I officially started teaching stand up around 2008 in Los Angeles, but my first foray into teaching comedy was back in Milwaukee in the year of our Lord 2000AD. A friend of mine mentioned that some of the students at his old high school, Waukesha North, were looking to put a stand up show together. I was only 6 years into stand up and was still learning the ropes myself. I taught for 6 weeks and we put on a show. I'm still friends with one of the students, Casey Van Dam, and decided to get in "The Way Back Machine" and discuss with him his experience with learning stand up in high school and what he's up to now. Enjoy!
Tom Clark: What was high school like for you? Were you an outgoing person or shy?
Casey Van Dam: I was a VERY outgoing person in high school. But I have been all my life as well. I've always been a performer and have never been shy about it. Outgoing is a cute term for it. "Total Ham" is probably more accurate.
TC: What made you decide to give the stand up comedy class a try? I was only about 6 years into stand up at that point, what was I like as a teacher? (if you remember)
CVD: My school had an improv team and did a number of plays every year. I was very involved in all of these and still I wasn't satisfied. Stand up was intimidating but I knew I had to give it a shot and what better place than a class full of people who, like me, are essentially starting from zero.
As a teacher I recall that Tom went out of his way to make sure his students felt comfortable. So much of comedy is finding what doesn't work and he seems to know that to experiment, the environment must be a supportive one.
TC: I can't imagine doing stand up when I was 16 or 17 years old. What was it like performing stand up at that age? Do you remember what you talked about? Was it fun?
CVD: I was doing a bunch of improv at the time and had a friend with whom I had performed frequently. I was able to convince Tom, or as I affectionately call him: Tommy C, to allow me and my friend, whom I assure you is real, to create a sketch instead. As long as it was original.
It was terrifying, exhilarating, pulse pounding, surreal and all the other adjectives. Going up in front of actual people relying upon ones own material for the first time is the most intimidating thing you can do. It's high wire gymnastics without a safety net.
I remember our sketch was a very simple affair. Just two guys: a store clerk and a passerby having a conversation about a quarter found outside. MIND BLOWING, I KNOW!!! We were very much into Kids in the Hall and tried to emulate their style. I'd like to say our skit worked and was hilarious. I'd like to say that.
TC: What are your current artistic pursuits? Any chance you'll pursue stand up again?
CVD: Currently I'm an actor/musician in and around the Milwaukee area. I've done improv since high school at Comedy Sportz, I've been in plays including Death Ship 666!, Jake Revolver: Freelance Secret Agent and the Mel Brooks musical Young Frankenstein. Currently auditioning for other things, so if you know anyone...
TC: What are some goals you'd like to achieve as an artist in the coming years? Also, what advice would you give to people thinking of pursuing the arts?
CVD: Of course, quitting the day job is a huge one. Getting representation is another. But in the end it's all in service to getting better and more frequent venues through which I may ply my trade.
My advice: if you like performing, perform. Not to say don't prepare. Definitely prepare. Just don't be bothered with the whole "Should I, shouldn't I?" argument. If you are debating whether or not to perform, then you definitely should. Even if it doesn't work out. It's worth it to try. Eventually, the talent shines through.
Casey Van Dam is an actor/musician from Milwaukee, WI. He has appeared in productions and played music in and around Milwaukee for the past 10+ years.
As a musician Casey's bands, Reaching Scarlet and The Invaders, have played various venues such as Summerfest, the Milwaukee Boat Cruise and opened for bands such as The English Beat and Fishbone.
As an actor Casey has appeared in Milwaukee productions of Death Ship 666!, Jake Revolver: Secret Agent and most recently The Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein.