Toledo’s Keith Bergman has been performing stand-up comedy for six years. He’s worked with Tom Papa, Jake Johanssen, April Macie and many others. He regularly tours the country and he recorded his first one-hour special, The Goldfish, in the fall of 2015. We asked him a few questions…
1. How do you describe your comedy?
For a short answer, I usually say “smart, stupid bluster.” I try to be energetic, loud and ridiculous, but still talk about universal, big-picture real life things.
2. Which comedians inspired you?
I admire George Carlin for his sharp wit, Chris Rock for his stage presence and his ability to skin a big topic like he’s cleaning a fish, and break it down to the bone even if there are uncomfortable truths there. I love Louis C.K. as a writer, I love Maria Bamford’s ability to bring the absurd into tiny everyday moments, I love Kyle Kinane’s turns of phrase and storytelling.
3. What was your first paid show?
I got $25 to do a set at a bowling alley somewhere in Michigan. Gas was $4 a gallon, and I drove a 1995 AstroVan, so all that money went in the tank, and I didn’t care. I was supposed to do ten minutes and I wound up doing 25 when some people canceled. No recording exists of me trying to do 25 that early – thankfully. I had a lot of fun and my hands shook the whole way home.
4. Tell us about the Toledo comedy scene.
Toledo has just the one full-time club now, the Funny Bone, and they get a diverse mix of headliners from all over. A few open mics exist and professional one-off shows exist here and there. Despite this relative lack of stage time, Toledo (and Bowling Green, which is a little too far away to be considered a suburb but which acts as sort of a satellite to the Toledo scene) can boast some great funny people. There are some old-school road comics who don’t perform in town much but who are well known on the circuit, like Steve Sabo and Mark Knope. Owen Thomas and I have been at it roughly the same amount of time and we work around the country.
Of the next generation, Reese Leonard, Mike Szar and Anthony Martinez are coming up and working on honing their voices. And there’s another new crew of faces coming up – people like Luke Swisher, Mark Philipp, and Jon Ruggiero. In addition, some amazing people from around the region, from Cleveland to Detroit to Kalamazoo to Cincinnati, come to our mics and cross-pollinate. It’s a melting pot of ideas and styles and it’s an exciting time to be part of it.
5. You’ve been working hard to record a new comedy album. What did you learn in the process?
I learned that big projects are just thousands of small projects in an overcoat. I spent almost a year preparing for the show we taped, doing everything from running my set in other cities to planning the food trays for the crew backstage. I taught myself a lot about show running, learned I need to get better at delegating, and figured out some better methods of promotion for next time.
While I still don’t know what the final destination of that hour of comedy is, I’m so glad I followed through on something for once and did it. That show was probably the most fun I’ve ever had on stage, and even though I made a million mistakes, I gained an experience that made me happy and made sacrificing for comedy worth it. The special is called “The Goldfish” and it’ll be out in some form by summer.
6. You have a background in music. Tell us about some of the projects you’ve been involved with over the years.
I played drums in the bands Chicken Dog and The PB Army, and I sang in the latter. I know you’ve never heard of them. I never got great at playing drums, but I had fun and got to travel the country.
One of the reasons I switched to doing comedy was that I was sick of the structure of being in a democracy of fellow artists, and I didn’t enjoy playing music any more, at least not like I loved doing standup. I enjoyed all the road-dog parts about being in a band, and I get to do those now, with the added bonus of being treated slightly better in the world of comedy and not having to lug drums around.
7. You are not afraid to get political on social media. How does that impact your comedy career?
I’m honestly not sure if speaking my mind has cost me specific gigs. I stopped answering the emails of one booker who told a fellow comic to “stick to comedy,” but I haven’t had anyone overtly say “we wanted to book you but we hate your politics.”
Patton Oswalt said a thing once that stuck with me – “I’m not trying to be universal.” Social media is a window to the world for me as a person as much as it is a promotional tool, and I like to think there’s not much space between my ‘character’ as a comedian and me personally. I don’t do political material on stage, and I tend to aim for a more positive message than when I’m just venting online out of exasperation. If I get frozen out of some gigs, I will find others. You can’t do them all.
8. What projects are you currently working on?
Wrapping up the last hour of material on my special got me excited about writing again, so I’m hitting more mics this year and trying to get new jokes worked into my set. I’m slowly getting “The Goldfish” edited, and using it as a calling card to meet industry people I haven’t worked with yet.
I’m also getting more into helping promote shows and find more stage time in the area for people, and looking into putting up more online content in the form of filmed sketch comedy and perhaps even other people’s specials.
And I’m working on a novel, but so is everyone else. I’m mostly just enjoying being busy and creating a lot, and getting into new rooms to perform for as many people as I can. I’m still as excited about comedy as I was at my first open mic.
EXTRA CREDIT: If you could jam with any musician, dead or alive, who would it be?
If I could crawl inside the first two Catherine Wheel records and play drums on those songs while tanked on wine in a room with low blue light, I’d do it and not even say goodbye to you fools.