Whitmer Thomas, comedian, and musician, is set to release his upcoming special “The Golden One,” this Saturday at 10 PM ET on HBO.
Filmed in his hometown of Gulf Shores, Alabama, “The Golden One” is comprised of a stand-up set, mixed with comical songs and interviews with his family conducted by himself.
The material is tight, never making it feel longer than the run time, and remains interesting and entertaining until the very end. The songs he adds within the set definitely allow for Whitmer to show off his different talents, and how well he can combine the two.
One thing that makes this special different is how emotional and raw he gets with the audience; there are some parts where you forget you’re watching a comedy special and not a character study. A similar comedian that comes to mind is Bo Burnham, who also produced the special.
After screening the special, I was able to sit down with Whitmer Thomas and discuss some inspirations behind the special, as well as what helped shape who he is today.
For more information about “The Golden One,” click here.
Below is the exclusive interview with Whitmer Thomas:
The Knockturnal: Congratulations on your special. You must be very excited. What are you hoping audiences take away most from it?
Whitmer Thomas: My main hope is, other than maybe now I’ll have like a career, is that people will try to look at my mom and find her music which will be out by the time this special comes out. That’s like my real dream with all of this. And for me to become a massive success in some type of way.
The Knockturnal: Your special was immensely personal. What was the experience of being so open and honest, on stage? Were you nervous, or did you feel liberated by the experience?
Whitmer Thomas: I was really nervous doing the show down in Alabama, in my hometown. Touring around I wasn’t so worried about it. I like kind of being open hearted, or whatever, on stage, almost like a play. I like it when people do that in their comedy or whatever it is, their music. But going home and doing it was really uncomfortable for me because a lot of people knew the people I was talking about in the crowd. People would be like ‘oh he’s talking about so and so thats my friend or that’s my relative’ or ‘that’s his dad and he’s sitting right over there.’ So that was weird and scary.
The Knockturnal: You had so many different moving elements that made up the special you had the stand-up, the interviews. What gave you this idea to combine all these different moving parts into one 63 minutes video?
Whitmer Thomas: I guess at first I wanted to show my talent and where I’m from and realized its not necessarily about the town, this is about me and my family, so I was showing them. Then I started to feel like maybe I’m kind of exploiting these people, then I was like ‘well i was just talking shit about them on stage.’’ That’s exploiting them, but maybe if you get to meet these people then it gives them an opportunity to humanize themselves. And that’s what it’s all about for me, giving them a shot, letting people know they’re real people also working through trauma and shit and they’ve had a tough go as well and maybe that’s why things ended up the way they did.
I hope that everybody ends up looking okay at the end because it’s been a crazy journey for all of us. I guess that the initial idea was ‘hey it’ll just be fun to see him come down” and then it became like “oh it’s good this is good, everybody’s getting a chance to say “hi I’m a real person, I’m not just part of Whit’s story.”
The Knockturnal: To build your stand upset, I’m sure you went to open mics before recording your special. What were initial audience reactions, and how did your material evolve over time?
Whitmer Thomas: It evolved like crazy. The first joke I ever was really able to do, I was doing comedy for a while and was doing pretty broad comedy, observational shit about dating or musical impressions. Stuff like ‘why does this singer sound like this?’ But then I did a show in LA called “50 First Jokes”, where they have comedians tell their first joke of the year, that they have written. I had written, or said to a friend ‘my mom partied to death’ and this was years and years ago. And I thought ‘ah that’s funny’, so I went on stage and kind of did that bit in joke form. Kumail Nanjiani went up after me and he made fun of me. You know people liked my joke, and then he went on stage and said ‘Yea the other day, it was really hard, but luckily I was able to call my mom and have a long conversation with her.’ And people just died laughing.
Then Kumail and his wife, Emily, I don’t think I had ever met them. I definitely hadn’t; this was years before Kumail was even a big deal. They had this great show, it was in the beginning stages called Meltdown, in LA. Kumail and Emily and the other guy who ran it, Jonah Ray, who was also there, I think they felt a little bad for making fun of me, they were like “Come do the meltdown show,’ so I went and did their big cool comedy show. And realized that in that time, there’s something about style of telling that joke like vulnerable aggressive kind of open, in a comedic way, that people responded to and maybe I could lean in to shit like that. So after that I wrote that, and told that story about being kidnapped. And people liked that, and it kind of went from there. That was nine years later, however long and here I am.
The Knockturnal: How does your writing process differ between comedy and music? Is it difficult balancing both?
