Professors, ex-headliners liven up comedy stages
By WILLIAM RYBERG
REGISTER BUSINESS WRITER
There's something funny about this economics
At least both of them hope there is.
Professor Peter Orazem and marketing consultant Roy Criss are members of a little-known
Orazem's challenges have included finding
ways of drawing laughs from groups such as sheep growers and internal auditors
of Big 12 universities.
"They were both really nice groups," said Orazem.
Criss, once a full-time professional headliner on a grueling national comedy club circuit, still performs and is ratcheting up his comedy career, working to increase his bookings at shows that corporations present for employees or clients.
"I do get an adrenaline rush out of it," said Orazem. "It makes your heart beat a little faster. You get nervous. I can't eat anything before I go on."
Orazem views comedy as a hobby, as he
usually works for free or for a small amount that he normally donates to charity.
Others, however, are professionals paid to perform at clubs, corporate parties
and meetings and conventions.
The number of dual-career professional stand-ups in
Among them are Criss and Ed Vos of Granger. Vos operates a building renovation business, while averaging one or two comedy performances a week in places as varied as corporate offices and small-town bowling alleys. He calls his company Corn-fed Comedy and Construction.
"I don't think you decide that you want
to be a comedian. I think you just decide you have to be a comedian," said
In addition to stand-ups, about 25 people are members of at least three Des Moines-area comedy troupes, doing comedy sketches and improvisational humor, Lane estimated.
Joe Van Haecke of
He's also artistic director of the Comedy XPeriment troupe.
"When you get that big laugh, it's a
thrill," said Van Haecke. "It's very invigorating."
The ranks of Des Moines-area stand-ups also include established amateurs and semi-professionals. Day jobs include housewives, a nursing assistant and a cheerleading coach, said Larry Sloan, who's putting together a local stand-up comedy TV series. It's expected to air this winter on central
Sloan has had a long interest in comedy, but
his mainstream occupation is president of Lee's Security Agency of Des Moines,
a company that provides security guards for factories, offices and apartments.
He lined up eight established amateurs and semi-pros for the series.
Among them is Orazem, the economics professor (doctorate from Yale), who may get the prize for having the regular job least associated with stand-up comedy.
Audience member Jennifer Morrone, 31, of
"It was pretty witty - intelligent and
witty," Morrone said of Orazem's act.
Morrone, in fact, wasn't all that surprised at Orazem's dual roles of comedian and economics professor. She recalls having teachers in college who used humor to capture the attention of students.
"I always liked it when my professors were kind of comedic, especially in econ, kind of a dry subject," Morrone said.
Some sample Orazem jokes:
• Every three years or so,
• The price of gas has shot up there. I filled up my tank this morning - doubled the value of my car.
The roots of his stand-up hobby go back
about four years. Initially, he was involved with Toastmasters, a group that
helps people develop public-speaking skills, and later
he took a local six-week "
Orazem always had a good sense of humor, but wasn't the class clown. That title, however, did apply to Criss.
After working his way up to management positions with Pfizer Inc., the pharmaceutical company, Criss, an
"I just didn't want to go to my grave
not knowing if I had what it takes to be a success at it," Criss said.
His routine includes jokes about being 50 years old and having a 1-year-old daughter.
Among his observations: When you're a dad that old, it can be hard to tell whose diapers need changing.
He earned his living from comedy for 10 years, beginning in the mid-1980s and rising to "national headliner." That's the star of the show at a comedy club or nightclub.
Criss even got exposure on cable television
in a comedy contest show eventually won by Ellen DeGeneres before her TV-star
Performing at clubs around the country, however, meant flying or driving up to 100,000 miles a year.
After getting married in 1994, Criss decided to switch back to a job that wouldn't keep him on the road for most of the year.
Criss is now a self-employed contractor. He's a marketing consultant and spokesman at the airport and also works as a training course teacher on contract with the state of
He doesn't have to do stand-up anymore to
pay the bills, Criss said. Still, he loves the exhilaration of performing
before a live audience, with his act going over with them big-time.
Said Criss: "Once a stand-up, always a stand-up."