Comedian Orlando Baxter ’98 and Tim Harrington ’10, a member of the Boston-based duo Tall Heights, recently appeared on two separate airings of “Conan,” hosted by Conan O’Brien.
During his late-night debut on October 24, Baxter entertained the studio audience and viewers at home, where he joked about how a career as a comedian compared to his first career as an in-school suspension teacher.
Baxter is a Worcester native and has performed nationally and internationally since his career began in 2005. As a headliner for comedy clubs, college shows, and a performer during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Baxter desired to perform “late-night” but found connections to perform during this segment challenging due to its popularity. However, fellow comedian Whitney Cummings did have connections to the TBS show. According to the Telegram and Gazette (T&G), Cummings connected Baxter with “Conan” producer and booker for stand-up comedy JP Buck, to whom she submitted a video of Baxter performing. Buck enjoyed Baxter’s performance, and for about a year the two men went back and forth trying to develop a set that Buck felt reasonable to air as well as a slot that was to Baxter’s liking.
The set was finalized in June. However, a date for Baxter’s late-night television debut was not set in stone, since Baxter notes he was traveling in Europe during that time and recalled that Buck came to one of his performances. “I was about to go out to Europe. JP even came out to my show,” said Baxter in an interview with the T&G. “I have to be honest, it was a really great show, and he said ‘Yeah, we’re going to definitely get you in the show.’”
Scaling back from 45-minutes long, headlining shows to a set just shy of five minutes was a challenge for the comedian. According to the T&G, “I had to figure out how to do everything I want to do in that five minutes,” he said. “And then usually, when you’re in a comedy club, there are comedians on before you to warm you up, but here, you’re just on. So it’s like, ‘Hey! You better swim!’”
Baxter attributed his comedic start to letting go of the fear of performing on stage. “I was telling kids to follow their dreams and not let anything stop them,” recalled Baxter in an interview with the T&G. “I’d always wanted to try comedy. I’ve been funny all my life, but that fear of getting up on stage stopped me.”
After performing, Baxter had more opportunities open up for him. “I definitely fell in love with it,” said Baxter, “and have been passionate about it ever since. A few years ago, I decided to give it a full run, and it’s been good ever since.”
Although Baxter has achieved every comic’s dream by performing late night and is on the road most of the time, he still resides in Worcester and tries to incorporate local and regional shows into his tours. Some upcoming events and performances include Baxter as a host for the Comedy Carnival Fundraiser for the Rise Above Foundation on Nov. 19 at 7 p.m. at the Scandinavia Athletic Club in Shrewsbury, Mass. and a performance on Nov. 10 at the Davis Square Theater in Somerville, where he’ll be recording an album. For more events and updates on Orlando Baxter’s comedy tours, visit orlandobaxter.com.
Harrington ‘10 and Paul Wright, a 2007 graduate of Dartmouth College, appeared on Conan in September as part of the band Tall Heights to perform their hit single, “Spirit Cold,” off their major label album “Neptune.”
As Sturbridge, Mass. natives, Harrington and Wright began their musical career as daily, spontaneous performers in Faneuil Hall in Boston. Wright, who plays cello, and Harrington, who plays acoustic guitar, learned from this experience that the best way to keep the audience’s attention is by keeping a steady balance between original material and more familiar cover songs that may be requested.
“People like to hear their favorite songs,” recalled Harrington in a Holy Cross Magazine (HCM) interview, “but we tried to stay away from sing-alongs. It’s a short path from doing a sing-along to becoming a jukebox.”
Harrington and Wright share a special bond in that Harrington’s old brother Ryan ’07 is best friends with Wright. “Every time we’d go home for the summer during college,” said Harrington in a HCM interview, “it was like two vectors colliding. Paul was like a member of my family, and so it felt natural to play music together.”
Harrington, who majored in English with a concentration in creative writing while at the College, developed his love for music during Tuesday night 10-Spot performances. “The music scene at Holy Cross, I believe, was underrated,” he said in a HCM interview. “There were so many great musicians on campus. People who loved listening and were open-minded had a lot of options at Holy Cross.”
After two and half years of performing on the streets of Boston, the duo has headlined packed listening rooms in New England, performed at the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, and performed alongside national acts like Andrew Belle. In 2011, Tall Heights released their first album “Rafters” which sold 700 copies in one week, and which Harrington recorded in his bedroom. Harrington credits the College with the skills he developed in producing digital media through a course taught by Toby Mountain, lecturer and director of studios in the music department. In addition, the song “To Be Young” off their five-song live EP “The Running of the Bulls” was previously featured on the travel television program “CNN Go.”
Now, the duo have gone from the streets of Boston to live television, where “Spirit Cold” has generated over 7.5 million streams on Spotify, and the pair are on a national tour with stops in Los Angeles and Boston on Dec. 19, where they will perform at the Sinclair.
To view Baxter and Tall Heights performances, go here.