Who Turned You on to Comedy?

I have interviewed a lot of comedians and improvisers over the years, and I always find it interesting who turned them on to their first comedy album, or movie or TV show.

For me, it was my older brother, Bobby. I was a grade behind him in school, so when I was in seventh grade, he was in eighth. It was 1977. My parents had gone on a trip to Florida for the weekend and had hired this older woman whom we had to call Aunt Fannie to babysit us.

Since our parents weren’t home, we lied to “Aunt Fannie” about what our bedtime was on Saturday night so we could stay up late to watch part of this show that came on after the news that my brother swore was the funniest thing he had ever seen. He seemed really excited as he explained the skits, including a hilarious one with bees. I didn’t understand, but since he was excited, I was excited. Older brothers have that power over their younger brothers. Of course, Aunt Fannie didn’t know what we were talking about.

After the sports was over on the local newscast, this show came on called Saturday Night Live. I remember two things from that show.

  1. There was a sketch called “Ask President Carter,” where Dan Ackroyd played then-president Jimmy Carter, and Bill Murray played Walter Cronkite, and they took phone calls, and one guy called who was tripping on acid and the president talked him down. I had not taken drugs at that point in my life, but on some level I understood the humor of that sketch.
  2. It was the first time something on TV made me laugh out loud, which is impressive because by the age of 13, with little parental supervision, I had watched literally thousands of hours of TV.

SNL had a profound effect on me. On Monday morning, I was that annoying fat kid, repeating all of the lines from the show like I had made them up.

In seventh grade we had to debate on a subject, and I imitated Dan Ackroyd and used his line, “Jane you ignorant slut,” replacing Jane with the girl I was debating. I don’t remember getting in trouble but I do remember that the girl was really mad at me. This is no excuse for the fact that I used that word, but I didn’t even know what “slut” meant at the time.

I learned all the words and all the moves from Steve Martin’s King Tut song, and students would ask me to perform it. I loved the attention.

Then Bobby came to me later and said, “You’ve got to watch this show that is even funnier then SNL. It’s called Second City Television.” In Chicago, it was on at midnight on Saturdays right after SNL. I didn’t agree that it was better, and it took me a while to like it.

But on Saturday nights I was watching two hours of the funniest TV I had ever seen.

When I was 13, my brother was not the funniest person I knew, but he had great taste in comedy. He thought I was funny, too, and as we got older, he tried to keep up doing bits with me, but that was not his strength. His appreciation of comedy made him both a great audience and a great sidekick. He was much more light-hearted then I was and he had a way of bringing people out of themselves. I was always funnier around him.

He helped me get through some pretty dismal times in my life and around my family.

My brother and I have not spoken since my father’s funeral over five years ago. I hope one day we will be back on speaking terms so I can thank him in person for turning me on to comedy, because my life is so much better because of it.

Who turned you on to comedy? Let us know in the comments below!

212: Jon Glaser

Jon Glaser is a writer, actor and producer whose new show, Jon Loves Gear, premiers on TruTV on Oct. 26. He has written for Conan and Inside Amy Schummer and has acted in Trainwreck, Girls, and Parks and Recreation. Jimmy talks to him about starting out in improv in the ’90s, his approach to comedy and why he drinks apple cider vinegar.

211: Laura Krafft

Laura Kraft is a comedic writer and actress, an iO Chicago and Second City alum and former staff writer for the Colbert Report. Jimmy talks to her about how improv helps her write for television, how she seems to find herself in the right place at the right time, and lessons she’s learned from her dad.

208: Micah Philbrook

Micah Philbrook is one of Chicago’s most thoughtful and innovative improvisers and teachers.  He teaches at The Second City Training Center, he’s a founder of pH Productions, and he performs in the Tim and Micah Project.  Jimmy sat down to talk to him about joining a cult-like improv group when he first moved to Chicago, the importance of hanging out in the improv community, and what he likes most about improv.

204: Marty DeRosa

Marty DeRosa is a comedian who is considered the king of Chicago crowd work, using a lot improvisation in his stand-up act. He is a founding member of Comedians You Should Know and he co-host the hilarious podcasts Marty & Sarah Love Wrestling, and Wrestling with Depression. Marty talks about experiencing the death of one of his siblings and a parent at a young age, his dad, and how he uses improv in his stand-up.

203: Jeff Quintana

Jeff Quintana is the Artistic Director and co-founder of The Villain Theater in Miami. He is a respected teacher and improviser who has studied in New York and Chicago. In this episode, we recorded live at The Villain Theater and talked to Jeff about his dream of opening up an improv theater, being homeless in New York, and how to create a character immediately at the top of an improv scene.

202: Joe Bill

Joe Bill is an international improv teacher and performer. He is a co-founder of the Annoyance Theater and tours with Mark Sutton in Bassprov. He has taught at Second City, The Annoyance and iO Chicago and continues to teach around the world. Jimmy sat down with him in this live episode to talk about The Annoyance, the day he quit stand-up, and his unique psychological approach to improv.

201: Simon Helberg

Simon Helberg is best known as Howard from the hit CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory. He is currently starring in the new film Florence Foster Jenkins with Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant. We talked to him about following in his father’s footsteps at The Groundlings, how acting is like improv, and the importance of putting your stuff up.

200: The Advice Compilation

This is our 200th episode of Improv Nerd. To acknowledge this milestone, we have compiled 15 of our favorite pieces of past guests’ advice for people who are going into improv or comedy today. You will hear wisdom from people like Adam McKay, Broad City, Lauren Lapkus, TJ and Dave, Jill Soloway, Bob Odenkirk, Jon Favreau and more. Take a listen!

199: Matt Dwyer

Matt Dwyer is a writer, stand-up and podcaster. He was one of the youngest people to be hired for the Second City Touring Company at the age of 21. He has written for Funny or Die and Jonah Ray’s Hidden America on Netflix. We talked to him about hanging out at Second City when he was high school, how getting fired at Second City led him to stand up, and the importance of writing for improvisers.


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