Comedian Doug Smith to take the stage at The Infield

How comedian's Jehovah's Witness upbringing led to a career in comedy

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PITTSFIELD — Growing up as a Jehovah's Witness, Doug Smith would read Bible passages onstage from the time he was 8 years old. As he got older, he offered his own commentary on them, delivering takes to the masses.

"I was always very comfortable doing it for some strange reason. Even as a young kid, speaking to a crowd of 100 people was no problem," Smith told The Eagle by phone Tuesday.

By the time Smith was 20, his religious devotion had worn off.

"It's very restrictive, and I wanted to drink and do drugs and have sex and all that fun stuff," Smith said.

But he held onto his interest in public speaking and, when he developed a love for comedy, used it to pursue a career in stand-up. Since that time, the New York City-based comedian has appeared on "Conan" and Comedy Central's "This Is Not Happening." On Saturday night, he'll perform during "The Infield Comedy Night," a biannual event at the Pittsfield indoor sports facility that is home to the Berkshire Baseball Academy. Spectators can anticipate hearing material about family life that Smith has developed since July. That's when he recorded his first album, "Barely Regal," which is due out on Dec. 3 from 800 Pound Gorilla Records.

"Now, it's the tricky part [for] any comic, if you do a special or an album. It's the idea of abandoning that material and starting fresh," Smith said, noting that he'll still incorporate some jokes from the album.

In addition to his spiritual activities, the comic "religiously" watched Comedy Central's "Premium Blend" show during high school. The terrible comics he saw on TV inspired him to try comedy more than the good ones.

"If they can do it, I can do it," he said of his mindset.

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In 2005, Smith wanted to start hitting New York City clubs for stand-up spots. But he was "terrified," so he focused on improv with the Upright Citizens Brigade instead. After four years, he finally mustered the courage to try stand-up.

"It was a New Year's resolution I made when I was 26. It was like, 'Man, you're not getting any younger. It's already kind of a late start in this game. So, just do one open mic. That's all you have to do. Just do one open mic.' And I did, and it went terribly. But at the same time, it was exhilarating," Smith recalled. "That was it, no turning back."

Failure served as motivation for Smith, who began attending open mics relentlessly.

"I almost wonder if I had done really well on that first open mic if I might have stopped, to tell you the truth, been like, 'Oh, OK, I know how to do that,'" he said.

His big TV break came when he performed on "Conan" in 2016. He had appeared on a show, "Live at Gotham," before, but it was on a channel nobody could find. On the Conan O'Brien-hosted late-night program, Smith joked about his resemblance to a Civil War reenactor and his distant relationship to Ulysses S. Grant. After the performance, O'Brien complimented Smith on his material. He particularly enjoyed the Grant connection.

"He's a huge history buff," Smith said.

Some may know Smith from his viral "This Is Not Happening" bit about intervening as a man attacked a woman in the subway. Smith confronted the perpetrator, allowing the woman to escape. But the man, who was later captured, wasn't happy. He stabbed Smith in the face, giving him a quasi-Joker scar. The physical evidence of the incident forced him to work it into his act over the next year. He had plenty of material prepared; as he waited for an ambulance after the encounter, he was already sketching out jokes in his head.

"That's the sick thing about the comic mind," he said. "Everything is viewed as fodder for material."

Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at bcassidy@berkshireeagle.com, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.


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