Comedians stand up for benefit showWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
“Comedy is very simple,” comedian Chili Challis said in an interview with Toledo Free Press Star. “You exude character. You first find out who you are and you come from that. You keep it very simple, because people love to see character, they love to see attitude. That’s what life’s about. Stand-up is very emotional. It’s not really about words. It’s an emotional art form.”
There is a reason Challis sounds a bit like a teacher as he explains his theories. Throughout a career in comedy that has spanned more than two decades — featuring stints writing for productions as famous as “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and “The Bob and Tom Show” — Challis has worked to pass along his knowledge to a new generation of comics.
Most recently, his efforts have been focused through his own school devoted to stand-up, which he calls simply The Dojo.
“I run it like some of these acting studios. We get in deep. I get some people taking it multiple times, because it’s more than just one thing — they realize that each time they come back, there’s something new,” Challis said.
As Challis has run numerous seminars and courses during the past decade, one thing he’s always had an eye on was giving back to the Toledo community.
“I, for several years, have wanted the Dojo to get active and do something like Comedy for a Cause. Let’s do something and make a donation to a worthy charity,” Challis said.
“And really, this is a very last-minute thing, but it all kinda fell together OK.”
The resulting event will take place Dec. 18 at Headliners on Detroit Avenue, with all proceeds going to the Toledo Northwestern Ohio Food Bank. The bill will feature at least a half dozen comics, headlined by Challis. Others scheduled to perform include Keith Bergman, Ken Scott, Ed Bartko and Tony Adamschick
“I found a place we could do it, and I just felt, let’s just do it,” Challis said.
“They have a new stage inside the Jed’s restaurant that’s in the complex, and we’re gonna kinda break in the new stage,” Bergman said.
“It’s all basically to help the community. A lot of comedians live hand-to-mouth, so it’s something that’s near and dear to our hearts.”
Bergman has been working full time in stand-up for a year and a half.
“I actually tried it back in 2002, and I didn’t do very well at all. A lot of it was my own inabilities and my own hang-ups, but a lot of it was, there were very few opportunities at the time locally to really get on stage and hone your craft. There were very sparse amounts of open mic time where you could just sign up and go, and fail a bunch of times and just learn what you were doing,” Bergman said.
“Now, it’s a completely different environment. People are generally supportive of it — they know you’re just starting out, they know you’re just learning the craft. Even the comedy clubs have stepped up and they’re helping with that.”
And for anyone who is trying to break into the business, nothing can be more instructive than being in front of people, Bergman said.
“Every time I go up, it’s funny — I feel like I hit a point every week or two where I’m like, ‘OK, this is it, I finally got it!’ And then, a couple weeks later, I look back and I say, ‘No, I didn’t have it then, but I have it now!’ It almost seems like every show there’s a new level of getting more competent at working with a crowd, at getting my point across,” he said. “I feel now like every time I go up now, I’m learning something new.”
Challis agreed on the importance of stage time for those learning comedy, an experience he tries to expose his trainees to every chance he gets.
“In The Dojo, I get ’em onstage as much as possible. As soon as they show up, that’s the first thing, they’re up onstage. Because the stage is where you separate the men from the boys. You find out what works, what’s good about yourself, your jokes,” he said.
“Find out who you are. And if you can latch onto that character, it will give you a lot of solid ground. You’ll fear less, you’ll know where you’re coming from. If you go up there too scattered, you’re all over the place, you’re just thinking words, you’re gonna be in a lot of trouble,” Challis said.
When it goes right, Bergman said, there’s nothing like it.
“It’s probably one of the biggest rushes there is, when it goes well,” he said. “It’s exhilarating to be able to write something and then to go in front of people and perform it, and be able to make a connection with them.
“It’s even a rush, in a different way, when it doesn’t go well. It’s just kinda like jumping out of an airplane. You’re up there all by yourself, you’re kinda working without a net, and it’s kinda all up to you and what you have to say. It’s scary every time, but it’s also like a huge adrenaline rush to do. It’s very addicting, actually.”
Very addicting, actually. Bergman even said he feels withdrawal if there are days when he isn’t under the lights.
“Any night that I’m not going out to do comedy somewhere, there’s this pang,” he said. “Even if I have things to do at home, if I need a night off to get some sleep and catch up or stay home and do some writing, there’s this kinda pang of regret, like, ‘Oh, I wish I was onstage!’”
It’s even more gratifying when the fun is focused on giving to people in need, as it will be at Headliners. Though this year’s event coalesced at the last minute, Challis said he is hopeful that the show will become an annual tradition.
“This first year’s gonna be tough, because we have just short promotional time, but we’re gonna kick it off, and next year we’ll start a little sooner,” he said.
“This year, it’s kinda haphazard. We’re just gonna try and get people in there and get some money off of them at the door. Headliners agreed even to give up 10 percent of everything they make off of the food and beverages. Nice things are coming together.”
Bergman said he hopes attendees garner more than just the good feeling of giving to a worthy cause.
“It’ll help foster kind of a sense of community. We’re coming together for a serious cause, to help a serious issue, but we’re also coming together at a stressful time of the year to kinda blow off some steam and have some laughs,” Bergman said. “I think that’s essential. I think we need to take that break at this time of year. It kinda helps us reflect on how good we have it, that we have the luxury to do that. And it gives us a sense of community.
“We can all be in a large group without pepper spraying each other to get the last Furby on the shelf.”
For more information on Chili Challis’ stand-up Dojo, visit http://standupschool.com/. For more information on the Dec. 18 charity event, contact Headliners at (419) 693-5300.