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A conversation with: Dan Sheehan

MU student shares how he masters comedy

HANY HAWASLY

Dan Sheehan says Comedy Wars has allowed him to collaborate with some of his closest comedian friends and perform for larger crowds.

February 14, 2013 | 12:00 a.m. CST

Dan Sheehan loves telling jokes about animals, which is fitting as his comedian friend Steve Sheehan (no relation) calls Dan a big teddy bear. The comedian doesn’t delve deep into the realm of the extremely offensive. Instead, he opts for a goofy, absurdist style with jokes drawn from his life. It’s a formula that works as the MU senior has won Déjà Vu’s Last Comic Standing twice, become a regular across Columbia’s stand-up circuit and is a member of the university’s improv team, Comedy Wars. He also created the popular @FakeBrotherJed Twitter account to parody the extreme evangelist who preaches on MU’s campus. Sheehan discusses Twitter as a platform and turning comedy into a career.

You described yourself as a quiet person. What difficulties did you have getting comfortable on stage?
Surprisingly, fewer than I thought. That was always my biggest hesitance — that going on stage is kind of counterintuitive to me as a person. Like when I’m around strangers, I’m not loud. I’m not horribly outgoing, but when I got up on stage, it all just felt very natural. I think that’s why I took to it so quickly.

What did your parents think of your comedic aspirations?
I thought (being a comedian) was a more viable career option than anything I’d come across before. I had worked it up in my head to be a much more stressful thing than it had to be because they were very supportive right from the get-go. They were hesitant because they wanted to make sure that I wasn’t chasing something I just wasn’t good at, but they saw a few of my shows and eased up a little bit.

In what ways have you improved?
Just general structure of material, like how, to write a joke that isn’t just a goofy story you would tell your friends. I think the key is just to know your material and know how to make it feel like entertainment. Having it simultaneously feel like conversation, like a written piece, is what I aim for. You don’t want to make people feel like you’re opening up a dialogue because that’s where you get hecklers, but you also don’t want people to feel ostracized or like they’re on the outside of this story. Comedy is as much about the audience as it is about the performer.

How would you describe yourself as a comedian?
I try to take things in a literal lens. I feel like we spend so much time overanalyzing things that it’s kind of fun to just look at the silly parts of things. I tell one joke about why we give horses shoes, but no other animal has footwear.

Are there any types of jokes that you just won’t touch?
I don’t like to deal with anything that I don’t fully understand. I tend to veer away from politics, religion, things that are really dividing.

A comedy show’s a very communal atmosphere. I think that any topic can be joked about if handled correctly, but there are just certain aspects of culture that I won’t delve into with my current level of skill or life experience even.

Twitter has become a huge platform for comedians. Do you view your tweets like an extension of your performance?
I would say yeah. My Twitter, when I first started it, used to have updates on my personal life and things like that, but it’s been a long time since I’ve used my Twitter for anything relevant to my personal life.

What’s the story behind the @FakeBrotherJed Twitter account?
I was a freshman, and honestly, I never thought it would take off at all. I noticed there was a fake account for Brian Brooks (professor emeritus of the Journalism School), and I was like, “I wonder if anyone’s made one for Brother Jed.” No one had, so I just threw one together and went to bed and woke up the next day with like 400 followers, and it eventually grew to over 2,000.

What are your plans after graduation?
I’m going to try and work colleges a little bit. It’s a scene that I’m obviously familiar with. I think while I’m still young, I can still relate to those crowds. It’s a nice way to make money while getting your name out there. The idea of road tripping around the Midwest in my old car, just doing shows for a long set of time sounds like a lot of fun to me.

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