Javier Sanchez is ready to ‘share the shine’

The Columbus-born spoken word performer, who visits Lincoln Theatre for a show tonight (Friday, Oct. 27), continues to untangle his own past while working to inspire others.
Javier Sanchez
Javier SanchezCourtesy the artist

As Javier Sanchez started to make a name for himself in stand-up comedy, touring globally and performing to increasingly packed houses, he began to revisit a system he developed for himself years early as a means of self-analysis. 

In a late-October interview, Sanchez described this system as a pie chart, of sorts, which consisted of three questions designed to home in on an artist’s ever-shifting motivations: Are you doing this to inspire? Are you doing this to entertain? Are you doing this for money?

“And that pie can shift, and sometimes it's 80 percent inspire, 10 percent entertain, 10 percent money, where other times it's 95 percent income. But when I got into comedy, it was for the love, and as I started to get some heat and I was touring around the world, my pie chart shifted to where it became mostly about income and not inspiring or entertaining. And I hated it,” said Sanchez, who brings his new spoken word show, dubbed “The Gift Exchange,” to the Lincoln Theatre Ballroom tonight (Friday, Oct. 27). “And that’s when I fell out of love with comedy, because it became about the business.”

Growing up in the Hilltop and King-Lincoln in the 1980s, Sanchez first gravitated toward comedy after becoming enamored with a cassette tape of the Bill Cosby special Bill Cosby: Himself, which he memorized and would perform on demand for his parents and their friends. But as he drifted from stand-up, Sanchez said he leaned into the storytelling aspect present in Cosby’s best material, beginning to unpack the traumas he experienced growing up in a rougher neighborhood at the height of the crack cocaine epidemic.

In a TEDx Talk recorded nearly a decade ago, Sanchez recalled dealing drugs as a younger man – not out of a need for the money but because he could – unpacking the sense of shame he felt as he gained some distance from those years, and the damaging and far-reaching consequences the small role he played could have had in helping to fuel other's pain.

“A lot of lives were damaged, and a lot of people were hurt,” Sanchez said. “I still don’t know the full impact of the things that I was doing, the things that I was involved in. The challenge for me is that I got through it, not unscathed, but I’m well. And now in some ways I’m prospering off of the things I put people through, or because of the damage I may have caused to other people and other lives and other families in selling drugs. And I think about that often, like, dang, I get to live this life, and it’s to some degree at the expense of others.

“I can't undo my past. I can't go back. But I can, in moving forward, do more good than harm. And I have to remind myself every day that my past does not disqualify me from my future. Who you were yesterday does not have to be who you are today or tomorrow. Every day, you have a choice.”

Sanchez said he has worked through these lingering guilts in therapy, but the act of learning how to forgive himself for those more turbulent years remains an ongoing process, and one he has returned to both onstage and off.

Describing his early teenage years as intensely troubled – he got shot when he was 15 years old and experienced regular run-ins with the police – Sanchez said a turning point arrived when he got plugged into the service organization Youth to Youth.

“And that completely changed my trajectory,” he said. “Even though my life was far from perfect, and I still bumped my head from time to time, that program poured into me and served me. I wouldn’t be here doing what I’m doing if it wasn’t for Youth to Youth. And now I’m compelled to give back, to serve. It’s my duty, an obligation, because I’ve been given so much.”

Since shifting toward spoken word, Sanchez has continued to delve into his own story, with each show and each passing year allowing him to peel back more layers, working to excavate those issues that long lingered beneath the surface. “I’m still learning, and there are still parts of my story I haven’t shared,” he said. “Each time you’re just going deeper into the well, and the deeper you go the more water you find. … It’s reaching to places and spaces where I can share more of my vulnerabilities.”

Part of this evolution has also involved an increased desire to open up the stage to others, with Sanchez incorporating audience participation as a means to get people to consider the weight of their own stories.

“When I was young and performing, it was all about me. A lot of creatives, we can be needy – I call us needy by nature – and part of performing is because you crave the attention,” said Sanchez, who started to reconsider this idea six or seven years ago as social media rose to greater prominence and he found himself chasing likes and carving out a digital presence that felt both inauthentic and disconnected from reality. “And now, I just think I’ve reached a space where the attention isn’t as fulfilling. I know what it feels like to have that shine and that spotlight on me, and it can feel good. If I can give other people a chance to have that same experience, that’s what I want. Let’s share this. Let’s share the shine.”

Related Stories

No stories found.
Matter News