Comedian Jake Head took the name of his new CD, You Are Not Doing Well, from a disastrous gig at the Comedy Zone in Jacksonville, Fla. "It was a horrible, horrible show — a terrible crowd with awful energy," Head says. The comedian opted to ignore his spectators' indifference and act as if they were bestowing big laughs. "I decided to do terrible impressions and character work, and respond as if I had a cruise ship audience," he says. "Then this lady sitting stage right, speaking for the crowd, said, 'You are not doing well! Why do you feel good about yourself?' It was such a poignant heckle. It cut to the bone."
Head, 23, has learned how to manage his interplay with his audiences: "It's like I'm a sailor, and they're the ocean," he says. "You know they're a terrible crowd, and part of them knows they're a terrible crowd. Sometimes it helps if you just go out, smile, and acknowledge it. 'You guys a hot crowd?' And they might realize, 'Wait, no, we're not a good crowd,' and make more of an effort."
Head moved to Atlanta from Jacksonville a year ago, and finds the city to be closer to comedy nirvana. "In Atlanta I never really have an awful crowd. Sometimes I get a stuck-up Midtown crowd — 'We paid $25 for this?' — But it doesn't compare to the disgusting beach-bar crowds I started with."
Head launched his stand-up career after unenthusiastically attending a Jacksonville junior college. Local comedian Jarrod Harris encouraged him to move to Atlanta. "In Jacksonville, there wasn't anywhere to go. Atlanta has opportunities as long as you stay here," he says. "When Jarrod was telling me I should move here, he said, 'You're going to get white rednecks, black folks, all these people in this huge city. You can see what different groups of people think of your act.' I want to be able to flow in all of them."
I first saw Head in 2011, when he did a short warm-up set for the movie-mockery show Cineprov! at the Relapse Theatre. Most of the comedian's routine featured witty, self-contained one-liners such as, "Every zoo is a petting zoo if you're determined." He's broadened his material since then. "When I started out, I did a lot of short, non-sequitur jokes, along the lines of Mitch Hedberg or Demetri Martin. It was solid, but kind of limiting. If you only do one-liners, it's weird if you want to do a bit that's not a one-liner. I wanted to do more of a Bill Burr or Louis C.K. thing — you're telling stories about yourself that should be funny."
Currently Head works a flexible day job delivering Jimmy John's sandwiches in downtown Atlanta, while touring frequently in the Southeast. Sometimes he drives from his home in East Atlanta to gigs in Knoxville and Chattanooga and then back again the same night to save on motel rooms. "I get on stage five to seven times a week, but I always take Wednesday off just to be a person. If you don't live your life, all of your jokes end up being about comedy." His regular local appearances usually include the Star Bar (Mondays, 9:30 p.m.), the Five Spot (Tuesdays, 8:00 p.m.), and the Relapse Theatre (Thursdays, 10 p.m.).
Head considers You Are Not Doing Well to be a kind of time capsule of jokes he's gradually phasing out of his act. "I feel so much better about the jokes I'm doing in my act now. Before, I was doing things I thought could be funny. Right now, I'm doing things I think are funny."