Saying funny things

Comedian: a professional entertainer who tells jokes or performs various other comic acts; a person who seeks to entertain an audience, primarily by making them laugh.

“A comic says funny things. A comedian says things funny.”

Ed Wynn

Here’s another story that begins in Kent, Ohio oddly enough.  Comic and entertainer Chad Zumock hails from the notable Midwestern town, which i guess you can pretty much consider a suburb of Cleveland.  While traveling out of state, it gives people a good idea where you’re from.  Better than triangulating your origin dropping Akron, or Youngstown.  Possibly, someone might recognize the city where the rubber tires are from, or the one-time murder capital.  And of course, you’ll have your “that town Neil Young sang about?”  But up near the shores of the Great Lake Erie, we’re all pretty much Clevelanders.

Arguably one of the staunchest of us, Zumock practically bleeds…whatever it is that’s essentially C-Town.  Most of the stuff we’re known for doesn’t sound too appealing.  Awful winters, rivers of fire, riots, um…sports franchises that, well frankly i’m not qualified to really comment on.  When i overhear people talking about ‘the game’ last night i have no idea what sport they’re talking about; if i talk about ‘the game’ last night, more than likely it’s Dungeons and Dragons.

But who wants to say their interviewee bleeds rivers of fire?  Actually, that sounds kind of cool.  Anyway, what’s most remarkable about Cleveland is the determination.  That’s right.  If it weren’t, then Warren would probably be the big city of today, instead of the place i played my first Vs. tournament, discovered card sleeves, and totally thought my Spider-Friends/Sentinels deck was a work of brilliance sure to own.  Yep, the ol’ Western Reserve was pretty swampy, risky territory to build a metropolis on.  But here we are 217 years later, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Capital of the World.

Sadly, it did not.  Stupid Roy Harper tricks.  Threw a few people off though.

If nothing else, my conversation with Zumock taught me an important lesson – Wikipedia is not always accurate.  According to the free encyclopedia, or what i like to think of as the respository for all human knowledge, Zumock grew up in Brady Lake.

“I didn’t really grow up there,” Zumock said.  “I don’t know who wrote that.”

Who does write all that stuff on Wikipedia?  Whether it’s a large staff of exceptional typists, user-generated content, or both – that’s a hell of a lot of data entry.  But i digress.

A career built on writing comedy clinched for Zumock in the fifth grade, when he and a friend created a cartoon called ‘Channel 9 News.’

“It was a whole news station,” Zumock said.  “We wrote it for three years together, and we’d just pass them back and forth.  We had all these characters.  I was always creative in that sense.

“I always wanted some sort of attention.  Comedy was a release, because my childhood kind of sucked.  I think comedy saved me.”

Following what i am certain must be an annoyingly over-covered public termination from his three-year stint as co-host of the Alan Cox Show on 100.7 WMMS, what must be most troubling for Zumock is the mar on his consistent record of leaving things on his own terms.  By his own admission, he has a penchant for quitting.

“I’ve always been that way,” Zumock said.  “I’ll start a group or something, and then as soon as the group gets big – I’ll quit.  That’s been my whole career.

“My sketch group the Phat Phive – it got big, I quit at the height of popularity.  Last Call got huge – I quit.  Phat Phree got huge – I quit.  I’m the best guy when it comes to starting something, and then I’ll disappear.

“But creatively it’s been great.  I’m excited about doing other stuff.  I’ve been approached by a lot of people to do different things.  Now I’m just trying to figure…it’s like I broke up with a really hot chick, and now I just kind of want to be single.”

In light of that, i’m going to go ahead and consider Zumock’s split with the Buzzard as a quit, too.  At least in the metaphysical, ‘we all make choices,’ Sliding Doors sort of way.  There’s nothing wrong with a quit.  At least one person has built their whole life around the concept.

Developing a concept and proceeding to move on once it gains traction is Zumock’s modus operandi and so far the routine has proven an effective one for the entertainer.  Along the way, he has assembled an eclectic crew of collaborators whose presence is interwoven in several projects.  One of the earliest of these is the afore-mentioned Phat Phive Productions, a Kent collective of creators responsible for a myriad of material including film, ‘zines, and reportedly even a clothing line, circa 1999.  More than one name from those early days is sprinkled throughout the timeline of Zumock’s career including Phat Phiver Charlie DeMarco and Mike Polk.

At the risk of threatening Zumock’s guise as a goldbricker, this is a guy who shows all the hallmarks of an ambitious approach to life.

