Josh Alton is a rarity in the world of stand-up comedy: He’s an athlete-turned-comedian. After playing his final collegiate football game, Alton hung up his cleats and shoulder pads for a microphone and a note pad and began doing stand up comedy. He moved from Des Moines, Iowa to Chicago where he studied improv at the famous Second City Theater and continued doing stand up. Eventually Alton became a regular performer at several Chicago comedy clubs including the Laugh Factory, the Improv, and Riddles Comedy Club. Alton was also featured in the stand up comedy documentaries, “Road Dogs” and “American Smartass” and once did a commercial for the AMC Channel. Now he lives back in Des Moines and tours all over the country, headlining comedy clubs and private corporate shows. Alton married the love of his life, and has a daughter with her. His wife is a doctor so when he’s not touring he stays at home with his little girl. For this reason Alton is considered the ultimate “trophy husband”. You can read all about his adventures on the road and at home with his daughter on the Trophy Husband Blog which is located on Alton’s website: joshaltoncomedy.com, and you can check him out my guest today in 10 questions.
RM: It’s been about two and a half years since we last spoke…How have things been going for you in your personal life as well as your comedy career? What has been the highlight of this year for you so far?
JA: The last 2 1/2 years have been busy! Professionally I have continued to write new material and headline rooms across the country. Last fall I auditioned for Last Comic Standing in Omaha, and was chosen to do the next round of auditions in L.A. They flew me out and paid for my trip! The L.A. audition went well, though I did not get chosen to be on the next season of the show. Things are going well in my personal life as well. After spending 13 years in Chicago, I moved my family to Des Moines, IA where most of our relatives live. My daughter is now 3 years old, and has surpassed me as a performer already. And my wife is due to deliver the next addition to the family in September! Knocking her up has been the highlight of the year so far.
RM: Who were some of your favorite wrestlers to watch when you were younger; and have you been able to take any of the showmanship techniques you learned watching wrestling over the years and apply them to your stand-up act?
JA: I was so into professional wrestling when I was a kid that I may have too many favorites to mention them all. Hulk Hogan was everybody’s favorite because he was the best and in the 80’s Hulkamania was running wild! Other favorites included the Macho Man Randy Savage, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Andre the Giant, Ricky the Dragon Steamboat, The Honky Tonk Man, The Ultimate Warrior, Jake the Snake Roberts, Junkyard Dog, The King Harley Race, The One Man Gang, and Ravishing Rick Rude. They all knew how to own the stage and put on a great show! That’s what I try to do with my stand up shows. I also like to fly off the top rope and give hecklers the flying elbow during the show. It’s my way of shutting them up. DIG IT!
RM: Growing up in Des Moines, how did you come upon comedy as an art form of interest? What were some of the metro areas in the Midwest that you frequently traveled to when you were getting your start; and which of those cities did you find to be the most welcoming and developmental with regards to perfecting new bits?
JA: I wanted to be a comedian because in junior high I started watching Saturday Night Live. Guys like Chris Farley, David Spade, Chris Rock, Phil Hartman, Mike Meyers, and Adam Sandler were big smart asses like I was, and they were getting paid to do it. Once I got started into stand up I would travel to Stanford’s Comedy Club in Kansas City, Acme Comedy Club in Minneapolis, and the Funny Bone in the Quad Cities (no longer there) to do their open mics. The Funny Bone in Des Moines only had open mic night once a month, so we would travel to these other nearby clubs in order to get on stage more often. Usually we were given 3-5 minute spots after driving hours and hours just to get there. Those were some of the funnest road trips of my life!
RM: What was the most important thing you learned about the progression of your comedy skills while studying at Second City? Who were some of the comedians that you really connected with during your time there; and do you think that pretty much every comic just getting started can pick up at least a few pointers from such training?
