Rising star stand-up comic Nate Jackson has become the king of crowd work

He’s sold out at Atlanta Symphony Hall March 9.
Nate Jackson from Washington has been in the business for nearly two decades and is doing his first theater tour including Atlanta Symphony Hall March 9, 2024. CONTRIBUTED



Nate Jackson from Washington has been in the business for nearly two decades and is doing his first theater tour including Atlanta Symphony Hall March 9, 2024. CONTRIBUTED

Not too long ago, the phrase “crowd work” was mostly known only among stand-up comics, something done as a break between prepared jokes, to shift the mood by briefly talking to audience members from the stage.

But in recent years, with the advent of TikTok, comics wanting to show their skills and not wanting to “use up” all their jokes, will highlight their crowd work in two-minute clips. Nate Jackson has gotten so good at crowd work, he literally holds a monthly show in his home state of Washington that is just crowd work. His latest hour-long crowd work show, taped Feb. 13 in Tacoma at his own comedy club and released over the weekend, garnered more than 173,000 views in four days.

Jackson will be doing a blend of prepared jokes and crowd work at his first theater show ever in Atlanta this Saturday night at Atlanta Symphony Hall. And his 3.4 million TikTok followers came through. All 1,762 tickets have been sold as of Tuesday morning at Ticketmaster. Stubhub has third-party tickets starting at $56.

Not to say crowd work is easy. It isn’t. The comic is flying without a net. They have to rely on their own ability to riff off whatever a person is saying in the audience and the risks are multiplicative: the person is boring, the person is super drunk, the person gets too defensive.

Jackson in his February crowd work show mines off-the-cuff jokes from a loud drunk woman with an irritating voice, mocking her on stage without riling her up. He makes a lesbian laugh uproariously when he critiques her haircut. He gets flabbergasted when someone asks out loud what “Baywatch” is. “Am I going to have to spoon feed this crowd?” he said at one point.

Yet he never gets flustered and he knows when to move on when a bit isn’t working.

“I’ve had my time on stage,” Jackson said in a recent interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I’ve hosted my own show on YouTube for years.”

Jackson, 44, indeed has spent thousands of hours on stage over the past 20 years building his comic chops. He left Washington for a time in the early 2000s to build his comedy career in Los Angeles, hitting all the comedy clubs there.

The Haha Cafe. The Improv. The Laugh Factory,” Jackson said. “I went everywhere, every night of the week, two or three clubs a night. I met Cocoa Brown, Rodney Perry. We always talked. I picked up a lot of advice.”

As new social media options came along, he tried them all. Vine. Instagram. Snapchat. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. But he kept experimenting. “You got to get your content to where the people are instead of trying to get people to go to where the content is,” he said.

He said some comics resisted doing comedy bits on social media, thinking it was beneath them. Not Jackson. He said doing social media has been his second job on top of doing stand up. “I consider social media the day-time hustle,” he said. “I’ve always been aggressive. I pushed for 100,000 followers organically on Instagram. (He now has 333,000.) That was the magic number. That was enough to get agents and everyone interested.”

TikTok, which started becoming popular right before the pandemic, annoyed him at first. He thought it was a knockoff of Vine. But it soon eclipsed Vine, which died a quick death.

And Matt Rife, a fellow comic who has blown up via social media, convinced Jackson to commit to TikTok. And that is where Jackson has found his biggest audience. “It rewards consistency and talent,” he said. “I work hard. I wake up at 6, do radio. I am up all night editing videos.”


Nate Jackson

8 p.m. Saturday, March 9. Sold out. Atlanta Symphony Hall, 1280 Peachtree St NE, Atlanta. ticketmaster.com