Stand up comic Saffron Herndon has a strategy for dealing with hecklers. "I just tell them, 'What are you doing yelling at a ten year-old?' That usually shuts them up."
The comic and elementary school student's jokes have been making the rounds on the Internet of late, amusing and shocking people in equal measure. In addition to adult themes ("Online dating is tough. Anytime I meet someone nice, they end up in jail!"), Herndon has a poise beyond her years, taking her time onstage and maintaining composure in the face of mic hiccups, awkward silences, heckling, and other perils of the comedian's trade.
Since starting her career two years ago at the age of eight, Herndon has become a fixture on her local Texas comedy circuit, and has branched out to increasingly large festivals and stages across the country. This Friday, she'll be in New York on the Today Show before heading to LA for a set at the Lyric Theater. We caught up with the comic who splits her time between the stage and fifth grade to talk teachers, timing, and getting into clubs underage.
Broadly: So how did you get started in stand up?
Saffron Herndon: [Stops singing a song she wrote about my apartment while I was getting a recorder] Oh, you're back. Well, my dad was a stand up until last week. He just stopped!
Steve Herndon, Saffron's Dad: I'm taking a break because things have picked up a lot for her, so I'm really focusing on Saffron's career right now. I haven't quit. Hopefully she'll let me be part of one of her shows one day.
Saffron: My dad always left to go do stand up at night and I thought it looked so cool and sounded so fun. One day when I was eight I said, "Dad, can I do stand up?" and he said "If you come up with three minutes of material I'll take you to an open mic." It took a few weeks to get it done, because three minutes is a long time when you have no material at all, and eventually I got it together and showed up and did it, and loved it. [My first jokes] were funny. I wouldn't do them now, but they were funny. They were about school sucking, and my teachers, and my dad.
How did it feel to do your first set?
I felt amazing afterwards because I had all that adrenaline pumping. It felt really fun and great to be up onstage because I didn't realize how horrible standup gets, after a long time, in your heart. So far it hasn't got me yet. I was having so much fun, and no one knew me or anything, and everyone thought I was really good, I thought I did really good, so I was really excited.
Do you ever have a problem getting into comedy clubs, being so young?
They let me in because I'm going in to perform, not to drink. Some places had a hard time with it at first, you know, because you have to be twenty-one, and there's drinking, and I'm ten. They wouldn't really let me at first, but most comedy clubs in my area will let me in.
What's the vibe like backstage with all the older comics?
I'm used to it now, because all my friends are comedians. They're all sad and old. I got used to it and so did they, and now I don't find it any different from being with my friends from school. If my friends from school were there I think they'd be like, "Saffron why are you here?" But I don't think it's that different.
And what do your friends at school think about your career? You're probably the only one with a job after class is over.
They support me. They mostly think it's pretty cool. Half of them don't know what stand up is, but they still support it, they think it's cool. Lots of them are into art, or dancing, singing, cheer and stuff. Anime… a lot of them are into anime. I can't really relate when they talk about being into that stuff, you know, they'll be like "Look at this anime thing I drew," and I'm like "I went up and bombed."
What's your joke writing process like? Where do you find inspiration for your material?
My cats, I write stuff down about my cats a lot. Stupid people. I love stupid people. I just write down things I notice, and I see different lines that I can turn into jokes. Sometimes I work with other comedians. You know, back stage comedians will discuss different jokes they can do. And I'll workshop my dad's jokes with him, I give him notes a lot.
What makes you laugh?
30 Rock. Parks and Rec. Tina Fey. My cats—I have one big fluffy one, and one little one, and they always fight and it's cute and it's funny. And when my dad stubs his toe. It's so funny and he does it a lot.
What are your hopes for the future? Where do you want to be at the ripe old age of fifteen?
I'd like to be in New York. Hopefully I'll have my own TV show, and I want to be a professional comedian. I'd love to host SNL. I want to be the youngest person that ever hosted.
What's your favorite joke in your set right now?
I have one joke and it's like… I hate it when adults find out I do stand up, because they always say the same thing, "Oh you're a comedian? Tell me a joke!" and it's kinda rude. What would you do if you met a stripper on her day off? I know what you guys would say… perverts. I like calling the audience perverts, you always find five guys who are like "Yeah, I would do that!" and I call them perverts. They deserve it.
At first your jokes were about school, and teachers sucking, but the stuff that's been floating around online is quite adult. Do you think it surprises people that someone your age has opinions on gay marriage and strippers and religion?
Yeah. It does surprise them. I come out and they go "awww!" and then I tell my jokes and they're like, GASP. But I like talking about that stuff, it's fun to alter the way people think and to change how they see me after I do my stand up. It's fun to see the way they look at me before and then after, when I'm done. They're like, "Oh my goodness!"
Have you ever handed in an assignment late because of stand up?
I do, sometimes. I have to go to school, and my teacher gives us pages of homework. She really does. And, you know, she is a butt. She gives us way too much homework, front and back pages…
Steve: Watch it, Saf, she's gonna read this.
Go ahead and let her read it, she knows. Sometimes I'll have to go and host an open mic or do a set and leave really early because I'll be hosting the first block, and she'll be like, "Saffron, why isn't this finished?" and I'll be like, "Stand up."
Sounds like it's only going to get busier for you.
Things are really picking up, so much. I had to stop reading the comments on my videos, that's how I know it's getting intense.
What advice would you give to young women who want to follow their passions from an early age?
I'd say just do it. You have no reason not to; you might as well. I did it.