One of the first times I remember meeting the five foot Colombian was a slow night at the Paradise. Frandu was lurking around the bar. I watched him as he got to where I was sitting with some friends. I recognized him as the new old guy down at the open mic at the comedy club. I told him his weird kind weren't exactly wanted at this bar. "How many people have you killed?" Frandu asked.
"Today? Or this month?" I replied.
"Ohhh, someone is a big big man." Frandu bellowed.
That's how I became friends with the man locally known as Frandu. He's like having Danny DeVito for a friend if Danny DeVito was a 65 year old Colombian. He's known among comedians from New York and Boston to San Francisco. A legend of sorts. A man that waited until the winter years of his life to blossom into a fluttering ball of energy that cannot be ignored. In fact, the more you try to ignore his energy, the more powerful it becomes. Some people don't know what to think of Frandu when they first meet him. He has a trusting face and a disarming smile. Like a spanish spouting St. Nick on vacation who won't hesitate on telling you what is on his mind and what he really thinks of you.
Four years later after that fateful evening at the Paradise Lounge and one of the most unlikely of characters has become on of my best friends. He truly has never met a stranger. We've logged a lot of miles and a lot of hours and he's inspired the web series that he is also the star of. Frandutopia is a look into the life of the man known simply as FRANDU.

Please look up Frandutopia on YouTube. Enjoy and share. You won't be disappointed.


Comedians Are Horrible People and Still Better Than Civilians

Stand-Up comedy is just a few tokes away from being a cult. No matter where you go in this great country, you'll find a group of certain people packed into cafe's, bars, and basement restaurants trying to turn something normal people are grossly offended by into something hilarious. Whether it be AIDS, rape, abortion or even something as appalling as politics, comedians are there in the trenches trying to make the world a better place or just to ease the pain in their own heads by getting a group of strangers to laugh at their thoughts. Comedians are sick people.

I don't tell rape jokes. Mostly because I believe in writing what you know. Rape isn't funny. I've dated girls that have told me they've been raped. I've also dated girls that whispered into my ear "I want you to just rape me." which throws out a weird signal. However, rape jokes CAN be funny. I don't tell rape jokes because I've never raped anyone. Like I said, I write what I know. But if I had raped someone, you'd better believe I'm telling jokes about it, quietly, to myself, in my cell in prison because that's what happens when you rape people.

AIDS is hilarious. It always amuses me that people think AIDS is horrible. AIDS isn't in my top ten worst things that could happen to me. I nearly chopped my leg off with a chainsaw twice, in one day. If I had sawed through my leg, I would have been lying there in the woods with one leg bleeding to death thinking "Oh, AIDS next time. This sucks." The point I'm trying to make is that my Magic Johnson memorbilia was suppose to be worth way more by now. Magic was a hero to me and now he's in his 50's, has the virus that causes AIDS and he still in better physical shape than I am and I always work better with a deadline so AIDS wouldn't be that bad.

Abortion jokes are fairly hack. I enjoy drinking, a lot! I've found over my binging career that pedialyte makes a great hangover cure and ever time I crack a fresh bottle of pedialyte I make sure to pour a little out and down the drain for all those dead Maybe Babies out there. My would've been homies. Normal people hear those thoughts and think "My God, what is wrong with Nick? Maybe Babies?" Comedians read that and think, "How could that be funnier?" Those are the people I like to surround myself with.

I use to have friends. Normal friends who did normal things. But now after five years into doing stand-up, most of those "normal" friends are gone. The normal ones or civilians I do keep in touch with live thousands of miles away so it's easy to just shoot a text or message on FB and you look like a thoughtful friend. But any normal friends that lived in town are gone. They are still around, they just don't hang out with me anymore. Mostly because I prefer the company of comedians. When you're in the company of comedians as a comedian, nothing is off limits. No topic or idea is too edgy or too silly. The only judgement is if it's funny or not. If it isn't funny, well try again. If it is funny, thanks for the laugh buddy.

 Well, here's a shocker for the squares with their Ken & Barbie ideals and lifestyles; most comedians are depressed for it is not an indication of mental health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society. And this society that we live in is most definitely sick. The symptoms are all around us; stand-up comedy being one of them.  I'll come right out and say it that I probably will be the one to end my own life. That's isn't any sort of threat or cry for help. In fact, its the opposite of a cry for help. I got things to do, get out of my way. It's a thought and the thought of ending my own life when I feel the time has come provides me with great comfort. It's the one thing I can call my own. If you're reading this and you're feeling uneasy, you probably aren't a comedian.

