Byars hosting Comedy Night

Maryville College alum Joel Byars will be hosting Comedy Night, also featuring Ty Millz and James R. Hunt, tonight (May 13) at Waterfront Bar and Grill, 404 Greenbelt Drive, downtown Maryville. Admission is free, but attendees must be 21 and older. Check out Byars by visiting or catch his interview with The Daily Times on

Joel Byars credits Maryville College with setting the stage — literally, in a sense — for his career, but he didn’t discover it until two months before he graduated in 2010.

The professional comedian, who now lives in Atlanta and will host and perform on Friday as part of Waterfront Bar and Grill’s inaugural comedy show in downtown Maryville, had loved comedy since childhood, he told The Daily Times recently.

“The first comic I saw on television was Sinbad, and I remember I saw him on television, and it looked like he was having fun up there and bringing a lot of joy to people,” Byars said. “I was like, ‘Man, that’s what I want to do!’ Seeing that comedy special made me think, ‘Oh, this is a career option!’”

At Maryville College, he majored in organizational management with a minor in economics, but as commencement approached, he started mulling over his employment options, and “working at Enterprise Rent-A-Car,” he said, just didn’t seem that appealing.

“I was about to graduate and thought, ‘What is there to lose? Sallie Mae took everything else!’” he added. “So I did an open mic night at a Knoxville comedy club that’s closed now (Side Splitters), and that’s where I got all of my early stage time. I moved to Atlanta after graduation and hit the ground running, just performing as much as possible.

“Maryville in general gave me the confidence and creativity and self-awareness to try my passion. I really didn’t know what I was going to do, but Maryville equipped me with the mindset to follow my intuition, and it gave me the confidence to pursue my passion.”

While his passion is centered in standing on stage and making audience members laugh, it’s also centered around the business of comedy, he added. He hosts a podcast titled “Hot Breath!,” billed as “your weekly guide to comedy mastery, and over the course of its run, he’s interviewed more than 400 comedians about what goes on behind the scenes and beyond the stage to forge a career in funny business.

“People see Netflix specials or vial social media clips and think, ‘I want to do that,’ but the reality of being a comedian is one of not making money for a very long time and just living on stage,” he said. “It’s really honing this skill, this craft, this art form, on stage for years to really make it seem natural and conversational and all the things that you see all these amazing comedians do. It’s years and years of trial and error and bombing and getting booed and shows getting canceled and getting stiffed by promoters.

“It’s writing jokes off stage and reviewing your sets off stage and honing those. It’s figuring out how to get booked and how to make money at this thing I’m passionate about. It’s show business, and it’s literally two jobs: The show is a job where you have to develop your craft and develop as a comedian, but the other side is the business side and figuring out how to market yourself, get shows booked, maintain a website, be active on social media and so much other work people don’t know about.”

And it’s finding a lane that works: a style, as it were, that gets the biggest laughs based on a number of different factors. Byars is a clean comedian, meaning his jokes don’t rely on sexual or off-color humor. It’s a personal decision — “I look like a youth pastor, so if I go up there and start talking all dirty, everybody’s like, ‘What?’” — but it’s also a business one, he added.

“There’s more work if you can be clean, because you can perform at company potlucks and family reunions and birthday parties,” he said. “Just because it’s clean doesn’t mean it’s not funny. I want to be funny first, but I always just wanted to be clean from personal taste and preference. I never tell comedians whether they should or shouldn’t be clean, because in general, comedy is not easy.

“Whether people want to be clean or dirty, it’s still going to be hard, and it’s still going to be a grind. It all comes down to looking at comedy preferences like you do food preferences, and for me, it just stemmed from what comes natural to me. It’s about where I can build my brand and my identity, and that’s just how I enjoy making people laugh.”

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Steve Wildsmith has worked as a writer, editor and freelance journalist for The Daily Times for more than two decades. In addition to coverage of entertainment and occasional news topics, he also serves as the social media specialist for Maryville College. Contact him at

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