Stand-up comedian Shapel Lacey sits in his car outside Starbucks on Zoom. Speaking from the front seat, he drinks a coffee and looks straight into his phone.
The frame is social-media-like—he appears ripe for a confession, a hot take, a post-grocery-store insight. In actuality, I’ve interrupted his morning ritual. Shapel came here to journal.
“It is something to do on the daily. To check in constantly,” he explains. “I let it organically take me where it needs to take me. If it is a page and a half, it is a page and a half. If it is ten pages, it is ten pages. I write based on feeling and what I really need to let out.”
Shapel, who will appear at San Jose Improv this Wednesday, realized early in his career that comedy is simply a matter of people discussing life from their own perspective. Journaling helps Shapel find that perspective, as well as the unanticipated humor in the vagaries of his emotional life.
“When I’m journaling, I’m not writing for funny. I’m not writing in a joking manner. It is serious stuff. In my journal I let out all my fears and my insecurities, my happy moments, sad moments, whatever the feeling is—all the emotions are let out in the journaling. I have been able to take a lot of that to the stage. Organically. It’s like a lightbulb moment when I’ll go, ‘Oh, that’s funny.’”
The range of topics that Shapel takes to the stage is impressive. Shapel might joke about undergoing anger management (three times), being a competitive cheerleader (well into his 20s), or his abundant giddiness upon spotting the lead singer of Counting Crows (and the staid response of his first Black friend to that giddiness).
Having been adopted by a white family, Shapel straddles white and Black culture in a way that allows him to poke fun in both directions. Under this fun is seriousness, as well as an opportunity to heal.
“I write about my life and everything that’s going on in my life, from being adopted in my teens to growing up with my abusive stepfather to losing my brother. I write about and talk about these heavy things on stage. But what I’ve noticed, because I’m able to talk about all this stuff comfortably, is that I’ve learned to heal,” he says.
Comedy, for Shapel, is an individualistic undertaking. He contrasts the experience of stand-up to being in a band. “You’re up there by yourself. It’s not like a band where you’ve got four or five members,” he says. “You’re doing all the parts as a comedian.”
Shapel takes up the solo task of comedy for something more than laughs. Laughs, he says, are part of the trade. With a storyteller’s facility with analogy, Shapel goes on to liken his comedy’s shift toward authenticity to a man’s choice to wear cologne.
“Say there’s a guy who is going on his first date with someone. He’s getting ready. He’s getting dressed, getting fresh. He wants to look good for this date. He puts on cologne. Meanwhile, he never wears cologne. So, it’s like, just come as you are.”
While Shapel’s comedy focuses inward, stand-up is done, necessarily, on stage. He doesn’t do much crowd work, attributing some of this to being under the stage lights—he simply cannot see people in the crowd. As for hecklers, Shapel mostly ignores them, but his patience can wear thin, as when a woman kept interrupting his set to tell him it was her husband’s birthday.
“And I just looked at her. I said, ‘Miss, I don’t have any gifts for your husband.’”
Shapel offers his audience something else. Shapel says he brings his whole heart to the stage. Even still, he does not set out to inspire through comedy. “My brain just thinks in a way where I find the funny in very hectic things.” The result bears the gravity of a person transformed.
“I’ve always been about triumphs. And that’s what I like to speak to on stage. Like you see a strength up there as well. You see someone who’s weightless from all the heavy stuff that’s been poured on them.”
Wed, 8pm, $20
The Improv, San Jose