by Ryan Meehan
Twenty-nine year old Comedian Brooks Wheelan was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa but raised in the sleepy little town of Manchester in Delaware County just forty-five minutes north of there. He attended the University of Iowa, where he received a degree in biomedical engineering. Somewhere along the line he stayed on that career path but also pursued stand-up comedy, a decision that on paper probably didn’t make a whole lot of sense at the time but has since ended up paying huge dividends. Since then, he’s had a #1 comedy album on iTunes titled “This is Cool, Right?” and ended up with the job of a lifetime when he was hired to write for Saturday Night Live for the 2013-14 season. That gig got even better when a week before the season started Wheelan was upgraded to cast member. The gig lasted just one short year but Brooks has also appeared on such programs as The Comedy Central Half Hour, Conan, Late Night with Seth Meyers, Ridiculousness, @midnight, and Adam Devine’s House Party. He’s also performed at the South Beach Comedy Festival, Bonnaroo, SXSW, and the Moontower & Bridgetown Comedy Festivals among many others. I am honored to have the one and only Brooks Wheelan as my guest today in 10 questions.
RM: You first started out doing comedy in Iowa City while you were going to U of I…At which venues were you performing at during that period? Was The Mill doing comedy shows at that point in time?
BW: First of all, you called Manchester a “sleepy little town” which makes it sound like it might be a nice place. I’d more just call it a town humans live in. Ok, getting into this now. You ask really in-depth questions that answering thoroughly will be hard to do since I’m typing this out and I get bored with myself pretty quickly. I hosted shows at The Summit in Iowa City every Wednesday for my last 3 years of college, and also worked at Penguins Comedy Club in Cedar Rapids. I was the only guy at the University of Iowa who was pursuing comedy, so there wasn’t really a scene. I tried to do the open Mic at The Mill once, but they said it was music only so they wouldn’t let me up. I went back one time and signed up and then just brought a guitar on stage and told jokes. It went terribly.
RM: How would you best describe your first two years in stand-up? Was there any one moment in particular where you felt like you really had a breakthrough and began to understand comedy in a different way; and overall did you generally feel as if you were progressing quicker than you had initially expected?
BW: This is so much to type out. You’re killing me man…I started comedy right before my 20th birthday at Penguins. I did stand up all over Iowa during the school year, then that summer went to Kansas City for an internship and did comedy there. Then I went back to Iowa City and did another year of stand up during school, and then went to Chicago for an internship and did stand up all summer. Then I came back to Iowa City to finish college and then bailed out to Los Angeles to start really taking things seriously. I moved to LA thinking I was already a good stand up, but I wasn’t. I got out there and realized I sucked. I would say it took me 5 years to get to where I was just talking on stage instead of telling jokes. That’s when things changed for me. I was 25 when things started to really happen.
RM: How has your sense of comedic timing evolved since you first began doing stand-up? Is that always going to be a thing which constantly evolves nightly as each room is completely different, or is there a science to it that’s pretty consistent for the most part?
BW: When I started in Iowa I was all about writing jokes. That’s what everyone was doing that I saw.Then I went to Chicago and Los Angeles where comedians were being way more honest on stage and I loved that. I kinda slowly evolved over to where I was just talking about my experiences on stage. As with regards to to the rooms, I don’t really change for the room. I do whatever I like and sometimes that’s a disaster. Maybe I should try and read the room more, but where’s the fun in doing what you think they want to hear.
RM: If you had to summarize the whole SNL experience in one paragraph, how would that passage read? What’s the most important thing you learned about yourself as a comic having been one of the few people who’ve had that opportunity?
BW: SNL was crazy unexpected thing. I am happy I was there and proud of the stuff I got on the show, but it was just a bizarre year. The thing I really appreciate from the whole experience is that show gave me the ability to headline. It let people know I was a comedian. And I did two Weekend Update pieces that showed my stand up and most of the people who come to my shows know me from those. So I’m thankful for that.
