David Fisher has never been considered normal. Growing up in Woodbury, Minn., David always seemed to get along well with adults, but struggled to find commonalities with kids his own age. He spent his childhood drawing anime, watching cartoons, playing the tuba and participating in state geography meets.
But for all of Fisher’s unique quirks, he did connect with other kids in a different way: he knew how to make them laugh.
When Fisher sat down in Michelangelo’s Coffee House on Sept. 18, he picked up the crumbs of his chocolate-glazed donut from his “Avatar: The Last Airbender” t-shirt and nonchalantly popped them into his mouth.
“I was never the best person at interacting with people,” Fisher said. “But in high school I discovered I was able to make them laugh fairly regularly in person.”
The 28-year-old Fisher, otherwise known as Madison’s Funniest Comic, has officially been making people laugh since he began performing stand-up comedy in 2007. He beat out 76 other contestants to earn the accolade of Madison’s Funniest in February and a $500 gift card to the Comedy Club on State bar, with Madison’s Comedy Club audience crowning him the winner in a ballot.
Fisher’s modest beginnings as a comedian started when he performed at a medical-themed dive bar in 2007 on South Park Street in Madison called the Klinic, which is decorated with a glowing neon syringe on the ceiling and a dead rat in the corner. Fisher said the Klinic is where many of Madison’s comics get their start, and it’s where Fisher would test new material as a new comedian.
Even before he began performing stand-up, Fisher said comedy has always come naturally to him. He relies on whatever pops into his head throughout the course of the day for new material.
“Other people tend to have their shit together more,” Fisher said. “They’re working on real jobs or getting their lives in order and stuff like that, and I’m thinking about ‘what kind of jokes I can make about avocados?’”
Fisher’s favorite kinds of jokes are the ones that force people to laugh at jokes that they don’t want to laugh at, something he learned from his first comedy hero Dave Attel. He said Attel was able to combine absurd darkness, ridiculousness and total lack of dignity into a hilarious comedy act — traits that Fisher has adopted as his own.
Fisher’s current go-to closer has a uniquely dark and ridiculous twist that produces an awkward but positive reaction from the audience. Fisher calls the joke “Words.” Fisher set up the joke by telling the audience at the Comedy Club last July that words don’t always make sense in relation to each other.
“What’s the opposite of ‘easy’? ‘Hard’; possibly. Or ‘uneasy’ because ‘un’ means opposite of. Except here’s the thing — ‘hard’ and ‘uneasy’ are completely different words, they don’t mean anything like the same thing. Like if I was to say, ‘all of these dead bodies are making me uneasy…,’” Fisher said as he allowed the audience to catch up to speed on the repulsiveness of the joke. He likes that the joke builds up to a strong punchline — but the audience doesn’t know where the joke is headed.
UW senior Evan Rypel saw Fisher perform his routine at the Comedy Club in February on the night Fisher earned the 2013 Madison’s Funniest Comic contest. Rypel had the exact reaction Fisher looks for from his audience.
“He was really funny,” Rypel said. “It was kind of, like, awkward funny. Kind of uncomfortable, but it was funny.”
Rypel even remembered Fisher’s distinct physical characteristics seven months after seeing Fisher on stage: his long, dark brown ponytail, thinning hair, a heavier frame and wire-rimmed glasses.
Fisher admitted that during his performances, he plays up his weirdness and emphasizes his awkward appearances by wearing a solid black suit with a black shirt and black tie. He’s able to create additional laughter because the audience doesn’t expect the “weird and sick and disturbing” jokes to come from a guy wearing a suit.
Fisher’s fellow comedian and former roommate, Dave Labedz, said he is amazed that after knowing Fisher for six years, he is still able to make him laugh. Labedz met Fisher in an undergraduate English seminar at UW and noticed Fisher when he showed up to class most days either reading the class material or doodling in the first row of the classroom.
Labedz and Fisher constantly worked on jokes when they were together. Labedz said Fisher has been fortunate to translate his odd sense of humor into a productive creative outlet.
“Perhaps the single most remarkable thing about Dave is his ability to turn his weaknesses into strengths,” Labedz said. “That he’s managed to find stand-up, where he can be the bizarre person that he is all the time and develop some sort of credibility.”
In addition to performing stand-up comedy, Fisher works the late shift at the Walgreens on East Campus Mall in Madison. After working at Walgreens from 9:30 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. for two years every other week, he said he gets recognized fairly often from his work on stage.
Fisher said one of his goals is to someday financially support himself through his stand-up, something he’s been working toward since 2007 when he started performing at the Klinic.
For now, however, Fisher will endure a job that forces him to work through the wee hours of the morning and ask his superior for permission to use the restroom. He’ll deal with a rush of people at the start of his shift, and let the urgency die down and quietly man his cash register with few customers in the store.
But no matter what noodle-money job he works, Fisher will always go home to his comedy. And there’s nothing in the world he would rather be doing.
“I just lack the emotional maturity to be spending my time on something else,” Fisher said. “Besides what I think is funny.”
Fisher will be performing at the Brink Lounge in Madison this Saturday at 9:00 p.m.