Taking the leap into comedy with a stylish bowtie and clean jokes

jholleman@thestate.comJanuary 26, 2014 

Comedian Mike Goodwin.

JEFF BLAKE — jblake@thestate.com Buy Photo

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    If you want to learn more about Mike Goodwin’s comedy shows, go to comedianmikegoodwin.com.

    See clips of Goodwin’s act; look for links at thestate.com/living

One of the funniest bits in Mike Goodwin’s comedy show involves him skipping, racing full force from one end of the room to the other with a big grin on his face.

“A grown man skipping: It ain’t wrong, but it just ain’t right,” he says.

The culmination of a long “it ain’t wrong, but it just ain’t right” riff, it always draws a big laugh, However, the audience doesn’t recognize how it could be twisted to represent Goodwin’s recent career decision.

A grown man quitting a stable career with an upward trajectory to try his hand at standup comedy full-time: It ain’t reckless, but it just ain’t prudent.

“I’ve been working since I was 14,” Goodwin says. “I started bagging groceries at Bi-Lo, and I’ve always had a paycheck, had direct-deposit jobs. So it was scary.”

But while doing comedy part-time, his standup bookings were on the rise. If he ever was going to follow his performing dream, he had to quit his job as a college counselor at Heathwood Hall Episcopal School. So last year, he sat down with his wife, Rozalynn, and broached the subject.

“She said, ‘Let’s just go for it and do comedy,’” Goodwin says. “I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s a good idea!’”

Rozalynn, vice president for community engagement for the S.C. Hospital Association, had been waiting for that day.

“I could see it was difficult for him to juggle a full-time job as a comedian with a full-time job in education,” she says. “This is his purpose. This is why he was placed on Earth. As his wife, I wanted to be supportive.

“In years past, I was worried (about taking the leap). The only thing that was holding us back was fear. For so many people, fear holds them back. I know people with corporate jobs who would like to start their own businesses but are scared to.”

Funny, but not a comedian

Growing up in Camden, Goodwin was the knucklehead, the kid with the big glasses who was less athletic than many of his friends. His niche was making people laugh. He and a high school buddy actually taped a comedy routine. “It was probably the worst piece of comedy ever created,” Goodwin recalls.

He was naturally funny but didn’t have any concept of how to tell a joke and build a comedy routine. “There were no comedy clubs in town,” he says. “I didn’t even know how you became a comedian. I never looked at it as I could do that.”

So he went into the Army after high school and, after four years of active duty, enrolled at Lander University. While in Greenwood, he met Rozalynn, and it was fate because she laughed at all of his jokes.

Also at Lander, Goodwin and some friends started messing around with standup routines at student events. One of that group, Harris Stanton, now is a professional comedian who has been featured on Comedy Central. Goodwin opted for the more mainstream route – graduate school at the University of South Carolina, aiming for a career in university administration. But his knack for comedy and performing wouldn’t die.

A few years later as coordinator of multicultural students at USC, he gave a PowerPoint presentation on being professional to student leaders from around the state. A PowerPoint on email etiquette and dressing for success usually translates into boredom, but he spiced it up with humor.

A group of students from USC Union liked it so much they suggested their school invite Goodwin to speak at their African-American history celebration a few weeks later.

“Why?” Goodwin still wonders. “I hadn’t talked to them about black history. I was talking about not having silly messages on your voice mail.

“I guess they were thinking: He’s black – bring him in here for Black History Month. I bombed. That was my first experience with bombing. I didn’t know what to talk about, didn’t know who to ask. It was bad.”

That helped him rule out a career as a motivational speaker. He was only comfortable when what he said made people laugh.

Goodwin still needed a push into the world of standup comedy. He got it in an unusual place – church. Turns out he worked the sound and video system at his Right Direction Church International with Akintunde, a professional comedian and writer. During breaks in the service, they’d crack jokes with each other through their headsets.

“Akintunde was Mike Tyson, George Foreman, the heavyweight champion,” Goodwin says. “I would get annihilated. But the more we did it, the more I could stand in there. I clearly was the funniest of the non-professionals in the room.

“One day he stopped me and said, ‘Look, this is some really funny stuff that you’re telling me. You have two options: You can either get on stage and perform this stuff that you’re telling me, or I’m going to get on stage and perform this stuff, and I’m going to get paid and you’re not going to get any money and you’re going to be upset.’”

