Hank Denson, who will perform at the Appell Center for the Performing Arts in York on Friday night as part of the Cap Comedy Series, earned his comedy chops the tough way.
“I worked in orthopedic pediatrics for 20 years,” he says. “There were some situations where the news was not good all around and the parents would come back over and over. Our relationship had to be based in humor.”
Some parents had worried looks on their faces when they first saw Denson, who is black.
“Being in Georgia, with my look, they’d ask, ‘Are you the doctor?’ and I’d say, “Yeah, I’m the doctor; I’m out on a work release program.’ ”
Now based in Atlanta, Denson grew up in Massachusetts and was always a funny guy. He had plans to become an engineer like his dad but realized he couldn’t handle it.
“I started doing comedy in Boston, and my brother opened a comedy club. He’d ask me to do a few minutes (before the main comedian). It’s not that easy.”
He made friends with the comedians who came through and got to know people like Jamie Foxx, Pauly Shore and Louie Anderson.
“I learned that it was a long process, and I had no time in it. So, for 20 years I was out of comedy. I raised my son. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
That’s when he got the job in orthopedic pediatrics.
“I’ve always done comedy but with a different energy,” he says.
Through the comedy connections he had, Denson was asked to be in “Barbershop 3.”
“I was getting back into comedy but not full time,” he says.
Then, an afternoon field trip changed his life.
“The day after I left ‘Barbershop,’ I volunteered to go on my son’s field trip to the Georgia Aquarium.”
He had no idea what he was getting into.
“I thought all I had to do was hand out lunches or something, but they gave me a group of kids to take care of. I was like, ‘What!’ They thought they were doing me a favor by putting my son in the group. That was not a favor! The kids were running all over the place, a little girl started to cry.
“This all happened in the first four or five minutes,” Denson says with a laugh. “It was too much. I needed a drink.”
Denson began to think about the experience.
“It resonated. How do these teachers deal with it?” Denson says. “How can you inspire people? What would make you want to be a teacher?”
So he started #Pay Teachers More Money and based his comedy around the role teachers play in our society.
“My thing is to make people laugh — to heal them with laughter — then talk about real stuff,” he says.
The idea took off. Denson began to work on the business end of it, doing fundraisers with companies.
“Companies want to give teachers money. Sharpie, for example, sponsored a fundraising show.”
Teachers began coming to Denson’s standup gigs.
“They come and have a good time. I do a spot about teacher relief, to pay teachers more,” he says.
And Denson made a comedy routine from the field trip, which was comic gold. It went viral, with 9 million views so far, he says.
It was time to return to comedy full time.
“My demographic is large,” he says. “I get the energy out of each city.”
He doesn’t bring politics into the show, and he doesn’t want to be known as a black comedian. His brand is teachers.
“I enjoy the stage when I take the microphone,” he says. “I get to see the good in the country; I get to see it firsthand. They say the races don’t get along, that the country is not the same. But I get to see the laughter and the fun firsthand.”