Comedian, magician and social media guru Ezra Winter credits his creative success to his alma mater, Tannen’s Magic Camp in New York City.
The 25-year-old Columbia native and Baltimore resident likes to list the overnight camp on his resume. “It set me up for the work and values I have today,” he says. “It’s about the closest thing to [Harry Potter’s] Hogwarts that exists in the real world.”
Winter, who’s performed at a White House inaugural gala and hosts comedy shows at Baltimore’s Creative Alliance, talked to WJW about the importance of social media in comedy, his fashion sense and his doppelganger.
Has anyone every confused you with Ezra Klein, the editor-in-chief at Vox.com?
Yeah, you know? It just happened. We look different, we’re in totally different spheres as of right now – he’s a lot more famous than me. Someone actually from work just called me Ezra Klein [laughs].
At what point in your life did you know you wanted to be a comedian?
I always knew I wanted to be an entertainer. My first interaction with show business was as a magician. I started in elementary school. I stuck with it and loved performing ever since. As a teenager, in high school and past that, I did gigs as a professional magician. I let that go for a number of reasons, but I still loved the magic community. When I really wanted to get back into performing in a big way, I picked comedy. I was probably 21 or so when I decided to become a comedian. The simplicity and lack of props appealed to me.
In your comedy, are there any subjects you always cover in your performances? Judaism?
When I first started out, I did some Jewish jokes. I didn’t feel great about them. They were more based on stereotypes. I got good laughs. But not so much these days. Because it’s a big part of my cultural background and upbringing, it comes up in subtle ways. I’m totally open to referring to my Judaism, but I wouldn’t want to do it like I did early on, just to get easy laughs.
Are there any topics that are off-limits for you?
No, there’s no topic that’s off limits. With my stuff and the comedians I book for my shows, I try to be careful with how sensitive topics are dealt with. I’m super big on free speech, but in my own comedy and the people I work with, the test is are you talking about a group that is victimized, and if so are they the butt of the joke? I’m fine with difficult subjects like race or violence, but it’s important to me that it be handled a sensitive way.
What’s your take on how social media has changed the way comedians present their material and stay relevant?
It’s mandatory. It’s unavoidable. I’ve had really talented comedians who aren’t on social media tell me they don’t like Twitter. My thinking is whether you like it or not, if you’re an entertainer or comedian in 2014 you have to do it. It’s just the way a lot of us consume, with shorter videos or posts, whether it be Instagram, Twitter or Vine.
What is one of your long-term goals as a comedian and entertainer?
I’m fortunate right now that I pay the bills with freelance social media work, which is pretty close to my creative passion. I perform, run my own social media, and I help companies or entertainers run their social media. So I’m fortunate that my “day job” is pretty close to my creative goal. My long-term goal would be able to just focus on the creative side, to have an income where I don’t need to do social media marketing work day-to-day.
You’re also a fashion writer for Complex magazine.
That’s one of the freelance jobs I do. I post a few fashion stories a week for them. I worked in fashion retail when I was younger. I actually worked at Barneys New York in D.C. In show business it’s important how you present yourself. It’s been a nice freelance job and it’s nice to get paid to write about your hobbies.
Do you have a go-to outfit?
I usually wear tight black pants, maybe a loose T-shirt and a black jacket on stage. If you have a lot of different colors and shapes, it’s too much. I love all kinds of crazy weird fashion, but for myself I wear dark and let my act speak for itself.