Whether you know him from his insanely hilarious comedy stand up specials (This’ll take About an Hour, Comedy Central Presents, I Love You), his bazillion guest appearances on David Letterman or as the host of one of my favorite shows from the early 90’s “Two Drink Minimum”, chances are… you know him. I’m talking about of course, one of the funniest and most talented standup comedians of the last 25 years- Jake Johannsen. If anybody’s been following my work here on the Backstage Beat, you’ll know I’ve only been doing this for over a month and truthfully thought it was nuts to even ask to be allowed to cover someone of Jake’s caliber. I still remember watching him back in my teens when a huge curly bang covered half his face while being swallowed in pastel, oversized rayon shirts like most dudes of the era. Even then as a dumb kid, I could tell that his delivery and timing were unique. His purposeful pauses as he guided you through his self-proclaimed “weird stories” were completely understood when he reached the conclusion. Unlike most comics back then, Jake wasn’t doing the same old “blah, blah, here’s the punchline, now laugh” deal. With Johanssen , you were busting a gut all the way through. It’s not just the story itself, it’s the way Jake tells it that’s tear inducing.
Like I said, I was just grasping at straws when I submitted the request, but miraculously Ange told me to bring my big dreams to the Funny Farm this past Friday night to meet a legend. Still thinking the joke was on me when the girl at the front door told me I’d be sitting in a booth all to myself covering the show (CRAZY), I just about had a cardiac event when she also relayed that Jake was at the bar with my cohort already schmoozing it up. Walking over, all the air left my chest as I tried to think of what I’d say. I mean he’s Jake Johannsen man! Honestly, I don’t even remember what it was but I do remember that he overlooked my nervousness and was exceedingly kind just as I was sure that he would be.
Still walking on clouds, I trucked it over to my station and got out all of my stuff like I was an actual journalist. We were told that pictures could be snapped but only during “laughter” breaks so I decided that taking a chance of the flash being delayed and going off during a joke was too much of a risk. The last thing I wanted to do was make Johanssen regret letting a dingbat like me in there in the first place so I didn’t take any. By the way, for anyone who hasn’t been to the Funny Farm (I hadn’t) it’s a great club. The seating is eclectic with various sized booths, tables and so forth facing a perfectly accommodating stage. The walls are adorned with large prints of George Carlin/Richard Pryor and being that it’s nestled inside of “Andretti indoor Karting and Games”, there’s a ton of stuff to keep you occupied before and after a show. Jake would make light of the location during his act (which was funny as hell) but in the end, for a patron, the variety is pretty cool.
The show began with our MC/comic for the night (Landry) who was definitely smile worthy. His ethnic appearance fed much of his comedy with lines like “Why didn’t they tell me when I moved here from Toronto I’d be a Mexican?” Big laughs for that. It so happened that the area right beside my booth was also where the next comic would stand on deck and as Landry entertained the crowd, a new batter entered the box. He looked familiar to me-the beard-the glasses-and I found it beyond interesting to watch him stare at his hands, grinding his fingernails uneasily as he waited to be announced. I thought to myself that this chick right here would probably be having a full-blown panic attack if filling those same shoes and what massive jewels it must take to put yourself out there like that. Turned out it was Andy Sandford from the Atlanta-based “Beards of Comedy”. I’ve heard him on the Regular Guys show several times and he’s always a riot. Never seeing him perform live before, I can tell you that if you enjoy alternative comics like Patton Oswalt, Doug Benson, Maria Bamford or Eugene Mirman, you will totally dig Sandford. He’s edgy but not for the sake of it, he just is and it’s good stuff. As he told the audience during his trying to lose weight bit, “I do sit ups a lot. I’ve found it’s the only way to get up” the Farm rocked with loud “ha-ha’s” that made a crack in the previously established decibel level.
