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Lineup of laughs

Comedian and "America's Got Talent" finalist Preacher Lawson will perform May 13 at Eastwood Field in Niles. (Submitted photo)

Most comedy clubs have the same characteristics — audience members packed tightly together, intimate spaces and low ceilings, all designed to encourage and amplify laughter.

Minor league baseball parks, especially during a pandemic, offer none of those things, but Preacher Lawson is filling them with laughter.

On his current tour, the “America’s Got Talent” finalist is playing several minor league parks, including Eastwood Field in Niles on May 13.

During a telephone interview from Lafayette, La., Lawson said he didn’t come up with the idea of playing ballparks, but it’s using the nontraditional venues in the same way drive-in movie theaters are hosting concerts and comedy shows while indoor venues are restricted due to COVID-19. And audience members who haven’t had many live entertainment options don’t need low ceilings or a two-drink minimum to be entertained.

“People are laughing like they haven’t laughed in years,” he said.

Of course, Lawson might have something to do with that as well. He was named Funniest Comedian in Florida in 2015 and won the Seattle International Comedy Competition in 2016.

With his animated delivery and expressive face, Lawson made it to the final rounds on the 2017 season of NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.” He was popular enough to be invited back in 2019 to appear on both “America’s Got Talent: The Champions” and “Britain’s Got Talent: The Champions,” where he made it to the finale.

His strategy in the competition was not to hold anything back.

“Every single time, I did my best material,” he said. “Even with ‘Champions,’ I just tried out my best material. I didn’t want to take that chance (of saving something for the later rounds). I wasn’t that confident.”

Lawson’s show at Eastwood Field is billed as family friendly and suitable for all ages, but even Lawson had to make a couple of changes in his act to satisfy NBC censors.

“I couldn’t say ‘crackhead’ on NBC. You have to say ‘drug addict,'” he said.

That national and international exposure helped him land better-paying gigs, and he’s joked in his act that he has to remind himself he has money now. He celebrated that success by buying all the candy his mother said he couldn’t have growing up and buying his family “vehicles.”

“That sounds more baller than it was. I got one brother an ATV. Another brother got a scooter. I got my girl a motorcycle and got me a motorcycle.”

Lawson, 30, grew up watching comedians like Jamie Foxx, Jim Carrey, Eddie Murphy, Brian Regan, Kevin Hart and Dane Cook. He started out doing standup as a stepping stone to getting on television like his childhood favorite, “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” star and future film star Will Smith.

“The only reason I started doing standup was to be on a sitcom,” Lawson said. “Then I got on stage and, no, I want to be on stage.”

His success on “AGT” has led to other television jobs — the NBC series “Connecting” that was shot during the pandemic, hosting the Facebook Watch series “World’s Most Amazing Dogs” and appearing as a judge on the Nickelodeon series “Unleashed” — but it hasn’t swayed that opinion.

“Standup’s still better, standup’s still the best,” he said. “I’m a comedian.”

Since it’s dominated everyone’s lives in the last year, the COVID-19 pandemic is unavoidable as a comedic topic in next week’s performance, but Lawson said it’s a small part of his act. Every comedian has a COVID bit now, so it’s starting to feel “hacky.” And, like his approach to most topics, Lawson avoids the politics around the virus and focuses on the humor in his personal experiences.

His first standup comedy special, “Get to Know Me,” debuted on BET+. A second special, which is in the works but hasn’t been sold to a distributor yet, will show his evolution as a comedian.

“I just know I’m different. I grew up. My first special was just funny. My second special, I’m still funny but it’s way more personal. The last was ‘Get to Know Me,’ and you get a generalized idea. With the second special, you’ll know who I am.”

If you go …

WHO: Preacher Lawson

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. May 13

WHERE: Eastwood Field, 111 Eastwood Mall Blvd., Niles

HOW MUCH: $50 for VIP on-the-field table seating and $30 for general admission.

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