Rolan Whitt, on politics in comedy and rhinoceroses

Nov 16, 2016 at 11:11 am
Rolan Whitt, on politics in comedy and rhinoceroses

Rolan Whitt had been a touring stand-up comic for well over a decade when he settled into a regular gig in Las Vegas around the turn of the millennium. But as the glimmer of big-city lights dimmed, the Second City-trained improvisational actor and stage hypnotist returned to Louisville a few years back. Teaming up with his old friend Nick Perkins they launched “Rolan Whitt & Friends” at The Pizza Place. This is their sixth show, and almost every one has sold out. “There’s a lot of regulars who keep coming back, and a few new faces, but it has worked out really well,” Whitt said. Jeff Davis, Misty Stine, Doug Wiley and Danny Hucks will also be on the bill.

LEO: You lived in Vegas. I have to imagine that has to have an effect on the psyche after a while.

Rolan Whitt: Vegas is definitely its own monster. Yeah, it takes a toll. I went out there initially as a stand-up comic, opening for Dr. Naughty, who was an X-rated, comedy hypnotist. He liked me so much he actually trained me to become a stage hypnotist, which I did for years. When that show closed, I started my improv troupe and did that for a few years — but, once that was over, I started getting back to my roots as a stand-up. I did that for a while, and then I got an offer to do another X-rated hypnotist show, so I reunited with my old partner from the Dr. Naughty show — yeah, you really run the gamut in Vegas.

I’ve seen those hypnotist shows before. Some of that is pretty unbelievable.

I’m not going to lie to you, when I first watched it, I thought he had hired a bunch of actors, because it was unreal. Then I learned, and yeah, we never once used ‘stooges.’ I mean, and if it turns out people who volunteered were acting and coming out and still having a good time for the night — well, more power to them. But we got so many letters from people who left our show saying that the positive affirmation they received at the end of the performance completely changed their lives. So much so, I decided to become a certified hypnotherapist, which was really neat to be able to move on from the show and do it in a really positive way.

What brought you back to Louisville?

Vegas was on a decline since 9/11, and I was doing a lot of stand-up, performing in Florida, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, places like that, and I had lived here before, so it seemed like a great centralized place to settle. I hadn’t played on the East Coast while I was in Vegas, so that was like 13 years away — it’s nice to be back and to have a hub again. It’s nice to be back on the road again. It was great to have the Vegas show that was set every week, but sometimes you have to be out on the road, too.

You’ve written for other people, including Jay Leno. Is it hard to write in someone else’s voice?

I don’t know that I do. I think sometimes I just write jokes that aren’t in my voice, and it works better for someone else to use them. And there really is something exhilarating to watch someone tell a joke you wrote and get a big laugh off of it.

The country seems very divided right now. Do you feel like comics play a role in helping mend that rift?

I think that’s kind of what shows like this are all about, getting escape from all of that. At least that’s the hope. Sometimes people do show up to shows not knowing why they’re there. But yeah, I don’t tend to do political material, because I feel like people take it too personally. They don’t take it as a joke but as an attack, and, either way, you’re probably going to lose half the audience.

Since the humor is not politically-charged on a show like this, it can be more unifying in reminding people that we have other things in common besides politics.

Sure. I’ve seen it too many times where you tell a joke about the Republican candidate, and you lose half the room — but you tell a joke about a rhinoceros and everyone in the room can laugh — hopefully.

You do improv, stand-up and hypnotism — which of the three do you prefer?

The instant gratification in stand-up is wonderful. And that’s the easiest one for me, because it doesn’t rely on anyone else. Improv relies on other people, and, obviously, with a hypnotist show you rely on other people. If they’re not under, then you don’t have a show. But with stand-up — you’re always going to have yourself.

ROLAN WHITT & FRIENDS

Friday, Nov. 18

The Pizza Place

2931 Richland Ave.  |  458-9700

$10  |  8 p.m.