America’s Got Talent Finalist Preacher Lawson Forgets He’s No Longer Broke

Preacher Lawson keeps forgetting how successful he's become.
Preacher Lawson keeps forgetting how successful he's become. Gregg DeGuire/Getty Images
Preacher Lawson, finalist of NBC’s America’s Got Talent, is coming to the Arlington Improv this weekend, Thursday through Saturday, Dec. 5-7, but he comes without any ego.

To be clear, it would be justifiable for Lawson to have an enormous ego. His face, along with his jokes, entered America’s households week after week on America’s Got Talent, earning him a spot as a finalist. Later, Lawson returned for a champions edition of AGT, nabbing a fifth-place finish among a crowded and eclectic roster of favorite acts from past seasons.

The exposure immediately changed Lawson’s life and career. By the time the first episode with the comedian finished airing, Lawson’s phone had received so many notifications that the device died. Every opportunity became instantly available to the young talent. The success was so overwhelming, that even Lawson has trouble grasping it now.

“I still think I’m broke,” Lawson says. “I’ll go to the grocery store, and they’re like, ‘How many bags do you want?’ And I’m like, ‘OK, that’s 20 cents.' … [laughs] My bad, I got money. Let me get three bags! Who else wants a bag? I’ll buy a bag for everybody in this store!”

Born in Portland and raised in Memphis, Lawson actually spent many of his free hours playing the piano, planning to pursue it as a career. In Memphis, Lawson started writing jokes when he was 16, but it took him another year to work up the courage to do his first open mic.

“I still think I’m broke. I’ll go to the grocery store, and they’re like, ‘How many bags do you want?’ And I’m like, ‘OK, that’s 20 cents.’ ” — Preacher Lawson

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“I thought I did great,” Lawson says. “And I remember my mom driving me in the car. And I was like, ‘That was great wasn’t it?’ And she was like, ‘It was OK …’ And I remember thinking, 'What do you mean, because that was amazing — because I got one big laugh.'”

The laughs have greatly multiplied since that first comedy set. Lawson’s new special, Get to Know Me, premiered exclusively on the streaming service BET+ and fans can also check out his YouTube channel, where the comedian shares his favorite vegan recipes. (Even those who only eat meat can enjoy the videos.)

But it’s not just American fans who love him; Lawson has also developed a reputation as a comedian to watch in the U.K. After his appearances on two seasons of AGT, the comedian was invited to compete on Britain’s Got Talent, which he readily took on as a new challenge. While there are many overlapping qualities between British and American comedy, the subtle differences can determine whether the room is filled with silence or laughter.

“It’s just a different timing,” Lawson says. “The comedians down there [in England] are different. They’re all brilliant, they’re great ... I felt pretty cool watching them; I actually learned a lot. The terms are different. It’s hard, man."

Yet there's no aspect of the entertainment business that looks hard for Lawson. As he greets audience members after a November show in Burbank, there is none of that showbiz cynicism disguised through a game-show-host smile. He even keeps his eyes un-rolled as a drunken fan overshares after taking a selfie with Lawson. The comedian's eye contact is sincere; his “thank you for coming out” is genuine; the excitement to greet the next person in line, contagious.

It’s easy to dismiss this behavior as someone still enjoying the new phase of a long sought after success. That, coupled with the many years spent on the road and the inevitable isolation acquired in those travels in order to perform around the world.

Lawson’s smile contain hints of the same strain possessed by veteran comics — a veteran shaking hands with locals as his thoughts wander to the hotel's mini bar. Foremost, what you find in observing Lawson — on or off stage — is a person filled with integrity, kindness and good humor. But never ego.
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