Another young man named James Parkinson came out after that. Sadly, he didn’t really have the same way with the crowd. Some of the jokes were hits but there were far too many “crickets” moments to say he was successful. Look, I can’t even imagine what that’s like up there. Hell, I almost made lemonade in my pants just being introduced to Jake Johannsen so hat’s off to the guy for trying. It looks hard and is probably still even tougher than it appears to be. I’m not sure how all this stuff works but it may also be set up like that so the headliner seems even funnier than they already are in comparison to the previous comic. I’m just going by countless documentaries I’ve seen on rock bands and how they never want to be outshined by the opening act although they would’ve been hard pressed to find someone who could’ve overshadowed who was on the marquee that night.
When Johannsen came out, the joint went completely berserk. There he was, a dude whose comedy had (as one audience member told me) saved some of our lives. Prior to the show, the woman claimed she was so depressed one day, just wanted it all to be over and saw Jake performing on Comedy Central. At the end of his set her mood had been elevated to a point where she realized things just weren’t so bad. If that’s what most of the individuals at this particular show were looking for, then I can profoundly say that’s what Jake gave them.
Right from the start he riffed on some of the bits by all three of the proceeding acts, giving them props, pure class all the way. You can tell immediately what a difference it makes having the amount of experience he does. There’s no hesitation (except for the sake of the act), no uncomfortable silences, he’s intoxicating and there is zero need for him to beg that you drink him in. He’s still deprecating even now after the name he’s made for himself and cracked everyone up by making fun of how far he’s come by playing at a go-kart track in Roswell. Really, I’m extremely surprised that he’s not a bigger star than he is. When he made the comparison of the heat in Atlanta to that of a fat lady breathing on you, everyone was in stitches.
Jake’s comedy is just so easily identifiable with the masses. He talks about stuff we all think about and live through on a daily basis but when these things are processed through his bizarre train of thought, they just come out funnier than when anybody else expounds on the same topics. Like when he discussed his feelings on talk radio or as he likes to call it “The Fear/Anger Combo” and how they want everyone to be afraid of terrorism or angry at some other sect of society. Being a zombie freak, I loved it when he said “That kind of stuff doesn’t scare me. I watch movies. You wanna scare me, tell me were being attacked by zombies. When zombies show up, you’ll wish for f*%&ing terrorists.” Before the guffawing could even die down, Johanssen then began instructing the audience on what to do if we were attacked by zombies at that very moment and I found myself struggling to breathe again.
His act runs the gamut when it comes to regular life. Marriage-“Tid bit about marriage…you’ll be makin’ your own f*&#ing bacon”, the economy- “Was I the only a-hole paying his mortgage?” and children in regards to his daughter’s unstoppable optimism when asked about her mental state….”I AM HAPPY”. Then there’s just his ability to roll with the punches. The microphone kept messing up towards the middle of his gig and even that was something to have fun with. “Big surprise, the mic is messed up at the magical go-kart track.” After they fixed it “Oh good, they’ve replaced it with the one that wasn’t working last night.” Side-splitting!
Before the house lights came up and Jake met folks out front to sell his hilarious t-shirts (Touch It), c.d.s and books, I looked at those men on the wall that we all know once more. Would Jake’s print be up there beside Carlin someday? Hopefully, but for now Jake is still hustling, doing what he’s done for more than two decades and better than ever. I summoned some guts, waited till he finished with his last paying customer and approached him again to give my appreciation for allowing me the privilege of seeing him on stage. He’s as gracious as he is humble and by that I’m speaking directly to the response he gave when I asked this question.
“Man, how do you not have your own show? I mean seriously….how does D.L. Hughley have a show and you don’t?”
Kind of a jackass thing to ask but I’m in full agreement with Daniel Tosh when it comes to Hughley. Why DID it have to be Bernie Mac?
He looks down at the wooden stand in front of him, running his finger in a circle “Well hey, D.L.’s a great guy and I’ve shot several pilots. It’s just all timing and you just keep trying. Knock on wood ya know?”
I truly hope he didn’t take it to mean that I was suggesting his career isn’t already amazing, I just find it confusing how someone as funny as him is still having to be out on the road like this. Bill Engvall has a show for the love of God!
