Cover Story - Comedian Jamie Ward kills with weapons of mass hilarity
Comedian Jamie Ward compares the stand-up stage to the rodeo ring, and he should know, having ridden two bulls for a collective 4.5 seconds at an Ohio bull-riding class. "Being in the chute in the rodeo is like being in the green room at the comedy club," Ward says. "You nod to the bull handler that you're ready, or you step into the spotlight on stage ... and then you're so aware of everything that happens. It's really fun. It's really scary."
One of Atlanta's fastest-rising comedians, Ward faced perhaps his toughest crowds while enlisted in the Army and deployed to Afghanistan. "I was in an embedded training team of 12 American soldiers attached to an Afghan police force," he says. He spent May 2008 to April 2009 in the country, where his proudest accomplishment was establishing a literacy program for the Kandahar police. "I worked with translators to start a curriculum and asked for people in America to send pencils and pens," he says. "In Afghanistan, people like those more than candy."
After Afghanistan, Ward moved in with his parents and feels he may have experienced post-traumatic stress disorder, since he barely left the house for months. He found unexpected solace in Jeff Justice's stand-up comedy class. "It's been therapeutic for me. I've completely gone on a path for reintegrating with other people."
He's made a strong impression in two years. He took an improv class at the Basement Theatre and was asked to join the troupe before he'd graduated. He took first place at Port City's Top Comic in Wilmington, N.C., was a finalist at Rooftop Comedy's National College Comedy Competition for Georgia Tech and participated in the World Series of Comedy in Las Vegas.
His day jobs include waiting tables at the Hudson Grill and serving as a First Lieutenant in the National Guard over occasional weekends. He also teaches stand-up performance, where he offers the advice, "You have to get the audience to like you. Stand-up comedy is like a first date and a job interview combined. If you've got dirty material, save it for your second half. You can't open with something shocking and be tame for the rest of the set."
Ward's material includes riffs on having been adopted from South Korea when he was 9 months old and raised in Georgia. He admits that he feels little connection to South Korean culture. "I was a lazy kid in high school. I didn't study American history — I wasn't going to study some whole other country. The worst is when I get acting projects as Asian characters, but I have a terrible Asian accent!"
Despite his assurances that he's secretly nervous about stand-up, Ward projects confidence in his delivery of jokes as well as his career speculation. He plans to remain based in Atlanta and craft the best set he possibly can. "Every good comedian will tell you the best stuff is about you. Only recently have I been getting into my opinions and feelings. We're stand-up comedians, so we have to maintain a high level of laughter. If I ever say anything profound, I want it to be an afterthought to the laugh."