“I don’t know how to do anything else,” Zumock said.  “It’s like those word jumbles.  What are those things in the newspaper?  Crosswords.  I kind of look at comedy like that.  Trying to figure things out.  I like coming up with funny ideas. It’s addicting and it’s part of my routine.”

In the same vein as the other interviewees i’ve had the pleasure of speaking with here on The Long Shot, the one constant in his career (and one thing he doesn’t quit) is that he stays busy and continuously works to improve his craft.

While i don’t know a whole lot about his years at Kent State academically speaking, the General Studies degree-holder did not squander his time there.  In addition to the Phat Phive, Zumock was involved with the sketch comedy group Last Call – which has since evolved into the Last Call Cleveland troupe that features Mike Polk.  And that ‘zine?  These days it’s become The Phat Phree following the success of Look at My Striped Shirt!: Confessions of the People You Love To Hate.

“When my buddies and I in high school started that thing, I invited my Last Call friends to write for it,” Zumock said.  “Polk started writing for it.  That article he wrote, ‘Look at my Striped Shirt,’ just blew up on the Internet, before Internet videos were getting really big.

“There were meetings in Hollywood with my friends to do TV shows because of it.  Mike got a job with HBO from that article.  And then we got a book deal from Random House, and we all wrote for it.  Just a bunch of friends writing it.

“We started it as a writing exercise and it kind of blew up into something and actually Mad Magazine and offered to buy the Phat Phree [website].  Charlie DeMarco is an amazing design dude.  To this day I still don’t know why he didn’t sell it to them.  It’s still out there.”

With that being said, you’d think these victories in the realms of publishing and performances were the impetus for Zumock’s relocation to L.A. in 2005.  But if you did, you’d be wrong.  In fact, the cause for the move was a trend i’ve noticed since starting to do these interviews.

“I moved out to L.A. because my girlfriend lived there,” Zumock said.  “And I wanted to do my own thing.

“If you were going to move to L.A., you’d better have a plan, and you’d better have money saved.  I went out there blind.  I didn’t know.  I was like ‘I’m in L.A.!’  I didn’t know what to do.  I kind of fell into stand-up.  I had a pretty decent 7 minutes.  So I’d do the same 7 minutes everywhere I went, and I was killing.

“I got passed at the Hollywood Improv.  Then I went on the road with Sarah Silverman, and Tosh, but all I had was seven minutes.  I was like ‘I gotta get out of here before this implodes.’  I’d move back home to develop my stand-up more, then I’d fly back out there and showcase.  As I was moving back out there again, that’s when I got the call from Bo Matthews over at ‘MMS for the Alan Cox Show, and I put that on hold for three years.”

During his time on the radio, Zumock admits that while it was a little stifling to the other aspects of his career, it was a cool three years wherein a lot of cool shit happened.

“I don’t regret the experience by any means,” Zumock said.  “I got to go to Ireland.  I hung out with Shaquille O’Neal.  Talked to Bill Clinton.  There’s cool experiences you can never take away.   I think the planets were aligned.

“Alan, Erika, and myself were just thrown into a room.  Three people who would probably not hang out, outside of work.  The personalities were just perfect, and it became a really, really, really popular show.  That was a cool thing.

“I put a lot of time and energy into making it good.  I’m glad people like it.  And don’t get me wrong – there’s people that hate my guts too.  And that’s fine.”

Perhaps the best example of the possibilities of love and hatred is an event that Zumock considers his biggest accomplishment of last year – the Fifty Shades of Gray book burn that he put together.

“I came up with it on the air,” Zumock said.  “I remember telling Alan during a break – ‘dude, we’ve got to do this.’  So I put it together and the next thing you know it’s on every news station in the country.  I thought that was pretty funny. It was a good radio stunt.”

Following his departure from the legendary Cleveland radio station at the end of 2012, Zumock remains undaunted.  Well…maybe a little daunted – but he’s certainly not letting it keep him down and out.

“At first, obviously, with all the legal stuff – at first it stinks,” Zumock said.  “It’s nice to have that comfortable paycheck coming in every week.  Losing your job publicly, and everywhere you go everyone knows your business.  For the most part people have been really cool and supportive.  But, it stinks.

“I don’t subscribe to the cliche saying ‘things happen for a reason,’ but they tend to, it seems like.  All the stuff that’s ever happened to me, I can look back on it now and say ‘oh, okay I get it.

“Right now, I’m in such a weird transition that I don’t really have a routine.  I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.  I’m doing all kinds of stuff.”

