From Atlanta to ‘The Next Level’ with Mario Tory

Kevin Kwan

Kevin Hart Presents: The Next Level continues this Sunday at 11/10c on Comedy Central with Atlanta comedian Mario Tory. Tory is a Chattanooga native who moved to Atlanta for his kids and his comedy. He’s grown now, happily married with children, but still likes to reflect fondly on the old Freaknik days. After a successful audition, he ended up being featured on Hart of the City, which then led to him earning the Next Level half hour. I talked to the “Beards and Buttondowns” comic about the Atlanta comedy scene, his multiple barbers, and the very intimidating wedding band his wife gave him.

Are you still based out of Atlanta?

Based out of the great city of Atlanta, man. I love this city.

Atlanta has a great comedy scene.

Atlanta is one of those West Coast/New York/suburb cities all in one. Everything that you can master up in your mind to think of doing, it’s here. You can get it done here. It’s a wonderful city to grow in. The music scene, movie scene, comedy scene…we’re making it known and we’re going to keep rising.

I know you’re originally from Tennessee. Did you get your start in comedy in Atlanta?

Correct. I’m originally from Chattanooga, Tennessee, but I started my comedy career in Atlanta. My first time ever onstage was at Uptown Comedy Corner, so I have to give a huge name blast to the original Uptown Comedy Corner. I did my first open mic there and have been doing it ever since.

How was that first night onstage?

I didn’t know what I was going to do. I went to an open mic night several weeks before I actually went up for the first time. I thought, “If these guys can do it, so can I.” It’s not that I thought I was better at comedy, I just wasn’t afraid. I took it upon myself to write a joke about exactly what I was going through at the time. I did pretty decent for my first time.

What was the joke about?

It was about finding a job — how people want to ask you to do so much to get a job when you didn’t even have that much to start with. First you fill the application out. Then you come back and do the interview. Then you’ve got to go back and take a drug test. It’s like, come on. I think the reason most people smoke is because they can’t find a job. They’ve got to ease the pain. I went through different places trying to find jobs. I didn’t have one and I was running out of options, so I said, “Let me try something else.”

You’ve been doing this for ten years, right?

Ten wonderful years. I wouldn’t take one minute back.

What is it about Atlanta that’s kept you in that scene for so long?

My kids. That’s why I moved to Atlanta. I like to be close to them as much as possible. But you know the way things go in life — if you strive for something and work hard you have to move in different directions. So if I have to move to another city I’m cool with it as long as I can still take care of my kids. Of course, I’ve got to say the Freaknik too. Back in the day, you feel me? You wouldn’t even have to get all the way successful in Atlanta to enjoy yourself during the Freaknik days.

It was nice to see that at the beginning of your Next Level episode Kevin got your name right. I was watching a clip from Hart of the City and even though your name was right on the screen, he introduced you as Mario “Tony.”

Exactly. I’ve had my name fucked up so many times. They call me “Troy” sometimes. And with my name being Mario…back when it was so hard for me to get a job…Mario is common in Italian and Spanish. I had interviews with people thinking that I knew how to cut grass and cook. I was like, ‘Look, I’m black. I’m looking for a forklift or something.”

You have the Beards and Buttondowns thing. Do you want to shoutout your barber? Because your beard looks tight.

Hey, thank you, man. Let me shoutout several barbers. First off, Frankie the Barber in Decatur, Georgia. He always keeps me tight. He’s the number one barber I go to in Atlanta. If I can’t get to him I’ve got a guy named Chris the Barber in DeKalb County in the mall. And a big shoutout to my homeboy Chip in LA out in Gardena. He actually cut me up for the show. I can’t just let anybody cut my beard. It’s a trademark. Beards and Buttondowns is a brand. I always wear a buttondown onstage. I like feeling grown. I’m clean. You have to look good and feel good when you’re doing what you love to do.

Speaking of being grown, you mentioned in the special that you were engaged.

We got married March 27th. My wife is an amazing young lady. She’s in the military, so I really had no choice. It was do or die. I don’t even really have a wedding band. I have a shell casing from her AK-47 that she made into my wedding band. She highlighted “’til death” on the marriage certificate. But she’s an amazing young lady. She backs me up. I’ve got amazing kids. It’s a lot of stuff to talk about. That’s what’s coming up on my hour special.

Photo by Kevin Kwan & Hartbeat Productions.

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