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Mike Merryfield Interview

Mike Merryfield is a man at ease with who he is.  A father of two—four years for one child, seven months for the other—Mike is no longer trying to impress anyone; he’s just interested in being honest when on stage. This approach, combined with a likability factor that lets the audience in on his jokes, has allowed Mike to excel in the world of comedy.

Nathan Timmel dialed Mr. Merryfield up and they chatted about his third CD, “Cupcakes & Potpourri,” now available on the Rooftop label.

NT: How many years has it been since your last CD?

MM: It’s been at least five years since I’ve put anything out; the last release was a double-album, where I crammed like two hours of material on to the disc. In the past two years, I’ve written like a ton of new stuff, and when Rooftop approached me with the idea of putting out a new disc I was just ready. I think this one is right around forty-five minutes, and while it’s the same style as the last release, you know how it is, the longer you’re a comedian, the better you get at it. Your skills improve. So, the two hours I have out there on itunes I’m proud of, but this new release is what I really think represents who I am as a comedian. It’s more my “comedic voice.” You know how they say you’ll find your voice as a comedian? I think I’ve found it.

NT: How would you describe your voice and how it has changed over the years?

MM: I think in the beginning I was acting how I thought a comedian should act on stage. I was being all “quirky” and “clever” and just trying to be this character that wasn’t me. It was kind of an extension of me, but it was more or less acting. Even the way I wrote, to re-tell those old jokes really took acting. I wasn’t writing for myself, I was writing for the type of comedian I thought I wanted to be, which didn’t make any sense because the whole reason I got into comedy was to just be me on stage. I probably spent the first seven/eight years of my career trying to be a “funny comedian,” but in the past four years I’ve given up on that and am just myself on stage, which is what I should have been doing all along. I wish someone would have told me in the beginning, “Hey, just be yourself.” Because now that I get that, it makes it easier to write. I don’t have to add anything to what I think; I just get an idea, take it up on stage and start working it out, and if it’s not funny, it’s not funny. But the point is, as I test these ideas, I’m real to the audience, because I’m not doing these over-rehearsed bits that have to be said in the same order, with the same inflection, just to get a laugh. I think comedy crowds can tell the difference between something rehearsed and something honest.

NT: OK, now I want to challenge you, because of a conversation we had years ago: I know Doug Stanhope influenced you, not in content of material, but in the delivery of it.  You told me that after you saw him the first time, you walked away from it just blown away because you believed he made the entire act up on the spot, because it sounded so natural and fresh. Then you heard him again a few months later and it was the same exact bits, but they still sounded natural, fresh, and made up entirely on the spot, because he did use the exact same inflections and stuttering pauses.  Then you buy his CD, and it’s again the same material, with the same pauses, but it still sounded like the very first time he’d said any of it.

MM: I think he’s so good because of the way he words everything. There’s your standard, “set up/punchline” jokes that the old-school comics—Jerry Seinfeld and so on—tell. Doug, and Louis C.K. is another one who has inspired me, is more a storyteller. Neither of them is doing “bits,” they’re telling stories. And maybe they’re telling them the same way each time, but that’s the genius of it. I mean, I had been doing comedy for two or three years by the time I saw Doug, so I knew the game, I knew guys went up on stage and did the same old crap over and over, because that’s all I had seen at that point.  And then I saw Doug and, yeah, was blown away, because it looked and sounded so natural.  Again, I thought he had made it all up, the whole hour. With Louis C.K. it was the same thing; the first time I saw him was on Conan. I didn’t know who he was back then, but he was sitting on the panel, being interviewed. I had turned it on in the middle and was drawn in because he was hilarious. At the end, Conan said, “Comedian Louis C.K.,” which I thought was cool. Four months later, I was working at the Comedy Café in Milwaukee, with Louis C.K., and there he was on stage, and he’s doing the same stuff as he was on Conan. I was just blown away, because I thought the stuff on Conan was just made up for that; interview material. He performed it so fluidly and flawlessly that it looked like it was off the top of his head each time; both on Conan and then months later on stage. So, both of them inspired me to just be more myself, and to tell stories more than do “bits.” Be less rehearsed, be less set up/punchline, don’t try to be more clever than anyone in the room—[laughs]—because I’m not a clever person, but I think for a while I was trying to act clever on stage.

NT: So would you say then you have become a storyteller comic because of them, or that they made you realize you could talk about your thoughts and ideas more than just sitting down and saying, “OK, I need to write a bit about the president, or whatever is in the news right now”?

MM: Oh yeah, I’m way more personal now than I ever used to be. Which is something the greats say all the time, that if you write about yourself, because then you can’t be accused of stealing, and no one can steal from you, because they’re your thoughts, and your ideas. And sure, these days I’m talking more about my kids than ever before, but that’s my life and where I’m at. I do try not to do all kid or all family shows, because I know there are people in the audience without kids and who don’t give a shit about my kids, though. My thing is, I try to take each show as an individual event. I don’t necessarily have a forty-five minute set I do each time, where each joke has to go in a specific order. I do that because it challenges me, and makes everything seem more fresh. If I don’t even know what joke comes next, that makes the show more interesting; less rehearsed.

NT: Back to the CD: did you record one or multiple shows?

MM: I actually bought recording equipment about a year ago, all the mics and everything needed for a professional release, and I would play it back and edit it on my mac. So I’ve actually been recording all my shows for the past six or eight months with the full intention of putting something together, and I did have one great show set aside that I planned on using. Then I was in Appleton and had a really, really good set on Saturday, the early show. I wasn’t too dirty, I wasn’t too clean, it was like the perfect set, and I got every bit in that I wanted to, so the CD then turned out to be that one show, in one take. I maybe chopped off five or six minutes; jokes I didn’t want to repeat from the other disc, and you have to take out the merch pitch, but other than that I got really lucky.

Cupcakes & Potpourri is available for download now.