Sunday, May 06, 2001

From P&G to punch lines

Downtown man quits corporate job to pursue his dream of stand-up comedy

By Jim Knippenberg
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Josh Sneed is about to do it. Do what so many people want to do but can't: quit a good-paying, full-time job for an iffy future chasing a dream.

        In Mr. Sneed's case, the job is in information technology, building Web sites at Procter & Gamble. The dream is comedy.

        “It's something I've been wanting to do for a long time, but couldn't get up the nerve. Then, when P&G announced job cuts, the decision got easier. I don't know if I was in line for the ax, but the severance package nudged me along.”

[photo] Josh Sneed is working on standup and a screenplay.
(Joseph Fuqua II photo)
| ZOOM |
        So come late June, this 24-year-old downtown resident will leap from Mother Procter's ample corporate bosom onto the shaky, fiercely competitive stages of stand-up comedy.

        Not that he hasn't made plenty people laugh already. In high school, he admits, “I was such a mouth that one teacher, to save time, actually had detention slips pre-filled out with my name. She'd just add the date. Later, to save even more time, she'd just hand me one when I walked into class. I got to give it back if I kept quiet.

        “I didn't give very many back.”

        He began working the comedy circuit in earnest three years ago when he mustered his courage and did open-mike night at Montgomery's Go Bananas Comedy Club.

        “I was hooked. I started hanging out at the club, talking to other comedians and getting the kind of good advice you don't get except from the pros.”

        Soon after, he began emceeing at Bananas as well as clubs in Dayton, Indianapolis and Columbus. The emcee is comedy club code for low man in the pecking order. Am emcee does 10-15 minutes onstage and introduces the evening's other two acts.

        About six months ago, his agents at Heyman Talent began booking him as a feature or middle act — 25-30 minutes onstage.
       Then things started happening. He placed second out of 150 comedians in Ed McMahon's Internet version of TV's Star Search. That got him onstage at Orlando's Universal Studios for the finals.

        Soon after, he was hired by the Dayton Dragons, the Reds Class A farm team, as official comedy writer. He writes material for the scoreboard, where two animated bats heckle the other team.

        He also began work on a screenplay called Off the Cobb, about two backwoods kids in the big city. One of them has an invention that removes corns — from feet — and is hell bent on selling it to a Cincinnati consumer giant.

        “If it stays on track, we'll be filming in July,” he says.

        So what can he expect now. Besides no paycheck every Friday?

        A life on the road, driving from one city to the next, working Wednesday or Thursday through Sunday, sometimes getting home between dates, sometimes not, sometimes waiting days, even weeks for club owners to pay, sometimes not, sometimes driving all day, performing, then driving all night for some corporate event the next morning.

        His act, he says, is basically PG-13, a semi-family act that mixes quickie one-liners with longer stories, a bit of cerebral humor and just plumb silly stuff.

        Everyone who's done it will tell you it's a grueling life. But it's what he wants, even if others are skeptical. “My family, at first they told me I was nuts and prayed I wouldn't do it. They're still praying, but they're also being supportive.

        “It was especially hard for mom. She's been at P&G for 28 years and for me to do anything else, that strikes her as odd. But to go tell jokes for a living, that strikes her as really odd.”

        Fine. Before someone talks him out of it, let's fill in a few blanks.

        One thing I'll miss about the real world ...

A steady paycheck. Oh, and I'll definitely miss family and friends, since I'll be on the road so much.

        One thing I won't miss ...

Waking up early every day. I've had weeks where I'd work all day, then drive to Indianapolis to emcee a show, work there, drive home and still get up the next day. It took a lot of Mountain Dew.

        When audiences don't respond, I ...

Just keep going. It's what I was taught to do by older, more established comedians. Just do your act.

        The hardest thing about this move ...

The uncertainty. The competition level is so high and your chances so few because there just aren't that many clubs out there.

        One topic I won't touch ...

I don't like to talk religion. When I started out, I had an older guy help me by telling me what mistakes to avoid. He challenged me not to go for the easy laugh, the fart jokes and sex words that are funnier to hear than to think.

        My most disastrous show was ...

The first time I emceed in Dayton. I could have driven my car into the wall behind me and got as many laughs. That's one thing about comedy, if you're nervous, the audience knows.

        If this doesn't work out, I'll ...

        Cry my eyes out. Then go back to a day job with the satisfaction of knowing I tried but it wasn't meant to be. I don't think I'd be unhappy at P&G for life, but always in the back of my mind I'd be wondering if it could have been. I like P&G, really, but I love comedy.

        The best way to quiet a heckler ...

Let him stick his foot in his own mouth. He might have a single good one-liner, but he can never keep up. He'll mess up eventually. The other way is to call the bouncer over.

        I forgot to ask ...

        For my autograph. Or if I was the class clown. Yes, that's why I spent so much time in detention. but I got good grades, so they never knew exactly what to do with me.
       Check out Josh Sneed's performance dates and Off the Cobb progress at



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