“Had a blast and loved every second of it. I’m totally honored to be able to make this next joke. FIRED FROM NEW YORK IT’S SATURDAY NIGHT.” - @brookswheelan, Twitter
His revelatory Tweet said it all. For all the hard work, the hours spent writing and the performing that brought the comic from a small Iowa town to the big time atmosphere of New York City, Brooks Wheelan‘s run as a Featured Player on Saturday Night Live lasted little more than a cup of coffee. In fact, despite a handful of memorable appearances (his ‘Bad Tattoo’ stories on Weekend Update, his turn as a bottomless e-meth addict in a commercial parody, and the straight man in a pre-taped sketch where office workers set up a trip to a Will Smith concert), casual viewers of SNL might not even have been aware that Wheelan was on the show. But we know better. The glimpses of brilliance in Season 39 revealed, just barely, why Wheelan was cast in the first place.
With that in mind and in celebration of his recent axing, the aptly titled “Brooks Wheelan Falls Back on Stand-Up Comedy” was booked at Park Slope’s Union Hall on Monday evening. The almost immediate sell-out prompted Wheelan to prop up another show this past Sunday which also subsequently sold out. The back to back sold out area shows and the celebrity support from the likes of Judd Apatow and SNL-alum Andy Samberg were certain confidence boosters for the tall, slender stand-up and spirits were high on Monday night where a standing room audience would be treated to a showcase of his comedic venting.
The boyishly good looking Wheelan appeared far more relaxed in this live setting than he did at any time of SNL, spending a good chunk of his hour long set reminiscing upon his unique midwestern upbringing. The isolated and seemingly misunderstood Wheelan grew up a bit out of place as the youngest of three brothers, often struggling to make friends and instead, finding comfort in being alone. It’s unsurprising then that Wheelan would turn to stand-up comedy (where the uneasiness of growing up is often therapeutically exploited) and drugs (where introverts often turn to find balance).
Fortunately, his peculiar tales of growing up, which may have included watching his father kill a possum with a sledgehammer at age 9, and of experimenting with recreational drugs in recent years, are in fact quite relatable if not downright hilarious. Donning a scruffy beard and a tattered off-white t-shirt, Wheelan’s command of the stage was never in question, parading around wildly and changing his cadence often to reflect certain points. Even in the face of some unruly audience members in the front row who were uncomfortably close to being removed by Wheelan, he barely missed a beat and somehow even when threatening, proceeded in charming fashion.
Wheelan spent plenty of times taking self-deprecating jabs at his own misses by musing ‘that’s why I was fired,’ but failed jokes on this night were few and far between. The crowd reacted uproariously as he recalled some of his failed pitches at SNL that never made air, before taking a serious turn as his show concluded and calling his run on the show an incredible experience. Though he seemed more confident than bitter, Wheelan is clearly at a career crossroads, a point which he touched upon some but doesn’t seem to mind. Perhaps two sold out crowds in the New York City area can do that for you. Or perhaps he’s finally ready to deliver on the promise that brought him to the Big Apple initially. Whatever the case, it’s not often cause for celebration when a comedian loses out on a high profile job- but in Wheelan’s case, we’re excited to see where this journey leads him next.
- Jane Van Arsdale