Comedian Moses Storm was 16 when he first learned to read and write.

“I have maybe the equivalent of a second-grade education,” he said. For much of his childhood, he lived on a bus with his single mother and five siblings, not knowing where he would wake up the next day.

During those tumultuous years, 32-year-old Moses became obsessed with making people laugh. Whenever his family had access to a television, he would watch Late Night with Conan O’Brien. The comedy was a distraction from the fact that he often didn’t have enough to eat and his father was away.

Storm’s life has come a long way since then. He has acted in a long list of movies and shows, including “This is Us” and “Arrested Development.” Most recently, he made his debut in his own HBO Max comedy special, “Trash White,” produced by his childhood icon, Conan O’Brien.

Yet his special is largely about the persistence of the past, and especially of poverty.

CNBC recently spoke with Moses about how comedy has evolved from a diversion from his painful experiences to how he now chooses to talk about them.

(This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.)

Annie Nova: How did you gain the confidence to try to succeed as an actor?

Moses Storm: There was nothing I walked away from. There was no education; there was no relative to please. But I knew it was something I loved and it could probably make me more money than a minimum wage job.

AN: Financial stress was a constant throughout your childhood. What’s it like to worry less about money as an adult?

MRS: You never feel like you are out of poverty. The idea that you might end up there, that you can never get enough, that it might all go away – those feelings don’t change.

AN: One fear that you say is difficult to eradicate concerns place and home. You never stayed in one place for long when you were a kid. How does this fact continue to affect you?

MRS: I unconsciously chose a life where I am always on the go. I don’t know how else to live. I’m starting to get real restless if I’m not always moving.

AN: Why do you think that is?

MRS: There is a sense of impermanence that comes at an early age from not knowing where we are going to be. How long are we going to stay at this campsite before we are evicted? And so now, if I move, I feel like I’m one step ahead of everything. I can’t be expelled.

AN: Do you think you could have written this special if you were still living in poverty?

MRS: If I lived it actively, I wouldn’t have enough distance to convey it as entertainment for people. And if you say you want the very privileged job of being a comedian, you need your audience to have some perspective. We don’t just share our lives. People put on Netflix, they put on HBO, to be entertained and forget about their problems. And so I have to take these things that I’ve been through, process them, and then deliver them in a humorous way. This is where the art form comes in.

AN: You seem to have so much perspective on your experiences. Have you been in therapy?

MRS: In an effort to connect with an audience, you need to have empathy for everyone in that room. You have to ask yourself: Where is everyone from? I can’t just get up there and vent my anger; it is of no interest to anyone. They come with their own anger and their own life. So what is universal between us? What’s the one thing we can all connect to? It was finding those touchpoints that made me less angry. It wasn’t therapy. It was just coming to these shared human experiences.

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AN: In your comedy special, you talk about how your mom shoplifted a lot. Once she was caught stealing vitamins. I found this detail surprising. Why vitamins?

MRS: The stories of her getting kicked out of a Winn-Dixie supermarket and the cops arriving are less funny. I don’t think there’s a subject in comedy that’s banned because it’s too sad. But you better have a joke to get that audience out of the disappointing fact that you just delivered because everyone walks into that room, the thousands of people that night, with their own trauma and their own fears. I chose vitamins because it was the funniest thing she ever stole.

AN: What is difficult about presenting a comedy special about poverty?

MRS: If you say, “I’m going to do a hilarious comedy special about economic and generational poverty in this country,” people say, “Boooo.” But what you can do is make people laugh. And in between those times they laugh, what you really do is open them up. It’s kind of a magic trick since they’re vulnerable. Then you can swipe those details.

AN: You say you have a problem with the way we talk about poverty. In your special, you express your frustration with the term “food insecurity”. You say, “I need carbs and no confidence.” Why does this wording bother you?

MRS: We have reduced human beings to these statistics and these therapeutic terms, and it absolves us of any responsibility or guilt for not going into our wallet and personally giving $5 to this poor person. We can say: “Poverty: it must be tackled through social programs!” We have to vote in November! We want those patches that don’t take anything from us.

AN: You insist that your story is very lucky and that we put too much emphasis on ‘rags-to-riches’ stories. Why do you think we romanticize these intrigues?

MRS: It’s awkward to help people. It’s uncomfortable. If we give money, and if we don’t have enough ourselves? If we let this poor person into our neighborhood, are we inviting danger into our lives? What if they are mentally ill? And so rags-to-riches stories comfort us because we don’t do anything in that story. We are watching someone else work. We are watching someone else help themselves.

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