LUMBERTON — Comedian James Gregory will be returning to the Carolina Civic Center on Saturday to share his take on Southern life.
The 67-year-old Lilhonia, Ga., native has been performing all over the country for more than two decades and has become known for what some refer to as a mastery of “down-home humor.”
Gregory describes it a different way.
“I call it ‘humor from the heartland.’ Anything I do on stage, someone in the audience has done it or knows someone who has experienced it,” said Gregory, who has become a regular guest on various syndicated radio shows. “It is hard to define why people come to the shows though. I think me being in this business for so long … it is almost like Amway, you know? One person tells two people, two people tell four people, four people tell all of their friends and there you have it.”
Gregory, who is being asked to perform at the Carolina Civic Center for the third time, believes that word-of-mouth has extended beyond peer groups, noting the diverse range of age groups often seen at his shows.
“Some 23-year-old comes up to me at a show and says ‘my dad gave me one of your tapes when I was 12 years old,’ and I’ll tell you, at first it’ll just make me feel old,” Gregory said jokingly. “ … But I like to think those kids will pass it onto the next generation after that as well.”
Gregory began his career at the age of 35, in 1982, when at the insistence of his friends, the former salesman took to the stage to perform during an amateur night at a comedy club.
“When you first start out, you’re not very good at it,” Gregory said. “There is a big difference between being funny to your friends at the Waffle House and being on stage in front of a bunch of strangers. But when people start to laugh at the things you’re saying, it sort of gets in your blood. It is exhilarating, quite frankly.”
It was that sense of exhilaration that Gregory credits for keeping him going during the early years of building his brand, while making very little in the way of financial return.
After the comedy club boom of the 1980s faded, Gregory made the important business decision to switch his focus from performing at bars and nightclubs to performing at theaters, such Lumberton’s Carolina Civic Center.
“Eighty percent to 90 percent of my performances now are in theaters. I enjoyed doing that so much more and I think that is because you see a whole different array of people,” Gregory said. “When you do nightclubs or comedy clubs there is always an age restriction, 21 and up, but when I switched to theaters, I had a wide array of people, new people, come out. There are a lot of people who don’t like to go to nightclubs, who don’t like a lot of alcohol and noise … Much older people, much younger people … For example when I go to Lumberton, you may see people from 8 years old to 80 in the front row.”
While Gregory’s style of comedy is considered family friendly and “clean” by today’s standards, his act is frequently described as “politically incorrect.” Gregory regularly lampoons environmentalists, health enthusiasts and those he sees as being dependent on their government.
“Like today for example, you know the fast food industry has been demonized because people are saying that kids are obese because of the Happy Meals that they’re eating, and they are saying the government now should regulate TV advertising because kids are getting too fat,” Gregory said. “See, to me that is just a big joke … First and foremost the Happy Meal is 35 years old, it ain’t exactly a new thing. Secondly, McDonald’s doesn’t deliver and as far as I know kids don’t have jobs and can’t drive. The mothers control the purse strings and the travel. Here are these soccer moms who voluntarily load this fat kid into the car, voluntarily go to buy fast food and then they want the government to do something about all of these fat kids.”
The performance will begin at 7:30 p.m. at the center in downtown Lumberton. Tickets for general seating are $27, while a limited number of front row seats are available for $35. Tickets can be purchased in person or by calling the civic center at 910-738-4339.