Episode 4 of Kevin Hart Presents: The Next Level airs this Sunday at 11/10c on Comedy Central. If you haven’t been keeping up, The Next Level is a seven-episode series showcasing comedians hand-picked by Hart to do their first ever televised half-hour sets. This week’s featured comic is the LA-based energetic Air Force veteran Vincent Oshana. Oshana moved to LA after his time in the service to “chase the buzz” he caught while watching comedians perform for the troops at his base in Montana. Since then he’s appeared on Def Comedy Jam, Damon Wayans’ Showtime sketch series The Underground, and the recent film 50 Shades of Black. I talked to Oshana about learning to riff as a child, how he turned down a lucrative military contract to pursue comedy, and the rigors of maintaining a day job.
Let’s get into the origin story. I know that you grew up in New York. Tell me about your neighborhood and home life.
We were originally from Yonkers, New York. Our family was not that rich. We lived in a one-bedroom apartment across the street from my grandmother. Me my brother and my sister are one year apart. My parents didn’t waste any time. “We want three. Let’s knock ‘em out.” As we got a little older my father got a really good job in New Britain, Connecticut. So we moved there and honestly, that’s where I got all my humor from. The friends I grew up with were all maniacs from different walks of life: Puerto Rican, black, Arabic. The whole crew I was around made me who I am today. My father drank like a maniac. He would invite all his friends over and they would all be drinking. Picture 45-year-old men, drunk, smoking. My father would go, “Vinny, come here. Stand in the middle and do something. Entertain them.” I would just do stupid shit like make fun of the guys, their outfits, their wives. I was thrust into trying to be funny. My father was a huge George Carlin and Richard Pryor fan. He didn’t mind us watching that shit with him. I’ve never heard anyone laugh as hard as I’ve heard my father and mother laugh at George Carlin specials.
You eventually went into the Air Force. Had you been doing any comedy before that?
Not at all. I think I got the buzz when I was stationed in Great Falls, Montana at a nuclear missile base. There was literally nothing to do in Montana. They had one bar off-base where they would bring these comics in once a month. Just watching them capture the room…when you’re in the military you’re away from your family. You’re wherever they want to send you. There’s so much shit in your life. But when that person was up there no one was thinking about their lives. They were just focused on that person. I caught that buzz. One day in between comics my military guys were like, “Just go up there and start talking shit.” It was the scariest moment of my life. I went up there and started doing impressions of my sergeants and how they walked and saluted. Once I got up there and felt that laughter it was a high that I wanted to keep chasing, like heroin. I’m still doing it now.
So what happened when you got out of the military? Did you immediately chase that buzz?
My cousin…this guy…I will never forget this conversation. I was in Montana, depressed as hell, in the snow, -60 wind chill. I had never really talked to him that much. He got leukemia and beat it, thank God. I don’t know how it happened, but we had a major long-ass conversation where he was like, “What are you doing? Is this your life? Is this what you want to do?” He knew I was a knucklehead. He said, “Vinny, fucking get out of there. Pack a bag. Come stay with me and chase that dream. You’re going to regret it for the rest of your life if you don’t.” He was newly married, but he didn’t care. I had a $60,000 contract in front of me for a six-year enlistment and I said, “Hell no.” I only had three days to think about it because 9/11 happened and they had a stop-loss, which means the President says, “We can’t afford to lose any of you.” I was stuck for an extra year and I had a bitter taste in my mouth. So I went home for two weeks to see my mom. My father had passed when I was in the military. Then I packed my bag and stayed with my cousin in LA in his back room. It was like an office floor. Then I started the grind. I had saved a little money when I was in the military, so I started going to Groundlings and started hitting the HaHa Comedy Club. I would get up there every day for a year or two. That place took me in as one of their own and gave me an ample amount of stage time. I owe that place for giving me as much stage time as they did and still do.
What do your days look like now?
I still have a job. I’m a host/security guard at a restaurant in North Hollywood, because once you get off of touring and all that shit the money just stops. Hopefully I can quit that goddamn thing soon.
I think it’s kind of inspiring to hear you say that even though you’re about to do this thing on Comedy Central and you’ve been building your comedy and acting career you’re still maintaining a day job. I think it’s good to be honest about that stuff because then other people can look at you and say “This is what it takes to make it happen.”
1000%. It’s insane. They’re kind of strict at my job. I work eight-hour shifts, with no break, leave for a half hour to an hour just to go get onstage. It was especially hard with this special because the only place that would let me run a half hour was the HaHa Comedy Club. I have to keep giving them credit. The owner, Tere, gave me six half-hour spots before my special. I had to leave my job on an unpaid break, go up there, perform, get the fuck out, and go back to work and just do my shift…I was raised to be humble and keep your mouth shut until shit starts popping off.
Photo by Kevin Kwan & Hartbeat Productions.