Brooks Wheelan’s stand-up proves he doesn’t need ‘SNL’

| Social Media Director

Between jokes about brick walls, stories about drug experiences and jabs at Lorne Michaels, Brooks Wheelan proved during his stand-up set at the Funny Bone in St. Louis on Thursday that getting fired from “Saturday Night Live” doesn’t mean you’re not funny.

Never heard of Wheelan? Don’t worry, even the most devout “SNL” fan probably couldn’t pick him out of a crowd. The Iowa-raised comedian was hired at the beginning of last season as part of a crop of six new featured players, a group widely criticized for being entirely white and almost entirely male. Wheelan got virtually no screen time and once the season wrapped, he was kicked to the curb along with two of his fellow new hires. Wheelan reacted to the unfortunate news by embarking on the “Brooks Wheelan Falls Back on Stand-Up Comedy Sorta Tour,” which included this weekend’s three-night stint in St. Louis.

I would feel bad about harping on Wheelan’s “SNL” firing if he hadn’t spent so much time joking about it himself. It’s clear that Wheelan is still bitter about his ever-so-brief time on “SNL” (who wouldn’t be?), but luckily, the experience makes for great comedy. At the end of the set, Wheelan even read from a notebook full of his own rejected sketch ideas, which included such gems as “advice from a guy in a mesh tank top” and a game show in which dads can win a million dollars for shopping at Spencer’s.

Of course, Wheelan was just as funny when he wasn’t throwing shade at “SNL.” In fact, one of the best parts of his set was at the very beginning, when he spent at least five minutes just making fun of the Funny Bone stage. He riffed on the strange faux-brick backdrop, poked fun at the Funny Bone’s logo and hid behind some awkwardly placed curtains—and for some reason, it was hilarious. Wheelan made it clear that he’s more than just a collection of funny stories—he’s a legitimately funny guy who can turn anything into a joke.

This frenetic, just-go-for-it comedic style made it easy for Wheelan to establish a rapport with the (criminally small) crowd. He would warn us when he was trying out a new joke and laugh it off if it fell flat, exuding the type of easygoing confidence that turns good comedians into great ones. He also took advantage of the St. Louis crowd by joking about his Midwestern upbringing, telling stories about childhood vacations and fish-out-of-water experiences in New York City. He didn’t interact directly with the crowd too much—no picking on audience members or asking them questions—but his comfortable stage presence and animated delivery made it feel like he could just as easily be sitting next to you at a bar, telling a funny story.

Wheelan’s dynamic performance style and slightly off-kilter brand of humor never found a place on “SNL,” but they allow him to shine in stand-up. He may be back to touring small comedy clubs for now, but Wheelan most definitely has a bright future ahead.


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