Tom Riehl has spent the last 20 years in Mission Viejo, and for most of that time he's been avoiding 9-to-5 work. His stand-up comedy career began in the early 90s and has been building ever since.
Riehl will perform Dec. 4 at the Irvine Improv. Tickets are $15.
Patch spoke to Riehl about what comedy's all about in Orange County, and how George Carlin got sidetracked by bitterness late in his career.
Patch: What brought you to Mission Viejo?
Tom Riehl: I was born and raised in Pennsylvania and was living in North Orange County. I got married… I don’t know how many years ago, my first wife’s family lived here, and we just kind of liked it out here. My ex-inlaws have moved out of the city and I’ve lived down here myself for 20 years.
Patch: How did you decide to become a stand-up comic?
Riehl: I had just gone to an open mic. It was something I always wanted to do, I was always a big fan of stand up comedy. After so many years I took a class in Irvine and ended up going to a couple of open mics and it kind of grew.
- See video of Riehl's stand-up routine attached to this story in the upper right.
Patch: What's Orange County like as a place for comedy?
Riehl: Back in the 80s, comedy was real big, then what kind of happened was comedy clubs got bombarded with all these comics, and comedy clubs started closing. Probably five, six years after that it had a resurgence again. It’s kind of going up and down and it’s always been that way. Right now we’re in a resurgence again. Now it’s back to where it was in the early 90s.”
Patch: Why the ebb and flow?
Riehl: The market kind of gets oversaturated with comics. All these comedians are out there and they bring their friends. People who come to see these are a little turned off by the caliber of the show. They’re expecting something like the Improv in Los Angeles.
Patch: Where do your jokes come from?
Riehl: Most of my material comes from everday life. Just watching people and the frustration of everyday life, seeing the stupid things people do or the things we all do in everyday life, driving in a car, going grocery shopping or going out to a restaurant. The comedy writes itself many times. You just have to kind of embellish it.
Patch: Is Orange County a good place to get material?
Riehl: It’s the hotbed (for observational humor). The way people look at the stereotypical Californian, you can do material about California and get laughs all day.
Patch: You said your joke ideas come from frustration. Why is frustration good for comedy?
Riehl: I've taught comedy for about four years. I always try to teach the students that sooner or later you’ll have to find your voice—what you’re passionate about, whether it’s frustration, anger, happiness, sadness, the good comics will pull from one of those strings.
It takes awhile to find your point of view and where your frustration comes from. You have to present that in a way where you’re not up there for a half-hour or an hour and sound completely angry with the way things are, you have to come up with a comedy slant. Rather than becoming bitter on stage, you’ll have to find something funny that people relate to.
George Carlin is a good example. As he got older, he almost became very angry and very bitter, and I was a big George Carlin fan, and he had that bitterness till the day he died, and he hung onto that his whole life. I’ve seen him perform where it was almost too far. But that’s what’s great about comedy. You get up and say what you want and people will relate or not relate.
Patch: What's your biggest personal goal as a comic?
Riehl: I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania. I left when I was 18 years old. They have a theater there that seats 500 or 600. Now they actually have shows there.
It’s not the hugest place in the world, but to go back to my hometown and headline a show there, and perform there—so many people saw me on Facebook from back there—it’s something I’ve been working on for the past six or seven months. For me personally, that would be the one goal I have.
You do the improvs and the comedy stores and the corporate events, and that’s good, the money’s good and the gratification’s good, but to go back to my hometown and see people I knew since I was five or six years old would probably be the crowning jewel for me.