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Student pursues laughter throughout state

Jake Hutchison

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Yusef Swafford, senior computer engineering major, is a comedian, singer, sailor and former Naval technician. His next standup show is Nov. 15 at 1078 Gallery. Photo credit: Veronica Hodur

From a young age, Yusef Swafford enjoyed creating laughter.

“I’ve been doing it off and on for a while,” he said. “As a kid, I was always telling jokes.”

When he got older, he became a standup comedian, finding stages for his art across the U.S. Most recently, he’s made a home in Chico, where he is a senior computer engineering major at Chico State. His next show is Nov. 15 at 1078 Gallery.

Swafford has made a name for himself with his own brand of bold comedy: peppered with F-bombs and pop culture references to Game of Thrones. He’s performed with notable comics Brendan Lynch, Johnny Taylor and John Ross, and opened for Kumail Nanjiani at the Bell Memorial Union a few years ago.

Swafford, who was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, said he was raised in a funny environment.

“It was pretty standard-issue Americana,” he said. “My uncle was hilarious and my father has a very hard humor — really brash. He knows how to curse. You gotta know where to curse and how to curse correctly.”

After joining the Navy, Swafford moved to San Diego, where he lived and trained until his deployment.

“When I was still in the military, I performed at Moondoggies (a sports bar) in San Diego, which was around the early 2000’s,” he said.

During his time in the Navy, Swafford spent about four years deployed on a ship. After three years, he was set to return home.

He arrived in the states on Sept. 10, 2001, just before 9/11. He was redeployed shortly after.

“It was really hard,” Swafford said. “(My family) didn’t get the time we were supposed to.”

After his time in the military, he returned to school, attending the College of the Redwoods in Eureka before transferring to Chico State.

“I worked with electronics, radar and weapons systems as a technician, dealing with calibration and maintenance,” he said. “That’s what my forte is, my background. So it was natural to go into computer engineering.”

Swafford now makes regular trips to Santa Cruz stages, as well as other venues up and down the coast of California, to share his comedic talents.

Since moving to Chico, he has watched the rise of its comedy scene and venues.

“We have open mics at The Maltese and The DownLo, and they alternate every other Monday,” he said. “It’s a close-knit group here in Chico and it’s growing. There’s been more people showing up for the open mics, which is like our farm system. It’s how we get new acts.”

One of the projects Swafford is particularly excited about is bringing consistent comedy shows back to the Blue Room Theatre.

“We’re going to start doing more shows and competitions at the Blue Room like we used to,” he said. “That will probably start January or February.”

Swafford said there are times when it is terrifying being on stage, and that a comedian has to be ready for when a joke doesn’t work out. But his main focus is the rush he feels when he is at the mic.

“That’s part of the fulfillment for me, is the facing of the crowd and getting them moving,” he said. “It is a very organic experience to have a response. You can feel the air difference when they’re feeling you and getting the jokes.”

Though he has made a good habit of killing it onstage, he has faced his share of awkward silences, he said. He embraces these moments and describes recovering the audience as “a redemption.”

On rare occasions when Swafford isn’t studying or making people laugh, he can be found sailing out of the Bay Area.

“I was part of a sailing club when there was one on campus,” he added. “It’s where I learned to sail, actually.”

He also spent time as the front man and lyricist of former garage-soul band Francis Marion & The Swamp Fox Movement.

While Swafford will definitely continue performing standup, his aspirations are much deeper than just hoping for continued success on stage, he said.

“I would like to develop personally as much as I can, and what comes of that will be what it will be,” he said with a grin. “I enjoy performing and making people laugh. Standup is just a formal aspect of what I do already and I love it.”

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Yusef’s Pro Tips for Aspiring Comics

  • Be authentic: Write from real situations and conversations.
  • Test jokes on friends without telling them.
  • Prepare your own entertaining, three-to-five minute standup bit.
  • Know why you want to be a comedian and be able to express it.
  • Start at open mic nights.
  • Don’t be afraid to go for it.

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Jake Hutchison can be reached at [email protected] or @poserpunk on Twitter.

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Student pursues laughter throughout state