May 23, 2010

Dan Telfer's dinosaurs and the rewards of a stand-up road warrior

My Chicago Underground Comedy co-producer Dan Telfer has made a lot of headway in stand-up lately. Dan and I started out doing open mics together with our little posse of supportive pals a few short years ago, then we started producing ChUC together, and he's made incredible progress creatively and professionally since then.

Dan was recently featured in this cool feature story in The Onion, which explains how he's struggling with the "the eternal dilemma of Chicago comedians," which is "how far can I go in my comedy career before actually having to leave Chicago?" He's spent a lot of time on the road lately, doing stand-up gigs at clubs in Indiana, Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan, and elsewhere, as well as doing stuff like making appearances on the Bob and Tom Show.

(Even more impressively, he does all of this while being responsible for serious grownup things like a mortgage, a lovely wife, and a painfully cute kid - seriously, I've babysat for the kid. She'll crush you with her cuteness.)

Conventional wisdom - and road warrior comics like our castmember Mike Stanley - says that road work teaches you to adapt to audiences that may or may not be terribly familiar with you, and who likely have very different tastes and cultural leanings than hometown crowds. It's where you learn to play to different kinds of audiences, really sweat it out, and earn your chops.

Dan came back to ChUC from the road a few weeks ago, and he and I and our awesome sound engineer Evan Hydzik (from Big Audio, hire them!) sat on the side steps of the Beat Kitchen enjoying a nice cool breeze before we opened the house and the madness began.

Evan and I were reading The Onion article on Dan and embarrassing him with praise.

"I'm trying to decide what to do with my set tonight," he said, "either a straight set or more crowd work."

"I like it when you go bananas," I said, and Evan agreed. "Cut loose. What do we always tell our castmembers? 'This is your home base, the supportive place where you can try new stuff and experiment a little.' This is the payoff for all those road gigs where the audience wasn't giving it up and you had to work like hell."

So here's the clip. You can hear me and Evan laughing in anticipation, before the audience (and sometimes before the joke) because we know what's coming, and we know what an unusually electrified mood Dan is in. (I still need to find out a way to dampen my laugh behind the mic. I try to lean back but I'm in constant motion and I have to keep the camera pretty close - but then again, come on, when stuff's funny, I'm gonna laugh.)

We've watched Dan polish and refine the awesomely dense and nerdtastic joke "The Best Dinosaur" for quite awhile and I honestly think with this iteration he reached mastery. I couldn't help but think back to some of those early lonely open-mics where Dan banged out early versions of this joke. As you can hear, our audience was wild with appreciation. It was kind of amazing.

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