“Thou Shalt Laugh” Comedian Taylor Mason Doesn’t Rest On His Laurels

by Edwin L. Carpenter – Editor, The Dove Foundation

Comedian Taylor Mason, ventriloquist and puppeteer extraordinaire, appears in the new DVD release “Thou Shalt Laugh: The Deuce”; which released on November sixth and is the second such feature. Taylor appeared with his act in the first release as well.

Taylor travels a lot and had just finished a gig the night before our interview took place. It was a last-minute booking and a quick flight which he says happens fairly frequently. Taylor is always looking for new material, not content to rely on the tried and trusted material which made viewers laugh a few days before.

“I am a musician, a ventriloquist, and a comedian. I have all these skills with no application to real life…” His joke is humorous, but far from the truth. His quick wit and well rehearsed routines includes material which speaks to a lot of people about every day life. Otherwise, his swelling popularity wouldn’t be so great. He is one of the best at involving his audience in his act. In addition, one never knows what is going to fly out of his mouth next.

“I was in L.A. last week, and what a nightmare. I went to a dinner party with a lot of crazy folks. The hostess made a huge mistake with the seating, because she put Edward Scissorhands next to Don King!”

“I love to work,” Taylor said, adding that the audiences are heavenly but he hates the travel.  “There’s really nothing to complain about,” he said. “Because I knew what I got myself into. I’ve never had a job! I’ve been doing this since I graduated from graduate school in 1983 so it’s been twenty four years. So there are no excuses. I know it’s tough but listen, it’s all good.” Taylor’s positive outlook on life shines through in our interview.

We asked Taylor if the exposure he has received from the “Thou Shalt Laugh” and “Bananas” DVDs have catapulted his career. “Up until a couple of years ago, it was the information age,” Taylor replied. “Now it’s past the information age. What I mean by that is everything that’s been released in the last four years, all of the DVDs, television, live performance footage is available to stores and has also been released on-line.  And what has affected me the most is the fact that my stuff gets put on YouTube and so the opportunity to be seen has expanded greatly.”

Taylor said he may not be on the scale as far as the media is concerned, but “I have what I consider a huge fan base, based on those DVDs and the opportunity people have had to see them. I can’t tell you how many times, especially people under the age of twenty, come up and say, ‘My favorite bit is the one you have on YouTube.’ And I always say, ‘Which one is that?’ because chances are I haven’t seen it yet.”

He said when he does a college gig or a show with a couple of thousand people in attendance, that he sees people with their cell phone, not taking pictures, but taping the performance to take it home to post it.  Dove asked him about his feelings about that and if it bothered him or if he had mixed feelings about it. “Believe it or not I really don’t,” he said. “My feeling is-it’s hard right now to put a thirty minute or twenty minute or a ten minute spot up on YouTube. Usually it’s anywhere from two to four minutes.  It will be real fast. The latest one I saw is a DVD where I’m playing the piano and I’m doing one-handed push-ups. So that doesn’t take very long. The way I see it is that’s going to drive people to find out who I am and they’ll either purchase product, watch my show, or come see me perform live.”

“Another blessing for me is that I constantly change my material, so when you come to see me “live” chances are there will be something new in my act that you haven’t seen either on DVD or on YouTube.” He gave a comparison of what it’s like to constantly be searching for new material. “You’re just constantly doing homework,” he said.

Taylor said that there are opportunities to use new material “live” which is not necessarily new. “A great example is in this last ‘Thou Shalt Laugh’. I wrote gobs of stuff about the Ten Commandments.  And I think on the DVD they used maybe four minutes of what I had written, if even that. I probably have put into my act another two to four minute hunks of material for Paco’s ten commandments (Paco the pig). ‘Don’t eat ham’ is number one! ‘Don’t eat bacon’ is number two. ‘Don’t eat ham’ is number three. ‘Don’t eat bacon’ is number four. ‘Don’t eat ham or bacon’ is number five. ‘Chicken filet is really good’ is number six. ‘Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s barbeque grill and ribs’ is number seven. So the producers of ‘Thou Shalt Laugh: Deuce’ cut stuff out but that’s fine because since I’m constantly writing I just slip that in.”

Obviously Taylor enjoys using the material which was cut from the DVD and if the audience laughs during the live performance, he keeps it in the act. “I don’t think I’ll ever be in the position where I can live off the laurels of my last performance. I have to constantly, constantly work at it. “

Taylor continued philosophizing for a few minutes. “I take the book of Ecclesiastes to heart,” he said. “To me, Ecclesiastes—that’s the book. It’s a funny thing because I went to this very liberal church in the Chicago suburbs when I was growing up. I can remember the minister, Rev. Burton, telling my dad, ‘Well, have him read the Bible but don’t have him read Ecclesiastes because that will turn him off.’ Of course, as soon as I heard that…! That book has spoken to me over the years.”

