J.B. Ball isn't just formidable competition in stand-up comedy contests. More often than not, he's the last man standing.
He won the March Madness competition at Side Splitters, which pitted 64 comedians in a bracket-style tournament.
That might have been a comfortable format for Ball, considering he was a standout basketball player for the University of Tampa.
But he also earned the title of Florida's Funniest Comedian by winning that annual competition, which featured an even bigger pool of hopefuls. He took both contests with a clever mix of unfiltered observational humor and media-flavored philosophies spun out into tangents that are both absurd and relatable at the same time.
And tonight, the local comedian is the headliner at Side Splitters. We caught up with Ball ahead of the show to discuss his writing process, the one thing he hates about being a comedian, where he'll be a year from now and his prediction for this year's NBA champion.
CL: You've been named Florida's Funniest Comedian, and you had to beat hundreds of contestants to get that title. What does it mean to you?
Ball: For me it functions mostly as validation for my hard work, how it's perceived, and as a great credential to use for booking future shows in Florida as well as the rest of the country.
It also means that much more pressure to deliver each time I get onstage so that I'm simultaneously not discrediting how much it takes to earn such a title. But that's a challenge I openly welcome. Pressure's always been a facilitator of motivation for me, not fear.
Some comedians are energetic and animated. Your style is more laid back. Is that a disadvantage in a competition, and how do you make yourself stand out when other comedians are more animated?
There's no question I'm a less energetic comic than plenty of others. But there's also something to be said about the energy that poise on stage can create. I still speak with purpose and conviction. The point is to captivate and there are more ways to accomplish that than being high energy — not to suggest that's a bad method.
Comedy isn't really a contest, even though we subject ourselves to being judged that way at times. There's no reason to let what other comics are doing on a show change how you do your show.
Comedians often find themselves competing with each other, but it's also a community where everyone sees each other frequently and interacts at open mics and at shows. How do you keep up the camaraderie and the competition at the same time?
Well, I just never forget that no competition matters more than your relationships. I just stay as good spirited as possible. I'd much rather have a fun show than be hoping for people to do poorly.
What's your writing process? How does something go from an idea to a completed joke?
The beginning of my writing process normally starts with an argument I had in person or in my head with something I read or saw. From there it's all about making a funny argument that still proves my points. The beauty of arguments are that only I know how many points I have to make. So I get to decide when the joke is completed.
Your style makes performing look pretty easy. What's the hardest part about being a comedian? Is there anything you still struggle with?
The hardest part for me personally is the travel. I hate driving. Flying, I don't mind at all. I'm so impatient when I can't go to sleep while traveling. It drives me insane.
As far as something I still struggle with, I would say remembering exactly how I want to tell a joke or story when I'm first trying it out. I never rehearse so that it comes out more naturally each time I hit the stage. But when you're trying out new stuff, it can be a pain in the butt realizing you've skipped over something, or described something inaccurately in a way that you can't go back an re-explain during that set.
You were a serious athlete in college, with opportunities to play basketball professionally. Does any of that sports mentality carry over into performing, and what lessons in athletics have helped you in this career?
Absolutely! I was a gym rat when I played basketball. I was always working on something, because I believed if there was one thing I could control beyond ability, it's how hard I'm working by comparison to the next guy. I just applied that same hunger and love to comedy once I made the crossover. I read every day. I write every day. I take mental notes every day. I revisit old material every day.
Considering your basketball experience, we expect you to help us make some easy money: Who's going to the NBA Finals and who wins it all?
Well, this year is totally up for grabs in my opinion. This is the first time that I can remember when there's no clear-cut front-runner, and literally every team is dealing with a key injury. So it's really up for the team that really wants it the most.
I can't believe I'm saying this, but strangely I think that's the Clippers.
Social media is a big part of any comedian's resume these days. What web-based projects interest you, and how can people find you?
In the past I really chose not to do much with it intentionally, but now that I've got more to build upon creatively, it's finally that time to really start putting myself out there. So I'm actively on Twitter: @Ball4President. And I'm in the process of filming material that'll go on my Youtube page and my website cheaperthanjb.com.
You're winning contests, touring more and making a name for yourself beyond Florida. What's your path to greater success, and does it take you out of the Sunshine State?
I've been fortunate enough to have enough people with clout helping me gain the opportunities to prove that I'm doing something special and worthwhile. Unfortunately, as much as I love Florida (being that I was raised here), I'm inevitably going to have to make that move out to Los Angeles or New York City. In my head, that's somewhere around a year from now.
Aside from your headlining show at Side Splitters Thursday night, what other projects are you working on now?
I'm always writing jokes for stand-up because I want to keep it as fresh and organic as I can. But I'm also in the middle of creating some sketches of funny premises that just wouldn't play right on stage, but may be easier to see the humor on screen. Plus I'm working on a mini-series that I hope to release by the end of the year, if not sooner.
I'm also going to be hosting a monthly show starting June 10 called One Mic Stand at the American Legion (106 E. Sligh Ave.) where I bring a bunch of really talented comics that people may or may not have heard of to do a free show.
Tonight's show at Side Splitters starts at 8:30 p.m. $10-$12. 12938 N. Dale Mabry, Tampa. Info: SideSplittersComedy.com or 813-960-1197.