Midway through our conversation, comedian Randall Otis comes clean: he’s never done an interview before. “This is a new process to me,” he says, apologizing.
Once you’ve seen Otis in Men’s Health‘s new series Get a Grip!, that realization comes as a shock. Currently a writer on The Daily Show, Otis exudes confidence on camera, delivering pointed commentaries on conversations surrounding fitness and general lifestyle in the deep-dive style of a John Oliver or Hasan Minhaj—but he manages to fit his whole argument into a tight five-minute package. This might indeed be his first interview, but it certainly won’t be his last.
Coming to New York in 2015 after growing up in Winderemere, Florida (not far from Orlando), Otis got into comedy full-time after a post-college internship at an advertising company didn’t quite work out. “I really hated it. I also wasn’t also good at it,” he says. “I think I was the only intern who didn’t get hired.” Before working on The Daily Show (he began earlier this year), Otis took a number of stabs at the comedy game, including open mics around the city, stand-up sets, and a YouTube presence that would occasionally go viral.
As a kid, Otis’ family would always make a big deal of their favorite comedy, sitting down to watch specials from the likes of Wanda Sykes, Bruce Bruce, Earthquake, and episodes of Chappelle’s Show. In fact, he says Dave Chappelle is his favorite stand-up of all-time (“That was when I started really watching comedy,” he says.). Other influences that he mentions include Chelsea Peretti, John Mulaney, Mitch Hedberg, Jerod Carmichael, Julio Torres, and Hasan Minhaj.
In Get a Grip! Otis takes on one focused topic per episode, looking through a modern, everyman fitness-centered lens. With episodes on subjects like gender, religion, data, and work, he covers a broad range of relatable topics for viewers to nod their heads and chuckle along to in five-minute nuggets.
He specifically centered out the episode on work as one that he was thinking about a lot, with a particularly personal connection. “My dad grew up in pretty dire circumstances,” he says. “He tried to live a fit lifestyle, but it’s hard to prioritize being fit when you have a lot of other existential things to worry about on a day-to-day basis.”
“I kind of consider the audience my editor, and this time, it’s like going without them”
Otis has done a lot of different types of comedy, including sketches, stand-up, writing, and YouTube—but his work on Get a Grip! is going to be unique from those practices in one key way: he won’t have an audience. Rather than get immediate reaction and feedback on how he’s doing, he’ll have to wait to hear feedback.
“I kind of consider the audience my editor, and this time, it’s kind of like going without them,” he says. “So I feel like I’ve created something without my typical writing partner of the audience.”
When the feedback for Get a Grip! starts rolling in, Otis’ plan is to address it head-on. He says that he believes the difference between someone who’s good at stand-up and someone who’s bad at stand-up is their ability to take and process feedback. That same principle will apply to the new Men’s Health video series.
“I have my perspective, and my ideas, but I’m wrong a lot of the time,” he says. “I have these ideas, and these are my perspectives, but maybe things will change based on what people say, or what I read in response.”
And as anyone who’s ever followed comedy could tell you, that’s the most important factor in a comic—the ability to learn, grow, and adjust. And it’s how you get funnier and funnier too. Nobody’s perfect, but it’s fair to say Otis has a good jump on that race already.
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