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Comedian Owen Benjamin talks upstate rivalries

As a kid growing up in Oswego, Owen Benjamin loved watching comedians such as Adam Sandler. Now a comic himself, Benjamin tours the country as a headliner with appearances on “The Tonight Show,” “Late Night” and “Inside Amy Schumer.” He performs on July 6 at the Seneca Niagara Casino for a “Barrel of Laughs” with Mike Lawrence.

During a recent phone conversation, Benjamin talked about comedians becoming do-it-yourself entrepreneurs by controlling the release of their own content. He hosts a podcast and is working on a television pilot and a book to come out next year. “It’s interesting that back in the day, it was always about what projects you had coming out, but the power dynamic has shifted to the individual more. Just a YouTube video can be a major thing now.”

Question: What comedy did you experience as a kid that influenced your sense of humor?

Answer: That would be "Saturday Night Live" for sure. It was the thing my father and I watched every Saturday together. Sandler came to Oswego State in 1993 and I got to go see him when I was in middle school. When I went to SUNY Plattsburg, I opened for an unknown comedian named Kevin Hart, who is now the biggest in the world. Having that experience was also eye opening, because it was in a cafeteria in front of 50 people. To watch his career blow up, I remember him being just a normal person in a cafeteria just like I was doing.

Q: As an Oswego native coming to Buffalo, have you ever felt any competition between upstate New York cities to avoid being the saddest?

A: That’s so funny. Yeah, I think there is a rivalry. In Oswego, we had three nuclear power plants, and two of them shut down. It’s very sad. We took a lot of pride in that. We also have this weird competition between cities like Buffalo and Rochester on who gets the worst lake effect snow. I think Oswego probably gets the worst. Lots of sadness. Once the Erie Canal shut down and railroads were no longer the thing of the future, time kind of passed by central and Western New York, but we’re making a comeback.

Q: Where would you rank Albany?

A: It might be the saddest, because it’s the capital and doesn’t have the same excuses that Oswego, Buffalo and Rochester have. It’s sad, but the juxtaposition that it’s the capital and sad makes it even sadder.

Q: You’re the host of the podcast “Why Didn’t They Laugh?” What’s the biggest disappointment you had over a joke you thought would get over big but didn’t?

A: There’s so many. Whenever I get super into history jokes, they never do as well as I think they do. When I come up with something that, in my mind, is profound insight into human nature, the human nature ones will do OK but it’s never the home run that talking about a dog or a traffic light is. I’m always a little annoyed by that.

Q: When guest comedians come on the podcast, do you talk about their disappointing jokes?

A: Oh, for sure. Everybody has their white whale.



Owen Benjamin and Mike Lawrence perform at 8 p.m. July 6 at the Seneca Niagara Casino, 310 Fourth St., Niagara Falls. Tickets are $20. Visit

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