Janae Burris has gotten tons of laughs and chuckles from people while performing on stage in Los Angeles for years. With new opportunities on the horizon and fingers crossed, Burris and her boyfriend packed up for Denver, where her comedic feats scaled like Spider-Man scaling a skyscraper.
Although her title is comedian, Burris says she’s still an actor.
“I’m a theater actor with the ability to be funny. I really liked writing material for myself. If you listen to my sets, they all sound like a one-woman show,” Burris says. “I thought stand-up comedy was Sinbad, Dave Chappelle and Martin Lawrence and that they were born with the skills to make people laugh. Then I watched my first open mic in LA and immediately thought, ‘Oh. I could do that.’”
In Los Angeles, Burris did a lot of comedy while performing in folktales, Shakespeare, and comedia dell’arte, a type of storytelling theater where actors wear masks. She did four years of improv after college and nine years of stand-up.
“I studied improv after college because that’s what they tell you to do in LA,” Burris says. “Improv became frustrating because you have to work with other cast members for a laugh. I’m too controlling for that.”
Burris lists famous and local comedians as her influences.
“Mike Epps makes me laugh so hard! Leslie Jones almost caused me to quit. She was so good. I listen to Richard Pryor on repeat. I love to hear him go into characters,” Burris says. “Locally, my friend, Nathan Lund, tickles me with his super smart and quick wit. He’s got an ear for language and he’s silly.
“I always write after talking to my best bud, Marina, because we speak very candidly to each other and end up laughing at outlandish stuff,” Burris adds. “She’s from LA and grew up similar to me, so the whole conversation is just she and I tagging each other. I learned a ton about performing my material and crushing hard in front of live audiences by watching Cristela Alonzo, so I count her as a major influence.”
Burris says her first performance was a stand-up she wrote for a comedia dell’arte character while in college. She wore a mask, but performed it like a comedy club act. “I felt really great about it and it gave me a taste for more.
“Years later, after seeing that open mic in LA, I took a stand-up comedy class with a casting director. After eight weeks, we got a showcase at the Hollywood Improv,” Burris continues. “I was nervous as hell, but the room was packed to the gills with friends and family coming out to support new comics. It was like having your first period at a women’s retreat: scary, and then perfect.”
In Colorado, Burris has performed in bars, libraries, coffee shops and movie theaters in Aurora, Aspen, Glenwood Springs and other Colorado towns. She’s also performed at festivals in Bloomington, Indiana and Portland, Oregon. She hopes to perform in London and Australia in the future.
Crafting Her Cracks
Burris discusses inspiration for her material.
“I’m just documenting my own life–writing about myself and my family,” Burris says. “I write down things that tickle me or make me mad about my day and my life. Then I try it on stage and the audience lets me know if it’s funny or sad. I have a hard time telling the difference.
“I try not to censor myself. I say what I feel and speak the way I do with friends,” Burris continues. “I try to be my honest self and I don’t judge my own material as being clean or dirty. It’s just me.”
Burris also explains the excited feeling she gets before going onstage. “I feel excitement. I plan on crushing it every time. I don’t necessarily crush it every time, but I try.”
The Gigs & Looking Ahead
Burris holds one of the best accolades a comedian can get in Colorado: being crowned the winner of the Comedy Works’ New Faces Contest. Every year, Comedy Works searches for the best undiscovered talent in Colorado. The contest starts with 100+ comedians and narrows down to one grand prize winner. There’s cash and other prizes that the comedians compete for, but being the grand prize winner gives the comedian recognition and major bragging rights.
“I felt really proud of myself for setting a goal and achieving it. I also felt humbled by the support I got from our Denver comedy community,” Burris recalls. “You have to be funny to win and you have to get all of your friends, neighbors, Comedy Works staff, strangers and they mommas to come and vouch for you live at the finals. My mom, sister and my beau were able to be there and I wanted so badly for them to see me win.”
Burris says she had some awesome gigs, including one at Red Rocks’ Film on the Rocks.
“Red Rocks this year was magical. Sold out audience for Film on the Rocks. The movie was Dirty Dancing,” Burris says. “The audience was right in my wheelhouse. Nothing better than telling jokes for an audience filled with women.”
For the future, Burris wants to dream bigger in the comedy world. “I see my friends having success all over the place. I’d love to have a reason to move, like a writing position on a late night show.
“I want people to remember me as being a very funny comic who also works hard,” Burris adds. “I want them to say, ‘Janae is hilarious! You should hire her.’”
Editor’s Note: Burris does comedy for “Pussy Bros. Presents…” at the El Charrito Comedy Room Room in Denver with Comedians Christie Buchele and Rachel Weeks on the first Friday of every month. On the last Saturday of every month, Burris does “Pussy Bros. Birthday Party” at the Rackhouse Pub. Burris also co-hosts The Cannabist Show at the Denver Post.
For more information on The Cannabist visit: http://www.thecannabist.co/category/culture/the-cannabist-show/
For more information on the Comedy Room Room and the Rackhouse Pub visit: https://www.facebook.com/ElCharritoComedyRoomRoom/ and www.therackhouse.com
This article first appeared in the August 2017 issue of the Denver Urban Spectrum