By Bryson “Boom” Paul

As part of his three-night stand-up residency at the Addison Improv last weekend, famous
comedian Lil Rel Howery escaped the current Hollywood strike. “Hollywood is going crazy right
now with this strike, people actin’ crazy, and I’m like, ‘Forget this, I’m headed to Addison,” said
the 43-year-old comic to a sold-out crowd at the beginning of his second Friday night show.
Friday (August 18) through Sunday (August 20), Howery’s Addison residency coincides with his
current I Said What I Said comedy tour, marking his first appearance on stage in two years. The
Writers Guild of America’s strike, which halts any production in Hollywood, has encouraged
Howery to return to the road, as he explained to the Dallas Weekly’s Bryson “Boom” Paul
between shows:

“It feels good to be back on the road in general. Just touring again is something I haven’t done
in a while because we have a strike. It’s like, ‘Alright, I got more than enough time just to be
getting on the road.’ It’s very interesting doing road work again. [Chuckles] It’s like a real job, for

Historically, the road has been a stand-up comedian’s foundation for developing new material
and securing income. A step ahead, Howery has several films, including Vacation Friends 2,
with John Cena, coming out in the next few months, but returning to stand-up reminded him to
stay prepared for any situation. “Having stand-up to fall upon and also being able to do.
independent projects, which weirdly enough, I was smart enough to do a couple of those, not
knowing this (WGA strike) was coming,” said Lil Rel. “I’m always trying to think ahead, but this
the roots (Stand-up). Stand-up is where it all begins. Dallas, and honestly just Houston, and
fuckin’ Texas in general, is like my favorite cities to perform in.”

Legendary comics like Arnez J and Rickey Smiley brought Howery to the metroplex on their
tours and helped him build a relationship with the city. “I came out here with Arnez J,”
remembers Howery. “I used to feature for him. And then Rickey Smiley, I would tour with him,
so we would be at these Improvs all the time. It’s a group of friends I have coming out; I think we
meeting’ up later, but they coming to one of the shows this weekend. I met them through Rickey,
and that was 2010. We been friends since then.”

Dallas reciprocated the love for Howery as every show sold out immediately, adding a third
show on a late Sunday night. The vast growth of the metroplex reminded Howery how much he
enjoyed visiting the city before the residency.

He continued: “Dallas is one of my favorite places to come to. Dallas is so different. It’s a city,
city now. It ain’t like… I remember coming here, and stuff was just being built. Now, it’s just a
thriving city, like for real. It’s so many businesses, companies here now. Even when you go
around, it’s like, yo, none of this shit looks the same.’”

Born Milton Howery Jr, the father of two, began his close to 25-year stand-up career in the late
90s in Chicago. Lil Rel developed a following with his signature laugh, freestyle comedy, and
unique storytelling. As a comedic actor, Howery has released three stand-up specials, starred in
his own television sitcom, Rel (2018), and appeared in 30 feature films, which includes his
breakout role in the Jordan Peele-directed 2017 film Get Out, starring Daniel Kaluuya.

Although it has been two years since his last stand-up, Lil Rel delivered a phenomenal hour-
long set, that included an awesome opening set by featured comedic actress Keysha E., on
Friday night as he joked about various topics, including the Texas heatwave, family, new love,
and Al Sharpton. While performing two shows a night, back-to-back, Lil Rel prides himself on
delivering a brand new set every show.

“Every show is different,” Lil Rel explained. “I’ve switched this shit up – tonight will be seven
shows – so for seven shows, it’s not been the same. I don’t know. Right now, it’s a beautiful
space to be. It’s one of things I used to love about early on in my career. Just go to Chicago for
a week or two or whatever. Just figure out what the set is. And I know most people think it’s
weird that I’m doing it on a tour. Like, ‘Dude, you headlining a club, and you just freestylin’?’
Yeah. But that’s also a skill set that I have. People probably think, ‘He had to write that out.’
Nah, I didn’t. Like tonight’s first set was all over the place because I talked about my son, and
then I went into all the other stuff. And then, I went back to it because I had thought about it.
And I was like, ‘Aw damn, I was supposed to put that with that piece.’ So, this next show might
seem a bit more organized. But them first shows, I don’t know.”

Howery was hesitant to tour due to the severity of COVID-19. Therefore, before this tour, he
would only perform one-off shows. It is still a dream come true for Lil Rel to perform stand-up
comedy after 23 years; however, his touring regimen differs; he explained:
“I am living the dream. It don’t feel like work. Before I jumped back on this tour, I was just doing
one-offs. Even If I just came up to a club because I just wanted to go up like, ‘Oh, I just want to
go up, Houston keep callin’ me and see if they got a Tuesday open and do one show.’ And
people were getting mad, ‘You don’t want to do…’ No, I just want to go up cause I like to chill.
I’m one of them people that like, when I tell you … even just on tour, like before I go to my show,
I got my massage, chill at the pool, got my workout in. I take care of me very well. Which is one
of the reasons I was nervous about touring again because my past thought of touring was all the
unhealthy shit, doing too much. It was craziness. This is growner. I probably should call it the
‘Grown as fuck tour’ [laughs] because that’s what it feels like. It just feels more relaxed. As you
can see, backstage is pretty chill, like I have my friends come and say Hi, but other than that, I
don’t do the meet-and-greets, which I love my fans, but … I’m one of the people that took
COVID seriously. So, I don’t know if I’m ready yet still. I still get a little nervous.”

