I was in a car four years ago with my momma and oldest daughter the first time I heard Darren Knight as “Darlene”, AKA The Southern Momma. Three generations of females, all in one vehicle, arguing over the selection of music, what to have for lunch, and how long it would be before we arrived at our destination. My daughter, Hannah, told me I sounded like The Southern Momma. I had no clue as to what she was talking about– but I fell down the rabbit hole of Darren Knight’s “Southern Momma” YouTube videos. I immediately related. If I hadn’t uttered the same words, then my own mother had, or I’d heard something similar from one of my five kids. From saying, “Cut them eyes at me one more time,” (which I truly believe every mother has uttered) to his hilarious video parodies, the Alabama native turned YouTube comedy sensation has brought so many people from all walks of life together with his character, “Darlene”. I had the amazing privilege of getting to speak to Darren in an interview prior to his upcoming shows on June 7th and 8th at the Hargray Capitol Theatre. From the start of our conversation, I quickly understood that even with his success, Darren was still a regular person. I actually caught him mid-order in the drive-thru at McDonald’s– he made time to speak with me after ordering his fish sandwich. He was quick to tell me that they had him when it came to a fish fillet.
AD- Darren, tell me how your Southern Momma character Darlene came about– how was she born?
DK- Well, I mean, I guess I was kinda like everyone else. I had been on Facebook scrolling through videos, and I saw so many people stepping outside of their element, and I thought to myself, “Man I have got material for DAYS!” I’ve always been a cut-up, and so I was just goofing off and did it– and posted it. I got a good response, so I did another one and it just really snowballed from there. My momma was like, “You need to take those down,” because you know, we live in a small town, and people were gonna think we were crazy. It sky-rocketed rather quickly– and after that, she changed her tone. She was like. “ You gotta make more of those!” (Laughs)
I was going to ask what your mom thinks of your videos now?
Oh, she loves it! She gets a real kick out of them and was happy to know that others could relate to some of our upbringing. She’s a big fan of them now and loves the recognition. Everywhere she goes she says, “ My son is so-and-so!” (laughing). Yeah, she name-drops.
I would too! And she’s right. I think almost everyone can relate to that character– and if they don’t then they know someone who does. So what challenges, if any, did you experience in the process of taking your character from video to live stage show?
It was different… I had never done anything like it. I had probably tried stand-up comedy about eight months before. You know, God has a plan for everybody, and it was just so wild how this all started because the videos and the whole stand up thing really started simultaneously. It started off as goofing off on video and not thinking nothing of ‘em. We went kayaking one day– I LOVE to kayak– we got off the water and we were starving to death, and the first place we went to was closed because they were hosting a wedding. So we went to another place called the Peerless Saloon, it’s the oldest brothel in the state of Alabama… We grabbed us a sandwich and the place was packed, so I asked what was going on in there and they said it was Peerless Poetry After Dark. What that is, is every second Sunday this bar turns into an open mic night for poets, songwriters, and even comedians. It’s really cool. I had been talking to the bartender and he said he would give me a five-minute spot if I thought I could do it. So I did it. I got up and told a story about my grandmother giving us all a whoopin’ one time and it just went over. It was great. Five minutes turned into ten minutes and ten turned into fifteen… I actually went 15 minutes for my first ever set. Once that happened, I met new comedians and I teamed up with them in Birmingham and did a show once a month for six months at a club called the Smoking Moose– it’s a big club here in Anniston [AL]– and that was it! That was all the experience I had. I probably had eight or nine shows under my belt before I ever hit the road. This was a really good question, no one has ever asked me this in all of the radio interviews and tv and magazine interviews I have done! No one has asked me how many challenges I faced– and it was challenging. It was scary. I asked my producer if I got up and froze– because, you know, I didn’t really know how this worked– but if I freeze, can we give these people their money back? I was so scared. The first show I ever did was in Summerville, GA, and it was a sold-out crowd at a fire capacity of 250. And I will tell you this, I don’t want to get anyone in trouble, but I’m pretty sure we went over fire code (laughing)! But that’s ok because I understand that the Chief of the Fire Department was in there too!
Do you consider your Southern Momma Character to be an alter ego rather than a comedic bit? And do you ever find yourself lapsing into “Darlene” without meaning to or thinking about it?
Yeah, that’s a good question… I think both…. You know, I don’t do Southern Momma on stage– and I think a lot of people, they are taken aback by that and a little surprised. But like I tell the audience before I get started, “Listen, guys, I am SO grateful that you watch my videos, but if I yelled at a bunch of imaginary invisible kids for 45-50 minutes, it’d get a little redundant!” I touch on things we can all relate to, so the transition from the videos to the on-stage presence is… Well, you know, I don’t really know how to answer that one…. I am just lucky, but I guess it’s more of a blessing. I’m gonna tell you that the first time I ever went out on the road, I had to come up with a set. I had to make it. I came up with it in five minutes, and I ran that set for the first eight months of our touring, and that made us successful. Fine-tuning that set was really fun and wild since I had only been doing videos. So “Darlene” is a character, but she is more of someone that raised me, in all senses of the word. I relate to her– and I AM her sometimes! I mean, I’m single, I don’t have any children… I would love to have children someday. I’m 33 and have time, so when I’m not working my nephews will come over– I say they’re boys but the youngest is 18. I’ve been with them and had them all through their teenage years, and I’m cool Mr. Uncle or whatever. They come over– and they’re all taller than me– but I have to snatch them up by their collars and get on to ‘em, so I have had to say a lot of things that make “Darlene” come out!”
