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Feature Tue Aug 14 2012

Power Through It: An Interview with Comedian Patrick Rowland


Rowland got started in comedy about six years ago after he saw a show at the Chicago Improv Festival called "MADtv's Writers on Hiatus." He liked the show so much that he looked into taking writing classes at Second City. From those classes -- and improv classes at both Second City and iO -- Rowland's comedy career has snowballed into him performing all over Chicago at places such as iO, Second City, the Playground and Chemically Imbalanced Comedy.

The first thing that I remember hearing about Rowland was that his impersonation of Barrack Obama was going to make him famous. Last May at Chemically Imbalanced Comedy I saw his show Barack All Night -- where he plays the POTUS in a late-night talk show format with special guests and "house band" -- and his performance more than lived up to the hype.

Coming off his recent trip to New York where he did a one-night show of Barack All Night at People's Improv Theater (The PIT), Rowland sat down with me and talked about flying hamburgers, performing in front of Lorne Michaels, and why performers should try to write their own material.

Comedy is subjective, but what's one thing that is without-a-doubt funny

Truth. You can have something bad happen to you in your life or just anything going on in your regular life and later there can be so much meat there for comedy.

When was the last time you laughed uncontrollably?

It was probably at this show at iO called My Mans with Mark Raterman and Tim Robinson. There was this point in the show where the guy got ejected from an airplane and you heard him from the backstage just screaming like he was falling and all of a sudden he had these hamburgers -- you have to see the show to figure out about the hamburgers. All of a sudden he started throwing these hamburgers over the wall, so Tim was acting like he was in his yard and these hamburgers start flying and then he took his suitcase and threw it over the wall and Tim tried to catch it with a plate and the plate broke. It just tickled me so much.

Tell us about your most memorable performance in Chicago.

I've got to say that my most memorable performance was doing the SNL showcase [on June 27 at iO]. Once a year Lorne Michels and his writers come to check out some of what Chicago has to offer, and I was blessed enough to be in the showcase. The whole vibe of that night is so great -- it's like everybody is there and super-supportive, and I mean I wasn't even that nervous -- I was excited-nervous but not scared-nervous -- and it was just a real fun night.

Has there ever been a time when the crowd just wasn't feelin' you?

If the crowd isn't feelin' you, they're just not feelin' you. All you can do is power through it. The Armando, which is a Monday night show at iO where they have their veteran improvisers, was short one night, and they asked me to play. The show was great and everybody was doing their part, but for some reason, no matter what I said, it was like crickets. I kept trying harder -- I think that was my problem, I was like "Well, I've got to do more bits." The more I tried, the less they were feelin' me. Using those situations, I would say it would usually put a performer in their head. Just don't get in your head -- which is easy to say, but harder to do. Usually just go with the flow.

What do you think is the best thing someone trying to pursue comedy can do for their craft?

Write your own stuff. Write, write, write, write. Do your own stuff. Put your own stuff up, because somebody told me "Never wait for a theater to validate you." Doing your own stuff, you get to have your own voice heard and that actually brings people around, like, "Wow, who's this guy -- he's doing something totally different than everybody else." I wish somebody would have told me when I started that as soon as you can, start putting up your own stuff -- getting your own voice out there.

Where are a few of the best places for someone to see their first comedy show in Chicago?

Besides the "Big Three," I would say Chemically Imbalanced Comedy -- it is really fun. Them or Upstairs Gallery -- there you can do whatever you want and you'll see more of the artist and their voice and putting up their forms instead of having a set form -- it's more free and it's a looser and more fun atmosphere.

Who are some Chicago comedians we should be looking out for?

Jo Scott, she won the "Impress These Apes" competition last year -- she's a great writer and super-funny, she just did like two one-person shows recently and they were phenomenal. Adam Cole is a very funny person. I could go on for days -- Brianna Baker, Connor Tillman. Somebody's going to be mad that I left them out, but there are so many great people. Julia Weiss does some great stuff. Nnamdi Ngwe.

We all know that shameless self-promotion is the best kind of promotion -- so when can we see you next and what are some things you'll be performing in?

I have a show running weekly Saturdays at midnight at the iO Theater called Barack All Night where I play Barack Obama hosting a late-night talk show, and we have guests and standups and musical guests. It's run like a late-night talk show, and it's real fun. You can also catch me at Chemically Imbalanced Comedy with the house team "A Dozen Red Roses." On Fridays at 8pm at The Playground Theater [I perform] with "Out of Character" which is where somebody from the cast each week does a solo scripted-monologue and we improvise the world around that character.

Do you have any final thoughts for people just getting started in comedy?

For anybody who's just starting out -- just now taking classes* or in classes -- really go see a lot of shows. Find some people in your class that you clique with and start doing shows, because you can learn a lot in class, but you will learn so much more performing and just cherish the experience because going through classes is some of the most fun you're going to have.

*Rowland finished the improv program at iO. He did the beginning improv at Second City and finished the writing program at Second City. He's currently in the Second City Conservatory Program.

Barack All Night is running at iO until the end of September, but it will hopefully get extended up to the election time in November.

["The Funnies" is an ongoing series where I interview Chicago comedy writers, performers, comedy students, directors -- anyone involved in comedy in the city.]

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


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