Imagine what it must feel like to stand on a stage with nothing but a microphone and a stool, bright lights shining in your face, and a crowd of people who are waiting – waiting for you to make them laugh.
John Egan knows exactly what that feels like. About two years ago, he started performing standup comedy in Northeast Wisconsin and around the state. Now he’s hosting a new Open Mic held every Wednesday night at the Green Room Lounge on the west side of De Pere.
The Green Room Lounge is a newer downtown De Pere venue aiming to attract local entertainers and other creative people with unique events. Many of those events are all about comedy. That’s partly because it is the latest home of the local improvisational comedy troupe, ComedyCity.
The big question hanging out there is this: Will people in the Green Bay area come out to support a place like The Green Room?
Comedy Quarter in Neenah recently closed its doors after less than five years in operation. That leaves Skyline Comedy Cafe in Appleton as the only business in this part of the state that is an actual comedy club. Whether or not Comedy Quarter’s closure was because of poor turnout or other factors is beyond the point. It’s not the first area comedy club to pop-up – only to disappear.
Shaping a Career in Comedy
John Egan says the thought of becoming a comedian occurred to him when he was just 8 years old. That’s when he remembers listening to standup comedy CDs with friends. Egan’s first comedy hero was Denis Leary – who also happened to make our list of Celebrity Packers fans.
“No Cure for Cancer was the first CD that had me on the floor as a kid, so he was the first inspiration,” Egan says.
Then he started watching the original version of Whose Line is it Anyway? and became interested in improvisational comedy as well. He began doing improv in high school, and while in college, became a regular with ComedyCity – eventually working as the theater’s co-manager of operations and now as a show producer.
Egan says he focused on improv comedy because it is “more available, especially in Wisconsin.” He started getting into the standup scene only recently, and in many ways, he’s been trying to help build that scene.
Lots of Ways to Make Them Laugh
The current members of ComedyCity realize there are many different ways to make people laugh. While the standard audience-suggestion-based, improvisational show continues to be the troupe’s mainstay, the performers have branched out and experimented with other kinds of comedy.
Several years ago, a group of ComedyCity actors banded together to form Table 8 Productions, which creates viral comedy videos.
- Read more about Table 8 Productions here on WhooNEW
There have also been more risque late-night shows, comedic musical performances, theatrical plays, and midnight movies with live joke-telling – borrowing a concept from Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Despite all the original ideas, it hasn’t always been easy for the folks at ComedyCity. Over the past several years, they’ve had to hop from building to building in De Pere because of a number of different issues that were often unrelated to the success of their shows.
But now ComedyCity owner Mike Eserkaln has partnered with Michael Yoder to hopefully give comedy and other forms of live entertainment a home at The Green Room Lounge. The two are co-owners of the bar/theater. Yoder says he has faith in the people of Northeast Wisconsin who want to see originality thrive.
“There is a decent community theatre presence in the area that are doing fun and interesting shows,” he says. “There are a good variety of community-oriented events: Farmer’s Markets, Art Walks, local festivals that seem to be well supported. I think Northeast Wisconsin has a healthy and varied arts & entertainment scene.”
Standup and Improv Comedy Living Together in Harmony
A couple of years ago, John Egan and fellow performers who were interested in expanding into standup comedy started writing their own material and trying it out in front of an audience on nights ComedyCity wasn’t performing.
That has grown into the Laugh Box Comedy Show, which takes place at The Green Room Lounge every Thursday at 8 pm. Tickets are $5.
Egan has been actively pursuing opportunities to perform standup comedy. He’s become an emcee and occasional featured comedian at Skyline, and is getting gigs around the state.
Now Egan has one foot in the improv comedy world and the other in standup. What’s different about that is standup comics and improvisational performers have an ongoing rivalry as well as a reputation for not getting along.
“So many standups hate improv and improv people hate stand ups as well. It’s crazy,” Egan says. “But, there are a lot of standups who have done improv and the other way around. I love doing both.”
Egan explains that improvisation helps him think on his feet when performing standup. While it’s true that comics typically have a set routine, they still need to be able to respond to the audience. They’re expecting him to be funny off-the-cuff. Likewise, Egan says standup can help any comedic actor develop more confidence.
“Stand up is all on you which can be scary, there is no crazy plumber to help rescue you if you aren’t doing well. I think comedians should do both regardless and try it. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to do it.”
Despite his background in improv comedy, other comics Egan has met have been friendly and supportive.
He’s had the chance to perform at Skyline on the same nights as popular comedians like T.J Miller.
