I hear …a hustler…
There are stand-up comics and there are improv comedians.
When HARK Valley put a shout out to the Phoenix Arizona Comedy group on Facebook for comics to watch in 2022, Patrick Bean put in Thornton’s name.
(If you have a favorite funny person you’d like to see featured, drop a comment here or email firstname.lastname@example.org.)
HV reached out to Thornton, who was game for a Zoom interview after his shift at a call center. From anyone who has been-there and done-that, please join me in, “God bless you, brother Anthony!”
Thornton’s steady grinding at a 40-hour-a-week day job makes his recent track record all the more impressive: Asked how many performances he has done in the last six weeks, Thornton humbly noted, “The last couple months have been very good to me.” He did some mental calculations, then said, “I’d ballpark around 15 shows.”
Personally, I’m tepid on the “give us a suggestion” scene; sure, thinking on your feet is fine and fancy, but I’m from the go spend some time working on something funny before you send it my way camp.
Which makes the Saturday show quite interesting.
The juggling Thornton is adding “producer” to his multi-tasking: “I’m putting on shows of my own. There’s a lot of really good talent, and it’s great to be able to showcase some of that.”
His idea for the Saturday ImprovMania show: “We’re having the audience give the comics three suggestions, then have the comics go write for an hour.” While the comics are workshopping, an improv team will be performing instant comedy.
So this is one show that mashes stand up and improv, Thornton’s dual passions. Born in St. Louis, he lived in Los Angeles before coming to the Phoenix area as a teen. After graduating from Marcos de Niza High School in Tempe and turning 18, he did a gut check (or maybe a little lower) and signed up for an open mic night at the Comedy Spot in Old Town Scottsdale.
He had done a lot of acting in high school, so figured he could handle a crowd.
As the show started, the organizer barked at Thornton, “Kid, you’re next!”
“I said, ‘Cool!’ And instantly threw up.”
The joint later closed, though it wasn’t Thornton’s fault. “I didn’t suck” at his debut, he said. “My second show, I sucked.
“But I kept going. Stand up is a series of just failing and telling yourself you’re doing all right,” he said with a knowing chuckle. “I picked up a little bit of traction, went to California and Colorado (for shows). Then, I found improv and stopped doing stand up.”
He loves the interaction of improvisational comedy: “It’s a team sport; you’re working with partners. You hope they’re going to go with you—but it could go anywhere.”
As this photo of Thornton and friends suggests:
After a couple of years of improv-only, Thornton started missing his solo comedy performances. “Stand up like walking a tightrope: It’s just me and the audience.”
As a solo comic, Thornton comes off as good natured, charming in a fidgety nerdish way, making fun of himself as much as others. You can see clips of him in action on his Instagram page.
Back at his "mind-numbing" day job, grinding out call after call, Thornton spends his breaks scribbling notes for jokes and dreaming of the day he will drop the headset, stand up and say, “So long, folks—I’m outta here!”
To date, he’s made enough money from comedy to pay a few bills. “That feels good…
“My goal is to be able to feed and house myself just telling jokes to strangers,” the 32-year-old said, with a dreamy grin.
Until then, he’ll put in those 9-to-5 shifts, clock out and race to clubs in Chandler, Mesa, Tempe and Phoenix to perform.
“At a certain point, I feel like two hours of sleep a night will catch up with me,” he said, breaking into a chuckle.
“But that’s for future me to worry about.”
Though the omicron variant has led to some comics calling out sick, the tentative lineup for this weekend’s shows:
Friday, Jan. 14, at Let it Roll Bowl:
- Anthony Thornton
- Jeffrey Morel
- Nick Leidl
- Dana Whissen
- Patrick Bean
- Vera Maria
- Louie Bruce
- Andy Cheung
Saturday, Jan. 15, at ImprovMania / Comics Under Fire:
- Brandi Bigley
- Crickette Gill
- Dana Whissen
- DeVonté Easby
- Jennifer Giralo
- Richie Anderson
Host: Anthony Thornton