Comedian shines light on Fort Wayne’s Finest
‘Bob Hearts Abishola’ writer returns home for 2nd annual showcase
It seems there are more national comedians than ever coming through town, be it Katt Williams, Jerry Seinfeld, Jim Gaffigan, or Bert Kreischer.
However, Jamarcus “JT” Turner wants you to know there are plenty of homegrown comedians right here in the Summit City. To that end, the former writer for Bob Hearts Abishola organized Fort Wayne’s Finest comedy show last year, with the second edition set for Saturday, May 27, at Arts United Center.
The inaugural show featured himself with Kool Kat, Lunett Thomas, Alex Eakin, and A.M. 2 Funny, but there will be an entirely new lineup this year.
“We have such an abundance of talent in Fort Wayne, I will not have to repeat picks,” Turner said. “It will be years before I have to repeat someone. We have a very robust comedy scene around here. It’s just there aren’t a lot of places to showcase them.”
Showcased this year will be Turner, Isiah Gray, Jesse McIntire, Jared Scott, and Stacey Stark.
Finding a place for laughs
Citing Summit City Comedy Club, Studi07, and Wrigley Field Bar & Grill as some of the few spots comedians can get in front of an audience in town, Turner formed Fort Wayne’s Finest as another outlet. Along with getting comedians in front of an audience, the show is also recorded and edited so the performers have a reel they can distribute.
He said last year’s reel helped him reach the final round of qualifiers to perform at this summer’s Just for Laughs festival in Montreal.
“I had never done a big show with a lot of people in attendance, something prestigious, something I see a lot of other comedians doing in other places,” Turner said about forming Fort Wayne’s Finest. “Then I realized I wanted to do that for my friends. So, last year I was like, ‘I’ll shoot a special. I’ll call it Fort Wayne’s Finest, put a couple of my friends on the ticket.’ ”
And Arts United Center perfectly fit what he was going after.
“I think that’s one of the most beautiful venues we have in Fort Wayne,” he said. “A lot of people I know had never even been in that theater, and they definitely had not been in there for any kind of comedy show.”
Help along the way
Growing up in Fort Wayne, Turner always dreamed of being a comedian. However, for a long time it was just that, a dream.
“I would tell my friends, ‘I’m going to be on ComicView by the time I’m 19. I’m going to do this. I’m going to do that.’ Then I came back to Fort Wayne have my half-semester in college and I got a job, because I got someone pregnant,” the Elmhurst grad said.
“My little brother (Jimi) told me that if he found an open mic, I would have to do it. We talked about it for years. We would sit in the living room and write jokes, but he passed away in October 2020 right in his sleep, just suddenly. Two weeks after he passed away, I saw a flyer for an open mic, and I had never seen one before in Fort Wayne. I started going to the open mics and never stopped.”
Noting that he ends each of his sets with an “I love you, Jimi” tribute, Turner got his official start doing stand-up at Dreamers Hookah Lounge on Calhoun Street.
“It was during the pandemic, and people were not enthusiastic about laughing or listening to me do comedy,” he said. “I didn’t know I was funny until I went to a different place. No one was paying attention and no one cared. I came up with different jokes every week because it was the same people in there every week.”
Finding a more receptive crowd at Wrigley, Turner continued to hit the stage “because I loved it.”
While dabbling in stand-up, he says he was working 60 hours a week at Allen Plastics Repair on Lima Road. With plenty of downtime at the job, he would get on Twitter to make jokes, grabbing the attention of comedian Yassir Lester, a writer on the hit HBO series Girls who has also appeared on such shows as Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Mindy Project, and Duncanville.
In January 2020, Lester sent Turner and direct message that changed his life.
“He said, ‘I think you should write.’ ” Turner said. “He bought me the TV Writer’s Workbook off Amazon and sent it to me and bought me a program called Fade In (professional screenwriting software) for my computer. I had to buy a $100 computer at a pawn shop, and I just started writing scripts.”
After writing a couple scripts that didn’t fare well with Lester, Turner did write one that Lester told him to keep.
A year later, Turner took part in a nationwide search for Jon Stewart’s Apple+ series The Problem with Jon Stewart. He made it to the final round of applicants, but did not get the job. But connections had been made.
“It was just something I was doing to stay sharp, so I wouldn’t go crazy,” Turner said about writing. “A couple hours (after being told he didn’t get the job), the head writer wrote me back and said, ‘We love your writing. We’d love to send it to an executive. Do you have anything we could send them?’ ”
That’s when the script he had written for Lester came in handy. A few days after sending it to an executive, he had an interview to write for Chuck Lorre’s Bob Hearts Abishola.
Going in believing it would be good practice, Turner landed the job and wrote 29 episodes. In January, he was released from his contract with thoughts of re-signing. However, the writer’s strike threw a wrench in those plans.
This year’s performers
Before returning for Fort Wayne’s Finest, Turner said he’d be joining the WGA picket line in Los Angeles. But once he’s back in the Summit City, he’s excited to showcase the local talent.
“Stacey Stark has a deadpan delivery that I adore,” he said. “She’s so funny, so hilarious. Just think if Steven Wright and Tig Notaro had a baby.”
“(Isiah Gray) is so smart and so funny, and it’s so sharp. His jokes are so intricate and so well-crafted. He’s a joke genius, honestly.
“Jesse McIntire, he’s going to come out of nowhere for a lot of people, but I know he’s going to kill. He has a brilliant mix of high-brow humor with low-brow execution.”
“Jared Scott has only been out here for maybe a year, year-and-a-half, but he’s created his own comedy show called Peppers & Punchlines. It’s doing really great. He’s taking it on tour now, so it’s not just in Fort Wayne. It’s like Hot Ones for comedians. You do super-duper hot peppers and try to get through your set. If you get through your set after doing multiple rounds of eating these peppers, you get $50.”
Along with those four, he’ll also be doing his own set, and he wants to give the audience their money’s worth.
“I can’t do the same jokes that I did last year,” he said. “That’s a nonstarter for people around here to pay $20 to see, as far as they are concerned, a no-name. Like, my name is on TV, but they don’t see me on their Vines.
“If they’re gonna come see me and pay money and feel like they got a good show, I have to give them all new jokes, they have to be funny, and it has to be a night that’s worth their time.”