As a fan-favorite monthly panelist on the long-running comedic game show “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!,” comedian Alonzo Bodden has been bringing some of the sharpest political jokes on the planet to the show’s Chicago tapings for over a decade. Now he’ll be firing a full fusillade of funny when he takes centerstage while headlining the Den Theatre August 20.
His tour puts the focus on his standup act, but Bodden also harbors a passion for fast cars and motorcycles that has inspired a whole other angle to his career. He was a frequent guest on the CNBC series “Jay Leno’s Garage,” and hosted a pair of his own motor-driven shows, but it was his job as a trainer in the aviation mechanics industry in California in the 1990s that helped him find his lane in life.
“My first career was as an airplane mechanic, but my sense of humor was natural and I could always make people laugh,” Bodden recalls. “When I started teaching and training new mechanics, that was the first time I got in front of a room and made people laugh, and that became what I really wanted to do.
“I was five years into my recovery, sober from drugs and alcohol, and I knew a lot of entertainment people from the recovery world. When you’re not in show business, it seems very foreign, a weird ‘I could never do it’ type of thing. But when you’re around the people who did it, it becomes more real.”
His break came when he killed as part of the New Faces showcase event at the world’s biggest comedy festival, Just For Laughs in Montreal. Bodden built off that to win the NBC comedy-competition series “Last Comic Standing” in its third season in 2004. He considers “Comic” to be his introduction to America, and the series opened his eyes to the larger world of comic possibilities.
“During ‘Last Comic,’ I started finding the world funnier than me. I started doing more topical comedy, more political comedy, more issue-driven comedy. My simple throughline in my comedy is that I tell the truth, man,” he explains. “Comics are the last truth tellers. We cut through it. A lot of people may not like it, but that’s what we do.”
His most recent comedy special “Stupid Don’t Get Tired,” on YouTube, took shots at anti-vaxxers as well as an array of other topics. He’s got plenty of new targets.
“Society is moving backwards while hate is moving forward. We’re moving backwards whether that’s with race or women or whatever, and then the funny thing is that everyone’s mad at transgenders,” says Bodden. “Last year we were blaming immigrants for everything. Now we blame transgender, and it’s all nonsense. Last year people said it was immigrants ruining our country. Where the hell did that go?”
Bodden’s international comedy tours have inspired him to be a student of the world, saying that “international travel is one of the greatest educations you can get, where you’re learning people are people.” While he’s performed everywhere that English is understood, from Europe to Singapore to Pakistan, his favorite recent experience came in hosting the Just For the Culture showcase at the Just For Laughs fest this year.
‘We had a Muslim comic, a Jewish comic, a guy from Africa, a woman from India, and so much more,” says Bodden. “These young comics were hilarious and I felt like they were pushing me and I ended up doing some physical comedy, which is something I never do. But it was fun and it was creative and I liked that.
“Creativity is the driving force. I’m gonna talk about new things and maybe try new things. I don’t think I’ll learn to juggle or ride a unicycle. But outside of that, I’m pretty open.”
Alonzo Bodden performs at 7pm August 20 at The Den Theatre, 1331 North Milwaukee. Tickets are $26-$47.50. Visit thedentheatre.com or call (773)697-3830.