Jason Harris, or Big J as most people know him, is truly a local celebrity. Star of radio, TV, the big screen and comedy, he even wrote a monthly column.
But more astonishing than his resume is that he did it all without leaving his home in Billings, a fact that surprised even him.
“It’s all awesomely accidental,” he said.
Harris thought he knew what he wanted to do after high school: move to Chicago or New York and do comedy and hopefully make it on “Saturday Night Live.” But his dream was put on hold, as commonly happens.
He wound up as a DJ at local clubs Desperados and Dr. Feelgood’s. One of his co-workers worked at a local radio station and Harris would visit the radio station form time to time to promote his club nights. He developed an interest in working at the station and eventually landed a part-time gig. Harris began to climb the ladder at the station and finally got an interesting question from his boss.
“One of our managers asked me if I would be interested in possibly doing a show,” said Harris. “It wasn’t even an offer. It was more like, ‘Would you even consider it?’ So that night I went home and made a show proposal and made my own logo. The next day I went up to them and said, ‘Here is what I want to do. If you guys are looking here is The Big J Show, this is what I want it to be like.’”
That was the beginning of a Billings institution. Harris soon realized that he wanted to be in entertainment in whatever form it came his way, eventually landing a part in the local horror camp flick “Way Darker Than You Think” and the former local afternoon talk show “The Billings Way.” He was even a columnist for Grindstone Magazine.
“I really hate writing,” he said. “People ask me why don’t I do stand-up. I really love watching stand-up and I like the idea of stand-up, but sitting down to write my stuff is just not my pace.”
He added, “Ken Crawford approached me about [writing for Grindstone Magazine] and I didn’t know at first. I don’t know anything about writing, and since I don’t like it I’m not confident about it, but I just did it and people seemed to like it, and if people didn’t like it, well, I wasn’t that impressed either.”
No stranger to Billings institutions, Harris was a founding member of Projectile Comedy, which was started before “The Big J Show” and is still running every Thursday at The Carlin. And though he was the motivating force behind the group’s formation, Harris is quick to point out that it was and is a total group effort.
“Kind of like ‘The Big J Show,’ I came up with the name and the logo,” he said. “That’s always my first step, which is not a good business strategy, I don’t think, [chuckles] and took it to the guys. But definitely all the planning and ground work was done by a big group of us.”
Of all the things Harris is proud of, top of the list is his new baby girl, Peyton.
“It blows my mind,” Harris said with a large grin. “Like I was saying with my writing for Grindstone, I put it out there and hoped people liked it, but I look at Peyton and she’s perfect.”
There is no greater honor (or perhaps lack thereof) for a celebrity then a roast. Harris will take the throne in a charity event for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Yellowstone County, “The Roast of Big J.” Billings will feature comedy stand-up superstar Lukas Seely as roast master. The all-star cast will feature Harris’ sidekick Justin “Mclovin” Hutchinson, local weatherman Ed McIntosh, local anchor and reporter Nikki Laurenzo, rival DJ Micheal, and Harris’ mother, Sandy Harris.
The show starts at 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 10, at the Babcock Theater. Tickets are $16 in advance and $20 at the door. Advance tickets are available at Rimrock Mall and Ernie November or at 1111presents.com and montanacomedy.com. Limited seats are available so you better get your tickets now!
Also catch Harris hosting the biggest night of competitive poetry, the third annual Billings Grand Slam, at 7 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 12, at Venture Theater. Harris’ sister, Emily Harris, will be honored with The Rook’s Editors Choice Award for Poetry. The night will also feature a conversation between Tami Haaland and Dave Caserio.
The Grand Slam will be judged by local celebrities Corby Skinner of The Writer’s Voice, Jaci Webb of the Billings Gazette’s Enjoy, Ken Siebert of Yellowstone Public Radio, Norma Buchanan of Buchanan Capital Inc. and Katy Kemmick, a local guitar player and singer.
For rules and information, go to www.billingsgrandslam.montanaslam.com.
To see the hour-plus long interview with Jason “Big J” Harris, go to www.billings-music.com.