Q: You started going to open mics when you were still teaching?
A: That's right. Several nights a week, as much as I could. I would go to the No Exit Cafe on the North Side and people would be there, having their coffee and playing this game called Go. It don't even know what it was, something with marbles. (Go is a chess-like board game played with round stones.)
As a comic, you really wanted to reach one of those Go players, because they didn't care what was going on around them. They didn't want to see comedy. All they wanted to do was play their game, so if you made them laugh, that was awesome.
Q: When did you start incorporating music into your act?
A: There was a place called The Q Club and they had a night called the Heckler's Heaven, where three people in the audience would have scorecards and three people would have rubber chickens. You got three minutes before anyone bothered you. If you get all three rubber chickens thrown at you from random audience members, you had to get off stage. If not, you got to stay up there for another five minutes and the other three audience members would score you.
The first week I went up, Corey Holcomb, Godfrey and James Hannah went up, so I asked that they take my name off the list because these were not open mic comics — these were guys who were destroying Chicago. So I went back the next week and I got up there and started doing my little jokes and I got two chickens, so I said, "OK, that's it for me, I'm going!" I wasn't getting that third chicken.
And then the next week, I took my keyboard with me. And that was all she wrote.
Q: How did that idea come to you?
A: I've always been playing (music), and I've always been silly behind the keyboard. Or I am when I'm in my element. I wrote a funny song called "Can I Have Some Booty?" (which he sings in "Rapture-palooza") and decided to see how that would work out.
Q: Not a lot of people have been able to blend comedy and music. There's Martin Mull —
A: I can't believe you just said that! He was one of the first people I saw do that. When people ask me who my influences are, I say Steven Wright, Sam Kinison, Richard Pryor. And Martin Mull is right up in there.
I want to get "Martin Mull Live at the Roxy" and I cannot find that album. It's not anywhere. I saw him one day at one of his art showings in Phoenix and I was like, "Where can I get it?" He didn't know how to get it either.
Q: What were you like growing up as a kid?
A: I was kind of shy. And I was paying attention — like, observing people. A lot of guys were way funnier than me. There was always somebody cracking up a room and that always appealed to me, but I never thought, "I could do this."
You know how kids talk about each other and stuff? I didn't really start fighting back until 8th grade. And I couldn't believe the response I got! I remember there was this one guy who was talking, and I got him with a comeback and everyone was like, "Dang!" That was one of the first times I made people laugh.
Q: What were you like at home?
A: I would crack silly when we would do road trips to grandmother's house or something. That's what my stage was, in the back seat of the car in the corner. And I would do these characters and would be making jokes just to make my parents laugh. My father was this hard-core attorney. He was man of the house since he was 12 years old, so it's been his way or the highway for many, many years. So to make him laugh was a Holy Grail.
Q: You have a sitcom pilot that you just made for NBC called "Mr. Robinson" that sounds like it's based on your life.
A: I play a substitute teacher that doesn't care that much, and then they send me to a music class and I'm like, "Oh wait a minute — I got this! I can do this."
We've got Jean Smart playing the principal, Steve Little from "Eastbound & Down" playing the vice principal. Larenz Tate plays my little brother in the band with me. And we've got Amandla Stenberg, who was Rue in "The Hunger Games," as one of the students.