Musicians have been known to sing for their supper, but for comedian Reno Collier it was a little different. The West Virginia native moved to Atlanta after attending college in North Carolina. In Georgia, he found work as a physical education teacher. At night, he tended bar at Atlanta’s famous Punchline comedy club.
“I got a job there and was teaching school part time,” he recalls. “I was bartending, working the door, the kitchen, answering the phone, taking food orders. I did everything.”
Even things no one else would do.
[jump] “The waitresses were all these hot girls and there weren’t any guy servers. So, the women’s toilet would overflow and they had to get someone to clean it up. The waitresses would be like, ‘I ain’t cleanin’ that up.’ I was like, ‘I’ll do it for seven minutes of stage time on Wednesday night.’”
At first the managers declined, but when no one else would do the dirty work, they relented. All the time he was working, Collier was thinking of material.
Soon he was getting more stage time, and eventually he had paying gigs.
“I got two weeks booked making $150 a week and I was like, ‘Hell, I’m a comedian now.’ So I quit my teaching job after summer school and ditched my apartment and lived on the road for four years,” he says.
He took gigs from Lubbock, Texas, to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina — even if they were just one-nighters.
“I lived out of my car, had a hot pot plate, and was just hanging out everywhere," he says. "It was a blast.” In many towns, Collier crashed at the homes of old college buddies. “I’d have London broil and a case of beer and say, ‘Hey, what are you guys doing?’ I’d sleep on their couch for three or four days. By the end of the week I was bringing chicken nuggets to the house.”
Before leaving Atlanta, Collier struck up a friendship with Dan Whitney, a.k.a Larry the Cable Guy.
“I was still bartending and he was a feature act.” Later the two wound up under the same management and toured together for several years. That association may be why some people consider Collier to be a so-called redneck comic.
“I’m blue collar,” he insists. “I like country music, but I talk about my life and my family onstage.” His good friend Dan Whitney, he points out, really is a redneck, although exaggerated through the Larry persona. “He grew up on a pig farm and his mom used to tell me stories about him hiding pigs in his closet so no one would eat them.”
Another comic he started with was Twin Cities favorite Costaki Economopoulos. “We did open mics together,” he says. “When I worked the door, I’d let his parents in for free. He’s a great guy.”
Collier is a great guy, too, as evidenced by his work as a spokesman for the Soldier’s Child charity organization that serves the children of fallen military personnel. “I’m trying to bring awareness to the foundation,” he says. “I’m trying to do more stuff like that. I’m getting older and I've got to pay something back. I screwed up a lot of people’s lives,” he laughs. “I’m banking on the bell curve.”
IF YOU GO:
Rick Bronson's House of Comedy
408 E. Broadway, Bloomington
Level 4 in The Mall of America
7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Friday; 9:45 p.m. Friday; 9:30 p.m. Saturday; 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Tickets are $13-$20.
Call 952-858-8558 or visit houseofcomedy.net for more info