This week we add Mike Lawrence to our Up Next series, just as he is about to pack up his New York life and head west. Phil caught Mike on his last RoastMasters show at the Stand in New York City. All photos by Phil Provencio.
Mike Lawrence has been in New York for ten years, and now he’s decided it’s time for him to move on. Tuesday night, one of Mike’s last nights performing in New York, we caught up with him to get some images, and some answers, before he becomes a West Coast comic. Mike was hosting a show at The Stand, and we stole a few minutes in between times he was needed on stage, to talk about comedy in New York City.
Lawrence has just a few more days here in NYC. On December 20th, he’s heading to Argentina, then back for a day before heading out for good. Of course, the first thing we asked Mike about his big move, is why now. “I just feel like it’s time,” he said. “I’ve done a lot in New York, I’ve been here ten years. I listened to Wide Open Spaces by the Dixie Chicks enough and felt like I had to go make my way out there and give it a shot.”
He says he feels like he’s done more than he ever expected, which feels like a good time to move on. “I think I overachieved. I was dirt poor for many years when I got here, and I’m leaving not-poor, so that’s all I can ask for. I did the thing I wanted to, and it feels like I hit a ceiling so now it’s time to get my ass somewhere else.”
What he’ll miss most, he said, is getting paid to do comedy. Beyond that, it’s the friendships. “I think some of the funniest people in the world are here and I’m so proud I’ve been able to get close to them. I’m gonna miss guys like Mark Normand, Dan Soder, Evan Williams, J.P. McDade, Yamaneika Saunders, Mike Recine, Sean Donnelly, there’s so many. I love all those people.”
He’s had some great moments in New York- and shared a few standouts, a few professional and one personal. “I think taping my first TV set at John Oliver’s New York Stand-Up Show on my 28th birthday was a huge moment. And falling in love with my wife, we went on our first date in Williamsburg. It closed right after. I feel like it existed for us to fall in love and was like, our work here is done.” He also mentioned his first roast battle against Bonnie McFarlane, and the fact that he was scheduled to open for Louis C.K. on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden. “I think that will be an emotional moment. It’s been a great time.”
Mike’s been producing and judging the RoastMasters shows every Tuesday night at the Stand for over a year now. He’s also Comedy Central’s reigning Roast Battle Champion, a title he won in Montreal this year when he beat Sarah Tiana. Tuesday night, for his last RoastMasters show in New York, Mike was getting ready to take on Zac Amico who won New York’s RoastMasters championship back in November. “This is my last show as a producer. I’ve been the permanent judge for over a year and I’m battling tonight. I’m stepping in as a battler with Zac Amico who won the tournament. He’s the best roast battler and we’re gonna show how it’s done and beat the shit out of each other.”
And they did. Lawrence showed up ready for battle as Ric Flair- he’s a giant wrestling fan, if you didn’t already know that- and Zac Amico was Dusty Rhodes. Mike entered the room full of confidence and ready to crush. Spoiler Alert: the battle was epic, but it was Zac who took home the victory. The writing was phenomenal and everyone in the room agreed it was a battle to end all battles. Mark Normand said it was the best roast battle he’d ever seen between anybody.
“I was always the dick at comedy shows and open mics. I would make fun of other people,” Lawrence said about his roast skills. But there’s more to it than being a dick. “I research. I over analyze. I interview the person. I interview their friends. I try to find different angles. I watch every other battle they’ve had. I think to myself, well how come they told me something, but I’ve never seen it…and try to go after different things.”
The Roastmaster himself, Jeffrey Ross dropped in on the show and made a huge announcement- one of the reasons Mike is moving to Los Angeles is to work on season two of Roast Battle on Comedy Central.
When Mike isn’t battling, he’s probably either writing, or listening to a wrestling podcast. “Something to Wrestle with Prichard, Stone Cold Podcast sometimes even though he’s a wifebeater, Jim Ross, Place to Be Nation. I love listening about wrestling. I don’t even watch it that much. But I listen at least 20 hours a week.” And comic books or comic book movies are also on the list. “Guardians of the Galaxy and Deadpool are probably the best comic book movies ever. They came out in the last 2 and a half years,” he said proving that his reputation for being a tough critic might be exaggerated. Star Wars, not so much. “I’ve watched most of it. I saw Force Awakens, it’s fine. Rogue?— eaaahhhhh, I’ll see it if a bunch of people do, but I don’t need to see it by myself.”
And before we had to let Mike go back inside, we thought we’d grab just a little bit of Mike Lawrence wisdom, asking him if he would have any advice for his younger self, arriving in New York ten years ago. “Enjoy every moment,” he said. “Savor it all because you’re gonna blink and be old. Mike Recine told me that today, you blink twice and you’re forty. Just savor it all cause it’s going to be gone.” We all wish Mike the best out in Los Angeles, thanks for all the laughs!
Parting shot….Lawrence reacted to a passing New Yorker who wanted to get his picture taken. It’s just a random and weird moment, but one of those moments that feels oddly fitting in a series that looks at comedy in New York City.