Drew Landry recalls when his friend Tucker was crushed to death by an elevator.
“It was very hard to deal with,” he said. “I think the elevator wasn’t up to code. It was really hard on me.”
Landry recounted that as a result, he ended up in a mental hospital and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder as well as depression.
He lived in Baltimore until the age of 5, when he moved to Chicago. In the Windy City, he went to a synagogue, found comfort there and was drawn to Judaism. He identifies as Jewish, noting that his favorite Jewish musical artist is Matisyahu.
He returned back to his home city at the age of 15. (He performed his first professional show at Magooby’s Jake House in Timonium).
“I’d grown up idolizing Chris Farley and Jim Carrey,” he said. “They were really great, but I realized from seeing standup that I’d be better on my own.”
Now 29 and living in Los Angeles, he has a monthly show at the Hollywood Improv. He’s also performed at the prestigious “Just for Laughs” festival in Canada, and has toured with fellow comedians Iliza Shlesinger, Carlos Mencia and Dana Gould. And he was recently named one of the top 50 humor writers on the online publishing platform Medium.
“The big difference,” he said, “is that in Baltimore, you’re one of a few dozen comedians, and in LA, you’re one of thousands.”
He thought back to age 13, when he said he was too young and dumb to know that he wasn’t very good. Still, he worked on and honed his craft, and it took a few years to get better. He noted that all comedians bomb from time to time, and it’s a matter of being patient — “you have to see what works and what doesn’t.”
He recently dropped a mini-comedy special on YouTube title “All My Friends Are Dead.” A tribute to his two best friends who passed away, it’s about the grieving process. Landry noted that this was a particularly dark personal set, so he didn’t bother trying to get it on Netflix and instead released it on his own via YouTube.
He reported that it has already been well-received by industry publications, including Paste, a monthly music and entertainment digital magazine headquartered in Atlanta.
In the special, he described his mom Googling famous people who were also diagnosed as bipolar.
“She was like, Drew, you’re gonna be fine,” he recounted, adding that in her support of this claim, she started naming celebrities like Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, comedian Robin Williams and chef/author/cable-television travel host Anthony Bourdain.
Of course, they’re all dead by suicide.
‘I think free speech should go both ways’
Landry said that he wasn’t surprised by the rise in antisemitism by musician and rapper Kanye West, now known as “Ye.”
“I went to two concerts and was a big fan, and then to see that what he actually believed — that was crazy!” he said of the rapper’s comments about his vow to “go death con 3 ON JEWISH PEOPLE.”
Nonetheless, asked about whether or not the public has become too sensitive when it comes to comedy, he responded that social media causes everyone’s reaction to be heightened.
“I think free speech should go both ways,” he said “A comedian should be able to say what he or she wants on stage. And then, if you don’t like it, you should be able to say whatever you want about it. It all balances out, in my opinion.”
Still, the challenge remains: “How do you talk about a darker topic that is serious, yet still show the humor of it?”
Landry insisted that staying positive is extremely important. He said his mom has been very supportive, and it’s crucial to be around people who believe in you and care about you.
While his material can touch on some hardcore issues and personal ones (in a video from 11 years ago at Baltimore Comedy Club, he joked that he once snorted Frosted Flakes), it’s clear that Landry has good timing, cadence and knows how to hit punchlines.
“Rejection happens in life, and in comedy, it happens a lot,” acknowledged Landry. “The important thing is to keep going. Comedy is therapeutic for me, and if people watch my videos and related it to whatever they may be going through, and it puts a smile on their face and they know that they’re not alone … well, that makes me happy.”
Alan Zeitlin is a freelance writer.