I thanked him again, we shook hands and off I went into the night. On the icy drive home, my mind drifted to what sort of show I’d like to see Jake in. It certainly wouldn’t be the standard family man sitcom kinda thing, been done and he’s too smart for it. No…I’d like to see him as he is right now. Like a great comic who just tires of trying to get “that show”, gives it up and opens his own comedy club. Maybe none of the comics are worth a damn, he’s way better than all of them but that’s the whole premise. Johannsen dealing with these goofballs and all the nonsense that goes with it. Half Sam Malone, half Jerry Seinfeld. Would that be so bad? I know I’d watch it.
Dad’s Garage is Moving!
Welp, We’re Moving
Dad’s Garage Theatre Says Goodbye to its Current Home and Hello to a Temporary One
It’s official. At the ripe ol’ age of 18, mom and dad are kicking us out of the house. Dad’s Garage Theatre has received notice that our building, as well as the entire property at 280 Elizabeth Street, is changing ownership and will be redeveloped in the coming months. We’re optimistic that we’ll finish out the remainder of our season in our current space and will be performing as per usual through at least July 31st. We’ll be moving out soon after and will continue performing at our new temporary home at 7 Stages in Little Five Points beginning in August. While in our temporary home, we anticipate launching a capital campaign to raise funds to build our new, permanent home.
In regard to our permanent home, we have been vetting a few spaces and while it doesn’t look as if we’ll be able to stay in Inman Park, we’re committed to staying as close to home as possible. We have narrowed the search down to a few serious prospects and plan on making a decision very soon. That said, just like any 18 year-old, we like to keep our options open. So, if anyone has 15,000 sq. feet of space in the city with ample parking on the cheap – we’d love to hear about it.
Our facilities committee has been working hard behind the scenes to make sure we stay stable through the upcoming move, but this is still a really difficult burden for a non-profit theatre company to shoulder, and we’ll need help. These are the other things we could use a hand with:
Help us fill our seats. We’ve loved this space for 18 years and we want to cram as much love into it as possible for the last three months we’re here, so please help us (pack them out.) We’ve got some amazing shows coming up including:
- Apnea – April 26 through June 1 – Mike Schatz’s one-man show about a life without dreams
- Improv with Colin Mochrie – May 17 & 18 – Yep, the bald dude from “Whose Line is it Anyway?” will be doing funny things on our stage.
- And a whole bunch of other shows. We do six each week. You can find the remainder of our shows on our online calendar:
Help us stay connected. We don’t want to lose touch with folks, so please tell everyone you know to:
- Sign up for our mailing list: http://dadsgarage.com
- Become a fan on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/dadsgaragetheatre
- Follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/dads_garage
Help us move our stuff/staff. While we do have a theatre to perform in, we’ll need to find the following at low-to-no-cost to help us stay afloat. We need:
- Storage space
- Moving supplies
- Office space/meeting space for staff
- Contact Lara if you can help (Lara@dadsgarage.com or 404-523-3141 x 202)
Oh, and don’t worry, we’ll definitely close out our time here with an epic party. Be on the lookout for details.
More about 7 Stages:
7 Stages is located at 1105 Euclid Avenue NE in Little Five Points. Their name is derived from the ancient book of I Ching, The Book of Changes (#24, Turning Point). Since 1979, 7 Stages Theatre has been bringing local and international emerging artwork of social, political, and spiritual importance to Atlanta audiences for over 33 years. Artists in performance, musical, visual and the spoken arts have found the organization a haven in the support and development of new works and methods of collaboration.
For additional information on the programs, performances and activities at 7 Stages, or to schedule an interview, please contact Charles Swint at email@example.com or 404) 522 -4755.
Comic to Comic with Rob Shapiro
I sat down with Rob Shapiro after a week on the road with the king of underground New York comedy. We were at Siberia in the heart of historic New Orleans. The tour started at Jerry Farber’s in Atlanta. Jerry Farber had mistaken Rob for his brother Rick. The sibling comic rivalry has gone on since both brothers started in comedy in New York City so many years ago. Rick Shapiro has taken the fame role in this comedy family and Rob Shapiro has become the legend of underground.
