“My comedy is serious,” says Greg Smrdel, stand-up comic, author, and trivia expert. “You can have the funny part, but you have to back it up with being a business man, as well.”
Smrdel regularly performs locally, and this week, he brings his observational humor to The Comedy Club of the OBX in Kill Devil Hills Tuesday-Friday Aug. 7-10.
For Smrdel, the business side of bringing “the funny” to his audiences means “slugging it out” in the trenches. He is the epitome of the adage: showbiz is one-half show, the other half biz.
“I find that the guys and gals that excel on the business side are usually more successful,” he says. “There are way funnier guys that are not nearly as successful. All they know how to do is ‘the funny’ — they don’t know how to promote themselves. Others know how to get booked. You have to operate on both sides of that equation.”
No doubt Smrdel works at his trade. When prepping for his stand-up at a club, he arrives early and studies the room. He notes which jokes are getting laughs for the warm-up acts. He’ll study the audience as they filter in, noticing where they choose to sit, whether they are there to visit with a group or to watch the show. Then he uses it all in his act.
“If they are young, they’ll respond to one type of joke,” he says. “If it’s an older crowd, they are going to respond to a different kind.”
When he spies a couple of women sitting together, he made a joke about the “Real Housewives of Kill Devil Hills,” an Outer Banks take on Bravo TV’s popular Realty TV franchise. Or he’ll see an older guy, and points him out as “president of the Andy Griffith Show Fan Club.”
“For me to be successful, I have to get a handle on who they are.”
That joke about Andy Griffith brings up another aspect of Smrdel’s act — his trivia company, Laughtime Productions.
The business evolved from a gig hosting trivia contests. He started his own company, entertaining at clubs, bars, and corporate retreats. The twist he added was to only hire stand-up comics as hosts.
“So many trivia games are lifeless, with people reading questions off a piece of paper,” he says. “We interact with people. We mock their answers, and come up with ridiculous question. We treat it as an open mic, and are very interactive. It’s also a great place to try out new ideas.”
His obsession with trivia led to one of his most popular books, “The Andy Griffith Show: Complete Trivia Guide,” which the mother lode of trivia, as most everyone, regardless of age, has seen the iconic 1960s show.
“My whole life I loved ‘The Andy Griffith Show,’ and it’s still my favorite show of all time” he says. Smrdel also had a personal connection. When Smrdel worked as DJ at the Beach 95 radio, Griffith — who lived in Manteo — would often come in to record Public Service Announcements. “Everyone at radio station knew I was such a big Andy Griffith fan, they let me produce those commercials. I’ve still got the tapes.”
Two of Smrdel’s books — “Home Sweet Outer Banks Home,” and “Hurricane Izzy: An OBX Story” — reference the area he loves.
It also informs his comedy. What works in, say, Des Moines, doesn’t work in Duck, he says.
“In the Outer Banks, families are on vacation. You’ve got the couple from Jersey, an old guy from Pennsylvania, and a young gal from Virginia,” he says. “It’s a whole melting pot that doesn’t have a common background. You have to reach each person individually.”
All great comedy is the obverse of tragedy, and for Smrdel this is, literally, true. He is teaming up with comics Michael Gershe and Brian O’Connell in a new venture they call Stand Up To Grief.
“My first wife died very young at 37,” Smrdel said. “Michael’s mother died when he was a few weeks old, and Brian’s son was killed in a motorcycle accident. We joke that we have the holy trinity of grief.”
After introducing the concept, they each get up and do 15-minute comedy sets. Smrdel finds it cathartic both personally and for the audience.
“We explain that here is how humor helped us get through this,” he says. “We are just getting started on it, but so far, so good.”
As for what motivates him to get up on stage to make people laugh, Smrdel gives an unexpected answer.
“Fear,” he says. “I am very shy and introverted, to be honest. Many comics are. But the only time we grow in life is when we work outside of our comfort zone. The only way to grow is when things get a little bit scary.”
Smrdel, who came to comedy later in life, wants to share what he creates.
“Again the feeling is to let people have a good time, even for a short time in their day. It’s the same with the books I write,” he says. They are set on the Outer Banks, and all are stories of triumph, of people coming together. I just want people to feel good.”
In the end, comedy is, well, just funny. That is enough.
“Comedy is a great reliever of stress, just a great way to blow off steam,” he says. “To go out to a club and laugh for an hour and a half, you forget whatever problems you walked in with. They’ll still be there when you walk out, but you won’t have to dwell on them during the show. They say laughter is best medicine, and I think it truly is. That is the great thing about doing what I do–you are able to provide that to people. It’s nice to have place to go to where you can just feel good for a little while.”