Growing up, Brad Stewart would memorize sketches by comedians like Steve Martin and perform them for his family. He was determined to perfect every pause and punchline.
With help from theater and speech team throughout school, Stewart has been fulfilling his dream to be a stand-up comedian and will headline at Red 9 Thursday night.
Stewart, a UNL alumnus, said his comedy is based off life observations and pop culture. More often than not, his jokes involve the music industry. He cracks jokes about the radio playing songs repeatedly, and even mocks genres of music he enjoys such as classic rock.
“It usually starts out with me being mad about something that sucks and me getting mad about it not getting the attention I think it deserves,” Stewart said.
To prepare for a show, Stewart said he likes to go to coffee shops and write a set list to figure out the order of his sketch, but he only sticks to it to a point.
“I don’t want it to be too regimented because I want it to be natural,” he said. “When I first started comedy, I started writing out everything, but then it was too robotic. It would be funny jokes, but it wouldn’t come out naturally.”
And that spontaneity is rewarding for Stewart, who said some of his best moments as a comedian come with delivering a successful joke he thought of that afternoon or even on stage during the show.
Stewart said he prefers to be as close to who he is in real life as he can be while on stage.
“I’m really sarcastic and kind of cynical,” Stewart said. “I like all kinds of comedy, but I like people’s whose persona is close to their true self or their comedy comes from an honest place.”
Stewart said if he is asked to “work clean” that he would, but it might be difficult for him.
“You should be able to adapt to any different situation,” he said. “I prefer to not have to worry about it because if someone says you have to be ‘G’ or ‘PG’ then that’s in my head and it messes with my head too much.”
“I’m not filthy and do bunch of sex jokes, but I will let an f-bomb slip out,” Stewart said.
Paul Steger, Director of the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film and one of Stewart’s former professors, said Stewart had always been funny and had all of the right skills to become a comedian.
“He’s funny, sharp-witted, smart and has the appropriate impatience with things that cause us all consternation,” Steger said. “I rather like his brand of humor. It’s always entertaining and he always makes me laugh.”
Stewart was a theater performance major for three years at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
“I didn’t graduate because I was in a hurry to get to LA and wait tables for 16 years,” he said.
Steger said moving to Los Angeles was what Stewart needed to do to follow his dream.
“I wasn’t surprised when he didn’t finish his degree (and went) out and do standup,” Steger said. “It was the most logical thing for him to do. It’s where all of his skills were and it’s exactly what he needed to be doing. He didn’t need to waste his time trying to be an actor.”
Steger said he remembers performing on stage with Stewart when Stewart was a student at UNL. They were in a comedy production together and Steger said Stewart had a moment of ad-libbed comedy during a show that made the whole audience laugh.
“It was always unpredictable working with Brad, but you knew that it would always turn out right,” Steger said. “He’s so quick-witted and he’s so observant that he possessed, even then, all of the right elements of a good comedian.”
When Stewart got to Los Angeles, he entered a comedy contest and won. The money he received went to registering his car.
“I thought I was going to make it then and there, and I did not,” Stewart said.
For the remaining 16 years Stewart lived in LA, he performed numerous free shows and ran his own comedy show called “No Name Comics” from 2005 to 2008.
“I enjoy comedy, period, so anytime I can bring a quality comedy show anywhere I’m just as proud of that,” Stewart said.
He was also given the opportunity to open for Joan Rivers. Stewart became friends with a worker from the same agency as Rivers, who then recommended him to open her show. Since then, Stewart has opened for Rivers more than 40 times, including when she was in Omaha a couple of weeks ago.
“(The Omaha show) was definitely ... the best one I’ve ever had,” Stewart said. “I don’t know if it was being in my home state and feeling even more comfortable and it just kind of flowed and everything fell into place, but I wish I would’ve recorded that.”
In May of last year, Stewart came back to Lincoln to spend time with his father who had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. ALS causes nerve cells in regions of the brain and spinal cord to gradually die.
“It’s one of the worst things ever,” Stewart said. “Your mind is still sharp and that’s what’s really bad about it. You can’t do anything, but you’re still all there.”
Stewart was able to spend the last three months of his father’s life with him. While living at home, Stewart spent every day with his father.
“You can’t put a price on that kind of time,” Stewart said.
Steger said that Stewart putting his career on hold last year was a risk he had to take.
“That’s just part of who Brad is,” Steger said. “He looks out for his friends and he looks out for his family. He has a great sense of humor and tries his best to take it all in stride, just like everybody else does.”
Stewart said he has often thought about moving back to LA because a lot of his close friends are there and LA has many more opportunities than the Lincoln area.
“I also miss the random star sightings,” he said. “You can go to a place like (a coffee shop) and Tobey Maguire sits next to you. I don’t get that star struck, but it’s just cool that kind of thing can happen.”
Stewart said one of the biggest challenges about being a comedian is how many stand-up comics are working today.
“I guarantee this morning that half a million people woke up and decided to be comedians,” he said. “That’s the thing about being a comedian; you can say that you’re a comedian and you’re a comedian. It’s not like someone can wake up and say ‘I’m a doctor now.’ It’s super over-saturated, so it’s hard to get through all of that and get noticed.”
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