John Heffron: Walking the line

By | August 13, 2007 at 9:52 am | No comments | Features

John HeffronComedian John Heffron, season-two winner of Last Comic Standing, isn’t resting on his laurels. He’s navigating the waters of Internet comedy, psychoanalyzing hecklers, and, whether he likes it or not, cranking out new material as quick as his active mind will allow.

By Noah Gardenswartz

Stand-up comedian John Heffron’s career is at a crossroads. Four years removed from winning NBC’s Last Comic Standing and after the release of his third comedy album, The Better Half, Heffron has to balance keeping his old fans satisfied and appealing to an entirely new demographic.

The Detroit native initially made his name in comedy by pleasing college crowds, but with every appearance on Comedy Central, his target audience ages. Over the years, a more mature Heffron — now
a husband and father — has altered his material from commenting on college drinking and Pop Rocks, to talking about weekly trips to Home Depot or the doctor’s office.

“I always talk about what’s going on in my life at the time, so that’s why I’m doing a lot more marriage-and-family material now,” Heffron says. “I wouldn’t say I’ve abandoned my other material, but I’m just too old to just be loud and hop around on stage screaming stuff like, “Where are my pot smokers?” or “Who in here likes Shakira?”

And just as his ideal audience has changed, so too has the medium through which comedy is experienced. Heffron has needed to adjust. Long gone are the days when stand-up comedy could only be seen and heard at a club; Heffron, like all of today’s other working comics, now operates in world conducive to online viral comedy.

With the uncontrollable popularity of sites like YouTube and MySpace, comedy is never more than a mouse click away, which Heffron feels has both helped and hindered his progress as a comedian.

“I think it’s great that comedians have so many new ways to gain exposure, and the Internet has certainly helped with that,” he says. “But because of things like YouTube, I’m constantly having to retire good material just because it becomes old so fast, and after a certain level of success, all your material has to be ‘A’ material. Having to constantly write new stuff is challenging because at this point, I can’t put out ‘B’ or ‘C’ material for the world to see.”

He reveals that his management has pressured him about creating a bigger Web presence, but at the end of the day, his job is to write truly hilarious material, which in turn, should direct plenty of traffic to his official site.

After 18 years in the entertainment business, Heffron obviously expected the industry’s operating procedures to change. But the one constant in his career has been his genuine love of the art form.

From growing up memorizing Eddie Murphy’s records, to performing at his first open-mic in the summer of 1989, Heffron has always had a passion for humor.

While he admits that it gets both tough and tedious, mentally, Heffron has never taken a significant break from the stage since he started. However, since starting a family, he’s taken on a lot more corporate gigs since the pay is better and the time and travel less demanding.

But make no mistake: Heffron is a tough, tested road comic. He still appreciates getting out and playing to cities all over, big and small.

“I love being in big cities like New York or Chicago, but Boise, Idaho, is just as cool to me,” he says. “I like to observe and learn from everywhere I go, so it doesn’t really make a difference to me.”

No doubt Heffron’s college years help fuel his passion for observation. “Being a psychology major has helped kind of propel me to keep going and find out why people do what they do,” Heffron says. “I like to get inside people’s heads and figure them out. If I’m getting heckled, I don’t want to shut some guy up with a hack line that’s been used against hecklers a dozen times.”

“I’ll stop and talk to the guy to try to figure out what’s going on to make him heckle,” he continues.
“Is it because I’m getting a few looks from his girl and he’s insecure, or maybe he always wanted to be a comic but never made it? That’s the kind of stuff I like to figure out on stage.”

Lately, Heffron’s been straddling the line separating complacency and overachievement; he’s not exactly resting on his laurels, but neither is he quite striving for the pinnacle of comedic success, whatever that may be.

“I’ve lapped myself and accomplished all the goals I set for myself,” he admits. “I’ve done everything that any starting comic would want. But as I’ve reached success, I’ve realized, that like a video game, it’s harder and harder at every level.”

When asked if the next level is a sitcom or a movie role, Heffron replies, “Sure, it’d be nice to have a sitcom. I always think, When I was on the road, I should’ve been in LA more [looking for a TV deal] but when you’re getting good money, it’s hard to pass it up to go sit on some executive’s leather couch with a water bottle and talk about how I feel and what I think.”

Heffron’s strength — indifference — is also his weakness. He’s not jaded or egotistical enough to worry about why he’s not the biggest name in comedy; but that just may be the same thing keeping him from becoming that. With all his accolades, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be an international household name.

On the other hand, he still has tons of fans, a successful career doing what he loves and a beautiful family at home. As any psychologist would tell you, that should be more than enough.

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Noah Gardenswartz

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