Life is better when it’s funny. Life is infinitely better when you know the comedy of Rod Man. Rod Man, born Rod Thompson, is the 2014 winner of NBC’s Last Comic Standing. He will appear at the Improv in Schaumburg from Thursday, January 29 to Saturday, January 31. Tickets are selling out fast. As of this writing, tickets are available for Thursday night only.
Rod Man’s alchemy, his ability to transform life’s daily obstacles into comedic gold, made him a Last Comic Standing front runner within thirty seconds of his first appearance on the show. His unique observations, captivating delivery and flawless timing enthralled the audience, including judges Keenen Ivory Wayans, Russell Peters and Roseanne. Roseanne, who could be heard whooping with laughter from the sidelines during Rod Man’s sets, told him, “I have such respect for your artistry.”
Rod Man’s perspective is that of the everyman and woman who ever felt vexed, hexed and perplexed by modern life’s absurdities. The difference between Rod Man and everyman (and woman) is that we, the every-people, tend to miss what’s funny. We unquestioningly slog in our socks through airport security, allow grocery stores to con us into bringing our own bags and conducting our own check-outs, and accept unwieldy, voluminous receipts at the drugstore in the name of vaguely titled “loyalty” programs. We do it all so solemnly. But where is the life-sustaining funny? Wouldn’t life be better, happier, fun even, if we could laugh at it all? This is why you need to get tickets for Thursday night.
Rod Man makes comedic sense of the nonsense gauntlet each of us is forced to run on a daily basis. He sees it, he calls it and he makes it hilarious without a drop of meanness or cynicism. His comedy, which he aptly calls “That Good Funny,” deconstructs life’s land mines with unerring precision and originality.
Add to that his inimitable delivery, which includes a lyrical Georgia accent, and a buoyant conversational style which will remind you of that rare friend whose stories you could listen to forever. One of the key questions I had before I spoke with him was how he developed that style. Has he always been able to engage people so effectively? The answer, which was clear as we spoke, is yes. The Rod Man you see on stage is the real Rod Man. Before I continue, here is what I’m talking about:
Although Rod Man is now rightfully becoming a household name, his success is not new. He has been a comedian for twenty years and in that time won top honors at the Urban Comedy Festival in New York and the Bay Area Comedy Competition in Oakland. He has headlined the Montreal Comedy Festival and appeared at Caesar’s Palace, the Apollo Theater and Los Angeles’ Gibson Ampitheatre.
He also appeared in the movies Funny People (2009) with Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen and in Love Chronicles (2003) with Terrence Howard. He is featured on the DVD releases, The Big Black Comedy Show, Vol. 2 (2005) and on The Chocolate Sundaes Comedy Show (2013). Television appearances include his own half-hour special on Comedy Central and appearances on HBO’s P. Diddy Presents the Bad Boys of Comedy, HBO’s Def Comedy Jam, Martin Lawrence’s First Amendment for Starz, Nick Cannon’s Wild ‘N Out for MTV, One Mic Stand for BET, The World Stands Up for BBC America, The Mo’Nique Show and Comedy Central’s Premium Blend.
His win on Last Comic Standing this year was an impressive feat. Producers Wanda Sykes and Paige Hurwitz handpicked their top 100 comedians in America to attend the auditions which, for the first time, were by invitation-only. The competition was formidable. But in the end, the judges unanimously agreed that Rod Man was the clear winner.
Following is an edited transcript of my phone conversation with Rod Man, who kindly took time out to speak with me about his life in comedy:
Q: I first wanted to ask you about your name, Rod Man, because I understand there is a Chicago connection?
A: I was a Dennis Rodman fan in my day when he was “The Worm” and he used to get the championship rings with the Bulls. So yeah, he was a cool guy to me. I had the jersey. I did have the jersey.
Q: I did, too! I loved him.
A: Yeah, then he went left on us. But the old Dennis Rodman. Big fan of the old Dennis Rodman. I’d probably still like him, but I’d have to meet him now to know that.
Q: I read that you changed your name so that your family wouldn’t know you were doing comedy until you were ready for them to see you. When did you know that you were ready for them to come to a show?
A: I didn’t really know when it was the right time. But I knew that I wanted to have confidence in what I was doing before everybody started critiquing it. So I think the first show my mama came to was at the Uptown Comedy Club in Atlanta. I was nervous because I’m doing jokes about her. The kind of comedy I do is storytelling and it’s truth and embellishment, but there’s some truth in what I’m saying, so you can’t really call your mama a whore in front of her. I can do it on stage, but I don’t know if I can do it in front of her. But it’s funny. It is funny. You’ll see that this weekend, too.
Q: How did she react? Was she okay with it?
A: She was okay with it because it may have been said, but it was said in a comedic way. I think comedy should always have a little truth in it because that makes it richer. That’s how we all connect. Because that happened to me. That’s my story. So she was cool. She was like, “Boy, you’re funny. You’re funny.” So as long as you’re funny, people will get over the seriousness of it.
Q: I wanted to ask you about your style. Roseanne called it artistry. The wording, the timing, the delivery, the rhythm of your sentences, it’s like comedic beauty. Were you always a natural storyteller or did you develop your style or were you just always able to do it?
A: I’ve always been a good communicator and comedy is about communication, but doing it in a funnier sense. I don’t know if you’d call it a style. It’s me. They’ve got a microphone and they’ve got a stage light and I get to talk to the people. When I started, I used to hate silence so I would not stop talking the whole time and another comedian told me, “Man, they are listening to you.” I was like, “I just want to hear laughs. I don’t want to hear no silence.” Sometimes I don’t take a breath and I need to take a breath.
