By Blake Maddux
Last April, comedian and radio host Brian Joyce moved from one of the most politically liberal areas of the United States, Boston, to one of the most conservative ones, Chattanooga, Tennessee.
“The county that we’re in is called Hamilton County, and it is generally regarded as one the most politically conservative and religiously conservative counties in the entire country,” the native Somervillian said. “This part of Tennessee, and north Alabama and north Georgia, has veered about as far to the right as any region in the United States.”
One might expect a person to experience a bit of culture shock in transitioning to such a deep blue territory to one that is so bright red.
However, this has not been an issue for Mr. Joyce.
“Being somebody who’s moved around to so many different places – I went to college in the south, I’ve lived in Europe, I’ve lived back home in Boston – so that’s not really something that crosses my mind,” he said. “But, I will say the longer I’ve been here, the more I do see a lot of the cultural, political, religious differences.”
Brian Joyce was born in Somerville, and grew up on Pearson Avenue near Ball Square. He fondly remembers some of his favorite places including Victor’s Deli – “they’ve been feeding me since I was a kid” – and The Paddock, which served what he describes as “some of the best pizza on earth” and which “looked the exact same way that it did in 1979 before it closed its doors last year.”
His mother, who taught at Somerville High School for more than thirty years, and older brother still live in the city.
Joyce first left Somerville when he was 18 to study at Davidson College in North Carolina. He attended the school on a half academic, half athletic scholarship. He majored in Classical Languages and played four years of NCAA baseball.
In fact, his lifelong commitment to baseball, which began with Babe Ruth Baseball and Little League in Somerville, almost culminated in a professional career in the sport.
“I had tryouts with the Cubs and with the Royals,” Joyce explained. “I was hoping to get drafted or signed. It didn’t happen after my senior year. At that point if you’re not drafted or signed, you can go and play in an independent league, which is something that was suggested to me, and I had a few of my friends who went and did that.”
Joyce continued, saying, “In retrospect I kind of regret not doing it because I would have liked to play professionally at some level just to say I did and just to see what would have happened.”
Although he never played in the pros, he did make quite a name for himself as a college athlete. In fact, he was once at a Davidson College game when the announcer read a trivia question to which he was the answer: “What Davidson player holds the record for most stolen bases in a game, a season, and a career?”
Despite whatever slight regrets he may have, he wanted to do other things after 10 years – including prep school at Belmont Hill School – of “hitting the books and hitting the field.” Among these things was to travel.
Therefore, he moved to Dublin, Ireland, where he has family, after graduating from college. He lived there for one year before returning to Somerville and later moving to South Boston.
In 2004, Joyce said, he “was working as an analyst on a credit derivatives desk, and I would just analyze spreadsheets all day long. It wasn’t very stimulating work.”
Therefore, he decided to go to an open mic night and try stand-up comedy for the first time.
That same year, however, he moved back to Ireland, this time staying for two years. In 2006, he returned to South Boston. While performing stand-up comedy professionally, he worked several odd jobs to supplement his income. These included substitute teaching in Somerville.
Three years after returning to Boston, Joyce decided to pursue work in radio. His first show was with fellow comic Derek Gerry at WMFO, the Tufts University station.
“We started a weekly talk show, and it was called The Whole Truth,” Joyce said. “We did that every Wednesday night from 2009 to 2012. We had lots of good guests on the show. We had Marc Maron before he even had his podcast. We had Janeane Garofalo, Paul Provenza, Rob Riggle, and guys from the Dropkick Murphys.”
A year of hosting this show lead to fill-in gigs at WTTK in 2010 and at WRKO (AM 680) in 2011.
“Around 2010-2011,” Joyce recalls, “I started sending out my tapes and résumés to different national job listings.”
Joyce now hosts “Live and Local,” which airs from 1-4 p.m. Monday through Friday on 102.3 FM in Chattanooga.
According to Joyce, “It’s a typical talk show in the sense that I cover politics, stuff in the news, pop culture. I’ll even branch out and cover a sports story or an entertainment story if it’s relevant. Basically whatever Americans are talking about that given day, that’s what I want to talk about on my show.”
Joyce is aware that his political views are much more “left-center” than those of his listeners.
However, he explains, “for this part of the country, you can be considered a flaming liberal just by admitting, ‘Obama, I think, is American’.”
Joyce is also very well aware that “If you go to the far most liberal pockets of the country, in many ways you’ll see a lot of the same insanity, where it’s, ‘[George W.] Bush is a war criminal and his family blew up the twin towers’.”
Despite the ideological divide between him and his average audience member, he proudly declares that “The typical feedback that I get from my listeners is, ‘I don’t really agree with much of what you say, but I really like your show.’”