Todd Yohn is psyched to help open a new place. He will headline Tuesday-March 9 at Carolina Comedy Club, which has its first shows this weekend at Broadway at the Beach in Myrtle Beach.
Laughing on the inside, standup comedians live to make to people laugh on the outside, whether in local comedy clubs or as staples in house-show casts, making music of their own.
Yohn said the new club, managed by a fellow friend and comic, Jeff Martin, in the heart of a leading Myrtle Beach tourist attraction, sits in a good location, “a destination for people.”
The resident of Rural Hall, N.C., near Winston-Salem, said comedy has filled his capillaries since “the day I was born.”
“You could have charted my growth by how many times I stood in the corner,” he said.
Yohn, a guitarist and lead singer who has begun resurrecting his music lifestyle with the Time Flyers blues-jazz band, said the comedy chapter in his life resulted from a dare he took for an open-mic night in Raleigh in 1981.
He sees playing the opener on a slate of comedians as the “hardest and heaviest” job in standup.
“You have to break the ice,” he said, “and you aren’t really supposed to be funny. ... Then if you have any time left over, you tell a joke or two.”
Yohn finds being the feature, or middle, performer – before the headliner, or closer – easier.
“He has to be better than the opener,” Yohn said, “but he doesn’t have to be funnier than the closer, with 15 to 20 minutes on stage.”
Rounding out the night, though, remains “a lot of fun, because you get more time to be creative ... When you finally pay your dues, you get to be the closer.”
Yohn doesn’t maintain any game plan for hopping on stage.
“I just go out there and let her fly,” he said. “That’s the beauty of comedy.”
Reaching a certain point and comfort level performing, “you don’t have to worry too much about what to do,” Yohn said.
He sees showing consistency and not getting self-indulgent as keys to continued comic success.
Yohn said having played at the former Stand-up Carolina, in Garden City Beach, which Martin owned, he’s ready for new strides he sees Carolina Comedy Club making, under Martin’s management.
“He understands the comic end of comedy,” Yohn said. “That’s where he differs.”
Although he had not yet seen the new club as of Monday, Yohn said, “I will walk in and it’ll feel like I’ve played there my whole life.”
Cabana’s own regular
Cooter Douglas has been a regular performer at Comedy Cabana, just north of Myrtle Beach, for several years, and he’s scheduled to open for that club’s acts into mid-April. The former tavern operator and host of shag dance events said since his birth by fire with an open-mic night five years ago, he’s found many rewards in joking around on stage.
He also travels about once a month for comedy gigs, most recently to Florida. In some places, he is the warm up, and for others, he’s the feature act.
“Like anything else,” Douglas said, “you’re supposed to pay your dues.”
Heading out of town to play, “I get to see places where I have never been,” he said.
Touring Revolutionary and Civil War battlegrounds in Virginia, for instance, Douglas knocks “a few things off my bucket list.”
“People might say, ‘You didn’t make a lot of money,’ ” he said, “but I took a trip.”
Douglas said his Cabana work several months a year stays fun and that “if I was a younger guy, I’d be making this a career and doing this every night.”
He likes juggling roles as host/opener and feature act, and opening for Tim Wilson this weekend through Saturday, “it’s a two-man show,” back to back, for each night. So that’ll give Douglas about a half-hour for his set.
He said like any sport, such as baseball, football and “driving a race car,” you have to work up to each different level” on the comedy ladder. He also has seen firsthand how people’s ease of generating chuckles in the workplace might not translate immediately to comfort on an open-mic setting, alone on stage, with “lights in their face,” so you have to learn how to manage that jump.
“You come up with stuff that people will laugh at,” Douglas said. “At 63 years old, I know some stuff that people who weren’t born 20 to 30 years ago don’t know yet, such as how older people can relate to carrying toilet paper in the car.”
Working at Comedy Cabana, Douglas said with so many vacationers who drop in, “it’s like you’re working a different crowd every week.”
Watching other comedians suits him for homework, and he loves constructive pointers they give him, such as “When you do this joke, try this word instead of that word,” he said.
Starting out in comedy, with sets of five to seven, then nine to 12 minutes, time and pace are precious, Douglas said, so “you have to learn how to let people laugh, and you don’t want them missing the first half of the joke.”
The opportunity to improve never ends, either, “because it’s just like practice on a basketball court,” he said, and that one routine can’t turn into “this is all I do.”
