Published: September 23, 2022
Comedian, Alum to Film Comedy Special in Ferman Center for the Arts
“Do not overlook the value of what you’re doing together right now,” stand-up comedian and TV writer J.B. Ball ’09 told students in UT’s Reeves Theater on Thursday.
It’s a full circle moment for Ball, who is back in Tampa to film his first hour-long comedy special “It’s My Privilege.” He spoke with students in the Department of Film, Animation and New Media about writing sketch comedy, his career trajectory and working with Kevin Hart.
Aaron Walker, associate professor of film, animation and new media, said that as an alum, Ball recognizes the challenges in Tampa of having access and engagement directly with professionals in the entertainment industry, therefore he wanted to offer a special in-person conversation with the students and UT community.
Ball’s resume includes Comedy Central, Peacock, LOL network, as well as a regular writer for Kevin Hart’s programming.
He told students about his professor, Lisa Rosenthal, who taught Writing for Situation Comedy, and was the first one to encourage him to pursue stand-up. Though he liked the idea of being a comedian, Ball said he always thought another profession would likely take his attention before he had the opportunity to do comedy.
While at school, he attended free shows at the Tampa Improv. He worked his way from hosting gigs to becoming a listed comedian in the lineup. From there, with experience under his belt, he was able to “work the road,” and travel to other comedy clubs.
In 2014, after he had been doing stand-up for four years, he won the title of Florida’s Funniest Comedian.
However, success didn’t come without struggle. He was working at Sports Authority, while living on his best friend’s floor, trying to make it in comedy full-time, he told the students.
When his chance did come to move to Los Angeles in 2016 after he landed an agent, he couldn’t make the move, because he didn’t have the funds.
“Choose the relationship before the company,” he said about deciding on a manager and agent. “Don’t chase a label, because the label sounds good,” adding that some of the bigger name representation would not have as much time for an up-and-coming act, because their time and resources would be largely reserved for the bigger acts.
“Go with who feels invested in you,” he said.
It took Ball two years to save up the money needed for the move, and then his car broke down.
Gerald Williams, a Tampa friend who was familiar with his comedy, heard about his predicament, and bought him a car so that he could make the move because he believed in him, he told students.
He encouraged students to nurture the relationships that they have now and maintain them after graduation. It can be as simple as sending a text to someone you’ve worked with, to let them know you’re thinking about them, or to ask what they’re working on.
“You don’t know how you’re going to be able to help each other,” he said.
A lot of the opportunities he has opening up to him now are because of people he met while he was at UT, he explained.
“I feel like my third eye is opened up,” said Gabriella Hernandez ’24, a communications major and film minor, who hopes to get into documentary filmmaking or another form of mass media after graduation. “A lot of things I already thought he affirmed for me.”
Hernandez particularly resonated with his point about doing everything with love and keeping in touch with connections.
Rejection, Ball said, is just a learning opportunity.
“Learn with each failure,” Ball said. “Keep fighting until you get your yes’s.”
Ball will film his special at 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday to a sold-out crowd at the Charlene A. Gordon Theater inside UT's Ferman Center for the Arts.
Though it may have been easier and maybe even cheaper to film in another city, Ball fought to film the special in Tampa, he said.
“Coming home is an opportunity for a lot of people,” adding that his best friends are opening for him, and friends in the film community will be working on the special.
“It’s one of my favorite things I’ve ever done, and I’m wildly proud of it,” Ball said of the special.