Exit Interview: Why comedian Michael Turner left Phoenix for LA
The Show series Exit Interview that takes a critical look at Phoenix and asks why so many influential people have decided to leave.
Phoenix is a bit of an enigma. On one hand, there is a lot of griping about this place where we all live — call it “Phoenix,” or “the Valley,” or the “Phoenix metro area.” It’s a mecca of sprawling suburbs, strip malls and chain restaurants. It’s too hot to survive in the summer and full of retirees in the winter. It’s devoid of original culture or art, and no one here supports the arts anyway. If you want to make something of yourself, you’d better get out of Phoenix. Oh, and did we mention the heat?
These are things you’ve probably heard someone say — or said yourself — about Phoenix. Sure, there’s some truth there. But we think Phoenix has an inferiority complex. It’s a beautiful place to live, it’s easy, it’s still pretty cheap, it’s full of culture and history and tradition — you just have to know where to look. And, most of all, Phoenix is full of potential.
Inferiority complex is right. That’s a phrase that longtime Phoenix writer — and now our Executive Producer here on The Show — Amy Silverman used more than 15 years ago, in an extensive piece for Phoenix New Times, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. As I’ve watched friend after friend after friend leave for greener pastures — bigger cities with more opportunities, more culture, more of a ‘scene.’
As I’ve felt the call to leave myself — to go to New York or L.A. or DC. To go to the big time. To get out of this place that never quite seems to live up to its potential.
The Show spoke to Silverman to help introduce Exit Interview and examine where the inferiority complex comes from.
Comedian Michael Turner
For Michael Turner, ending up in Phoenix was sort of a last resort, when he was 18 and looking to get out of his hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio.
He went to ASU and got a degree in communications, which he says he’s using today in a roundabout way as a standup comedian. It’s a career he sort of stumbled into after, of all things, his best friend’s death in the Iraq war.
As an up-and-coming comic in Phoenix at the time, Turner said it was a great city to be in: big enough to have some good clubs to play but small enough to let an unknown kid cut his chops.
He got better fast — playing bigger stages and earning a pretty decent following. He even started producing his own shows. One of them — a so-called “fake news comedy show” called This Week Sucks Tonight that he produced with fellow Phoenix comedian Anwar Newton — became a runaway hit.
The success of This Week Sucks Tonight kicked his career into overdrive. He and Newton started taking the show around the country, where sold-out crowds in New York and L.A. cheered them on, and the national comedy world took notice. But here in Phoenix, he said, things stalled.
Phoenix, he says, did not show up for them the way other towns did. They hit a ceiling here — and a pretty low one, at that.
“Why are you doing this in Phoenix?” is a question he got used to hearing. So much so that finally he left.
That’s right. Like everyone else we’ll talk to in this series, Michael Turner gave up on Phoenix, where he had invested years trying to build a comedy scene. Now he lives in Los Angeles, where he’s seeing even greater success.
His thesis on the Valley of the Sun is simple: Phoenix doesn’t deserve nice things — nice things he says he tried his hardest to create here.