We asked Taylor how he gets up in front of an audience with the idea of making people laugh, when he may be facing a struggle of his own, just as a pastor may attempt to encourage people when he is going through his own struggles. “Number one, the big difference between me and a pastor, and there are many similarities, but a pastor for the most part is in front of a large group of people usually once a week. For the most part he is doing a sermon for one day. I’m performing on a very regular basis. If I’m not performing live I’m in a TV studio recording something so I’m constantly working. It’s humbling for me but one of the biggest differences in myself and other people who are in show biz is that I make a real effort and I think I have been pretty successful at separating what I do on stage from what’s going on in the real world.;  It’s totally a performance. It’s very theatrical to me, extremely theatrical. To me it’s almost a therapy session, to get up there, do my job—I really enjoy performing. I think I do it as well as anybody in the country. “

“I’ve been married for twenty one years. I have two teenaged boys who are very different.  These are not negatives. There’s always something going on. It’s no coincidence that I’ve been able to maintain my marriage through all the ups and downs. And my wife has been able to maintain our marriage, to her credit, through all the painful times as well as the wonderful times. One of the things is that I make a huge effort to always get home. For example, if I’m in Phoenix on a Thursday, and I’m in Seattle on a Saturday, I go home on Friday. It may only be a couple of hours but I’m there on Friday night just to see what’s going on and on Saturday morning to walk the dogs. I’m not patting myself on the back—that is what I’m supposed to do. “

Taylor uses his wife as a topic in his act at times or during interviews.  “She’s smart,” he said. “She named the shed in our back yard ‘L.A.’ Now when someone calls the house and she doesn’t want to talk to them, she goes to the shed and we tell the caller, ‘She’s in L.A.!’”

Taylor added that it is the simple things—faith, God working through people, and truth—that get him through the difficult times of being a traveling performer. “I’m almost arrogant,” he said, “to the point that I have great faith in my faith, and therefore I have great faith in myself.”

We asked Taylor about his puppets. Does he imagine them and make them too, or does he have someone make them. “Both,” he replied. “I’m personally involved. There was a time that I worked on the puppets a lot more. Now I work with some of the best puppet builders in the world. I delegate because I really don’t have time to do everything I want to do. The original Paco doesn’t look anything like the one that you know and have seen.  The one from ten or twelve years ago is really homely! There was another one that I designed that Bill Gaither used to call the ugly pig! He used to tell me, ‘Do not bring that ugly pig on my stage!’”

Taylor is pleased with the variety in his audience. “If you look at other artists, especially comedians, what they do is they try and niche themselves for an audience. My audience is married couples, my audience is white, middle aged men, or my audience is women who are very, very Christian. There is no demographic. When I do an event, there are people from every single background that I perform for. I work for the Disney Corporation on a regular basis and every single background is in that audience.”

“The challenge of this is that I have to be a very good editor,” said Taylor. “You can offend people politically, religiously, in every way. I take that very seriously. I mean, take the bedroom out, take the bathroom out and now how funny are you?”

We suggested to Taylor that he probably is complimented on the fact that his humor is not only sincerely funny, but clean as well. “I hear that all the time. I’ll be in Las Vegas and I hear that. I hear it in comedy clubs. I hear that in churches. I hear that in synagogues.  I hear that at corporate events in hotel conference rooms. I hear that on-line. I get that all the time. I hear, ‘Thank you for being clean. Thank you for being a follower of Christ.’ I also get, ‘I just know you’re a good Jewish boy!’ I also get, ‘You’re a good Catholic boy!’”

Interestingly, Taylor said his gigs are well balanced in where they come from.  “Things pop up. I’m going to say twenty percent of my work comes from people either having seen something on television or on a video. Another twenty percent of my work comes from being recommended for something.  Another twenty percent comes from people having hired me before and they are anxious to hire me again. Another twenty percent of it is last-minute and somebody important drops out, somebody with a name drops out.  Some of that is in the Christian market and you have a huge audience that’s bought tickets, and you don’t want to let them down. Who you going to call? ‘Well, we need somebody who is not going to offend all these people.’ I think there are three people in the world that can do the job. And that’s not just in the Christian world, that’s across the board. And then there are twenty percent that are that X factor. They saw a video, or they saw me on YouTube and they don’t have an event but they decide to do an event.”

His favorite example is the true story of a brain surgeon in San Francisco who hired him to perform at his son’s Bar Mitzvah. His son had begged his father to book Taylor. “They paid my fee, I flew out and I did a show in their living room at this kid’s Bar Mitzvah. Ok, so now nine months later his wife writes me, sends me an article from the San Francisco Chronicle. He had a brain tumor, this brain surgeon, and he knew it—he was dying and he wanted to give his son whatever his wish was–for his thirteenth birthday.  So he gives the kid me, and nine months later—he hadn’t told anybody—he dies from a brain tumor.” Taylor had obviously been touched and affected by this chain of events. “I have the kind of act that I get that kind…it’s not always a comedy club, it’s not always a theater. I do a lot of off-beat, wild stuff.”

In conclusion, Taylor Mason comes across as a caring individual who wants to stay fresh in his walk with God and in front of his audiences. Taylor Mason doesn’t rest on his laurels.

Read Dove’s Review of “Bananas: Featuring Taylor Mason 2

Read Dove’s Review of “Thou Shalt Laugh 2: The Deuce