Stand-up comedy is a parenting wisdom gold mine, but usually kids are the butt of the jokes, not the ones roasting their Van Halen-loving dads for “being into drag queens.” Saffron Herndon, a 10-year-old from Mesquite, TX, is breaking that mold (and the internet) by taking the piss out of her Van Halen-loving dad, fellow comedian Steve Herndon, among other subjects. She’s performed nearly 300 times since her open mic debut at age 8 and recently went viral thanks to an Imgur gallery of captioned photos from her act. Steve says when the craziness subsides he’ll write a parenting book called How To Raise An Asshole, but for now he’s willing to help you do the opposite.
Here’s what he had to say about identifying and cultivating your kid’s sense of humor, whether Saffron really writes her own material, and how to react when another 9-year-old comedienne moves to town and starts playing the same clubs as your daughter.
Spot The Signs Early
Saffron peed in a toilet at a prodigy-like 9 months, but then waited more than 6 months to do it again, just to screw with Steve. Then, once she was potty trained, he popped in to check on her one time and found her peering at him through the leg hole of a diaper-turned-space helmet while laughing hysterically. If your kid exhibits either of these behaviors, they might secretly be hilarious.
Nurture Their Abilities
Steve did stand-up for 13 years before Saffron was born, quit, then returned to comedy when she started excelling in acting classes. He found improv to be, “the perfect way to learn, once you’re old and bitter, to be a kid again and relate to your child.” Over 3 years, he took every improv class at the Dallas Comedy House (twice), always returning home to the perfect partner for improv games.
Saffron loved doing improv and wanted to join Steve at the classes, which weren’t exactly kid friendly. When he started doing stand up again she insisted on trying that, too. He knew the owner at a Dallas club that did a “clean” open mic night who said she was welcome if she could pull together 3 minutes of material. It took her 3 weeks and then an 8-year-old Saffron took the stage with all the confidence of a kid who doesn’t know they’re supposed to be scared.
Don’t Talk Down To Them
To raise a kid who relates to the non-kid world (aka, the real one), he suggests “not talking to [your] kid like it’s a damn kitten,” before launching into a high-pitched, googly-eyed routine. He never did, and now Saffron slays audiences on “adult” topics like religion and race so effectively, some adults question whether she should be discussing them at all. “People say, ‘She shouldn’t know those things, she’s only 10.’ Do your kids stay in the room when the news is on? They hear that. They know what’s going on,” he says.
Do Be Ridiculous With Them
There was never a time when Steve didn’t joke with his daughter, and he and his wife, Kenna, have made it a point to never be embarrassed by any of her antics. “If she had a good reason to get up on the table and dance with her shirt off, we didn’t stop her,” he says. “All kids are silly, she happened to have a silly dad so it worked out real well.”
Pay Attention To The Little, Weird Things
Steve believes hearing and speech issues that took years to correct had a big impact on Saffron’s relationship with the world. “She spoke her own language for a while. It was incoherent gibberish, but it helped give her independence at an early age.” She’s still independent, although Herndon is adamant that’s not the same as getting whatever she wants. “If we lived like that, she’d be 200 pounds — she likes ice cream,” he says.
“If she had a good reason to get up on the table and dance with her shirt off, we didn’t stop her.”
It’s OK To Help With Their Material
The authenticity of Saffron’s jokes is by far the thing Steve gets asked about most. He firmly asserts that they’re her’s; he provides feedback, but what comedian doesn’t get help refining their material? One of her most scrutinized lines centers on Kurt Cobain, the Nirvana frontman who died more than a decade before Saffron was born. It turns out she’s loved the band her whole life, thanks to an uncle who’s played Nirvana for her on guitar since she was a baby. Saffron and her dad were listening to Nirvana on a trip to a gig when she made the joke, exactly the way she’d end up performing it in her act. “I said, sweetheart, you realize you just wrote a perfect joke,” Herndon says.
Steve loves the fact that the one joke critics question the most is the one his daughter wrote with zero feedback from him, but he recently came to understand where those questions come from. “I’ve always thought, ‘Why is that everyone’s first question? That’s kind of rude. Why is it so hard to believe?’ Then I saw this 9-year-old girl who just moved here and landed at the Improv in Arlington and the first thing in my head was, ‘I wonder if she wrote that. I wonder if her dad wrote—.’ And then I thought, ‘Oh, shit.'”
Never Stop Listening To Them
It would be easy to try and cash in on the viral buzz around Saffron’s act, but Herndon insists that his daughter’s goals drive the process. After all, Lindsay Lohan was once a kiddie comedy sensation, and nobody wants to be Lindsay Lohan’s dad. “It’s kind of terrifying, the thought of profiting from your child in any way that isn’t a direct result of doing something that’s there to benefit her. It’s a constant struggle to check yourself and make sure her happiness is what this is all about and her goals are what we have in mind,” he says.
“I saw this 9-year-old girl who just moved here at the improv and my first thought was, ‘I wonder if she wrote that.’ And then I thought, ‘Oh, shit.'”
For now, Steve and Kenna hope their guidance will help Saffron make smart decisions in the future, and that she’ll be in a position to choose to pursue whatever brings her the most joy. In the meantime, he’ll just keep listening to his wisecracking daughter tell it like it is. “If there were any advice I’d give to a parent, it would be always, always, always listen to what they say. Even if they’re interrupting you for the fifteenth time to tell you a ‘deez nuts’ joke.”