RAHWAY, NJ — Indiana native and former “America’s Got Talent” star Drew Lynch is a walking, talking comedy soundbite, quick on the draw despite the stutter he was left with after getting hit by an errant softball years ago. Four years in comedy clubs – along with a runner-up finish in season 10 of “America’s Got Talent” – has helped Lynch cultivate a self deprecating act. “No one wants to hear a comedian talk about how great his life is,” he says, and Lynch brought it to Rahway on Saturday, Feb. 6, for a show at Union County Performing Arts Center.
When asked why he came to Rahway on his national tour, right before shows in Denver and Houston, the 23-year-old comedian didn’t disappoint.
“I love that you asked why did I come here, like ‘Why us, it’s not that great, we only have one Chipotle,’” said Lynch. “I’ve performed in the best of venues and I’ve performed in the worst of venues. So from here on out, for my career, it’s only going to be in-between those two extremes. It’s never going to be the worst place I’ve ever performed, because that is a Korean BBQ in Erie, Pennsylvania. The role of stand-up comedians is we’ll play anywhere and for anyone.”
It was the first time Lynch, who started his career opening for Bo Burnham, performed at a 1,000-plus seat venue by himself, an “exciting” experience. Even if the 1,300-seat UCPAC was filled to the rafters, though, the size of the audience would barely scratch the surface of “America’s Got Talent,” where Lynch’s comedy was watched by more than 15 million people a week.
Many of those watchers were inspired by Lynch’s life story, and how he turned a perceived stumbling block — his stutter — into a advantage through his comedy, where he routinely pokes fun at the situations he finds himself in. People that Lynch meets say he’s helped them deal with their own stuttering, or that of their daughters or sons, and in turn, Lynch feels grateful he has the opportunity “to thank them” for relating.
Being an inspirational figure isn’t what Lynch set out to do when he started cracking jokes and auditioned for “America’s Got Talent.” But traveling around the country has shown Lynch the lives he’s touched on his current career path, and “I still can’t wrap my mind around that,” he says.
“Their point of view changes. Their perspective changes. That’s amazing,” said Lynch. “I just wanted to go in there and be funny as a stand-up comedian, but so many more people have talked to me about the fact that I have this obstacle — which is the stutter — and I still go on stage, and that it’s commendable. But I’ve never seen myself as that, I just want to be a funny guy. And if people are moved in the process, then great, it’s more than what I wanted to do.”
At 19, Lynch moved to Los Angeles with dreams of being a film actor, and at 20 the accident changed his life. Lynch’s agents promptly dropped him and said “come back when you get better,” which he soon realized wouldn’t be happening anytime soon.
Comedy, he says, was his only escape from the dark place he found himself in.
“If I’m making myself laugh a bit, that is the best coping mechanism that I’ve found. That’s how I figured out how to deal with my injury in the first place, by doing comedy. I didn’t want to be a stand-up comedian when I was younger,” said Lynch. “I had to work through, ‘OK, this might be the way I talk the rest of my life, how do I do it in a way where people are listening?’ Because out in the real world, no one is listening. But in a confined space — like a room, like a club, like a theater, like a Korean BBQ — sometimes they listen.”
Not only did his career path change after the accident, says Lynch, but it molded him into a better person. Beforehand, he had a hard time empathizing with other people, and as a way to deal with insecurities he told himself he was better than everyone else. But when you live with something as apparent as a stutter, he says, “that makes you very human, you can’t act that way anymore.”
“This might be a little doughy,” warned Lynch, “but I think everyone has a thing that hinders them, whether that be physical or emotional or financial. And I didn’t feel like I had those things before my accident, even though I did.”
Bringing in Lynch hot off season 10 of “America’s Got Talent,” which ended in late September, was a coup for the theater and Rahway. UCPAC’s Executive Director, Brian Remo, said it’s easy to relate to Lynch’s heartfelt story — not to mention his talent — in a press conference, while Rahway Mayor Samson Steinman added Lynch’s show adds a lot to an already “eclectic lineup” on Hamilton Street, the home of UCPAC.
“It’s excellent. We consider ourselves the entertainment capital of Union County, partly because we have the UCPAC here and the other part is because of our commitment to the arts. Bringing the community together, economic development, using it as an educational tool,” said Steinman. “When we were talking, Drew mentioned what an eclectic lineup we have here, and he is an ideal fit for that lineup.”
Lynch, also known as “the stuttering guy” to some — “I’ll go by ‘the guy who wears tight jeans’ if you want,” he says — has taken a long, unique path to being the buzzing, stuttering comedian he is today, the one a thousand people came to see in Rahway. The accident changed the course of his life, making him a better person and re-directing him into comedy clubs. Since then, he’s lived four years full of vindicating experiences, he says, from the day-to-day fans he meets to his unimaginable success on “America’s Got Talent.”
“I had been through so much in my past four years, doing show after show, many of them not really succeeding or people looking at me like ‘is this guy for real?’” said Lynch. When “America’s Got Talent” judge Howie Mandel hit the Golden Buzzer, which moved Lynch to the live round of the show, “I forgot there were other judges and other audiences. I just felt validated from, finally, a comedian and a person I respected, after years of people telling you ‘no.’”