Is Patsy, your video BFF, a real person?
Every mom, EVERY southern woman has a best friend– that’s Patsy. They might be a little bit wilder than they are, so Patsy is the one that usually gets Momma in trouble. But everyone has that Patsy that they confide in, that person they can go to. I mean my momma had three or four “Patsys” while I was growing up and still does. She is a fictional character, but she is definitely based off of multiple entities and people. It takes friends and family.
Where do you think you would be today if Southern Momma or if social media didn’t exist?
Well, I don’t know. I’m a people person. I’m 33-years-old, but I have been working since I was 12, and I have done just about every job that there is out there. I’ve worked, I have farmed, I have moved furniture, I have sold cars, bartended, I have served, I have shoveled horse sh*t for 2 years… I mean, I have done it all. I mean, I think I would be doing something for 3 or 4 years and then finding something else to do. What I am doing now is something that I would like to be doing as long as the Lord lets me, but I’m gonna tell you something, I’m down for whatever… Sh*t, girl, I’d probably still be chasing shoplifters! There’s no telling…
Do you ever feel as if you’re looked at or treated differently from other comedians because you’re a Southern Male portraying a woman?
Yes. YES, 100%. In different ways, you know, mainstream Hollywood comedians don’t like us. At all. We’re selling out these shows, and I say “we” because there are several other people out there that have gotten famous from social media. The difference in doing something like that on social media and then getting on stage is huge! Not everyone can do that transition. Some can and the ones that can, I know that they can relate to what I am about to say, Hollywood don’t like us. I’ve had interviews with Hollywood, and I’ll tell you something– you will be the first interview to hear this, we’ve had interviews with MAJOR companies and partners in Hollywood, California, and Nashville, and even Atlanta… The first words out of their mouth is “Well, is he a MAGA.” I didn’t even know what that was. The first words they ask are “Is he a Trump supporter?” Now, I ask you what-in-the-hell that has to do with the interview from a comedian? I can tell you one thing, we have a crooked-ass world, and we are treated differently. I go unidentified. I don’t care if your Democrat, Republican… I am an American with values. I believe Americans should be whatever they want to be. If you work hard, you should be able to benefit from that. Politically? What does that have to do with MY job?? I don’t bring that up in my show. I salute our troops but try and stay as unbiased as I can. It was even a bit of a transition. The response from the locals here has been outstanding. They look up to me, and I carry heavy weight now in my family– and I don’t ever want to embarrass them, our town, our state. So we have a lot of weight on our shoulders. With that comes jealousy, unfortunately. Some people have given me the stank-eye when I’m in the Wal-Mart buying milk because they see this single guy with long hair acting like a woman on Facebook, and he’s making more money than most people in our humbled financial state will ever make– and in a relatively short amount of time. I don’t want people to think that came easy, because I had to work hard. Outside of that, the response has been outstanding. It has been a blessing. If I died tomorrow, I wouldn’t take a minute of it back.
That’s so good to hear! I do want to say that I am so sorry that there are people like that out there that are full of negativity and hate
That’s ok, Ashley. It’s like any job out there. You’re gonna have a–holes anywhere you go. You know damn well you’ve got an a–hole you work with! Now, you may not wanna say their name, but you know there’s some b–ch in an office that’s judging you. Everyone’s got an a–hole to deal with. And a–holes keep the world running too– they keep judges and police working! It takes us all, baby! Like that saying, “Family and friends are like fudge, mostly sweet with a few nuts.”
Darren, what do you do when you finally get home and get to relax after touring?
I’m not a party animal, but I love having get-togethers! I have big get-togethers three or four times a year, and I just love doing that. I bought this big home and like I said earlier, I am single, I don’t have any kids… I felt like the purchase of this house should be to someone that had a big family, so when I am home, I entertain a lot. I host weddings, I have friends over, we have Sunday dinners every Sunday when I’m home. I come from a BIG family, and since I don’t have a family of my own, I didn’t let that stop me from bringing everybody together. A few years ago, I was very sick and almost died– and I’m not trying to be dramatic, but it woke me up. We all have times in our lives where we need a wake-up call, and I really got one, buddy. Since then, I just like to get everyone together and entertain. I like to kayak a lot. Cheaha Creek runs through my property, so I decided to start a kayaking business this year. We will have people over to put in [their kayaks] at the house. I don’t spend a moment alone. I mean, if I am ever home alone, I pick up the phone and call someone I haven’t talked to in a while and get them to come over! I like to fish and hunt, but I LOVE to entertain! I think if I died and went to hell, it would be something like a dark room all by myself, hun.
What can your fans look forward to in the future?
I’m working on new material. We are going forward with a fall tour, booking dates for it. We just added on Cledus T. Judd, so me and him will be collaborating on some music pretty soon (laughter)! CMT has picked that up, so we are excited about it. Also, there’s some pretty big talk right now about lining up an animation series pretty soon. I am super excited about that and working with the writers. Outside of comedy, I am opening up Sunnyside Day-cation– that’s the name of my home. It will be opening up in May. I’ll have kayak rentals, and I will be putting in a petting zoo at the farm and other activities so it will be a real day-cation! Momma (Darlene) herself will be floatin’ with groups of ten or more that want to sign up for that, and we will have lunch and all kinds of stuff! It’s gonna be a lot of fun! I’m also gonna try to build a studio here, so I have all kinds of exciting things coming up!