For the past five years, mixed martial artist Don Walton has been cracking jokes to relax himself and those around him between punches to the face. It helps keep his adrenaline (slightly) under control, and it generally entertains his coaches, training partners and anyone within earshot. Just under a year ago, “The Soldier’s Son” was in the locker room for a local card when he saw an all-too-common scene for those who’ve been around the amateur fighting circuit: a scheduled fighter who suddenly doubted his decision to step into the cage with an opponent who’d be trying to render him unconscious.
“There was this kid who was refusing to fight, so I decided to make fun of him,” Walton recalls. “Everyone else was trying to inspire him, and I just started to shame him with some really hilarious things. The whole locker room was laughing, and a guy said to me ‘Have you ever thought about doing comedy?’ As a joke, I go ‘Hell yeah, why not?’ and he introduced me to a professional comedian.”
Two weeks later, the martial artist’s comedy career was off to an unexpected start when that comedian called a surprised Walton to fill a 10-minute spot at the Irvine Improv. At the time, the fighter wasn’t even aware that he was about to debut at a relatively large and respected comedy club, and he certainly didn’t understand how many painful open mic auditions he’d just surpassed by cracking jokes in the right place at the right time.
Considering the time and effort he’s put into his martial arts career, Walton was shocked when he left the stage to a big hug from the club promoter, who effectively congratulated him “for not sucking.” After all, for someone who’s used to engaging in hand-to-hand combat in front of a substantially larger audience, standing on a stage and putting slightly different spins on the same lines he’s been using for years seemed like an easy gig.
“With comedy, I just talk about my life because my life is the joke,” Walton says. “In the cage, it’s a different mental approach that you have to take a lot more seriously. I treat them both the same in the sense that I’m always looking to get better—because at each show I’m looking to get a little better and get more critiques from professional comedians who’ve been doing it for 20 years. They’re also similar in that [promoters] just want to know how many tickets you can sell and how much of the room you can fill. They’re both a lot of fun, but one is a lot of hard work for me.”
But unlike martial arts—where Walton has spent decades on becoming his personal best—comedy has seemingly fallen into the welterweight’s lap. Aside from always being a natural entertainer, moving from a small town in upstate New York to Orange County in pursuit of his fighting career has provided plenty of material for his routine. Combine that with the fact that there’s no shortage of crossovers between MMA and comedy these days, and Walton has suddenly found himself in a position to have his name on the proverbial marquee for the show on Wednesday, back where it all began for him at the Irvine Improv.
“I think there’s something entertaining for people about watching a fighter be funny,” Walton says. “On the tickets for [the Sept. 11] show, they put my fight photo. I tried to give them a professional photo like most comedians do, but they said ‘No, we want a fight photo.’ I thought that was odd, but then I realize that people want to see the different sides. I do a bit about being a fighter and the expectations people have of me, and by the end they realize that I’m just a regular schmuck who just enjoys getting into fistfights.”
Of course, his rise in comedy doesn’t mean Walton plans on giving up his martial arts career anytime soon. Along with his two passions, the young entertainer also finds time to teach muay thai classes, train private clients, work nights at a local bar, and occasionally spend time with his girlfriend. It might seem chaotic to some people—and it is—but with the help of an extremely full planner and relatively forgiving circle of support, Walton is able to live life on his terms and continue to do what he loves.
“It’s weird to still be fighting while doing comedy, because a lot of people have asked me ‘Does this mean you’re no longer fighting?’ and I go ‘Hell no!’” Walton says. “I still love fighting, but I also love doing comedy. Back home, people expect you to settle down and have kids and a white picket fence and all that, but I didn’t want that. My advice to people is always to stop having such high expectations and just let things happen sometimes.”
Don Walton is at the Irvine Improv with Tom McClain, Sarah Newell and Ian Salmon on Wednesday, Sept. 11 at 8 p.m. Tickets are available for free online.
Josh Chesler used to play baseball for some pretty cool teams, but now he just writes about awesome stuff like tattoos, music, MMA and sneakers. He enjoys injuring himself by skateboarding, training for fights, and playing musical instruments in his off time.