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Will Franken is Drugs Without Having to Hit the Bottom: Recovery Comedy Interview
Recovery Comedians, Comics Anonymous, Recovery Comedy, Recovery Comic, Clean and Sober Comedy
Surreal Recovery Comedian Will Franken

Will Franken's strange life story is the kind that stand-up comedians dream of having and independent filmmakers dream of concocting--if only for the wealth of bizarre and darkly funny material there is to draw upon. Born and raised in Sedalia, Missouri, Will Franken worked as an actor, middle-school and college-level English teacher, typist, convenience store clerk, and corporate mascot for an online library before heading to California in 2002 to try his hand at comedy. Seven years later, he is celebrated as one of the most innovative performers to come out of the Bay Area in recent years. Armed with what The New York Times describes as a "highly developed sense of the absurd," and what Franken himself refers to as a "one-man American version of 'Monty Python's Flying Circus'" he brings life’s inherent weirdness to the stage, poking fun at a broad range of cultural strongholds. Franken brings the underlying absurdity of the subconscious to the fore, taking advantage of his uncanny acting ability to create a bizarre panoply of characters and one-man sketches that satirize and skewer postmodern society's most sacred cows. Whether it's John Milton losing to urban hipster CK-1 at the Berkeley Poetry Slam or the vicar of Westminster Abbey delivering the liturgy of "The Final Broadcast of Christianity" (along with a pre-recorded Noam Chomsky-spewing choir), Franken douses his audiences in a surreal tidal wave of psychedelic humor--so funny that audiences stop laughing only long enough to drop their jaws.

During his time in San Francisco, Franken was awarded "Best Comedian" of 2005 by the SF Weekly and "Best Alternative to Psychedelic Drugs" by the SF Bay Guardian. He recently made his television debut on BBC America's “The World Stands Up,” a showcase of UK, American and Australian comedians. Franken has also appeared on Air America’s “Marc Maron Show”, was a finalist in the San Francisco International Comedy Competition as well as the Las Vegas Andy Kaufman Award competition, and has enjoyed successful runs at San Francisco's renowned SF Sketchfest, Portland, Oregon's "Bridgetown Comedy Festival", and Montreal's prestigious "Just For Laughs" Festival. Franken has written and performed numerous theatrical solo shows, including Good Luck With It and Grandpa! It's Not Fitting!, to capacity crowds in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles on stages at the Upright Citizens' Brigade Theatre, Ars Nova, and the Collective Unconscious. During his off-hours, he produces a highly successful and critically acclaimed audio podcast, Things We Did Before Reality, which has elicited favorable comparisons to the legendary 60s and 70s sketch albums of The Firesign Theatre. He always enjoys bringing his patently absurdist brand of humor to audiences starved for a little taste of the different.

"To call Will Franken's performances "comedy" is limiting. His shape shifting multipersona performances bring to mind the Salvador Dal’ quote "I don't take drugs; I am drugs.”When Franken embodies one character after another - accent, mannerisms, and all - the effect is of an overdriven multimedia device. He deconstructs all manner of assumptions; just as The Onion parodies journalism, Franken satirizes performance's tropes. His material may offend some, but he even deconstructs the feeling of being offended and posits it as ex post facto reaction rather than innate response. Franken is a prolific writer whose never-ending stream of new material and depth of reference shows up the laziness of other performers who spend their time polishing the delivery of the same tired routines. While LSD may not be legal, so far Franken is. "

Recovery Comedy:  What were you like as a kid?

Will Franken:   Very afraid, filled with anxiety a large part of the time, living an extremely schizoid double life from an early age. I learned how to do voices and impressions quite young. Perhaps as young as six or seven, I was doing British accents and old people's voices. I think I had/have some problems with emotional intimacy as I could never speak in my own voice to my own mother. I was always in character, which allowed me to keep a distance between myself and other people. I vacillated between extreme isolation and showing off for groups of people. 

Recovery Comedy:  What made you decide to be a stand-up comedian and how long have you been performing?

Will Franken:  I was always drawn towards sketch comedy since seeing reruns of the original "Saturday Night Live" episodes. I knew I wanted to make people laugh. Later, in my early teens, I'd discover "Kids in the Hall" and "Monty Python's Flying Circus" and tried to impress upon my Missouri friends that we needed to start a sketch troupe. They wanted to be in a rock band instead, so I just started doing my own version of Monty Python, supplying all the voices, scenes, transitions myself. I took some time to get a Masters degree in Literature, (largely as a means of avoiding real work), and then took off for New York at 24 to try to break into the scene. It wasn't until I ended up in San Francisco in 2002 after a failed relationship, living in my car at the Berkeley Marina, that I consistently did comedy on a frequent basis and carved out a name for myself. 

Recovery Comedy:  Were you performing stand-up before you got into recovery?

Will Franken:  Yes. Pre-relapse, during the relapse, and after the relapse. 

Recovery Comedy:  How has your comedy changed since you got into recovery? 