“Hosting for TJ Miller was one of the coolest weekends ever, especially because other big name comics came to guest set,” he says.
“Even when headliners and features have been kind of cold or not as friendly, I get it. They travel every week, and while it’s a big deal for me to work with them or see them, I am just another comic and emcee they have to talk to that week. I will say that 90% of the time everyone I’ve worked with has been amazing.”
Egan’s next big step in comedy is to start featuring for recognizable comedians. If you’re familiar with a typical stand-up show, there are usually three comics.
The first is the emcee. This is usually a newer performer who may be local and works the club regularly. The second person on stage is the featured comedian. They could be hired by the club, or they could be someone the main comic takes along on the road. The final comedian is the headliner – the one most people came to see.
Egan knows he’s most likely many years away from making standup comedy his full-time job. But he’s okay with paying his dues in the comedy world.
“I am about two years in, and the average for most comics to become full time is around 6-8 years depending on circumstances, talent and luck. I recently heard Colin Quinn say, ‘It takes 10 years to be any good at all.’ And he’s probably right.”
But Cliff Diedrick, the owner of Skyline Comedy Cafe in Appleton has been watching Egan’s progression and says he’s got the right work ethic and attitude.
“John came to Skyline a couple years ago and has developed into a strong stage performer,” Diedrick says. “John is always writing and working on new material and has a genuine passion for the business.”
Yoder also thinks Egan has a knack for comedy. “John Egan has funny in his bones. He knows how to take the things that happen to him everyday and find the funny in it.”
Watch a Video Clip of John Egan at Skyline Comedy Cafe
The Future of Comedy in Northeast Wisconsin
There was a time when many thought the art of standup comedy would slowly fade away after hitting a peak in the 1980s. But the internet and social media have given many comedians a way to connect with and build a fan base.
Egan has been experimenting with different things including podcasting, making YouTube videos reviewing snack food as well as HuHot creations and using other social media. He says cracking the code of what people really like can be confusing.
“My HuHot videos get barely any hits and I do one every week, yet I put up a video of a cat hitting my hand and it has 9,000 views.”
- CLICK HERE and see the amazing video of a cat hitting John’s hand!
Egan and others are optimistic about where the comedy scene in our area is heading. Comedian Mike Merryfield, who lives in the Fox Cities, told WhooNEW that things have grown significantly in recent years and “there are a lot more local comics now as well.”
Skyline’s Cliff Diedrick says people who support live comedy are not only happier – they may even be healthier.
“Laughing is an important part of our daily routine. The socialization aspect of being out with family and friends and laughing together is truly therapeutic. There aren’t many opportunities to find that environment other than seeing stand-up comedy, an improv troupe, sketch group or a theatrical performance.”
The Green Room’s Michael Yoder adds that having a local comedy scene can be a big part of a community’s culture.
“A local comedy scene is important because it gives people an opportunity to express themselves in a fairly safe environment,” he explains. “Comedians have this unique role in a community to speak truth to power and bring to light some of society’s absurd ‘norms’. I’m glad that I have a place where newer comics can come and either start on their path, or have a space to hone their comedic skills.”
There are a few ways you can make sure comedy has a home in Northeast Wisconsin. First, support live comedy by getting out and seeing a show. Second, if you’ve got a business that could host local comedians – consider the idea. Egan thinks that’s one way the area can improve, and he hopes more places take a chance and try featuring comedy for entertainment.
“It’s hard to email bars and places over and over with no response,” he says.
Finally, you can consider joining the comedy community and add to it. You’ll get your chance at The Green Room Lounge’s weekly open mic. Plus, Yoder says the stage is available to just about anyone with something to show off.
“Our Wednesday night open mics are open to any type of performers. I’m hoping we get a wide variety of people that want to showcase the thing they love doing,” Yoder says.
Egan agrees. “All you need is 5 minutes to work on stuff, try it for the first time, play guitar, read something or do whatever you want. Read the Bible if you really want.”
Egan tells us there are other places that are becoming more open to showcasing comedians. He mentions another open mic at Keggers in Green Bay, which now has a space called the Lyric Room, as well as opportunities at The House of Valdar.
If you’re on the fence about trying out standup for yourself, John Egan won’t tell you it’s easy. But he will tell you that you need to give it a shot.
“For first timers, you will probably think you have five minutes, you will do two and get off stage, or you will do really well and can’t believe it went so fast. There is no advice other than to do it.”
Details on Comedian John Egan:
If you live in the Rhinelander area, John Egan will be headlining at Hext Theater on Saturday, October 5th. Fellow ComedyCity performer Scott Roemaat will join him.