LOS ANGELES — Zach Fairless is living his dream — in a very chill, very funny way.
The Yucca Valley High School graduate is now a professional comedian and improv coach working in Los Angeles, and will return to the Morongo Basin for the Joshua Tree comedy festival Nov. 9-11.
“This has been my dream since I was 6 years old, since I saw ‘Wayne’s World’ and ‘Ace Ventura,’ and I said that’s what I want to do,” Fairless said in a phone interview this week.
Fairless has been making video shorts for “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” for the past four years. He also works on commercials and posts content for sites like Funny or Die and College Humor.
He’ll be performing in Joshua Tree in The Very Nick and Zach Show, a sketch team he formed with fellow LA comedian Nick Luciano. Together they won the Upright Citizens Brigade Sketch Showdown competition over a four-month stretch and won a Cage Match improv contest.
“This will be our third time doing the Joshua Tree comedy festival,” Fairless said.
He and Luciano perform sketches about two friends who bicker and reevaluate their friendship, but ultimately come together to reaffirm they care.
In a short filmed at the former Kitchen of the Desert restaurant in Twentynine Palms, they argue when Luciano wants the server to take a photo and Zach balks. To the server’s dismay, they start bringing up old beefs.
“I don’t like it when you text me ‘what u up to tonight,’” Luciano says. “Why don’t you just make a plan to hang out with me? We’ve been friends for six years, just make a plan with me.”
“Great, let’s not be friends anymore,” Fairless decides.
Then you see in his eyes he’s gone too far. He slides his phone over to the server and asks her to take their photo.
“We do a lot of argumentative sketches … and at the end of it there’s peace and there’s a good lesson to be learned from it and we’re on the same side,” Fairless said.
Playing two customers chatting at another table in the Twentynine Palms short are Fairless’ mom, Debra Hale, and her friend Teri Markley, who both live in Yucca Valley. Fairless said his mom has always been there for him.
“The support from her is just unconditional and it’s so nice.”
Fairless and his family moved from Salinas to Yucca Valley in 2000 when he was 10. He went to Onaga Elementary, La Contenta Middle School and then Yucca Valley High School. He was always interested in comedy.
“I got like class clown in the yearbooks for the senior superlatives in 2008. That was always my thing,” he said. “I was in love with comedy movies and films.”
When he graduated, he was “peer pressured” to go to Copper Mountain College. After a half a semester, he dropped out and moved to Los Angeles in February 2010. “Then I just started that grind not really knowing what to do, just knowing I wanted to pursue my art.”
He was living in Los Angeles on the weekends and working for Hi-Desert Air in Yucca Valley during the week until he got a job at Best Buy and made enough money to stay in LA full-time. He began drilling down on learning the skills of a great improv actor.
“I was performing improv every night of the week with practice groups and we would have shows once a month or so,” he said. “It was a big grind of taking classes and doing practice sessions in people’s living rooms, where there’s like five actors and an improv coach.”
Especially in long-form improv, the more complicated and multi-scene form that Fairless was learning, actors have to become skilled at careful listening and conveying a character’s philosophy and background in a few choice words.
“A lot of what we were working on was finding the game, the fun thing, the shiny object that you can jump on board and keep playing,” he said.
“It’s so hard. When you’re learning it, it’s so stressful, it’s hard to have fun.”
Now he’s come full circle and coaches improv teams. “That’s really fun.”