NPR "A Prairie Home Companion" writer comes home

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Posted by Karina Asos on May 26, 2009 at 09:57:22:

Comic Nathan Craig to test his talent on home turf
Katjusa Cisar May 26, 2009

Lots of Madison comics who've moved on to Chicago, L.A. and the national touring circuit love to come back to their hometown venue, the Comedy Club on State Street.

Nathan Craig, a '95 West High School grad now living in L.A., calls it one of the nicest clubs in the country. He recently auditioned for Comedy Central, opened for Bill Maher and even sold a couple of sketches to National Public Radio's "A Prairie Home Companion," but he still enjoys coming back to "test the barometer" of his act on Madisonians.

He's headlining at the Comedy Club this weekend, with openers Geoff LaFleur and Chris Waelti.

Craig recently talked with 77 Square about the recession, "A Prairie Home Companion" and what a stand-up comic can learn from being a substitute teacher:

What drew you to stand-up?

At first, as much as I hate to admit it ndsh well, I'll put it this way, I wish I played an instrument. Growing up, both my parents were music teachers and I kind of rebelled against that. Then once I hit college, I didn't know how to play anything and I wanted to have a way to express myself. So, I run my mouth.

Has the recession provided you with good material for your stand-up?

I have a joke about it, but no doubt the recession has made it pretty difficult on performers and the arts in general. Ticket sales are way down. It's the first thing that people cut out of their budget. I've seen crowds dwindle a little bit, and CD sales are down a bit. But as far as the shows that I'm doing go, people need to laugh, no doubt.

I found plenty to write about when the economy was booming ndsh 'cause whether it's what people gotta do when they've got no money, or the crazy, ridiculous things people spend their money on when they got tons of money, people are curious creatures. It's fun to write about them and be one.

What did you think about Wanda Sykes act at the White House Correspondents' Dinner?

I thought it was hilarious. If you get that gig and you don't say something that makes somebody mad at you, then, um, you're a lame booking and you sucked. But, you know, she fired on two blowhards that deserved to be fired on. Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity? Those guys are just celebrities. When people get sensitive about that stuff, it just emphasizes how self-important they are. If Rush Limbaugh's drug habits are off-limits, then how can we possibly put ourselves in perspective?

You list "child care" as one of your special skills on your resume. Has an employer ever taken advantage of that?

From my resume? No. But I was a substitute teacher for five years in Chicago, and I worked at a summer camp for a couple summer and I worked as a nanny for a summer in Chicago for a couple kids.

What did you learn about comedy from kids?

Get to the point. Honor your imagination. Sometimes comics can get selfish in their writing. Most definitely younger or newer comics can get caught up in the overwhelming ordeal of stand-up comedy. It's a bit of a spectacle. You can get inside your head and not be focused on what it is that you think is funny, you know, your truth. If you honor your curiosities, chances are you'll stay in touch with your sense of humor and that will resonate.

What was it like to write for "A Prairie Home Companion"?

I sold a couple of sketches to the show some years ago. I had grown up listening to Garrison Keillor and I thought it was the coolest thing and I was really excited about it. He was doing show in Chicago with Studs Terkel. (The sketch) was about a guy who had a dream about going to the DMV to ask his brain where he left his car keys, and so he's got to wait in line just like everyone else, but everyone in line is something fantastical ndsh there's an 18-wheeler that drives through and a llama.

I thought the whole sketch would be hard to do on the radio, but he just cut his sound guy loose -- you know, the guy who makes the sounds with the soup cans and a glass of water? -- he just made all these crazy subconscious dreamscape sounds.

How will you be tailoring your comedy act for a Madison audience?

Well, I'm a huge Badger and Green Bay Packer fan, so if I want to go off on the Packers for five minutes, that won't fall on deaf ears in Madison whereas that probably wouldn't get me anywhere in Orange County. It's never bad to write for where you're at. Whenever I go to a town, somewhere I'm performing, I'll pick up the paper and read up on the state and the city.


Who: Nathan Craig (with Geoff LaFleur and Chris Waelti)

When: May 28 to 30 (Thursday, 8:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 8 and 10:30 p.m.)

Where: The Comedy Club, 202 State St.

Cover: $8 to $10; reservations recommended (call 256-0099)

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