For many years, Craig Shoemaker proved that pervy was funny. Or at least sounding pervy could be very funny. His vocal impersonations of “The Lovemaster” filled comedy clubs with laughter across America, and in 1997, he won the American Comedy Award for Funniest Male Stand-Up Comic.
That was two wives and three sons ago.
“Three boys now but two wives. Not a Mormon. There is an ex! Who is probably most of my act now. It’s a nightmare. I don’t want to talk about her, but a lot of comedy is born out of resentment,” Shoemaker told The Comic’s Comic. “It’s cathartic onstage to get this stuff out.”
When my path last crossed with Shoemaker’s, he had one son and had written his first book about it, What You Have Now… What Your Daddy Had Then. It was the first weekend of November, 2001. I was doing guest spots while Shoemaker headlined at the Tempe Improv, but everyone in Arizona and the country for that matter was glued to the World Series, as the Arizona Diamondbacks and New York Yankees dueled in one of the all-time Fall Classics. The Improv brought down the screen one night after Shoemaker’s set so the audience could watch the game. “That’s a little tough competition,” Shoemaker recalled. “A new team that has never won before, going up against the dreaded Yankees. Sure, I’m going to get a lot of press! Let’s put off that Derek Jeter interview!”
As it happens, Shoemaker is back in Arizona for club dates this weekend. And he has developed a case of distinct case of Daditude — that’s the title of his stand-up comedy hour that debuted last weekend on Showtime, and repeats throughout the month. Showtime doesn’t have any promotional clips online yet, but you can get a sense of it with this alternate telling of some his bits from a TED satellite talk this summer.
The video above is a mix of jokes Shoemaker has been telling on the road for years, with serious discussion about family, laughter and his Laughter Heals project. He recently took some time out to talk with me about those issues and more.
Daditude opens with Shoemaker joking about how an MC usually introduces a comedian with his or her TV credits, when really, you should know what credits made that person become a comedian in the first place: “What kind of childhood would lead to doing this shit for a living?” To which he quickly adds his own list of sad life moments:
“It should be more like: Ladies and gentlemen, his father left when he was one day old. His mother belly-danced at his high-school graduation party. His grandmother smokes and grows reefer. He comes from three generations of alcoholics. In high school, he was 5-foot-1, 92 pounds and a premature ejaculator! He’s been married, divorced, married, divorced, and married again! It’s Craig Shoemaker!”
How much of that joke intro you gave yourself is real? “I’ll be honest with you. I hate to say this. About 93 percent. Yeah. Yeah. And I don’t even get into the stuff they won’t believe. I get into this on my podcast and my one-man show. In theater, they get into it with you, even the dark stuff. In comedy, you have to come up with a punchline. ‘Oh, he’s going to have a punchline here.’ No, my punchline is my father has a harem of women that he calls a harem. How am I going to keep you with me? It’s difficult to keep you along.”
“I used to be really into, hey, I talk to the MC, make sure you get all these credits out to impress them. Then I thought to myself, as an audience member I’m already here. Your Comedy Central Presents didn’t get me here,” he said. “I’d rather hear as an audience member how he’s one of us.”
Although Shoemaker jokes a lot about being a dad, the comedy doesn’t yet extend back to his own father.
“My father is a cult leader running mule rides in the Poconos. And I can’t even talk about it in my act,” he said. He does make light of the situation, however. Especially since his father thinks his comedy career is still just a phase before he eventually enters the family business, telling Shoemaker: “When you get over this comedian crap, you can join me in the Poconos…I’m wondering, is that a lateral move or not?”
In the meantime, Shoemaker continues touring comedy clubs, and when he’s home in California, he’s recording his Laugh It Off podcast for the Toad Hop Network. He is 47 episodes into podcasting, and loved the “past eight episodes or so.”
“I’m loving it more than anything I do. That’s where I get to really mine the material,” he said. “It’s like a comedy chia pet. It’s the greatest forum for storytelling as well, because no one’s paying any money. Believe me, I haven’t been paid a fricking dime for this show…so they can’t protest. It’s like somone coming over to help you move. I’m doing this for free so shut up. Don’t complain when I’m breaking my back with your couch.”
Last week Shoemaker welcomed actor Grant Shaud. “Dr. Drew, he’s a buddy of mine, he’s on this week. We’ve had Chris Harrison on from The Bachelor.”