Whitmer Thomas: With comedy, it’s like a story. I tell a story and they laugh at it and I go maybe I’ll tell that as a joke. Or sometimes i’ll just think of a joke and write that down. With music, I just write music all the time. That’s just my first passion, is writing music. I have music written but then I have to figure out the lyrics to it. And that takes a really long time because it’s like, I like songs that also have another part to it other than just the comedy part which some people hate and I totally understand why you would hate that if you were going to a comedy show and watch some guy do his eighth-grade poetry but also there’s a couple of jokes in it. but that’s just what I like. It fulfills part of that dream that I had to be a cool musician as a kid. So that takes a long time, that’s like a completely different part of my brain.
And sometimes the way that the lyrics or the music work is I’ll just write a joke that I’ve been trying to tell or a story I’ve been trying to tell that i haven’t been able to figure out how to make it funny until it really works with the audience then I’ll just tell that in a song and people somehow sometimes think that it’s funnier if I’m singing it like “Party to Death”. That song, that joke works for me better as a song.
The Knockturnal: You had another joke in there about music, where you parody an emo song. What bands did you listen to that inspired that joke, and who are you listening to now?
Whitmer Thomas: Well that song, that joke, is a direct kind-of ripoff of the TakingBackSunday song, which was a pivotal band for me. Still to this day they have consistently come out with incredible records and they have aged so beautifully. They’re completely authentic still to this day, which I think is really special. My brother got me a Blink-182 CD when I was in 5th grade. I wanted to listen to every band that Blink-182 liked, so we figured out about The Descendents and all these other cool bands. Then it became about what bands did blink 182 inspire, and that was like this Pop-Punk wave. But then I was like “oh what is this fuckin Avril Lavigne bullshit, I don’t like, this is crazy.”
But luckily it was that time Saves The Day, taking back Sunday, The Juliana Theory, and these other cool emo bands in the early 2000s started to show up, and my brother liked those, so I’d go to shows with him. Then he got into his band which was a screamo, more hardcore inspired band and my pop-punk band kind of shifted into screamo, and it kind of took off. A lot of the bands I grew up listening to were bands I would play within the hardcore scene I was a part of. But the most important band to me in my life, and every part of my life, is Blink 182, because I used to tell a joke about blink 182, the song I Miss You and how funny the juxtaposition of the two voices are. Mark Hoppus found out about it and he liked it and I got to sing the song with him one time. It was like the best night of my– one of — it’s probably the best night of my life, getting to do that. He’s my idol, the entire reason I play music is because of him.
The Knockturnal: You said your mother was a musician. How many elements did you take from her music and incorporate into your own? Did you grow up listening to her music?
Whitmer Thomas: Oh big time. I would fall asleep at night. My mom was going through it all the time, like if some guy broke up with her or something. I would go to sleep at night listening to her on the piano, writing a song about it. It was a huge part. Songwriting was just like a giant part of my whole life. When I was a little kid I would listen to Blink-182 or Green Day and my would go “Oh, this is easy. You wanna learn how to play it?’ And then she would just go “[makes guitar noises]” or whatever it is and just teach me. She was very excited about every part of the musical experience that me and my brother were getting into and having. As I got a little bit older and started to get into the cool indie rock stuff of the time like Saddle Creek Records and Bright Eyes which she really loves like Jenny Lewis, she would show me the bands that inspired them like Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell. We were able to really vibe on that kind of stuff. Then I would listen to the songs that she was writing and realize like as a kid when I would listen to her sing a song that was like “Why don’t you love me?” or whatever it is, I would be like ‘it’s fucking cheesy’. But when I got later in high school and started to experience heartbreak myself, I was like my Mom’s kind of a badass, that’s pretty cool. I’ve remained that way since doing the comedy special.
My aunt uncovered all of their recordings, all the way back to 1975, so I’m getting those mixed and mastered. I want everybody to hear them because they’re actually really, really beautiful songs and because of the choices we made, things got messy in their musical careers, but nobody ever got to hear these songs, so I can’t wait for everybody to hear them.
The Knockturnal: Is there anything you want to add?
Whitmer Thomas: I think it’s important that if you like this thing, to tell somebody else about it. I have such a DIY mentality. Like in my mind I want to go on myspace right now to tell people to watch this, that’s kind of the last time in my life when I had something to promote, was in high school. I just really want people to watch this thing, I tried very hard. That’s what I want people to take away, is that I tried really hard.