Last year, comedian James Gregory might not have used the performance-ending cliché “same time, next year.” But he’s following through anyway.
Gregory will perform at the Garner Performing Arts Center Friday night, returning almost exactly one year after his 2012 show.
“We had a great night. We sold out. I hope we can do it again,” Gregory said.
The lifelong Atlanta-area resident (born in Lithonia, Ga., now living in Woodstock) worked in sales for 10 years before stumbling into a decades-long career in stand-up comedy. Dubbed long ago by a Huntsville, Ala., entertainment reporter as the “funniest man in America,” Gregory has run with that nickname and packs venues around the Southeast. He’s played in 38 states total and has also played in Canada and for troops overseas. Gregory has released multiple albums, including a book and an album called “It Could Be a Law, I Don’t Know.”
In his Southern-accented observational humor, Gregory riffs on flying, healthy eating habits, texting, “wussy” fake butter, a fat woman after dinner and pooper-scoopers with a simple bluntness that harkens to his small-town roots.
“I believe that people are people. Most people relate to the same things,” Gregory said.
“If I wasn’t going to Garner next week and I was going to Nevada, Wisconsin or Oklahoma, I would not change that show one bit. If the audience believes that what you are doing on stage is logical and funny, they will laugh.”
Though often politically incorrect, he also bills his show as family friendly stand-up comedy, which he says is rare today.
He says he keeps away from political humor, though he expresses disdain for how much he says some people expect government to do for them.
For example, he’s “blown away” by parents blaming McDonald’s for obesity and advocating laws restricting fast food when “these brain-dead soccer moms voluntarily get this fat (kid) in the car, order, pay for (it), and drive his fat (butt) back home.”
A large man himself who speaks highly of greasy foods and gravy-drenched country fried steak in his routines, the white-mopped Gregory said he’s always liked comedy. But he’d never thought of doing it himself until much later than when most performers get their start.
Instead, he sold everything from encyclopedias and vacuum cleaners to security systems.
He said he never had a salary and worked on commission, and he liked the work. But in 1982 at age 36, he took a shot at open mic night at the comedy club in Atlanta called The Punchline.
“I had buddies who thought I was funny. They kept daring me to go on stage on amateur night. That’s what got the bug in me,” Gregory said.
He remembers little about his first routine.
“All I know is that it didn’t work, I was scared to death and I wasn’t very funny,” Gregory said. “But if you were interviewing Jerry Seinfeld right now or Jay Leno or Eddie Murphy or Chris Rock … and asked if they were funny on their first night on stage, they all would say no.”
Asked about his favorite memories, he spoke of going overseas months after 9/11 during the early phases of the bombing of the Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan. He performed on aircraft carriers and on bases for armed forces.
“That was emotional for me,” Gregory said.
He said that though he’s never been on network television, he feels good to know he fills out venues through word of mouth rather than on name recognition from mass-media appearances.
He hopes for that in Garner, where he counts on the crowd being a mix of people who missed his show the last time as well as those who enjoyed his last performance.
Jahner: 919-829-4822; @garnercleveland