Pro Era’s Kwon Swank on Being the Comedy Guy in a Hip Hop Collective
It’s early evening when Raekwon Hayes, better known as Kwon Swank, answers his phone. Given the high energy and goofiness the 20-year-old comedian exudes when he hosts Pro Era shows, it comes as a surprise when he speaks slowly with a hint of exhaustion. “I’ve been on tour in Europe,” he explains, “before that, October was touring in the States.” At an age where most young adults worry about internships and dining hall meals, Kwon is making a name for himself with Pro Era, one of the most prolific artists collectives in the hip hop scene today.
How does it feel to be one of the only non-musicians in Pro Era?
I feel like it doesn’t hurt me because I’m not a rapper. With Pro Era, you wait your turn to drop your project. But for me, I could put out whatever I want to whenever I want to. Being an improviser helps boost my hosting, too.
Do you take classes?
I took an acting class last year; it was my first time really acting in front of people. It was more serious than the comedy. It’s more like drama. I liked it for the experience. I want to get more into it, it’s very helpful. I’d love to do both serious acting and improvising comedy or drama. Just anything, anything with acting I love. I also took a class with Cipha Sounds and it was one of the best things I ever did because when I first started doing skits, I just thought about any idea and just put the camera on, basically improvising. But since I took that class with Cipha, it’s better. I know how to improvise more, I know when to improvise and when not to. I did skits where I had a written script but didn’t say it so the class helped me a lot.
What motivated you to get into comedy?
I like attention a lot. A lot. Ever since I was little. That’s what my teachers told my parents every time it was parent teacher conference: Kwon likes attention. At first, my parents thought I was a show off. Then it was an issue because I was getting in trouble too much. But I need the attention now. It’s what I want. I’m just always jolly, I’m always happy. I like putting a smile on people’s faces. I feel like if I meet somebody if I don’t put a smile on someone’s face or at least make you laugh, I’m doing something wrong.
You’re pretty young, right?
I’ll be 21 next month.
And you’ve been putting sketches and bits on YouTube for three years. How do you feel about things you did when you were 17 being on your YouTube page?
Every time I watch them it’s like, what was I thinking? But I just feel like I have to be more creative. Joey [Bada$$] told me, ‘you’re going to watch this in like 10 years and think that this is where it all started.’ In five or ten years I’ll love to see where I first came from.
If you could model your career after anyone’s, who would it be?
Jamie Foxx because he started standup, he started doing shows, he started on In Living Color, his improvising, his own show, he’s on a sitcom, then he got into serious drama and serious acting. He got the movies like Ray and he’s talented all around plus he does music so he shows his singing in his shows, in his standup, in comedy, he shows his other talents. With me, I want to do that also but with dancing so I would love to have my own sitcom and show my love for dancing.
In comedy, there’s a common idea that it takes ten years to get good. Do you agree with that?
I don’t believe it because I feel like comedy is natural. But I also know that comedy is hard and I take it seriously. I think standup is one of the most difficult challenges in entertainment because it’s just standing up to talk and getting people to laugh unlike music where you do it on your own and perform it for people who already like it.
What makes you feel creative?
I’ve actually never felt creative, not yet. What would help me to feel creative is me doing something that I think nobody will come up with. Like somebody watching me do a skit and being like ‘he’s brilliant, he’s a genius for this.’ I aspire to be more than funny. I like to do a lot of things. I haven’t found my voice in comedy yet. I feel like it’s coming soon though, I feel like I’m going to find my type of comedy. I’ll find it soon.
What other skills are you looking to develop?
I want to get into music because I’m around so many musicians that I’ll be in the studio and I say to myself, ‘I could do that.’ But I don’t know if people would take me serious. I’m not sure if I’d be good at it. When I think about doing music, I think about how music is something I love and I don’t listen to music that doesn’t have a positive message. If I’m wanting to do music, I’m going to want to do something that hits someone’s soul or makes them cry. Doing that while coming from a comedian background, it’s different. It’s like how Jamie Foxx is with singing — except he can sing. I can’t sing or rap and I don’t have anything to show that I could do these other talents even though I want to. I try, I have a song on my computer that I made about a year ago — it’s never going to drop. It’s called “Star Boom.” Kirk Knight did the instrumentals. I didn’t release it because it was when I was going through a breakup so, you know. I liked the song but then I didn’t like the song. It was something to just something to keep in the stash.
Do you ever feel like being funny is a disadvantage?
Being funny can be a disadvantage. That’s why I haven’t gotten into music because people will be like, “you’re trying too hard now, Kwon.” But comedy is something I love, music is just something I’ve been around and I just want to do it to see if I could do it.
Do you believe that people can learn to be funny?
In a way, yeah. As far as like standup, definitely. People can learn how to tell jokes because a joke is a punchline. You need a punchline so that the audience can die laughing. And then rapping, you need that punchline to be good at rapping like, ‘ooh you hear what he said?’
Do you do standup?
I’ve been doing standup for over a year now. I perform at the People’s Improv Theater and The Stand. I also do open mics.
What does your writing process look like?
I write standup jokes on my phone. On my laptop, it’s hard to write standup jokes for some reason. On my laptop, I write serious skits, like a movie. But I usually take rides on the train and I write standup jokes. Like when I was heavy into standup, that’s when I was writing most of my jokes because I’m underground, I don’t have nobody to talk to, so I just write jokes. I felt good after every train ride.
What are some of your goals for 2016?
I’m trying to get an audition for Wild ’N Out because and auditions are coming up and I want to get that going. I wrote a web series on serious acting and like story lines it’s like a movie, but a series. The only thing stopping me is other actors. Not knowing other actors, other people not wanting to go as hard as me.
How has Pro Era changed over the years?
I’ve seen Pro Era mature. Myself included. I’m Joey’s cousin so I was just hanging out with my cousin and his friends were Pro Era. With me being around so much, they were like this dude is funny. And when we started touring, Joey was 17 and everything was just so new to him. We were leaving the country, we were on the tour bus going other places, dealing with different people. It’s just different.
Do you ever feel like you’re being slept on?
Yeah, but I’m just an impatient person. I can’t be impatient, though, because it’s all on me. I could drop a skit whenever I want to drop a skit. The rappers in Pro Era, they follow protocols and a schedule for dropping song so they have a right to be impatient. But I do want to build a name for myself other than Kwon in Pro Era, I want to be able to get that email from you and you not knowing that I’m in Pro Era. Just me doing what I’m doing. Just finding me, just finding it. Just doing me.
Photo by Dee Knows.