BY BRITTANY De VRIES
Few students manage to be fired from a volunteer position as a freshman Orientation Leader, and fewer can turn their subsequent academic suspension into opportunity.
After suspension from the University this year, Watt Smith served coffee to actor Steve Carell and lent a hand to a 65-year-old female Ethiopian wood carrier, among other adventures.
He spent his days bagging groceries at Food Lion, evenings behind a microphone at Richmond’s Funny Bone comedy club and many nights asleep in his car or on a couch that wasn’t his.
“I’m glad it worked out the way it did,” Smith said, forking a western omelet at the 2400 Diner two days before his cross-country trek to Los Angeles. “Though, I would have made a great Orientation Leader.”
His funny personality was apparent even while eating breakfast.
When he saw the home fries on his plate, he exclaimed, “Oh man, so those are home fries! If you had asked me to draw you a picture, I would have drawn a hash brown or something.”
Doing a set on the UMW campus has always been a goal for Smith, and last night he performed to a crowd at Great Hall. Later that night, he crossed off another line from his 101 goals in 1001 days, a list he compiled in Peru over winter break.
“If you want to get better, you have to be on stage all the time,” he said. Smith explained that he had spent every night freshman year performing a set for audiences that didn’t always respond well.
He mentioned that some nights he had to impose his jokes above the banter of music and murmur of people at crowded joints.
“Even if you’re booed, you have to know, or remember that you’re funny, or you’ll get really depressed. Actually, both of those happened to me,” he said.
Smith first began performing when he signed up for an open-mic night at his high school, Woodbury Forest Boarding school. He was 18 years old. Smith said that nobody thought he was very funny.
“They thought I was crazy maybe, but not a very witty person,” he said.
“I was already so inspired by doing so well at first, that I dealt with that two-year slump.”
Since that first night in front of his high school class mates, Smith performed almost every night, traveling all over the area- in Fredericksburg, around D.C., Newport News, Charlottesville, and Richmond- to make it to each set.
He served at a few restaurants to make money so he could move to a “big city.” Though he asked for time off so he could perform during the evenings, Smith said was still fired twice for heading to his skit instead of clocking in.
At the Funny Bone, Smith religiously watched and learned from many seasoned comedians.
“It was all I could think about, it was comedy school for me,” he said.
Smith explained that since his travels in Peru during winter break last year and his three months this summer in Ethiopia, his path in life really began pushing past the slump and falling into place.
Completely at ease in the booth with plastic cushioning, Smith quoted the “Alchemist,” a novel by Paulo Coehlo. He also quoted words from St. Augustine as he drank his coffee.
“Things will work out in your favor,” he said, though he admitted “I’ve learned to make that really happen, you have to take action.”
The inspired young performer utilizes these values in his work not only in his performances, but in the way he runs his life from morning until night.
Smith explained that he no longer feels stage fright and anxiety from performing.
“Sometimes they don’t want you to laugh, so you just give them your frustration with that,” he said, stating that his material on race most enables him to connect with his audience.
“When I’m in the mood to listen, I do a better set than when I’m in the mood to talk.”
Smith’s parents dissuaded their son’s childhood aspirations to become a dolphin trainer, and had some reservation toward his acting and comedy aspirations.
“My parents would always fight, and I felt like I was messing up the family,” he said.
Now they both support Smith in his goals, including his move across the country, Smith laughed about the lifted tension.
“My mom still doesn’t think I’m funny,” he said between mouthfuls of the unlike-hash brown home fries.
He didn’t want to divulge about the future, explaining that thinking in those terms stifles his pursuits.
“Maybe I’ll be a farmer,” he said. “No, really, I’m not old enough to know what to aspire to. I would like to think that I’ll do something that no one has done before.”
Though he would not disclose his 20-year plan, his constant drive keeps him moving forward, and acting and comedy are just facets of his momentum in life.
“If acting was my only goal, I wouldn’t be a good actor,” he said. “I’m open to change in this pursuit, and [acting and comedy] are things that I desire.”
Crumpling his paper napkin, Smith quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson’s idea that you are always a man first.
As his goals continue to be crossed off the list, it is perhaps his comedic, potato-stamped tee shirt that explains his motivation in life. The potatoed paint spells out “Jump Into Your Faith,” a false religious organization that got Smith and his nine friends 10 percent off of the price when they went skydiving last weekend. He has jumped right into what he most firmly believes in. It just so happens that the audience is lucky enough to watch him jump.