by Hello Panda

Feature Act: Nickey Winkelman

Whether they be headliners in their own right, or just those setting new comedy standards in Columbus—from improv to stand-up to everything in between—(614) is covering the people handling the city with humor.

This month: Nickey Winkelman, Shadowbox Bistro showrunner, who keeps reinventing what live comedy can mean to a hungry Columbus audience. Case in point: this month, the mom to be will put herself and her unborn child on the hot seat, letting local audiences and comics take aim with a roast—which far as we can tell is the first time a fetus has gotten top billing at a local show. How could we not wanna know more?

What was little Nickey Winkelman like? How would you stereotype your middle school self? I’d characterize myself as an awkward middle schooler, but who wasn’t awkward in middle school? I certainly wasn’t in the popular clique. I wasn’t a cheerleader or an athlete or a brainy kid. I did art and theatre. I wasn’t pretty, and my family didn’t have enough money for me to wear all the trendy clothes, so I’d get picked on for being weird or poor. I had a nickname that some mean kids gave me: “Mustache Girl.” I think the nickname just about sums it up. But all of that continued to motivate me to try to make people laugh. I thought, if I can make people laugh, people will like me, and I’ll have friends.

Do you see your material changing as your child gets older? Yes and no. I’m sure the kid will end up providing me with material. I’m a comedian who draws inspiration mostly from my own life, and this is the biggest life change I’ve had. There’s no way I’m not going to write about it. However, I don’t think I’ll censor myself on stage just because I’m becoming a parent. My material has gotten less crass as I’ve gotten older, but that’s a choice I made for myself as I grew and changed as a performer, not a choice I made because I don’t want my kid to hear it one day. My mom has heard every joke I’ve ever told, and someday my kid will too (when he’s old enough).

Who needs to laugh more? Extremists. The extreme right and the extreme left. Relax. You’re not always correct, and that’s okay. Learn to laugh at yourself when you’re wrong.

Dating a comedian—do or don’t? This is going to sound like I’m avoiding the question, but it depends on the comedian. Comedians are usually complicated and emotional people. Some of us know how to handle being that way and some of us don’t. I think when choosing to a person to date (regardless of what they do in life) it’s about finding someone who has a good relationship with themselves and their own mental health. Personally, I’d much rather date someone who is emotional and complicated but knows how to handle it, than date someone who seems to have it all together but doesn’t know what to do when they feel sad. On the other hand, there are some comedians who use the stage as therapy and that’s dangerous. Get actual therapy. Ultimately, you’re up there for the audience, not for yourself. The stage is a great place to talk about hardships in life in order to reach people who can relate to the problems you’ve been through, but it’s not a place to try and work through your problems in real time. That gets messy.

Tell me about your first time on stage. Well, I’ve done theatre as long as I can remember, so I’m not sure what was my first time on stage. The first time I did stand-up on stage was in 2005 in Santa Barbara, California. I was attending UCSB and participated in an “open stage night.” An open mic night is usually all comedians, but this was all kinds of acts: poetry readings, singer-songwriters, monologues… I think there was a juggler.  I was the only comedian on the show, so people loved me. I thought I was God’s gift to comedy, but really the audience just needed a break from sad love songs played poorly on acoustic guitars, so they were willing to laugh at anything. I got a healthy dose of reality the first time I did a real open mic night at a comedy club.

What’s your favorite show you’ve ever put on at The Backstage Bistro? Time Machine. It’s a comedy show meets history show, and it is my passion project. I created and produce the show, but I collaborate with other comedians and performers who help write and add to it. Each show is themed around one year in history, and all of the performances (be it stand-up, sketch comedy, dance, songs, etc) are based on events or pop culture from that year. For example, in the 1999 show we had sketches spoofing The Matrix and Fight Club, and in the 1984 show, we re-enacted the 1984 WWF match between The Iron Sheik and Hulk Hogan. I got to play The Iron Sheik. That was a dream come true.

Who are your favorite Columbus acts? Hmm, it seems unfair to name fellow comedians without sounding like I’m just picking out my friends, so I’ll pick out some of my favorites who are great performers in other artistic fields: Jamz Dean is one of my favorite drag performers, Cherie Blondell is one of my favorite burlesque dancers, Erik Tait is one of my favorite magicians, and Gabriel Guyer is hands down my favorite singer and bass player. Okay, to be fair, I still just named a bunch of my friends and my baby’s father, but the endorsements are honest nonetheless.

What’s the best local comedy show you’ve ever been to, that wasn’t your own? “Hot Dog! A Comedy Show Slash Hot Dog Eating Contest.” This is a show produced by Dustin Meadows of Whiskey Bear Comedy, and it’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen (in a good way). I can’t really describe it—you just have to see it for yourself—but it is always a riot, and the best part is that it’s funny whether the comedian does well or not. It’s one of those shows that the first time I saw it I thought, damn, why didn’t I think of that. It’s a brilliant idea.

Do you have any recurring dreams? Lately, all my dreams are about peeing. Then I wake up and have to pee… about fifteen times a night. Thanks, pregnancy.

Who is one person you know that would be great at comedy? My unborn kid. Obviously.

The Roast of Baby Winks is scheduled for January 23 in the Shadowbox Bistro. For more, visit shadowboxlive.org.

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Travis Hoewischer

I've been working in journalism in central Ohio for more than a decade, and have been lucky enough to be a part of (614) Magazine since the very first issue. Proud to live in a city that still cares – and still reads.

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