By Ryan Meehan
Johnny Beehner puts on a very funny show. That’s all there is to it. He has been performing stand-up comedy since 1999. He can be heard on XM/ Sirius Satellite radio, he’s been on the Bob and Tom nationally syndicated radio show multiple times, and he is constantly traveling from city to city across the country making people laugh. Johnny started his comedy career putting on his own shows in Milwaukee during his college years. He spent the summers between school years pounding the pavement in the comedy world of New York City, then Los Angeles. With a strong background in improvisational theater throughout all of college, including training at Chicago’s prestigious Second City, Johnny brings a very unique show to the stage. His shows have been described as “silly,” “smart,” “fun,” and “hilarious.” Johnny centers himself as the butt of most of his jokes with tales of growing up an awkward, tall, skinny middle child in a huge family. Whether it’s at a college, a private event, or a comedy club, Johnny’s clean and clever style of comedy is sure to keep the audience laughing, and he’s our guest today in 7 questions.
RM: What is the comedy scene like in Milwaukee; and what were some of the venues where you really cut your teeth out before expanding your act to include larger metro areas? What are some of your favorite cities to perform here in the Midwest? And why do you think that the comedy fans in those cities seem to “get” stand-up as opposed to in other places?
JB: First off, the comedy scene in Milwaukee is great. There are a new crop of comics that are really excited about stand up and really put the work in to create stage time at different venues all over the city. When I was coming up here in Milwaukee, it was pretty much just the Safehouse open mic and the Comedy Café. The Safehouse was awesome because every single Thursday that I was in town, I would be at that open mic trying new stuff. It was always important to me to do new stuff because my peers, my generation of comics in Milwaukee, were always there, too. Their laughs were more important to me than the audience’s. The Comedy Café was and is a great club. I still consider that my home club. I really did cut my teeth at that club. Before pursuing the Comedy Café, I had just been producing and headlining my own shows at Marquette where I went to college. The audience at those shows already knew me and loved me, so going up in front of REAL audiences of people that did not know me at all was a real wake up call. In fact, my first week as mc at the Comedy Café, after the first 2 shows, the owner told me to just do announcements and not do any material. I sucked.
Some cities that stick out in my mind here in the Midwest that I like performing are Madison, WI, Rochester & Duluth, MN, Omaha, NE, Appleton, WI. I don’t know. There are a lot. Those cities have some of my favorite clubs. I think some of them are great because of the club, some are great because of the people that go to the club. Madison, for example, is a case where it is run superbly, AND the audiences are just GREAT. They are smart and they don’t have sticks up their asses.
RM: Aside from the fact that there is such a legendary stigma attached to the institution, what is it about Second City that seems to produce so many comics that are not only performers but great writers as well? What were some of the things you learned while you attended training there that you not only would consider to be priceless, but that a comedian probably wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else?
JB: Keep in mind that I was training at Second City starting around 2002-ish so my memory of the specifics is not super sharp. I lead the improv troupe of Marquette, the Studio 013 Refugees, during my time at Marquette and went to Second City to keep my skills sharp and learn improv from a new perspective. I think so much talent comes from Second City because of its history and because it is in Chicago. There is so much talent in that city. Without intentionally sounding like a commercial, Second City offers a variety of courses other than improvisation, like writing and acting. What I valued most about my time there was the understanding from all the people in the classes with me as well as the instructors that this was a safe place to do anything. It really helped me not feel inhibited. That is so important in performing as well as in writing.
RM: As a professional touring standup comedian, do you think that if you were single you still would have named your album “Tiny Weiner”? Has being a husband and a dad changed your view on the world of comedy and how you write material for your act?
JB: Ha! Yes. Yes, I would. There are few things in this life that I am passionate about, but one thing I take very seriously is my tiny wiener. No, but seriously, I never used, or “tried” to use comedy to get laid. I thought naming my cd “Tiny Wiener” would be so stupid that it would be funny. Plus, I had fantasies of making it onto Late Show and hearing Dave introduce me by saying, “He just released a new comedy cd called Tiny Wiener, ladies and gentlemen, Johnny Beehner! Get out here, Johnny.” Unfortunately, I just found out a couple days ago, Dave is saying good-bye sometime in 2015. The clock is ticking on that dream.
And, yes, definitely being a husband and a fantastic dad has changed my view of the world of comedy. My target demographic had always been college age audiences and in the last few years, that has shifted pretty drastically. I fought it for a while, but have come to realize that my life is more relatable to 20-40’s people. Don’t get me wrong, I still have the maturity level of a 5th grader, but now I’m a 5th grader talking about my wife and daughter.
RM: What’s the most hack joke/comment that you’ve ever heard involving the pronunciation of your last name? Do you think that for the most part a lot of the stuff involving racial slurs is hack shit just based on the fact that it’s been done so many times before? How can a comedian discuss matters of ethnicity and be inventive at the same time?
JB: The funny thing is comics usually double check the pronunciation of my last name before the show, and if they don’t, they usually botch it somehow. I think that’s because they don’t want to accidentally say “Beaner” if that’s not how it is pronounced. I don’t mind at all, the one thing I do not enjoy is when an emcee doesn’t say anything to me before a show and then when they introduce me, they say something like, “This next guy coming up is a white boy, but his last name is a racial term for a Mexican!” I have a joke in my act to that same flavor, a little smoother, but it is so old that I HATE telling it. I need to stop.
I don’t think talking about race or racial slurs is necessarily hack automatically. I don’t talk about it because it’s not a factor of my day to day life as a white male. When I hear comics talk about it, I am quick to dismiss it because it is such an over-done topic. But I do give it a chance in case they have somehow found a very fresh way to do it, but I don’t see it much. Chappelle does it masterfully, but he’s obviously a rare breed. I can’t really give advice on how to do it because I can’t do it. However, if you need advice on how to write a beautifully crafted wiener-joke…
RM: I heard you recently on Irrelevant with Mike Merryfield, on an episode that featured Tom Simmons and Stu McCallister…Do you have any interest in doing your own podcast either in the near future or sometime down the road? Do you think that deep down most comics want to be radio hosts in some way, shape, or form?
JB: I would love to have my own podcast and it is so fun to daydream about doing it and then do nothing about it. Actually, I have a very good friend in comedy that I was going to do a podcast with, but he lives very far away and it would be a bit tricky technology-wise to make it work AND sound as good as I want a podcast I put out to sound. His name is Jason Russell and he is a comic formerly out of Milwaukee until he turned his back on his roots and his hometown and moved down to Texas because he is a woman and can’t handle the cold even though he did for 40 years of his life. Maybe someday, we will. Whenever we talk, we basically disagree on every single topic that comes up and we don’t know why we are friends and that would pretty much be our angle. So keep your ears peeled for the “Beehner-Russell Debate Podcast.” I talk about that idea almost every time I am on Mike Merryfield’s podcast.
I also do think it would be fun to do my own. I just haven’t come up with a unique compelling angle to take. I don’t want to do the same thing Mike does because I love Mike’s and whenever I want to do that (just talk with comics about comedy) I do Mike’s podcast. He is a GREAT host. I don’t think I would be. I think if I do, it will be more of a performance type podcast, than a shoot-the-shit interview type podcast.
I do NOT think that most comics want to be radio hosts in some way, shape, or form. I think that a lot of comics think that radio hosts want to be comics in some way, shape, or form. It’s usually very fun doing morning radio to promote shows, but sometimes you come across the radio DJs that try to out-funny the comic and I think that is where that subtle animosity can come from. I would love to be able to make people laugh and reach tons of people every day without the travel, but I need to be on that stage and under those lights. I need to see the fruits of my labor right away and right in front of me.
RM: What are some of the ways that you like to entertain yourself with the many hours that you spend on the road driving from gig to gig? Do you have any guilty pleasures that help you pass the time?
JB: I like to stretch my arms out really far in front of me to where I am basically steering with my elbows, and then I hold my head up real high and very slightly cross my eyes so my vision is just blurred enough to where I can’t make out the dash, but I can see my arms in front of me and I pretend that I am Superman flying over the street. That and podcasts.
RM: For those who might not be familiar with it, what exactly is the Carnival Cruise Comedy Challenge? Is the actual competition itself held at sea; and how do they dispose of the comics who are eliminated?
JB: Ha, no, it was a competition that they would hold at different clubs around the country years ago and many different bookers would come and judge and offer feedback, etc. Anyway, it was sponsored by Carnival Cruise lines and 1st place got work on a Carnival Cruise, however I know a couple comics that ended up winning 1st place at different CCC Challenges that still haven’t gotten their week on the boats. That may have something to do with why those contests stopped. I had good luck with mine. I took 2nd and I made some great contacts and ended up getting “in” with a few bookers from that.
RM: What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2014? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
JB: Nope…just kidding! I’m VERY excited about 2014. My wife and I are expecting our 2nd baby this July so I will be taking about a month off to welcome that little monster to our family. Outside of that, I have a pretty solid schedule including headlining a bunch of new clubs that I have either never been to or haven’t headlined yet. I’ll be at the Comedy Cave in Canada in early June and I have never performed in Canada before. May 13-18, I will be in NYC for the Laughing Devil Comedy Festival and I am pretty excited about that.
Official Website: http://johnnybeehner.com/
Johnny on Twitter: https://twitter.com/johnnycomic
Johnny on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/johnny.beehner
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