Will Franken:  Fundamentally, it hasn't really. I suppose I get a little more inspired by people/characters I see at meetings. I get exposed to different types that way. Also, I find that -- generally, not always -- I let go of the outcome of a given show. I'm no longer as attached to the results. I know that I shouldn't yoke my self-esteem to my comedy. That being said, one of the greatest gifts that Kurtis Matthews as well as my sponsor gave me early on was the idea that I should respect what I do. I had a tendency to downplay comedy as a vocation in a self-loathing fashion. Sometimes when I'm not grateful, I can fall into that trap -- start looking at the grass as greener -- and wish I were an office manager or something I'm not. I know I should never devalue the gifts God has given me. 

Recovery Comedy:  Does your comedy have a message and if so what is it? 

Will Franken:  My comedy has tons of messages, I think. Destroying political correctness and contrived sensitivities is at the top of the list. Trying to get an audience to realize that, when it comes to free speech and comedy, truly nothing is sacred. I like to elevate/enlighten the audience by presenting a type of comedy that is both different in content and in form -- to show them that set-up/punchline is not the only option. And perhaps to expose the nakedness of the human subconscious in all its transitory beauty. Also, because I do so many characters, perhaps there's something unintended there about the fluidity of the individual identity and the underlying and often unseen totality that unites all existence. 

Recovery Comedy:  Who are your comedy idols?

Will Franken:  When I was younger, it was Steve Martin and Richard Pryor for their stand-up. But since I was more geared towards sketch/character comedy, at the top of the list for influences it was Monty Python and the "Kids in the Hall". Most of my tastes still to this day tend to be very UK-driven. They're less ashamed of the subconscious than we are over here. 

Recovery Comedy:  What is the difference between a recovery show and a normie show?  

Will Franken:  Waitresses complain that the audiences aren't buying enough drinks at a recovery show. Fundamentally, though, I don't think there's that much of a difference other than knowing most of the audience wants you to do well because they're not loaded and think that they're the comedians. 

Recovery Comedy:  Where does your inspiration for material come from? 

Will Franken:  I tend to go in trances when I least expect it and large chunks of a show come out -- almost like an idiot savant. Very rarely do I actually sit down to write a piece unless an intended element of the bit is to sound stilted. When I impersonate somebody or write a bit around a certain character type, I usually do it because I either hate the person or love the person. If I love the person, it's like a Jeffrey Dahmer thing. I get to carry the person with me in their voice and mannerisms. If I hate them, I give them enough rope in their words to hang themselves and make a satirical commentary simultaneously. 

Recovery Comedy:  What is your joke writing process? 

Will Franken:  I rarely write anything down. I see a lot of students who have difficulty with memorization and I try to advise them not to write anything down. Let the bit take you over, possess you even. Keep playing with it over and over and keep it in your head where it belongs. Once an idea hits me like that, I go in the shower or pace the floor until I have it all worked out in my mind. Then and only then do I write it down for purely archival purposes. If I get even the vaguest hint that something might have been done before, I discard it. I find that it usually helps for me to be happy when I write. I'm not one of those comedians who thrives on anxiety and depression. I have to be somewhat manic and on the lighter side of a black hole for the ideas to come. 

Recovery Comedy:  What is your kryptonite? 

Will Franken:  When my priorities get out of whack. When a woman, for example, becomes more important than a career. Or when money becomes more important than the laughter. I'm also lazy. But I'm trying to accept that and deal with it.

Recovery Comedy:  Is comedy part of your healing process? 

Will Franken:  I think so. It has been. I went through a break-up last winter and I went over to a friend's house to cry about it. He was with somebody else at the time. As I ranted and raved, I ended up throwing some impressions into the story (which is how I usually relate stories, even small-talk anecdotes, to others, via characterizations) and the two of them laughed. I think I said at the time, "Comedy is going to save my life -- again." 

Recovery Comedy:  What was your worst experience performing comedy? 

Will Franken:  Resentment plus ego plus microphone at a poetry slam/hip-hop shock comedy show in Oakland in January of 2011. I crossed the line at a show that always prided itself on crossing the line. They refused to pay me, but I didn't mind as much as I was lucky to have escaped with my life. 

Recovery Comedy:  What was your best experience performing comedy? 

Will Franken:  Being flown to London in 2007 to do a twenty-minute set for the BBC. Couldn't have happened to a more Anglophilic individual. 

Recovery Comedy:  What is your comedy dream? 

Will Franken:  To end up living and working in the UK, perhaps being at the helm or at least part of a team behind some great BBC or ITV project. 

Recovery Comedy: Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions Will. We’re looking forward to seeing you perform at the Purple Onion with the Comedy Addiction Tour on May 31st!

Will will be appearing with the Comedy Addiction Tour at the Historic Purple Onion Comedy Club in San Francisco on May 31, 2012. Tickets are an amazingly reasonable $15 to see 4 amazing comedians. You’ll also be able to see Kurtis Matthews, Ken Townsend and the incredible Mark Lundholm. Don’t miss your chance to see these talented comedians. There are two shows one at 7pm and one at 8:30pm. To get your tickets, please click on the link below.

Also, if you have actually read this far ; ) you can also get a discount, by entering either the code “Clean” or the code “Sober” for an additional $5 off your ticket price.

Click here to get your Tickets for The Comedy Addiciton Tour at the Purple Onion

To find out more information about Will Franken or to book him for your next Recovery Event just click here!

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