GIGGLE CITY: Jake Johannsen sad he can’t do any more Cheney jokes
He’s one of David Letterman’s favourite comedians, having been on the show an astounding 35 times. Also Bill Maher, Conan, Greg Kilborn – you name the late-night talk show, Jake Johannsen has been on it. His endearing brand of observational comedy has been pleasing audiences for four decades – and now we’re lucky to have the veteran Iowa-born comic in Edmonton. Johannsen performs at the Comic Strip through Sunday (click here for tickets). He is our Giggle City Comic of the Week:
Q: If you could be any celebrity, who would it be and why?
Q: What’s your best heckler story?
A: It comes from Canada. We were driving to a gig out of Seattle, me and two other comics, and we had to catch two ferries to get to Comox, so we got there a little late, which meant that the band that was supposed to go on after us had already started playing. So they were raging in the middle of some kind of speed metal set and they had a female singer who was probably mid-40s, packing a little extra weight, wearing spandex, but she was bringing it! She was just totally raging. And the guy who runs the club was yelling at us over the music, ‘No problem, you’ll just go on when the band takes a break.’ So they take a break. It’s chaos and everybody runs to the bar to get drinks or go to the bathroom or whatever people do when a speed metal band takes a break. We decide that instead of doing the show on the stage, since everybody’s at the back, we get them to put the microphone at the end of the dance floor closer to the tables, which then causes a problem because it’s not lit that well, so it’s hard for people to figure out what’s happening. But we’re amplified, so we start doing the show. There was no point in the show where there weren’t less than three people yelling drunk stuff at the stage. That went on for the whole show. Then afterwards they all wanted to be our friends and watch the band. There were guys there that had been nine days on a logging camp and they all had these big moustaches and they were all drinking these flaming drinks. It was a good night. Plus we stayed at the hotel rooms above the bar in the building, so we couldn’t go to bed until the bands were finished playing, and then everybody has to peel out in the parking lot and yell at each other before they go home. We didn’t get much sleep.
Q: Do you have to be pessimistic about humanity to be an effective comedian?
A: I think you have to be pessimistic about humanity to be an intelligent grown-up. We don’t really act in our best interests, which I guess is what’s funny. I think human beings are pretty ridiculous – but luckily we have a sense of humour about it. That’s what made George W. Bush funny to me. He always thought he was nailing it. I thought that was hilarious. He seemed to be a person who didn’t know what he was doing and he was like, ‘Yeah, I took care of business today!’
Q: Is it harder now that you don’t have Bush to kick around?
A: The tricky thing about those political jokes is that you laugh with people you agree with. I’m trying to do a comedy show for everybody. People who like the Daily Show and agree with Jon Stewart’s opinions – and I consider myself one of them – think he’s really funny. There are people who are also watching Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh and they think those guys are funny. I watched Glenn Beck’s show the other day and he was trying to be funny. It’s not my cup of tea.
Q: Do you have a favourite joke you don’t do anymore because it’s dated or tired?
A: You can’t do any jokes about Dick Cheney anymore. I had a bit about how he had so many heart attacks and now he’s got this electric pacemaker so he can’t die. He’s a zombie or a Terminator. He’s such a funny character to me. He didn’t care what people thought of him. He was mean. He shot his friend in the face and didn’t apologize. He was great.
Q: What’s the difference between kids today and when you were a kid?
A: We didn’t wear sunscreen when I was a kid, I’ll tell you that. My mother used to put on baby oil and line the yard with aluminum foil. I have a six-year-old daughter. She’s awesome. She’s not out of our sight for a moment. We take her to school, we hold her hand, walk her inside, same thing on the way out. She wears a helmet when she rides her bike. They wanted us to wear helmets going skiing on the bunny hill. I love my daughter. I don’t want her to get hurt, but man, pretty soon we’re going to have to wear helmets when we drive our cars.
Q: What do you do when someone from the audience tells you a joke?
A: I always listen. The hard part is that there’s not many good jokes. And sometimes it’s a terrible racist, sexist, awful joke and the person will say, ‘You can use this in your act.’ And this is after they’ve seen my act. Um … where am I going to put that racist joke? But I’m always polite.