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Local Comic Spotlight: Justin Golak

Anne Evans Anne Evans
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If you attended the recently sold out COMEDY’SPLOSION 2011 held at the Madlab Theatre, you may remember seeing Justin Golak perform. Justin has been doing comedy his whole life and has been a part of the Comedy Scene in Columbus for nearly five years. He’s enjoyed being involved and working along with other comics to “make Columbus a great comedy town.”

Justin recently spoke with me about how he got started in comedy, what he loves about Columbus and what he has in the works. You can see him Thursday, March 3rd with fellow Columbus comic, Sumukh Torgalkar.  Their “Two Man Show,” a combination of live sketch, video sketch, and tons of other things they hope are hilarious, will be at Kafe Kerouac at 9:00pm.

Q: Tell me about your background. Where did you grow up? How long have you lived in Columbus?

A: I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. I moved to Columbus in 2002 for college. I went to Ohio State and graduated with a BA in Strategic Communications in 2007. I’ve been living in Columbus ever since. Outside of doing comedy, I work as the manager of a restaurant. I think the thing I like about Columbus the most is that it’s diverse and condensed. Other cities I’ve been to – including Cleveland which is the other city I’ve spent most of my life in – can have cool things to do and diverse neighborhoods, but they’re very spread out. Here, you have Downtown/Arena District, the Short North, OSU Campus, Clintonville, Grandview and so many other great areas that offer totally different things and they’re all just a trip down the street away from each other.

Q: What got you interested in Comedy? And what kind of Comedy do you do?

A: I’ve been interested in comedy my whole life. I think I really became enamored with it in high school. While most people tie iconic music to their high school experience, I kind of feel that way about comedy. Lots of people will say, “Oh my god, I remember the first time I heard The White Stripes.” I’m like, “Man, I remember exactly where I was the first time I watched Chris Rock’s Bigger & Blacker.” It was during high school, and into college, that I knew I wanted to at least try doing stand-up.

I started doing stand-up comedy during my senior year of college in 2006 and have been performing for almost five years. I started performing in live sketch comedy about a year ago when opportunities to do it started to become available. I really enjoy doing sketch comedy, and I feel that writing comedy in a different structure really opens up my mind to writing new and better stand-up material. If you keep writing one thing, especially for five years straight, it really becomes tiring and stagnant. Stand-up comedy is my main endeavor though. I guess I would say that doing sketch comedy is something fun that I really like doing, but stand-up is my passion.

Q: What do you think about the local comedy scene in Columbus?

A: I’ve been doing comedy in Columbus for almost five years now, and I can say, without question, this is the strongest that the local comedy scene has been since I’ve started performing. There are more hilarious, and really original comics, than ever before. There are also more shows in real quality venues to showcase this talent than we’ve had in the past. I’d say the only challenge we, as a scene, are facing is getting more and more people aware of the shows we do. I equate it to music, since that’s a scene most people are familiar with. If you’re a music fan, you don’t just wait for U2 to come to the Schott. You check out The Newport or go to places like Dick’s Den and the Rumba Cafe.

If you want to see awesome comedy, you don’t have to plunk down a paycheck and travel outside the city to a comedy club, you can probably find a great show for a few bucks right in your neighborhood. And just as those second tier music shows offer a real quality night of entertainment, the shows we run outside of the clubs aren’t some amateur imitation, they are simply another option. In fact, I’d say that a large percentage of comics on local comedy shows have featured, or in some cases headlined, at comedy clubs all around the state and country. I rarely hear an unimpressed person after a show. I mostly hear, “You guys were all great, I didn’t even know this was happening around here.”

There are comedy fans that want what we offer, but awareness is sometimes lacking. I, along with some other great comics, started a website, www.ColumbusisFunny.com, which we use as a main information and event listing hub for Columbus Comedy. We hope that the site can curb that lingering awareness problem and really propel the scene.

Q: Where do you find inspiration?

A: Anything can be funny. I think that’s a misconception most people have. Something bizarre will happen or you’ll be somewhere weird and people will say, “I bet you’ll get a lot of material outta this!” In fact it’s the opposite. Comedy is about putting an original twist on something and creating a surprise in the punchline. If something is inherently strange or comical, there’s no way to contort it or surprise your audience. Mundane things or things that you wouldn’t normally think of as funny have the most comedy potential. Airplanes aren’t funny. Seinfeld’s funny.

Q: Who is your favorite comedian?

A; I don’t know if I can pick one favorite comedian. If I had to narrow it down, I’d say Chris Rock and Louis C.K. People always want to know “what’s funny?” No one knows. If you did, why would you write and try out new material. There would be no trial. You’d just know what is funny, say it and get laughs. Even extremely seasoned comics have new jokes fail. However, I feel like when you get to a certain level, after years of performing combined with an inborn talent, you can “speak funny.” As if comedy was a language, and you’ve learned to speak it. I think those two guys have reached a level where they’re nearly fluent in funny. I get just as excited to hear a five minute interview with either of those guys as I do to watch they’re next hour long special. They’re simply always intriguing and entertaining.

Q: Tell me about your personal goals.

A: Make Columbus a great comedy town. I think that there are a plethora of local comics, regardless of their eclectic personal goals, that have this same mission. That’s what makes this the perfect city to have that goal in. Columbus is ripe for it too. The music, art, and theatre scenes in this city are incredible. I feel like the comedy scene is steadily making strides into that stratosphere. It’s a mutually beneficial proposition too. Obviously, we as comics all benefit from Columbus growing as comedy staple. However, the city’s artistic community also becomes more prolific every time a new slice of art is added to the whole.

Q: And the details on your upcoming comedy show?

A: Fellow Columbus comic, Sumukh Torgalkar, and I have a Two Man Show on Thursday, March 3rd at Kafe Kerouac at 9:00PM. It’ll be a combination of live sketch, video sketch, and tons of other things we hope are hilarious. Sumukh and I started a website called The Sumukh and Golak Attack. It features funny videos and blog posts. The moniker comes from the name of a public access television show we produced in Cleveland during the summer between our Freshman and Sophomore years of college. So, basically, we’ve gone from TV, to internet, to, now, for the first time, a live stage show. Sumukh and I have been friends since high school, we started doing stand-up together, and we really like writing together. We always like getting together and collaborating to churn out material and it’s always exciting to do so for a new medium.

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