Tyler Fowler named his new tour after his mom. Or more accurately, he named his new tour after his mom said he can’t go. As a standup comic, Tyler says, “I’m on the road all the time. I noticed that no matter where I go, my mom is like, ‘Oh, that’s not a safe place!’ So I named it ‘My Mom Said I Can’t Go Tour,’ followed by a list of all the places I’m actually going, like yes, I will disobey!”
You might guess that “as a young middle-aged” person, as he describes himself, Tyler would be miffed and aggravated by his mom’s fretting. The opposite is true. The two have a great relationship, with Tyler viewing any bumps as opportunities to connect and laugh. So it’s not surprising that this Lombard, IL native also has a gift for creating strong bonds with his audience. He is in demand at every imaginable venue from top comedy clubs to riotous family reunions to corporate events (with one exception – more on his best and worst gigs below).
On Monday, September 18, Tyler brings the “My Mom Said I Can’t Go Tour” to Zanies in Old Town. Audiences can expect to hear his unique views on family, relationships, parenting, and just what it takes to live a life. His point of view always comes with an unexpected twist and an exquisite blend of light and dark humor. Some of my favorites from his canon:
“I have ADHD and I know that because I was diagnosed in middle school and forgot until two weeks ago.”
“I did ‘dry January’ five years ago and haven’t had a drink since which shows you how bad I am with moderation.”
And one of my all-time favorite lines from anyone ever: “Most people are afraid of public speaking. It’s private speaking that messes me up.” Anyone who has ever felt even a twinge of social awkwardness will feel understood. Tyler says he hopes his material will leave audiences feeling that they “can relate in a way that’s funny, but that’s also relieving. Like, okay, I’m not crazy, or I’m crazy but in an understandable way!”
Tyler is a nationally touring headliner and a founder of Team Us, the powerhouse comedy-producing “throuple” which also includes Meghana Indurti and Vik Pandya. Tyler was named among the “Best of the Fest” at the Cleveland Comedy Festival. His debut album Friends With 401(k) Benefits premiered #1 on iTunes and Top 10 on the Billboard Comedy Charts and was followed by a 30-minute special with Dry Bar Comedy titled Little Spoon. He hosts the popular Sunday open mic at Surge Billiards in Logan Square.
Despite self-deprecating remarks to the contrary, Tyler is as delightful one-on-one as he is on stage. He kindly spoke with me by phone about his comedy origins, secrets to success, and what his mom really thinks about this tour.
Teme: What is your comedy origin story?
Tyler: Comedy Central was always on when I was growing up. I gravitated towards that, but I always thought I would have a very serious job. I studied business. I started my career working in advertising at Leo Burnett here in Chicago. They paid for classes at Second City to help you be more creative. So I did that and I fell in love with it. I started performing improv and quickly started performing standup after that. I took all of the things that they wanted me to do to get better at my job, and I got so good at it I left my job and started doing standup full time.
Teme: How did you develop your ability to see the world through a funny lens?
Tyler: Oh, that’s a good question. Growing up, I found humor and comedy were ways to connect with people and find common ground. If I could laugh with someone that means we understand each other. In middle school, high school, and even in my family, that’s just the way I’ve related to people. Once I found that I could do that and connect with strangers on stage, I discovered it’s a skill that seemed to come naturally, but also one you can practice and hone.
Teme: How do we hone that skill? Can it be learned?
Tyler: I do think it is something you can learn. From doing standup for a long time, I see there are people who just have “it” innately. But it is something you can cultivate. The way to learn is practice. In standup, practice is a survival technique. If you put yourself on stage hundreds of times in a year, eventually you realize “What do I have to do to keep people laughing and interested?” And the answer is: be relatable, be funny, and connect with the audience in some way. You pick up on how to do that through repetition. You go, “Okay, I tried this last night or two weeks ago and it worked.” Or “I know when I’m in this particular situation and the crowd is quiet or tired, I can pull out this move.” At some point it becomes second nature.
Teme: I’m intrigued by the name of your tour, “My Mom Said I Can’t Go.” That sounds like many of our childhoods. What can you reveal about it?
Tyler: The title came out of exactly what you said. It’s a very childish thing. I’m an adult and my mom is still the perennial worried parent. I travel a lot. I do standup full-time, so I’m on the road all the time. It doesn’t matter where I’m going. She’ll say, “I don’t know… I’ve heard it’s dangerous there.”
