Thursday, 24 May 2018 14:33

Heating Up Fast: Teen comedian becomes Funniest Person in Grand Rapids before high-school diploma

Written by  Eric Mitts
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Dalton Clifford Dalton Clifford Courtesy Photo

At only 18, comedian Dalton Clifford has already made a name for himself.

In April, he won the title of Funniest Person in Grand Rapids at Dr. Grins Comedy Club, besting a field of more than 80 contestants throughout the 10-week competition, and taking home the $1,500 grand prize.

So it’s not surprising that he’s confident enough to try to get a nickname going for himself.

Just call him Mr. Fahrenheit.

“I’m a huge Queen fan. One of the biggest,” he told Revue, singing the classic rock band’s hit Don’t Stop Me Now in his best Freddie Mercury.

The uplifting anthem would serve well as the intro to a triumphant comedy special someday — or as a positive affirmation for himself when things get tough. He’s ready for both.

Just last month, Clifford graduated from Coopersville High School, and in lieu of college he's decided to head to Chicago to try his hand at the larger comedy market there.

“I’m not going in there with like a big head,” Clifford said of the move. “I know it’s going to be a long journey, because most of the people that are really good stand-ups right now, like Bill Burr, they spent like 15 or 20 years not getting paid anything to just go up every night and do their set until they finally got noticed by somebody. So I know that it’s going to be a long road, but it’s one that I’m definitely willing to take on.”

He already has hit some hurdles in his own three-year comedy career. Starting out at 15, he found it hard to work his way into the open-mic night scene, as most bars and emcees wouldn’t let anyone under 18 perform.

Finally, Brian Borbet, host of the Sunday Night Funnies at Woody’s Press Box in Wyoming, gave him a shot.

“All these people were saying, ‘No kid, you can’t come in. This is a bar.’ And he was the only person that said, ‘OK, you can come up and I’ll put you on first, and you can do five minutes, but you’ve got to leave right after that,’” Clifford said. “So that was my first experience with it.”

Immediately hooked, even if the bar crowds weren’t paying attention, Clifford looked for more opportunities and put in his name for the open mic at Dr. Grins.

“I just did it for the experience,” he said. “Like, maybe I’ll get past the first round. I just thought it would be a really good thing to get me into Dr. Grins, which is probably the best room for comedy in West Michigan.”

Inspired by comics like Bo Burnham, Jim Carrey and Chris Farley, Clifford first got into stand-up through his dad, who would watch hours of comedy specials.

“At first I tried to mimic or do what they were doing,” he said. “Definitely when I started out, I absolutely sucked. But after doing it as much as I could, fortunately I got to be a little bit better.”

Coming from what he calls a “funny line of people,” including his dad and uncles, Clifford has learned to turn down the volume on his family’s style of comedy, and focus more on telling stories onstage.

“Just mellow. I don’t get too loud or anything. It’s pretty lax,” he said of his stand-up style.

While everyone at his high school was talking about his big win, Clifford said he’s trying not to let all the excitement go to his head.

“It’s like, ‘Wow, now I’ve got to live up to it,’” he said of holding the title. “I think that winning was the highest point I’m going to get to at least for a while here, so I just tried to savor it.”

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