Andrew Shank’s mother-in-law punched him in the arm after one of his stand-up comedy shows. She’d just heard his joke that possibly involved her and a fantasy sex scenario.
Shank’s a funny guy. His sense of humor has scored him laughs, made money and caused him to be expelled from private religious high school three times.
Shank will demonstrate his comedic talent in a giggle showcase at 8 p.m. Saturday at Sooner Theatre, 101 E. Main St.
Comedians are risk-takers who push boundaries. That’s how Shank got his start. Family relationships, religion and peculiarities of the state we live in have all proved irresistible for his self-described smart-aleck wit.
“I was raised as a fundamentalist Baptist,” Shank said, “which is Baptist but the P90X version. It’s very rigid and you have to do all the right things every day.”
Shank admits to a contrarian streak, which doesn’t mesh well with dogma.
“It’s a tightly controlled environment, but the cool thing was my parents let me get away with more than they did at church school,” he said. “It was my sense of humor that got me kicked out of school all three times.”
The trio of intolerable incidents that got Shank in trouble involved light-hearted spoofs involving abstinence, pornography and improbably Ozzie Osborne being transported back to Biblical times.
“I had to have another meeting with my folks and the youth minister, who had given up on me, and I was expelled,” Shank said.
Living well may indeed be the best revenge. Shank has turned out just fine. He’s been happily married for over a decade, has three children and owns and operates a successful small business here in Norman.
“I’ve been doing stand-up comedy for 12 years and I think the environment shapes your act,” he said, “every bit as much as your personality or background. A lot of comedians bash this state, but I kind of like living here in Oklahoma. L.A. and New York are relatable to other comedians, but there’s a pretty wide swath of America that doesn’t get talked about.
“There’s a lot here that’s funny. Norman is a college town, so you get a pretty wide spectrum of people and a lot of fertile ground for comedy.”
Shank appreciates the state’s Dust Bowl history and hardy nature of the inhabitants.
“There’s still echoes of that and the cool thing about Oklahoma is most people are friendly,” he said. “You can pretty much shoot the bull with anybody. If you’re in need you won’t have to look too far for help.”
Shank’s shtick includes humor derived from the Great State Fair of Oklahoma and casual visits to Walmart.
“The difference between Target and Wal Mart is that you might here profanity at Walmart, ‘Sit down or I’m going to smack you in the f------ mouth,’” he said. “At Target it’s, ‘You better sit down or I’m going to take your Carmel Machia away.’”
Now-deceased Denver comedian Deacon Gray mentored Shank. He asked the young comic what people will remember about his comedy when they leave a show.
“They’re probably not going to remember your jokes’ punch lines,” Shank said. “I adopted the approach of ribbing Oklahoma because I don’t know any other comics that have done that. There’s a lot here you can drill into.
“Gray helped me look internally because it’s the things you experience and are really universal that are funny. A lot of my material is about family.”
Shank has learned not to obsess over the perfect punch-line and instead relates to his environment and experiences.
“Punch lines write themselves a lot of times if you’re just aware and paying attention,” he said. “After a time you’re just immersed in it and it seeps into your pores. There is a balance to the appropriateness of it being a father and business owner, too. The more you tell jokes the more fleshed-out and nuanced they become. The more they’re told the more detail is added.”
Shank imitates an abusive, power-hungry preacher for laughs in his repertoire. The persona came straight from life.
“He ran the church like a cult,” Shank said. “I probably make him a little more warm and cuddly than he actually was.
“The first few times I did that character, people would come up and say they know who that person is. It wasn’t the same guy but they knew a person just like that.”
Videos of Shank’s stand-up routines are easily found online. His comedic timing is impressive.
“I think it’s intuitive,” he said. “One thing that helps is that I’ve hosted Trivia shows for the last five years and have been on the microphone every week or more. It’s helped me learn to be present and listen. Absorbing other comedians has also added to that. Going to the greats such as Steve Martin, Billy Crystal, Jim Carrey and Tracey Ullman have inspired me. Old Saturday Night Live and Brian Regan, the ultimate clean comic.”
Local comics Julie Drake and Spencer Hicks will be opening the Sooner Theatre show for Shank. The performance will be filmed. There will be a donation box for Food and Shelter for Friends.
Shank’s goal is to leave his audience feeling more light-hearted than they were before his show.
“That means a lot to be able to distract people from their problems,” he said. “It feels good for me.”
If you go
• What: Andrew Shank Comedy Show
• When: 8 p.m. Saturday
• Where: Sooner Theatre, 101 E. Main St.
• Cost: general admission $12 advance, $15 door