“Anytime you get a chance to get on stage, you get to practice your craft,” Douglas said, calling himself “more of a storyteller ... with as few words as possible.”
As host and opener, usually with only 10 to 15 minutes at the mic, “you have to start out with the best stuff,” he said, and stay ready and flexible to expound, say, if the feature act runs late from a car breakdown or whatever.
Ricky Mokel’s life
Other comedians carve their value as part of music theaters’ variety shows.
Grant Turner makes five appearances nightly as Ricky Mokel in the Alabama Theatre’s “One the New Show,” in North Myrtle Beach. He compared 45-minute sets of standup in a club and short bits of eight minutes each, as he does to “apples and oranges.”
“It kind of limits you as to what changes I can take with new materials,” Turner said. “Every snafu looms larger in a smaller time frame. ... The ability to come up with new material is a bit of a challenge in this format.”
The appeal of this role, he said, meant “I don’t have to travel anymore after 18 years on the road.”
Turner voiced his happiness to have a job in these continued trying economic times and that “it’s important to think about what we laugh at and what we don’t laugh at,” yet “I don’t live or die by current events.”
With a marketing background to boot, Turner said in doing comedy since 1981, he found a path in being “the Southern, college educated suburban guy.”
“So I was an upscale Southerner,” he said. “I wasn’t always Ricky Mokel.”
Turner, who thinks he was “funnier before I did it for a living,” said after losing his advertising job in Atlanta years ago, he found value in the Mokel character on stage, allowing him “to maybe get back to that personality from after college when I was totally free and fearless.”
“With Ricky as a shield, I can stand up there with my ego intact,” Turner said of this release on stage, also to audiences’ amusement.
An only child, raised by “salt-of-the-earth, blue-collar” parents, Turner joked about learning how to speak like a disc jockey by memorizing George Carlin routines.
Bouncing on and off with Mokel’s character through the years, “I’m back to what I would have been had I not had the exposure of success.”
“In the end,” he said, “I can survive by being myself. Ricky is my rejected self.”
Turner, who feels content under the lights, cited a Jay Leno reflection that his pulse goes down once on stage and that he relates to that most nights.
Adapting to a family house show with all-family fare and pleased with that standard, Turner said he ensured his parts stay “super clean,” with “no words even like crap.”
Coming up with material, Mokel said like his act, it evolves, whether from just a joke, a word or phrase, or during the Alabama Theatre’s post-Christmas break, “in January, when I just sat down and wrote for two weeks.”
A nightly hat trick
Three comedians – Eric Gumm, Kym “Bogie” Shurbutt and Trent Wideman – take turns, and team up, for skits in “The Carolina Opry” and “The Good Vibrations Show” at the Calvin Gilmore Theatre in Myrtle Beach.
Shurbutt sees this kind of comedy as “kind of like the glue holding it all together” in a night of musical variety, because “when the comedy comes out, you don’t know what to expect.”
He said theater differs from studio because “we’re not out there 30 to 40 minutes, but at best 10 minutes” at a time.
“It’s almost like a TV commercial, Shurbutt said. “If you don’t get somebody immediately, then you lose them, and you have to chase them. You never want to have to chase your audience.”
He advises bringing “the best of the best” game at “what we do for a short period of time.”
Shurbutt also has found that a skit might flow perfectly one night “with a certain timing that works,” but other times might elicit big laughs or longer and different pauses, so that requires an acute awareness of what connects with audiences. Also, each routine gets leaner and lightened as it evolves with time to the point where “that piece of work is the best it’s going to be” at its latest performance.
Wideman loves comedy’s seat at the table in this theater setting.
“I just think the crowd’s coming to see the show gets a lot more variety,” he said. “You get more bang for your buck.”
Anytime Wideman is at the mic, though, he feels pressure, because after sitting and putting ideas down on paper, “you never know what’s going to work until you do it.”
Gumm said starting each new season of shows, with fresh material, “every night, you’re trying to go out and do some new stuff.”
“I’m probably more nervous than these other two,” he said, lauding his colleagues.
Stage anxiety has a different effect on Gumm, who said comics make each show complete. However, even after 31 years of performing, before show time at 7:30, “at 7:15, I’m about to have a heart attack.”
“I’m just about ready to go to the emergency room every night,” Gumm joked.
Contact STEVE PALISIN at 444-1764.