Comedy often serves as a form of therapy for comedians. Howery now attends therapy
regularly, resulting in a better stand-up performance. In response to a question about the validity
of jokes as a means to cope with mental health, he wholeheartedly agrees.

“Comedy is therapy,” said Lil Rel when asked about therapy through stand-up. “Making
something funny, I think that’s one of the things I think people underestimate about comedy
when they like getting mad for a comic saying something, but I’m like, they’re just trying to find
light in it. Humor always helped us kind of get through things, figure out things, but that’s why it
has to be funny, too. If I see a comic that’s on they soapbox, like doing what I do on the podcast
but on stage, that’s when it gets weird because you suppose to make whatever you say funny
when it comes to stand-up, right? It’s great for my mental health. Going to therapy… My set has
changed because of therapy. It’s not as angry. You hear me talking about how happy I am on
stage probably five or six times, and that don’t happen all the time because I am happy as, you
know, just happy. It’s beautiful for mental health. Especially if you take advantage of it and
you’re honest. If you be yourself and are honest, you’re good to go.”

The ability to freestyle jokes every night and continuously deliver unforgettable performances to
new audiences is amazing. Aside from hosting at comedy clubs, Howery studied fellow Chicago
comics on the rise that equipped him with valuable stand-up skills.

“I am very grateful to have that skill set,” answered Lil Rel when asked about telling new jokes
every night. “It comes from my Chicago roots. Watching DeRay do it. Damon Williams. Deon
Cole. Like, just watching these guys able to just fuck around with stuff. And it’s a hosting skillset.
Like most comedians are scared to host but they don’t realize hosting, your freestyle shit
becomes better because you’re just making sure the crowd is good for everybody else. So, if
you’re smart, when I was in Chicago at Jokes And Notes – shoutout to owner Mary Lindsey –
every Wednesday for five years straight, I didn’t repeat anything. It’s just a muscle. It’s like,
‘Alright, this happened today, that’s what we gonna do, this happened this week, you can watch
some of the news.’ I was telling my manager: ‘I should have another special by like the third

Lil Rel Howery’s 23-year career experience makes him one of the comedians for up-and-coming
artists to study. Frequently asked by emerging comics how to succeed in the business, he offers
the following advice.

“The first thing is to always have fun. The day you start taking comedy too seriously is weird.
And number two, just be yourself, man. I love making people laugh, and I like hearing the crowd
laugh. Don’t try to emulate or look at somebody else’s career as your blueprint. Just do you but
have fun. This is a fun job. I look at comedians I know that done stuff like I’ve done – like I’ve
done movies and all this other stuff – and sometimes it hard to watch a lot of them now because
it’s almost like they can’t do comedy like they use, I don’t know why, I don’t know if it’s because
of success, but I think it’s cause the fun be gone. It’s almost robotic what they do. I do this shit
because I love it. I love making people laugh, and it’s so much shit to talk about.”

The I Said What I Said comedy tour follows Rel’s latest comedy special, I Said It Ya’ll Thinking It
(2022), and prepares material for his next special, which he revealed will be more intimate than his last. Akin to Ali Saddiq’s Domino Effect series and Jerrod Carmichael’s “Rothaniel” special,
Howery plans to give his most personal performance yet.

“This next one is going to be very intimate,” said Howery when asked about his next comedy
special. “I’m find a small place to shoot it in because I did it in the Chicago theater last one. This
one, I want it to be very intimate and very honest, and I almost feel like it’s going to be closer to
a one-man show. I been inspired by comics like Ali Saddiq, Jerrod Carmichael, like their
vulnerability in their sets. Even John Mulaney, shit. I’m looking for that. It’s going to be fun to
see what that looks like. It’s almost like a comic’s version of unplugged, you know, like when
they used to do unplugged MTV. My favorite performances is from them shits. I look at
what Ali and Jerrod both did, felt like that. It didn’t feel like the ‘normal’ stand-up special. It just
felt special. It felt fuckin’ dope and intimate. That’s where I’m gonna go next, I’m gonna deep into my thoughts and feelings.”

Bryson "Boom" Paul is a culture journalist by way of Bakersfield, California. A Dallas resident by way of California, he has written for LA Weekly, OC Weekly, Hip Hop DX and ThisisRNB. He is a CSUB graduate...