With 25 plus years of a hard road-dog type career, Rob Shapiro mixes bitter times, a hardcore past and a sheer determination to be funny ‘till he dies. Rob reminds me of all my relatives with his gritty demeanor and a life-doesn’t-owe-me-shit outlook.
The interview starts with Rob’s description of the hotel our promoter booked him in. “Crackheads man, like everywhere, in the lobby and then again by the rooms. Genuine crackheads, so genuine that they have reached authentic status.” A fan and friend of 25 years walks up behind Rob and surprises him. He says that this kind of dedication to his comedy after all these years is what keeps him moving and shaking. I ask him the stock Comic to Comic question: “Rob, do you think one appearance on television can make or break a comedy career? Like back when you could go on Carson and the phone would start ringing?” He shrugs and gives the quirky grandpa-like smirk I have now seen over and over. Rob gets teary eyed and states that this question will take an hour to answer!
He rants about how the heart of comedy is gone and everyone thinks it is a get rich quick game. Rob started after his brother and saw a group of comics who treated each other like family. They would go out all night together. Rob was in his early thirties and saw the scene as a great mountain to conquer. Shapiro went the Ivy league Wall Street route prior to comedy and states that he was so jealous of Rick and the comedy scene that he had to do what he loved. There were no cliques in comedy. Everyone tried to help each other with the hopes that one would break and the rest would follow! Real comedy appears to be dead and there doesn’t appear to be heart anymore. Then Rob sees guys 35 and up doing it and it rekindles that drive and he sees heart in the older determined comics. He goes on to say everyone wants to be a writer and an actor first and a comic second. The guys who want to be comics and only comics get a better result.
There is a hunger that comes from doing just stand-up, and it drives Rob. When you just want to make people laugh, you will find it while you’re on stage–you learn to steer that car and hit it. You’re dancing with it, you’re living it, so genuine that it becomes authentic. In the old days, if a fellow comic saw you, they would say do that father joke, it kills. Nowadays a comic will say don’t do that joke again, ‘cause they are afraid you will upstage them. We are all in the same boat.
Marketing has become the new art. Function now follows form! Audiences have become so ready for a flashing light. You as a comic have to create a branding. Rob hates the term branding! He laughs at me saying that I was walking around the ghetto in New Orleans dressed in a black suit and Payas. Whatever it takes to make the audience take notice and give us as comics the platform to bring the funny. The audiences have become so Jimmy Falloned out of nothingness. We need our shtick since the backstabbing and nonsense between comics has become crazy! Most comics got into this business because we were antisocial and because we were hurt in life. Clubs like the Comedy Cellar in NYC or The Punchline in Atlanta have to compete now because every corner now has a club. Comedy clubs used to mean a vibrant force where they ran ads and filled the seats. They booked based on funny and to please a crowd that the reputation of the club backed.
Rob goes on and on to say most clubs will not bring in anyone, as if it was just a four wall place with a microphone. Every club owner used to be a producer and promoter, and now they forget that they sell drinks and we make ‘em laugh (simple logic from Rob Shapiro). My time with Rob has been crazy and a great opportunity to learn from a legend. He has taken A Jew and a Black Guy under his wing and schooled us. My tough New York street smart mentality is influenced by the originals of the field we struggle at every day. Rob Shapiro is a true original and we will see him back in the south this summer. He is just getting started all over again!
Comic to Comic: Greg Proops!
I was able to sit down in a groovy little cove in the lobby of the W in Midtown. I had just gotten an area in mind to do the interview when Mr. Proops walks over and plants a genuine kiss on my crippled forehead. His hair was perfectly coiffed and he looked and smelled divine! Not the usual bar room comedian I am so used too. Of course, forever the comedienne, I had to ask if he had any “work done.” Greg chuckled devilishly and said he had recently lost 40lbs as he got tired of being asked if he was his wife’s dad. I couldn’t help but laugh. as I know all too well how that feels.
Greg had a tight schedule, and I felt very fortunate that he could sit down with The Backstage Beat. He was on his way to the venue for 3 nights of standup and a Sunday night live podcast. I listened to a few of his “Smartest Man in the World” Proopcasts before meeting with him. His podcasts are hilarious!
