TikTok star or respected stand-up? Trevor Wallace shows us it's cool to be both

Trevor Wallace, a rising star of L.A.’s comedy’s boom, started his journey in stand-up on the strength of a local newspaper clipping. It was an ad his mom gave him for a six-week comedy class, a way to inspire her 17-year-old son to get out of the house long enough to learn a fun, productive skill. Even back then his desire to be the center of attention and get laughs from his friends by any means necessary outweighed the adolescent outrage that can come from the nagging of a well-meaning parent.

He begrudgingly signed up for the class at the now-defunct Ventura Harbor Comedy Club in his native Ventura and quickly realized that he‘d made a good decision. “From the first class I just fell in love with it,” he said. Whether scouring headlines for joke topics or workshopping short sets onstage and getting that first pop of laughter, Wallace said, stand-up helped him find his rhythm in life. “I was never really an athletic kid growing up, so I never really had that feeling of making a game-winning pass or the buzzer beater shot. But for once when I did stand-up, everything just clicked and I was like, this is what I was meant to do,” he said.

That feeling came rushing back 13 years later as a career stand-up comedian at age 30, stepping onstage at the Paramount Theatre in Austin, Texas, for his debut special, “Pterodactyl,” which premiered Nov. 14 on Amazon Prime Video. It was the culmination of not only countless stand-up sets in L.A. and the rest of the country but also billions of views from his short video skits dating back to the days of the Vine app that temporarily ruled social media.

His hilariously cringy characters from SoCal suburbia run from a day drinker with a thirst for White Claws to a former star athlete who’s never left his hometown, to a burnout Subaru driver dripping in patchouli oil and Patagonia gear. Splitting time between social content and stand-up may feel like standard practice for comics these days, but finding a voice in both at the same time is more of a challenge than Wallace makes it appear. The trick, he said, is leaning into the skills that are transferable, like speeding to a punchline more quickly, even in the free-form groove of a stand-up routine.

“Vine was great because it kind of makes you work backwards to create a joke,” he said. “I was like, I have six seconds to get this joke out. What is the joke? The joke is this sentence, this word, how much time I have leading up to it to get to that? It really is just trying to condense everything, which is great for stand-up.”

Building a funny skit or a set on stage also means quickly identifying what works and what doesn’t. For his videos, which are crafted daily with the production and skill of most sketch shows on TV, Wallace set up a fake TikTok account to test whether his content can get him to stop scrolling for at least three seconds.

“You have to wrangle people’s eyes every time on the internet, like, ‘Wait, don’t go anywhere, hold on!’” he said. “It feels like street performers in Venice who are able to gather you so quickly, because you just want to see what’s happening. And then you’re like, oh s—, I’ve been here for 20 minutes!”

Though plenty of comedians in their 30s might’ve spent a few years finding their voice at this point in their career, Wallace’s path began years earlier, during his senior year at San Jose State. Emerging from a drunken haze of frat boy antics by his junior year, he decided to focus more on producing Vine content and performing at open mics between classes, hoping to get to a point where the poster of the Hollywood sign splashed across his dorm room wall would become more than just aspirational. After college he moved to L.A. in 2015 to take an internship with the Groundlings comedy school while living in a pool house in Studio City with no Wi-Fi or bathroom. In 2017 he started making videos again on Facebook and YouTube, doubling down on a consistent stream of skits by day while doing open mics at night.

“I think my career is like a fireplace and each video or each show is another log that goes on the fire,” he said.

Wallace typically devotes himself to making social content until about 5 p.m., he said, and then he switches gears into thinking about his stand-up material and what would work best for a live audience. Though some comics with millions of followers might be content with taking the less tiresome route of making videos at home, Wallace has pushed himself to be a true road comic this year with a major U.S. tour in 48 cities, partially to grow his fan base and sharpen his skills but also to build toward something tangible in his comedy career — he just didn’t know what.

“I feel like I was getting in shape for a marathon but it wasn’t a marathon at the end,” he said. “So I talked to everybody I’ve worked with on the agency side and asked if I should shoot something.”

It wasn’t until Amazon approached his agents at Just for Laughs in Montreal that Wallace really thought it would happen. From then on, with a deadline on the books, Wallace attacked every city he toured with intention and a focus of sharpening his punchlines.

The result was “Pterodactyl,” an hourlong special that weaved together personal stories, spontaneous crowd work and some of Wallace’s best imitations filmed in Austin, the site of the country’s newest and fastest-growing stand-up explosion.

“I felt like a madman putting it all together,” Wallace said. “You know I think it came together like when chefs at the end of a cooking show are told ‘knives up!’ When we said knives up, the special came out the next day. I feel like I just got it in time and everything has a certain cadence and flow to it and I just felt really happy about it.”

With a debut TV special and success on TikTok, Wallace said he feels like he’s just starting his career even though he’s almost 10 years in. Where he goes next is still anybody’s guess. The comic hints at wanting to work on more TV show ideas in 2024.

Before that, fans can catch him headlining a stand-up show presented by The Times and Can’t Even Comedy on Dec. 16 at the Ace Hotel‘s Segovia Hall in downtown L.A. The show will feature a headlining set from Wallace as well as a live Q&A and a slate of opening acts including Cole Garrett, Willie Macc, Shea Freeman and Caitlin Benson with the soundtrack of the night provided by DJ Kaleem. Considering what he’s just accomplished in 2023 alone, the chances of a successful new year are looking up.

“Before my special, it felt like I was in eighth grade jumping up to high school,” he said. “I didn’t know what was gonna happen, if I was gonna get my ass beat or if people were gonna give me wedgies in the comments. And then it feels like today is like the first week. … I just finally got to check off one box but there’s so many boxes to be checked off after this.”

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