Children can bring you both unsurpassed joy and difficult challenges. That’s been a pretty common experience among parents for tens of thousands of years.
Being a standup comedian who is also a parent is a more modern twist and brings its own unique set of joys and challenges. Time on the road – or just down the street – away from your child, can be a struggle. Like any traveling professional, being “gone” becomes part of the family routine but often leads to some serious introspection. Making time for family events, sports and school activities while working the comedy circuit takes some advanced time-management skills.
On the plus side, many comedians create their material from real-life experiences with their kids or recalling stories from family interactions – often leading to jokes and bits that are very relatable to their audiences. The joy and tribulations of family dynamics are the basis of classic bits from nationally known comedians like Jim Gaffigan, Tom Papa, Laurie Kilmartin and Ali Wong
At a local level, comedians face the same dilemmas. Whether a part-time comic or a touring standup, the struggles are similar, yet unique.
Trevor Anderson, a professional comedian and musician who is headlining at Fat Pants Brewing standup comedy night in Eden Prairie on Sept. 21, knows the ups and downs of being a parent/comedian. Trevor is the proud parent of a 2-year-old daughter; everything is a new adventure with a toddler and he finds being a stay-at-home dad in the entertainment industry unique.
Anderson says, “I think navigating the ‘non-traditional work hours’ is challenging sometimes. I joke about being a stay-at-home dad with a child that goes to daycare and how sweet of a deal that is. It is a nice arrangement since I use the time during the day to write, send booking emails, work on clips, etc. But also rock out a lot of the domestic tasks at home so my very supportive wife doesn’t come home to chores after a long day in corporate America while I go ‘OK, gotta go to a show!'”
Wendy Maybury, a Minnesota-Wisconsin comedy veteran and photographer whose comedy album “She’s Not From Around Here” hit No. 1 on the iTunes charts, acknowledges the juggling act her profession requires. As a single mom and comedian, she’s adamant about staying organized.
“Like all parents, the work-life balance is (the greatest challenge),” says Maybury, mother of one. “I don’t miss professional opportunities, but I also make sure I don’t miss my son’s childhood.”
Ali Hormann, comedian, show producer for Don’t Tell Comedy, and, like Maybury, a professional photographer, has a similar take.
“I think the biggest challenge about being a parent and a comic is simply time,” says Hormann, a mother of three. “I am balancing life with my husband and kids and not only needing to be present with them but truly wanting to be there and also the strong pull to keep honing my craft, keep working on material, and being relevant in an ever-changing comedy scene. I am really lucky and grateful that I have a husband who is truly supportive of me and my dreams, so we make a pretty good team.”
All in the family
Many working comics use family experiences, whether from their childhood or adulthood, as the basis for some very personal material. This includes things they experience with their children.
Anderson enthusiastically embraces a traditional comedy idiom: write what you know.
“For the last two years all I’ve really known is trying figure out how to adjust to being a new parent,” he said. “If anything, I’m thinking that I need to branch out and write fewer things about family life. There are a lot of people who come to shows who probably don’t want to hear me talk about my kid for an hour.”
Maybury also mines her family life for some nuggets. “I very often use interactions with my child onstage. I did (during a show) last night. On some level we all worry that we’re messing up our kids, so I just talk about it with strangers,” she quips.
Hormann says, “I use true stories about my kids in my jokes all the time. My children are hilarious, and I like to think they get it from me. But no one in my life has made me laugh more often than my husband, Noah, so it’s probably a combined effort. Also, my kids are who I spend the majority of my time with in my life, so of course my jokes and longer-form stories are about them because I try and be as honest as I can in my joke writing. I think a big thing I’ve tried to always keep in mind is that I will tell a joke that includes my kids, but I do my best to never tell a joke that sounds like I’m making fun of my children.”
The joy of laughter
Kids may or may not fully understand the concept of their parent being a comedian. This will vary depending on age. But they can still appreciate the joy of laughter.
Anderson’s 2-year-old doesn’t understand standup comedy, of course, but she likes to laugh. So Anderson uses his well-honed ability to relate to his audience to make her giggle.
“One game she loves and laughs nonstop during is when we make a pillow/blanket swamp that we call the Mucky Muck,” he says. “We just roll around and fall into the pile. She also likes making me wear her kitty mask. I should try it onstage sometime.”
Maybury’s son is well aware of his mom’s skill at making people laugh.
“At Disney last year, I made a whole group of people on a ride laugh — and his eyes got wide — I think he finally got what I do. He tried to repeat my line when we rode the next time, but his timing was off,” she says with a wink. Her son realizes how unique and challenging being a comedian is, saying, “It (making strangers laugh) would be hard for most people, but it’s easy for you.”
“My kids love that I’m a comedian, and even when I’m on my way out the door to sign up for an open mic, my kids will say ‘break a leg’ when they hug me,” says Hormann, whose boys are all at least 8 years old. “They also love to tell people that I’m famous or that I know a lot of famous people, mainly because I get really excited when I get to work with a well-known comic. They keep asking me when I’ll be famous enough to be a judge on the Netflix show ‘Is It Cake?’ I think they have a pretty good understanding of what I do on a basic level, and they love to give me ideas for jokes, not knowing that I’m probably taking notes.”
Parental guidance suggested
Parents who do comedy are naturally a bit selective about having their kids at a show or showing video samples of their work, for both context and content. Adult material, cultural references and complex concepts will likely be lost or inappropriate for most kids. But it is fun from time to time to show your child what your performance looks like.
Maybury took the “all in the family” concept literally by once including her son on stage. She recounts the time he was part of the act. “He has performed on me! I had him in a baby carrier during the 10,000 Laughs Comedy Festival in 2015! He has seen me since then and it makes him laugh. I try not to talk about him when he’s in the audience,” she insists.
“My kids have seen one or two clips of my standup,” says Hormann. “I’m not a strictly clean comedian, and that’s something my kids will understand more one day. But for now, I’ll show them small snippets. One time, my middle son, who was 6 at the time, saw me reviewing a tape and he said, ‘Is this you doing comedy?’ And when I nodded, he asked, ‘So you just tell stories, or is there an actual joke here?’ Needless to say, that one hit home.”
Anderson shares that a 2-year-old is probably not the best audience for standup comedy and can even turn out to be an adorable heckler.
According to Anderson, he was showing his wife a video clip he had recently posted on Instagram. “So of course my toddler started screaming ‘I see!?! Phone!? I see!?’ I showed it to her but after eight seconds she demanded I switch to Elmo and Cookie Monster. Tough crowd,” laughs Anderson.
Ali Hormann is set to perform on Sept. 22 and 23 at Sisyphus Café. For more about Hormann, visit her website.
Wendy Maybury is a regular performer throughout the Twin Cities. Get to know more about Maybury on her website.
For more on Trevor Anderson, check out his website.
Anderson (with or without a kitty mask) can be seen headlining YellowBrick Comedy’s next standup comedy show at Fat Pants Brewing in Eden Prairie on Thursday, Sept. 21, at 7:30 pm, along with comedians Lucy Zarns and Jesse the Shrink. Tickets can be purchased here. This is an 18-and-over show and may contain mature subject matter.
Editor’s note: This is the latest installment of a periodic comedy-focused column, Little Joke on the Prairie, by Eden Prairie resident Pat LaVone. He is a writer, speaker, stand-up comic and storyteller. During the original comedy boom, Pat began performing stand-up and sketch comedy in the mid-1980s. After a brief 30-year hiatus, he returned to the stage to perform stand-up and storytelling shows as well as humorous keynote presentations. He currently produces shows for YellowBrick Comedy and performs at various theaters and clubs around Minnesota.
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