Brooks Wheelan doesn’t seem all that bothered about being fired from Saturday Night Live. The 29-year-old comedian was hired to the legendary NBC sketch series as a writer and cast member in 2013. After spending a single season on the show, Wheelan announced his departure with a single, irreverent tweet: “FIRED FROM NEW YORK IT’S SATURDAY NIGHT.”
“It was just kind of a cool detour,” Wheelan says of his stint on SNL. “I got to move to New York, which was fun. And then it just didn’t work out. It was just, like, a weird thing that happened. I don’t have a ton of opinions on it. It wasn’t fun, but it didn’t suck.”
“I didn’t have any characters,” he adds. “I got hired to write just off some stand-up bit I did, and then I got put in the cast. I’m a stand-up comedian. I’m not a sketch dude.”
He’s since returned to stand-up, which he describes as his “original goal.” After embarking on his first post-SNL tour (which, in keeping with his self-deprecating sense of humor was titled “The Brooks Wheelan Falls Back on Stand-Up Comedy Sorta Tour”), he released his first full-length comedy album, This Is Cool, Right?, in January. That album received positive reviews, with the A.V. Club describing it as evidence of Wheelan as “a considerable talent with a unique voice and perspective.” His new tour, featuring all-new material, will bring him to the Syndicate Lounge on Monday, Nov. 9.
Wheelan started doing stand-up at 19 years old — “before stand-up was as big as it is right now,” he says. Living in Iowa, it was difficult for him to find his footing as a comic. “There were definitely scenes, but you had to go to big cities for them. I didn’t know anyone in Iowa who was like, this was what they were going to do with their life.”
While pursuing a degree in biomedical engineering at the University of Iowa, Wheelan, “bounced around the Midwest, getting as much stage time as I could in Kansas City and Minneapolis and Chicago and St. Louis. As soon as I finished my degree, I moved to Los Angeles, got a job doing biomedical engineering and I just did stand-up there every night for four and a half years, until I got hired to write at SNL.”
Wheelan says that it took five years for him to find his voice as a comedian. “It all really changed when I was 24,” he says. “Everything before that, I was writing jokes. Then, I went through this break-up that was gnarly at the time, and I started talking about that. That’s when it became all personal, and that’s what people were really responding to, somebody being vulnerable and honest, addressing all these sad things in a funny manner. That’s when a light bulb went off. I was like, ‘This is how I do comedy. I talk about myself.’”
It’s a confessional style of comedy that has invited comparisons to Louis C.K. and Tig Notaro; it also informed some of his best SNL material, which saw him visiting the show’s Weekend Update segment to admit some embarrassing facts about himself. One segment saw Wheelan expressing his regret over tattoos he got as a teenager — each larger and more garish than the last. Another, thinly disguised as a “PSA [to] raise some awareness about the dangers of excess drinking,” saw him describing a prank orchestrated by his roommates in which a melted stick of butter convinced him that he had contracted “the rarest S.T.D. on the planet.”
The latter is included on This Is Cool, Right?, along with other anecdotes such as a traumatizing childhood incident involving a possum and his father’s sledgehammer that Wheelan sees as the genesis of his desire to be a stand-up comic (“I’m going to need to talk about this,” he recalls thinking). There’s also a list of Wheelan’s failed SNL sketch pitches, some of which saw him inadvertently offend his co-workers. “I didn’t win on that one,” he tells the audience. “I got fired.”
It’s that awkwardness and social anxiety on which Wheelan’s comedy thrives. “I grew up out in the woods in Iowa, and they just let me move into the middle of L.A.,” he says. “And I don’t know how to do stuff. I don’t know how to fit in. So I just talk about that. I think that’s universal, people acting like they know what they’re doing, but deep down they just don’t. That’s what I talk about. I just keep trying to be cool and it never works out.”
Wheelan hopes to develop that idea of people attempting to be cool beyond stand-up; he recently pitched a television series to IFC that he calls “the reverse Entourage.”
“I watched the Entourage movie, and I was like, they left out when these men are crying alone and sad,” he says “That’s the kind of show I want to work on, looking at the idea of, you know, ‘Partying is cool, but man you get bummed out.’ These guys are sleeping with different women every night. They’ve got to have, deep down, the saddest souls in the world.”
His ideal comedy, he says, “is real dark, with unlikable characters that you find yourself rooting for. You know, like how we are as humans.”
Wheelan also hopes to film an hour-long stand-up shortly after his tour concludes — and he expects that his performance in Birmingham will be pretty close to the finished product. “By the time I get to Birmingham, that’s like the 23rd stop,” he says. “[The routine] will be pretty tight. My first stop is Lansing, Michigan. I feel bad for them. It’s going to be a lot of, ‘Let’s figure this out, guys.’ The end of the tour will be way better.”
Brooks Wheelan performs at the Syndicate Lounge on Monday, Nov. 9. Matty Ryan will open. Doors open at 7 p.m.; the show begins at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $15. For more information, visit goulashcomedy.com.