Ian Edwards has been a stand-up comic for over thirty years, but he’s also a respected writer-producer with shows like “Black-ish” and “2 Broke Girls” on his impressive resume. Coming out of the pandemic and eager to play to club crowds nationwide, he’s on a mini-tour that he hopes will raise his performing profile to the level of his writing career.
So he’s coming to Zanies for five shows May 18-20, bringing his sharp takes on subjects like race, drugs and intervention along with a playfully goofy spirit on such topics as shark attacks. He can’t wait to serve up laughs to Chicago audiences.
“I’m a New York City person so I love cities,” says Edwards. “I’ve done theaters in Chicago with more successful friends and been there for the whole weekend and love the vibe and the people. Chicago people get me, but I also write very universally. My material can reach people in places like North Carolina and Florida, but I really love connecting with people here.”
Edwards owes his comedy career to working the drive-thru at a New York City Burger King in his teens and early twenties. As a British and Jamaican immigrant, he learned to be friendly by joking around with customers, and one day one of those customers suggested he make the leap into performing comedy for real. That encounter changed his life.
“One guy drove around, and he asked, ‘Hey, was that you that just took my order?'” recalls Edwards. “And I said ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘You’re funny, you should try stand-up,’ and the moment that person said that, it resonated with me and I decided I was gonna do that for the rest of my life.”
Edwards admits he bombed for a long while before overcoming nerves and finding his voice. His writing career grew out of speaking with another comic who said he had written 256 sketches in the hopes of making it on “Saturday Night Live.”
“At first, I thought to myself, ‘How in the hell are you going to write 256 sketches?’ But then I calmed down and realized I came up with ideas all the time and never wrote them down,” he says. “I decided to just start one by one, with each next idea, writing it down so I didn’t forget it. and just slowly stockpiling sketch ideas.
“Cut to a few years later and this agent-manager hit me up and said he was looking for writers for Keenan Ivory Wayans’ late-night talk show on Fox. They had me do a stand-up set and liked me, so I just sent in five sketches that night, fast. I had the job by the next day.”
Since then, Edwards has been working his way up the ladder. He has new projects in the works as he travels the country slinging jokes.
Edwards also cohosts the popular weekly “Soccer Comic Rant” podcast, in which he and three other comics razz each other about their favorite teams in the world-renowned Premier League in England. On his Instagram (@ianedwardscomic), he turns out a short comedy series, “Roommates,” which depicts the comically turbulent relationship of two friends living together.
But perhaps his greatest achievement was being chosen to record both the first and the last albums released by Conan O’Brien’s now-shuttered Team Coco Records.
“I think I’m the only stand-up who has been on Conan’s show every time,” says Edwards, who made his debut on O’Brien’s original “Late Night” show back in 2007. “I did it when he was in New York, when he had the ‘Tonight Show’ and then on TBS. Conan always just wanted you to be yourself. So why not go with the people who allow me to represent myself the way I really am?”
Looking ahead, Edwards has lofty ambitions for the next five years.
“I want to have created one or two shows, and have my stand-up profile be at the same level financially as my writing profile,” says Edwards. “I appreciate the comics who hustle. In five years, I want the algorithm to work with me. The algorithm doesn’t work with me right now. The algorithm treats me like we’ve got a beef, like I slept with his girlfriend or ex. So in five years, I wanna be good friends with the algorithm.”
Ian Edwards performs May 18-20 at Zanies, 1548 North Wells, Chicago. Tickets $30, zanies.com.