Comedian Kim “Boney” DeShields is funny, except when she’s talking about making people laugh. “It’s an art,” she says matter of factly. “You have to be smart to make people laugh. You have to be well read and knowledgeable about a lot of things. But most of all, you just have to have the ability to make even the worst things funny.”
Deshields has certainly had opportunities to mine sorrow for comedy gold. After her 2007 success on Nick at Nite’s Search for the Funniest Mom in America, Deshields was beset with one personal hardship after another, including the death of two loved ones and taking on the role of caretaker — twice. Expectedly, her career took a hit, and although she continued to perform, she had to fight to keep herself relevant in the fast paced world of stand up comedy.
Deshields, however, has survived — and is thriving. As a partner with comedian Tim Lovett whose brainchild is production company Comedy as a Weapon, she and her fellow comedians are enjoying some much earned success. Last September, Comedy as a Weapon sold out the Academy of Music and in November they celebrated their 40th show. They can be seen weekly at the Thrill Mill in Easthampton.
We met Deshields at her mother’s home in South Amherst to talk about her big break on Search for the Funniest Mom in America, her new role in Comedy as a Weapon, and tragedies and hard won life lessons to which everyone can relate.
Gina: How did you get started on stage?
Kim: You know it was the Advocate that got me into comedy, right? Back in 1998, The Peking Garden was looking for people for an open mic night. I thought, “let me go do this.” I went and bought a book…[laughter] and that was that. I was awful on stage that night, though; I told some doo doo jokes, but the next week they put my name on the ad anyway. That’s the night I became a comedian. I still have the ad; I cut it out and kept it.
Gina: Have you always been funny?
Kim: I was a really serious kid — I mean I grew up in a family of scholars. But when I talked, people would laugh at me and I didn’t know why. It used to be really hurtful until I decided I would just go with it. I was like, “I meant to be funny” and then I used it to my advantage. Then I went to Spelman College and majored in theater arts. I loved performing.
Gina: I met you shortly after you started doing comedy and for years you hustled on the Northeast comedy circuit. Then in 2007 you went for broke and auditioned for Search for the Funniest Mom in America. What was that like?
Kim: It was really exciting but equally traumatic. I breeze through the first round — the Boston round, and I get to the next step and we go to New York…. If I knew then what I know now, I would have just enjoyed it more. I would’ve slowed down a little and enjoyed it more. But I did good. When they called my name, I ran and jumped into the arms of one of the judges. It was mortifying. Everyone was staring and then I started crying [starts laughing]. It was crazy… but thankfully they edited that part out. I was nervous, embarrassed, and excited all at the same time. Getting picked in New York to go to the final round was great; when you go to New York, you gotta bring your “A” game. I knew I was going to make it through that round; I felt strong. But the final round was in L.A. and it was terrible. It was hard. I got eliminated in L.A.
Gina: Why was L.A. different? What happened?
Kim: I panicked in L.A. I was in my head too much. My set was strong and I should’ve been more confident but I was comparing myself to everyone else. There were other comedians who had been on shows like Leno. And we were in the Fryars Club. There were comedians in the audience scouting, and Roseanne Barr (the third season host of Search for the Funniest Mom in America) is there. On top of that, I suffered from severe stage fright. I just freaked out and got eliminated because of that. But Roseanne said something that meant everything to me afterward. Roseanne said, “You’re funny. Keep doing this.” For Roseanne Barr to acknowledge me like that while I was standing with the rest of those chicks who were so funny… that meant everything to me. And there were other important comedians in the audience that, I was told, couldn’t believe I didn’t make it to the next round. That meant a lot to me, too. I was okay with everything after that — after what they said. When I look back on it… I’m glad I had the experience — even though I can’t watch that episode to this day. When I’m on TV the next time, I’ll be better prepared. I’ll know to stay out of my head next time; this [comedy] is what I love, I need to enjoy the process and stay out of my own way.
Gina: In spite of stumbling in L.A., you made a name for yourself in comedy after that. How did Search for the Funniest Mom in America change your career.
Kim: Well, you know that was before Facebook — it was My Space that was the thing then and that’s harder to connect on, but I got a call from the Maury Povich Show and I did some work for BET (Black Entertainment Network). Funniest Mom was really big; I thought I was going to be famous after that. But I didn’t really know how to leverage it. I didn’t know I was supposed to get myself in front of people and email everybody all the time. I didn’t realize that I needed to take my 15 minutes of fame and stretch them out as much as I could. You need people on your side — good people — to help you, too. Even though I kept working, I didn’t become famous like I thought I would after the television show.
Gina: But you still got work.
Kim: Definitely, but then things really started to get crazy in my personal life. I suddenly had to deal with so much sickness and death in my family. I became a caretaker to a loved one when I moved to New York. Then my brother died and not long after that my partner Silas died. There was so much death. Now I’m taking care of my mom who’s suffering from dementia. My career was definitely taking a hit. I had to turn down gigs in New York, and in comedy when you stop showing up, you lose relevance. And when I did get a gig, it was like being funny under extreme duress. So if anybody saw me a couple of years ago and I wasn’t that funny, that’s my excuse [laughs]. You know, though, Tim Lovett really helped me; he restored my confidence.
Gina: Tim Lovett is the founder of Comedy as a Weapon; he brought you on in 2016. How did that happen?
Kim: First of all, Tim’s backstory is deep. He was incarcerated and then homeless. He used to go to AA meetings just to get out of the cold and get coffee. Then he got work, put himself through school, graduated from STCC and then went on to build Comedy As a Weapon. His brand is doing very well, but when he asked to come on board, I hesitated.
Gina: Why would you hesitate to take an opportunity like that?
Kim: Because I was stressed; I was taking care of my mom; it’s a lot of work being a caretaker — physically and emotionally. It takes a lot out of you. And I’d gotten comfortable with procrastinating. Before, when I did gigs by myself, I got booked, showed up, and left with my money. That was easy. But now that I’m a producer, we’ve got find the comedians and the singers, and you have to advertise…. We’re our own street team and everything. Tim has so much confidence in me, though. He brought me in as a partner and he knew we could build something great. And in September, we did our biggest show at the Academy of Music — sold it out! That was crazy. And Tim knows how hard it is for me to be a caretaker and do performances, so he puts me on the schedule and he deals with the business side. Tim loves what he’s doing and he’s incredible at it. And he’s allowed me to work as a partner in Comedy as a Weapon and let me keep my independence as a performer. He lets me swoop in and do the slam dunks.
Gina: So things are looking up?
Kim: I’m making a living doing comedy — doing what I love. That’s amazing. I’ve learned so much over the years. So yeah things are looking up. You know, I’ve been sidelined a couple times in my life, but this is what I’ve learned: You can have whatever you want if you have confidence in yourself. You have to have unshakable faith in yourself and see yourself where you want to be. Envision it and just do it. I’m gonna make it — I’ve already made it my own mind. So yeah things are looking up.
You can catch Deshields and Comedy as a Weapon at the 121 Club at Eastworks in Easthampton weekly. 121 Club, 116 Pleasant St, Easthampton. 413-527-1000