Cary Odes, who will appear along with Eric Hunter at the Egyptian Theatre this weekend, isn't a typical stand-up comedian.

Sure, he uses funny stories in an attempt to make sense of the universe. Yes, he sometimes uses comedy as therapy, but he also has used it to help at-risk kids and young men who were in prison because of their involvement with gangs.

Since the early 1990s, Odes has worked doing workshops with the poet Robert Bly.

"One day he said that I needed to work with the young men in society," Odes said during an interview with The Park Record from his home in Los Angeles. "I agreed, but didn't know what I was going to do."

A few months later, Odes accepted an invitation to teach stand-up to a group of about 15 convicted gang members.

"We used stand-up as a way to let them tell their story and put things in perspective," Odes remembered. "We would then mentor them between the laughs."

What Odes learned from that experience was how crucial communication was in raising children.

"I found that no one ever listened to them throughout their lives while they were growing up," he said "I mean, people would talk at them, but when it came for them to reach out, no one would hear what they wanted to say."

That was when Odes realized how "tripped up" some lives can get.

"I found how small imperfections in the human spirit can get you in trouble if you're impatient and/or impulsive," he said.

Unfortunately, Odes never learned what happened to these boys after the program stopped.


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"It was against the law to keep in touch with them," he said. "This was back in 1990, so these boys are around 40 now, and I wonder what they are doing."

Coaching these boys in comedy is just a little highlight in the Odes' career that has included studying at Chicago's famed Second City and the Comedy Store in Los Angeles.

Odes' knack for making people laugh had become evident in high school.

"I would get bored in class and say funny things to the student next to me," he said. "They would laugh and get in trouble."

However, comedy wasn't what Odes' family wanted him to do.

He was not only was a good student, but also understood engineering and math.

"My dad was a dentist and both my dad's parents were dentists, so they were thinking about having three generations in a row. But then I went into comedy," Odes said, "and that was tough on them."

Odes entered comedy through the backdoor.

"At first, I wanted to go into television," he said. "I wanted to produce great shows and write for shows. I got a degree in television broadcasting and got a job offer at CBS right out of college, and then I realized I didn't like the medium." He turned down the offer because he wanted to write comedy.

"I wanted to see if I could make it with other funny people," Odes said. "I went on stage to see if I could sell my jokes and got hooked."

Odes sought smart comics and smart satirical writers.

"When I was young, we always had a newspaper in the kitchen and (columnist) Mike Ryko, who was this amazing writer from Chicago, where I grew up, was funny and smart and insightful," Odes said. "I also loved Bill Cosby and had all his albums and my friend Joe Wildman and I tried to memorize them."

When Odes went to college, he found no one funnier than Wildman.

"So when I came home, I told him that I would write down everything we said and did, because he was so funny," Odes remembered. "I took a notebook with me everywhere." Finally, the two decided to create a play out of the things they recorded in the notebook.

"We performed it in Chicago and got actors from Second City to help out," Odes said.

That's when the two were invited by Second City to join their workshops.

"We didn't know how lucky we were," Odes said. "We had just jumped through a two-year waiting list to join the workshops."

During that time, Odes and Wildman formed a group called Theatrical Experience Ltd.

"It was a lot of fun and I decided to do it on my own after everyone left," he said.

That's when everything began changing for Odes.

"I was working nine shows a week and was headlining a lot in Michigan," he said. "One day, when I was doing my taxes in my mom's kitchen for the $4,000 I made the year before, the phone rang."

The call was from Paramount Studios in Hollywood.

"I nearly hung up because I thought it was a friend of mine," Odes said with a fond laugh. "The next morning I was on a plane to Hollywood."

Paramount wanted to test Odes for a new TV series with a show at the famed Comedy Store nightclub.

"I went on at the Comedy Store my first night in Hollywood and did really well," he said. "The next night Mitzi Shore (founder of the Comedy Store) was there, and after I finished my set, she told me I could work there anytime I wanted."

So Odes stayed in California.

"I would do five shows a week and then went down to San Diego (for more shows) twice a month," he said. "It paid the rent."

Odes' neighbors included Benmont Tench, the keyboardist for Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, and a young kid named Johnny Depp, who wanted to be a guitarist.

"That was the group we had Thanksgiving dinner with," Odes said.

Throughout the early part of his career, Odes thought he would become a comedian like Patton Oswalt or Paula Poundstone, but his road took him in a different direction.

"I met poets, storytellers and scientists," Odes said with a laugh. "After meeting these types of people, I've been thrown into a place where I've become friends with psychologists and innovators."

Through his acquaintances and friends, Odes began developing his brand of intellectual stand-up.

"In the beginning, you play with the standard tricks and try to make a joke out of everything," he said. "But my passion has always been about trying to understand the universe. It's kind of like philosophy."

"Comedy should mean something," Odes said. "You try to be more brave or more insightful. That's what I'm after, because when you are honest, usually other people feel the same way. It gets to the point where something bad will happen to me and I couldn't wait to tell everybody."

approaching his comedy in a philosophical way, Odes has shaped a rewarding career.

"I can make the smartest people I know laugh by using the smartest stuff I know," he said. "That's really fun."

A few years ago, Odes did some workshops with psychologist James Hillman, best known as author of the 1997 book "The Soul's Code: In Search of Character and Calling."

"One of the highlights of my life is that one day James was going to leave a workshop early because he wasn't feeling well, but stayed to see my show," Odes said.

Comedians Carey Odes and Eric Hunter will perform at the Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St., on Friday, Sept. 5, and Saturday, Sept. 6, at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $19 to $32 and are available by visiting www.parkcityshows.com .