I thought that was funny, especially as I’m traveling and going on tour. It doesn’t matter where I’m going, she’s going to be worried about it. She’s so much of what I talk about in my act, themes around family and parents and describing the period of “look, I’m a grown adult, but yes, my mother’s still worried about me.”
Teme: And now I’m like that with my kids. “Well, it’s not you guys I don’t trust, it’s the rest of the world.”
Tyler: Yep, exactly.
Teme: Does your mom say that, too?
Tyler: I know it very well, yes.
Teme: I don’t know how to break that pattern.
Tyler: I don’t have kids, but I could imagine how that’s ingrained to do.
Teme: Exactly. I told them that for real, once the mom alarm is on, you can’t turn it off.
Tyler: Exactly. Very similar to what my mom said. She’s like, “I’m always going to be that way, there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Teme: How does she feel about having star billing on this tour?
Tyler: She leans into it. She’s always been very supportive of my career. She’ll be at the show at Zanies. She’s kind of my agent of sorts. Whenever I have a big show around home, she invites all her friends. She knows that about half of the show is about her, so they all get a kick out of it.
Teme: What does your comedy say about you?
Tyler: My comedy is just silly and playful and fun at the core of it. That sounds like I’m just describing standup comedy, but that’s my view of the world and the things that I’ve experienced. Being autobiographical and a little self-deprecating has also always been part of my style.
Teme: What can you reveal about the topics you’re talking about on tour?
Tyler: A lot about family, dating and relationships, especially as my friends get married and have kids. So family in the sense of my family, but also my friends having families and becoming parents, which is interesting. I comment on things like marriage, family, and kids, all things I don’t have, but am intimately close to with my friends.
Teme: What do you hope audiences will take away?
Tyler: It seems simple, but I hope more than anything that they have a good time. I hope people enjoy it. I do think there are a lot of things people can relate to in the show. I hope people will see themselves or someone they know or love in the people I portray on stage or in myself. I hope that people will feel comfort in that and know that these are common experiences that they’re not alone in.
Teme: I always think that’s a great feeling to experience at a comedy show; not being alone, the camaraderie. You’re automatically part of a community.
Tyler: Yes. Hopefully, the audience relates to me and when everyone is sitting together laughing at the same stuff, they realize, oh, okay, everyone else here also goes through this!
Teme: I’m really impressed by the way you engage all sorts of audiences. Your audiences include major comedy clubs, baby showers, private parties, and roasts. You have a gift for understanding audiences and making all of them laugh. I’d love to hear about your writing process and how you do that.
Tyler: Early on in my standup, especially knowing that I wanted this as a career, I tried to do everything, go everywhere and perform for every group. Anyone that would pay me or would have me, I would go because I wanted to perform and I wanted to make money. So as a survival tactic, I had to learn to adapt to all these different places. When I’m writing, I want to write stuff that’s going to be relatable to young people in Chicago, but also to audiences in rural Wisconsin or North Dakota.
So, it’s just something I’m conscious of. If I’m going to write a joke, I want to be able to use it far and wide and in many places for as many people as I can. It’s such a painful feeling to watch or to be the person telling a joke and see the audience look at them confused. That’s what I’m trying to avoid at all costs.
Teme: Do you sit down and write? Or do you “write” on stage?
Tyler: Very much sit down and write. I wish I was someone who could write on stage. It seems easier! I sit down for about an hour every day and actually write. I’ll jot down ideas as I’m going through my life, things I’ve experienced, things I notice.
If I notice I’m repeating a story or anecdote to friends that I think is funny and they laugh at, I go, “Oh, maybe that’s something I could do on stage.” Then I’ll sit down and write it in the most concise, easily explainable way, then try it out on stage and continue to hone it. Hopefully, it becomes something that can stay in the act.
Teme: Do you have a favorite story from all the many gigs you’ve done?
Tyler: There are so many favorite stories. I also have “most painful stories,” and “worst gigs.” Two stories stand out. One was truly one of the worst bombs I ever had. It was a corporate event around the holidays at an engineering company in the northwest suburbs. I pass their office all the time because it’s on the highway and I shudder every time because it takes me right back.
This engineering company is based in Japan, so half their staff didn’t speak English. It was just people staring at me the whole time, not a single laugh, even though they all seemed interested. They had their iPhones out and they’re recording me and not enjoying it. So, they all have an hour of iPhone video of me having the worst sweating bomb of my life. That was memorable.
