Welcome to our series On the Verge, where our contributors highlight comedians they feel are ready for their next big break. Whether they’re already working in television or still waiting to land their breakout gig, these are just some of the comedians we’d like to see more of over the coming years – ideally with a show, film, or other comedy project of their very own.
In an alternate universe that’s not so alternate, Drew Tarver is the breakout star of How I Met Your Dad, CBS’s 2013 spin-off of How I Met Your Mother that ultimately wasn’t picked up. In fact, the show was so close to getting a first-season run that at one point The Hollywood Reporter reported that the network had made a series order, sending Tarver’s brain into excitement overdrive as friends sent congrats text after congrats text once the news broke. But then Tarver’s manager called to inform him that THR’s sources were wrong and the series would not continue. “It was particularly rough but also it was so crazy that I was in it, with basically no TV experience at the time, as some guy who grew up in a chicken field,” says Tarver. “It felt like, ‘You won the lottery! Oh no you didn’t.’” A few years later, though, it’s even more apparent that Tarver’s “lottery moment” is inevitable.
Born and raised in Glennville, Georgia, a town with a population of 3,641 as of 2000, Tarver’s family owned a local candy factory. The closest movie theater was an hour away, there were approximately 20 people in Tarver’s graduating class, and you could find chickens on the football field. Tarver had long assumed that eventually he would just take over the candy factory, a future so idyllic and Wonka-esque that it sounds cartoonish when you say it out loud, but then he was hit with the entertainment bug early on thanks to talented siblings and serendipitous timing with another sure-hit spin-off that never took off.
Following the success of American Idol in 2002, Fox ordered a season of American Juniors, which would involve a nationwide search for the most talented child singers. Among the 2,000 to audition were Drew’s sisters Katelyn and Amanda Tarver, the former of which ended up making it onto the show. That meant that Drew would also be a part of the show during segments in which they spoke to Katelyn’s family, and that’s when he realized that he enjoyed entertaining people and wanted to make a career out of it.
Though Katelyn didn’t end up winning, she had been enough of a hit that the family went to New York to work on an album, and Drew, then 18 and about to start college, decided to go too. To stay in New York on his own, he’d cater, bus boy, and couch surf just to get by while taking acting classes, a skill he had basically no experience with outside of some Bible fan fiction plays in high school – and it showed. “Then we did an improv class one day,” he says, “and the teacher said that was the only time she had ever seen me do anything good.” Tarver then saw his first improv show, the UCB team The Stepfathers, and was instantly hooked.
Tarver began taking classes at the UCB in New York and eventually made the move out to Los Angeles, where he kept doing improv as much as he could. Eventually he met the trio who would become his team Big Grande – Dan Lippert, Ryan Rosenberg, and Jon Mackey – which just had their second season of the podcast Teacher’s Lounge on Earwolf, as well as getting on house teams Winslow, Search History (both improv) and Nephew (sketch).
On stage, Tarver is confidently boisterous, entering scenes like a white squall but with positive consequences. If surprise is the crux of good comedy, then Tarver is teaching a masterclass with every performance – you never know what his characters will say, and at times it appears that even Tarver doesn’t expect to say what he just said. There are apt comparisons to be made for former SNL cast members like Jimmy Fallon, Will Forte, and Will Ferrell, and playing for a national weekend audience seems like a fair destination for Tarver.
That sort of attention began to happen when he got the audition that would land him in the pilot for How I Met Your Dad, as well as a holding deal with CBS after he wowed execs during their annual Diversity Showcase as an LGBT participant.
“When you’re starting to figure it out in a small town, it’s definitely tough,” Tarver says of his own exploration of self-identification and orientation in a small, religious community. “You’re trying to figure it out. I didn’t come out until I was 26. That sort of small town upbringing can be tough but I didn’t have it that bad.” Had his breakout moment occurred on CBS in 2014, Tarver would have been able to draw on some of those experiences as Todd in How I Met Your Dad. Tarver played the best friend and gay brother-in-law of lead Greta Gerwig. But the network opted not to continue after the creators refused to reshoot the pilot.
Meanwhile, Tarver has been a regular on the Comedy Bang Bang podcast since 2015, which is also around the time he landed a leading role in Seeso’s currently homeless series Bajillion Dollar Propertie$ as realtor Baxtor Reynolds. His presence on those shows, as well as anything you could see him on from the UCB stages to the web series Mother Mary, is consistently memorable and captivating. It’s a rare quality in comedy where just about anything the performer says is likely to make you laugh. He also doesn’t want to lose touch with those Southern small town roots that are so much a part of who he is. “I would love to do a Southern sketch show or write a show about my dad’s candy company,” he says, “but I just want to continue on and be game for whatever presents itself.”
That should not be an issue. There’s plenty of more good news in Drew Tarver’s future.