After seven years of comedy, James Wells can now call himself the funniest person with a day job.
This week, Wells won the title during the finals of House of Comedy’s Funniest Person with a Day Job contest, beating out a field of nearly 70 comedian who participated throughout the competition. The challenge began back in April, with three rounds of competition. Though the contest went fairly quickly, for Wells the victory was validation for years of open mics and paying his dues.
“I kind of needed this one,” he says. “For as long as I’ve been doing comedy, I needed something like this to put a stamp on the fact that I’m not just a comedy hobbyist.”
A roofer by day (hence the whole “…with a day job” part of the contest), Wells got his first shot on stage during Acme’s open mic night in early 2010. He would dabble in comedy for the next few years, but when he returned to the Twin Cities after a stint living in Arizona, he knew it was time to get serious.
“When I came back from Arizona, everything started clicking,” he recalls. “I started going to the right places and doing the right things, and decided if I really wanted this that I was going to have to work at it.”
And work at it he did. A regular fixture of the local open mic circuit -- including House of Comedy, Acme, Joke Joint, and Sisyphus Brewing -- Wells started to gain attention from his peers. However, he knew he needed some sort of platform to get to the next level of local notoriety. That’s where the House of Comedy’s contest came into play.
This year was actually his first time ever competing in a comedy contest. And while some would look at that and label him something of a wunderkind, Wells actually had to learn some tough lessons about communication.
“I was actually signed up for the contest last year,” he recalls. “I was supposed to perform the week I got back from Arizona, but I didn’t have access to email for like a week. When I got back in town, I finally checked and saw I had missed the confirmation email from the organizers, so they gave away my spot.”
Despite the setback, Wells is now $1,000 richer thanks to his win this week, and will be the feature act for an upcoming week at House of Comedy. In fact, things are already moving for the new champ, as he was a last-second addition to the House of Comedy shows taking place this weekend, with headliner Dean Delray and feature act Bryan Miller (who is also City Pages’ longtime proofreader).
Now for 40-years-old, the older, wiser, funnier, and richer Wells says that he plans to continue performing as much as possible around the Twin Cities, and won’t allow his new-found notoriety change his work ethic.
“Minneapolis is such an amazing place because there are other comics here to learn from,” he says. “I can go to any given open mic night, and people will all have TV credits. And they’re from Minnesota.” And as for whether or not he’ll hold on to that day job for a while longer? Wells says he will, but sees the potential to get away from manual labor in the hopefully not-too-distant future.
“Anything is better than roofing,” he laughs.