Comedy heals in unexpected ways. It breaks through our hard inner core in means that can’t be articulated. Local comedian Rusty Rutherford has been working with humor as a form of therapy with Youth Development Inc. for the past eight years. Sadly, his program is shutting down, but he’s using his TEDxABQ talk to shed some light on his efforts and as a call to action in the community.
How did you get into comedy?
My first experience with comedy was my sophomore year of high school. My buddy and I did a public access hidden-camera show called “Don’t Watch This.” We did this ridiculous rubber mallet bit, and we were going to film ourselves getting kicked out of auditions for a talent show. But instead we got picked to do the show, so we did it, and the school ate it up. It was the biggest high I had ever had, at least without drugs.
I’ve been working with these kids for eight years, and I see what comedy does. I want people to think how they can inject more humor in their life and also to look at gang youth in a different light. Be quicker to help and not judge.
The first time I remember seeing you was at the Reptilian Lounge doing a piece called “How to Pick Up Chicks.” When did you start doing stand-up?
I did my first open mic at Chelsea’s Street Pub in Coronado Mall when I was 16. I basically did what I thought stand-up was, and it was horrible, but I kept at it. At first I did characters, like Rusta Rhymes, a white rapper from the Northeast Heights. Then I moved to Chicago to do comedy there. I was broke, couldn’t get a job and [was] depressed, but I learned so much about comedy. When I came back to Albuquerque, I started doing just straight stand-up. No character, just me. I was terrified, but it was so much better.
So would you say that’s when you started to really dig stand-up and look at it differently?
Yeah, definitely. It’s hard being vulnerable onstage, but it’s much better than characters. The highs are higher. Then I began working at YDI. The first kid I clicked with was through humor. I was able to open these kids up through comedy. I taught stand-up to kids, and it was great.
Why present at TEDxABQ, and what do you hope people will take away from your talk?
My talk is titled “Laughing with Gangstas.” I’ve been working with these kids for eight years, and I see what comedy does. I want people to think how they can inject more humor in their life and also to look at gang youth in a different light. Be quicker to help and not judge.
Now that your YDI program is shutting down, what do you plan to do?
I’m about to start my own program called Duke City Dream Lab. It’s an open recording studio where for every hour an adult pays for, we give an hour to teens. These kids who used the program and our resources now really have nowhere to go, so I’m finding a place for them.