Michigan’s Funniest Comedian – Mike Green
Mike Green is the funniest friend I have. And I feel so fortunate that I am able to call him my friend. Mike Green on stage is simply amazing. Mike Green off stage is just as amazing, but in an incredibly dark sort of way. Taking a road trip with Mike Green is like watching a marathon of the British Office. He shares these incredibly dark and personal stories that wind up ending in a laugh. That laugh serves as such a relief too! Sometimes he’ll tag the story with a side note that brings you right back down again. He’s engaging. He’s kind. He’s thoughtful. Between Mike Green and Bill Bushart, I consider myself lucky to have had these two guys who have been around a lot longer than I have to help guide me along the way both professionally and personally. I hope you like this interview I did with the great Mike Green.
One of my inspirations for wanting to create my website is yours. I remember when I was starting off in comedy, I went to your site and there were things to do there, like the quiz on how to be a comic.
I like my website. It’s become more of a hobby. Even if it’s just to make it look decent, I like to work on it at least once a week.
How do you manage your time?
I’m horrible at it. That’s my shortcoming in stand up, my ability to manage my career, have a family and do all that. This taught me to be organized and I just muddle through.
You’re easily my funniest friend, but do you think it’s that inability to be organized and manage things is the reason you’re not also my most famous friend?
I know exactly what you’re saying. I love Steve Iott and John Bowman. I think Heywood Banks is brilliant. When you see these guys and how hilarious they are, you have to wonder how come everyone doesn’t know how good they are? Why aren’t they super famous?
Steve Iott is a guy who Jimmy Pardo has said is one of the funniest people he knows.
You know him, right?
Oh yeah. I love Steve Iott.
I just worked with him the other day. He just made me laugh so frigging hard. He crushed so hardworking clean at a corporate event and I had to follow him. And I didn’t have to follow him just doing twenty minutes. He had to do forty. He did a closing spot and they wanted to take an intermission and then bring me up. I was like, “Oh please don’t do that. Just bring me up.” They brought me right up and I followed him, but that could’ve gone very bad.
That’s an odd line up. I recommend openers not to do too much crowd work, but that’s where Steve excels. He’s just so incredibly quick on his feet and has a tremendous rolodex of information in his head. So following him, does that make for a “talky” show?
No, because his crowd work, he doesn’t ask questions he doesn’t know the answers to. He knows the answers he’s going to get.
Yeah, he directs the conversations very skillfully.
Absolutely. The more you do this…when you ask a question, I’m sure you’re at the point where nine out of ten times you know the answer you’re going to get.
I ask rhetorical questions that I rarely wait for the person in the audience to answer.
Do you? Yeah. He’s so funny and he’s so quick. He killed. I had my nervous fit before I went up and I did as well.
Your act is the most polished act I’ve ever seen live. Every word you say is so deliberate and specific. What was your process for creating that?
Well, I’ll tell you. As sad as it is, for 25 years I’ve been doing the same act and just adding on to it. In my head, it’s me doing the same ten minutes and doing everything else all around it. It’s all thought out. Like you said, almost every word in it has a reason. If someone sat down with me I could tell them where every joke came from, what inspired it and where I was when I wrote it.
Good, because we have eight hours!
Christine and I were talking the other day about the overlap of music and comedy. Like, when you go see a band you want to hear the hits. When you see a comedian, you want to hear new stuff, but a lot of times, your fans will also want to hear their favorites. Does that happen to you like if you don’t hit the siren joke in a show?
If I leave a bit out, I always hear about it. Last night I did a show for Aspen Talent at the Sound Board at the Motor City Casino. It was a corporate show. About a week before the show, Dave Moroz, the agent told me, “Oh, by the way Mike they had you before a couple years ago at a Christmas party.” And I thought, “Great, nice of you to tell me now.” So I went and did the event. There are jokes where they’re like, “Oh, I remember that.” They like to hear it for some reason. I don’t know if it’s like music, but when you go see a comedy movie, people like to quote the lines all the time. But I made a commitment last year that I was going to come up with a new hour. That was my New Year’s resolution, but by the end of the year I had a new ten minutes. When you get 45 or 50 minutes worth of material that really crushes, it’s hard to replace stuff, it’s hard to take stuff out because everything else is squelched and looks much smaller in comparison. So only stuff I find really, really funny or works really well gets placed in the act. Plus, I’ve gotta pay the bills. I’ve gotta get invited back to the clubs. When I do corporates, I have to get good references, otherwise I don’t get the next one. So I feel trapped in that. Steve Martin talked about that in his book too.
When you and I were on the road together last time, the last show we did on a Sunday was literally for ten people. Five of them won tickets from the radio station and a lot of them had those meth teeth.
A lot of the ten!
Right! Half way through the show of wrangling a terrible audience, you just broke into the Mike Green I know off stage as opposed to your on stage persona, which is very different. You were just telling these fascinating and amazing true life stories. It was so exciting to watch. The ride home, was one of the darkest, and darkly hilarious conversations we’ve ever had. You were telling me brutal stories from your past and your hijinx and they were brutal, but they were the comedy that I love. Your stories reminded me of my favorite television show, the BBC Office where the laughter serves as a relief after a lot of uneasiness. And maybe it’s because you’ve been a professional story teller for over twenty years, but the rhythm of you telling me this stuff always wrapped up in a nice little way. Has there ever been a part of you that wanted to do the George Carlin route of just totally reinventing what you do on stage?
I would love to stand on stage and talk about what’s on my mind or what’s in my life, but I don’t have that kind of time to do my job, be with the family and go out and exercise and do that kind of stuff. About a month ago I went to Club Bart and did a spot. I loved it. I loved being able to go out there and just not care. Harry Artin was there and Chris Newberg stopped by. I was like, “Man, how cool is Club Bart all of a sudden?” And I’ll do that on a bad night where I’ll get out of my act and become who I really am, but it scares people. People are like, “Wow! Really?”
