This article is the first in a series that aims to highlight local comedians who will be appearing with nationally touring comedians in Buffalo. You can catch Buffalo comedian Mark Walton with headliner Jesse Joyce this weekend at Helium Comedy Club. Information on tickets and showtimes can be found here.
Hamburg, NY native Mark Walton is less than a week out from exploring just what this comedy thing could really be. He’s getting ready to move away from Buffalo for the first time, taking his mad stand-up comedy skills — honed from 8 years of telling jokes into a microphone — and joining legions of dreamers before him in the grand city of New York.
“Being financially stable right now makes it a little less scary,” Walton said, when asked if he’s just nervous or really nervous about the impending move.
He’s been performing on the road on and off for the last couple of years, and recently spent a couple of different weeks in NYC. “I’m sure as soon as I start seeing the savings dwindle, I’ll start getting nervous again. That’ll be terrifying,” he said.
For now, though, it’s all about the jokes.
Walton’s love for comedy began in school and continued through his days at Canisius College, where he studied business.
“In college I started looking at comedians and noticing the things they were doing and picking up a little bit on that,” he said. “I was in college when I wanted to try comedy, but then it was another 3 years before I actually got the nerve,” recalls Walton.
Much of Walton’s recent time on the road has been with the Nobodies of Comedy, a tour that showcases little known (yet hilarious) comedians in smaller cities and towns that have at least one theatre. Walton’s deadpan style mixes beautifully with the theatre setting; there’s a lot less to be distracted by in a theatre venue versus a comedy club, and a performer can take their time with their words and not have to worry as much about their physical energy matching their mental energy.
“It’s easier to get a subtle joke to work in a theatre than a club just because there are fewer distractions,” he said. “The audience is kind of forced to pay attention.”
In commenting on his particular comedic style, Walton said, “I’ve always been the type of person to say something that’s a joke and not react at all, to not let anybody know that it’s a joke. Throughout my life people have said, ‘I can’t tell if you’re serious or if you’re joking.’”
This quality is reflected in his stage persona, his low, calculated voice and stoic stance belying the hysterically murderous words coming out of his mouth.
Walton’s now-characteristic stillness on stage first began when he noticed that the more still he remained during a story, the more the audience would listen, hanging onto his words as they painted the picture that would eventually cause ruptures of laughter.
“It’s almost a little unnerving, for somebody just to stand completely still. But at the same time, I don’t really like to move, so it helps,” laughs Walton.
There have been a couple different waves of new comics who have come along during Walton’s time performing comedy in Buffalo. Some of these comics eventually petered out when marriage and kids become the new reality, and some took off for destinations such as New York, Denver, Los Angeles, and Seattle, bringing their Buffalo-bred comedic chops with them.
Having been a part of the city’s comedy scene for many years, Walton has been able to watch this morphing evolution firsthand. Even recently there has been an upsurge of local comedy in Buffalo, thanks in great part to the arrival of Helium Comedy Club in December 2012. In reflecting on the current state of comedy in the city, Walton is pretty sure that the scene’s growth spurt will continue.
“As long as there are stages to hit, I’m sure there will probably be another wave [of comedians],” he said.
Stand-up comedy isn’t always as simple as a stage, a microphone, an audience, and a performer. When asked about any particularly outstanding shows he’s experienced, Walton recalled a time when he and comedians Dan Fisher and Shaun Murphy (now both in NYC) put on a show at Holiday Valley, a popular WNY skiing resort in Ellicottville.
“The people at the show didn’t know there was going to be a show. It was in February during ski season. It was insane,” he laughed.
“Fisher was hosting, all they had was a guitar amp, and the crowd didn’t stop talking. Right as the show was starting, some guy accused some older guy of grabbing his girlfriend’s ass and they started to fight. Fisher was standing by them trying to narrate the fight and stick the microphone into the middle of the fight to pick up what they were saying.
“I got up on stage and ended up pulling my shirt up over my belly and did my whole set while yelling with my shirt up and my belly sticking out. I could see people laughing and I would look at them and they would turn away in order to not make eye contact.”
The night proceeded along in exactly that fashion with the rest of the performers on the bill. “That was a really good time,” he laughed with complete sincerity. These are the nights of memories, after all.
Walton gets serious for a minute to gives props to Helium, which offered him the opportunity to work with some of his heroes these last couple years. “Marc Maron, Dave Attell, Jim Norton. Some of my favorite comics out there,” he said.
Walton also recalls the time before the club came to town, when he got to open for Doug Stanhope and was on the dais for the roast of Rob Ray, held at Babeville’s Asbury Hall. Buffalo’s been good to Walton, offering opportunities to get better and better on its stages and as a place nationally touring acts want to hit as they make their way on the road.
Walton will be working with Jesse Joyce at Helium Comedy Club this weekend; in addition to myriad writing jobs and live performances, Joyce is also well known for his Comedy Central Presents roast resume (James Franco, Roseanne, Charlie Sheen, Donald Trump, David Hasseloff, Joan Rivers, and more).
When asked about the endgame for this thing called comedy, Walton quickly retorted, “I don’t think there is one. Is there? I feel like if there’s an endgame, you’re doing it wrong.
“Maybe someday I’ll feel like I’m done, but otherwise it’s just, keep seeing how high you can go…See what level I can get to and figure it out from there.”