Despite having a name that seems basic enough, Shoemaker said — and there is video evidence of such — TV anchors, radio DJs and others still mess it up somehow. He jokingly theorizes that that’s why he’s not as famous as other comedians with names that everyone can spell, offering up Dane Cook, Robin Williams as examples.
Then again, Shoemaker did have a comedic alter-ego persona, The Lovemaster. Can’t screw that up, can you?
“The bummer is, you try to develop new bits and new stories, and people yell out ‘The Lovemaster,’ because it’s easy and they love it,” he said. “I’ve been on radio and people say, ‘We’re here with Craig Shoemaster, The Lovemaker’ Even that one, you know, it’s only a small portion of my act. It is kind of funny now, that was developed when I’m in my early 20s and now I’m a middle-aged dad, in my 50s walking around in Denver…there’s these two couples walking around my age, I got to see their faces when a young girl rolls down her window of her car and said, ‘You were great last night, Lovemaster!’ And then I could see the look on their faces: ‘Who, this guy!?'”
Now his oldest son wants The Lovemaster around as a wingman, too. But he doesn’t want dad’s advice. “He goes, ‘Dad, you were a loser.’ Completely shuts down all conversation,” Shoemaker said. “I admitted I was a loser and that’s why I became a comic.”
Daditude is heavy on nostalgia — where else will you find impersonations of both Paul Lynde and Don Knotts in a stand-up routine in 2012? But it’s not nostalgia for the sake of bringing up people, places and things that audiences can identify with, so much as wondering about kids these days and the things they have come to expect out of the world as a coddled generation. Shoemaker also will break out into a Chris Rock impersonation to prove to his audiences that “the cracker can’t say shit anymore,” even about terrorism. “Look at the laugh that got! Nobody oohed. Nobody looked around,” he notes in the special.
At 54, Shoemaker finds himself a road-tested veteran of comedy, competing against a new generation of would-be funny kids making names for themselves in the new-media world of YouTube, Tumblr and Twitter. He even jokes in Daditude that a YouTube video his son made of him playing Wii Fit “has more hits than my last comedy special!”
Shoemaker’s take on it all: “I’ll tell you, what I try to do is, look, I’ve got chops and experience and knowhow, and there’s nothing I don’t have in comedy. What I don’t have anymore is youth and technical abilities. I’m a tech-tard. So what I try to do is, every businessman does this, surround myself with people who are tech savvy and marketing whizzes. In the late 1990s, I was known as that guy. Comics would come up and ask me for advice. That was when I had a mailing list and was putting stamps on postcards…or you put up posters on telephone poles. It was a whole other climate. There’s a big climate change whether you want to deny it or not. I’m with Al Gore on this one!”
“One of the things I do best, and you can only be what you are, is a storyteller. Now here’s the rub. We’re in a society that has the patience of a gnat with hard-on and a chick nearby. It’s like, you know, we are in a society that does not want to listen to stories that have nuance and colors and depth. They want 140 characters and that’s it. That’s the obstacle that I’m running across. But hopefully I’m tapping into the market of people who are still interested in exploring other regions. Not just quick hits that are insults and gossip and rumor. I want to take you through a story and an adventure or a journey. I know there’s an audience for it.”
Is that what Daditude does for you? “I think the Showtime special did well. I know there’s a connect. When there’s an alternative connection to the Internet, it’s a conscious connection to people. We got to a whole other level. It’s great. It’s exhilarating. You can’t have that when you are just Twittering all day.”
Where does your laughter healing project and documentary stand these days? “That seems to be getting a bit of a buzz. We’re really working on raising the awareness of the power of laughter. It’d be good for everyone to be aware of that. What takes place when you do connect with a giggle, or a smile or a hearty laugh. It changes the entire dynamic in your body and your brain. We focus on that in the podcast, and I’m focusing on that in the documentary, where we interview doctors and scientists…all of them will confirm what laughter does to our bodies and spirits.”
“We have this Oscar-winning team. We only need money. That’s it. It’s not an easy sell, because people like shiny stuff when they buy it. A concept like this is not something you can just look at and get it. It’s not flashy. It takes a certain kind of investor.”
Have you considered the trendy way to raise money, Kickstarter? “Yeah, yeah, we might do that.”
Despite saying earlier that you cannot twitter your life away on Twitter, Shoemaker does actively use his own Twitter account @thelovemaster. “I do Tweet a lot of jokes. But I spend half of my life abbreviating. I spent half of my life trying to make everything longer. Now I have to shorten everything. It’s not right.”