By Matt Levy
While virtually interviewing 28-year-old Philadelphia-based comic Erik Terrell, I asked, “What’s — the coolest thing you’ve ever done?”
Most interview subjects keep it simple when it comes to this question.
He paused and looked at me with glee in his eyes. He didn’t know where to begin and then proceeded to list the following:
1.) I once high fived Roman Reigns on live TV as he walked into the ring at a wrestling event in Philadelphia.
2.) I shared the stage with Dick Gregory.
3.) The year before I started standup, a few college friends and I made a silly video called “Things HU Girls Say” that went viral.
4.) A female friend twerked on me while atop of a car with hundreds of people watching during a huge celebration/party in my Senior year of college.
Erik stopped and said, “I understand that probably won’t make the article,” and then continued.
5.) I was interviewed on the 11 o’clock news on NBC Philadelphia defending the character of my friend Shane Gillis when he got fired from SNL.
He apologized and said, “I’m really sorry. I couldn’t pick one thing. I take great pride in the coolness of all these.”
Completely fair. Erik Terrell Kyser (he goes by his stage name which is just his first and middle name) has done many things many comics dream of — especially being front row at a major wrestling event which is every comic’s fantasy — at a young age and doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon.
In fact, in addition to all the above, the tireless Terrell didn’t mention that he’s already a regular at Carolines on Broadway, Gotham Comedy Club, Broadway Comedy Club, Stand Up NY, and Dangerfield’s Comedy Club, all while still living across state lines in his hometown of Philadelphia, PA.
How did all of this happen? To find out, let’s go back to Spring 2011.
At this time, we’re nearing the end of Erik’s Sophomore year at Hampton University. One fateful day, he was doing a photo shoot with a classmate and said on a whim “I’ll probably do standup this summer.” Now, growing up, Terrell wrote standup routines and when he watched comedy on television, he always knew he could do it. Still, he had never actually, well, done it. Erik decided he wasn’t going to shy away from his bold statement. This was going to happen.
On June 1, 2011, Terrell got onstage for the first time. At the time, it was mostly just to prove to himself he could. However, after having gotten back up another three or four times in quick succession, he quickly determined that standup is what he was put on Earth to do and that he wanted to achieve as much as he could in pursuit of becoming the best comedian he could be.
Terrell simply said, “Standup became Plan A, and there is no Plan B.”
Before this newfound Plan A, Erik had a childhood that he described as “picture perfect.” He got straight As in school and was raised by his loving father Ralph Nelson Kyser, Jr., a retired African American history teacher, and mother Brenda Kyser, who recently retired from her government position in which she bought materials to assemble airplanes for the Naval Inventory Control Point. They’ve been married for 40 years. Terrell loves them dearly and does bits about them constantly.
He joked that “(coming) from a stable two-parent home is one of the toughest things about being a comedian.” Many times, Erik simply feels he’s just not damaged enough for comedy.
He sighed and said, “My parents filled the house with gifts every Christmas. My father had a Masters Degree in Education. My Mother worked for the government. She’s a celebrity in our church. She’s a phenomenal cook. They’re both amazing, and probably still secretly disappointed I’m just a comedian.”
The family certainly had high hopes for Terrell raising him in the Triumph Baptist Church where he was often called upon to speak and still serves as a Deacon to this day. As a youngster, his parents’ strong, faith-based influence rubbed off on him as he took part in everything and anything the church allowed him to do ranging from Youth Choir, captain of the Church Basketball team, the leader of the Mime Ministry, host of Youth Talent Shows, introducing guest preachers, and leading solos on the Choir. As you’ll see, this is becoming a common thread in Erik’s life- no matter where he goes, he does it all.
Outside of church, hijinks would ensue as Erik became his middle school’s resident class clown in Eighth Grade. Terrell’s grades were still top notch so he was pulling off the rare double achievement of impressing both parents and classmates alike with grades and gags. Erik shook his head trying to stay humble saying, “That never happens!” Still, at the time, he had a few no good friends and became their mouthpiece. They bullied other kids and pretty much terrorized the entire school (excluding the girls, of course).
As a result, he became accustomed to dishing out quippy one-liners in class. One day, a teacher upstaged him. Terrell, forever the alpha jokester, couldn’t get past it. So, Terrell and his no good group of friends decided to key her car. Erik looks back on this admitting, “Yeah, we were awful at decision-making and all got kicked out of the school.”
After his expulsion, Erik was on probation. He knew if he made one or two more poor decisions, life would become extremely dark. Thus, Terrell vowed to turn it around and graduated High School with a 4.0. He said he owes this to…bowling. Yes, for real. In High School, he became the Varsity Bowling Team Captain. He also liked basketball, but never made the team saying he, “tried out every year and failed valiantly.”
As you may guess from his status as Varsity Bowling Team Captain, Terrell never managed to become a part of the in-crowd in High School. Still, he had a few good friends that thought he was cool and maybe funny, Erik is quick to point out, “they probably didn’t think I was that funny” but it was the opposite of college and Middle School where he dominated socially. High School was a lonely blur for him.
