Red Deer comedian Niek Theelen tells a joke that goes like this: A police officer pulls him over for speeding and asks why he’s going so fast?
Theelen, who suffers from cerebral palsy, tells the cop, “it took me 20 minutes to put my shirt on this morning,” so he’s making up for lost time.
The comedian usually doesn’t refer to his disability in his act, preferring jokes about the pit-falls of online dating, or problems that occur when the auto correct on his phone changes basic words to something spicier.
But Theelen’s friends told him to add a bit of disability humour to his act, so he has.
The formula seems to be working as Theelen is one of only five Albertans comedians in the CBC’s Next Up Comedy challenge. He’s competing for the chance to expand his career by performing at the next Halifax Comedy Festival.
Theelen has made the ’“long-list” of 100 Canadian comedians, and needs central Albertans to vote for his video make it to the next level. Anyone can vote once a day until Friday, March 15 at cbc.ca/nextup, under Alberta.
In the meantime, he’s also been busy making assorted short comedy videos and posting them to social media, which is part of the CBC challenge.
The 26-year-old, who has a day job as a website designer, would love to make his four-year-old comedy career a full-time occupation.
He got into stand-up while getting his a degree in New Media from Lethbridge University. Theelen recalls an instructor gave him the choice of either writing another screenplay or trying a five-minute stand-up routine.
He discovered he loved the challenge of packing as many jokes into five minutes as possible — both scenarios derived from life or from imagined episodes that play out in his head.
Although stepping on stage comes with the dreaded pitfall of looking down and seeing stone-faced or texting people in the front row, he believes the thrill of getting immediate laughs is worth the nerves.
“You’ve got to be as sharp as humanly possible,” he said, noting that his cerebral palsy (a condition that affects co-ordination, not intellect) doesn’t get in his way.
Theelen walks the line between being honest about some challenges he faces and keeping the audience from feeling uncomfortable. “I don’t want to get too into my struggle because I don’t want to make anybody sad.”
Mostly, he enjoys riffing on universal experiences that everybody can relate to.
So far, Theelen has performed with the (late) comedian Mike MacDonald, as well as Brent Butt of Corner Gas. He’s been seen at comedy events around central Alberta, in Edmonton, Calgary, and B.C.
His upcoming shows are: March 22 in Longshot Comedy at the Penhold Multiplex (admission by donation) Show starts at 8 p.m.
– March 24 at Heritage Lanes Comedy Zone in Red Deer (tickets $10). Show starts at 8 pm
– April 6 at FunnyFest Talent Search, at the Dog and Duck Pub Showroom, 5340 – 2 Street SW in Calgary. Show starts at 7 p.m. (tickets $15).