Greg sits onstage at a modest table with a mic, a “couple” glasses of vodka, and a non gender orange cardboard kitten whose name is Kitten McTavish. He tells me McTavish’s story. The kitten is a reminder to replace some of his swearing, was named by his wife, and was picked up in London at a Christmas market. Kitten McTavish has become quite the charmer, and between McTavish and Greg, they receive a lot of questions. He loves reading and answering all of his emails and has a special account for that reason. You can write him or hell even McTavish at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Greg told me he was on his way to London next and that he really enjoys a small venue. This seems to be very popular with a lot of the comedians we interview. I asked him what is his deciding factor in choosing a venue to perform while in Atlanta. Greg explained to me that he had known the club owner where his weekend performances were for the greater part of 10 years. He was told he was going to put all the “groovy comedians” in this comedy club. We both laughed hysterically because it was at that point I realized that I was not “groovy.” I am indeed just an old lady living her dream.
I had to talk to him about his comedic flow. While he delivers setups, punch lines, and callbacks, it is so natural; you feel like you are engaged in a conversation with him. Yet he is the only person talking! I consider him not only the smartest man, but also the funniest man in the world. He is just naturally hilarious. Genetically engineered that way. I asked him how he prepares for a show. He says he takes a lot of notes. However, doesn’t have much time to prepare. From flying, to interviews, to check in…the time is just not there.
I asked him why he chose podcast over straight stand up. Greg was very passionate with his answer and he’s full of feminist history. He wants to be fair to everyone. He said with great conviction, “I get real bored with straight male comedians and my girlfriends so fat… and these bitches do that… not just white male comedians ALL male comedians. And I just get real bored with it and I don’t find it amusing anymore…even moreover….and I’m not trying to take high moral grounds here…the lack of awareness in that area is what really drives me up the God damn wall! Like you’re not even aware that your being an asshole. Just like all men, you walk through the world because the world belongs to you and they don’t even see that. They don’t even see their in a privileged position by being a man.”
Since the “Proopcast” aired he has a lot of women that listen and write him. Women that write him that say “Thank you for mentioning this or talking about that. Like today is International Women History Day and I guarantee you NO ONE will mention it.”
Greg continues with, “TV executives will tell you young people want to watch young people. And listen…they are UNBELIEVABLY WRONG about that! They don’t care who it is IF they are interesting to them. I was watching Lily Tomlin at 7, and Carol Burnett. They think the young want to watch the young and they don’t care at all. Network execs are obsessed with it.”
We talk about that being the kind of resistance I’m running into as a comedienne starting so late in age. Greg says, “People resist.” I feel relieved; at least he notices. He continues, “To make you feel bad about yourself. You’re too heavy. You’re too this. You’re too that. I’m too effeminate. I’m too smart. I play over the crowds head. Whatever the reasons are… have glasses. We already have someone with glasses. I’ve been on auditions where they say will you please take off your glasses? We already have someone with glasses. Well…I WEAR GLASSES! Do you want me to walk into the rest of the cast? I’ll take them off.” We both discover we are not only blind but also deaf without our glasses and gnarly funny Helen Keller impressions ensue.
We get serious again and discuss how comics are treated because of our age. Especially me as a woman. He gets passionate again and states regarding Comedy Central “They would sooner kill themselves than not put on a 29-31 year old guy. DIE…DIE…DIE. They have a bunch of new shit that is better than their old shit, like Key and Peele, thank god. In general they want it to be frat boy.”
Again we talk about resistance. I tell him I get discouraged. Greg adamantly says, “You’re either good or you’re not good. Judge me on my merit.” That is all we ask for we both agree. He goes on to say, “Oh you’re that…don’t put a label on me before I’ve said anything.”