Comedians are just more fun to be around, most of the time. I've always supported the notion that if comedians ran the world, the world would be a much better place. Maybe, maybe not. But I do know if I'm going to be lied to, at least make me enjoy it. Comedians are horrible people but they are better than most.


Subtract Vice, Advice

I've been fortunate during my time in stand-up to meet some very cool, funny, and talented people. Comics that I grew up watching like Marc Maron and Ted Alexandro as well as other comics that were at the phase of their careers that I'm at now.

But two comedians in particular stand out to me and the advice they handed down has been incredibly valuable. The first bit of advice I got was after my first showcase six months in at the Comedy Club on State in Madison.

I more or less camped out at the bar at the comedy club when I started. I watched every feature's set and every headliner's set, taking mental notes on how they handled the crowd or a particular situation. It was study of the craft in the flesh. I loved it, applying what I was learning at mics the following week.

My first showcase, the headliner was Dave Landau and the feature was Andy Sandford. I had a good set only because my delusions of grandeur were way too big for me to bomb. I had just gotten done introducing Landau to the stage and met Sandford back at the bar. I had learned the jargon and the questions to ask a comic to get the conversation moving because I still felt like an outsider.

Where did you just come from?
Where you headed next?
Where did you start? What's the scene like there?

Then for some reason I asked Andy Sandford the following: Do you have any advice for the business?

Andy said, "Yeah, just don't be a dick."
"Don't be a dick?" I clarified.
"Yeah, there is already too many and we don't need anymore."

I didn't laugh though I found it funny how Andy said it so matter of fact. It was good advice in general but five years into this business and a few thousand miles traveled I've learned Andy was right. From club owners and managers to bookers and even other comedians, a lot of raving egos littered with dicks. Just don't be a dick. Hey! Just don't be a dick. Very easy.

The other valuable piece of advice I got was from a comic named Amaru Lewis. He was middling at the club and I was camped out grabbing as many guest sets as I could. I had been hanging out all weekend. I hadn't gotten a chance to go up but I started up conversations and had gotten to know Amaru a little bit.

Before the late show on Saturday, Amaru asked if I was going to do a guest set. I told him I didn't know yet. I said that the manager knows if I'm here, I want to go on. Amaru asked why I just didn't go ask if I could do a set. I told him they'd throw me on if they had time. I didn't like asking, I would, this particular night, I just didn't. Amaru smiled, shook his head, stood up and walked over to the manager. The two had a quick conversation and Amaru walked back over and informed me I had a seven minute guest set.

I thanked Amaru for doing that though I told him it wasn't necessary. His response was one that will stay with me forever. Amaru leaned back in his chair and said, "Nick, you're the only one chasing your dream. Don't expect help from these people because they aren't thinking about you at all."

These two snipits of advice are usually what I tell comics just starting out who for whatever reason ask me for advice. I usually take a deep breath and say, "You're the only one chasing your dream, so don't be a dick."

Oh, and P.S.

 Marc Maron's advice was "Get the fuck out of Madison."
I didn't ask him for advice.

Thank you Amaru and Andy.


Five Years into a Life Sentence

Coming up on July 22nd this year will mark five years doing stand-up comedy. On July 19th of this year will be my 35th birthday and will also mark the 5th year anniversary of my brother and I getting jumped by twelve drunk assholes resulting in spending my 30th birthday in the emergency room.

Some people have asked why I started doing stand-up so late. I've never thought of it that way, I just started when I started and thus the journey began. I could have started earlier but now that I think back on it, the earliest I could have or would have started would only be about six weeks before I actually did start.

I was 29 and on unemployment. I had finished one screenplay in my first month of being free/unemployed. I was trying to figure out what else I wanted to do with forty hours of my life been given back to me. I was at a bar of course when I came across an open mic advertisement in the Onion. I ripped it out and kept it in my pocket. The Big Deuce open mic at Comedy on State, Wednesdays, 8pm.

I wrote and re-wrote then re-wrote again for the next week. I told my neighbor about doing the mic. He liked the idea. He worked at the bar at the Orpheum Theater up the block from the club. He told me to stop by beforehand and he'd hook me up with some drinks to help me loosen up and relax. The only problem was I would get smashed instead of loose and lose all confidence and not go anywhere near the club. This pattern repeated for the next month and a half. I could not even get myself to walk in the door to go check it out and see what an open mic even looks like.

