J Lamarr (Photo courtesy of Facebook)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- People would be hard-pressed to find a comedian who was named after his mother's lesbian lover.
That is the story of J Lamarr, a new comic growing in popularity around Middle Tennessee.
“People always have to digest that when I tell them that I'm named after my mother's girlfriend,” said Lamarr, whose real name is Ja-kay Matheny.
Lamarr was born and raised in Gary, Ind., also the birthplace of Michael Jackson. He says the entire city went crazy on the rare occasions when the King of Pop returned to his hometown.
“I remember when I was a kid, he (Jackson) went to Kentucky Fried Chicken. We all skipped school to see Michael Jackson go to KFC. Unfortunately, I didn't see him but I laid eyes on the vehicles as it drove away.”
From an early age, Lamarr knew that comedy was a way to escape physical and mental pain. When his mother whipped him, he would make silly noises and crack jokes so she would stop and drop the belt.
“When she laughed, she dropped the belt and that’s when I knew it was over,” Lamarr recalled.
Similarly, he explained that dark times are what inspire comedy for many comedians.
“Most of us use humor so that no one can see our pain,” he said. “The truth hurts or it becomes comedy. Your pain is going to be funny to somebody.”
Lamarr has only been a professional comedian for a little less than a year.
“It is ridiculously hard when you're starting out,” he said. “You're driving to a city where no one knows your name. No one knows who you are.”
After routinely making his friends, family and co-workers laugh, Lamarr says the moment of truth is when he grabs the microphone on stage.
“Early in the beginning you don't even know if you're funny. You have to stand up in front of a bunch of people who really don't care about you. They're not going to laugh just to spare your feelings.” Said Lamarr, who is also quick to explain how endurance is a key factor in comedy just as much as the jokes.
Comedians have to have a lot of jokes on standby and also remain prepared for hecklers.
“If you don't have endurance you won't make it,” said Lamarr.
Another dark part of comedy is the wind-down after the show.
“After the show is over, you're back to just being you. You just had the spotlight and a great time getting laughs. Because of that, you don't want to leave the club. I don't want to say it's depressing after a show, but it's odd.”
Lamarr has been perfoming in Shelbyville, Madison, Murfreesboro, Cookeville, Nashville and other cities in Middle Tennessee. He's become known for his rather strange humor, which he calls “humor of an odd black guy.”
“If you hear some of my stories, it's not normal,” he said. “What other male you know is named after his mother's girlfriend? A lot of stuff about me is weird. I married my mother's girlfriend's daughter. My humor is odd. It's not what you expect to hear.”
The 28 year-old comedian is inspired by many other comedians, including Martin Lawrence and Chris Tucker. But he relates the most to Kevin Hart, who isn't shy about telling jokes about his family.
“I got married early and had kids in high school,” Lamarr said. “When I heard Kevin Hart and other comedians talk about their families, it made me laugh.”
Lamarr is known for his lack of eyebrows, something that people never fail to bring to his attention.
“I didn't even notice until the sixth grade,” he recalled. “I caught the bus to school. I had a baby picture as my ID picture. And this one boy looked at me and told me I didn't have eyebrows. All of a sudden people started calling me names. They called me a Ninja Turtle, Kermit The Frog and every other animal that doesn't have eyebrows.”
Lamarr doesn't mind joking about himself during his comedy routines. In fact, he says a comedy secret is to joke about himself and then about others.
“It eases the crowd when you talk about yourself first,” he explained. “Then you can joke about people you see in the audience. Otherwise people perceive it as a personal attack.”
The young comedian is always looking for opportunities to perform.
“If you know anybody that needs a good comic, let me know,” he said.