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Tom Clark is serious about comedy | Conversations with Funny People
So what’s new in the life of Tom Clark?
CLARK: I was just on Conan back in September 28. That was something I’ve been working on for a long time. And I was just in this movie called Freaks of Nature, which was a long delayed movie with Denis Leary and a bunch of other really funny actors. I shot it two years ago and they dumped it on the world pretty recently -- it’s on a limited release. But they kept my scene in, which is pretty great. I think I even made it into the trailer.
Who do you play?
CLARK: I was known as “Concerned Citizen Tom.” I have a scene where I’m in a gymnasium with everyone else and — I should back up and explain the movie is about vampires, zombies and humans teaming up to fight aliens. Anyway, I’m one of the humans that are coming out, questioning the aliens and their intentions. What do they want?
You grew up in Wisconsin and eventually moved to Los Angeles. Where did you get your start as a standup?
CLARK: I started in Milwaukee in the mid ‘90s. I actually started with Frank Caliendo, who’s on ESPN now. There were six or seven comics who were around when I started. Comedy had really bottomed. I was definitely at the low point of comedy.
Meaning when the comedy club boom had ended.
CLARK: Surprisingly, when I started, Milwaukee still had three comedy clubs. But there was this other place in town — not a comedy club — where I started. It was this place called The Safe House, and it was a spy themed bar that catered to tourists. They used to have Thursday open mics, so I started there. They had all these 007-themed things and then there would be comedy in the back. Sometimes you just performed in front of an empty room.
Did you get your start in comedy through standup? I know at one point early in your career you were part of a group called The Dead Alewives that included some really impressive guys, like [Community creator] Dan Harmon.
CLARK: I started both at the same time, both standup and the Alewives. Yeah, when I got into Comedy Sportz, Dan Harmon was there and Rob Schrab. Dan tried a little standup here and there, but he didn’t really like it. Dan was actually my teacher at one point in Comedy Sportz. Rob Schrab is now directing the next LEGO movie, so it’s been cool to see where they’ve gone. But when they moved [to LA], I was part of the next generation of performers in The Dead Alewives who replaced them.
Did a sketch background shape your standup style?
CLARK: Not so much sketch, mostly the improv that I learned in Comedy Sportz and in performing with The Dead Alewives. I think the improv taught me how to trust myself on stage. It taught me that whatever I say in the moment is the right thing to say. It taught me to just go with the idea and run with it.
Your jokes are short and punchy. How did you arrive at that style?
CLARK: I think when I initially started I had a lot of longer drawn out bits. I had a... hm, a take home joke or a staff joke... I don’t remember really, but I used to tell this longwinded joke and I would screw up everything every time I tried it on stage. “There was this guy and he, he... he was Irish! No, he was German! Wait, no, he was Chinese!” I would go through all this trouble for just a three-minute joke. But if you’re on TV you have to tell these 30 second jokes, then move right along to the next 30-second joke. I had to learn how to edit myself.
You also play up a sort of manic and naive character on stage. How close is your onstage persona to your actual personality?
CLARK: I would say it’s not that close. I’m silly, but I think when people meet me they find me pretty serious and pretty down-to-earth.
Did you like to be goofy when you were younger? Were you a weird kid?
CLARK: Ha, no, I never performed really at all throughout grade school or high school. Or even really in college. I was really quiet. I remember my third grade teacher wrote up my report card and she called me a loner. I was like, what’s a loner? I looked it up later and I was like, aw, man, that means I’m weird. Amongst my friends I’d have two or three friends I would make laugh and come out of my shell with, but it was really only with them.
You’re performing at Laughs Comedy Spot in December. Have you performed there before?
CLARK: I performed there when it first opened up. I was one of the first comics to perform up there. Dave and Angela, they treat the comics so well. I think Dave knows what comics go through and that makes all the difference.
What do you like to do when you’re up here?
CLARK: I usually go to the EMP. I love that place. I still haven’t been to the top of the Space Needle. My wife Steph usually comes with me when I travel and we usually go to Pike Place Market.
Tom Clark will perform at Laughs Comedy Spot in Kirkland Dec. 10-12. You can check out his recent appearances and projects on vimeo.com/tomclarkcomedy.