I have a tendency to play two different types of characters: gay guys in jock straps and 65-year-old women on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Again, that's Randomly Naked Gay Man or Woman in Her Mid-60s on the Cusp of Realizing Her Entire Life is a Lie.
What can I say? I have a wheelhouse. Unfortunately, in the Chicago comedy community, there aren't a lot of roles for a six-foot-three dude who excels at lady characters. There are tons of roles for a guy willing to take his clothes off, but most of them are for Methed-Out Go-Go Boy at The Lucky Horseshoe.
When I was in third grade, my friend Joe and I wrote a parody of the Three Little Pigs. I decided to make the third pig female and name her Edwina, because even then I was fighting for female parity on stage (or I just really wanted to wear a wig and polka dot dress). We performed for all the second, third and fourth grade classes. It was my first lady character.
Edwina led to roles as Juliet, Princess Leia, Barbara Walters and Blanche Devereaux in videos my friends and I made throughout high school. Miraculously, I wasn't out then.
The first show I was ever asked to do in Chicago was Skinprov at the Annoyance, which was also one of the greatest/most naked shows I've ever done. After that, I got cast as a leather daddy elf in a ridiculously fun Christmas show, wearing a harness and a jock strap (fun fact: If you're wearing a jock strap on an elevated stage and start doing a kick line, it gives the audience a perfect angle to view your butthole. Hi mom!) After that came an understudy role in an Air Force One parody in which I played the First Cub, a leather cub in a jock strap that sat on a bomb.
On the lady side, I've played Goldie Hawn, had a breakout role as sad giantess Sheila Cankleton in the play A Woman's Path, shot a video about Wicked fans starring as a woman named Barbara Jo Blazer, and played countless older women in sketch shows.
My biggest role to date has probably been as Al in Steamwerkz: The Musical, a show that was one of the funnest experiences of my life and where I wore nothing but a towel.
So, again, older ladies and naked men.
When I get asked to do a show, it's usually to play a nudie role. When I create a show and role for myself, it's usually an older gal with pashminas and emotional problems. Someday, I'm sure, this disparity will make sense.
This doesn't make me particularly "marketable," I've found. I doubt anyone has ever thought "We need someone to play the president! How about that guy who either always naked or always in wedge heel sandals and floral blazers?" Needless to say, I know I'm not at the top of a lot of casting lists.
I've auditioned for several agencies recently, and they've politely passed on me. It's hard to translate my skill set, I suppose. I love playing ladies, but giant men playing post-menopausal bipolar widows doesn't sell Mazdas (yet).
What makes me different makes me difficult to fit into standard roles. I get that. And, really, I wouldn't trade all my jock strap costumes and devastated older gal roles for anything.
've gone back and forth in the past, wondering if I should shy away from these roles and make myself more cast-able by playing straight men (with clothes on). But, somehow, that just doesn't seem as fun. And that's why we do this, isn't it?
Ohhh oh ohh ohh oh, ohhh oh oh OH! THE RIGHT STUFFFF!
I just passed my nine-year anniversary of my first improv class. Nine years! That's like a lazy decade! If I had adopted a great dane puppy that first day of class, it'd be dead as hell by now.
I signed up for my first class in person, because in-person sign-ups for classes was still how most people did it. That, or call in. There wasn't fancy schmancy online registration, not in my day! And I walked 12 miles to class, uphill, downhill, in the snow with my balls out!
Well, not really. But I did drive an hour an half on the 405 freeway in LA to get to class, which was it's own sort of hell.
My point is, it's hard not to feel like I'm entering my old fart stage now, by basic and brutal and entirely unfair improv scene standards. I'm still aggressively young and vibrant and "still got it goin' on, hunty," don't get me wrong, but I've been around long enough now to feel like a super senior and begin to question if I've overstayed my welcome. And to realize that the dreams I had when I was 22 and easily enchanted by famous people on walls are probably dead as hell, like the great dane I didn't buy. Or, at least, these dreams need significant modifying, refitting, like an age-appropriate wardrobe.
Out with the Forever 21 mini-skirt, in with the smartly tailored pantsuit from Kohl's.
It happened slowly. I was the youngest person in my first improv class. Precocious! Fresh-faced! The Jennifer Lawrence of Level 1! Three years later, I was the oldest in the cast of a Writing 6 show I did at Second City. Grizzled! Mature! The June Squibb of the Skybox!