Akintunde says now he never would have stolen his friend’s jokes, but he recognized something special and wanted to encourage Goodwin. “I just thought he was naturally funny like lots of people, but unlike most people, I recognized that his jokes had structure within them,” Akintunde says.

Finding his place,

his pace on stage

Akintunde let Goodwin open for him at a New Year’s Eve program at their church. Goodwin was a hit, but he suspects people laughed more than his routine deserved.

“I wasn’t a natural act,” he says. “Something about being on stage, I didn’t feel comfortable. I didn’t have a lot of confidence in my performance, but I knew my material was insightful and funny.”

Goodwin, who still tapes every performance and critiques it when he gets home, knew he could do much better than that first night. He just needed to keep working on his stage presence.

He found plenty of work. Because he does clean comedy, he had a niche market in church gatherings. And he came up with an image, based on his propensity for wearing bow ties. So Bowtie Comedy was born.

While a devout Christian, Goodwin balks at the term Christian comedian. “I’m a comedian that’s a Christian, but I’m not up on the stage preaching,” he says. “I’m trying to make people laugh. That’s my purpose. Now my point of view is from a Christian perspective, but it’s not evangelical.”

His comedy is based on the absurdities of everyday language and actions, much like one of his idols, Bill Cosby. And his routine features Cosby-like expressive facial expressions and an easy rapport with the audience. It all seems natural now, but it took years of work on-stage to perfect.

“I had to figure out how to perform for people, not for myself,” Goodwin says. “Once I figured that out, it really started happening. I started having good sets, and my confidence started going up.”

Now he seems at home on the stage, as if he’s talking to a couple hundred of his best friends. As the entertainment at a Jan. 17 celebration of volunteers for local churches, he riffed off the expression that when the sun is shining and it’s raining outside, the devil is beating his wife.

“I’ve got a couple of questions,” Goodwin asks the audience. “When did the devil get married? I done read the entire Bible, and I ain’t never read nothin’ about Mrs. Satan, Mrs. Lucifer. And who would marry the devil? Who was sitting up on eharmony.com, looking at the devil’s profile, talking about ‘Girl, you know he’s a liar and a cheater, but he sure is hot!’”

Working to keep

careers separate

Because Goodwin did clean routines, the Heathwood Hall administration never worried that his comedy routine might reflect poorly on the school, said Anne Weston, assistant head of school for advancement.

Weston says she loved late Friday afternoons, when the students and much of the faculty were gone.

Then Goodwin felt comfortable loosening up and cracking jokes with a small group of co-workers. “He takes ordinary things and exposes the funny side of them,” she says.

Weston encouraged Goodwin to reveal his funny side around the students and perform his full comedy routine at a faculty meeting. He balked at the ideas.

“The more successful I became as a standup, the less funny I tried to be in my work (at Heathwood),” he says. “I tried to be more professional and not let my funny side come out.”

Heathwood officials had no problem with him juggling both jobs, but eventually Goodwin did. The long trips to weekend gigs in other states began to wear on him. So last summer he resigned a job he loved for one he loved a little more.

“It was scary because no one in my family is an entrepreneur,” Goodwin says. “My dad doesn’t have much to say about anything. When I told him, he said, ‘Are you sure that’s a good idea? Have you thought about this?’”

He had weighed the pros and cons, and he thought he could make it work financially. He and his wife had been saving money when they had two stable incomes. (Rozalynn, whose work includes lobbying on health care issues at the State House, jokes that all lobbyists should have comedians for spouses to help balance their serious – but often crazy – jobs.)

And the decision does appear to be working out. Goodwin worked 17 shows in December.

He’s performed recently in Canada and on a cruise ship, as well as in comedy clubs and churches throughout the Southeast.

Their children, ages 7 and 3, often on weekend evenings ask, “Where’s Daddy?”

“I say, ‘He’s gone to make people laugh,’” Rozalynn says.

At some appearances, Rozalynn sets up a table in the lobby to sell Mike’s DVDs and T-shirts with a couple of his catch phrases on them.

He’s not a club headliner, not big-time … yet. But he’s having a blast.

“I haven’t had that thought of the other way: ‘What was I thinking about? This wasn’t a good idea,’” Goodwin says. “I haven’t even been close to that.”

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