As a short line formed on a recent Friday evening outside Divis — a Hagerstown bar and restaurant — Chad Beadle, in baggy shorts and a No. 22 Michael Redd Milwaukee Bucks jersey, was busy hustling inside.
While his wife, Rachel, sold tickets at the door, Beadle ran around greeting and seating guests, dropping menus on tables, running French fries to the talent in the dressing room and generally trying to fill bar stools and booths as the D.J. finished spinning Biggie, Amy Whinehouse and the Beastie Boys before the show started.
Beadle, 36, moved to Hagerstown a couple of years ago for a sales rep gig that never quite worked out. Instead, he hosts the Make Me Laugh Comedy Tour, booking acts every month around western Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia.
A stand-up comedian himself, having appeared on BET, Comedy Central and Evening at the Improv, Beadle found few venues to ply his trade here after relocating from Milwaukee. So, he decided to create his own opportunity, launching Beadle One Entertainment. Three-hundred people turned out at Divis to see comics from Baltimore, Washington and parts in between. Beadle was the last of a half-dozen acts at Divis, formerly known as Kahunas.
Beadle’s stand-up career began at an open mike night in 1992 at the Safe House in Milwaukee. He’s been hooked since. “What got me started is that I used to go around telling people I was a comedian all the time and a partner, a friend, called me out and challenged me to go to an open mike,” Beadle said. “I was so excited I told everyone to come, including my mother. I probably brought 35 people myself.
“Mom liked it, too. She even suggested I change some words, some slang, like “dookie” (dog poop) — she said white people wouldn’t get it.”
Pretty soon, Beadle began writing material and driving his 1972 metallic blue Ford Pinto hatchback 90 minutes to Chicago on weekends to watch acts such as Bernie Mac, D.L. Hughley and A.J. Jamal. “I had a little disco ball and curtains inside that Pinto,” Beadle said, laughing at the memory. “A little bedroom limousine look. I was trying to make something happen and once and a while I did, too.”
He hit the open mike nights in the Windy City, getting practice in joints like Zanies’s, Harry’s Velvet Room and other bars and clubs. The hope was always to steal the eye of a big name act in the city and earn a spot opening for someone, an actual paying gig. “Every different city has their own clique of comedians and you have to fit into that clique to get accepted,” Beadle said. “They have to like you.
“Making people laugh professionally has never been easy and Beadle had his share of rough spots, particularly early on.” The worst moment was getting booed off the stage in New York City at Caroline’s,” he said. “It was an open mike in 1994. I was young and full of myself. Thought I was ready and I wasn’t. I wasn’t even a year into the game and I got humbled real quick.”
He said it still sometimes can be frightening to get on stage, especially following a comedian who sucks the air out of a room. “It’s like, whoa, the impulse for the crowd to laugh is gone and you’ve got to start over and build that impulse up again,” Beadle said. “Following a comedian who killed before you is better. The crowd is looking to laugh more. You shouldn’t be able to screw that up. Tell your best three to four jokes and they’ll carry along with you.”
From about 1996 to 2001, Beadle did the weekend Chicago shuttle and worked Milwaukee’s Comedy Cafe, the former Circus Lounge and the Have a Nice Day Cafe, among others, on weekdays.”I did a bar one time named L.J.’s that only sat 20 people,” Beadle said. “Got paid two drinks an hour.”
Eventually, Milwaukee-based actor/comedian named “D-Rock” took him under his wing.
“He showed me the ropes, helping get my material down, getting me to do paid shows, get DVDs and a press pack together,” Beadle said. “I was doing everything I could to get stage time to get better. I even did shows at a place in Chicago where they make you pay to perform.”
He gathers material from every day life — gas prices, bills, sports, race, culture, politics, relationships — it’s all fair game. The roots of his comedy, he said, however, go back to his elementary school days in suburban Milwaukee where he was the only black kid in an overwhelmingly white-majority school.
“I was always picked on and that’s why I made jokes and developed a sense of humor — to deal with that,” he said. Laughing again, Beadle added, “It’s not like the difference between me and the white kids was little, either. I mean, I’m dark. I stood out.”
His mother worked at a Miller brewery and his dad built tractors at a nearby plant. By middle school he fit in fine with his own group of friends.”Just because I wasn’t the same color didn’t mean as much,” Beadle said. “If all the kids had the new ‘green’ machine, I had the ‘green’ machine. If people in the neighborhood got a pool, we got a pool. And by high school there were all kinds of different kids, white, black, a few Asian kids, a few Indian, a few Hispanic kids.”
Much of Beadles’ routine is about poking fun of the stereotypes different ethnic groups hold regarding each other and gently making a little fun of everyone. Himself included. For an example, he looked at fishing:
“The universal stereotype of a black man fishing is he’s got a Zebco 202 or a cane pole and he’s always bottom fishin,’ trying to catch catfish,” Beadle said. “Like we don’t know how to use one of those open-face reels you see on the fishing shows.
“Yeah, OK, Zebco was the first one I got as a kid, and I liked to cast that thing all the way across the river. I’d catch a lot of stuff, too. Rocks, seaweed, rims …”
He also jokes about other cultural differences, such as white teenagers wearing flip-flops in the winter. By recognizing we all stereotype and possess misconceptions, we learn we’re more alike than unlike, more human than anything else, he said.
“I’m sure when Mexicans first get here, they’re getting a laugh at all of us in this country and the crazy way we act,” Beadle said.
“I’m not a negative comedian,” he said. “I’m positive. I think we can heal people with laughter.”