Stage & Dance

Stand-up comic Craig Shoemaker relies on his reality for laughs

Craig Shoemaker said Comedy Off Broadway is one of his favorite comedy venues.
Craig Shoemaker said Comedy Off Broadway is one of his favorite comedy venues.

Craig Shoemaker wants to make people laugh — and he'll take it any way he can get it.

The Philadelphia native and seasoned stand-up comic has done so onstage for decades, but Shoemaker, 53, also has lent his acting, vocal and writing talents to movies, TV shows and children's books. Oh, he also earned a doctorate in humanities from California University of Pennsylvania and is an ordained minister.

Yeah, the guy has a lot of irons in the fire.

"My therapist charges me a group rate," Shoemaker said. "I don't believe in anyone having a ceiling on their creative outlets."

For Shoemaker, the foundation for everything has always been making people crack up. As a kid, he tried to make his family laugh at the dinner table, and he kept the antics coming regularly as a class clown in high school.

Shoemaker got into stand-up comedy as an impressionist, and his spot-on impression of The Andy Griffith Show's Barney Fife was one of many that launched his career in the mid-'90s.

Then, there were characters Shoemaker created, most notably "The Lovemaster." With a vocal timbre somewhere in the realm of Tommy Lee Jones with the swagger of Shaft, this character's mix of libido and bravado became a hit with his fans — even if it came from a place of bitter rejection.

"The Lovemaster's basically saying, 'You don't like my nice guy, so let me give you what you say you want,'" Shoemaker said.

His impressions and characters were certainly putting butts in the seats at Shoemaker's shows, but he got a bit of career advice that made him alter his stand-up style.

"My manager said, 'You won't get a sitcom because you don't have a point of view,'" Shoemaker said.

He hasn't landed a starring role on a sitcom, but Shoemaker's audiences did grow once he started speaking his mind, talking candidly about his family life and marriage (both successful and failed) in an honest and relatable way, similar to contemporaries like Ray Romano.

It eventually got him a huge stand-up honor when he won comedian of the year at ABC's American Comedy Awards in 1998, a title previously held by the likes of Jerry Seinfeld and Ellen DeGeneres.

Long after those late-'90s accolades, Shoemaker continues to be a draw at comedy clubs nationwide because his reality is the source of his jokes, connecting with the crowds that get where he's coming from.

"People really feel like they're right there with you," Shoemaker said. "That connection is enduring."

Looking back on the stand-up performances he did in 2011, he had good things to say about Lexington's Comedy Off Broadway. He said his one-night-only performance last year cemented the venue as one of his new favorite stand-up clubs and one of the top three performance crowds he played for all year. Now, with his stint at the club this weekend, he hopes for something even bigger.

"Our one-night stand was a good one," Shoemaker said. "Now, I'm looking for some commitment."