RM: You’re about to start a pretty extensive tour here this fall, with very few breaks…But I noticed that you’re playing in Hawaii on the 24th of October and then you took a week and a half off after that…Are you going to head back to Los Angeles after the Honolulu show, or will you be hanging out in paradise? Anything fun planned?
BW: I can’t wait for that tour. It’s how I’ve always wanted to do stand up. Small music venues with only one show in each town. That way all the people there are there on purpose. A lot of times in comedy clubs you have audience members who just want to see “comedy.” That’s kind of odd, you know? You would never just go see “music.” Like sometimes people come in wanting jazz and then the comedian gives them punk rock so they think that comedian is bad. That’s not the case, the comedian just wasn’t the type of comedy you like and that’s 100% fine. With these small shows in alternative venues, the people who come out will have to already be familiar with my stuff which is going to be so much more fun. Also, maybe it’ll backfire and no one will come. We’ll see. I’m going to stay in Hawaii with my girlfriend after the Honolulu show. Gonna head to the big island and see where James Cook got killed. I’m like history and he’s my favorite historical figure. Pretty cool guy. Check out “Farther Than Any Man” by Martin Dugard. It’s a really great book on him.
RM: Other than the weather, what is the biggest difference that you’ve noticed about the way crowds in LA react to comedy when compared to clubs in New York? As someone who comes from the Midwest, do you ever feel like at times you have to tailor your act to audiences on the coasts that may not be used to your type of humor?
BW: Everywhere is different. You kinda have to get a feel for each city. No city in the world is better for standup comedy than New York City though. I love the stand up there so much. I spoke a little earlier about not tailoring my act, but I did become a much more aggressive comedian living in New York, but that’s just because it’s a much more aggressive city and it really rubbed off on me. I turned into a psycho by the end of my time living there. That city will get to you.
RM: What do you think are the most important elements necessary in order to nail down a really good impression; and how much impressionism is present in your current stand-up act?
BW: I wish I knew. Zero.
RM: As someone who has a pretty hearty background in mathematics and quantifying things, do you have any sort of a mental grading system with regards to how you rate a crowd’s response to one of your newer jokes? If so, on average how many times telling a joke that is new to your act does it usually take to get an accurate representation of how that particular bit is working?
BW: I don’t know man. It’s just sort of a feeling thing. I have jokes I like that the crowd doesn’t seem to love, but I always tell them just thinking “What if I was in the audience?” That’s kinda how I try to perform. To make myself laugh if I saw this. “Would I like me?” is what I think a lot.
RM: When you watch video clips of yourself doing stand-up, which portion of your act do you end up analyzing the most? Why do you think you tend to gravitate towards that aspect of your comedy when it comes to evaluating your sets?
BW: I don’t watch my sets very often. Almost never actually. I write down new ideas that work or that I riffed right after the set then look at those before I go up the next time. That’s about it.
RM: If you had to argue that comedy was more of an art or a science but you couldn’t answer that it isn’t equal parts both, how would you go about presenting your case to a group of people whom you considered to be well-educated on the topic? What would you expect would be the first thing a person arguing for the other side would point out; and why would that person’s viewpoint be a solid one?
BW: You’re killing me man. I gotta type these responses. I feel like I’m in a social studies high school class with these questions. Comedy is in art. I look at it that way. If you say it’s a science I doubt we’d hang out. Not that I’d dislike you, it’s just that we have very different ideas on what comedy is. I know guys who look at comedy like a business. They’re all about getting more followers and having a website. I don’t like being around those guys. Just be funny is what I like. Just be so funny that the business finds you.
RM: What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2015 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
BW: I sold a scripted show that I am almost finished writing and about to turn in. In my dream world that’ll go to series and everyone will love it. Also my half hour special comes out September 15th. In my dream world everyone will love it and they’ll give me an hour special right away. Neither of those dream scenarios are likely to happen though, so I’ll just keep working and touring and we’ll see what happens in 2016.
Official Website: http://brookswheelan.com/
Brooks on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Brooks-Wheelan/573679952696376
Brooks on Twitter: https://twitter.com/brookswheelan
Once again thanks for visiting First Order Historians and enjoying more of the internet’s finest in user generated content.