Jesse Tuttle gives us a great example of why stand-up comedy isn’t as easy as making your drunk buddies laugh:
This is my favorite story -more of a feel good tale than funny or horrifying. We had this young guy come in to Memphis on Main a few years back before [Wednesdays] became a showcase show. It was still an open mic. First night he brought 15 friends… the “college bro” types. They basically gave him a laugh track for his entire set (which was awful) and he was the most arrogant person I’ve ever seen after a first time [performing]. Just completely lacking any self awareness that the only people laughing were his friends. Chastised the other performers…rude comments, that sort of thing. Second time, he brought 20 people. He was more offensive on stage and they just laughed harder. Then he was overheard afterwards saying how he was taking over the scene and how only two times in he’s funnier than everyone else on stage.
I could have just not put him on the list next time… but, people like him, I’d rather they be humbled by reality. So I pushed back the next time I would let him on stage until a holiday week (I think it was 3-4 days before Christmas), hoping all his friends wouldn’t be around. Sure enough, he showed up, alone, and there was a moment during his set, right after he became the deer and the audience became the headlights, but right before he was all but boo’d off the stage, where you could tell he realized maybe he shouldn’t have talked such a big game. Because stand up is way harder than it looks. He walked straight out of the building and we never saw that guy show up at any show again.
Smile Politely: How did you come up with the CU Comedy idea?
Jesse Tuttle: [Justin Tuttle and I] had been running comedy at Memphis on Main for about two years as an open mic. We wanted to find a way to spread the word about it moving into more of a showcase environment, which is not letting first, second, or third timers on stage until we have a chance to make sure they had presentable material for a wider audience. This is in 2010 and the main way to promote online was Facebook. Branding the shows and putting it under a banner seemed like a simpler way to spread the word. A lot of people like comedy, and if they see “Champaign” or “Urbana,” it’s much more a community-sounding group. Which we are. I would like to say I was more creative than just, “Oh… C-U Comedy,” but I wasn’t.
People were much more willing to join on to something that sounded local, so we went with it, and the shows really took off about 3 months after that. People started finding out about it. They attended shows out of curiosity and saw that, more times than not, it was a fun, alternative show to be at. Then we just moved all shows that we ran in the Champaign-Urbana area under that banner. And it has really grown into a thing that people doing stand up in major cities like Chicago, St Louis, etc. found out about.
- Canopy Club every other Tuesday at 9 p.m. (every week when students are back)
- Memphis on Main every Wednesday at 8 p.m. (except TONIGHT, which is at 9 p.m.)
- Clark Bar every other Thursday at 9 p.m.
SP: Do you perform yourself?
Tuttle: As much as I can. I host/emcee the shows pretty often in Champaign, but I travel pretty regularly to get on stage at comedy clubs, alternative rooms, and showcase shows outside of Champaign. I get on stage in one form or another an average of 3-4 times a week.
SP: That seems like a lot! So you don’t just perform here in town. Where are some of your regular haunts?
Tuttle: Outside of town, my favorite place is the Jukebox Comedy Club in Peoria. I get over there when I can. I’ve been there the last two Thursdays. Two weeks ago I opened for Dave Coulier from Full House and this week was a part of a Showcase Show at Memphis on Main. It’s always a good time there. Was just in the big town of Effingham last week. There is a coffee house that is really fun to do in Mattoon, and I go over to Springfield once in a while. Planning a week trip to do shows in Chicago this summer.
SP: What’s the name of the coffee house?
Tuttle: Common Grounds Cafe. We only do it about once every 3-4 months, but about 4 of us will go down and do 15-20 minutes apiece. No alcohol, so, it’s a different vibe than the bar/club crowds.
SP: What are some of the differences between bar sets and alcohol free shows?
Tuttle: Hecklers or loud talkers are few and far between at alcohol free shows. I never blame alcohol for people’s behavior, but if someone has a tendency to already be mannerly challenged, a mixture of booze and someone saying something into a microphone they deem unfunny (because no one knows comedy better than someone three beers in who has never been on stage before), can sometimes become an interruption. It’s the minority, though, but the risk is there. Sometimes sober shows are almost too laid back where it’s hard to get a rise out of them. Coffee and diet coke have a calming effect on some while listening to jokes, as it turns out. And of course at non alcohol shows, I can’t drink either. That’s the biggest downside on the pros/cons list. Sneaking in my pre-show drink via brown bag lunch is sometimes troublesome, but doable if done right. The hidden hooch trick at sober shows is a comedy craft I easily picked up on.
SP: Are you not funny if you don’t have two drinks in you? Or do you not feel brave enough to be up there? For me, it’s the latter on some improv nights…
Tuttle: I don’t think I’m funnier with it… maybe more engaging. I liken it to going on a date. Alcohol isn’t necessary, but conversation always seems to be a bit more fun after each of us has had a drink to loosen up. Of course, if you partake too much, chances are you are sloppy and won’t be asked for date 2. So, there’s a line. I have really bad anxiety, but it’s not out of fear. (I know sometimes it’s just not going to go well and I’m comfortable with that.) I think it’s just a natural, my-brain-is-a-jerk, self psych out thing. I haven’t pin pointed what it is that I’m anxious about when getting ready to go on stage, but it takes about two drinks to create a flood big enough to drown it out for a while. Most of my anxiety goes away the second I get on stage. It’s just the dreaded before part that I’m still working the kinks out on.
SP: Stage fright -and I read this on the Internet so it’s true- is your body/brain’s natural fight or flight response. It’s based on not wanting to be seen in a vulnerable position and eaten. Of course, regular chronic anxiety is a different matter altogether. Any really terrible shows? Corporate gigs? That kind of thing…
Tuttle: I don’t have any nightmare corporate gig stories. The few I have done in that environment are usually stuffy people who will always say, “We let our ties down… we… heh… we can take a dirty joke.” Then, if you say something that wouldn’t even be censored on late night network TV, they are offended by the obscenities they just endured. Worst experience was a show upstairs at a bar. Very small crowd with no one sitting up front and, while I was on stage, the staff started tearing down the tables in the first row. It was… let’s call it a character builder.
SP: What a nightmare! How would you describe your style? Your point of view/voice?
Tuttle: I have yet to figure out how to pinpoint my style. I really try to be versatile. Whether it be a “clean room” (PG-13 material or cleaner) or going into a room where no limits on content is encouraged, I want to feel like I have something to offer that will fit. Having just one gear or one type of crowd you can reach pigeon holes you a bit at this level. I try not to push serious opinions on people without having a really great joke behind it, but that’s not to say I just want to do mindless, forgettable things with no point behind them. It’s a fine line trying to weave in opinions on certain subjects in a fun way without alienating certain crowds for the rest of your set. Some people describe me as energetic, but I see myself more as just trying to sell the joke/story I’m telling by having a little oomph behind what I’m saying. I’d call me an animated, offbeat observationalist.
To see Jesse and other offbeat comics like Andrew Voris, Mikel Matthews, and Justin Tuttle, catch any of these no cover shows. (The one at Memphis on Main features free popcorn and $3 loose taps. You’ll see.)
Canopy Club at 9 p.m. every other Tuesday (June 3rd, 17th; July 1st, 15th, and 29th; every Tuesday when U of I is in session)
Memphis on Main every Wednesday at 8 p.m., with a show tonight (May 27th) at 9 p.m.
Clark Bar at 9 p.m. every other Thursday (May 29th; June 12th and 26th; July 10th and 24th…)