More than just a hobby

Will Smith details life as a stand-up comedian, filmmaker, musician and more


Junior Will Smith takes the stage following his childhood dream of being a stand-up comedian.

Like many young kids, Will Smith wanted to be a superhero when he grew up.  

“I was really into comic books growing up, and the idea of fighting for truth and justice seemed like a really cool thing to do,” Smith said. 

The dream of being a superhero began to wear off when he realized all the requirements it took to do so. 

“As I got older, I thought, ‘that seems like a lot of work.’ You have to exercise, and of course my parents weren’t billionaires,” he added.  

Smith is a junior here at Castleton, majoring in Media and Communication with a concentration on video and film production. And while he didn’t know what he wanted to be when he got older, the arts were calling his name.  

“Being in the arts was always the game plan,” Smith said.  

Growing up, Smith was always involved in theater, drawing, music and even tried out a few instruments. He knew he belonged on the stage.  

“All of those things kinda led up to what I wanted to be when I grew up. I was working in an office when I first decided that I wanted to do stand-up comedy,” he said.  

And the dream just got bigger and bigger.  

However, his dream didn’t start in that office. It started when he was about 6 or 7. Smith’s brother, who was around 12 at the time, introduced him to the one and only Eddy Murphy.  

“Now, this is not age appropriate for a 6-year-old, but I thought he was so cool because he swore and said inappropriate things. I thought now that’s awesome. That’s how you do it, that’s the money,” Smith said. 

Along with the help of Eddy Murphy, Smith got his inspiration from his friends who encouraged him to listen to comedian-produced podcasts, where he’d listen to them talk about their lives and how they started their careers.  

Smith described that as “reasonable” and he knew he would be able to do it, too. Everything just clicked.  

For nine years and counting, Smith has hopped on the comedy train, including performing in New York City, and never looked back.  

But how does one come up with nine years of content? How do you know your content is going to make an audience laugh?  

Smith explained he uses “the spaghetti method.” 

“It’s kind of like when you cook a bowl of spaghetti and throw it at the wall and see what sticks. It’s all through trial and error,” Smith said.  

There are a lot of jokes that he gives a try up on stage, but if they don’t land, then he tosses them out and never visits them again. Smith tries to take real life events and thinks to himself, “how can I flip this or add something to make this better?” 

A lot of aspects go into stand-up comedy — there’s a handful of rewards, but another handful of worries.  

Imagine being up on a stage, alone, the spotlight blinding you, hundreds of eyes staring into yours, waiting for you to say something funny. And you’re just hoping they let out a laugh.  

And some people are harder to please than others. Smith said he’s open to criticism, but only if it’s constructive.  

“I gladly take criticism. If they make valid points, I will sit there and be like, ‘ok, I understand where you’re coming from, I’ll do better.’ If it’s, ‘I thought your t-shirt was stupid,’ I don’t care,” Smith said.  

But Smith says that hecklers are different. And you always have at least one person in the crowd who’s not afraid to heckle. 

“Handling hecklers is like dealing with a bully. They think they’re trying to help, normally, which they’re not. So, it’s trying to shut them down gently at first. You ignore it at first and see if it goes away, then you say something, and if it doesn’t stop then it’s like, ‘ok, if you want to play then we can play. Chances are I’m going to have a microphone so I’m gonna win because I can speak louder than you,’” Smith said.  

It takes a patient and driven person to stand on that stage knowing he might not get the results he wants, but it’s what Smith loves to do, and he won’t let anyone stop that dream.  

But even with the hard exterior and blocking the hecklers and the judgment out, everyone has a vulnerable side to them that they don’t want to show.  

“I try very hard to present myself like a confident person, but deep down inside I’m still the scared little 6-year-old that got picked on as a kid for stupid things. There’s always going to be a part of that in me,” Smith said. “Never be a heckler.” 

However, despite the negativity that can come into play, the rewards make it all worthwhile. 

“There’s a lot of drug references in stand-up comedy. It’s like getting high for the first time. When you finish your set, people are laughing, your adrenaline is pumping, people are living together. That’s the moment, that’s why I do it,” Smith said beaming. “I’m constantly trying to chase that high.”  

After all this you might be wondering: How is Smith’s stand up? Well, to his friend of 10 years, Nick Grandchamp, he’s absolutely hilarious. 

“He’s just a dude that’s good with words,” Granchamp said. “He really knows how to make you laugh.” 

Smith gives a lot of credit to his wife, Jessica Makela, who is the inspiration for a lot of his content. Makela, who met Smith during her junior year at this very school, has strong feelings about the work he does.  

“He is so amazingly brave. I would never be able to do what he and his group do. I’m really in awe of him, actually, because he’s so much braver than I am,” Makela said. “It’s truly his best self up there.” 

The first thoughts that come to her mind when she thinks of Smith are his humor, bravery and the way he can easily light up a room and make everyone laugh. 

And Grandchamp shared similar thoughts when Smith comes to mind.  

“He’s funny, passionate. Overall, just a great dude,” Grandchamp said. “He has a really loose sense of how he views life. He’s not uptight and has a good outlook on life. He’s really awesome at stand up and video stuff.” 

“Video stuff,” the technical term for making films and documentaries, is Smith’s other passion. He doesn’t like to describe his love for art as simply “hobbies.” 

“I love making movies, drawing and playing music, it’s my passion. It’s weird because I don’t consider them hobbies. I collect comic books, that would be my hobby. Making art is more emotional than a hobby,” Smith said. 

And clearly, Smith has a lot of support from his loved ones and peers in making his art and chasing those passions.  

“He spends so much time on his work. I’m very proud of him. He’s very passionate about what he’s doing. Being around someone who is passionate about what they’re doing just makes it better for everybody,” Makela said. 

“The way he edits stuff is really fun and cool. It’s almost like he uses poetry over his videos and uses old school video stuff. He has a really unique way of putting stuff together. He uses lightheartedness, but also [hammers] home the feeling he’s trying to portray with truth,” Granchamp said.   

They’re not the only ones who think that either. Sam Davis-Boyd, a professor here at Castleton, has had Smith in three classes over two semesters — in Race, Gender and Sexuality in Media, News and Feature Production and Documentary Filmmaking.  

“Will is an incredibly driven and creative talented student. He’s someone in the classroom that his classmates appreciate his feedback and care and attention to the art of filmmaking,” Davis-Boyd said. “On top of being a great team player and leader, he brings humor to the class.”  

Juggling stand-up comedy and trying to produce art, Smith found a way to be successful, never letting the fear of failure keep him from trying. And it looks like he got his first dream job — being a superhero to that scared 6-year-old on the playground. 

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