Standup comedian Jim Allen is becoming a celebrity of sorts here at Western. Any semi-regular attendee of Open Mic Night at the Underground Coffeehouse could recognize his name and probably recite a few of his most popular jokes. And even when he's not taking the stage, Allen's curly hair, goofy grin and trademark attire of white t-shirts with Sharpie-written “designer” logos easily set him apart from the average student.
But there's more to this freshman comedian than meets the eye. It's taken a lot of hard work, networking and passion to get Allen where he is today, though his comic career did start off in typical Jim Allen form—unconventionally.
“I did my first standup at my grandpa's funeral,” Allen recalled. “I was like 14 or 15, and it wasn't disrespectful or anything, but it was one of those funerals where everyone could come up and talk. I just talked about how Grandpa always gave us $100 and a book and always listened to National Public Radio, so it had a humorous tone. My mom said that's where I first got on stage and did my thing.”
Soon after that, Allen began performing real standup sets, the biggest of which was the Henry Foss High School talent show in Tacoma, where he first bent the rules in the name of comedy.
“For my audition, I did three jokes, but that night my second joke was different,” Allen said. “It was one that poked fun at races, and my school was 51 percent minority. I don't know why they call them ‘minorities' if there's more minorities than white people, but anyway, that was everyone's favorite joke. People afterwards told me that they were falling out of their chairs. That was a really good show.”
Allen had already performed at over 50 shows before coming to Western last fall. It didn't take long for him to become a regular fixture at Open Mic night and a fan-favorite among Western students.
“The first Open Mic I went to, it was all guitarists and poets, and I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, this isn't going to go well,'” Allen said. “But I went up there, and it was actually tons better than I expected it to be. People just really connected with it.”
Performing almost every week means Allen must regularly come up with new material—a lengthy process, but one Allen is quite familiar with.
“It just starts out as stupid stuff I tell my friends, and I work it out later on,” Allen explained. “I carry around a little notebook when I'm with friends or girls I want to impress, and all the sudden I'll just stop and write something down, like, ‘What if Abraham Lincoln had a MySpace?' Then I sit down and really concentrate on a punchline.”
But Allen's creative process doesn't end there.
“After I have a joke, I test it out at a comedy club and record myself saying it and then I go back and listen to that,” Allen said. “Usually when you listen to yourself, you can think of even more crazy stuff to say. You can usually ad-lib some good stuff, too.”
Allen also draws inspiration from other standup comedians. Allen tries to go to comedy clubs whenever possible because, unlike at larger performances, the setting is much more relaxed and offers the opportunity to meet nationally-known comedians, including his favorite, Kyle Cease.
“Comedy clubs are great because the owner could have easily just gone with [playing] music, but instead they give comedians a chance, which is awesome,” Allen said. “And every comedian is really approachable and nice, so I just say hi to everyone and ask them for advice.”
Brian Moote, a participant in Comedy Central's Open Mic Fights, has provided Allen with advice on numerous occasions. Jeff Dye, a popular comedian who performed at Western last fall, has even helped Allen with his standup delivery.
“He actually watched a couple shows and wrote down notes for me and showed me what I could do better,” Allen said.
While at Western, Allen plans to continue doing standup at Open Mic night and seize any opportunity he can to perfect his performances.
On Jan. 11, Allen held his own comedy show in the Fairhaven Lounge. Advertisements had gone up only two days before the event, but the show ultimately drew more than 60 people, many of whom were clearly established fans (shouted requests for “The Prom one!” and “‘Power Rangers'!” peppered Allen's 30-minute set.)
Allen was recently invited to perform during the “Week of Fun,” a comedy event organized by the People's Republic of Komedy. Allen's set will be on Jan. 25 at the Chai House in Ballard.
“The people I started comedy with are all part of that [Week of Fun],” Allen said. “I'm excited because they'll get to hear the new jokes I've written here at Western and see how much I've improved since I've seen them last.”
Allen plans to pursue a career in comedy, bolstered by a degree in psychology and a minor in history, which he feels will help him come up with good material, he said.
Judging from his local following after only one quarter at Western, the unique and personable comedian is well on his way.
“I just really don't want to be the same as every other comedian,” Allen said. “I think my sense of humor is different, and hopefully it comes out that way.”