Monday, 24 February 2014 11:29

Up and Coming Michigan Comics

Written by  Josh Spanninga
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Gerrit Elzinga Gerrit Elzinga COURTESY PHOTO

Jeremy Clymer

Age: 34
Location: Wyoming, Mich
Favorite national comic: Maria Bamford
Favorite venues: Dr. Grins, Sunday Night Funnies, any place in Kalamazoo
Favorite topics: Observational humor, interesting news stories
Hobbies: Writing

Jeremy Clymer is a rather recent addition to the Grand Rapids comedy scene. His first time onstage was at the 2012 LaughFest Community showcase, but after performing once he became hooked.

"I had kind of been wanting to try it for a while, so I did that, and had a really good first set onstage at Dr. Grins, and I've been doing it since then," Clymer said.

His first introduction to comedy consisted mainly of sketch shows such as "Monty Python," "Mr. Show" and "Kids in the Hall." Clymer cites his interest in writing similarly funny material as an inspiration later for stand-up.

"A lot of standup comedians have been doing it since they were fifteen or whatever," Clymer said. "I took a different path. I started out as a writer, and saw stand-up comedy as sort of a different form to branch my writing off into."

While his efforts in comedy have shifted more toward stand-up lately, Clymer still spends part of his time as a freelance writer, and is even getting a parodic story published in an upcoming H.P. Lovecraft anthology.

AnnaFlora Somers

Age: 26
Location: Grand Rapids, Mich.
Favorite national comics: Joan Rivers, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Silverman
Favorite venues: Dr. Grins, Sunday Night Funnies,
Favorite topics: Dating, birth control, social media
Hobbies: sewing, DJing, playing violin

While AnnaFlora Somers is certainly making some waves in the West Michigan stand-up scene, she actually got her first taste of comedy as a kid when she would visit her dad in California.

"There was about a three-hour drive from the airport in San Francisco to his little town in California," Somers said. "And he would just play the comedy channel, and I was maybe 9 or 10, maybe a little bit older, and I would sit there and think, 'How the hell do these people come up with these jokes on the spot?'"

She would go on to perform at her first open mic in LA, but soon after settled down in Grand Rapids, where she found herself at home amongst other comics and comedy fans alike in Grand Rapids' unique scene.

"Because Grand Rapids is kind of a small town and a big town, you really do get a following in West Michigan that I think is really neat," Somers said.

Josh Ortega

Age: 26
Location: Grand Rapids, Mich.
Favorite national comics: Dave Attell, Anthony Jeselnik, Hannibal Buress
Favorite venues: Dr. Grins, Sunday Night Funnies, Tip Top Bar
Favorite topics: one-liners, self deprecating humor
Hobbies: Golfing, eating food

When Josh Ortega first started performing comedy at open mics around Grand Rapids, he had his fair share of stage fright.

"I'd be so nervous," Ortega said. "I have pretty bad anxiety, but I didn't dare take a Xanax or anything, so I was like 'Oh, I'll just drink, because everyone says I'm hilarious when I drink!' That was not the case."

Right from the get go it became obvious that too much liquid courage could be detrimental. He learned this lesson the very first night he performed, in fact.

"I was sitting on a stool at the bar while this other comic was on stage," Ortega said. "And I actually fell out of my chair in the middle of his act, which is a bad thing."

Ortega eventually got his stage fright under control and is quickly amassing much respect in the West Michigan comedy community. He can also be heard with fellow Grand Rapidian Jacob Kubon on the House Sadness podcast.

Zach Martina

Age: 27
Location: Wixom, Mich.
Favorite national comics: Kyle Kinane, Rory Scovel, Michael Costa
Favorite venues: Joey's Comedy Club, Holly Hotel Comedy Club, Connxtions Comedy Club
Favorite topics: Relationships, being non-married, wordplay
Hobbies: Even more comedy

For years, Zach Martina was interested in trying stand-up, but he couldn't seem to bring himself to take that initial step onstage. One night at a show a local comedian gave him some advice he'll never forget.

"He said, 'Either they're going to laugh, and you're going to keep doing it, or you're going to be awful and you'll never have to do it again. At least you tried,'" Martina said. "I was fortunate and I got some laughs my first time."

Two years later, his nationally touring act began to gain prominence across the U.S. while maintaining his Michigan roots. Martina attributes his demanding tour schedule to his understanding day job.

