Exit interview with comedian Cam O'Connor 

click to enlarge Cam O'Connor - PAULINE SHYPULA
  • Cam O'Connor

Cam O'Connor is leaving us. Yes, the Rocketship Comedy founder and organizer of zillions of comedy shows at the Sinking Ship, Sabbatical and Flat12 is moving to Cincinnati very soon to continue his comedy career. O'Connor is a major figure in Indy's comedy scene, bringing great headliners into the non-traditional spaces. But the time to work on his own comedy -- to step down from being an organizer, and focus on jokes -- has come, he says. His shows, featuring guys like Stewart Huff, Kyle Kinane, Geoff Tate and so many more, are legendary. And don't worry, they're not stopping. O'Connor is turning them over to a new generation of young comics, and he's confident there's nothing but good things for Indy's comedy scene ahead.

Morty's will host a goodbye show for O'Connor tonight featuring Connor Delehanty and Tim McLaughlin, plus a set from O'Connor himself, of course. Before the show, I phoned him up to talk about where he came from -- and where he's going.

NUVO: How many shows do you run or perform each month?

Cam O'Connor: Well, every week I have Sunday show. And then once a month, I have the Friday. Scattered throughout, I'll have three, four, five, or six one nighters that someone asks me to do. And then I'll have like a some weeks at a club. This last month, I had five shows in three days at Dayton, Ohio at their club. I can't wait to be done with my job. I've done all I can while still working a job, but man, you're just so fatigued. I want to be able to just do it all the time and not even think about it.

NUVO: So that is the goal in Cincinnati – to do comedy full time.

O'Connor: Yeah. They already have a scene that produces people that go [elsewhere]. Some of the most talented people have come from Cincinnati, just no one knows who they are yet. Like Ryan Singer, Gabe Kea, Geoff Tate, etc. If you go there to work someplace where there's already an established leadership and shows are being run, there's a great club there where I'm welcome at and not banned [laughs], Go Bananas. They're just a fantastic club. It's run by this guy Michael Kurtz. He's in there every day. He's a comedy guy, not a business guy, I imagine. It's just a good place. I'll get to go in there and help with that, and they already booked me. I want to just take a bath in comedy while I'm there.

NUVO: And that's why you picked Cincy for a move, because it already works for you?

O'Connor: Yeah, I've already got a great relationship with comics there. Morty's recently has reached out and had some other things for me. And they're throwing me that party, which is really cool. But before that, no one [comedy club] in Indiana had really wanted anything to do with me. Maybe I didn't assert myself, but I was already happy being the guy that was running shows, and doing stuff like that. I think it hindered my growth as a comic. I saw a lot of people pass me [because] their days aren't spent emailing about shows they have to run, they're spent writing jokes. [laughs]

NUVO: How will Rocketship Comedy transition in your stead?

O'Connor: When you interviewed me last March at the Melody Inn with all those cats, it was right before I was going on tour. Since then, we all met up, and they've been running shows, Leslie Dinsmore, Melinda Kashner, Sam Griswald, Joe Fitzpatrick, and others. It's just been good. It's a bunch of good people, and they all want to be funny. They want everybody else to be funny. It's really healthy. Every show you go to, pretty much, in Indianapolis, there's a good vibe. Obviously you have to be competitive, but I don't think it's a competitive scene.

Going from the Sinking Ship to Sabbatical, right, and having that big crowd [at the Ship] and not being able to quite get them to follow [to Sabbatical], because it's different situations, we were able to make that show so there were no less than 20 comedians, whether they were on the show or not, every Sunday they're hanging out. We're all talking. I can put up shows, let people host, let people make a lineup. When you leave town, they do that anyway. It's really not that big a deal. A lot of the kids that – I call them kids, but you know what I mean – a lot of them come from maybe [laughs] a better upbringing, went to college, are a little more responsible than myself, are more positive.

