James Gregory had always been good at making his friends and family laugh, but the idea of life as a standup comic was as inconceivable to him as being an astronaut or president of the United States.
Yet, something drew the Lithonia, Ga., native to a comedy club in nearby Atlanta each week for an open mic night that he and his friends attended somewhat frequently. They weren't there to perform. They were just there to laugh.
It was 1982. Gregory was 30, and his life, as he knew it, was about to change.
"We were there one night, and they dared me to go up during amateur night," Gregory said. "When I first went on stage, I was so bad and so scared that I thought I'd never, ever go back on stage, but I kept going back."
Thirty years and thousands of performances later, Gregory is still at it and will bring his distinctively folksy brand of standup comedy and storytelling to the University of South Carolina Beaufort's Center for the Arts in Beaufort on Saturday. Tickets are $25 for general admission and $33 for preferred seating.
Gregory discusses his life in comedy and what he would do if he won the lottery.
Question. How do you develop your material?
Answer. As my career stretches on, I'm realizing that biggest inspiration for material is just life. I don't do jokes, per se. I don't do set-up, punchline, set-up, punchline. I think of it more as a comedy routine and a series or stories. If I'm doing my job, the audience is hysterically laughing before I ever get to the punchline.
Q. What kinds of audiences do you typically perform to?
A. I do family-friendly comedy, the kind of comedy that appeals to everybody. I was in Hampton, and in the front row were three generations of a family: the grandparents, the parents and two kids, ages probably 8 to 12. You just don't see something like that at many comedy shows, but I play to a broader market than some comics. Comics who do more of that X-rated stuff ... kind of pigeon-hole the audience. That doesn't work for me.
Q. Is there a part of the country where you especially love performing?
A. I've performed in 38 of the 50 states, and I get the same type of reaction in Colorado as I do in Alabama. Comedy is comedy. I don't localize my comedy. When I'm in Beaufort, I won't even mention Beaufort or South Carolina or Southerners or Yankees. Recently, and I'd say in the past 10 years or so, the closer to home the better for me. I would rather travel 400 miles than 3,000.
Q. You've been doing this a long time. How do you find the motivation to keep going and keep performing?
A. I'm not a super, superstar. This is how I make my living, but I do believe that if I won the Powerball -- and I do buy tickets every week -- I would still go on stage. I'm one of the lucky, lucky people who enjoys his job. Being on stage is where I have the most fun.
Follow reporter Patrick Donohue at twitter.com/IPBG_Patrick.