"I'm in a really unique position," Martina said. "[My employer] said 'We want to support what you're trying to do. Why don't you go ahead and bring in your comedy schedule and we'll work around it."

Now that's a day job most comics would kill for.

Allen Trieu

Age: 29
Location: Grand Rapids, Mich.
Favorite national comics: Bill Burr, Maria Bamford, Pat Dixon
Favorite venues: Dr. Grins, Candlestone Resort, Joey's Comedy Club
Favorite topics: His wife, race, technology
Hobbies: Sports, working out, eating

Allen Trieu gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "He's a natural." Whereas most comics spend years honing their craft and polishing their set, Trieu had unusual success from the start.

"I started at Grand Valley, actually. I won the Last Laker Standing contest, and that was the first time I ever did stand-up" Trieu said. "From there, I've been able to get booked and tour and get into some pretty good shows."

And by "pretty good shows" he means playing in comedy clubs all across the U.S., from the legendary Laugh Factory in New York to shows in LA and everywhere in between.

Aside from stand-up, Trieu is also a sports writer, and has even appeared on the Big Ten Network.
This has been reflected in some of his favorite hobbies – working out and playing sports. Oh yeah, and he also likes to eat.

"I know those two things seem to contradict each other, but I work out so I can eat," Trieu says.

Matt McClowry

Age: 30
Location: Dearborn, Mich.
Favorite national comics: Louie CK, Marc Maron
Favorite venues: Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase, Mark Ridley's Comedy Castle
Favorite topics: Family, modern life

Most high schoolers are overwhelmed by the thought of choosing a career path in the near future, but Matt McClowry effortlessly narrowed it down to two fields.

"I used to always watch wrestling and comedy growing up. And it shows how realistic I was, those were like my career options," McClowry said.

Naturally, McClowry picked professional wrestling as his career of choice, but he still found value in performing comedy.
"I also wanted to try stand-up along the way to sort of get good at my pro wrestling life skills as they were," McClowry said. "Just to get used to performing in front of crowds because I didn't have any drama background or anything like that."

He would eventually delve deeper into more acting and improv classes (and consequently became more and more out of shape), until finally, after his 21st birthday, he bit the bullet and performed stand-up in front of a crowd, effectively putting his dreams of pile drivers and spandex behind him.

Gerrit Elzinga

Age: 22
Location: Grand Rapids, Mich.
Favorite national comics: Dave Chapelle, Richard Pryor, Brian Regan
Favorite venues: Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase, Goonies (Minn.)
Favorite topics: Religion, family, growing up, traveling, drugs, booze
Hobbies: Plays guitar

If you want a prime example of someone getting started in comedy at a young age, look no further than Gerrit Elzinga. He got his first taste of performing in his seventh grade drama class, wrote his first jokes in eighth grade, and took his first step onto a public stage as a high school freshman.

"I went to Dr. Grins Comedy Club at 15," Elzinga said. "I started doing comedy then. So I started doing open mics and then working my way up."

Since then, he's been perfecting his routine, trying to find the right balance between clean and blue comedy, incorporating different strategies to cover more risqué topics, while keeping the audience with him.

"If you start with stuff up front where it's more family oriented, like 'Hey, my Uncle is wacky!' People can relate to that," Elzinga said. "And if they relate to you on that, then the farther you go they'll hopefully be with you."

Jacob Kubon

Age: 25
Location: Grand Rapids, Mich.
Favorite national comics: Anthony Jeselnik, Rory Scovel, Chad Daniels
Favorite venues: Dog Story Theatre, Tip Top Bar
Favorite topics: Dark humor, one-liners
Hobbies: Podcasting, watches movies

Jacob Kubon has often been told he has a dark sense of humor, and he'll be the first to agree. In fact, he feels that it can be healthy to joke about the serious stuff.

"I like to take my sadness and write it in a way that makes people laugh. It's kind of a therapeutic thing in a certain sense," Kubon said.

He also feels that from a compositional standpoint, dark humor adds more depth and humanity to his jokes.
"In one joke I'll go from something a little sinister, and then it'll end on a high note, so I like to take the audience on a journey in that sense."

Kubon got his start in comedy with the sketch group Lampshade Fantasies, but once he got a taste of stand-up he was hooked.

"I had a lot of fun with [Lampshade Fantasies], but it was just something where it was so much work for the limited amount of shows that we did that with stand-up, I thought I'd be able to get more out of my writing."

 

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