I was really worn out when I first met Joe and Leslie, to be specific. They were just on board to help me with whatever, to help me not go completely crazy, because they're just real positive. They're go-getters. It's really nice, you know? It kind of took care of itself over time. There's really no drop-off. … Cincinnati is probably the closest major city, too. So it's not like it's a gigantic move. I can still come back here and hang out all I want. It's mainly being able to quit my job, finally (even though I'm really hanging myself out to dry). I would say, building the bridge further [is a goal, too]. I can put Cincy fellas on shows here all the time, introduce them to the scene. And now I can arrange people coming over from Indianapolis, staying at my house, doing clubs there, doing shows. You're building that bridge between the two cities. And then, maybe, whatever the next step is, I'll do that then.

NUVO: How do you describe Indianapolis comedy to your guys in Cincinnati that haven't been out here yet?

O'Connor: We've got a lot of juice. Every show I'm on, everybody's good. There's probably 40 to 50 funny, funny people in this city. There's all these different kinds of weirdos. We've got some new funny females – and it's tricky for a female first off, because there's so many dudes. But I think it's welcoming enough to where just showing up and wanting to do comedy is enough. You shouldn't have to deal with boy shit. Does that make sense? Comedy is hard to start anyway.

Here's what Cincy does. Cincy has a Funniest Person in Cincinnati contest. They have an amateur and a semi-pro bracket. The last two years, the winner of the amateur bracket was an Indianapolis comedian. Melinda Kashner last year, and Matt Bacchus two years ago. Those are both youngsters. … [When I'm there, I'll be] betting some of these Indianapolis people to get a car of them and get to Cincy to come look good in a really, really good comedy club. The dynamics of the club are perfect.

I would say, it's a really, really good time for comedy [in Indianapolis]. The problem is – and it's a nationwide thing – there's just so many fucking comedians right now. Every one is starting, because it's so easy [to start]. You could do an open mic tomorrow, get a website, and say you're a comedian. And I'd be like, “Ah, I wish I had that bravado!” …

Another element is that a lot of the youngsters in the scene, like Joe and Leslie and them, are in IndyProv. Unlike other cities, where improv and standup don't like each other –- or that's what you hear –- here, it's not like that. Here, most of those Flat12 shows, a good deal of the crowd is comprised of improvers coming to watch. If we're all getting together, that means the sad standup comedians are now hanging out with happier, optimistic, team-oriented people. And I don't think that was a thing before.

NUVO: If you could pick some outstanding moments in Indianapolis comedy during your time here – amazing sets, great experience, killer shows in general.

O'Connor: The first thing I can think of … I was working at Naked Tchopstix as a restaurant manager. I was in my second year of comedy, doing this and that, didn't really give a shit, just wanted to be able to tell someone I was doing something kind of thing. The point is, I got fired from Naked Tchopstix. And it just so happened -– I was 30 years old at the time -- and my dad was in town visiting and staying at my house. I went to work to get fired, at age 30, and in my own house I still had to come home and tell my dad about getting fired. It was the weirdest dynamic. We sat out on my patio and talked. I think my roommate was there. We were like, maybe I should just take unemployment and do comedy this year. That was the year that I took unemployment, then a couple months later I started doing shows at the Sinking Ship. My grandmother, she was losing her vision, and me (being selfish) was like, “Well, you probably can't drive that car, then?” And I used that car to go do comedy. (And I was taking her to appointments and all that shit.)

But making those moves changed everything. Me and this fella started the Sinking Ship [shows]. Nothing had happened yet, because we had started this show and were talking to comics about it. I remember he made a Facebook page, and I was so unbelievably nervous. I was like, “Holy shit, now you're putting yourself out there. This has to work.” I didn't know anything. I didn't know anything about booking. The first couple of months, he had booked most of the headliners, and most of those guys became the key people in my life. I learned along the way.

