“I like you guys. I’m going to tell you something a little personal,” Mike Cronin says towards the end of his album, Hot for Too Long. The statement got a huge, extended laugh. Mike’s set was already personal, a lot personal, and in the best way: in a no-fear, we’re friends, I can tell you anything and it will shed light on your life and make you happier and less alone kind of way.
The audience was there for big laughs and they got them all the way through. It’s extraordinary what becomes comic in the hands of a gifted performer and easy to see how Mike rose to the top of Cincinnati comedy before moving to Chicago last January.
His material includes awkward moments in relationships, accidental souvenirs in the bedding, the conversation when his mom revealed his dad’s infidelity, drinking, farting, pooping, passive-aggressive gift-giving and all manner of quirks and misunderstandings between friends and family. Woven throughout are clever callbacks and brilliant pops of word play. His writing style is so economical you want to hang onto every word – each is there to build comic effect.
Mike has been described as a “guy’s guy” and heavy on the testosterone, but his female fans connect just as easily. For one, you’ll never again have to ask your guy, “What are you thinking?” Mike will tell you and the answer is less sinister and way funnier than we tend to suspect. Not only that, his insight and perspective hit universal notes for everyone.
A finalist in the Cincinnati Funniest Person contest, Mike is also an award-winning filmmaker and one of the stars of the viral music video, “The Hipster Song.” He was a cast member of the sketch/improv show Underbelly, which was named Cincinnati’s Best Comedy Show of 2009 before it spun off to New York and L.A.
Hot for Too Long is available on iTunes and Rooftopcomedy.com. Chicagoans are in luck because Mike is co-producer of the free, weekly comedy showcase, Best Night Ever at the GMan Tavern, and makes regular appearances throughout the city.
Mike kindly spoke with me by phone about his comedy, the Chicago scene, and how to get through the holiday season.
Q: Why comedy?
A: I was always a huge comedy fan. In college I took a stand-up comedy class and the final was to write a paper or do stand-up and I did stand-up. I’ve always loved it.
Q: Which comedians especially resonate with you?
A: Early on, Dane Cook was a huge inspiration. Dave Attell. There was a guy I got to meet named Robert Hawkins. He’s probably my favorite comedian.
Q: How did you decide to move to Chicago?
A: I felt I had been stagnant for a while in Cincinnati and there’s more opportunity up here.
Q: How do the two communities compare? What do you find are the best things about the Chicago comedy scene and the hardest things?
A: I love that there are so many shows every night, at least two or three, whereas in Cincinnati, it’s four to five a week. The people here are great. It was hard breaking in here and I thought maybe Chicago was a little more clique-y, but that was because it’s been so long since I’d been on the other side. I’d forgotten that it takes time everywhere to get to know the people who come out every week, every night, for the open mics. When you see someone new, you’re like who is that? So many people drop out of stand-up that you don’t bond with every single person you meet.
Q: It feels like comedians here are really rooting for each other.
A: Yeah, they are.
Q: One of the many things I love about your album and comedy is you’re not afraid to tell intensely personal stories. They really connect with the audience. Were you able to do that from the beginning or is it a style you’ve developed?
A: I think I did it from the beginning. Whenever my brothers or other family members bring guests to the show, they ask, “How much of this is real?” And my family’s like, “Oh, all of it. All of it is real.” I was inspired in that by Louis C.K. early on. I forget who said it, but somebody said no one can steal your own stories. People can steal jokes about airplane food, but they can’t steal real stories that happened to you.
Q: How do you recognize situations that will make good comedy?
A: You just have to think about it over and over again. Something I need to do more is I used to turn off the radio in my car when I was driving and just think about something over and over again and then I’d tell a friend the story and if they laughed at all, I’d know there’s something there. So a little bit of that and then writing it and keep going over it … overanalyze everything, which is good and bad because once you turn it on you can’t turn it off.
Q: What’s a recent thing that’s happened that might make it into your stand-up?
A: It was an incident that happened with my girlfriend, but I don’t think she would like it if I told it so I might not ever do it. Maybe stuff about my parents. I just found out my mom doesn’t believe in global warming and that baffles me.
Q: I love the stories about your family. What do they say when they make it into your material?
