Waltrip Serious About Career As A Comedian
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
Epiphanies come in all shapes and sizes. Michael Waltrip had a moment of sudden comprehension about one aspect of his life just after he decided to get serious about one of his long-time passions.
“I’ve learned something very valuable during this process,” the two-time winner of the Daytona500 said during a telephone conversation last week, “and that is I’m not funny on purpose. I’m funny accidently.”
And that, he said, will have to change if “this process” is going to move forward.
The process is that of becoming a stand-up comedian. A professional comedian. A gag man. Waltrip, a part time NASCAR driver and full time owner of Michael Waltrip Racing, wants to join the ranks of Rodney Dangerfield and Henny Youngman.
But seriously folks, Waltrip later this month will launch a comedy tour: Michael Waltrip’s Comedy Garage. It’s first show will be in Kansas City on Jan. 21. It will feature pro comedians Henry Cho and John Reep.
“Henry’s an Asian dude from Knoxville, Tennessee so he looks like an Asian dude but he sounds like me,” Waltrip said. “John Reep, the guy from the Dodge Hemi commercials – ‘That thing got a Hemi in it? – is that dude.”
Waltrip will take the microphone to introduce the acts, tell some stories and attempt to be
Moving from stock cars to schtick is not a non sequitur for Waltrip. As faux comedian of SCTV Bobby Bittman would say: In all seriousness as a comedian, Waltrip has alway been interested making people laugh.
“For always I have just been a big fan of standup comedians,” Waltrip said.
So big, that when he gets to cities to do his day job at race tracks, Waltrip would go – still does go –on line to look for comedy acts appearing in the area.
“I’ve been to a hundred different comedy shows,” the 47-year-old driver/owner/television analyst/comic said. “It’s something that if I got some spare time, and one of them are near, I’m going to go out and check out a good comedy show.”
Favorite comedians include the late Mitch Hedberg, Ron White, Chris Rock and Larry the Cable Guy.
All those guys have what Waltrip wants. No, not a Sprint Cup championship (What is this, an audience or an oil painting?). They have the ability to be funny on purpose.
“If you describe the definition of stand-up comedian, they have to be funny on purpose. It’s why they’re there. I’m trying to work on being funny on purpose,” Waltrip said.
The toe went into the water in Roanke, Va. last year. Waltrip threw a show together with Reep and Tim Wilson and about a thousand people turned out to watch.
“It was a great night,” Waltrip said. “Everybody had fun and laughed hard and so we decided to try some more.”
Waltrip said his first trip to the stage was scary.
“I practiced, man. I had some stuff I wanted to say and some stories I wanted to tell and some things we made up and you get up there and it’s really difficult to do what those guys do,” he said. “It’s amazing how important timing is and just being able to feel the crowd out and know when to deliver the funny line.”
But, Waltrip said, “I can’t wait to get to Kansas City. The first time, I was a nervous wreck. The second time wasn’t a whole lot better but the flow felt better, it felt like I was more comfortable with what I was doing. So now, I’m to the point where I’m really looking forward to getting to Kansas City and doing it again.”
Waltrip says he is writing some of his own gags and also working with establish comedians as he develops his material.
The worst nightmare of drivers today is the sight of Brad Keselowski on their bumper. For comics, the worst is “bombing” on stage.
Waltrip says he has not gone atomic in that area yet and really doesn’t fear the time that it does happen.
“The first two shows there wasn’t really a moment of bombing,” he said. “If there was, I made
a joke about it by grabbing a piece of paper and saying, ‘Well, OK, that didn’t work, scratch that one out. I’m new at this, you know.’ Just make fun of myself a little bit and I got on throufg it.
“But the best thing I have going for me is if I am up there for a couple of minutes and it doesn’t go well, I say, ‘ Hey, guess what? I got a great comedian here for you, Henry Cho or John Reep.’ So, not a lot of pressure on me other than to just get those guys on stage and when they’re done, we all three get back on stage and tell stories about racing or comedy and maybe take some questions from the crowd. We kind of make it a casual ending.”
The second worst nightmare for stand-up comics is heckling.
Any of that yet? Sure, but that bounces right on off of Waltrip.
“You don’t lose as many races in a row as I did an not have to listen to some crap from people every now and then so I know how to handle that,” Waltrip said.
Asked his favorite joke, Waltrip said come see the show.
After the Kansas City show, the tour will head to Windsor, Ontario on Jan. 22.
From there, shows are scheduled for Las Vegas on the weekend of the NASCAR weekend on March 5 and 6.
So, take his act…please.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments