By Matt Levy
New Jersey comic James Mac steps onstage for a modest bar show in Queens, New York. He sets his phone down near a couple sitting by the makeshift stage to record his set and launches into his trademark dark ten-minute set sharing dark punchline-filled stories about his family, time as a combat veteran in the military, growing up in the South and an attempted suicide. The crowd is in stitches. On the ride home to Readington in Western NJ, Mac re-lives his set by playing his jokes back on his phone. Mid-set, he hears something he doesn’t expect. The couple sitting near his phone gushed, “Oh, My God, he is funny but f*cked up.” This has become the calling card for his comedy.
That’s how you know the set was good.
James got good at comedy fast too.
Mac, 42, started performing five years ago starting out as something he’d do once a month or so. Then he moved from Dallas to Tucson and got serious about making strangers laugh. In this vibrant new scene, James fell in with a welcoming community that supported new comics at Laffs Comedy Club. He quickly developed a reputation for “dark and irreverent comedy that pushed the boundaries in the right direction,” as fan David Jones noted.
It’s true that James goes to deeper and darker places than most comics but he makes sure to do it in a completely apolitical way which sets him apart from his peers (to be fair, he does say, “I am against political parties and think everyone should stand on their own beliefs”). Mac is well aware that his subjects can be uncomfortable for audience members to process but he likes to see them laugh at something they normally wouldn’t think could be funny.
This sneaky approach was inspired by a wide range of original comic voices Mac admires like Lewis Black, Roy Wood Jr and Joan Rivers to more classical influences such as Edgar Allen Poe, Jonathan Swift and William Shakespeare. Not everyone is as well-versed in the Bard as Joan Rivers but that’s what makes Mac stand out. He’s done his homework.
After his brief stint in Tucson, Mac made the move to the northeast to become a part of the bustling New York City comedy diaspora. He quickly made a mark.
Earlier this year , James auditioned for late night at the New York Comedy Club which can be seen here. The video can be seen on his YouTube. He blew the room apart and crowd members approached him after the show asking for pictures, treating him like he was a big deal. Mac said, “It felt great with all the work you put into the bits and see it pay off like that.”
On a larger scale, Mac’s hard work paid off early when he was asked to perform at the popular Roastmasters NYC show with Luis J. Gomez and Last Comic Standing alum and Roastmasters judge Rich Vos made the whole room clap for James’ service for our country. Before the show, Vos chatted Mac up in the green room about a couple of his deployments; this kind of act of humanity caught James off guard. He didn’t expect Vos to remember anything about him when he started the chant mid-show. That’s the thing though; once you see James, you can’t forget him.
As Jamie O, a friend of Mac’s currently deployed to Afghanistan pointed out, “He’s one of us. James makes people laugh at the shitty stuff soldiers and veterans live in and makes it where everyone can understand it.“
James Mac, of German, and Scotch-Irish descent, grew up between New Bern, NC and Jasper, TX. James comes from a big family with 7 siblings. It was an unconventional set up as his oldest brother is 24 years older than his youngest sister. His Mother and Father worked very hard to provide for the family and so it was dependent on everyone to help out with everything from homework to chores around the house. The eight of them spent a large chunk of their formative years working outside running horses, completing ranch chores and helping people around the neighborhood. James’ Dad believed his children should have wide ranging interests so James learned an instrument (he still plays drums), acted in numerous theatrical productions and played soccer, baseball, football, basketball, rodeo (Team Roping and Bull Riding) and wrestled. Youth may have been pretty one-note for some, but not James. As he’s known for saying, “Normality is the playground for the unimaginative.”
Mac’s youth ended quickly when he joined the Army at 17 serving for 15 years stationed in locales such as Germany, Afghanistan, Iraq, South America and Kosovo. The stories abound too. James’ favorite tale took place early one morning while stationed in South Korea. At the crack of dawn, he ran into a “vampire deer” (more formally known as the Chinese water deer) which is not your typical deer. The way James tells it, “Imagine turning a corner in minimal daylight and you see a deer staring at you with long fangs like a sabertooth tiger. It definitely will leave an impression.”
Still, not as bad as most midtown audiences.
James not only committed himself to being a soldier but also went to College on the side. He became the proud recipient of three Bachelor degrees. The first was in Political Science with a minor in US History from Texas A&M in 1999, next was a major in Criminal Justice with a minor in World History from Troy University and used his GI Bill for his final degree is in Business Admin with a minor in Computer programming from the University of Texas at Tyler. Like I said, the guy does his homework.
These days, when he’s not writing poetry, fishing, hunting, teaching firearm use, camping or traveling, James is working hard producing his podcast I See The Light which already has 20+ episodes in the can. He also owns a production company called Headspace and Timing Comedy that puts on Zoom shows, private events and multiple outdoor shows between NYC and New Jersey.
Comic Kayt Hester sang James’ praises adding, “James Mac brings a really unique perspective to the NY/NJ comedy scene. He’s the only one who does what he does up here. Behind that Southern dude thing, he still books more underrepresented comics than most of the bookers out there.”
Mac believes that, “More people see comedians at rooftop and bar shows then they ever will at clubs. I love the clubs but they are not what keep comedy moving forward.” He is hard at work helping create this new forward-thinking future for stand up.
Either way, he’s going to stay funny.
And f*cked up.
You can find James on Facebook or YouTube. Headspace and Timing Comedy content can be scrolled on Facebook, Instagram and the production company’s site. Finally, make sure to follow I See The Light on Twitter.
If you would like a peek at what James has been watching, reading and listening to in quarantine, here’s a quick sample:
TV Shows — Dexter, The Boys, Rick and Morty
Movies — 13th Warrior, Restrepo, Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Books — Diary of a Recovering Skinhead, Amusing Ourselves to Death, The Biography of Ben Franklin
Music — Slipknot, Halsey, and JB and the Moonshine Band