Mark Walton likes to keep a slow pace with a lot of pauses, accentuating the awkwardness, in his comedy routines.
Comedy, like most creative endeavors, requires a lot of hard work, dedication, and perseverance. For Hamburg native Mark Walton, the hard work, dedication and perseverance he’s put into his stand-up comedy routines is starting to pay off.
After placing second at the Boston Comedy Festival in September and earning an audition with CBS primetime casting, the 30-year-old comic served as the emcee for all of comedian Jim Norton’s Buffalo shows at the end of December, further cementing himself as a rising star of the comedy scene, both locally and nationally.
“It’s been great,” he said.
For Walton, a mortgage processor by day who describes his interest in comedy as “just something I always wanted to try,” his recent success is bringing him one step closer to making it as a full-time comedian, something that isn’t easy these days, especially when you’re just starting to make it.
“One of the things that isn’t great is the middle pay in comedy shows,” he said, referring to the slot comedians perform in as they move up the ladder. “You have to pay for travel and for hotels. You used to be able to get by.”
Walton started his career at open mic nights at Nietszche’s, a club on Allen Street in Buffalo. After getting up the nerve to perform in front of people, his first shot at stand-up went pretty well.
“It went better than expected,” he said. “It was hit and miss for a while after that, and there was still a lot of work to be done.”
From there, Walton kept at it, gradually working his way through his act and developing his stage character, which is really just an exaggerated version of himself.
“At first it’s difficult to get through,” he said. “There is always the risk that a joke will bomb.”
While the possibility of a joke bombing is still there, Walton has learned how to deal with it. It’s important to keep your confidence, he said, and maintain the audience’s trust that the next joke will be funny.
“The best way to deal with it is to move on,” he said. “The worst thing is to ignore it but keep thinking about it. It can blow your whole set.”
Walton has come quite a ways from those early days on Allen Street, and has had recent national success with his second place finish at the 2012 Boston Comedy Festival, where he performed in a 900 seat theater in front of a judge’s panel made up of people who run comedy clubs. Out of a list of 1,000 entrants, 96 are chosen. Making it to the final 96, and then going on to win second place was a big deal for Walton.
“I was really happy with how I did there,” he said.
Finishing so well at the festival led to another opportunity. CBS approached Walton about reading a side, which is a scene from a television show or movie. The audition went well, Walton said, and CBS has his information now if he happens to meet the criteria they’re looking for in a character.
“It was a general meeting,” he said. “They bring you in so they have you on record.”
Opening for Norton was another notch on the belt for Walton, and a good opportunity to watch a pro up close.
“He has a really strong following, and it was packed,” he said. “To see someone that good doing it was cool.”
Along with opening for Norton, Walton continues to be involved with the local comedy scene, which has grown since he first started out. Back then, around 15 people would show up for open mic. Now, he’s seeing between 30 and 50 people showing up. The opening of the Helium Comedy Club, located on Mississippi Street in Buffalo, which also has clubs in Portland and Philadelphia, is only going to help.
“A lady from Helium in Portland made a comment that Buffalo is much better than Portland,” he said.
For anyone interested in checking out a comedy show in Buffalo, there are weekly shows at Nietzsche’s on Tuesday nights at 8 p.m., and an open mic night on Sundays at 8 p.m. at Mr. Goodbar on Elmwood Avenue in the city, Walton said.