Langston Kerman is Charming on Paper and Killin Em’ Softly on Stage
“I think, in the grand scheme of things, you have all the space in the world to test run things.”
By Dara McGee | Published on June 5th 2020
The world seems to be unrecognizable. When we turn on our television sets we see statistics and numbers staring back at us that only an expert or a well versed master’s student could comprehend. Personal visits are now phone calls, college students complete class work on their beds, and business meetings are ironed out at the kitchen table. The world goes on, and although it may be out of our comfort zone and out of our control, we must find a way to keep going; keep doing what we love despite the situation.
For actor and comedian Langston Kerman, the writer’s room that he would usually spend his time in has moved a lot closer to home, but he’s trying not to worry too much about when he’ll return, as he’s taking each day in stride, trying to process everything that’s happening. “I think everyday is a learning experience with this, I’m not sure that any of us were prepared for what this means, and so I think it’s less about having a definitive routine and more of just staying open to whatever the day’s experience might be.”
“I think everyday is a learning experience with this, I’m not sure that any of us were prepared for what this means, and so I think it’s less about having a definitive routine and more of just staying open to whatever the day’s experience might be.”
- Langston Kerman
The Illinois native has called Los Angeles home for the past two years, but as a key writer for the Comedy Central sitcom Southside, a hilarious take on how life is on the Southside of Chicago, he gets the best of both worlds. When he’s not writing jokes, he’s most likely telling them. He’s no rookie in the comedy game, as he’s been touring and telling stories on stages all around the world for the past ten years. Not only that, but he’s also shown off his acting chops on HBO’s hit series Insecure. Don’t believe it? Check out the first season and introduce yourself to Jared, a blue collar worker who made those who watched the show question their biases and their understandings of homosexual relationships among men in the black community. Medium.com writer Biko Mandela Gray even said that the character that he portrayed was one of his heroes. At this point in Kerman’s career, it seems like there’s no stopping him, whether he is on screen or off.
He developed his love for writing when he was still quite young. He started off as a spoken word poet, creating and performing poetry from elementary school through high school and all the way up through college. “My poetry for the longest was what I thought I was sort of like meant to be doing.” This all changed when he discovered the art of stand up. “It wasn’t until I found stand up where I felt really like oh okay, this is closer to articulating the feelings and sort of like the energy that I would like to be putting out in the world and on stage.” This realization that comedy was his niche in life didn’t come to him all too quickly, and certainly not too easily. The journey brought about a lot of self reflection, as well as humility.
In a perfect world, everything that we plan works perfectly the first time. In this case, the complete opposite occurred for Kerman. On the road to his current destination, Langston’s journey took a few sharp turns. His life was stuck in a rut, and he wondered how he got there. After graduating from the University of Michigan, instead of beginning his poetry career, he was right back where he started...living in his Mother’s basement. “I gave my mom a big speech when I was leaving the house, like yo, I’m never coming back here. You can say goodbye to whatever this relationship is going to be, because this ain’t never going to be my house again. I wish you the best of luck.” Unfortunately, Kerman graduated with his undergraduate degree in the year 2009, and during that time, America was going through quite a financial crisis. “The economy had just crashed. It was sort of a thing where everybody was without work and without opportunities, and I was not exempt from that.” Going back home, a location where he never expected to return to, Kerman had a choice to make in terms of his livelihood. “I had to really go back to a place where I had made these firm announcements that I would never be in again and recalibrate.” Little did he know that recalibration would lead him to something way better and more worthwhile. “It helped me find something that actually was a lot better and more honest and a lot more effective for me as a human, as an artist...all the things, but it could have only happened if I had failed at all things that I thought I was supposed to be doing.”
“I gave my mom a big speech when I was leaving the house, like yo, I’m never coming back here. You can say goodbye to whatever this relationship is going to be, because this ain’t never going to be my house again. I wish you the best of luck.”
- Langston Kerman
Langston’s recalibration at first seemed to be a bit uncertain. He went down memory lane, and proceeded to work at his former high school, teaching the next generation the very thing that got him started on his entertainment career. Did Kerman see himself teaching fourteen year olds about haiku’s? No, but like he stated before, this was what helped lead him to his destiny. “Comedy was something I really wanted to do, but I didn’t have the confidence in the beginning to know that that’s something that I can say retroactively with a lot more confidence and certainty that comedy was always the move.” At first, Kerman wasn’t so comfortable unveiling to the world his new venture. “When I started, I was scared to tell anybody that I was even trying it because I wasn’t sure if I was funny enough to like have my friends show up. I kept it a secret.” Once he mustered up the confidence, he began performing at a bar called Doc Ryan’s near his house. The man who ran it let a young Kerman get a taste of what the comedy world had to offer. “He was putting together an open mic, and still doing comedy at the time, I would go there every Wednesday I want to say and just go and bop.” He was getting his feet wet, experimenting with what certain audiences found funny. “Sometimes a joke would hit here or there, but sometimes it would be a crowd that were not big fans of what I was doing, but I’d try it every week.”