It was terrifying, but exhilarating. Harry is a guy who’s been around for a long time, but I’ve recently started seeing since the Comedy Conclave you held at the Castle. Can you talk a little about that?
Yeah. Many years ago there was Chaplin’s West. It’s was an electric room. On Monday nights we used to do a thing called Comedy Camp. All these new guys would sit around and write jokes and work on new ideas. That was just open mic guys. So I thought why not take that idea and take guys who are already seasoned comics and see how good of a product we could produce in one day. And you saw how challenging that was. It was great to stretch yourself like that.
Well, I did really awesome.
You did. You probably had the best show. (Laughs) I don’t know. I don’t even remember. Yeah, sure you did. Did you?
Yeah, but I started riffing and did my thing where I shit on people, but I did it with my smile and microphone, so we’re cool! Right everybody?
Yeah. I don’t even know if I did well or not, but it was fun.
You hosted it.
Yeah. We’re going to do it again. I also have these other projects. We’re going to revisit (the documentary) Be Funny. I’m also working on a kid’s show. I look at shows like Saved By The Bell and iCarly, that whole genre.
A lot of the people who wrote those shows are comedians.
I’m going to make a pilot for my son and daughter. We sat down and wrote a bunch of sketches ideas.
So it’s going to be a sketch show with kids?
It’s going to be like Saturday Night Live meets iCarly. I’m going to get Denn and Denver to shoot it. I don’t know if I’ll do it as a web show first or submit it to Disney. I know a plethora of stand up comics who would write for it. Why not? If one of those shows hit, they’re on forever. So that’s my new project I’m working on this summer.
We’ll see how it works out. It’s going to be fun.
Denn and Denver are real go getters.
I haven’t even asked them yet, but they’re fantastic. I love them. They’re the best. My son did stand up for his talent show. I posted it on Facebook and Denver called me to film it. So they came out and brought two HD cameras. Denver does a roving shot of the crowd. Denn sets up a camera of my wife and my expression as we were watching it. They sent me an edited version of it three days later to put on Youtube. He had fun. He did my lint trap joke at the end. He struggled with it a little, but it was fun.
The lint trap bit is I love because I will ever not love porn. Porn? Puns!
(Laughs) They’re the dumbest puns. There are four of them, but I love jamming them up their ass.
When I slip into auto pilot on stage and I’m doing the alcoholic nun bit, sometimes I’ll say, “Hard to kick that habit.” If the audience groans…
Oh, here’s some more!
Didn’t like that? Here’s another one. I just got done reading Marcel Marceau’s autobiography, it was called “Mime Kampf”.
They’re funny to me. The key is that the audience understands that I know they’re cheesy and that’s why I keep going with them. The comedy rule is three, I do four. I’m not letting it go. Ted Norkey had a joke, “I’ve got a couple Shelties. The other days I got home with groceries and one of them was humping a cantaloupe. Now I’ve got a bunch of melancholy babies running around.”
In a perfect world, it should be how funny you are is equal to how successful you are, but it’s not.
No, it’s not.
And that’s terrifying to me.
I know it is. And the thing is, like I said, I can see a difference between where I’m at and where I want to be, but after twenty five years I still have no idea how to get there. And I have people working for me. I even thought about putting a seven minute video together and sending it out to all the TV shows I want to do and I haven’t done that in years. I don’t know why I haven’t. I just assume because I was rejected years ago, I’ll be rejected now.
That was one of the things Kevin McPeek said to me. We were having one of those long look back conversations and he said if he could do it all over again he would’ve kept sending clips of new stuff to all the television outlets because you really have nothing to lose.
Yeah. If they reject me, they reject me. I just don’t know why I haven’t, it’s easier now with technology. I’m sure they look at Youtube videos.
I feel bad for admitting this because I think it’ll make me sound like a shitty person, but I have a hard time feeling 100% happy for a friend when they get a break I wish I would’ve gotten. Does that feeling ever go away?
No. I’ll tell you one. The Grand Rapids Laugh Fest, there were a few different divisions. They didn’t really call them contests, but they were. There was a clean comedy that I was in and there was the Best of the Midwest and there was a club comedy one. I won the clean comedy showcase. I was on the website and the winner of the club comedy one got a check for $10,000. Why didn’t I get a check for $10,000? I can swear. I don’t have to work clean. I feel like I could’ve done my show and competed in that category. I was jealous then, because when it involves money, that’s when you piss me off.
If it’s a friend I think is legitimately funny, I am able to feel happier for them, but if it’s someone I don’t find that funny, that’s where it really irks me.
What you have to understand is, and this is the problem with this business, comedy is so subjective. So the people who are going to book you are the subjective, the audience is subjective, your peers are subjective. Everybody’s opinion of you is only based on that 45 minutes you do at night, but there’s so much more to you than that. You can’t go based on other people’s opinions of you. You have to stay true to yourself and just do what works for you. For years people have said that I’m sophomoric and I pander, but that’s who I am. That’s the act that came out of me and I’m not going to apologize for that. If that’s not what Comedy Central is looking for or what the Tonight Show is looking for, then so be it.
Thank you so much Mike.
You can find out more about Mike Green by visiting his website at oreoman.com. And seriously, if you’ve never seen him live, you should!
(I watched Noah’s video after writing this piece and I think it’s pretty awesome that at such an early age he already seems comfortable on stage and seems to have inherited his dad’s natural comic timing! Great, I’ll be competing with Noah for gigs one day!)