Rion Evans came to stand-up comedy “organically” — not by lining up for open mics, but as a DJ and doorman at a Los Angeles comedy club.
“The Comedy Union is on the cusp of quote-unquote the hood and Hollywood, so you’d get a lot of people who want to test their material to come out of Hollywood,” he recalled. “They don’t want to go all the way in the hood, but this is right here on the cusp. So that’s how I was able to meet a lot of people.
“I started DJing at about 21. I started off as a very shy, reserved doorman and DJ … and that’s when everything started happening.”
Over time, Evans realized his energy at the door could affect the entire show — for better or worse.
“That gave me a good lesson,” he said. “The shy started falling back, and more of me came to the forefront. Now I was going out early to greet the line, making them laugh one by one, honing a skill that I didn’t know I had. I didn’t know I was learning things until I realized how many comedians — my favorite comedians off the TV — were coming and asking my advice.
"I’m like, ‘I’m the DJ — why are you asking me?’ But they made it very clear: ‘You’re here every night, you see my set multiple times, you probably know it by heart. That means you know something way past anybody else, so that’s why I come upstairs and ask you every time.’ So that woke something up in me.”
Other things Evans has come by organically in the years since: voiceover work, commercial acting and theatrical acting.
“I just keep my hands on as many things as I can that are related to my passion, and my passion is stand-up. But when you break it all the way down, my passion is people,” he said. “I try to do something that keeps that muscle flexing.”
Evans talked with the Business Journal about stand-up in the Springs, turning points, and being better than yesterday.
Take us from the top.
I was born Mother’s Day 1980 in Chicago, Illinois. When I was 7, I moved to Monroe, Louisiana. My dad is a quote-unquote, hustler. So my mom moved to Louisiana, and married a preacher — which was definitely a change. But you know, I don’t knock anything. Every part of my life is something spectacular that made it into what it is. When I was 14, I moved back to Chicago. ... When I was 20, I moved to Los Angeles and that’s when all this entertainment stuff started. My brother’s name is Rodney Perry — he’s a lot more famous than I am as a comedian and entertainer — and he was working at the No. 4 club in Los Angeles, called The Comedy Union.
How did you go from working the door at The Comedy Union to being onstage yourself?
My girlfriend at the time, she was a comedian and she hosted in Hollywood, and I wanted to try it — but I didn’t want to try it. Most of my friends are comedians, so it’s like, ‘I’m not gonna go down in front of them.’ So I was able to do it in Hollywood. I tried it and I loved it. I loved it.
Right from the start?
Okay. The first three minutes I was so talkative. I felt like I needed to paint this vivid picture and walk them down this path, which you essentially do, but you got to have some finesse with it — and I didn’t have that. I was just talking, talking, talking. I think I did seven minutes my first time, and by minute four I finally got to the joke. And they laughed. I used to have the tape, and you can literally see a glow come over me like, ‘This is what I’m supposed to be doing.’
And ever since then, it’s been a definite build. Within a year, I was doing television work, working with Kevin Hart and his group and different people out in Los Angeles, really making a name for myself. Maybe four years into starting comedy — when I was 25 — I got an offer to go and warm up and write for The Mo’Nique Show in Atlanta.
My brother was the co-host of the show so it was kind of easy; I knew a lot of the people there. And as I was getting the call to come to Atlanta to work on The Mo’Nique Show, I had an eviction notice right under my door in Los Angeles. It’s so rough out there. So I was bouncing off of that and I didn’t really have a plan. I knew something was unfolding; I just needed time to let it happen. …
The Mo’Nique Show ended up being probably the best part of my career, and Mo’Nique has been one of the best people I’ve ever worked with. She provided us such a lovely environment in that studio and I learned a lot about writing and about performing on the fly. It’s two different audiences every day. I’d sweat out my suit, go home and change and come and do it again. It put a different turn on what I was doing. At the time I was still a feature, opening up for big acts, but I would get a lot of: ‘When are you gonna be here? I want to come and see you.’ I was like, ‘Me?’ So that switch started happening at The Mo’Nique Show. That feeling that there’s something bigger.
How did that process of becoming more confident spread into the rest of your life?
This is what I try to teach young comics. When you’re starting — especially in this kind of community, Colorado Springs — you’re under the radar, and that’s a blessing. That’s actually a luxury some can’t afford. Now if I’m onstage, I can’t bomb. That affects my money, that affects my career. But when you’re new, feel free to bomb. But my learning curve was always turned up to about 10 more dials than everybody else and not bombing was prevalent on my mind even then — because in the beginning, I had bigger names looking at me. And working that door [at The Comedy Union] was a nuance of life. Los Angeles was whooping my butt, but it helped me to realize how important I am even from a small position, you know what I mean? And that’s life. You are so important. You just don’t know it, because you’re not writing it — you’re just living it. That experience brought me out of what I would say was probably a depressive time and started making me realize who I was, a little more. It’s all a process, but I would say that was the beginning — someone beginning to believe in me.
Acting and comedy — how do those two parts of your life work together?
Comedy is only confidence, that’s all it is. Everybody has a story. Each one of these people could tell you a story and make you laugh, because they’ve been telling that story so well, for so long, and they’ve learned how to pinpoint funny things. So comedy is all just confidence — to have confidence in those stories to tell.
… I’m in a good groove with comedy now. But when I started acting, it helped me to realize: You’re never done with any processes. In comedy, I was thrown into a lot of situations that some would say I might not have been prepared for, but I excelled and I was successful in those points. When it came to acting the same thing arose. I’ve never really done background. I’ve never really done anything like, ‘That was him — right there!’ I’m the lead every time. I jumped in. I’ve never taken classes or anything like that. So this was something — I’m not necessarily fooling people with, but I gotta make good with it. It’s a difficult dance. I know the dance from comedy. ... But now that I’ve done it, I can’t undo it — the confidence of that gets the next gig and next gig.
