Young Comedian Saffy Herndon on American Shame, Communion and Meeting Aubrey Plaza
Saffy Herndon - DFW's "next little thing"
Standing on stage recently at the Amsterdam Comedy Festival at a flat 4 feet tall and only 57 pounds, it's no wonder this up-and-coming DFW comic is called the "next little thing." She started her set by letting the audience know that she's written everything she's about to say. "If there's anything that you don't like or that offends you," she said, "I'm only 8. So don't judge me." Saffy Herndon is one of the youngest (if not the youngest) comics in the Dallas area, but her age doesn't stop her from performing around DFW. She's taken the mic not only at Amsterdam, but at the Backdoor Comedy Club, Buzzbrews during ArtLoveMagic and even at school, where she's in the third grade. She still remembers her first time on stage. A few months ago, Linda Stogner, from the Backdoor Comedy Club (a clean-content venue), gave her three minutes. "I liked the adrenaline that was inside me when I went on stage," Saffy says. "I'd been waiting all week to go up."
A fan of old-school bands like Nirvana and a recent attendee of Lebowski Fest, Saffy isn't your typical 8-year-old. When we met at Banter coffee shop in Denton (along with mom Kenna and dad Steve), she sipped on a hot Tazo tea through a straw while rushing through a string of stories and one-liners. Her worldly attitude and honest outlook on life can be partly attributed to her intelligence (she's in the gifted program at school), but her parents play a large role in how Saffy approaches life. Her mom, a teacher at Saffy's school in Mesquite, and her dad, who works in building restoration by day and is a stand up comic by night, allow their daughter to come to her own conclusions about life, including religion. While they are practicing Buddhists, Saffy is free to explore any and all religions. "If she wants to explore it, we'll take her," her mom says. The family's even been to a Hindu temple a couple of times. "They said there'd be cake and ice cream," Saffy says. "And it wasn't cake and ice cream." As far as the Buddhist temple her family attends? "You get free food," Saffy says. "That's not the reason we go to temple," her mom says. "It's the reason I go!" Saffy says. Priorities.
Conversations that might be taboo among other red-state families are run-of-the-mill for the Herndons. Before we dive into the interview, Saffy chats idly with her parents about her uncle's upcoming nuptials to his boyfriend. The family discusses the different states where the wedding could be held, and decides that Hawaii would be a pretty good choice.
At Amsterdam, Saffy touched on an array of topics -- The Flintstones as a news source for us older individuals; American aisles in Asian grocery stores, full of hamburgers, high-fructose corn syrups and guns ("You know ... shame."); and the ever evil homework. She also poked fun at her dad's drinking (apparently the fault of her mom) and talked about a girl named Marilyn from her class, whom Saffy punched in the throat for explaining her jokes and ruining them (Saffy took a bit of artistic license with that story -- there was no punching). Oh, and she compared Bud Light to hobo pee. All of that garnered a respectable volume of laughs. And then she got to her story about taking communion at a friend's church.
"I don't understand why Christians have to drink God's blood," she said. "It sounds dangerous." Silence. "There's no telling what's in there." A couple chuckles. "He could be diabetic!" Laughter. She brought them around. "I wish God was black," she continued, "so instead of crackers, we could have brownies." You could hardly hear what she said next over the whooping and hollering. She closed her set by comparing her school to a prison, saying that if it really were a prison, she'd definitely shank a kid named José. "José, you're in the fifth grade! Your mom still feeds you by hand!" Then she spun around, stabbed the air in front of her and muttered, "You little bitch."
Her sets can border on risqué for her age. "I don't care for the cuss word at the end," Kenna says of Saffy's José joke. "But I do like that she comes up with the ideas for her jokes. She'll come to us and give us an idea for something, and then her dad will start working with her. And I like that. They're not being fed to her. They're hers." "The 'little bitch' part at the end ... in stand up, if you call somebody out, usually you do an act out," says Steve, who helps his daughter refine her material for an audience. "With her José joke, there was no act out." Until Saffy practiced the bit again and added the last line. At first, Saffy wasn't comfortable with the line. But after cycling through other options, she knew it was the funniest one. So she kept it. While some parents might try to steer their kid in a "safer" direction (like dancing or sports), Saffy's parents want her to pursue her passion. Saffy is already enrolled in acting classes, and her parents hope they can find some private comedy classes for her, similar to the ones Steve takes.
Saffy with Aubrey Plaza from Parks and Recreation.
Her dad is just one funny role model among many. Saffy lists Justin James, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Ricky Gervais and the late Phyllis Diller as comedy icons (although Saffy was "pretty depressed" when she learned Diller didn't write her own material). And, of course, Linda Stogner from Backdoor Comedy, who gave Saffy her first big break.
The youngster is also obsessed with 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation. So much so, she immediately recognized Aubrey Plaza (from Parks and Recreation) at LAX. On the way to the airport, Saffy had been putting on a dead-pan face. When Steve had asked her what was wrong, she'd said, "I'm being April Ludgate." When Saffy came face-to-face with the real April, she was overwhelmed. "I went up to her and asked her if she was Aubrey Plaza," she says. "She said yes, and I started crying. I couldn't stop crying." Plaza remembered the encounter and later told the story about meeting the nervous young girl on Conan. Saffy does leave an impression.
Saffy performs every Thursday night at the Backdoor Comedy Club.
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