Living Writers Series: Owen Benjamin

Originally from Oswego, Owen Benjamin attended SUNY Plattsburgh before pursuing a career in comedy.  (Photo provided by
Originally from Oswego, Owen Benjamin attended SUNY Plattsburgh before pursuing a career in comedy. (Photo provided by


Owen Benjamin visited Oswego State to speak to students about his success as a comedian Monday and got quite a few laughs. The talk was for the Living Writers Series class with Donna Steiner in the Campus Center auditorium at 3 p.m. Benjamin’s last name is Smith, but for professional reasons, he shortened it to differentiate himself from another Owen Smith. Although Benjamin attended SUNY Plattsburgh both his parents, professors John Kares-Smith and Jean Troy-Smith, lecture here at Oswego State.  According to students and Benjamin himself, they are quite the hoot.

Benjamin told students about his experiences, weaving in jokes all the while, to tell the story of how he went from college student to paid comedian. Benjamin opened for Kevin Hart, currently is friends and partners with Adam Sandler and Vince Vaughn, and continues to get paid for telling jokes.

Benjamin kept it real for students, telling them they  could sell an idea over drinks in an insta-second in L.A., but go from a $75,000 payment and to a $33,000 pay after taxes. Benjamin started out by playing the piano for little money in Key West. He was enjoying his life, while working toward success, and reminded students not to get themselves into the game for the cash, but to work toward success in something you love, care about, and don’t mind working hard for. Benjamin referred to the money as a “bi-product” of doing what you want to do.

Moving along to his career Benjamin answered many questions about comedy. He reminded aspiring comedians in the crowd that bullying is no way to reach the top. People need to look up to their leaders, Benjamin said, and aspire to be a part of their groups. He also told students that the lone wolf doesn’t exist because to be successful, it’s necessary to work in groups and make friends and connections.

“Support each other till death,” Benjamin said.

Most people attending comedy shows are looking to relieve stress. Because of this, Benjamin reminded students not to bully, not to pick on people in the crowd  everyone is  vulnerable and can easily be affected. This is why Benjamin personally does not use topics for his shows that are too controversial, like religion or politics. He also said it is not important to make a big bang in the first five minutes of the set. First let the audience get to know you, and slowly build the jokes in. The best part about this advice was that Benjamin used this precise technique on the audience, for his presentation in the class. By the last 20 minutes of the lecture, the audience was nearly in tears from the tremendous jokes Benjamin was making.

Benjamin, during the question and answer portion of the talk, responded to a question from the crowd about what comedians should talk about or not talk about. He commented that he personally doesn’t use some offensive words or uncomfortable topics.

“Even if 90 percent of the audience is laughing, there’s still 10 percent of people who will be uncomfortable,” said Benjamin. “When an overwhelming amount of people don’t like it—don’t do it.”

“Don’t turn on the crowd” is another message Benjamin shared with us. If the audience doesn’t like the jokes, just continue on and try something new.

According to Benjamin, comedians should try New York for experience because of the overwhelming amount of clubs to perform in, but and L.A., to make the money. The problem with L.A., however, is that it is congested and full of celebrities, making the competition tough.

Benjamin reflected that while college did not directly help him become a success, it helped him harness the necessary social skills to meet people, work with people, and start connections in L.A., so he doesn’t regret fulfilling his degree.

Benjamin left the audience with smiles on their faces and reminded everyone that, “no one doesn’t want to see a show.” Additionally, he reminded us that to be successful you don’t have to be the most famous in your field. People are getting paid and making a generous living by selling their ideas to smaller channels and even by using social media. Benjamin was welcomed on Monday, and judging by everyone’s laughter and smiles, I’d say he’d be welcomed back any day in the future.