JA: My training at Second City was a great experience because it taught me how to really come out of my shell and improvise with confidence. Before I started there I was the type of comic that would stick to the script and not talk to the crowd much. Even if I had a heckler I would often ignore them because I was afraid to deviate from my act. After honing my skills at Second City I learned to be quick and confident and let the funny happen. I do think most comics could benefit from taking classes there or at another improv establishment. I also worked part time in the Second City box office for several years and got to meet a ton of great actors. The most notable people that passed through Second City while I was there were Keegan-Michael Key (Key and Peele on Comedy Central) and Jack McBrayer (Conan and 30 Rock). It was fun to be able to watch them on stage night after night.
RM: How would you best describe the last show that you did here in the Quad Cities? How do crowds in the Midwest tend to respond to humor as opposed to crowds outside of this geographical region?
JA: My last shows in the Quad Cities were (I believe) at the old Penguins Club. I opened for Andy Kindler (Everybody Loves Raymond, Last Comic Standing). I would describe the shows as a delightful delicacy of wit and humor. (I don’t know either?!) Crowds in the Midwest are the best! In general, people are polite enough to sit and listen and smart enough to get all the jokes. That cannot be said about all areas of this great country.
RM: What’s the most bizarre thing that’s ever happened to you while on stage? Were you satisfied with the way that you handled it; and if not, what would you have done differently if it were to happen to you on stage tonight?
JA: When I first started headlining I was doing a room in Clear Lake, IA and a fight broke out during my show. One guy was heckling a lot and I was unable to shut him up. He had something to say after every joke and the audience was getting irritated. The biggest guy in the room finally stood up and yelled at the guy to “SHUT THE F%&# UP!” The heckler said, “Make me!” and they went outside, along with half the crowd, to fight each other. I just finished my show with the other half. I was happy I handled it that way because I’m pretty sure the only way to shut this particular heckler up was to take him outside and beat him down.
RM: How much research do you typically do on the companies you work for before doing a corporate gig? Do you feel more pressure going into those shows because they generally pay better, or does that factor usually disappear from your mind the second you take the stage?
JA: I always Google the company and look at their website to at least see what they do. Half of the time I still can’t tell after looking at their site. Other than that I usually don’t do too much research going into it. I do often feel a little more pressure at a corporate event since they are usually spending a little more money on their entertainment. Honestly once I hit the stage that all goes away and I start having fun. The key is always to make sure the boss is laughing. If the boss is laughing then everyone else will laugh too.
RM: If you were a superhero and one of your powers gave you the ability to change one thing about the industry of stand-up comedy, what would you change and why?
JA: Traveling (for me) is the toughest part of being a road comic. Therefore I would love to have the power to teleport. In a month I am doing a week at a comedy club in Winston-Salem, NC. It’s about 1000 miles from Des Moines. Teleporting there would make that week a lot more fun.
RM: When do you know that it’s time to eliminate a bit in your act that has been successful for some time? Do you have a certain set of criteria for evaluating jokes that could potentially be nearing the end of their life cycle?
JA: Any time I get tired of doing a bit, it’s time to let it go. If I’m tired of doing it, the audience can probably tell. I won’t have the same conviction behind it. Also, when people come to a show and tell me they remember hearing a certain bit last time I was there. That to me is always a red flag that it may be time to let a bit go.
RM: Which portion of the comedic writing process would you say that you struggle with the most and why? Conversely, which aspect of the joke writing procedure would you say allows for your biggest strengths to shine; and why do you think you excel at that particular skill within your craft?
JA: I struggle with keeping it clean. When I write new jokes my mind goes to that dirty place first. That’s when I have to dig deeper to see what else is there. Not all of my jokes have to be clean, but trust me when I tell you that I have plenty of dick jokes. I thrive when it comes to storytelling. I’ve been telling stories my whole life so it just feels natural for me to write that way for my stand up act.
RM: What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2015 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
JA: I will spend the rest of this year booking shows and fine tuning my act. In 2016 I’d like to get into a few comedy festivals and work on putting out a new comedy album. Stay tuned!
Official Website: http://jaccomedy.tumblr.com/
Josh on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/joshalton
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