Madison comedian Mike Schmidt recently emerged victorious from a field of 62 stand-ups who entered the Comedy Club On State’s annual Madison’s Funniest Comic competition. The A.V. Club spoke to him recently about the impressive field of competitors, the joke that may have won it for him, and why the competition is good for minimizing the number of vagina jokes.
The A.V. Club: What’s your first order of business as the newly crowned funniest person in Madison?
Mike Schmidt: I’m going to try to do something with it, try to get some bigger shows out of town, using the title to worm my way on to some bills. I can put it more succinctly: I’m going to use the title to try to muscle my way into other comedy clubs in the Midwest.
AVC: Can you describe the responsibilities that come along with your title?
MS: There are absolutely zero responsibilities. Our scene is self-policing, so if anybody’s a jerk—well, basically nobody’s a jerk to anybody else. So there’s really nothing that I have to worry about. I don’t have to really do anything beside lord it over people.
AVC: Who impressed you in the competition this year?
MS: I was really impressed with everyone. The performances were at a much, much higher level of competition than they were last year, even the people that were eliminated in the first round. I would say the sets that you saw in the first round were probably equal to the sets you saw in the third round. Even though we had twice as many comedians enter, there were basically four times as many really good comedians. Everyone was really impressive in terms of the polish, the keeping of the time … the joke-writing has gotten much better for everyone, myself included, and it’s probably a factor of having a showcase performance throughout the year.
AVC: If you had to pick one joke that really put you over the top, which would it be?
MS: My Captain Morgan joke. I have two types of jokes: One is short jokes that I love to tell, because I enjoy horrifying people just a little bit and then getting them to come along with me, and then the longer jokes, which I rarely do. I have one longer one about getting blackout drunk, because if you get blackout drunk after a bottle of wine (or a couple bottles of wine), you behave in a certain way. But if you drink two-thirds of a bottle of whiskey, the type of trouble that you’re going to get into is a little different. So basically, the joke is that if you drink a whole bottle of Captain Morgan, or six or seven Captain And Cokes, you can look forward to the Captain appearing on your shoulder like a little angel and a devil; except there’s no angel, there’s no devil—there’s just the Captain.
AVC: You said you like to horrify people a little bit. Did any of the horrifying jokes go too far?
MS: Well, no, because I’ve done it so much that I can dial it forward and dial it back. Like in the second-to-last round, because I was up against nine other really good comedians, who all speak sort of normally, I really turned up the creep-factor in my voice, which some of the other comedians like to give me shit about. I sound sort of like Bing Crosby on ecstasy or Bing Crosby on PCP, so I dial that up a little. But then when it’s just two other people, then I have to dial it back because it sort of scares girls. And rightfully so.
AVC: So you avoided your breast cancer joke?
MS: That’s right. I did not tell that one during the contest because that’s a bit over the line, because people’s moms are there, and I don’t want them to know what their sons really do and whom they’re really hanging out with.
AVC: After the competition, how do you feel about the comedy scene in Madison?
MS: I feel it’s pretty good. We always get a bunch of new people before and after each competition. So our goal, right after each competition, is to hold onto all the new people we’ve gotten. A lot of us are children of the ’80s, so a lot of us were raised, by movies like Karate Kid and Bloodsport, to believe that only through competition can you really excel. This is sort of an aggravated version of general competition, but when you have 62 comedians and they’re all trying to get onstage, they’ll write better jokes—because trying to one-up 61 other people will get you going more than trying to one-up eight other people that you’re all friends with. It’s good that we have that many people because it brings more ideas, more people collaborating with each other, and more styles can develop.
If you only have 10 people, they’ll start to tell all the same jokes about the same subject matter. What happens is Ryan Casey and Adam Waldron are good because they’re [some of] the only people who told jokes about ’80s nostalgia and action figures, when if you think about it, every single competitor in the entire field had spent at least 10 years playing with action figures, and only four out of 62 people mentioned it.
A lot of people just love to say dirty things; like, I love to say dirty things, like, things that aren’t dirty barely interest me. I don’t really like telling jokes about politics, because I don’t really like writing jokes about politics, because I don’t like them to go out of style the next week. It’s actually not that bad, because let’s say I write a joke about a Republican congressman getting caught with young boy, it’s going to happen in another month and a half anyway.
But it helps to get some people out of their shell, to see some people actually try to do musical comedy their own way; that’ll inspire other people to do musical comedy their own way. Like having Art Paul Schlosser at an open mic is great because David Leon brings up a guitar, Nate Bjork brings up a guitar, Paul Hart brings up a guitar, and everyone feels more comfortable doing it. It’s good to have a ton of people because it’s a ton of different styles. And they don’t steal jokes from one another, but they just look at each other and say, “Okay, it can be done.” It gets people more free to talk about more things, and that way you don’t have 500 vagina jokes. You have, like, 400 vagina jokes, and then 100 jokes about … the rest of the lady.
AVC: Are you going to be back in the competition next year?
MS: I don’t know. It depends on if I’m busy. If I’m successful in moving forward with this, I hope to be too busy. I hope to be out doing shows every weekend. I’m not saying that I want to be bigger than it, but it’s the point of the title. We’re all trying to make it. We’re all trying to get to television or get to be able to tour nonstop. If I can do it, I’ve really got no business trying to enter again. We’d all be better off with me getting out of the way. It’s like Karate Kid 3.