Most any comedian has a story about the weirdest gig he or she has ever performed, whether it’s telling jokes in a bowling alley, a miniature golf course or a laser tag facility. But when asked about the oddest place she’s ever done stand up, Crystal Parker replies, “A funeral.”
It was 2009, and Parker was attending a wake to pay her respects to an acquaintance’s husband who had just passed away. She was sitting in a pew at the funeral home when the widow came up to thank her for attending. Then the widow asked Parker to get up and tell a few jokes.
“She said her husband was not a traditional guy, and he would have loved to have a comedian at his wake,” says Parker. “I sat there thinking, ‘How am I going to do comedy standing next to a casket?’ All I could say was, ‘Yes, I guess,’” she laughs. “You never want to tell anyone, ‘No’ in their time of sorrow.”
So Parker went to the front of the room, took up a microphone, and standing in front of an open casket, she told jokes for the next 10 minutes.
“I gave a disclaimer, saying his wife asked me to perform. You could see a couple people were bewildered, but other people were nodding their heads because they knew he would have liked it. It brought a relief across the room,” she says.
Parker, who lives in Oak Park, began performing stand up comedy in 2004. Like most comedians, she was a class clown with a knack for making people laugh, and she had always considered doing stand up. That year she heard about an open audition for comedians that was happening in Los Angeles, and she bought a plane ticket out to the West Coast. So many hopefuls had come to audition that Parker had to wait in line for four hours before her turn came to audition. Each comedian was given a few minutes onstage to perform, and afterward was told they would be contacted if the producer of the show was interested. Parker never heard back.
Even though she didn’t win a spot in the show, that first experience in front of an audience sparked a comedic career. “Being onstage, I felt something,” she says. “It just felt right. It (not winning) didn’t deter me because I knew I had something.”
When she got back to Detroit she performed at an open mic night at Mark Ridley’s Comedy Castle, and she got big laughs. For the next year she performed at as many open mics as possible, eventually landing paying gigs. Then in 2005, only a year after her first time on a stage, Parker won a contest to open the Bad Boys of Comedy show at the Fox Theatre. She’s been performing ever since.
Among her influences, the 43 year old Parker counts some of the dirtiest mouths in comedic history: Redd Fox, Eddie Murphy, George Carlin and Richard Pryor among others. It’s an interesting list considering Parker only tells clean jokes. “I’ve never once cursed onstage in 10 years,” she says. “I’ve said some things offstage, but…
“Each of those guys had their own voice,” she says. “Richard Pryor talked about his own life experiences, he opened himself up onstage. Eddie Murphy talked about things that nobody brought up. I want to say things that nobody talks about. I don’t want to do the common female jokes about your monthly cycle and not being able to find a boyfriend.”
Parker says she gleans most of her material from everyday conversations. “You start with things you say that make a person bust out laughing. But you have to change it so it works for a whole audience and not just your friend.”
In addition to performing stand up, Parker founded and runs a non-profit foundation that raises money for children in need. It is called, Learning and Understanding God’s Help,