The standup comedian Rod Man has learned a few things about the town that TV deity Johnny Carson used to jokingly call "beautiful downtown Burbank." Rod Man lives here now, but he still wears a cap with the insignia for his home team, the Atlanta Falcons, as he strolls through a sunny outdoor mall dressed in black, cellphone in hand.
"A lot of senior-living situations here. L.A.'s big on bicycles, but in my neighborhood it's Hoverounds," he says with a laugh of the scooters that shuttle elderly locals along neighborhood storefronts. "They're up early and they go to bed early. I like that. It's family oriented."
On the sidewalk, a woman visiting from Phoenix sees him and stops. "You are from the 'Last Comic Standing,'" she says, as her twin sister and other family members watch from nearby. It's her first-ever celebrity sighting. "Don't tell me your name. It starts with a 'D.'"
Rod Man (aka Rod Thompson) replies, "No. A 'D' is in there though," then gives her a rubber bracelet with his name and poses for a cellphone picture.
Two years ago, Rod Man was the winner of season 8 of NBC's "Last Comic Standing," and is now securely transplanted on the West Coast with his wife and two daughters, working on standup routines often described with words like "laid back" and "southern charm," while exploring acting opportunities. Around the corner is Flappers Comedy Club, where the comic will headline two nights Aug. 12 and 13.
"There's lots of forms of comedy," he says. "My version of comedy is Pryor, Carlin, Rock — grab a microphone and boom, I'm in front of the people."
Marquee: What got you into comedy?
Rod Man: "Def Comedy Jam" originally. It used to come on at midnight and it was a new thing. I saw people that looked like me, making people just go hysteric. What is this? I had seen comedy with Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock and different people, but I hadn't seen cats my age wearing what they want to wear, saying what they want to say and making people laugh. It made me interested in the craft of comedy.
You identified with that new generation?
Yeah, Steve Harvey, Martin Lawrence, Chris Tucker, Bernie Mac ... I remember when Bernie Mac first came out, and had his face painted on his pants! Who is this guy? Something is happening. I got to be a part of this!
Back when "Def Comedy Jam" first came out, some people criticized it as too harsh or dirty.
I was a kid. At the time, it was taboo, but I couldn't miss it. The language was vulgar and dirty, but I have people around me that talked like that. I knew these people, but can you say that on TV? It was raw. I hadn't seen it on "The Tonight Show." Nothing bothered me about it because it was so exciting and fresh.
You already felt like you had what it took to be funny onstage?
I always joked and messed around. I used to write songs, and I had a little tape recorder. People would just laugh at the songs and say, "You're a comedian. That's what you need to be doing." But I didn't know an outlet for comedy. I looked in the Yellow Pages and found the Uptown Comedy Club [in Atlanta] on a Tuesday night and it was life changing. I got up onstage the first time, and I was like, I'm not never leaving here.
Did you find your style right away?
No. My first year of comedy I did do well. I went to New York and won this Urban Comedy Festival they had — out or 75 comedians from all over the country. I won, and the prize was $2,500, and you got to play the Apollo. And that was like a dream. But I knew they was a rough crowd. They'd boo Jesus. Is that really a victory to have to play there? They were rough on a comedian, but I did great. I was on my way, but that was just one little thing.
What was your act like then?
It was raw. People used to think I was drunk onstage. "He drunk! Why you be drinking?" I'm not drunk! But it looked like I was slurring my words. I don't think that voice is going to be the finished product, so I just kept hitting the stage and growing and it became something else. In comedy you find your voice. You search until you get it.
At Flappers, will be you get more topical or more personal?
I'm always doing my family stuff and observational stuff. But it's an election year, so I'm watching that and seeing what's funny. There's a lot of funny there. There's a lot of meat on that bone. But at the same time, it's a serious election, so we can't get too caught up in the funny and the play-play and miss, "Whoa, wake up, everything went wrong!" I'm trying to fuse that into there. We put it all in the crock-pot, let it simmer down and serve it up. It's delicious.
What have you noticed about comedy audiences?
I know you came for a reason and you need what I'm about to give you. Laughter is medicine and good for your soul, so let's serve it up. When there's a lot of stuff happening, comedy goes up because there's too much going on in the world. You turn to CNN and somebody blew something up. How do we get away from that? A comedian's job is to report that, and make you see it a little bit different. Ah, not only was he funny, but he's also a little smart!
Who: Rod Man
When: Aug. 12 and 13.
Where: Flappers Comedy Club, 102 E. Magnolia St., Burbank
Tickets: $20 to $51
More info: (818) 845-9721, FlappersComedy.com
Steve Appleford, firstname.lastname@example.org