Looking at the gigs I was doing [in 2020], I was like, ‘I’m not working much.’ Then my agent sent a list of what I’ve been doing, and I realized, ‘I am really moving.’ I remember a point in my life where I was like, I am not doing myself justice. I was gaining weight, sitting on the couch, letting something — not me — sink in. And I had this epiphany: Let’s visualize it. What would I look like? A successful Rion. And I saw it and he saw me: Get up, come to me, come little by little, step by step, day by day. And I started buying workout equipment, hitting it in the house. And my focus, some kind of thing changed in my mind. And I said: I don’t have to shift my life in a day. Just little by little, day by day. ... I’ve worked very hard to become who I am, you know, and sometimes it’s hard for me to not be as humble and let things be. But I’m getting to a point where it’s not a matter of being humble. How is anybody gonna know unless I’m able to tell them?
When did you reach that point?
Honestly — this is gonna be weird. About eight years ago, there was a shooting at a theater [in Aurora]. The theater I go to is that theater. I love going on preview night, when it’s just the first night. I love going. At the time, there was a guy who wanted to manage me, but I didn’t like his style. ... That night we pulled out of the house, me and my girl, and it was either make a right or make a left. Making a right we’re going to that theater, we’re in that theater — and that’s happening. And I got a call from this guy to make a left and come to this theater where he had free tickets and things of that nature. People were talking about [the shooting] when we got out but it wasn’t until I got home and I was able to see the footage — that was a reminder, more than anything, of what I’ve been through and how many times I could have been in quote-unquote, that theater. And it’s scary to think. I got a tattoo of it. It’s a Batman, it’s my only tattoo. That was the beginning. I was drinking hard then, and I was letting what was happening to me in Los Angeles happen to me here, mentally. I didn’t necessarily know how to pull myself out, but somebody did. And they kind of shook me into place with that. And slowly I started changing little by little, day by day. It makes who I am today. And I think what I am today is who I’ve always been. I was just too scared to look at that as a leading kind of way.
What do you think dragged you down in LA, and when you first moved here?
For me, that feeling was not accepting who I am — and waiting for someone else to tell me. And nobody can tell you. You’ve got to reflect on your life as you’re taking those steps forward. But if you’re not moving, there’s nothing to reflect on. And that’s why I love comedy, because it forced me to be organic in this process.
What’s the best advice you got from anyone?
The best advice you could ever get in any genre of entertainment is never take anyone’s advice. Especially in comedy, because you’re by yourself. You don’t understand that just yet — you’re reaching out like, ‘I want to do it like Martin did, or like Eddie did,’ and those are your reference points. ... And it’s hard to realize that when you’re young in comedy, when you think — ‘Laugh at me, please!’ That’s the best advice I’ve gotten because it keeps repeating itself. Nobody on the stage but me. Nobody can help me. I got to figure out all aspects of this on my own.
What are your goals now?
I have a lot of connections on the West Coast, but I didn’t have what I have here. What I’ve been able to make here is an outstanding résumé. I’ve done some things that I don’t think I’d have been able to do [on the West Coast]. When I walk into a Los Angeles audition, there are 13 guys that look like me, talk like me — everything. Here it’s just me. It’s only me. So it’s enabled me to have the experiences that I wouldn’t have gotten. So now when I pursue things in Los Angeles — which I was before COVID — I’ll have more of a leg up. I think my path is what I’ve been blessed to be on without formulating it early. In the beginning, I was organically discovering this thing — what is this entertainment thing that I’m doing? In the midst of that, with the theater shooting, I started opening my mind up, I started thinking about being specific. I wasn’t even acting yet. Once I started that, it opened up: ‘Oh I can do anything, anything I want to.’ My comedy slowed down while my acting was elevating. Now it’s time to build that back up. So this year, I’m going to film a special so I can have something to show people. After that, I will get on the road a little bit more. … For that to happen, I have to make this acting side work a little bit more for me in a bigger way. It’s huge in the sense of, I’ve done Chili’s commercials, Safeway, I’ve got an ESPN commercial coming out. … My next move after a special will be to pursue the acting a lot harder. That’ll make it so when I’m in your town and say, ‘Come see me,’ you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s who you are. I saw you on that show!’ That’s the hope.
What motivates you?
Me from yesterday. I get up every day, and I think about how awesome I was. And I try to beat his ass from yesterday. If I can win over that guy — little by little — that’s what motivates me.
When you’re not working, what are you doing?
Working. When I’m not working, I’m working on the next thing that I could be working on. There isn’t ‘not working’ because it’s not really work. This is what I wanted. So I can’t box it in as work, I gotta let it develop. ... Sometimes I’m burnt out on one genre, on one thing, and I move on. I teach myself everything. So if I make a video, I don’t ask someone to cut it up now. I cut it up myself. I’m in the process of eliminating all middlemen so I can obtain all my money. In that process, I have to learn different things. So whenever I don’t feel like writing any jokes or I’m not doing any monologues today, I can learn my camera a little better. I try to keep things moving.
What do you want people to know?
I want people to know that anything is obtainable — even the things you see for yourself. Anything is obtainable because my first job was at a KFC in Dalton, Illinois, and this [career] wasn’t an idea. Entertainment? I went to art school — I’m an artist, that’s what I went for. So this wasn’t even a thought. But this is what I want people to know: You live life the best you can and you walk through it organically, as best you can. Keep your eyes open and stay reflective, to where you can learn more from yourself rather than others. Look back at what you’ve done and see how far you’ve come.