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Ohio State math major’s comedy, improv uncalculated

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Joe Horan, a fourth-year in mathematics at OSU, performs at Surly Girl Saloon. Credit: Photo by Melissa Phillips

Joe Horan, a fourth-year in mathematics at OSU, performs at Surly Girl Saloon.
Credit: Photo by Melissa Phillips

For Joe Horan, the skills he learns in the classroom are not the ones he applies on stage. After all, that’s where he improvises.

Horan, a fourth-year in mathematics, is an aspiring stand-up comedian by night and a college student by day. As a member of 8th Floor Improv Comedy Group and vice president of Buckeye Standup Comedy Club, Horan has one foot in the fast-paced arena of improvisation and the other in the meticulous world of stand-up comedy.

Horan’s sense of humor caught the attention of the Chicago Tribune’s Funniest Tweet of the Week series for which his tweet ­— “The opposite of Iceland is water water” — won the poll in September.

“Some tweets I get 100 favorites on are just things that popped into my head. Some tweets, I spend time to craft,” Horan said.

For the Iceland tweet, Horan said he knew he wanted to tweet a contrast and opposite type of tweet.

“I was literally staring at a list of compound words,” Horan said. “Iceland wasn’t on there, but I thought of it as I was going, and I found it was clever.”

Not only does Horan practice stand-up as much as possible, but he also uses his talents to raise money and awareness. Fellow comedian Kyle Tolliver, a fifth-year in mathematics, and Horan currently run an organization that has partnered with Pizza Rustica called Pizza, Beer and Jokes, which aims to raise money for student organizations on campus. PB&J provides comedy entertainment to raise money through ticket sales.

“Some groups sell tickets for $5 and others charge at the door. All ticket prices go to the group, and all pizza (sales) goes to Pizza Rustica,” Horan said. “For the comedians, it’s about getting more stage time, getting more experience and getting more exposure.”

Horan said his improvisation skills have proven very helpful in his stand-up performances.

“Having done improv, at the very least, I had a stage presence and an understanding of the basis of a joke and the basics of humor,” Horan said. “I was able to use that to my advantage on stage.”

Although Horan’s stand-up career spans a little over one year, it seems he has a place in comedy as demand for his act rises.

“I get asked to do more shows now. I feel like every comedian kind of goes through a phase,” Horan said. “There are a lot of bar shows around Columbus and people are trying to book stuff as much as possible. I’m starting to hit the phase where I’ve proven I can make people laugh and people are starting to reach out to me more and more to put me on stage.”

Tolliver said that demand comes from Horan’s hard work.

“He’s been doing stand-up probably a little over a year and it seems like he’s always coming up to me and saying ‘I just got requested to do this show or that show,’” he said. “A lot of people are seeing him coming out and working hard, so it’s starting to pay off.”

Joe Horan, a fourth-year in mathematics who performs stand-up and improv comedy around campus and Columbus

Joe Horan, a fourth-year in mathematics who performs stand-up and improv comedy around campus and Columbus Credit: Courtesy of 8th Floor Improv

Tolliver said Horan is also weird in the sense that his thought process is a completely different style compared to that of most people.

“He’s very smart, but also very weird. He’s charming enough to where if he said weird things, people see him as daring,” Tolliver said.

Nick Glaser, a comedian and host of comedy night at The Shrunken Head in Victorian Village, said Horan’s consistency has aided his success with audiences so far.

“I have a lot of new people come to the show I host, and I see a lot of people show up once or twice and not really like it, then just kind of quit. I don’t see any of that in Joe,” Glaser said. “As new as he is, he really does have a sense of what (the craft) is, and he seems to enjoy it to the point that he will keep doing it as long as he wants to.”

Tolliver compared Horan’s style to that of comedian Jim Gaffigan. Tolliver said neither Horan’s or Gaffigan’s styles are edgy — Gaffigan tends to joke about relatable topics, such as family or food, while Horan can take a math joke and make it funny.

“It’s weird in the sense he thinks in a completely different style as most people,” Tolliver said. “(Horan) doesn’t curse a lot, which is refreshing. A lot of college students talk about sex, drugs and drinking, and they curse a lot.”

Horan said he sees similarities between himself and Gaffigan, such as tone of voice. However, he said he feels like his style is more innocent and that he has his own personal panache on stage.

“I did not watch comedy growing up, so I never knew too many comedians. A lot of times, when people start off, all their jokes are the same voice and the same style of writing as their favorite, and it takes them a long time to find their voice. I didn’t have to deal with any of that,” he said.

Glaser agreed.

“I don’t think he’s trying to be anyone except himself.”

Horan is set to perform at the Columbus Comedy Festival at Wild Goose Creative on Oct. 23.

 

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