These days, Zumock’s routine (or lack thereof) goes a little something like this:

  • Roll out of bed around the crack of noon
  • Watch American Choppers marathon
  • Eat French bread pizza
  • Take a nap
  • Play on the Internet for a couple of hours
  • Go to a Cavs game

And he’ll be the first to tell you – it’s a rough life.  On the other hand, as a comic, an idle day of living free is analagous to research.  Don’t let him fool you.  If his past is any indication, Zumock undoubtedly has several other projects on the burner (that he likely plans to quit once they reach fruition).  The real measure of his career is the big picture – literally and figuratively.

“I always feel kind of bad when people categorize me as ‘just a stand-up,'” Zumock said.  “That’s just been a vehicle to take me places.  I came from a sketch background.  The thing I like doing more than anything is shooting video.

“I’m doing a TV show with my buddy Ryan Dalton.  He’s a comedian, and we’re having a fun time with it.  I’ve realized now, and when I had the other TV show – that’s what I really enjoy doing.

“But I love doing stand-up too.  It’s just another way to be creative.

“As cool as being on the radio was, it was a 9 to 5 job.  Because it’s corporate, and you have to deal with nonsense.  You’ve got to get yanked into an office for something you said, or something you did.  Something you’re not supposed to say.  You’re getting written up.  Somebody screwed something up in payroll.  Human resources.  It’s just…ugh.  I’ve never liked being told what to do.”

That ‘other TV show’ harkens back to his days with Last Call, when the then-fledgling troupe had their own program on public access.  As for the show with Dalton, the duo write, produce, and star in That’s Cleveland, a half hour sports comedy show on Sports Time Ohio.  According to Zumock, the show is getting shuffled around in regards to the premier date due to Fox Sports recent acquisition of the STO network.

“They aired the first episode,” Zumock said.  “It’s just been really weird.  Everything’s kind of just up in the air.  I feel like I’m trapped in some sort of weird world where nothing is concrete right now.  As fas as I know we still have a deal with them and they plan on airing us in the Spring.”

Outside of the show, Zumock has expressed interest in a weekly podcast as well. Because of a non-compete clause in his contract with WMMS, another radio gig isn’t at the top of his priorities right now, but the increasingly popular podcast arena definitely holds appeal for him.

“If I do it, I want to do it right,” Zumock said.  “I don’t want to just bullshit into a microphone.  I want production, and I want it to sound pretty sweet.  I just want to do it the right way.”

In fact, just recently on his Facebook page, the comic called for any parties interested in helping to hit him up.  So if you’re a whiz with that sort of thing, there’s an opportunity for you right there.  From experience, i can tell you Zumock is super approachable, and obviously more than willing to work with others to make things happen.

One of the most impressive things about Zumock and his ability to make things happen is that, for the most part, he shoulders the work himself.  Whether it’s one of his frequent stand-up gigs, TV appearances, or otherwise, the busy performer handles his own booking.

“I had a manager for a minute,” Zumock said.  “He basically wasn’t doing anything.  At this point, once you get into comedy clubs and they know who you are, you just kinda tell them your avails.”

As for those club shows, a number of them stand out to the comic as high watermarks in his career.

“I opened for Nick Swardson in my hometown of Kent,” Zumock said.  “It was sold out.  Definitely the largest audience I’ve ever been in front of.  I felt like a rock star there.

“When I got passed at the Hollywood Improv, I went on after Jim Gaffigan.  I was so young, and so green, but I got passed.  It was a Friday night, and Gaffigan popped in to do a set, and they put him on right before me.  I was just shitting my pants.  I’m auditioning to get into this club, and I’ve got to follow fucking ‘Hot Pockets’?

“When Daniel Tosh came to Hilarities, he brought me on as his opener.  It was sold out.  This was before Tosh.O.  To this day people still come up to me and say ‘dude I remember that show!’

“Those stick out.”

Lest your image of Zumock be painted all in bright colors, Kent’s funny son endures some dim, if not difinitively dark patches.

“The thing I’m going through right now is pretty challenging,” Zumock said of the charges pending against him in a 2012 incident.  “I know the real story, of course, of what happened.  But everyone has assumptions because of what I’m being charged with.

“If that stuff wasn’t pending, it would be sort of a blessing.  There is a lot more to the story than was reported.”

The smudge on his track record is already shrinking though, in light of what feels like the beginnings of a what might be a Zumock surge.  i don’t know how to describe it; it just seems like one of those logical conclusions.