On the flip side, I had the opposite experience a year later around the holidays. A family hired me for a big family reunion at their house. It was a big Irish family. They couldn’t have been more fun just right off the bat, one of the most fun shows I’ve ever done.
They had one uncle who was ribbing me during the show. I made a crack about his red sweater and how he looked like “the elf on the shelf.” After the show, they made him go sit on the mantle of the fireplace and wear a little Santa hat and he was the spitting image. Since then, because they’re such a big family, I continue to run into them in the city. They’ll see me on the street and they’re like, “You called my uncle the ‘elf on the shelf’ a couple of years ago and no one ever lets him live it down! Every Christmas we make him sit up on the mantle.”
Teme: What are you thinking right before you go on stage? Do you have any pre-show rituals?
Tyler: Yes. I like to write out and tinker with my set list and what I plan to do. One of the most fun things about standup is the tinkering right before I go on. I’m watching the comedian before me or I’m thinking, “Should I move this joke here? Do I want to try this new joke?” And I’m jotting down things I’m observing about the room and anything that I can add in the moment.
Teme: I think my nerves would be going so hard, I’m not sure I would have the presence of mind.
Tyler: There’s something about the pressure that is invigorating. I think I struggle with focusing in life, so it’s a good feeling to be consumed by this and in the flow.
Teme: You say many things in your comedy that I love. One is that you’re better at public speaking than “private speaking,” that it’s easier to be on stage than talking to someone one-on-one. What is your advice for overcoming the challenges of “private speaking” for those of us who relate?
Tyler: It’s similar to standup where the more you practice and get comfortable with doing something, the easier it becomes. You kind of forget why you were ever afraid of it in the first place.
There is another thing that I tell people about standup. I think it fits with anything that you’re nervous about. Remember that for the most part, everyone wants you to do well. In standup, it’s a room of people hoping that you do great. It’s the same thing with meeting and talking to anyone when you’re nervous or anxious. For the most part, they’re hoping you all get along and that you’re a good, reasonable person also. They’re on your side.
Teme: How did you, Meghana Indurti, and Vik Pandya meet and create Team Us? I always especially loved that you had a show called “Laugh Near Minimalist Furniture.”
Tyler: Meghana and I worked together and took the improv class together. She’s actually the one who first told me, “They’ll pay for our classes. Let’s give this a shot.” We met Vik at Second City. The three of us had just started doing standup. Leo Burnett let you reserve conference room space on weekends to host events. With Vik’s help, Meghana and I started having shows at our office. We were brand new at improv and standup when you can’t really get booked for anything. So we thought, “Well, we have a bunch of friends who want to come watch us. Let’s just host it at work. We have a free place to do it. We can maybe charge five bucks.”
Our first couple of shows turned out to be really fun. A ton of people came. Everyone invited friends who invited friends who invited friends. It snowballed until after a while we were like, “We have something here. Let’s do this on a regular basis.” The three of us work well together as a team from a comedic and producing perspective. So we just kind of fell into it. We started producing shows in other places. Then the three of us started working more as comedians, but we’ve always enjoyed working together, so we’ve always got projects going on as Team Us.
Teme: Is there anything unexpected about you that your fans might not guess?
Tyler: My first instinct is probably not! I think I am as meets the eye. Maybe that I’m learning to play the piano. That’s my project this year. I’m trying to be more musical, and creative in another way. Nothing I would ever do on stage. And of course, everything in my life I relate back to comedy in some way. It’s been interesting learning music and observing how the creative process parallels or is different than comedy.
Teme: What question would you like someone to ask you?
Tyler: It’s always nice when people ask how they can support comedians. It’s very simple! Come to a show and follow comedians on social media. Buy a ticket and encourage your friends to do the same. The thing that is always very nice to me is when my friends come to the show. It means even more when they bring a friend, so they’re introducing someone new to me. They’re vouching for me in that way and I appreciate that’s a big limb to go out on. But I think I will do them justice. That’s the most helpful thing I think you can do for a comedian. Introduce someone new.
Teme: Absolutely anything else we should add?
Tyler: Come to my show on September 18th! It’s going to be a lot of fun. I’m very excited about it and I just want as many people to come see it as possible. So, people out there, that’s the one thing you should know about me: September 18th at Zanies in Chicago!
Tyler Fowler’s “My Mom Said I Can’t Go” Tour stops at Zanies, 1548 N. Wells, Chicago, on Monday, September 18 at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased here.