For Mike Goodwin, it’s one thing to be a funny guy, quite another to be a successful comedian, but either way, the goal is the same: Make people laugh.
Goodwin, who grew up cracking up his friends and family in Camden, is bringing his bowtie comedy show back home Dec. 4 for a special one-night only performance at the Kershaw County Fine Arts Center.
Goodwin, known for his dapper on-stage sartorial style and family friendly comedy came to this career path a little later in life. A 1993 graduate of Camden High School, he served in the U.S. Army for 4 years before attending Lander University in Greenwood, S.C. He went on to earn a Masters in Higher Education Administration from the University of South Carolina (USC) and worked for the University in student affairs for several years.
"People always seemed to think I was pretty funny," he said. "In college, I thought about comedy, but not really seriously. I hosted some events on campus, but never did a real comedy set. Later, when I was working with USC in student affairs I organized events and would bring comedians in for those events, but again, nothing formal on my part."
Then Goodwin met a man named Akintunde, who had moved to the Columbia area from Savannah and was working for a local radio station. Goodwin and Akitunde worked together on their church media team and soon became friends.
Goodwin said he would often run comedy ideas by his friend. Akintunde, an accomplished writer, comedian, actor and television/radio personality, encouraged Goodwin.
"Actually, what he did was tell me to get on stage and tell these jokes or he was going to do it," Goodwin said. "He let me open for him at church during the New Year’s Eve service going into 2005."
The experience was life-changing, Goodwin said. Not only did he do very well – the audience loved his act – it convinced him to pursue this path.
"It was perfect – it was like a movie," Goodwin said. "It was billed as a surprise in the service – he was doing a set in the service – but no one knew I was going to do it. I got a standing ovation. I couldn’t have asked for a better first time."
"Then I proceeded to suck for the next two years," he added with a well-timed comic pause. "I was the funniest guy in the car but then I’d get to the gig and be just mediocre at best."
Goodwin had to learn the nuts and bolts of his craft, from how to hold the microphone to interacting with his audience. He came to a number of realizations along the way, he said.
"My material has always been pretty solid," Goodwin said. "I felt pretty good about my material but my delivery needed work. And since I had gotten into it a little later, I was already pretty focused on branding myself – I had the business end of it down. But I was so enamored of the act of doing comedy – I was really impressed with myself – that I didn’t realize, ‘hey you’re talking to a group of people’. I was more self-focused. So the last piece I had to get was how to talk to the audience."
That takes a lot of road work, he said. Fortunately, his wife and family have been very supportive of his career in comedy.
"The first thing is to learn the mindset – to understand that this (the gig) is an opportunity versus a job," he said. "It’s the attitude that I would not like to be anywhere else. I want to be here telling you these jokes. It’s about focusing more on the audience and less on myself."
Another basic but very important building block is to make legitimate connections with people in the audience, Goodwin said. This goes far beyond just casual eye contact, he said.
"Look at someone in the face," he said. "Look at someone and get them to smile."
Another important aspect is relevance, he noted.
"You talk about something true to that moment," Goodwin said. "As a performer, there’s a script in my head that’s on auto pilot, but we need to back up and acknowledge we are all here at the same place at the same time. My material is based in truth and life experiences – but we all have similar experiences we share."
Happily, the hard work does pay off, he said. Not only does he stay busy, but recently he won a slot in the Boston Comedy Festival – only 96 comics worldwide are chosen for that event, he said.
"You do get to a point where you figure it out," he said. "That’s when you start to find your voice, to craft it for yourself."
Goodwin’s material is clean, which allows him access to a wide variety of engagements, he said. Some have been a little less orthodox than others – he once did stand-up for a 50th high school class reunion – but he is ready to bring his act anywhere, he said.
"I would say about 70 to 75 percent of my shows are in churches," he said. "Another 20-25 percent is clubs and at corporate events."
With family and friends nearby, Goodwin said he is excited about the upcoming Camden show, he said.
"It’s funny; wherever I go, someone in the audience will invariably ask me, ‘are you really from Camden?’ I mean, with all the places to pretend to be from – Chicago, New York, L.A.—do they really think I’m going to make that up?"
Mike Goodwin hits the stage at the Kershaw County Fine Arts Center at 7p.m. Dec. 4. Tickets are $15. For more information call 432-7575 or go to www.fineartscenter.org.