Reggie Melbrough (Twitter)
When Reggie Melbrough moved to Washington, D.C. from Idaho in March 2007, he sought a teaching job—but he also realized he had a gift and needed a creative outlet to explore it.
“I had some friends and family members die and I was kind of in a haze on what I should do,” Melbrough, 32, told the AFRO on Dec. 30. “Comedy is something that I’ve always wanted to do and felt like I could do but I was never necessarily prepared to do it.”
Melbrough, a high school history teacher at Duke Ellington School of the Arts in D.C., first took an interest in comedy as a student at Boise State University. He and his friends would go to comedy shows at the local club, the Funny Bone. He even had friends who performed there, but it was not until five years ago in D.C. that he tried stand-up comedy.
“I thought I was really good but it turns out I was really bad at comedy,” Melbrough said. “Eventually I met guys and girls who were big names on the D.C. comedy scene. They gave me pointers. It was really a trial by fire. I was just getting on stage and trying to figure out what was funny.”
With each show, however, he said he believed he was getting better and better.
“I’m trying to paint a picture of funny things that have happened to me or to other people,” he said. “I try to make them personal so that you can find a connection.”
Melbrough said it is often more challenging to capture a Black audience, because they are more vocal about whether or not a performer is funny.
“If you come into a show where the crowd is mostly Black, you better not be bulls****ting and you better not have any fear in your heart because as soon as you walk in there and they sense it, they are not going to be with you,” he said. “Go in there with confidence.”
Melbrough said he loves the challenge, and said his job is to make the audience laugh no matter who they are.
“I don’t want to be a stereotypical Black comedian,” said Melbrough. “I just want to be Reggie Melbrough who happens to be Black and a comedian.”
Jennifer Brown, who works in nonprofit fundraising in D.C., has known Melbrough for years. She and a group of friends saw one of his first shows in the Clarendon area of northern Virginia.
“I didn’t know that was something he was interested in doing,” Brown, 31, told the AFRO on Jan. 4. “But he’s just really funny. He’s always been a funny, goofy guy so it wasn’t a huge stretch.”
Brown said she enjoys how Melbrough tells funny stories about his students, and said she is impressed by how many different things he is involved in.
“One thing I’ve really admired about him is how he’s been able to start his own shows,” she said. “He really hustles.”
Melbrough has performed at Bohemian Caverns, emceed at New Year’s Eve parties, and started an open mic at the Looking Glass Lounge. He currently has a successful showcase called “Don’t Block the Box” at the Wonderland Ballroom in Columbia Heights, a five-year-old platform for local comedians on the rise.
He has also been featured on PBS, in The Washington Post, CBS, and was the subject of the mini-documentary “Stand-up and Deliver” by Bicycle Space. Melbrough hopes that as he continues to perfect his craft, more opportunities will be presented to him.
The offers are already coming in. He has been asked to emcee the “DC Shorts LAUGHS!” shows on Jan. 9 and Jan. 10 at the U.S. Navy Memorial Heritage Center in D.C. There are two shows each day, and Melbrough will appear at the 9 p.m. shows. Each 90-minute show combines film and live performance for a spectacular and light-hearted evening, according to the show’s website.
“This is a perfect opportunity to catch films you might have missed from last year’s festival, while whetting your appetite for the big DC Shorts Film Festival in September,” Jon Gann, founder and director of DC Shorts, said in a statement. “Comedy fans generally love funny movies as well as stand up, so we wanted to throw an event that brings both of them together.”
Although Melbrough loves teaching, his students, and his school, he would ultimately like to make comedy his sole career. He said he could always come back to teaching if comedy does not work out.
“I have a degree and something else I have passion for,” he said. “I don’t want to be one of those people who, 15 years down the road, says ‘I wish I would have tried this’ because that would have hurt more.”