If you are involved with Chicago comedy, you’ve met Mike Wiley. You’ve seen him at a show or a mic. And you’ve most certainly remembered it.
Part of it is because what Mike looks like. With his bald head, heavy metal wardrobe and long, fire red goatee, you would expect to see him at someplace like a Cannibal Corpse concert or a biker bar or a place where you would sacrifice a goat to the Dark Lord. Mike stands out like a sore thumb.
But what also stands out about him is his comedy. Wiley is known for his short one-liners; a five-minute open mic set can include up to 25 jokes. He approaches them with a zeal that’s joyful and silly. In a world where people complain comedians look and talk the same, Mike Wiley is the weirdest metal elf in the forest.
On September 19th, Mike records his sophomore album, Fake It Til You Die, at Two Brothers Roundhouse in Aurora. We’re grateful he was able to take a few minutes and answer a few questions for us:
FANCY BOYS CLUB: This is your second album, after 2012’s Inconducive To Comedy. What made you decide you were ready to make a second album?
MIKE WILEY: For the past couple of years my day job has been sucking up all of my time and energy away from comedy. I wasn’t doing stand up as much because I didn’t have any specific goal I was working toward, I was just randomly doing shows here and there when one was offered. It wasn’t so much I was waiting to feel ready as much as I needed a project to focus on. I’m a producer of Still Not Friday which had already done two successful album recordings and I had enough material for it, so working on recording my next one seemed like the perfect thing to snap me back into being more proactive with my comedy career.
FBC: Walk us through the process of preparing for a new album. How do you determine what jokes will make the cut and what do you do to prepare?
MW: The first thing I did was listen to my last album to make sure I wasn’t repeating anything on this one. I have to say it was a little tough to listen to. Some of the jokes on it totally don’t represent who I am as a comic today. You grow a lot in 7 years. I think they say that that’s how long it takes for all of the cells in your body to regenerate, so I am a totally different person now. Next thing I did was look over all of the jokes I currently have in my act. I took out the ones from my old album (I’ll probably retire most of those permanently) and then anything that I felt no longer transitioned well. Anything left I considered part of the album. I have actually made more cuts and added new jokes since then and will probably do that until the recording.
“Social media can be a negative, horrible thing, but it can also be positive if you use it right.”Mike Wiley
FBC: You are hilarious on social media (@wikemiley on twitter), and we have seen jokes start out as tweets that wind up in the act. How do you know when something that started as a post should be tried onstage?
MW: 99.9% of my jokes start as posts. I basically use Facebook and Twitter as my notebook. Social media can be a negative, horrible thing, but it can also be positive if you use it right. I force myself write at least one joke a day, whether I think it’s something that I can do on stage or not it at least gets my brain working. Whether I use a joke on stage usually depends on how well it was received on Facebook and Twitter, how long of a lifespan the joke will have (I usually don’t bring current events or political posts to the stage), and is it a stage joke or is it better in its written form. The last one is a little tricky and you sometimes can’t tell until you actually deliver the post as a joke on stage. I have a specific voice and a specific way I set up my punchlines and some posts just don’t translate to stage jokes…at least for my act.
FBC: It seems like you’re out working on comedy every day. What’s the longest you’ve gone between sets?
MW: That’s all a social media illusion. I’ve always thought that you could be a fake comic producing a fake show on Facebook and nobody will ever know. Like I said before, my day job was taking up all of my time. I was waking up at 3:30am most mornings and at one point working 60+ hours a week. On nights that I did have shows after work I would regularly doze off on the expressway and get to the show barely awake enough to perform. I’ve probably gone a month, maybe two without performing and not even realized it. I’ve since quit that job and allowing comedy to be my main focus now, so in these past couple weeks I’ve probably performed almost everyday going up multiple times a night when I could.
FBC: Though you’re a Chicago comedian, you open mic a lot in the suburbs. What are the advantages of traveling farther to work on jokes? And what is your favorite suburban mic?
MW: For one the suburban mics get actual audience as opposed to a room full of comics. Your goal is to write material to entertain real people, so it is imperative to practice those jokes in front of real people. Also, the suburban scene is more supportive as comics will usually hang around after they go up and watch other people’s sets; mainly because there aren’t 5 other mics they’re trying to hit up within a 5 mile radius. The suburb scene feels like what the Chicago scene was in 2007. You could still get up every night, but it wasn’t to the point of over saturation. Currently my favorite suburban mic is See You Next Tuesday at Moe Joe’s in Plainfield. It’s a bit of a drive for me, but that’s the mic that is the best gauge on whether or not a new joke will work.
“Everyone should get a bone anchored hearing aid. Then I wouldn’t have to write a joke about it”Mike Wiley
FBC: In the last year, you underwent surgery to restore hearing in your right ear. Did your improved hearing affect your comedy in any way?
MW: The main thing that has changed is the audience can see I have this weird device on the side of my head and 99% of people have no idea what it is. I’m still trying to write a joke acknowledging it, but I haven’t come up with anything I’m happy with. It has helped me become more confident with crowd work. I’m hard of hearing in one ear so I have a trouble being able to tell what direction sound is coming from. When someone in the audience said something a lot of times I didn’t know who it was and responded to the wrong person. Now not only has that been fixed but I literally have better hearing than a human being. Everyone should get a bone anchored hearing aid. Then I wouldn’t have to write a joke about it.
FBC: You’ve been doing comedy for a while. If you could travel back in time to when you first started, what advice would you give yourself?
MW: Not to turn down promotions at work when they were offered because “this isn’t my dream”. I could have saved up enough money to quit my job a long time ago, and I’d probably have been in New York or LA for several years by now.