Comedian David Ferrell has traveled all over the country, but he has never forgotten his roots.
He’s now 50 and lives in Greenville, S.C., but he grew up in Cary, where his parents, Dennis and Sandra Ferrell, owned a restaurant called Dennis’ Luncheonette, across the street from The Cary theater, from 1969 to 1977.
He said his life has now come “full circle,” as Ferrell will perform his comedy at The Cary theater as part of the Hometown Hilarity comedy show hosted by Larry Weaver.
We talked to Ferrell before the show about growing up in Cary and how it inspired his routine. Here are excerpts.
Q: What’s your connection to Cary?
David Ferrell: (The restaurant) was run by my mom and dad. They had it for about eight years, and during those years, I was just a little kid, so we would go to the store and hang out and basically walk around Cary unsupervised, like most kids did back then. I used to actually go across the street to The Cary theater, which at the time was called Cary Clothiers, and we’d walk through the store. We’d go next door to Mitchell’s (which is now Pharmacy Bottle + Beverage), or go into Ashworth’s. We would just walk around town, and it was just kind of a neat. It was a small town when I was a kid.
...There used to be a dirt road down there (near Cary Elementary School), and they actually had homeless people living in the backs of buses. My parents, at the end of the day, would take leftover food down to people living in the buses. Hard to imagine, but that was in the early ’70s. ... I’ve got a book that I’m going to put out soon, called “My Life Goes Full Circle Every 15 Minutes.” I spent 12 years driving a shuttle bus around the Raleigh-Durham Airport, and I almost feel like my life’s coming full circle again, because I’ve been doing comedy 26 years, and now I’m going back not only to the town I grew up in, but actually the building right across from where I used to play as a child.
Q: So how is Cary different now?
Ferrell: The neighborhood we grew up in, Kildaire Farms, was a farm. If I wanted to go see my friends, I would either get on my bike or walk, and that’s how you transported yourself back then. ... There’s a very simplistic part of your life, and it’s great because your imagination and your creativity, I think, thrives more when there’s not much going on, because you’re trying to make life exciting.
Ferrell graduated from Wake Christian Academy and went to Lenoir Community College, where he got a broadcasting degree and was a radio announcer until he was 22, when he started stand-up.
Ferrell: The comedy club in Raleigh was big, and I thought maybe I’ll try being funny in front of people instead of just on a radio, and from there I just kept doing it. I probably did 400 free shows before I ever got paid. I just enjoyed it, and people thought I was funny, and I thought I was funny. ... I wanted to be a radio announcer, but I think stand-up comedy was not very far from that. It was just live instead of behind a microphone with no one watching. Being the middle child in a large family, there’s always one that wants to push the envelope and make people laugh and do crazy things, and that was me.
Q: Are you excited to be back in Cary?
Ferrell: I’m very excited. I haven’t stepped foot in that building probably since 1975, and just to see the transformation from what I remember, what I remember the building being, into what it is now, I think will be shocking, in a good way. If in 1975 you asked someone, “Hey, what do you think this building will be in 40 years?” they would probably say “torn down” or something else. I don’t think anyone would’ve ever thought it’d be transformed into what it is now.
Q: What can people expect from your show?
Ferrell: I’ve been nominated as one of the top inspirational comedy acts of the year, because I do some comedy and motivational speaking. But when I’m specifically doing comedy, my show is a clean show. I do a lot of interaction with the audience. I want people to feel like when they see my show that they’re as much a part of a show as I am, and we’re doing the show together, as opposed to me just entertaining them.
When you see a show live you can’t control the things that are happening, which actually makes it so real and so bigger than life, because you don’t know what’s coming next. Someone in the audience can say whatever, and all of a sudden, you’re going down a different road that you intended to go, but that’s the funniest thing you’re doing. That’s the huge advantage to doing a live comedy show as opposed to seeing somebody just telling a joke – you have someone who’s actually personally integrating the audience into what they’re doing, and making it as fun for them to watch as it is for the comedian to watch from the stage.
Q: So it’s like improv a bit?
Ferrell: I like to think of it as a spontaneous comedy show. It’s almost like you just put a group of people together instantaneously and you just start doing comedy. You’re asking people questions, and you’re doing things with them, and all a sudden, instead of you being the comedian, you become an entire group of people enjoying comedy. Because I enjoy what they give back to me hopefully as much as they enjoy what I just gave to them.
All comedians are different, and some guys do things differently. I find that because I’ve created more of a loose format instead of set jokes that I’ve opened up opportunities for interaction that I didn’t have before.
Q: Has growing up in Cary inspired your comedy at all?
Ferrell: Yeah, and I think if I would’ve been born 30 years later in Cary, that I may not have the look at life that I was able to see growing up in a small town. I just think that small towns and rural areas give more opportunity for creativity because you’re not over-saturated with sights and sounds. You’re not over-saturated with population. It’s just simple life and simple people, and I think it allows you the freedom to create your own things.
Q: What are some of the coolest places you’ve been because of your comedy shows?
Ferrell: Back when I first started doing comedy, in ’93, I won a contest at Charlie Goodnights (now Goodnights & Factory Restaurant), the comedy club in Raleigh, and I went to Comic Relief, which was in Los Angeles, and I got to meet Whoopi Goldberg, Billy Crystal, Robin Williams, Jim Carrey, Jay Leno. You name it, it was everybody there.
I would say that 90 percent of all the comedy shows are just in regular towns. The great thing is I’ve been able to see the entire country from dusk to dawn, from coast to coast, seeing both oceans and every small town and every big city. One of the benefits of doing comedy is that it really gives you the opportunity to enjoy living in the United States, because I’ve seen all the United States.
Q: Why is doing comedy and doing shows important? Not only to the audiences, but also to you, and as part of our culture?
Ferrell: I look at it this way. I think life is hard. I don’t care who you are. I think most people’s lives are very much harder than what we realize. I think I have come to understand that there’s a reason people come to a comedy show.
Life is difficult, and we all need not just a break, but we really need to laugh, we really need to have fun and enjoy life. I hope that stand-up comedy as an art form continues forever, because I think it’s majorly important as a part of our society to look at life and to be able to laugh about it, but also to think and enjoy it and be a part of it.
Paige Connelly: 919-460-2609
Want to go?
Hometown Hilarity, hosted by Larry Weaver, is Friday, July 15, at 8 p.m. at The Cary theater, 122 E. Chatham St., Cary. Tickets are $13 to $15 at the box office or at thecarytheater.com.