Roger Radley knows a lot more than boo about comedy
May 31, 2016
Since the mid-1980s, Roger Radley has made people laugh.
The stand-up comedian, a winner of the American Dreamworld Finals in Atlantic City, and whose material has been picked up by Billy Crystal, feels lucky to do what he loves for his livelihood.
"I get a rush at seeing people laugh," Radley said during a phone call from his home near Green Bay, Wisconsin. "That still motivates me. I do get tired of the traveling and being away from home, but I still love the performing."
Park City will get a chance to see Radley and fellow comedian Craig Allen at the Egyptian Theatre this weekend.
Unlike most comedians, Radley’s material, while inspired by some personal experiences, is not particularly autobiographical.
"A lot of what I do is an amalgam of what most people find accessible," he said. "I don’t look at my situation as one that needs therapeutic scrutiny while I’m on stage. I know some people who are confessional with their comedy. I’m like, eh, if I want therapy, I’ll go to a therapist."
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Radley loved comedy ever since he saw the late Jonathan Winters improvise on "The Tonight Show."
"Seeing someone like him who has such spontaneity, humor and joy in what he was doing made me see life differently," Radley explained. "I was intrigued by him and Henny Youngman, Georgie Jessel, Alan King and people like that. Watching them showed me different ways of being funny, and when you’re funny and you’re a kid, you get attention from you classmates and, if you do it clever enough, get attention from the adults."
Radley also cites his parents as influences.
"I grew up on a farm and we were really poor," he said. "My father had died when I was 2. My mom had been married before that and her first husband died when she was 24. So, she was widowed twice before she was 39, but she was tough, but also very witty."
Later on, Radley discovered his father, during the Works Progress Administration (WPA) days of the Depression, had written a one-man play, which won several competitions and ended up being performed in Washington, D.C.
"So, there was something genetic that I inherited regarding performing," Radley said. "I’m sure of that."
Instead of going into comedy and theater, Radley, a former class president and honor student, majored in pre-law and criminal justice at the University of Wisconsin. He was accepted into law school after graduating in 3 1/2 years, but didn’t pursue it.
"For a little more than 12 years I worked as a social worker and group home coordinator for autistic and developmentally disabled youth," he said. "Then I was a vocational counselor providing evaluations, job training and community placement for adults, before autism was well-known."
During that time, a co-worker introduced Radley to a comedy group.
"They were doing sketch comedy, mostly from other people, and I came to a reading with my own material and they liked it," Radley said. "So I kept writing and ended up writing for other people."
Writing for other people helped Radley develop his own material.
"It was demanding, but also the best thing for me because it helped me become structured," he said. "You can’t write something in your meter or pace and think it’s for the other people you’re writing for. It’s not them."
It also helped him find his own comedic voice.
"That forced me to get more clarity because it helped me get the idea across in a compressed, clear way rather than rambling on like I’m doing now," Radley said with a chuckle. "No matter what form of creativity you choose, you have to find your own voice so what you create isn’t stilted or forced, but always unique."
When it came time for Radley to do comedy full time, he jumped at the chance.
"If I would have known what I do now about the business, I would have been terrified," he said. "Ignorance is a very comfortable cushion."
It was also a different time.
"We’re talking 1984, and that was pre-internet," Radley said. "I had to call or stop in to or send materials to a place to see if I could perform there."
The American Dreamworld Finals in Atlantic City came after Radley quit his job and began comedy full time.
These days, Radley’s comedy has led him to other projects including producing a syndicated radio show, TV commercials and movie roles including portraying NASCAR legend Rusty Wallace in the movie "Dare to Dream."
Regardless, comedy is still Radley’s bread and butter.
"The reward is that I’ve been able to do this for more than 20 years as my living and that’s not lost on me," he said.
The Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St., will present stand-up comedians Roger Radley and Craig Allen on Friday, June 3 and Saturday, June 4, at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $15 to $25 and can be purchased by visiting http://www.parkcityshows.com.