GARLAND -- With his near-manic stage presence, facility with the microphone and tendency to jump into impersonations and other voices, stand-up comedian Tim Hawkins vaguely recalls a young Robin Williams.
Except that Williams' stand-up was seldom this clean -- the most edgy Hawkins gets is a hilarious bit on the absurdity of the phrase "doesn't know his butt from a hole in the ground." Williams also wouldn't have worked the venue that Hawkins is performing in on a January night: Garland's Springcreek Church, where Hawkins has nearly packed a sanctuary that's larger than most comedy clubs. (The previous night, Hawkins sold out two shows in Denton.) And Williams certainly wouldn't have climaxed his set with several minutes of earnest testimony about his relationship with Jesus.
Hawkins is a Christian comedian who performs mostly at churches -- he returns to DFW on Sunday to perform two sold-out shows at First Baptist Church Colleyville, and he'll perform July 21 at the Met Church in far north Fort Worth -- but you could easily watch one of his many YouTube clips and not suspect the Christian connection. Yet he and others are part of a comedic trend that has been growing, without a lot of promotion in secular media.
"It's been all social media," Hawkins says. "The last six or seven years, especially. The first video I ever had on YouTube that ever really did anything, there was a kid who liked one of my songs who did a stick-figure animation, and it was getting over 2 million hits. That kind of alerted us to the fact that we need to take this seriously." (Hawkins' breakthrough clip, a tribute to Chick-fil-A set to the Beatles' Yesterday, has more than 4 million views.)
Hawkins is one of four comedians represented by Rockshow Comedy, which is based in the small Denton County town of Argyle. (One of the other comedians, Jonnie W., joined Hawkins in Garland, doing solo material but also joining Hawkins for a lengthy and amusing pickin'-and-grinnin' bit based on jokes they'd told on their Twitter feeds.) All have busy schedules -- again, while largely being ignored by secular media. And Hawkins says that's OK.
"I don't have any desire to be on David Letterman's show," he says. "They don't need me and I don't need them. A lot of comics really put a lot into being liked by other comics. I gave up on that a long time ago. Know who your audience is, and be good with that."Hawkins lives in his native St. Louis, but he developed his comedic chops in Texas. "My brother's a Baylor boy, and he was encouraging [my wife and I] to move and do something different," Hawkins says. "It would be Minnesota or Texas. We had friends in Minnesota, but it seemed like the job market was a little better in Texas. We were there from '93 to '06."
Hawkins bounced around in a variety of jobs, but nothing seemed to be a good fit. "Any kind of conflict or setback -- like sales, if I'd get a no, I'd just want to quit," he says. "But for some reason, in comedy, I would face rejection or fail, and I'd want to do it even more. That was kind of the epiphany for me."
Although he had done some open-mike appearances in St. Louis in the early '90s, the bulk of his shows took place in North Texas venues, whether at colleges or comedy clubs. "It was anything you could get," he says. "One day, you'd be performing for 50 fourth-graders, and the next day you'd be at a corporate event for a bunch of salespeople.You'd say yes a lot, until you could say no"
Hawkins has always worked clean, and not just because of his Christian background -- doing clean stand-up affords comedians more opportunities. "I work a lot at churches, but for corporations, you've got to be even more squeaky-clean," he says. "But being funny has always been the No. 1 deal. People really don't care, as long as you're funny."
Hawkins was raised Christian, and says during his act that he was pretty casual about his relationship with God till he simply decided that he wanted to be more dedicated to his faith. There was no lightning-bolt moment, he says; it was just something that developed.
"I never shy away from who I am, especially as a believer," he says. "But it's just now coming out into my act. I don't want to be like, 'Now I've got ya, and I'm gonna bang you over the head with this,' but I want to connect, and I think at these kinds of events, you can go to a spiritual level and expect people to respond who have a need for it."