Comedian A.J. Wilkerson is driving on a highway heading north in his live-in van that he nicknamed "Bindi" (after Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin's daughter) for yet another gig.
This time, it's a show in Atlanta. But he will turn right around and head back to Gainesville for what he is dubbing his "Farewell, Gainesville" show. It starts at 8 p.m. Thursday night at the Heartwood Soundstage.
Wilkerson is Gainesville-built and feels he owes a thank you to the fans who have supported him on his comedy journey. The 32-year-old Bronson native and Army Veteran, said he discovered the art in 2019 as a way to express himself.
After attending Keg-O-Laughs comedy writing workshops and learning from comedy pro and manager Bob Smith, he says he is ready and lucky.
Wilkerson performed locally at World of Beer, and Keg O Laughs and other stages in Gainesville, then entered a virtual stand-up comedy contest based in Portland, Oregon—and won the title. Part of the prize was opening for comic Jason Mewes at an event in December at the Comedy Club in Kansas City.
When he came off the stage, Mewes approached him and raved about Wilkerson's performance and that turned into an invitation to go on the road for a year as part of Mewes' show.
Mewes is an actor, comedian, film producer, and podcaster who is best known for playing Jay, the vocal half of the duo Jay and Silent Bob, in his longtime friend Kevin Smith's films.
Mewes has created a following of his movies, comedy tours and podcasts that Wilkerson said he wants to learn about doing for his brand. Mewes has more than a million followers on Facebook where he promotes upcoming events, previews movie trailers and sells merchandise.
"It's basically a paid internship in comedy," Wilkerson said. "I'll go on the road, meet show owners, and be establishing myself."'
Wilkerson said his flights and accommodations are covered and he will be performing a half-hour-long show five times a week starting in Portland, Oregon, on Feb. 4.
"Portland is exciting," Wilkerson says. "I'm looking forward to performing in the city where I won a contest," he said about taking first place in the virtual competition.
A big part of Wilkerson's act involves jokes around his autism, which he was diagnosed with in April 2019. His doctor suggested he find a creative expression outlet and that is how Wilkerson discovered the comedy writing workshops. He eventually took his act live in May 2019.
"I'm not a regular person," Wilkerson says. "Autistic people need to find a focus."
At first, Wilkerson said he was terrified to perform, and he says he still gets anxiety.
"But once I started, I realized that comedy is not like having conversations, especially with strangers," he says. "I'm always mapping out the conversation and losing track. With stand-up there are only a few responses, so I am in control of the conversations."
Once he figured out a rhythm, Wilkerson said he was able to build a strong set. "When I started building an act I was trying to figure out my voice. Then I figured out longer sets, and once I started talking about autism, I have opened up this whole new avenue," he said.
Wilkerson said that before the pandemic hit, he got booked on a tour in 2020, but it got canceled. That's when he converted his 1987 GMC Safari van into a traveling home and hit the road.
"I kept getting better," he says about spending time on stage and paying attention to audience reaction as he honed his skills.
Then came the opportunity to compete in the virtual Portland Comedy Festival, and the rest is history.
Wilkerson said he turns to Smith as the main reason he is excelling and encourages anyone interested in comedy to attend those writing workshops held every Sunday at Keg O Laughs.
"I went for a year every Sunday," he says.
Right now, Wilkerson calls himself a standup comedian since he is going on the road and it is now his full-time job.
He is looking forward to his show on Thursday, which is a pay-as-you-can event.
"There will be a bunch of comedian friends, there," he said. "And it will be a big send off."
To keep track of where Wilkerson will be performing, including an upcoming show in Orlando with Jason Mewes, check the schedule here.
Follow Wilkerson on Instagram.