Cracking jokes at Doc Ryan’s slowly became a routine, and a great way to shape and mold the type of comedian that he would become. He spent the next nine months in Chicago cultivating his craft before he moved to Boston, Massachusetts, to get his Masters degree. “During that time I was just doing open mics. I never did a single show; I never got on anywhere. I never got the opportunity so to speak.” Langston says that this period of his life consisted primarily of trial and error. Despite that, Kerman was still eager and excited enough about comedy to keep persisting and trying again...and again, and again, and again. “I give a lot of credit to that experience; being at the bottom of the totem pole and really not getting anywhere to testing my wants for what this is.” Comedy is not for the faint of heart, despite the humorous elements that go into the art. Yes, telling jokes and making people laugh is one thing, but that’s not even the half of it. In a 2018 YouTube interview, NYC comedian and Hammer & Nails Grooming franchise owner Lee Valentin was asked what the hardest part of comedy was. The first thing he said was believing in yourself and believing that you can actually do it. Humor is not the easiest to translate; like Kerman said, some audiences may not appreciate our material, while others absolutely love it. It can be cutthroat, and it requires a lot of courage and perseverance to ultimately get back up once we’ve been knocked down. Understanding that your comedy might not be for everybody is a part of the comedy game, and it shouldn’t deter us from attempting it. Comedy is rewarding, but it requires a thick skin, because without one, it can easily bring a person down mentally. “That shit will break you, real fast.”
When it comes to talent, Langston Kerman says that although it is quite important to bestow, it isn’t the most essential part in having a successful career. “Certainly talent is a major factor, but I don’t even know how much of it is rooted in talent versus a willingness to go loose. I think that is the greatest talent a comedian can have; being willing to take a risk, to fail; to not do well, and then show up and do it again.” In other fields, it is more about being precise and as close to perfect as we can possibly get. While other fields have a clear cut objective of what is considered good and what is considered bad, comedy doesn’t necessarily work that way. It gives people the freedom to figure it out and discover what works for them. “We just have our weird thoughts and our ways to hopefully make people feel weird in a good way from what we think.” His comedy special Light Skinned Feelings aimed to do this by letting people into the weirdness that ensues inside of his brain; from experiencing an existential crisis after being called baby girl by a prostitute, wanting to own a white slave, being his Jewish Grandfather’s black friend, all the way up to the deceptive nature of D.A.R.E. commercials; the album explores Kerman’s meaning and understanding of what being a mixed man in the U.S is. “I’d like to think that everything is rooted...at least my style, my feel...whatever the fuck this is, I think it is largely rooted in a narrative, like storytelling, and then figuring out how to find absurdity in the story.”
For Kerman, the goal is to find the funniness in his reality. What can he emphasize when telling the tale to his audience? How can someone take something like long distance relationships and make it laughable? “It’s not just telling it in a linear way, but it’s like stopping where there are points to let that story expand into something silly or something playful.” Many of the comedians that influenced him have mastered this artform. Once people actually get a sense of Langston Kerman’s comedy style, some of those inspirations might become pretty apparent within his sets. “I think Dave Chapelle is my favorite comedian of all time. If there were any sort of objective measure of who is the best at comedy, he is it in my mind.” Kerman gives his credit where credit is due, whether it be an OG in the comedy game like Patrice O’Neal or Mike Birbiglia, someone within his peer group like Chris Redd or Jak Knight, or a comedian in their more formative stages like Ryan Donahue.
Keep your eye out for Langston Kerman; you’ll hopefully be seeing a lot more of him in the years to come. After appearing in Insecure and debuting his comedy album, his name has really gotten out there in the entertainment industry. Light Skinned Feelings was considered one of the Top Ten Best Comedy Albums of 2018 by Vulture.com. He lent his voice on an animated series created by Frank Lesser for IMDb called You’re Not a Monster, performed on Comedy Central’s New Negroes, a show that gives a voice to black comedians, and is now a series regular on the ABC sitcom Bless This Mess. Despite mostly doing comedy and comedic roles, he may include some more serious roles in the future. “I love acting. I love the idea of it being serious and funny. I think my natural instinct is towards comedy, but I got to take on some challenging conversations from that role [on Insecure].” When it comes to taking on more parts that introduce much needed conversations, Kerman is up for the challenge.
“Try some shit. Some of it may work, some of it may not. It may feel like something is the move right now. I don’t know, I’m an idiot; all I do is write jokes about dicks and stuff. I think, in the grand scheme of things, you have all the space in the world to test run things.”
- Langston Kerman
Who would have thought that Langston Kerman would accomplish so much in his 33 years of life? It is leaps and bounds from occupying the couch of a childhood home or teaching a classroom full of rambunctious, hormone riddled teenagers. Imagine if he had a defeatist attitude, who knows where he would be? For those who may be in Kerman’s prior situation currently, and are trying to figure things out, Kerman has a little bit of advice for you. “Try some shit. Some of it may work, some of it may not. It may feel like something is the move right now. I don’t know, I’m an idiot; all I do is right jokes about dicks and stuff. I think, in the grand scheme of things, you have all the space in the world to test run things.”