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Billings comedian Will Thomas on bombing, picking up the pieces, and the pros of showing up

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Billings comedian Will Thomas is known by other comedians as the guy who will drive anywhere that will offer him a stage and a microphone—and his commitment has paid off. The four-year stand-up veteran wins competitions across Montana, including Missoula's Homegrown Comedy competition last spring. In anticipation of his performance this week at Missoula's Curry Comedy Series, one of the biggest local stand-up events of the year, we chatted about the best and worst aspects of being a comedian. (Disclosure: I'm also performing at the Curry Comedy Series.)

How'd you get into comedy?

My friend and I were really sad and depressed. We went to an open mic and I said, "I can do that!" I wrote down a joke or two and hopped on stage. The jokes were corny and I don't say them anymore, but after that I just kept coming back to the mic.

I hear from so many comics that they started because they were sad. It's true of me, too. Why is that?

Comics don't start off happy—it's the opposite. For 70 percent of comics, stand-up is a release. We're getting rid of the negative. We find a creative way to share our lives and everyone can relate. That's where the joy comes in. If I've got a problem, I'm going to get on stage and you're going to hear about it.

A mutual friend recently told me you were a paleontologist, and at that moment I realized that we only talk about comedy. Are you a freaking paleontologist?

It's true. I don't talk about it. I went to U of M in geology with an emphasis on paleontology. Then I started going out to digs, then I did freelance digs. Right now I'm an environmental lab technician, but I'm focused on comedy. Comedy isn't a hobby to me.

What do you love about comedy?

It's so simple. I don't mean the writing or the hours. I mean that you can make comedy out of any event in your life. Someone can have a 10-minute set about paper, and it can kill. When you find something that works, it's amazing.

Will Thomas won Missoula’s Homegrown Comedy competition last spring.
  • Will Thomas won Missoula’s Homegrown Comedy competition last spring.

What's the worst thing about comedy?

Going back home after a big event. The feeling of destitution. The feeling of, "Now I am just driving my car and hoping not to hit a deer."

You have a reputation as a person who will drive anywhere at any time to get to a show.

I'll drive anywhere for a show as long as I can get back in time for work. I'll do a weeknight show in Missoula, sleep on a couch until three in the morning, and get back to Billings at eight for work. I want to get on every stage possible and bring laughter to as many people as possible.

When's the worst time you've bombed?

In Red Lodge one time I went up and nothing seemed to hit. Nothing reached them. Then the next comedian completely destroyed and I sat down and ate my free plate of spaghetti. A bomb is no more than a joke told incorrectly. You couldn't emote correctly, or people couldn't grasp what you were communicating. The bomb is always on you. The bomb is when you learn. You pick up the pieces—and with me, it's usually about a thousand pieces—and you try again.

What's your advice for people who want to do stand-up?

Get on that stage and do it. Write down two or three jokes, say them in front of a mirror, then find a mic. If we don't laugh immediately, it doesn't mean it's not a good joke. The joy of comedy doesn't come from us laughing instantly, it comes from making your jokes better.

Are you still sad?

I'm sad in a sense, but not for the same reasons. It's therapeutic. I'm happier now that I'm doing this. It's helped me become a better person.

Will Thomas performs at the Curry Comedy Series Sat., Feb. 11, at the Public House at 6:30 PM. $17 at Ear Candy includes a dinner from Masala.

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