I've been sentimental a lot lately, about this city in general, because I've lived here a while. For a long time, I didn't have a car and would just walk. Now I drive by places and I'm like, “Holy shit!” I used to notice more walking. It's just so weird how much can come from a couple weird little decisions. If it wasn't for the Sinking Ship, [I wouldn't have] the place I lived, for example, because these friends, they worked there. Now, I can go stay in a couch in Chicago, or LA, or New York, because of the things that I've done here. It's real nice to believe you're something, and for other people to tell you [things like that]. Does that make sense? You think you're doing good work, you. But, dammit, isn’t it nice [to hear it?] After a while, people start to take it for granted, like, “Oh, that's just Kat, she always does good work.” But you still want to be reminded that people think you're good, right? I was raised by construction workers, so if you're running a job, your name is on that job, so you see it through. That's kind of what my thing is. ... The work ethic is there, work hard, take care of it, help people, keep getting funny. And the rest should take care of itself, right? If you just put out good, then eventually you'll get yours, right?

We had standup comedy at Oranje this year, and I never thought Oranje would give a shit about standup. We've finally mixed with music. Now all these musicians come to see shows. … They'll take the night off, come to a comedy show. Some of them aren't even laughing, but dammit, they're there the whole time! Crossing over, making people aware that standup comedy is here at all, was like an overall thing.

[For shows] obviously your Kyle Kinanes. We had Kinane three times, but the last one we had, it was free. Not everybody could get it. There was a line out the door. There's people that I'll meet today, and they'll say, “I was at that, and I couldn't get in,” and I'll have to feel bad again.

I think this year was extremely productive for Indianapolis. A lot of people rose up, started shows on their own, are ambitious. I don't know. It's how it should be, and it's definitely not how it is when I started.

NUVO: Tell me about getting picked up on the Organic Comedy tour [with Ryan Singer and Jarrod Harris].

O'Connor: That's still one of the coolest things in my life. It was this month, two years ago, that we were on tour. … I'm pretty sure they could have picked anyone. The logistics of it worked out for me because they were doing my show, and this and that. I just wanted to do a good job. It opened my eyes, and I came back as a way different comedian and person, I would say that. 30 days. We were in a different city just about every other night. Every night, packing up, driving, yada yada. It just became normal. … I got to see how people run shows in other scenes, I got to perform in all these new states. It was the thing like in a band – get in the van and go. It was the best, because it was extreme, but at the same time I had big brothers, who had been on the road a lot, so I was taken along and protected. Ryan Singer and Jarrod Harris are two hilarious dudes, so them treating me like an equal was something that I got used to. When I got back, saw how things worked here in Indy, I just knew it wasn't like this everywhere else. I got to see other scenes, see how they're close-knit communities – not all of them, but some of them are like families – so I understood what's good for one is good for all. I came back with that. …

That also gave me the connections to book my own tour, and I did that twice last year. Very quietly, I got a lot of shit done without even realizing it. When something is loud and biting at you, you just have to keep going, keep going forward.

NUVO: Tell me about the Morty's show tonight. It's Connor, Tim, and you.

O'Connor: Yup! Good boys. Tim and Connor are dear friends of mine, and both are roommates up in Chicago now. Connor is sweet as can be, and Tim is great.

I started at Crackers, at the open mic at Crackers. I was there every day for four years. Not every day, but you know. At the time, there was a ban. We weren't allowed to do the open mic at Morty's, and that was it. There was this weird divide. Timmy and Connor were, at that point, newer. They were “Morty's guys.” Those are two of the first people from that side of the fence who liked me, and would talk to me. You know what I mean? It's interesting, because they were asked to do a show on this off-night, because Gilbert Gottfried is there and isn't doing Thursday. And they said, let's make it a party for Cam. So that's how I got that show. It's the best example of the community, the whole way it's set up.

NUVO: Leaving with the Morty's guys.

O'Connor: Yeah! It's so funny how it works out. And now that's who's throwing me the party to go away. It's funny, isn't it? 

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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Katherine Coplen

Katherine Coplen

Always looking for my new favorite band. Always listening to my old ones, too. Always baking cakes. Always collecting rock and roll dad quotes.

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