He continues with an answer to the question on every comedian’s mind. Greg believes you got to get out of town to “make it” in some cases. “The geography of the place dictates how ignorant and stupid and vile people can be to you. ‘Well I’m from here and were shit kickers so fuuuuuck you.’ Really…really that’s how the world works you can’t open your mind in any way because where you live people throw sticks of dynamite in a pond? So when I get on the podcast these are the things on my mind. And I try to discuss them in an intelligent way. Also political things…Generalization.” Greg will go through an article that he says, “It isn’t even truth…oh the Pope left. THE POPE DID NOT LEAVE! HE’S NOT ALLOWED TO LEAVE! Oh it’s over now? No. it’s just beginning.”
We get back to the comic to comic basics. Greg says he is “Making a willful effort to dig up some old stuff, beat it up, and try to re fix it.” He says of the audience “They were half buying it last night,” and he wants to do more freestyle.
I felt inclined to ask him if he actually drinks vodka onstage or is it water in his glass. He was more than enthusiastic when answering “VODKA.” I went into my whiskey relapse story. We were both in agreement that we like to get shit faced. He enjoys doing his “Proopcast” or “vodcast” as he can just drink and talk. Greg makes me feel better about myself by saying, “All musicians and comics are drunks and drug addicts.” If you can feel better about something like that.
We talked “comedian hours.” Mr. Proops describes something I’m getting all too familiar with. He says, “You finish the late show at 1am after whipping a crowd into a frenzy. You spend 23 hours of the day focusing on THIS part of the day. And people don’t, and they don’t need to, understand the mechanics of comedy. We’re speaking as comics. It doesn’t matter to them. It should seem like magic. It should seem like you just thought of it. And they can be fooled. And that’s okay.”
“The thing is for us the doing of ‘it’ is 1/24th of the day. IF that much.” Interviews, flying, maybe writing something. “Then when you’re done, it’s like let’s go eat breakfast or let’s go eat pizza because I can’t fucking sleep.”
The conversation turns to Bob Hope. Greg gives me the scoop! “He would get up between 10-11am and would make his entire family have dinner at midnight. Everybody dressed. I’m not kidding. He kept comedian hours as if he was gigging his whole life and then he got up and golfed.”
I turned the conversation back to Greg’s pre-show prep. He told me sometimes that he stands in the back and listens. He says, “People go, ‘Do you care what topics I talk about?’ I go, no. Because I learned a long time ago from a friend of mine named Will Durst… I said to him, I got this Reagan joke and I want to do it. But I know you got a bunch of stuff on it. And he goes, ‘Your opening the floor and you’re not doing my joke…your doing your joke.’ And now the topic’s been raised so when I come out I can address it as well…. And I was like OH!”
Greg continues, “You know, ‘cuz sometimes people you know how they come up and go ‘Don’t say nothing about cats. I got cats. I do cats.’ And you’re like fuck you! You do cats. I do cats. Everybody does it you know.” Comics take note. I say to him, “You would not believe how bad that is here in Atlanta”. He belts out, “OH YEAH you’re not gonna talk about trucks are you? ‘Cuz I got a truck joke and I’m closing with it.” I tell him I’m not even allowed to do fat people jokes AND I’m fat! He tells me, “You have a lifetime experience of it and the pettiness will go away.” So that means I have hope? YES!
I end the interview with a question that we always do in Comic to Comic. Do you think one TV appearance like Carson back in the day can break a career? Mr. Proops answers, “It is the diametrical opposite of that. No! Drew Carey was the last person to get that big hit in ‘90 or ‘91. That was it. It doesn’t work that way anymore. It’s social media and internet. You have to hope for anything to happen.”
Greg decides to break my heart. “We are not going to be on Saturday Night Live. We’re too old. As soon as people hit 40 they are rejected. And that’s the way the world works.” So, I’m really over here crying… as I just spent my 40th birthday last Friday in rehab with a broken hip.
It seems like you don’t even have to be a comedian anymore to be entertaining. Greg chimes in with “Or an actor. They’re just looking for the next NeNe.” I try to find solace in this. As I am reminded once again, I may have started my comedic journey too late in life. Forever the optimist…I’m going with it’s still too early to call.
You can connect to Greg’s Proopcast “The Smartest Man in the World” and find out everything you need to know at www.gregproops.com.
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