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Brian O’Neil Returns to the Charlotte Comedy Stage

Brian O'Neill does stand-up comedy in Charlotte wearing a Lang Van t-shirt
We caught up with Brian O’Neill to chat about comedy in Charlotte post-pandemic shutdowns. (Photo by Nicole Driscoll)

When we last spoke with Brian O’Neil in October 2019, he had recently launched a new comedy show, Revolt Comedy, which he hosted and featured a rotating cast of amateur comedians. We spoke about the momentum in the Charlotte comedy scene and Queen City Poly, a relationship podcast he was hosting about polyamory and ethical non-monogamy.

In the years since our last conversation, the pandemic altered much about our way of life. Restaurants transitioned to outdoor venues, concerts were held outdoors if they could be held at all, and many businesses closed completely. O’Neil, of course, was not exempt from these changes.

Options to perform comedy virtually were on the table, but they left much to be desired, O’Neil said.

“I really hate those shows,” he laughed. “Because it’s very difficult to do stand-up and have to kind of wait three seconds to hear if someone laughs.”

Virtual platforms created a lag between the joke and the laughs. If no one laughed, O’Neil couldn’t be sure if it was because of the delay or because the joke hadn’t landed. Because he couldn’t perform traditionally, O’Neil decided to focus on writing instead.

He no longer hosts Revolt Comedy or any of his podcasts. In place of the monthly Revolt show, he started a new one in June 2021 called Stand-Up NoDa, a bi-monthly comedy show at Heist Brewery. The new show is more of a traditional stand-up event than Revolt was in that there is a structure, with an opener and a feature act.

“That [Revolt Comedy] experience launched me into survival mode and motivated me to start a show that was more traditional,” he said.

The next installment of Stand-Up NoDa is Oct. 20 at Heist Brewery and features headliner Ian Aber.

Much like the rest of us, O’Neil has gone through a lot of changes, but there is one thing that has remained the same: his passion for the Charlotte comedy scene.

Around the country, things are starting to pick back up again. Venues are opening back up and larger group settings are possible now. Many of the venues and events that shut down during the years of the pandemic have returned. There’s a semblance of normalcy even if we aren’t quite there yet. O’Neil believes this to be indicative of things to come.

“We were on the upswing before COVID,” he said, referring to the local comedy scene. “And once [COVID] happened we lost a lot of clubs and they never really recovered. But I think it’s picking back up.”

Charlotte still only has one club dedicated to stand-up comedy, The Comedy Zone, but that hasn’t stopped O’Neil and other artists from making a way where they can. Like O’Neil, other comics produce their own shows all across the state. Many of these artists weren’t part of the comedic scene previously, which he believes is important in the story of the scene’s return.

Brian O’Neil (Photo by Nicole Driscoll)

Newer comedians get inspired by the veteran comedians and decide to try their luck. “And that’s only been within the last six months or so,” he said. “I think we’ve seen, just, a big boom since the pandemic. It’s a win for Charlotte.”

Public events can still be precarious at times, however. This opens the doors for other avenues like TikTok or YouTube. Over the past few years, there has been a rise in successful TikTok stars trying their luck with stand-up. This is tricky, as TikTok and YouTube are vastly different mediums than stand-up comedy.

Ultimately, O’Neil believes they help more than they hurt, as comedy that goes viral online can drive attendance to public shows.

“I think anybody going out to see stand-up is a good thing,” he said.

You won’t find him on TikTok or YouTube any time soon, though.

“There is nothing I hate more than the thought of going on camera,” he said. “I’m starting to become more comfortable with the idea but if I could get a solid writing gig and then just tour doing stand-up, I would be a happy comic.”

Aside from the pandemic, O’Neil said he’s been navigating experiences with “cancel culture,” a phenomenon that’s either a plague on America or a myth created by those who want to dodge accountability, depending on whom you ask.

For O’Neil, the pushback against some of his content has been relatively minor.

“Sometimes I’ll have jokes online that don’t go over well,” he said. “I’ve been blocked by a few people.”

He doesn’t let negative reactions deter him and said he would never consider censoring himself, but he does hope his message about the therapeutic effects of comedy can get across to folks who think that making light of a bad situation is an affront to anyone who has dealt with a respective topic.

Cultivating a dark sense of humor, he regularly ridicules his own mental-health issues and said his best jokes come from his deepest insecurities.

“If it exists in the world then it’s not off the table,” he said of topics he’s willing to joke about.

Moving forward, O’Neil said his pandemic respite may have been the best thing for him, and while the future seems uncertain, O’Neil remains optimistic. He’s in this game for the long haul.

“I don’t ever plan on quitting,” he said.

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