A: I think they love it. Both my brothers like it a lot. I told the joke about my brother being a fatter version of me and then I stopped doing it because I thought if he ever sees it, it’s probably going to hurt his feelings. Then he called me and said, “I saw that on Rooftopcomedy.com. Why don’t you do it more often? That’s really funny.” So I started doing it again.
Q: That sounds like a really good brotherly relationship.
A: Yeah, they’re great. They’re my two biggest fans.
Q: You do a lot of great stuff with words, like word play, plus having every word count. It’s very tight. What’s your writing process?
A: When I first started out I would write down every single word and time it. I wrote out every set I did beforehand. Even jokes I’d done before I would write word for word. I’d write everything I was going to say that night. It showed me, oh, some of these things you don’t need at all and you can just cut out. Any time I can take words out of my act, I do.
Q: You talk about getting into awkward situations. The holiday season is kind of a mine field, especially for me. Parties, family I might not get along with … What’s your advice for navigating awkward situations?
A: It’s not great advice, but drink. At least it relieves some of those social barriers and gets you out of your head. Sometimes you’ll say things that you would otherwise think and shoot down instead of saying. Even with my own family sometimes I’m awkward or quiet during holidays just because I don’t know what to say.
Q: I understand, yeah.
A: The last couple of years I’ve been doing holidays at my girlfriend’s family and that’s a whole other bag of worms. Half of them are very … I wouldn’t say proper. Well, yes, they’re kind of proper people and I don’t look at myself as that way, so it’s like, remember don’t curse in front of them or say dirty stuff.
Q: Yeah, I totally get it. First of all, I’m so busy second-guessing myself that by the time I say something it’s out of context or then I say something and it comes out wrong, so I’ll decide I’m not going to say anything. Then that’s awkward in its own way. It’s the worst of all worlds. It’s like just hurry up and be January … which is kind of an improbable thought in Chicago.
A: I’m the same way.
Q: I also wanted to ask you about the showcase you produce. How would you describe its atmosphere?
A: I think the name describes itself. It’s the best night ever. We book comedians we really like. It’s a small room which we pack every week and it’s always a blast. I look forward to every Monday. It’s my favorite night of the week.
Q: How do you decide who to book?
A: It’s a community. We have four producers. Sam Ash McHale, the head of the group, will say, “Who do you guys like this week?” And we’ll say, “This person did great at this open mic. Maybe we should put them on.” She takes our suggestions and comes up with a list and then we all agree or disagree.
Q: It sounds like a great night.
A: It is and it’s free. It’s cheap drinks. It’s hard to beat.
Q: What are the rewards of running a showcase and what are the biggest challenges?
A: The best rewards are finding out about new people I just didn’t know about. New comedy that catches me by surprise and makes me laugh really hard. I love going to shows especially when people I haven’t seen before knock it out of the park. I’m like, wow! Amazing.
Q: Who are some of those people right now?
A: There’s a guy Cameron Gillette who makes me laugh really hard. Mike Bobrinskoy who’s one of the producers of our show. Dave Losso, too, who’s the other producer. So many people. In town, Joe McMahon, Natalie Jose and Steven King and on the road, Bengt Washburn and Stewart Huff are both guys I worked with that blew me away. So funny and so original.
Q: There’s so much talent here. You could go out every night and see something great.
A: And there’s such a wide variety of shows. It’s not just straight stand-up. There are story-telling shows and I went to an open mic last night where you spin a wheel and whatever it lands on you have to do. So it’s three minutes where you have to do a roast of the audience or only crowd work or something else.
Q: I remember reading about that, but which one is it?
A: It’s the open mic at the Comedy Bar on Wednesday nights.
Q: What are the biggest challenges of running a showcase?
A: It’s making people happy and convincing people that you don’t hate them. A lot of comedians, and I’m just as guilty, are very self-conscious where if you don’t respond to their emails or get them on the show as soon as possible they think that you don’t like them.
I think it’s part of that thing I was talking about in your brain where you spend all day analyzing stuff to break it down, to figure out what’s funny, that you overanalyze stuff like why doesn’t he return my emails, or why aren’t I on this show and this person is?
That’s the biggest thing, getting along with everybody. You never want to make another comedian mad. We’re all one community here.
Q: What is something unexpected about you that the audience might not guess?
A: I’m really into comic books. Mostly Marvel.
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