Mixed Media

He’s Got Talent

Comic Gary Vider is an overnight sensation seven years in the making

Gary Vider's performance in the semifinals of “America’s Got Talent."

By Sean Cunningham

“People actually know I’m a stand-up comedian now, even though I’ve been doing it for close to seven years.”
Gary Vider (BA ’06)

Asked when he felt like he was going to make it in comedy, Gary Vider (BA ’06) jokes, “About a week ago.” His big break, in case you missed it, was appearing on ABC’s reality show “America’s Got Talent” (AGT) last fall and advancing to the finals: “People actually know I’m a stand-up comedian now, even though I’ve been doing it for close to seven years.”

The journey began here at UB, where English professor/former comedian Andrew Stott helped Vider write a spec script for an episode of “The Office” as a work-study program during his senior year. After graduating came the struggle, both to make a living and to establish his act. (“I did a show at a bowling alley. No one was paying attention; they were just bowling—I bombed real hard.”) His financial problems inspired some breakthrough material. On “Conan” in June 2014 he recounted getting fired as a receptionist, and on AGT he delivered the line in his typical deadpan fashion: “I make $11,000 a year, which is not a good amount if you’re familiar with money.”

Vider persevered with some encouragement from established comics (former “Saturday Night Live” star Rob Schneider liked him so much, he flew him to LA to do gigs) before coming to national attention on AGT. Vider says simply, “You need to have a sports mentality. You might strike out, but you still have to get back up to the plate again.”

How was the AGT experience? Sleepless, apparently, as Vider scrambled to prepare the best possible set for each appearance while getting additional material ready for each successive level. He handled the celebrity judges largely by ignoring them: “I tried not to look at any of the judges when I was performing. It’s super weird telling a joke and Heidi Klum is there!” His favorite, though, was shock jock Howard Stern. “He was my number one judge I wanted to make laugh.”

With AGT behind him, the New York City-based Vider is now focused on pitching TV show ideas and hitting the road to develop a solid hour of material, while also helping to mentor the next generation of funny people. “With AGT, I should be able to book a good amount of road work and take some younger comics with me,” he says.

Will he have to dump the jokes about his struggles? While his act will evolve as he gets older, Vider says, you can expect some punchlines to stay the same: “I am still very much in debt.”