Comedian Gary Owen is white. His wife is black.
Race seems the ideal fit for his standup, which allows him to cover everything from how blacks react at graduation to the difference between pumpkin and sweet potato pie.
“In the end, we’re people and it’s funny to me,” he said. “Sometimes, people take race too serious and I have fun with it.”
Owen brings his standup to Capt. Brien’s Seafood and Raw Bar, home of the Off the Hook Comedy Club, 599 S. Collier Blvd., Marco Island. Shows run tonight through Sunday.
He acknowledged that he offers a unique perspective with comedy.
“I don’t think there’s anybody quite doing what I’m doing right now,” Owen said.
“I’m not hiding the fact that I’m married to a black lady and I’m not trying to be black, if that makes sense.”
Owen grew up in Cincinnati and joined the Navy three days after his 17th birthday.
“I grew up in a trailer park in Ohio. I wanted to get out,” he said.
He served from 1992 to 1998, and while in the military, he looked for comedy clubs while stationed in California. He said he found a place called the Comic Castle, which was actually a comic book store.
But the store owner helped him find some clubs to try his standup, Owen said.
“It sounds crazy, but I always knew I was going to be a comedian,” he said. “I didn’t know how to do it or where to go but I knew I was going to do it.”
His comedic influences include Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy and Sam Kinison. He said he also enjoyed Def Comedy Jam, an HBO series in the 1990s that launched the careers of many black comedians.
Owen said he’s learned the importance of playing to his audience. He said he typically relates to something local, wherever he’s playing, to start his show.
And it’s important to know the crowd, he said. Owen said he wouldn’t start talking about hip-hop artist Lil Wayne at the West Virginia State Fair and wouldn’t mention Maroon 5 or country singer Garth Brooks during a show at the Apollo Theater in Harlem.
“You play to your audiences but, at the same time, my life is my life,” he said. “I don’t pander to my audience but I’m going to play to them.”
His wife, Kenya Duke Owen, sometimes will offer advice on his standup. One time, she told him to deliver a joke in a different way because he made it sound as if he’s single, Owen said.
And it’s gatherings with his wife’s relatives that provide some of his material, including the time he mistook pumpkin pie for sweet potato pie. Or, he has related how his wife’s relatives will call him the N-word, which means he’s cool and accepted with them.
Owen said he won’t say the N-word in his standup.
“It’s funnier me not saying it,” he said. “My athlete friends will say, ‘You’re lucky, you can say whatever you want.’ The good thing about being a comic is we can say whatever we want — within reason.”
When not on stage, Owen keeps busy with television and the big screen. He is a co-host on the show “Upload with Shaquille O’Neal” on truTV that began in February. In it, he joins fellow co-host and comedian Godfrey and both join Shaq in commenting on funny Internet videos.
Owen has appeared in various films, such as “Daddy Day Care” in 2003 with Murphy, and he will appear in a 2014 film titled “Ride Along,” starring Laurence Fishburne, Ice Cube and Kevin Hart. It follows a rogue cop’s sister’s revelation she’s engaged to an upper-crust white psychiatrist. Her wayward brother seeks to destroy the relationship by inviting his future brother-in-law on a patrol car ride-along.
Owen said the great thing about comedy is it’s perhaps the one place where race and other sensitive issues can be explored.
“Comedians, we’re basically independent contractors and we work for ourselves,” he said.
“And sometimes offending people is a good thing. We get people thinking.”