A career in stand-up means low pay, long drives and (sometimes) no laughs

A career in stand-up means low pay, long drives and (sometimes) no laughs

December 24th, 2012 by Barry Courter in Life Entertainment

Rodney Alan Wiggins, from Rossville, has been a paid stand-up comedian for a year. He is 41 years old.

IF YOU GO

What: D.J. Lewis and Corey Forrester's new skit-comedy show

When: 7 p.m. Friday

Where: Giggles Grill inside The Comedy Catch, 3224 Brainerd Road.

Admission: $5

Information: 629-2233 or www.thecomedycatch.com

Corey Forrester, from Chickamauga, has been a paid stand-up comedian for three years. He is 25 years old.

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

Steve Martin says, "Comedy is not pretty."

It's also not easy, according to many of the next generation of local comics who spend hours writing and rehearsing a single joke, then spend more hours alone in a car, traveling to the next gig to try the joke out.

For most, the first months, and sometimes years, of their careers are spent performing for free in front of small, sometimes hostile crowds.

"I remember my first time," says D.J. Lewis. "It was at Giggles Grille [at the Comedy Catch]. Some people who were there will tell you they laughed, but all I remember was nobody laughing. Then it happened again, and again."

Lewis is part of the batch of comics that Comedy Catch owner Michael Alfano calls the "cream of the crop of the next class." A dozen of the up-and-comers performed this past weekend at the club during a special Home for the Holidays showcase.

"These are the guys that are out there working and will be the next headliners," Alfano says. "When they come back here for this, it's a chance for them to sit around and share war stories and road stories. You can imagine the stories they have."

Four of the comics on the bill say they have always been funny and that people for years suggested they pursue comedy as a career before they finally took the plunge.

Lewis, 32, says his dad used to host shows at the Comedy Catch, while Corey Forrester, now 25, started stand-up at age 16 after a guy who read his blog gave him $100 to host an amateur night at Amigo in Hixson.

Rodney Wiggins, 41, got on stage at an open microphone night after a dare and the same was true for Jerry Harvey.

A paramedic, Harvey, 47, says his ambulance partner dared him.

"She's funnier than I am, but I can't get her on stage."

Forrester is the youngest of the four, but he has nine years of experience doing stand-up, with the last three as a professional. He and Lewis, who both grew up in Chickamauga, often travel and perform as a pair, doing 60- to 90-minute routines each during a show.

The two have been working hard to establish themselves throughout the South, working from Louisville, Ky., to Tampa and Orlando. Wiggins, who is married, says he has been doing weekend gigs mostly in Tennessee, in part because he has a day job as a purchasing agent.

Harvey, who also works a hairdresser, has performed in New Orleans and Las Vegas and has lined up semi-regular gigs in both.

In addition to the early days of long commutes and low pay, all four say the biggest challenge is finding your voice.

"At first, you have this really weird idea what it's like, that you are going to get up there and talk about the issues and what's going and your opinion and you realize you are just boring and nobody cares," Lewis says. "People go there to have fun. I had to learn that."

D.J. Lewis

• Age: 32

• Hometown: Chickamauga

• Years as paid stand-up: 2

Jerry Harvey

• Age: 47

• Hometown: Chattanooga

• Years as paid stand-up: 2

Rodney Alan Wiggins

• Age: 41

• Hometown: Rossville

• Years as paid stand-up: 1

Corey Forrester

• Age: 25

• Hometown: Chickamauga

• Years as paid stand-up: 3

Harvey says he feels comfortable with his comedic voice, but that his audience and fellow comedians sometimes do not.

"I am a gay comic and that is very unusual," he says. "That is part of the act, but not all of it. A lot of male comics talk about the same subject matter but from a different perspective."

He says his approach has proven to be both a positive and a negative. Some male comics refuse to work with him, he says, and some audience members have been less than supportive of his jokes.

"We've had to have people physically removed from the audience. One guy had a gun."

All four give the Comedy Catch and Alfano a good deal of credit for helping them along they way. Inside the club they are able to get stage time and learn from those who have been there before.

"The biggest impact for me has been the local Chattanooga comics before," Lewis says. "People like Big Ed Caylor, Janet Williams, Ricky Peardon. They are always there to help. There is a local comedy family."

Wiggins took some comedy classes at The Comedy Catch, where he learned writing and delivery techniques, but he also learned from others.

"They teach you the ins and outs and the do's and don'ts. I learned the do's and don'ts early."

So what's the payoff?

Making someone laugh and forget their troubles for a few minutes is what keeps them doing what they do, all three says, but Lewis also likes the hunt for the perfect joke.

"It's that aha! moment when you sit there and laugh all by yourself and people around you wonder why."