BY HENRY SAVAGE Sitting in a Los Angeles Roscoe’s Chicken with his mother, Derek Gaines took some time to discuss his career, comedic inspiration, and growing up in a multicultural suburb of Philadelphia. Gaines started doing stand up over a decade ago when he was the ripe age of 19 years old and hasn’t looked back since. Moving to New York City, he was able to improve his craft in the comedy circuits there, where he would later live with SNL cast member, Pete Davidson. Soon after, Gaines started getting booked for gigs on MTV, including his own series, Broke Ass Game Show.
Derek Gaines now has a recurring role on Tracy Morgan’s The Last OG on TBS, and is currently filming episodes of Will & Grace. Although he has worked his way from the tri-state area comedy circuit and began his plunge into LA comedy acting, Gaines hasn’t lost his east coast roots and still focuses on honing his chops through stand-up in New York City. In advance of his three-night run at Punch Line Philly (Dec. 20-23), during which he will record his new comedy album Goodlum, we got Derek on the horn. DISCUSSED: Growing up watching Tracy Morgan, crazy shit that went down on Broke Ass Game Show, Cedric the Entertainer, Philly open mics, Soul Plane Kevin Hart, living with Pete Davidson, LA pilot season, the importance of being open-minded, and what he likes most about Philadelphia.
PHAWKER: I heard you were filming a little bit of Will & Grace today, and I wanted to start off with what you’ve been working on, The Last OG and Will & Grace. What was it like transitioning from stand-up comedy to then go into comedic acting?
DEREK GAINES: The transition was absolutely, positively simple. It was a very simple segway, because doing stand-up, it’s all about timing anyway. So you just gotta time something out with another actor. It’s very easy to understand the language.
PHAWKER: Having that give and take?
DEREK GAINES: Yes, and it’s actually easier to do comedic acting because I don’t have to do all the work. In stand-up, I gotta do all the work.
PHAWKER: How is it working alongside Tracy Morgan and working with comedians of that level?
DEREK GAINES: Tracy Morgan, Tiffany Haddish, Cedric the Entertainer, all these wonderful actors in comedy. Working with Cedric and Tracy is surreal because I used to watch them on TV when I was a kid. When you get to work with the dudes you used to watch on TV…like when you standing there with Cedric who made you want to tell jokes, looking up to Tracy Morgan who used to be Hustle Man on Martin, you get a chance to work on a bigger scale, it makes you look at yourself like: I got to hang out with my heroes, and I must be kind of funny to be able to work with my heroes.
PHAWKER: Where did comedy start for you? How did you find yourself getting on to open mic stages? What was the motivation?
DEREK GAINES: People always said I was funny in high school and I never really believed them, until I actually really gave it a shot one day. In high school, I was funny. When I was in college, they said I was funny too. I thought, I needed to try this out, and then somebody pointed me in the right direction. There’s a club on 2nd and Front Street in Philadelphia called the Laff House. They have an open mic every Wednesday, and that’s the club, at the time Kevin Hart was small. He just did Soul Plane. So Soul Plane Kev, he was still kind of popular.
I was told, “That’s the comedy club Soul Plane Kevin Hart came from, you should go down there and check it out.” I went down there the day after I turned 19 years old. I got on mic for the first time, and I never looked back!
PHAWKER: How did the first one go?
DEREK GAINES: I bombed terribly. I bombed so bad. No one laughed. One girl giggled. When she giggled at me, it gave me all the inspiration and fuel I needed to keep going. I thought a bomb was the worst thing ever, like I was going to fall through a pit of hell, fire and alligators to bite your ass up. That didn’t happen.
I thought, “that’s it?”
Alright, they don’t even know me. They’re going to forget me because I was like 49th on the lineup, so it didn’t really matter. That’s a bomb? I got one giggle being the 49th comic on? Alright, I’mma come back next week and see if I can get two giggles instead of one, and I did. I got two giggles and bombed. Got three giggles, and then started to take classes to figure how it all worked out. I got bit by the comedy bug early.
PHAWKER: Really just improving that craft.
DEREK GAINES: Yeah, of course. All you can do is hone. Everybody getting caught up on getting your own TV show, your own sitcom, special, album, and getting into this club or getting past that club. If you just focus on honing what you got, in one spot. You just keep beating it up and beating it up, beating it up. Everything else falls into place.