It’s always been just being comfortable at all times in your presentation. So I don’t know if it’s a style. It’s just me. Communicate these thoughts and make it funny to these people. So how are we going to do that? That’s always the goal. I don’t try to over-analyze myself. I do what I do. I do what I do and the people seem to enjoy it and I enjoy it, so that’s where the beauty happens right there.
Q: How did you decide to do your first open mic?
A: Oh, my car got repossessed … No! I used to watch this program called Def Comedy Jam and I watched Showtime at the Apollo. Def Comedy Jam was a raunchy show. But it was the first time I’d seen a lot of African American men at the time that looked like me, some of them sounded like me and I was like, “Wow, they got an outlet for this? How do you get there?” But I didn’t know how to get there. So I looked in the Yellow Pages and I found a club called the Uptown Comedy Club. And I was like, I’m going to go to their open mic on a Tuesday and I went and I signed up.
I didn’t get on stage the first time at all. So I learned then, they’ve got rules even doing open mic. Everybody’s got different rules to that. So you ain’t guaranteed stage time just because you showed up. It’s what the host wants to do. That lets you know if you’re going to love it or not because stage time, that was your first money right there. You just wanted some stage time. So I knew when I first started. I was like, “Ahh, I’m home. This feels right.”
Q: What was your first time like on stage?
A: Nerves, nerves, nerves. I used to try to hold a drink on stage. I learned not to drink on stage because I dropped the drink one time and they had to stop the show and come up and mop that up. That’ll mess up your whole rhythm.
You learn your space, what’s your working style on stage. Comedy is like being a golfer, a tennis player, a race car driver. You are out there and you will know immediately if it’s good or not because the people are right there in your face. If they’re laughing, it’s going well. If not, you need to reevaluate your career choice and really see if it’s the direction you want to go.
Q: How would you describe your comedy?
A: I always say my comedy is conversational comedy. It’s like we’re sitting around at a barbeque or a cook-out and we talking, we talking, we tripping. Having a good time. And everybody leaves like, “Man, that was cool. That was cool. We’ve got to do this again.” It’s like you all are coming over to the house and we’re going to sit around. We’re going to tell stories and we’re going to have a good time. So it’s “that good funny,” that’s what I say my comedy is. Me in your face uncut doing what I do.
Q: Please tell us about your shows.
A: I have my core group of jokes, some of the stuff you’ve seen on [Last Comic Standing]. I’ll do some of those classic bits, but I also do themes that I’m working on and fresh ideas. I also engage the people. So it’s a good time. We haven’t had any complaints yet, Teme, so it’s going pretty good.
Q: When you have a bit in mind how do you work it out? Do you write first or do you try it out at an open mic?
A: I’m not an open mic guy. I’m an in-the-moment guy. I do host a spot when I’m home where it will be like my playground, so if I want to try something I’ll try it there. But most of the time I record myself in the midst of a show and I try to listen to that and then I write it. There are different ways of going about it. It depends on, what am I trying to find out of this bit? I’m a word guy. I like words. So it might be one word that’s messing up this bit, so you’re trying to find that one word that will make this bit go higher. It’s an art form. It is an art form.
Q: One of the things I love about your comedy is that everything, even the rhythm of the sentences fits perfectly. It’s perfect comedy.
A: I wouldn’t say it’s perfect. It’s always a work in progress to me. Like if you come to my show at 7:00 you‘re going to see a totally different show than at 9:00. You might hear the same joke, but you’re going to hear a difference because I’m always present. That’s a word I like. You’ve got to be present in comedy. So I try to be present with each audience that comes to see me.
Q: Where do you host your show?
A: It’s called the Comedy and Magic Club in Hermosa Beach, California. I host second Tuesdays every month. I call it “ThatGoodFunny Tuesday.” Jay Leno host on Sunday nights, Gabriel Iglesias “Fluffy” host a night. Ray Romano, Chris Rock and Wanda Sykes have all played there.
So it’s a great room if you visit California and you want to go to the beach. It’s a great place to see comedy. And that’s how you stay good, too. You’ve got to be in front of real audiences.
Q: Wow. That sounds like an amazing time. So to what do you attribute your ability to see the absurdity in things?
A: I think we take a lot of stuff too serious, so you’ve got to find the “why am I doing this?” Like if I do the self checkout bit, it’s like, “Why am I working in this grocery store? I’m here to shop.” Somehow they have programmed us to feel like we have cashiers skills. And now we’re cashiers, we’re baggers. You’ve got to see that as absurd, but at the same time it’s kind of fun sometimes. I think I’m a pretty good cashier now. That’s a skill I wouldn’t have if they’d never created that.
And now you know your fruit codes. You didn’t know fruit had codes! But fruit has codes. Who knew that? You get new information at all times. I’m curious by nature. I ask questions, so that keeps it fresh for me. I don’t say, “Why are they doing this to me? Why are they taking all my lotion at the airport? Why are they doing that, Teme?”
Q: Yeah, I tend to do that, get too serious and I’m like “WHY ARE they doing that?” But I don’t think about what’s funny. I get really serious and down about things if I don’t remember there’s another perspective. I’m so grateful to comedians for making it possible to see that side.
A: That’s our job. To shine a little light on the absurdities of everything and say, “What is really going on here?” It helps me deal with stuff if I can find the funny in it. At the end of the day, it’s never as serious as we take it.
For tickets to Rod Man’s show at the Improv (better get them now), go to: http://chicago.improv.com/event.cfmcart&id=352955
For more information about Rod Man, visit his web site at: http://rodmancomedy.com/