Saffron Herndon and her dad, Steve Herndon, are at Uncle Uber’s right next to Dallas Comedy House in Deep Ellum on a Saturday afternoon. The 10-year-old approaches me and shakes my hand. We immediately begin discussing music, and the band the Cure comes up. I embarrassingly tell her I’m unfamiliar with them. “You’re so young and precious,” the fifth-grader says to me.
Saffron, a comedian from Mesquite, recently went viral after her father uploaded pictures of her captioned with quotes from her stand-up routine to Reddit. Since then, media outlets all over the country have interviewed her and, of course, questioned her routine’s authenticity.
“Every comedian goes to other comedians and helps them craft. But I do make jokes myself. Dad doesn’t write my jokes. If he wrote my jokes, I would be talking about how my marriage is a sham.”
Her comedic timing is excellent. She says she observes others and eavesdrops to find inspiration for jokes. Typically, Saffron performs three nights a week at different comedy clubs in Dallas. This month hasn’t been typical, though; she’s been interviewed by Huffington Post, Vice and BuzzFeed about the viral images.
“I’ve always wanted to be on BuzzFeed ... And then they called me.” Saffron starts fake happy crying. “I said, ‘My goal in life has been completed, Dad. I want to quit all of this.’”
When Saffron gets up to wash her hands, Herndon, who is a comedian himself, opens up about fathering the young comedian.
“I’m obviously blown away and proud, but now we’re at a place with so much going on, you start pulling the reins in because you feel a little protective,” he says. “I mean, when I put those memes out there, I never had a clue they would go viral. I just thought maybe somebody on Reddit would like it, and now Reddit is asking for an interview.”
When Saffron returns to the table she looks at her dad, confused as to why he’s answering my questions.
“You or me,” she asks him. “It’s about him now? You betrayed me,” she says to me, joking. “You’re hurting my feelings.” She begins her signature fake cry again.
To be a 10-year-old comedian is a special thing. She’s young enough to be unintimidated by the prospect of rejection, but old enough to know that if she does have a bad set, she shouldn’t let her older peers see her cry. Instead she’ll go out there and do it again the next night. And if she forgets a joke, she’s comfortable enough onstage to improvise.
Grant Redmond, host of Dallas Comedy House’s open mic night, knows Saffron and her work well.
“Saffy is by far the funniest 10-year-old comedian in Dallas right now,” he says. “I think I’m most impressed by her people skills. I wasn’t near that well spoken when I was her age. Adults still terrify me to this day. It will be very interesting to see her — quite literally — grow in comedy.”
One of Saffron’s best jokes, about online dating, was among the images that went viral. Herndon says she improvised it one night after noticing several other female comedians had online dating jokes in their sets.
“Whatever you do, don’t make online dating jokes,” she tells me. “Everyone does it.”
If she seems wise beyond her years, it’s probably because she is. But she’s clearly a 10-year-old in certain moments. After talking about her teacher’s bad grammar, she describes audience members she encounters as “liberal, conservative, homophobic people,” not quite understanding all of the terms.
She says some teachers are supportive of her stand-up career, but others don’t understand it. The same goes for her classmates. “My best friends are like, ‘Saffron, this is awesome. I’m so proud of you,’” she says. “Then the others are like, ‘I don’t know what stand-up is, but you’re probably good at it, so keep doing what you’re doing.’” Her jokes about Nirvana tend to get lost on her fellow fifth-graders. “Only my teachers understand that, because kids are too young — much like you.”
Saffron is performing at Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin in November. Herndon, however, is not.
“I have a friend that races dirt track cars and the way he put it is, ‘If my kid wanted to race, I would put my car in the garage, Steve. It might be time to put your car in the garage.’”
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Saffron interrupts. “Dad, if you completely quit, we could do a roast on you because you’ve been doing stand-up forever.”
She gets up again to refill her drink. I ask Herndon if he thinks she understands the magnitude of what’s happening.
He says he thinks so, but isn’t sure. When she returns to the table, he asks her.
“Yeah. I’m excited. I’m pumped up,” she says. “You think I don’t get it? I had a celebrity breakdown at school yesterday.”