Detroit-born comedian Alex English just wrapped up his first season writing for ‘SNL’ | matter of pride | Detroit
Alex English has always been funny.
This isn’t a cliched introduction to a story about a comic, it’s a statement based on the fact that I’ve known him since high school.
As we speak, the comedian has just completed his first year as a writer for Saturday Night Live. It’s a job that took him three bids to get.
“In my situation, the third time was the charm,” he says. “SNL did this thing where they push that they’re looking for new writers. I submitted a pre-pandemic package and heard nothing back, it was a wash. The second time was during the pandemic, I went to the interview process, I was maybe one of three, but they only hired one of us. The following year, which was for this season, I submitted the package again, and this third time was the charm for me.
English has worked hard to establish himself as a comedian for about the past decade. His writing and acting credits include HBO’s That fucking Michael Cheby Netflix The fix, National Lampoon Radio Timeand Break with Sam Jay. English’s aspiration to become a comedian was a childhood dream that faded as he grew older and felt the goal was unattainable.
“The choice to do comedy faded when I became a teenager, and it faded because there’s no straight path,” he says. “No one looks at a kid and says, ‘He’s going to be an actor one day.’ Everybody wants to be a rapper or a basketball player, people want to be a politician, nobody tells you that you could grow up to be an artist, especially where we come from.
Born and raised in Detroit, English had a normal childhood. He was educated at Bates Academy and Renaissance High School, before earning a degree in communications and drama from Central Michigan University.
After graduating from CMU, English packed up and left Motor City for the Big Apple. While you might think he left to pursue acting or because he had a big plan for his future, English says he left so he could become who he needed to be.
“I love Detroit, and I will defend Detroit with everything in me, but I left Detroit to be gay, that’s the easiest way to put it. I didn’t think I would be able to to grow as a person, or to really find myself if I stayed in Detroit,” he says. “Being from Detroit is what kept me in New York, that Detroit spirit and mentality is how I managed to sail in New York.”
Being in New York, Alex English decided to rekindle the flame that was his childhood comedy dream. He started by performing at open-mic nights at comedy lounges and even finding comedy gigs through Craigslist. Early in his career, he was still performing under his birth name, Alex Newell. But luckily, there was another Alex Newell who shone in Fox’s hit TV series, Joy. Initially, Alex English thought the two could co-exist similarly to Michael Jordan and Michael B. Jordan, but that idea was cut short after a stand-up accident.
“I saw an ad that was looking for a comedian to host a breast cancer awareness event, and I booked him. They never asked me to do a head shot and I didn’t. thought,” he recalled. “When they sent me the flyer for the event, there was Alex Newell with a monocle and a top hat, who looked fierce as hell. I emailed the organizers who then told me that the flyer had already been mass produced and distributed. I skipped the event and then decided to change my name.
Although the name change might have been annoying at first, English says it served as a blessing in disguise as it allowed him to move freely, take on jobs during the day and stand up at night.
While acting may come naturally to him, it took English a while to find his groove discussing his life as a gay black man. At first, he said he walked away from those jokes because he hadn’t experienced much as a young adult gay man yet. As time and life progressed, he began to include more jokes in his set, almost forcing them in. It wasn’t until fellow comedian, mentor and friend Sam Jay told him the marching band wasn’t necessary.
“I would go on stage and do something that I thought was funny and announce to the public that I was gay,” says English. “One day Sam said to me, ‘You don’t have to do this. It would be a lot funnier if you were just gay and you were talking shit and telling jokes. You don’t have to. say, just start talking, they’ll understand. It worked a lot better that way.”
Now that SNL ended for the summer, Alex English says he plans to get back to doing more stand-up comedy. Ultimately, he would like to have his own stand-up special filmed.
“I’m comfortable enough now to be able to confidently focus and pursue stand-up in a way that gets me to the point where I feel ready to shoot something,” English said. “I’ll go wherever life takes me if it looks good.”
Alex English will open for Colin Jost on Sunday, June 5 at The Fillmore, 2115 Woodward Ave., Detroit. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets start at $35 and are available at Ticketmaster.com.