Five questions with: Comedian Nathan Timmel

Nathan Timmel

Friday, July 16 at 7 p.m. -- Raven Wolf Productions, $5

Nathan Timmel performing. — courtesy of the artist

For two decades, comedian and author Nathan Timmel has been making people laugh with his stand-up routines. Since moving to Iowa in 2007, he’s been a regular at Penguin’s in Cedar Rapids, as well as frequenting the open mics at the Yacht Club and Studio 13 in Iowa City. His first novel, We Are 100, released this past March, solidified his storytelling bona fides as he injected engaging comedic relief into a suspenseful thriller. (And, thanks to the magic of print-on-demand, he’s already fixed the plot hole I noted in my review for the next round of readers!)

This Friday, July 16, Timmel breaks ground as the first comedy act to take the stage at Williamsburg’s newest outdoor venue, Raven Wolf Productions. Comedy aficionados in the region may have heard his albums in rotation on Sirius/XM or caught one of his appearances on the Bob and Tom show. If you haven’t, you can expect his signature storytelling style — a bit wry, with a sense that he’s generously sharing his own wonder at the world.

“This is almost embarrassing, because it’s such a stereotypical answer,” he wrote in an email regarding his comedic inspirations, “but Carlin and Pryor really are the big dogs in comedy. If you weren’t inspired by them — I mean …”

Bill Burr and Dave Chappelle are his go-to contemporary influences. “Generally my humor comes out in the form of stories,” he wrote.

Tickets are $5 for his set at Raven Wolf, which will be followed by a performance by the band A Rogue Wave. BYO bag chairs and refreshments of choice.

Editors’ Note: The July issue of Little Village listed the correct day for this show (Friday) but incorrectly gave the date as July 17. Friday, July 16 is the correct day and date of this performance.

Who or what makes you laugh?

Things that surprise me make me laugh. There’s something wonderful about a punchline or gag you just didn’t see coming. Originality. I don’t care if it’s serious, political comedy or silly observational comedy — if the end can take me by surprise, then I’m happy.

What’s your writing/refining process like? How do you know when a joke is ready?

I’m not sure I have a writing process. Generally, I have an idea, or something happens to me, and I take it right to the stage. If people laugh, then I know it works. If they don’t, I’ll try rephrasing things a few times. If no one ever laughs, well, it gets dropped from the set.

Do you believe there’s a role for comedy in political discourse? How would you define it, and your relationship to it?

I think any comedian can use their voice to discuss whatever it is they want to discuss: politics, ornithology, the state of lawn maintenance. Whatever drives a comedian is what that person should be talking about. Personally, though, I don’t get too political on stage. I find it more fun to be opinionated, yet stealthy. By that, I mean that the best night of compliments I ever received after a show took place in Colorado. After my show, a guy came up to me and said, “I can tell you’re a good conservative. You have good conservative values.” Immediately following him, a woman said, “You voted for Obama, didn’t you? I like that. You tell smart jokes.” Each person saw themself in me, which means I did something right.


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Puns: pro or con?

Lol, I’ll go with agnostic. If you believe in them, great. I’m sort of — “neutral.”

Why stand-up comedy? What does it offer you as a means of expression that other art forms — or other forms of comedy, even — don’t?

I’m not sure it’s something I can really define, so I’ll steal from a man I’ve already mentioned: George Carlin. His response to, “Did you always want to be a comedian?” was, “Well, not in the womb, but right after that, yeah.” It’s something that hit me somewhere in my childhood; I saw a comedian and just — that was it. That’s what I wanted to do. Get my thoughts out there and hear laughter in response.

The second part of this question, “What does it offer me …” is really challenging, and I’m not sure how to answer. It just — feels right. It feels natural to me in a way nothing else in my life did. Slinging jokes into a microphone is where I feel the most comfortable. It’s where I’m in my element.

I do try to express myself in other ways — the books I’ve written, both fiction and nonfiction — but something keeps drawing me to the stage.

It’s a siren’s song to me.

If that makes any sense.

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