PHAWKER: So this weekend, you’re going to be recording a comedy album for your set in Philly. What kind of things have been going on in your life that might make it to stage?
DEREK GAINES: All the things that are going on in life, is…well, life is just going on. You know the beautiful thing about my style of comedy is that I come from a background where my mother allowed me to be artistically goofy.
She actually allowed me to open up my mind. She opened me up to all kinds of cultures and friends. My mom made me open-minded as a kid, so now I guess Goodlum, is a culmination of growing up with Jews, growing up with Christians, going to a multicultural high school and moving out of my mom’s house when I was 24, to try and be a man in New York City by myself.
I’m just a man-child. I’ve been spoiled since birth, so I’ve been a man-child trying to move into New York City and trying to earn on my own, it’s pretty funny in itself. Heartbreak. Responsibilities that I never knew I needed to have. So coming together, Goodlum comes from the whole thing about me being from burbs but loving gangster hip-hop, drug movies, and hanging out with pot dealers when I was in high school.
PHAWKER: In New York City you ended up living and working together with your friend Pete Davidson.
DEREK GAINES: Me and Pete were buddies, man. I mean we were like ten years apart but I guess our maturity levels were the same. It was like two big kids hanging out. Me and Pete did a lot of stuff together, like we went to Montreal because we both landed stuff there. I remember when Pete auditioned for SNL and got it, it was a real cool time. He was always my boy. He really showed me what the cool side of fame is. I know my brother struggling right now with some of the things he going through, but Pete always managed to have fun. He’s seen a lot of chaos in his own head and his history, but he showed me the cool side of funny.
At the time he was 19 and had a swag that I couldn’t believe. He had a swagger, and it was like so mature and it’s unfortunate how he got it, but for him to have it at such a young age really makes him one of the funniest young dudes in the game right now.
PHAWKER: As someone who came up on the east coast, how was moving to California? Got any weird LA stories?
DEREK GAINES: I have huge, awful LA stories. Correction, I never moved to LA, I only visit. I’m such an east coast dude that me and LA just don’t vibe. The air is just too funny for me. I come out to do jobs. I’ll film Will & Grace, all kinds of CBS shows and stuff like that. I’ll always get on a plane if there’s a bag for me in LA, but if there’s not, then I try to stay in New York as much as possible. I come out here during pilot season. New York, Philly, New Jersey is my tempo, it’s just my speed.
PHAWKER: I used to watch Broke Ass Game Show a little bit, and I was wondering, what was the craziest thing you guys did or possibly weren’t allowed to air on TV?
DEREK GAINES: We did a lot of crazy stuff. Some of the stuff that didn’t air was so funny. I remember one time, me and David dressed up as backup singers and we just walked up on people in New York City and just started singing behind them, waiting for them to lead sing. We ran that sketch for about a good hour, and we had some funny material. Some people started singing and dancing. Some people just looked really confused. A couple people wanted to fight us. It was always a fun time.
I remember one time we made life-size sushi rolls, out of people. We bought all these ingredients. The fish, rice, and all that. We got to a park, and we started getting protested on the spot for having so much food wasted and not giving it to the homeless. People were getting so upset that one group of people wanted to fight me because I was being so silly with the food, carrying on. They just really couldn’t take the joke of it because it was so wasteful, which I get it.
A lot of people taking themselves too seriously.
PHAWKER: What do you look forward to coming back to Philadelphia for the weekend?
DEREK GAINES: I look forward to come back to Philly because I’m looking forward to that raucous South Jersey/Philly crowd that knows about that old energy in stand-up. The energy that I’m from. Philadelphia is, not necessarily mean, but aggressively joyous I should say. If you kill in a room in Philly they gonna stand up, they gonna run around. They gonna clap their hands, they gonna have a really good time. They not gonna be in their minds, thinking about if it’s funny or not. They’re not gonna be too politically correct. They coming out on Friday and Saturday and gonna have a really good time.
The silly man from Lindenwold is coming back to really give y’all an hour of raucous comedy that I’ve been working on for pretty much 15 years. It’s gonna be good.