It all started in Waukegan, IL. Mike Brocki, 18 and unsure what he wanted to do with his life, headed to an open mic slam poetry night. Since the age of 14 Brocki had been writing jokes, but he'd never had a venue where he could show his stuff. He and his friend stood before an audience — mostly people dancing, says Brocki — and told some jokes. "We got roasted quite a bit," he says.
Flash forward eight years and Brocki is standing before a packed house at Upper Deck, bar lights shining down on a bearded guy wearing a red flannel and a side smile. The crowd laughs, it's nearing midnight, and no one shows signs of slowing down or slipping out. This ain't Waukegan.
But I've gotten ahead of myself. Before his act in Upper Deck's strangely holy glow, I met Brocki for $4 beers at Edmund's. We've been Facebook friends for months, ever since a co-worker tipped me off to Brocki's prolific posting. The guy has informed me, inadvertently, of most of Charleston's stand-up and comedy nights.
We start from the beginning: Brocki's from Chicago, which is almost too apparent, with his fast talking and strong "a"s. He describes his original attempts at comedy as "terrible" — see above — but he's settled into a confidence now that makes me wonder just how terrible he actually was. "Comedy is not a full-time job yet," he says, with a strong emphasis on the yet. "I have to travel to do gigs to make money. It's the love of the game."
Like most comedians I've interviewed, Brocki is well aware of the hustle required for full-time comedy. After that first stand-up attempt back in Waukegan, Brocki joined the Air Force. Stationed in Dover, DE, he did a little comedy here and there, but he didn't have enough time to devote to really pursue it. So, he got out of the Air Force, spent some time in Fort Walton, Fla., and moved to Charleston, where, at the time, he knew one guy.
He's been performing frequently ever since. Describing his comedy as "silly and intelligent, simultaneously," Brocki doesn't curse in his acts which, while refreshing, inevitably requires that aforementioned intelligence, for, you know, more vocab words. Brocki has befriended Charleston's local crew of comedians, including the omnipresent Jeremy McLellan, who Brocki considers a similar comedian, if only in their shared sense of work ethic. With over 30,000 Facebook likes on his Jeremy McLellan Comedy page, it's hard to ignore the guy who won City Paper's Best Local Comic last year, and Brocki is quick to tell me that you can't talk about comedy in Charleston without talking about McLellan. The two will perform together at this year's BrewHaHa at the PAC on Sat. June 18.
Brocki is humble in this way, building up other local comedians as he describes his own success. The Upper Deck gig isn't a one-man show, with Brocki taking the stage along with Shawna Jarrett, JT Hooper, Michael Clayton, Hagan Chase Ragland, and McLellan. Each performer gets about five minutes, and they take turns dipping their heads to their chests, raising their eyebrows, talking to the crowd from the floor, or what appears to be the preferred spot, a booth in the center of the bar.
"When I first started, I was nervous. My hands would shake and my voice would go funny," he says of his initial foray into stand-up. "But my jokes were always solid." And his jokes, often told with a short story intro leading to a quietly clever punchline, appear to be just that.
Standing before a swaying, smiling, Upper Deck crowd, Brocki shows none of that early nervousness. He's had a few beers, but he doesn't need to get sauced before a show, confidently looking into the eyes of his potential new fans, pausing, and delivering that quiet, but very funny last line.
At Edmund's Brocki told me, very seriously, "This is my career. This is my whole life." He's currently only doing comedy, traveling to other cities for higher-paying gigs, but he admits that he may need a part-time job soon, briefly mentioning a substitute art teacher gig. "I'm gonna do that. I might not do that. I might not."
Currently performing all over town, you can friend Brocki on Facebook to find out where he'll be next. And yes Charleston, Brocki will perform at birthday and corporate functions — just drop him a line. In the meantime, he's planning a tour in April, starting in Greenville and ending in Milwaukee. On his way out west he has one stop he wants to make — Waukegan, to see if he's improved at all.
"I want people to hurt from laughing so much," he says. "It's stand-up. You want people to come back."