At 26, I had my first taste of Being The Old Fuck. Three years! That's all it took for me to go from being Lorde to being Liza. Like I said, improv is a brutal world in that regard; it's basically an unending deluge of giddy college grads with a hard-on for Will Ferrell.
At some point, I went from the young, wildly dressed, sassy-haired New Kid on the Block to the mature, cares-about-his-IRA, Netflix-on-a-Saturday-night NKTB that only unhappily married women in their 40s care about. When, exactly, this shift occured eludes me. But there have been signposts.
- Now, the majority of SNL players are younger than me. They went from looking like the popular seniors at this big, sprawling comedy high school to looking like the freshman. The same way college students looked so old as fuck in high school, but in your 30s they look like tadpoles.
- I teach now, which is what you do when you've been doing this long enough and have accumulated enough knowledge to pass along. I love teaching. It's been the best part about still being here nine years later.
- My forehead is 50 percent larger than it was at 22.
- I'm tired all the time. Doing shows now is like drinking heavily; the exhaustion/hangover is about ten times worse than it was in my early 20s. Still, the buzz is just as fucking great.
I still love being in the improv and sketch comedy world, don't get me wrong. I do it mostly for the love of it anymore, and to collaborate with amazing people and support their fabulous ideas and projects. And, sure, a foolish part of me still thinks something great could happen if I keep trying. But, it's hard to not to watch the clock and see your comedy ovaries shrink and your chances of conceiving the next Chapelle's Show or Last Week Tonight With John Oliver quietly get slimmer. Not that that's all that matters, but come on, no one temps for six years or waits tables for six years solely so they can pay to do improv shows at 10:30pm on a Tuesday night for four people because that's what they want to do forever. It's fun for now, but we all have our higher aspirations. We all have dreams, public and secret.
I know, I know. I'm young! I'm YOUNG! You can tell me as many times as you want (please, tell me as many times as you want). But, the fact is, improv comedy is a young (white) (straight) (floppy haired) (dumpy-cute) (plaid-shirt-wearing) (ugly-shoe-wearing) (male) man's game. And I'm not 22 anymore.
But I have this FABULOUS WEB SITE NOW SO YAY PROGRESS!
Nine years! That's like 400 college degrees. I could be operating on pediatric brains by now, but instead I chose to make countless Saved By the Bell references on stage and fake-masturbate to invisible victrolas while my scene partners ride invisible donkeys. Because the world needs that too.
So, I wrote another article for The Second City Network. Hooray! This one was about guns, because guns are America's Favorite Thing. You get a gun! You get gun! Everybody gets a gun!
My gun article made it all the way to the Huffington Post! Hooray!
People didn't like it. Well, an angry minority of angry white majority men didn't like it. And they called me names. Really mean names that made me cry like a baby. And by cry like a baby I mean shrug and think "Well they clearly hate themselves."
JK! Just a joke, I'm a comedian, I do jokes. Calm down! I'm sure they are lovely and kind in all other facets of their lives at all times.
But for now, just check out this anger!
First of all, marry me? Second of all, thank you SOOO MAAHTCH for calling my hands petite. As a 6' 3" dude who weighs 225 pounds and squats 720 pounds on the front squat machine, I don't often get credit for my delicate, trembling lady hands.
But really, I get it. I made fun of gun owners. Not really, just a very narrow segment of gun owners who aren't honest with themselves for why they carry, but whatever. It was a fluffy-dumb article calling out bad behavior and I honestly don't have any problem with reasonable people owning a reasonable firearm for reasonable reasons, and fine, call me names, I get it. I get it! Guns are completely entwined with your manhood. And the worst thing you can do is laugh at someone's manhood. Macho men have feelings too, etc.
At first, I was a little off put by the vitriol. But then again, what did I expect? Flowers and a park in my hometown named after me? It was my first substantial taste of Internet troll hatedom. I'm not really trying to piss people off or force them to Transparently Attempt To Retain Their Alpha Status by aptly recognizing my unfunnyness, my tininess, my douch-baggery or my blatant faggotry. But, I did. Even my family, who always supports me, was a little "Really, John?" about the whole thing. They liked me more when I made fun of Obama. Oh yeah, Angry White Men, remember when I made fun of Obama? Street cred! Or, rather, Angry Suburban Enclave Cred!
Anyway, what have we learned today, kids?
Yes, I'm unfunny. Good. Anything else?
A faggot! Yes, I am most definitely a faggot. What else?
Guns are penises. Yes! And no one wants to be told they can't masturbate. Exactly.
Good work, class. Your assignment is to cry for America. Have a great summer!