Weirdo Makes Good; An interview with Goodrich Gevaart

Stand-up comedian Goodrich Gevaart’s new album is called “Portrait of a Young Weirdo,” a riff on the name of the classic James Joyce novel, but also a pitch-perfect title.
“It all kind of stems from not feeling like I fit in anywhere. Especially growing up, I just constantly felt like I didn’t fit in the culture, the way people thought.” Growing up was in Ft. Wayne, Indiana…sometimes called ‘The City of Churches.’ “You’re already a weirdo in Indiana because my parents didn’t raise me religious at all. Everyone had this religious place to start from in terms of socialization. I never had that, so I always felt like I was a little bit on the outside because of that. And then adding my Tourette’s in there, it felt like…this is not for me. I don’t know what kind of world you all live in, but I just don’t get it. It doesn’t make sense. That’s a lot of what my comedy is too…me trying to pull the camera back on interacting with people…because I don’t feel like I’m confident enough in the moment to give the person the actual thing I’d want to say, because I don’t think they’d get it or care.”
Gevaart was diagnosed with Tourette’s when he was in sixth grade, after years of struggle with the symptoms. On his new album, he runs down some of the “Greatest Hits” of his tics, and some of the resulting painful and (as now described by a seasoned comic and storyteller) hilarious situations that resulted. The playful self-deprecation with which he delivers the bit is a hint to the listener…along with the usual medical methods, comedy was key to helping him combat the condition and navigate daily life: “Social interactions were a performance…[comedy was] my way to get in [with] people.” One way he thinks of comedy is a kind of chemical reaction that produces a moment of normality: “Comedy is a surprise or a spark of a normal moment…laughter is a response…to two elements reacting.” The end result? Communication.
Gevaart was “obsessed” with comedy growing up, an interest that was in part the influence of his father, who also wrote and performed comedy on a public access show. Check out the YouTube video of his father as “Big Wally,” a salesman who can sell anything…in this case, used tombstones. Thanks to his father, Gevaart was enjoying Cheech and Chong records at age ten. Other early comedic interests included Martin Lawrence, Adam Sandler’s first two albums, and then later, Beavis and Butthead and The State on MTV. His Tourette’s “calmed down” when he was around fifteen or sixteen, but anxiety and depression took its place, keeping him from giving stand-up a serious try. After high school, he moved to Chicago to study fiction writing at Columbia, were he thought about stand-up “excessively,” but the anxiety always won. Finally, in his mid-twenties, he found anxiety meds that worked and began taking improv classes at Improv Olympic, where he met and befriended Rhea Butcher, who also wanted to try stand up. “We forced each other to do it,” says Gevaart. They quickly left improv behind and started attending at performing at various open mics around Chicago, including the now-legendary weekly mic at Cole’s bar, then run by Cameron Esposito and Adam Burke.

After thirteen years in Chicago, many of which he spent performing comedy every night, Gevaart and his fianc√© (veteran improviser Jen Burns) relocated to Los Angeles for a year and a half, then to Burns’s native city, Cincinnati, where they both now live and perform. He speaks highly of the Cincinnati comedy scene, especially its lynchpin comedy club, Go Bananas. But before moving to Ohio, Gevaart returned to Chicago to record his new album live at The Beat Kitchen, home of Chicago Underground Comedy. The album consists of a single set to a sold-out crowd, and their energy and enthusiasm for Gevaart is infectious. But it’s Gevaart’s distinctively personal material and affable delivery that shines brightest. He’s a hard guy not to like, and he’s just so damned funny. A rare combination for a self-described “weirdo.”
Sparked by another lifelong interest for Gevaart, punk rock, “Portrait of a Young Weirdo” is being released with a handmade photocopied zine, in the style of a classic fanzine fans of punk and other DIY pursuits will be well familiar with. And like those, it contains an interesting collage of content: a short essay, some hilarious timestamped supplemental commentary to the album, photos, and a full-length interview with longtime friend and now veteran stand-up and writer Rhea Butcher.
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Words by Tom Schmidlin | Photos: Chris Fowler