Clean is the new edgy; pass it on.
While stand-ups who work “blue” – using adult-themed topics and off-color language – are still the norm in the comedy world, clean comics such as Tim Hawkins have carved out their own very successful niche and devoted followings over the years.
“Maybe it’s come full circle. Maybe it’s just more edgy to be clean now,” Hawkins said in a phone interview from his tour bus as it traveled through Mississippi. “I guess people expect dirty comedy. They are expecting something, then they listen to someone like (fellow clean comic) Jim Gaffigan and laugh for an hour. And they realize this guy is pretty much talking about food and doing it in a hilarious way.”
The Christian comedian will play a sold-out show at Gallo Center for the Arts on Saturday, May 21. Opening will be up-and-coming comic Taylor Tomlinson, who appeared last year on the reality competition “Last Comic Standing.”
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It’s not that Hawkins necessarily started out aiming to be a clean comic. The St. Louis native famously got into comedy after leaving his job driving a grocery truck in 2002. Since then he has been making audiences laugh his own way through his stand-up and songs.
“There’s no real manual on how to do it or no Hogwarts school for comedy,” he said. “You have to kind of figure it out on your own. I tell people, it’s more out of desperation I do comedy; I’ve tried so many other things. It’s really one of the only things I know how to do. I always enjoyed doing comedy and making friends laugh and all that. I guess the trick is finding strangers who want to hear what you have to say.”
When he started out, he would go to open-mike nights at clubs and perform for church groups. The church groups usually gave him more time, and, he said, they turned out to be an equally great proving ground.
“Church people will not viciously heckle you and throw beer bottles at you, but they aren’t going to laugh if it’s not funny. And they’re sober,” he said.
Hawkins’ songs, including parodies of Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus, Take the Wheel” and Kansas’ “Dust in the Wind,” as well as his own original humorous numbers, have helped get him noticed. His videos on YouTube have racked up more than 100 million views.
He said his musical side comes in part from repeatedly listening to the 8-track tape of “Looney Tunes” as a kid. All its “crazy songs” made an impression on him.
“It was insane and fun and funny,” he said. “That style always kind of appealed to me. Me and my brother and cousins used to have those Chipmunk records, too, and we used to lip sync that for our family. I just remember what a cool feeling it was to do comedy music.”
Now the 48-year-old tours cross-country, selling out more than 100 shows a year performing his own crazy songs in front of thousands. His all-ages shows brings out multiple generations – often from the same family.
His song ideas come from all over. It could be an everyday thing, like his “Chick-fil-A” song set to the Beatles’ “Yesterday” about his frustrations about the fast-food chain being closed on Sunday. Or marital discord, like “The Wife Song” set to Green Day’s “(Good Riddance) Time of Your Life” about things to not say to your spouse. Hawkins has released nearly a dozen DVDs and CDs over the course of his career.
Hawkins also does a regular podcast, available through his website or iTunes, where he invites other comics to hang out and chat. The show, called Poddy Break, keeps things light, casual and – of course – clean.
“I love it because it’s something that people can listen to whenever they want,” he said. “When they’re driving around, whatever. I’ve got a lot of soccer mom fans driving around all day, picking up kids. Also a lot of people who listen to comedy with their kids in the car. And they don’t want to have their hands on the volume button the whole time.”
Keeping his show family-friendly isn’t all that hard, Hawkins said. He gets his material by just “living life and taking notes.” Most of his laughs come from telling stories people can relate to and making the connection with the audience.
“It’s almost like the laugh comes from a sigh of relief. Like, ‘Great, I’m not the only one who thinks this,’ ” he said. “We’ve all had relatives that do the same things and moms that say the same things. We’ve all have issues that happen at the grocery store, and had dumb things we’ve said and done.”
Yet there are some topics, besides the R-rated ones, he tends to shy away from during shows.
“I don’t talk about religious dogma,” he said. “I will talk about quirky things that church people do. I don’t delve too much into politics, other than maybe one or two generic political jokes. Basically, I don’t want to get half the people hating me in a room.”