Beneath his on- and off-stage persona as an immature, self-deprecating pop culturist, Zumock is a hard worker who has found his way through the business of show.  As a writer, performer, producer, and personality, the career that started in the fifth grade has taken him to remarkable places and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.  For the guy who doesn’t know how to do anything else, it’s a good thing he’s comfortable in front of an audience.  Even when the audience tries to become part of the show.

“I like when people heckle because I like breaking up the monotony of my nonsense,” Zumock said.  “I’ve told these jokes a zillion times, so I’m ready to do something different.  If someone heckles, it’s great.

“There was a guy with long hair, and he was missing his arm.  And he heckled me.  And as soon as I saw that I started smiling.  I asked, ‘sir, why are you heckling me?’ and he said ‘because you’re not funny.’

“I told him, ‘I might not be funny to you, but I’ll bet you $50 you can’t put your hair in a ponytail.’

“Everyone that goes to a show thinks they’re a comic, too.  They’ll say ‘I’m just helping.’  No, you’re not.  You’re not part of the show.  Just because you paid $10, you don’t get to be my partner.”

“I’ve never been scared on stage,” Zumock said.  “I’ve never gotten that scared feeling.  I like to go up there with nothing planned, and just go from there.

“If I have a new joke, or something I’ve been working on, I’ll have that planned.  I’ve got to put that somewhere.  And it stinks sometimes, when you don’t have anything planned, because sometimes I’ll forget about that new joke.  I had a new joke the other night that I forgot to tell, and I was like ‘god damn it.'”

Now, before this wraps up, i want to preface the next part by telling you i’m breaking a personal rule by doing this.  As i tell to each person i have the opportunity to speak with, i don’t straight-up transcribe the conversation because that seems a little boring.  But for the life of me, i can’t listen to or read the transcription of this part without laughing.  Maybe it’s just me, and the quality of the thoughts that went into this statement.  It could be the reminiscence of far-out thinking.  Just a certain i don’t even know what.

What i asked was this: “What do you hope audiences take away from your humor?”

“I’m really sophomoric,” Zumock said.  “I’m immature.  That’s kind of my…I hope, I don’t know, you know people…people…critics, or comedy critics…anybody, anybody who can just go ‘that guy’s not funny, that guy sucks’ – they don’t understand.  You can work on your act for years, and develop it, and hone it, and then this one construction worker can just come out and say ‘you suck.’  Or some guy will just say ‘that’s not funny.’  But they’ve never done it.  They’ve never gone through the process.  I think what I’m trying to, uh…I don’t care what people take away from it.  I hope they laugh, obviously.  But, you know, that’s fine too.  But uh, I wish people respected the process more.  I wish…my ideal thing is…everyone once in a while will have a bad set from time to time.  It’s just what it is.  I mean, you never know what’s going on with people in the audience.  They could have lost somebody.  They have a cold.  Maybe one guy is trying to figure out a bill and he’s not paying attention.  There’s so many factors that factor in to a bad set.  But I don’t think people necessarily um…I don’t know what I’m trying to say.  I’m all over the map.

“I hope people laugh, to answer your question.”

*     *     *     *     *

Well, i know comedy is subjective is what they always say.  i think Chad’s a pretty frickin’ funny mofo.  And like several other names on The List, the opportunity to speak with Chad came about in a similar fashion to his stage method – no planning.  No different than any other night from work, i fully expected to recuse myself from the outside world for the evening.  But just as i was selecting which comfy clothes i’d don, i read a tweet that Chad was doing a set at my watering hole.  i was reminded of the adage that it’s better to strike while the iron is hot, so there i was with a pint and a notebook ready to get the story.

Instead, i just enjoyed the show and additional imbibings.  If i’m honest, i didn’t want to be ‘that guy’ and go bother the dude after his set.  Even though i had every right to insert myself into the show – i’d paid $10 to get in after all.  But i didn’t.  Although i wasn’t sure if the awkward approach afterwards would put the kibosh on my journalistic plans.

Fortunately, it did not, as you’ve no doubt discovered unless you skipped the verbosity and are just reading the end little coda here.

Possibly the weirdest thing about the whole experience – the research, conversation, and further research – is that i can’t shake the feeling we’ve probably crossed paths before, down at Kent State University back in the day.  We’re pretty close in age, and coming across all these things like references to Mr. Tibbs, Laundry 101, late-night Mr. Show, and all that…i wouldn’t be surprised if we’d chilled on the same couches at least once of twice.  Perhaps even an obscure photo – we took a lot of pics and video at that house on East Summit.  Boy, if any of that fell into the wrong hands…

Thanks for viewing!

Oh, one last thing – so i don’t lose my comicbook cred:

The Comedian

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