Things gelled once Erik went off to study Broadcast Journalism and Leadership Studies at Hampton University. Because he had a 4.0 in High School, the University paid him to not only attend Hampton but also to attend the William R. Harvey Leadership Institute, thus leading him to declaring a minor in Leadership Studies. Once again, Erik did it all while at school. When Terrell commits he goes all in. At Hampton, Erik was an editor for the University Newspaper, The Hampton Script, commencement flagbearer for the Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications, member of the Mu Kappa Tau Honor Society, host of three shows on the campus radio station, WHOV 88.1, was the President of the Hampton Players, the Hampton University drama organization and proudly graduated Cum Laude from Hampton in 2013.
Did that say 2013? Why, that’s two years after Erik began standup. You read that right. He was perfecting his punchlines in between all of these activities and developing his unique hard hitting onstage persona.
Terrell’s act utilizes his education by “saying true things while playing a pretentious, bougie, carefree college graduate character that feels he’s better than others while also being a vulnerable, disrespected victim of racial oppression and the oppression of planning a wedding with Candace (more on her later).” His voice stands out by combining his vulnerability and a belief he’s better than others coupled with very still and calculated, yet expressively animated facial expressions and act outs all while coming from a place of truth. As a comedian friend of Terrell’s said, “Erik doesn’t dress up the truth. He just says it.”
All of the above led Erik to the proudest moment in his young career thus far when after he advanced to the Elite Eight of Carolines Comedy Madness competition in 2019, he received a phone call from legendary talent booker Louis Faranda who told him how much he believed in Erik’s act, how funny he thought he was, and that he was putting him on the prestigious Comics to Watch showcase at the New York Comedy Festival.
Terrell remembers acting very cool on the phone as he was saturating in sweat and tears. He’d come a long way from being the Bowling Team captain.
He couldn’t have gotten this far alone though — and he doesn’t have to either. Terrell met his wife Candace on February 3, 2017 at the local Philadelphia restaurant bar, Landmark. Erik was supposed to just be meeting his best friend, Nick. Before he arrived, his wife-to-be, Candace, and her cousin found Nick sitting alone in a big corner booth while the place was packed with no empty seats. Nick arrogantly hoarded the booth for himself and declined Candace and her cousin the seats telling them he “had friends coming.” Candace countered, “They aren’t here now.” Candace and Nick, the eventual Best Man at her wedding, began to bicker over the seats and Nick finally caved and agreed they could sit until his friends arrived.
Erik walked in and quickly made certain to find his way next to Candace. He told her to stay seated in the big booth and the two struck up a conversation. They ended up chatting and dancing all night and Erik boldly asked for her number at the end of the night. They proceeded to date for ten months before Terrell asked her to marry him. They’re still talking and dancing, and, Erik adds with a wink, “doing a whole lot more.”
The two of them currently reside in the rowhouse in West Philly Candace grew up in. Her mother moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico two years ago which led Erik to joke, “When she moved out, I moved in.” They work everyday to keep it looking respectable but are looking forward to jumping ship for NYC or LA soon and are still deciding which one they like more as they save and plan for their future family. When not being completely responsible adults, they enjoy drinking, talking business, dancing and watching wrestling, The Eagles (he’s a VERY active Fantasy Football player) and 76ers.
Outside of his wife, Erik’s favorite collaborator has to be his friend Asia Downing. Terrell said, “She’s a sister to me. Asia co hosted my podcast, The Erik Terrell Show (TETS) which ran from 2012–17. She’s honest about everything and incredibly funny.”
He then added, “I’d have to say my favorite comedians I’ve worked with are my late friends Michael Brooks and Chris Cotton. The most fun I’ve ever had with Chris was the night he had me feature on his Breakout Artists Night at Carolines in December, a week before we lost him. We had a blast rocking the stage, taking shots, and eating cheesesteaks like old times.”
In a post-COVID world, Erik is staying busy, working on new episodes of Terrell’s Top Five on YouTube which was inspired by his love of hanging out with comedian friends after shows. He wanted to capture the feeling he has while hanging around and talking with his comedians. Never one to just do one thing, Erik is also spending his time tightening, freshening and honing his already renowned act. All of this hard work should pay off soon too. In five years, Terrell sees himself with a Netflix deal, performing on Comedy Central and having had a prominent role in a big box office hit film.
As Erik says, “If you learn to do what you love, you won’t have to learn to love what you do,” and as we’ve seen, from his wild stories to church activities to his time at Hampton University to his comedy career, he does it all.
Follow Erik’s comedy schedule to meet him at a show (he’s regularly in Philly, New York and Los Angeles), check his Instagram for top notch content and subscribe to Terrell’s Top Five on YouTube! For even more, check out his site.
Finally, if you want to keep up with what Erik’s been watching with his rare moments of downtime while in quarantine here are some quick recommendations:
TV and Movies: Martin. Life. Blue Streak. Erik said, “Martin’s just so damn goofy. My buddies wanted to be like Mike. I wanted to be like Martin.”