by Rita Charleston
At 6’3” and 300 pounds, Shawn Banks looks like the perfect picture of the professional football player he hoped to be one day. In fact, Banks played football throughout his college years at Bethune-Cookman University, a historically black college in Daytona Beach, Florida. After graduation he hoped to play pro football, but those hopes were dashed. However, when he didn’t make the grade as a pro, Banks decided to turn to his second love — comedy.
Born in Alton, Illinois, a small city 20 minutes from St. Louis across the Mississippi River, Banks was an only child who admits he always craved attention and found he had a natural ability to make people laugh. “But I began to realize there was life after football, so after I graduated from college as a business major, I took a job in human resources for an aerospace company in Florida,” said Banks, who will headlining at Ambler’s Act II Comedy Stand-Up Weekend on Saturday, Feb. 3.
“I had always been the class clown in grade school. I was always the funny guy on the football team, the funny guy all through college and eventually that funny guy in human resources. So when I discovered people actually got paid for this natural gift of mine, I decided to see if I could make that gift pay off.”
And he found that he could. Performing at an open mike night at a nearby comedy club, Banks wowed the crowd. “And when this audience of complete strangers found me funny, I thought, ‘Wow! It’s only a matter of time until I hit the big time and start making $60 million a year!’” Well, not quite. Banks soon discovered he had to pay his dues first. (Do Banks pay dues?) So it was back to his job while working and performing his comedy routines.
Eventually Banks was playing at various clubs around Florida and later around the country. “In 2004, comedy became my full-time career,” said Banks. In the fall of 2005 and 2006, he landed a spot on the “Tom Joyner Sky Show” at Walt Disney Milk House in front of more than 4000 people and was heard on the radio by more than 10 million listeners.
He also made many other appearances and competed on other stand-up comedy shows, including winning a Comedy Central comedy competition over thousands of other contestants. Banks also became the opening act for many well-known comedians such as Sinbad, Larry the Cable Guy, Bill Bellamy, Rickey Smiley, etc., but Shawn insisted his big break came when he appeared on “America’s Got Talent.”
“When you do comedy,” he said, “you often progress into acting, and I have done some. I’ve appeared on the Bio Network’s ‘Celebrity Ghost Stories,’ portraying Notorious BIG on ‘Celebrity Crime Stories’ and more. But my heart belongs to stand-up. What I love most about doing it is bringing joy and laughter to complete strangers across the country. All of us have dramatic things that happen in our lives, so to be able to make people giggle and forget their problems for awhile is the most rewarding thing I can do in life. I’m the feel-good doctor.”
Banks’ comedy consists of observational humor, exploring current events and relationships and dead-on impersonations. “I don’t have a shtick like Rodney Dangerfield, for example, who didn’t get any respect. I just try to experience things and then make a comedy routine out of them. You know, anyone can tell jokes in front of their family and make them laugh, but it’s a lot different in front of a room full of strangers.
“So I say while you’re working out all the kinks, keep your day job. I did just that until today, when I am working for myself as an entrepreneur and business consultant in addition to doing stand-up. I love the freedom of it all — the acting, doing the stand-up, some producing. For now it’s the freedom of being able to be creative and not tied down to any one thing.”
And the future for this 42-year old? “I just want to retire on a beautiful island somewhere and relax. Who wouldn’t love that?”
For times and ticket information, call the Act II box office at 215-654-0200.