Write and re-write, drink and drink some more. Finally on July 15th, 2009 I asked my friend Shaggy and his wife to come down with me. I knew if I had someone there to hold me accountable, I'd do it. We met at the Orpheum bar as was the pattern.

They were supportive, I was so nervous I was almost shaking. I didn't even want to drink but I did. Eight o'clock rolled around and we set out down the block. We walked in the door and headed down the stairs. I was panicking already. I turned to my friends and asked if they'd be pissed if I didn't do it. They nearly had to push me around the corner to the bar and showroom.

My friend said she had a performer here ready to sign up. The gentleman running the mic said that it was too late. Sign-ups were at 7. THANK GOD! A wave of relief flooded my heart. My friends didn't want to stick around if I wasn't going up so they left. But I stayed. I finally made it into the building and I was sitting in the showroom waiting for the first comic. I did it.

The Big Deuce wasn't what it is now. Five years ago, there were only about thirty-five people scattered in the showroom. Today it is nearly standing room only on most Wednesdays. The first comic was a young girl who was funny but very soft-spoken. The second comic was a kid talking about rape and DUI's. I'm funnier than this guy I thought to myself. I stood up, walked out of the showroom to the bar, clarified sign-up time and jetted out of there. I had work to do.

Four days later was my 30th birthday. It wasn't a big deal. I wasn't dreading it. Thirty? Who cares? It was four years longer than I ever thought I'd live. My brother and I along with Shaggy were just going to bum around downtown Madison and hit up bars we hadn't been to in a while.

We were on our way to the second destination (The Depot) walking past the Nitty Gritty. There were a dozen or so guys hanging around a stretched escalade limo. Pleasantries were exchanged and everyone was in good enough spirits. Nobody was looking for a fight, not us anyway. I was wearing flip-flops for God's sake. However, drunks being drunks, someone took something the wrong way and didn't like the way I looked at the limo and fists started flying and less than 45 seconds later, all 12-14 guys funneled back into the limo and took off leaving us bloody and beaten wondering what had just happened.

The cops were there rather quickly. All three of us were bleeding from our heads. I had a finger that was bent like a question mark and was bleeding from the ear. With the help of witnesses who were all on our side we described the punching party and less than 5 minutes later, they had the limo pulled over. We showed up, identified our attackers. It was easy, they had our blood all over their clothes.

We were dropped off at our house after the police wanted to drop us off at The Depot. We talked the police down from that idea seeing as how we would be asked to leave for bleeding all over the bar. It was aggravated assault but if we ended up having to go to the ER, it would be felony assault.

After being dropped off at the house, we examined our injuries and thought it best we seek treatment. We called the officer and informed him that we were going to the hospital. We thought it was strange he spent better part of five minutes trying to talk us out of seeking medical treatment.

We get to the ER around 2am, primetime hours. My brother had a broken nose, a sprained ankle, and busted lip. Shaggy had bruised kidneys, perforated ear drum, and three stitches in his nose. I had one dislocated finger, a fractured finger, a laceration on my ear, and a concussion.

We called the DA's office that following Monday and asked what was going on with the felony assault charges and they informed us that the case was thrown out due to lack of evidence, despite all the witnesses and us identifying people with our blood on their persons. After some research it turns out a few of the kids daddy's had strong ties with the University. What are you gonna do?

The ass-kicking made me focus even more on my first set doing stand-up. It was all written out, I took two different friends down to the club with me this time. I was confident. As long as nobody was going to try and whip my ass, I was going to be ok.

I was going on first in the second set. I gave my jokes to my friend and told him to follow along as I was going to be reciting it verbatim. If I got lost I was going to yell "LINE!"

I was introduced by Sean Moore, who became one of my many good friends I have made on this Joke Journey. I got up, looked out over what seemed like hundreds of people and uttered the following:

My name is Nick Hart and I'll state for the record I am not nor have I ever been, nor will I ever be related to Corey Hart or associated with that bread and circus show known as Major League Baseball."

Someone booed and I went with my knee-jerk reaction which was saying "Fuuuuuck you!" Which got a good laugh and I thought, I'll do this every time and then I learned what most gamblers who lose everything learned and that is that the worst thing that can happen to you first time in a casino is that you win, cuz then you think you're going to win every time. Same thing with stand-up. Worst thing that can happen is you get laughs your first time up because then you think it's going to happen every time.

I got done and I was on a performance high. My buddies and I left and got very drunk but I remember thinking I did it. I did it and I got laughs and I want to do it again as soon as possible.

Six months into stand-up, I made my decision to do this for a living and now I'm five years into a life-long sentence.