Comedian Preacher Lawson, perhaps best known for his success on America’s Got Talent, will be performing a stand-up show Sept. 4 at the Suquamish Clearwater Casino Resort.
Lawson, 31, was born in Portland but was mostly raised in Memphis, Tenn. “My upbringing’s a little different,” he said. “I’m not really from anywhere; I moved around a lot.”
He didn’t plan to be a comic. “I wanted to be on a sitcom. That’s one of the reasons I started doing stand-up. I definitely joked growing up. I was definitely the loudest, and I tended to prank people more. It’s a lot of fun; it’s a really good feeling making someone laugh.”
Lawson said Jim Carrey, Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence and Jaime Foxx were some of his comedic influences, but Arnez J was his favorite. At age 17, he had his debut performance at an open mic in Memphis, adding, “I almost didn’t go on stage I was so terrified, I was shaking.”
As a 17-year-old, he wasn’t allowed to perform at bars, so Lawson had to exhaust every avenue to try and make it on the comedy scene. He even put ads on Craigslist to perform for people anywhere, even for free, such as in churches, coffee shops, cafes and even outside in alleys.
“I went and did stand-up in somebody’s living room for a recovering addict,” Lawson recalled. “I remember her crying and thanking me for coming out. I just did stand-up everywhere. For me, I love being on stage and performing.”
Like many comics, he went through some tough times. He was homeless for a brief time at age 19 and often hopped around other comedians’ houses to stay. “They didn’t know I was homeless, I would just hang out with them for a long time.”
Lawson said while he’s never considered quitting comedy, he did consider giving up on trying to be famous. Then came his moment of clarity at a show in Florida when he was in his early 20s. Another comedian asked him why he wasn’t in Los Angeles or New York to get more exposure.
“He said you’re not even trying. You have so much time to fail, and then you can be upset you didn’t do it,” Lawson said. “You’re going to be upset anyway because you didn’t try, which means you just settled for failure … I know I wasn’t trying my hardest, and I thought what happens if I try my hardest? So I decided to move to L.A.”
People close to him started rallying around him in support of his dream, even providing him with extra funds to make it possible. “A lot of people believed in me; it was really cool,” Lawson said. “I didn’t know that many people trusted me or believed in me. Some people didn’t believe in me, which made it even sweeter.”
In 2015, Lawson won Funniest Comedian in Flordia and a year later he won the Seattle International Comedy Competition. He said winning those two events led him to his first TV appearance on Last Call with Carson Daly. “That’s when people in the industry took notice,” he said.
As a rising comedian, producers for AGT had Lawson skip some of the ordinary audition lines in order to speed up the process and get a look at him. He said one of the auditions was in front of judges like Howie Mandel, Heidi Klum and Simon Cowell.
“The most terrified I’ve ever been in my life was before I went on stage for the first time and before I went on stage on [AGT],” Lawson said. “I don’t think I’ll ever feel that again. I wanted it so bad I couldn’t really soak it in. When I got on stage I was like ‘thank God.’”
Lawson appeared on season 12 of AGT in 2017 and was one of the 10 finalists. He was later invited to compete on AGT: The Champions in 2019, where he advanced to the finale after receiving the most votes in the United States. In the finale, he finished in the Top 5.
More recently, Lawson appeared on HBO’s A Black Lady Sketch Show and was a regular on NBC’s Connecting before it got canceled. In 2019, he shot his first stand-up special Get to Know Me, which premiered on BET+.
Now, Lawson is on tour across the U.S. performing stand-up, is auditioning for more TV/movie roles and will have a podcast coming out soon. He is known for his minimal use of curse words during his performances.
“I don’t think I’m an offensive comedian,” he said. “People describe my comedy as family-friendly but I don’t describe it like that. I still make fun of people. If you pay attention to my jokes, somebody is getting made fun of. But that’s all comedy. You’re making fun of a situation, you’re making fun of yourself or you’re making fun of someone else.”
Lawson said he doesn’t prep much before his shows. “I just kind of go on stage, I’ll look at my notes before,” he said. “I just write ideas down and see what happens on stage. I trust myself.”
He also said he has seen so many people fizzle out as comedians because they don’t love it. “I’ll talk with new comedians and some of them will bring up money asking, ‘When do you get paid?’” he said. “It’s funny when they say that because I’m like, they’re not going to make it. You can tell early on. I’ve seen so many people come and go in my 13 years.”
Lawson’s show at the Clearwater is Sept. 4 at 8 p.m. Doors open at 7 p.m. For more, visit clearwatercasino.com/entertainment/preacher-lawson.