Last year, I also hit my 5,000th show since moving to Manhattan back in 2008, so knew that I had built up enough clean, network-friendly material that I could do all the rounds if I was lucky to get that far. I definitely wanted to be as prepared as possible.
What’s the challenge in coming up with the best set for the show without being able to read the room in advance?
As I mentioned to the judges, I do 600-700 shows a year, so I’ve experienced a lot of different kinds of audiences. I just had to trust that, as soon as I walked out there, I would know how to get the most laughs out of the room as I could in the short time I had based on all the experience I had built up. Plus, I picked jokes that I’ve audience- tested over years, performing them in all different kinds of rooms with all different kinds of audiences, so I was banking on these jokes working as well as they had in all of the other kinds of environments they’d already worked in.
Is there a creative process when it comes to finding the right material for such an incredibly short period of time that you’re on stage?
The 90-second limit is definitely a challenge, but my game plan going in was to (1) choose jokes that introduce myself and who I am to the judges and TV audience and (2) hit as many laughs as possible. It was either that, or talk really REALLY quickly through an hour-long headlining set, so I think I made the right choice.
Over the years Heidi’s been notoriously tough on comedians. Did you make any concentrated effort to win her over?
As a fan of the show, I definitely knew that going in, but I was honestly trying to win all of them over. Howie is a fellow stand-up comedian, so I really wanted his vote, and Simon is brutally honest, so his vote was also really important because his vote often seems the hardest to get. And then there’s Mel B, who I really wanted to like me because I was a huge Spice Girls fan as a kid (Spice World was one of the first cassettes I ever bought, which I think dates me in at least 3 different ways). But once I walked out on stage, I honestly just focused on the audience as a whole and tried to give them the best show I could.
I remember you from Last Comic Standing; does that experience prepare you for this show in any way?
Thanks – I wish more bookers did! (Just kidding.) Being on LCS definitely helped to a degree (as any show or performance does). Reality show competitions are really intense and really stressful and definitely something that can take you out of your comfort zone as a performer. America’s Got Talent has a much bigger and broader reach than Last Comic, so the pressure was honestly even more intense! I ran my audition set for weeks and months leading up to the show, knowing that all the preparation was going to be vital when the insanity of knowing you’re about to be performing for millions kicks in.
Do you love the grind of performing so many shows? What’s the biggest benefit that you get from it? I’ve looked at some of the various places that you’ve performed (Comedy Cellar, Carolines, etc.), and these are the places any comic would dream to be at.
I love it SO much! As Louis CK has said, stand-up is the only art form where the audience is the instrument. So the only way I can practice is to get up in front of an audience. Running around from set to set, I can change even just a single word and see if that makes a joke hit harder. It sometimes feels like you’re solving a puzzle, and only by getting up in front of audience after audience, night after night, can you ever hope to truly solve it.
I’m based out of New York City, so I’m also really lucky to be able to perform regularly at places like the Comedy Cellar and Carolines, which are just magical venues with great audiences and perfect layouts for comedy. Not to mention they’re also great places to meet and perform with comics I’ve always looked up to, which is always a huge thrill.
Do you have any plans of incorporating your magic experience into your AGT act?
I would LOVE to do that eventually! I tour a comedy+magic show around the world called Harrison Greenbaum: What Just Happened? (there’s more info at WhatJustHappenedShow.com) and just got back from Australia after doing a stint with The Illusionists, so would love to do pieces from that for a larger audience. I’m currently answering these interview questions from Tannen’s Magic Camp, where I volunteer as a counselor, so magic is definitely an important part of my life and art as well.
No matter how you do on the show, what’s the ultimate goal? Are you looking to do larger tours, developing your own TV projects, getting your own special, or all of the above?
All of the above sounds awesome! Can you be my manager? I definitely plan on touring and hope my new fans from AGT will come and check out the shows! I’m also working on a few TV projects, and I’ve had a blog since 2016 tracking my attempts to get a special called IWantANetflixSpecial.com. Maybe now I’ll finally get one!
Now that we’re Harrison’s manager (kidding!), we’re excited to see how he does in the Judge Cuts round of the competition starting up soon. Massive thanks to him for all of his time in cultivating these responses!
Be sure to share your thoughts on this interview below, and be sure to head over to the link here if you are interested in some further news regarding America’s Got Talent right now — including some other recent interviews. (Photo: NBC.)
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