Jeff Dwoskin - Comedian - jeffisfunny.com

 

Stand up
Fledgling comics take the plunge at local clubs

BY LINDA ANN CHOMIN
STAFF WRITER

So your mother thinks you're funny. Friends and co-workers laugh at your jokes. But do you have what it takes to make it as a stand-up comic? Tim Allen did, although he was mighty nervous during his first open microphone night performance at Mark Ridley's Comedy Castle in 1979.

Open mic nights allow up-and-coming and established comedians to try out material. For the audience it's a cheap night out, costing anywhere from $2-$5 plus drinks.


Open Mic

  • Joey's Comedy Club, above Kicker's All-American Grill, 36071 Plymouth Road east of Levan, Livonia. Open mic 8-9:30 p.m. every Tuesday ($3). Call (734) 261-0555 or www.joeyscomedyclub.com
  • Mark Ridley's Comedy Castle, 269 E. Fourth, Royal Oak. Open mic Wednesday evenings ($2). Improv troupe 8 p.m. Tuesday ($5). Call (248) 542-9900 or www.comedycastle.com
  • Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase, 314 E. Liberty, between Division and Fifth, Ann Arbor. Open mic and improv 8 p.m. Wednesday ($5). Call (734) 996-9080 or www.aacomedy.com/


For Jeff Dwoskin, open mics offer the opportunity to see if his jokes are as funny as his mother thinks they are. The West Bloomfield comic was pacing the floor in anticipation of his turn at Joey's Comedy Club in Livonia.

Dwoskin's been trying to break into the business for about a year. He decided to go for his dream after being laid off from a dot-com company. Dwoskin took a six-week class at Mark Ridley's and thought he was on his way.

"I'm trying to get out and get paying dates," Dwoskin said. "The money in the early stages is not there before the jump to headliner. My wife's extremely supportive. My wife, brother and co-worker encouraged me. The hard part is when you're funny with your friends, it's not necessarily translated on stage. The classes taught me how to structure a joke, how to lay it out. I try three to five times a week to get on stage at the open mic here, at Mark Ridley, and Yuk-Yuk's in Windsor. One of my favorite jokes I did 15 times on stage before I got it the way I wanted it."

Twenty minutes before show time, Dwoskin is wandering around looking for a glass of water -- and pacing faster.

"I'm never nervous on stage, but before I usually have to go to the bathroom 50 times. Comedy's good for the colon," jokes Dwoskin. "But when I step on stage, all the nervousness is gone."

ALL NERVES

Like Dwoskin, Bill Bushart is "all nerves" until he steps on stage and converts those jitters into energy. Bushart, in addition to playing clubs all over Michigan, teaches comedy classes at Joey's.

"I can't wait to get out there," said Bushart of Farmington Hills. "I was the seventh of eight children. I got into this so someone would listen to me."

Bushart always seems just one step away from bursting into his act. He's quick to tell anyone who'll listen that as a kid Don Rickles was his hero. The nuns at Our Lady of Loretto where he went to school said not to watch the irreverent comic, so Bushart would catch Rickles whenever he could never imagining one day he'd follow in his footsteps.

As a student at University of Detroit, Bushart founded the Redford Connection, but soon learned running a newspaper was a tough business. After graduation, Bushart had to supplement his income by substitute teaching for Redford Union Schools. Then six years ago, a friend talked him into taking a class at Mark Ridley's.

"Doing comedy is all about building self-esteem. It's an attitude adjustment. Since I got in comedy, I don't think there's anything I can't accomplish," Bushart said. "In the classes I can't teach them to be funny, but can help them structure jokes. It's best for them to talk about what they know, read the newspaper. There's a wealth of information to draw on.

"I accept anyone into the class. It's all positive. I never tell anyone there's no hope. It's all about having the motivation. My philosophy in comedy is there are nights you're going to bomb and if you can't fail, you're in the wrong business."

Dave Mishevitz knows first-hand how tough it is to break into comedy. For the last year, he's done commercials during the day to pay the bills so he could work on routines at the Comedy Store in Los Angeles at night. Mishevitz admits he was "never the class clown" at Detroit Catholic Central High School in Redford. It wasn't until he went to Ball State University in Indiana that he began working with an improv troupe.

From there he moved to Chicago and then L.A. He was recently featured in Barry Dougherty's book How to Do It Standing Up, a book for fledgling comics. Every three months he returns to Michigan to work the clubs. This open mic night, he was testing new material for his headliner act Wednesday through Saturday night at Joey's.

"As a comic, every night is different," Mishevitz said. "You might have a night when you don't have anything but applause and laughs and the next you bomb. It's an addiction where you have to get on stage. On the business side, it's, 'Am I going to get the dollar menu today, am I going to have to get a job?'"

GIVING COMICS A CHANCE

Mark Ridley's watched thousands of comics struggle to break into the business over his 24 years as owner of the Comedy Castle. He believes for many their open mic time led to successful careers. The Rochester Hills resident tells stories of Tim Allen "always being very professional, dressed in a sport coat or suit." Perfecting material at open mic nights most likely led to Allen landing the role as the bungling host of Tool Time on the Home Improvement television series.

Ridley takes pride in helping young comics and fondly recalls the airfares of Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld costing him more than their fees in 1989.

"It's like a diamond that starts out as a chunk of coal," Ridley said. "Some people are naturally funny, but some people don't have the ability to piece it together. In the classes, we teach them how to do that along with how to put together a good resume."

Roger Feeny's provided a venue for up-and-comers on and off for almost 19 years. Once a week as general manager of the Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase, Feeny selects comics for open mic. Weekends he features national acts.

"There has to be some sort of outlet for talent to develop, a place to refine four to five minutes of material," Feeny said. "I tell them to get stage time anywhere you can. On weekends, I develop talent through guest sets before national acts."

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  2002 copyright Jeffrey Dwoskin
  Photos by Dan Lippitt Photography