KANSAS CITY-- There is a common wisdom in entertainment that stand-up comedy is the hardest, most demanding, most frightening job in show business. You're up there all alone -- raw, vulnerable and usually very close to your audience -- getting immediate feedback -- good or bad. It takes as much courage as talent to do it-- and this week's Reaching 4 Excellence Young Achiever has both -- in big quantities.
The jokes and stories come pouring out of him, Aaron Branch, talking about camp, being an overweight child, girls, and his new foray into Rap music.
"People need to realize," Aaron tells his audience, "I'm a different type of rapper, OK? I'm a mix between Kanye West and Celine Dion."
Aaron gets a big laugh. Funny business is serious business if you're trying to succeed as a stand-up comic. It's hard work. Just ask Aaron. He put countless hours into writing original material and producing his own multi-media live stand-up comedy show, The Aaron Branch Experience, and performed it several times over the 11-day run of this summer's Kansas City Fringe Festival.
"I'm not afraid to be myself," says Aaron. "As an entertainer, I'm able to show people my true colors and kind of just show the world who I am as a person because I think I'm kind of, I don't know, I'm a weird and quirky person."
Aaron keeps the verbal patter going at his Fringe Festival show at Nica's 320 Cafe.
"This girl thinks I can dance like Usher but my personality's not Usher. I'm like Clay Aikin." Another big laugh. Just a high school senior, Aaron already is moving up in the Kansas City stand-up comedy world. His first experience sealed the deal for him.
"Just basically acting and I killed it my first open mike night," says Aaron. "It just felt fantastic. People were laughing at me. There was no one else on stage except me. And then afterwards, I would just talk to people and they were like, 'You were really funny!' And the fact I made them laugh just baffled me."
Since then, Aaron's been an opening act or feature act for some big-name comics performing at Stanford and Sons Comedy Club at The Legends in Kansas City, Kan. And last fall he struck gold there. At age 16, Aaron won the club's "Best Comic in KC" competition, topping several dozen other comedians, most much older and more seasoned. Aaron's impressive performing talents don't end with stand-up comedy. He's a multi-faceted entertainer in music, movies, film-making and stage work. Aaron's hit the boards as an actor in several productions at The Coterie Theatre since he was in middle school and is a leader in The Coterie's youth master classes.
"His stage presence is awesome," says Coterie Theatre Artistic Director Jeff Church. "And I think the confidence you watch Aaron roll out when he does it, he doesn't seem like he's sweatin' it. And people love that. And they roll with him, too."
Church is working with Aaron now on what will be his break-out role as an actor. He will have the lead in next spring's Coterie production of Bud, Not Buddy, a depression-era mystery of an orphan based on a Newberry Award book.
"The director we're bringing in from Nashville just fell in love with him when he saw Aaron in The Wiz for us," says Church, "and he said, 'Yeah, I want that guy.'" Aaron is planning on a lot of people wanting him as he heads for what he hopes will be a long and successful career in comedy and so much more.
"I just like the feeling of putting smiles on people's faces," says Aaron. "If not make them laugh, make them happy. As long as I can make them leave with a happy face, I'm A-OK."
Aaron's idols in stand-up comedy are legends like Eddie Murphy, Robin Williams and Richard Pryor. But as he moves forward in entertainment, Aaron says he'll be emulating Will Smith for his broad-based success and talent. You can keep up with Aaron's career and performances on his Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/aaronbcomedy.