I Know why the Caged Nerd Sings
When I first started working here at RooftopComedy back in January (time flies much?) and I first discovered Dan Telfer, it was an absolute joy, to say the least. Stuff about LOST, Battlestar Galactica, Voltron! He was in it! He was all about it! And he knew what he was talking about! I remember picking his Revenge of the nerds insults clip as a staff pick one week (the second time I picked him as a staff pick, mind you) and I called him the ‘Nelson Mandela of nerds.’ So it is with much excitement that I present you, the faithful reader, Chicago’s own, Dan Telfer.
Paolo: This past August you had a live reading for a spec script you wrote for The Office. What was it like to write that script, and how was the live reading?
Dan: Writing and performing are two things I am equally passionate about, and I get so excited to write with tight guidelines. So writing a script in a format for television was really difficult, but really inspiring. The live reading was equally exciting, as the cast was really good. Just some of the best improv, stand-up, and theater actors in town. It pretty much guaranteed that, when I watched the tape later, the script’s weaknesses would be apparent and I could punch it up all the better.
It’s incredibly difficult to get your script to look exactly like a shooting script for an actual television show, especially when nobody wants to pay you to do it yet. It goes against so many creative instincts staring at a formula and trying to put your meat on someone else’s skeleton, you can get really frustrated at first. Nothing feels better than mastering a form though- it’s like Kung Fu. If I ever make something of the experience this will sound a lot less stupid, but in the meantime I have no problem basking in glory of my little non-achievement. I spent countless hours on the little fucker.
Paolo: How did you get into comedy?
Dan: I started in improv comedy, kind of by accident. About 12 years ago, while I was in the theater department of Columbia College Chicago, a friend got me an intern job at ImprovOlympic (now IO Chicago). I’d seen shows there before and really wanted to just see more for free, maybe meet some people. Comedy was always something I wanted to take seriously. I found out after seating patrons for a couple weeks that interning was supposed to pay for improv classes. For a brief while I was the youngest person to perform at IO, but I was just one of the first in a huge wave of young students who started to flow in during the mid-90s to the present. They’ve probably had a hundred 16 year olds go through the program by now.
Paolo: Who are your comedic influences?
Dan: I remember once, when my mother drove my little brother and I to Orlando, FL for vacation all the way from Joliet, IL we listened to Cosby tapes in the car. I think I was only about 7 or 8. At one point I remember turning to my mom and saying “Wow, I wish I could see what he was doing right now, like this was a video tape.” And my mom, who was exhausted from driving through 6 states, and self-conscious about not having better ways to entertain her two insanely high-energy children, said “Look, this is all we have, okay? I’m sorry, really, but you will have to make do with this tape!” She thought I was complaining. And I was too young and shy to tell her she misunderstood me, but in my head I was desperate to say “No! I mean, I want to see his facial expression, if he’s standing, if he’s gesturing, because I want to mimic it! I want to practice telling funny stories! I want to tell you my brother and I were jumping up and down on the bed and have it be funny instead of disturbing!” My parents were big comedy nerds, so I was lucky enough to watch tons of comedy films and TV shows and find favorite things about them- especially Steve Martin, Monty Python, and the Marx/Howard Brothers. I got into improv after watching Jazz Freddy, a now legendary Chicago improv group, when I was in high school. I made the big leap from improv comedy into stand-up almost completely based on my love for the Comedians of Comedy. And I don’t know how anyone could love watching stand-up and not watch Paul F. Tompkins as often as possible. In the name of good comedy I hope he’s as popular as Cosby one day. Everyone go buy his album right now!
Paolo: What was the absolute worst show you ever had?
Dan: I performed a stand-up set at an outdoor crafts festival for a local theater. There was hardly anyone watching me on this little card table fashioned into a stage, which was on a blocked off street where all the Port-a-Pottys were. So during my set people were taking loud cacophonous shits 2 feet away from me, and occaisonally someone would try to park a car and bump into a Port-a-Potty, which then bumped into me, making me constantly afraid I would be launched off the stage and buried under a plastic shit closet. But that wasn’t the best part. One of the other performers (Nate Fernald, I hate you) had given a small child a Cracker Jack prize that I like to remember as Cerberus’ whistle. It was this horrifyingly tinny little toy whistle. And this poor kid wanted to be having fun, but this stage just wasn’t working out as a source of entertainment. There were 20 empty folding chairs, it was just him, an elderly couple, and the other performers watching. So this kid just starts wailing on the whistle at the top of my set, just tooting like it’s curing cancer. Finally, near the end of my set, he gives up the whistle and, in no relation to my set, starts yelling that I look like “a stupid chicken”. I tried to do some crowd work with him, but what could I do? He was 8. He tuned out halfway through my response, checked out a tree and some clouds, and called me “a fat chicken butt”.
Paolo: What would you say is the nerdiest thing about you?
Dan: I own a lot of Star Wars action figures based on characters that were never in a movie. Mara Jade anyone? Grand Admiral Thrawn? For a while I thought it was going to be so cool to have all these cool toys give my kid. But now that I have a baby daughter I’ve finally realized the obvious- these will be so lame to her. I’ll be lucky if she likes the movies. It’s like if my dad had come up to me one day going “Hey Dan, check out these sweet old Beany and Cecil puppets!!”
Paolo: You are performing at the LA Comedy Fest in November, are you looking forward to anything in particular there?
Dan: I am incredibly excited about all of it as I have been to New York a bunch of times, but this is my first trip to LA. I’m really excited that one of my festival shows is with my buddy Ken Barnard and Chicago comedy hero Kyle Kinane. Those guys are ridiculous are if there’s one show of mine in the fest to see that’s gotta be it. I’m also stoked that while I’m out there I get to do a show at the UCB Theater, SeeYouNextTuesday.
Paolo: And lastly, do you have any last words to your adoring fans who would be reading this now?
Dan: Hey fan! You are awesome. I love you more than most.