Meet Casey Ley. Ley's comedy is silly. And smart. And dirty. And dark. And handsome. It's a lot like him actually. So it is also self-centered and flakey and relatively promiscuous. He is the creator of the popular San Francisco comedy game show Mayhem Trivia and stand-up show Some People Like Us. He has performed in festivals like SF Sketchfest, Bridgetown in Portland, Oregon and the Moontower Festival in Austin, TX and on stage with comics such as Hannibal Burress, Todd Barry, Maria Bamford Doug Benson, Mike Birbiglia and Janeane Garofalo. Casey was voted best comic in San Francisco by SF Weekly in 2012 and his comedy has appeared on NPR, side rooms all over the country and in his mind for three decades.
Casey returns to Chicago Feb. 25 after winning 2nd place in The Advocate's Stand Out: The National Queer Comedy Search last September. For his victory lap, he will be able to strut his material for an extended headlining set. Adam Guerino, the host of the Feb. 25th show, chats with Casey about coming in 2nd out of 75 national queer comedians last Fall, the beginning of his comedy career and returning to Chicago.
Adam: For Stand Out: The National Queer Comedy Search, you and one other finalist had their mother in the audience. And you and that other comedian nabbed the top 2 slots. Coincidence?
Casey: Maybe our mom's paid off the judges with sexual favors. Is that a weird way to start an interview? It's also a weird way to win a comedy competition.
Adam: How was your very first comedy show? From when you were waiting to go on stage to when you walked off--take us there.
Casey: The first time I ever told stand up jokes out loud was to a member of the Kids In The Hall, his manager and that guy's girlfriend while we were all sitting on my couch smoking weed. I was working for a comedy festival and, long story short, I was the kid on the festival staff who knew how to get weed. And while this makes me sound cooler than I am, believe me I was terrified and terrible. After I did a few jokes to polite response the manager said, "Hey, that's not bad. Can you do 30 minutes and want to open for us?" He was clearly kidding but I stonily and earnestly said "Definitely," and everyone laughed at me. The only joke I remember from that night was one about getting to heaven and finding out God was actually the Predator. Yeah, still haven't been called for that opening set.
Adam: How has your level of preparation before a show changed from then to now?
Casey: Well, I don't smoke weed before shows anymore. I'm already a rambling comic so I don't need my performance enhanced in that department. I don't want to say I prepare less these days but I do come in with less of a designed plan. I used to think I needed to be completely prepared, with my jokes precisely memorized but that left things sounding a bit too rehearsed. Part of the joy of stand up is that mutual feeling between the comic and the audience of being part of something spontaneous. I'm not saying I riff for 30 minutes but if you have a strong foundation and aren't too tied to your material, you can do some real connecting on stage. I long for those connections with strangers.
Adam: Any advice for the children? Not even ones who want to get started in comedy but just in general?
Casey: Force your parents to force you to learn an instrument and spanish. The most content people I know are middle aged men who make their living as studio musicians and have a house and wife in Puerto Rico.
Adam: Who are some of your comedy idols?
Casey: Well, the Kids In The Hall and Mystery Science Theater 3000 were the first comedy shows I connected with as a kid. I used to pretend to be sick so I could stay home and watch those shows on comedy central during the weekdays. Eddie Izzard was the first stand up comic I wanted to be like. My association with stand-up before that point was pretty superficial. I knew and liked the big guys like Pryor and Carlin and Chris Rock but I didn't relate to much of anything they were talking about. I was also a teenager and not out, so was made uncomfortable with the idea of total honesty on stage. But then I saw Dressed to Kill and Eddie was talking about history and religion and squirrels putting on makeup and church of England airlines and all that tangential absurdity made perfect sense to me. And he was wearing a dress.
I remember thinking, Oh you can do whatever the fuck you want up there. That was important. But my favorite stand up of all time is still Patrice O'Neal. No one has ever made me laugh harder. He was so honest about who he was and what his desires were and he wasn't scared of them even if they were dark and twisted. I love that. And I think what separated him from the rest of the great comics who specialize in dark honesty is that he was so joyful on stage. Some of these other guys are so full of pain and anger it can be hilarious but gut wrenching to watch. Patrice was always just a ton of fun.
Adam: Being based in a more queer populated city like San Francisco, is there also more of a queer comedy scene?
Casey: There is a queer comedy scene but it is not as huge as you might think. I don't know why that is. Maybe most queers come to SF to relax and not yell at people on stage. We have an enormously talented population of queer performers, many of whom are hilarious, but our gay stand up scene is pretty small. Which means I clean up at all those gay shows.
Adam: You spent close to a week doing shows in Chicago when you were here for Stand Out, was it preparation or just making the most of your trip?
Casey: Well, outside of February, I rather enjoy spending time in Chicago. I've been several times for comedy and September is beautiful there and the comedy scene is so great and I knew there were some shows to do. It gave me a chance to try out some material before a competition. I was doing a joke (still do) about being called a faggot on a bus by a black woman and how I managed to turn everyone on the bus against me with my response. It's a joke about the tenuous relationship between oppressed minorities and a bit I like a lot and was planning to do at the competition but the response out there was subtly different than in California so i nixed it before the show. And by subtly different i mean no one laughed at it at all. Twice.
Adam: The last time you graced Queer Comedy at Zanies, you only had ten minutes to wow the judges--what can the audience expect from an extended set this month?
Casey: More jokes, man. Truth be told, while I had fun at the competition there is a tightness that comes with being formally judged. I imagine this will be looser and darker and as a result a lot more fun.
Queer Comedy at Zanies will feature the stand-up comedy styles of San Francisco headliner Casey Ley and variety comedy acts.. Featuring phenom Kelsie Huff, co-producer Kris McDermott, Just Dicking Around creator Amy Eisenberg as well as comedy songs by singer/songwriter/recording artist Manny Capozzi, comedy character by famed Oprah impersonator Michelle Rene Thompson and audience games with drag act Trannika Rex. Hosted by creator/producer Adam Guerino. Tuesday February 25th, 8:30pm, 1548 N Wells. $15 tickets available at Chicago.zanies.com or at the door.