Comedian Monroe Martin doesn’t shy away from any subject, which includes his childhood spent in foster care. Instead of dwelling on his past, however, Martin uses it, like everything else in his life, as material for his work. To date, Martin has headlined his own show in the famed Caroline’s Comedy Club in New York City, has appeared on DirecTV’s “The Artie Lange Show” and wrote for the MTV2 series, “Charlamagne and Friends.”
Last week, Martin made it to the semi-finals on NBC’s “Last Comic Standing,” a show that features the top 100 comics in America competing in front of a panel of judges: Roseanne Barr, Russell Peters and Keenen Ivory Wayans. The show’s winner will get the coveted title of “Last Comic Standing,” as well as an NBC talent deal and a half-hour scripted project to be developed by Universal Television.
Martin, the rising star, participated in a Q&A with me for The Chronicle of Social Change:
It’s getting down to the wire on who will be the “Last Comic Standing.” You’re a fan favorite and formidable contender. What’s going through your mind these days?
I’m really just focused on the tasks at hand. So right now, winning the challenges is on my brain.
How has your life changed since being on “Last Comic Standing” or is it too soon to tell?
Right now it’s still too soon to say, but I know any change that will come is going to be a great one.
Walk us through your journey to this point. How did you get into comedy? Did you dream about being a comedian when you were in foster care?
Comedy wasn’t always my passion. When I was younger, I really didn’t believe that it was even an option for me. One day that all changed. When I was in the 11th grade, my foster mother and I would watch this show on BET called, “Coming to The Stage.” There was a comedian on the show my foster mom and I thought was absolutely the best comic around.
For the entire fall we watched this comic week after week. One summer morning a friend and I were sitting on his porch just watching life pass us by. As we were sitting there, a trash truck comes down the street and that very same comedian I thought was the best comic in the world was hanging on to that truck. At that moment I realized comedians were regular people and I knew that I could be that guy. When I turned 21 I started doing comedy.
You moved around to 14 different homes while you were in care. What age did you enter foster care and why did you move around so much?
I entered foster care at the age of seven. I was in foster care for as long as I was because the state was waiting for my parents to rehabilitate themselves. Which really never happened. I moved around because of a number of things: a lazy social worker, misplacement, and [I moved so I could] be closer to my sisters.
Clearly, there’s a goldmine of material in foster care…but some people may feel as if you’re trivializing the trauma that foster kids go through. Have you ever received pushback from anyone for tackling those issues?
Yes, there’s a bunch of stuff to pull from foster care, but I try to speak on every aspect of my life. There hasn’t been any pushback from my material but if there is, that means I’m doing the right thing ha-ha. [Click here to see how Keenen Ivory Wayans reacted to Monroe’s foster care material.]
Has any former foster parent, social worker or anyone else from your background reached out to you since being on “Last Comic Standing?” If so, what has that been like?
Well since I’ve been doing comedy, I’ve always had the support of former staff members from different foster care programs I attended. Since being on NBC, more people have reached out to let me know they are proud of me. It feels great to know that they are watching my career grow.
You seem grounded and balanced, which is exceptionally remarkable given your start in life. Was comedy your saving grace? How has it helped you as a person?
I feel like the people I surrounded myself with were my saving grace. My friends helped me see the world as a better place and comedy is the vehicle I use to show other people what my friends showed me. Comedy has given me the ability to see the world. I probably wouldn’t have been able to do that if I worked a regular job.
What advice, if any, would you give to all the foster kids out there watching you now? Or if you don’t want that responsibility, what would nearly 30-year-old Monroe tell little Monroe, the one bouncing around in foster care?
I don’t just want to speak to the foster kids. I want to speak for everyone that’s going through trials and tribulations in life. My advice would be something my friends taught me. Focus on the positive things that are happening in your life, even if it’s just one little thing.
We often magnify the negative things and accept that as our reality. The best thing a person can do is be aware that something bad has happened, address that feeling with positivity, and keep moving towards their goal.
Georgette Todd is also the author of “Foster Girl, A Memoir.”