Comedian and EWU graduate says to start something now

Nate Jackson wants students to pursue their passions while they’re still in school


EWU alumnus and comedian Nate Jackson smiles big for the camera. Jackson’s comedy career launched from a college dare in 2003. | Courtesy of Nate Jackson

By Erik Rötness, Arts and Features Editor

If you’re just trying to get good grades and graduate, you’re not alone. If you ever did something just because your college buddies dared you to, again, you’re not alone.

If that dare then turned into a growing career where you won the Bay Area Black Comedy Competition, competed on Nick Cannon’s “Wild’n Out” and performed your own MTV 2 stand-up special, then you’re probably just comedian Nate Jackson.

Jackson, an EWU alumnus, began his comedy career while in college, after his friend John Fowler dared him to enter EWU’s comedy competition in 2003. Losing only to Fowler, Jackson discovered a new passion in stand-up comedy.

Jackson started performing at the two comedy clubs in Spokane at the time, “Bluez at the Bend,” and “The Brickwall Comedy Club.”

“It was fun,” Jackson said. “We’d go to open mics. A lot of times it would just be me and Fowler. It was 2003 when I was dared to do comedy. I wasn’t 21 yet. First time I did comedy we had to wait in the hallway, and then when it was our turn to go up we were allowed to go into the room, each one of us performed, and then we had five minutes to maybe watch another comic or something and then we had to leave.”

Starting with open mics, Jackson grew his network in the comedy scene, working spot-based shows with other comics, building relationships with older Spokane comedy veterans and performing all over Spokane.

Jackson did all of this while attending EWU in pursuit of a degree in organizational communication. Attending college while working on his stand-up wasn’t hard to balance according to Jackson.

“I feel like a lot of students are juggling a lot of things,” Jackson said. “You know, you’ve got a lot of students that are nontraditional. They’ve got whole families that they’re raising at the same time right there in Cheney while they’re going to school. You’ve got students who work for the school in student activities. Some people are T.A.’s and they’re working their butts off that way. Because I didn’t have that, I just used what would have been that time and did that. I would sacrifice going out on a Friday night to the movies with my friends and take my butt and do a show.”

A 2015 study by Georgetown University showed that, in the last 25 years, more than 70 percent of college students have worked while enrolled in classes. The study also showed that close to 40 percent of undergraduates and 76 percent of graduate students are working at least 30 hours a week.

Very few people in Jackson’s experience are taking so many classes that all they have time to do is eat, work on their schoolwork and sleep. According to him, life on campus moves a little slower if you don’t have extra jobs or a family to provide for.

“People are hanging out or chillin’ in the PUB,” Jackson said. “They haven’t missed a new movie since they’ve been in college. You just have to figure out what your priorities are; where you want to put your energy. I enjoyed doing stand-up. And I figured I would rather do stand-up in some musty, dusty, dark bar in the corners of Spokane than just be at another party with no address and just a cross street.”

Eventually the owner of a comedy club would tell Jackson that if he could come up with five strong minutes of comedy, then he could host a show. If he worked up to 10 minutes, he could open at a different club in the state; do a show in Walla Walla, a show in Yakima.

New opportunities drove Jackson to write more material. When he reached 15 minutes of solid material, he started receiving phone calls from around Seattle asking for him to perform.

While Jackson has taken his comedy out  of just the Spokane area and onto bigger performances, he is still thankful for his beginnings there. Starting out in Spokane allowed him to work out his growing pains as a new comic without any large repercussions to his career.

As a student with a new passion, and a talent for it as well, Jackson had moments when he thought about devoting more time to his comedy by dropping out of EWU. What kept him on campus?

“My mom was like, ‘shut up,’” Jackson said.

His mom encouraged him to finish, at least for her if not for himself. The degree provided her with a sense of security. The sense that even if a comedy career was derailed, there was still this single-piece-of-paper foundation that carried enough weight to build up another professional career.

Jackson echoes his mother in his advice for students who might come up with reasons to drop out of college and pursue comedy.

“Shut up,” Jackson said. “Don’t try and outsmart the system. Get your degree. Keep doing shows while you’re in college.”

Jackson performed on campus multiple times before graduating and encourages students to take advantage of the unique opportunities college offers an aspiring comedian. If a student needs to make a flyer, they can go to the computer lab for free. If they need a commercial, they can go to the library and rent the equipment.

“It’s all part of your tuition,” Jackson said. “You have an entire production company right there on that campus. You can go record music in lab. You can check out a space. You can use the whole campus as a set. You could even shoot a skit about a classroom. Good God, you got ‘em.”

College campuses are unique according to Jackson, due to the sheer number of people that walk through them each and every day.

“Use that to your advantage,” Jackson said. “Have shows at the school. Market shows at the school in the PUB. Maybe the school is willing to help and pay for a local act to come in, and you have your own show. Now go do one at Gonzaga or Whitworth, Spokane Falls, Spokane Valley Community College or Wazzu.”

Any student wanting to pursue their interests, like a career in comedy, doesn’t have to wait for graduation to start.

“What better place is there to start building your fan base than a place where there are 20,000 people in a four-block radius?,” Jackson said.