Thomas Crone highlights the standup comedians performing at the "Last Laugh Comedy Stage" at LouFest. Today’s featured comic: Nathan Orton.
The Nathan Orton you might catch at a club show is a very different performer than the Nathan Orton you’ll see onstage at an open mic. In the former case, Orton’s a standup with several years of quality experience under his belt, tight sets of different lengths and a sense of confidence that readily comes across to the audience. At mics, the confidence is still there, but he’s much more prone to take chances, to joust with the other comics in the house, to wing it and bring it. Even the occasional, four-minute bomb arrives with both intent and a smile.
“What helps my comedy,” Orton figures, “is hitting all the mics. I’ll do improv on stage. I’ll take risks. It’s just… well, it’s just a boring answer, but I’m getting onstage as much as possible. Open mic responses don’t matter; I kinda like bombing at an open mic, because you’re learning and taking risks and when you get to a real show at Helium, you’re ready and just wanna crush it. And it’s good to record yourself, so you can watch and learn. Even if you’re working with a bad crowd, you’ve gotta see what you can do better, how you could’ve handled things better.
“I’m writing a lot,” he adds. “I’m editing a lot. I’m a harsh critic on my own writing, but I write every day. I’ve had hits come out of quantity. Write a bunch and the more likely it is to get a joke that hits. Working hard adds a lot to my confidence.”
Of late, he’s added to his skill set with acting classes. In fact, before catching up with us at the Crow’s Nest for its Wednesday Wild Card Comedy open mic, Orton spent his evening working on his acting, which has moved from the category of a useful activity to an actual passion.
“I started doing it to get better at comedy,” Orton says. “It’s like working a proverbial muscle. As I’ve become more comfortable, I’ve fallen in love with acting. And, honestly, I’m not bad. My instructors have been impressed and that’s given me the motivation to pursue it even harder.”
As with acting adding to his career, Orton’s been active in local competitions, to test himself in a pressurized environment. To date, Orton’s scored some high-profile wins, taking the Funny Bone title in 2014 and Helium’s in 2017.
“The good thing - the best thing - about competitions is that it makes your structure a tight set,” he says. “You learn how to bring your strongest material and to work under pressure. If you do well, you’ll have some credits to get you better work.”
The selection to perform at LouFest is another piece of the trajectory for Orton, whose slowly-and-surely worked his way through all the needed stages of growth as a performer.
“I love comedy,” he says. “It’s why I’m here. It took me 25 years to get onstage. Any gig makes me happy. It’s all I want to do. It lets you be yourself and offers the last place for honest free speech. I was always a funny kid, a little weird. I’d get laughs from friends and family and even strangers, but I never thought of it as realistic. It felt arrogant to want to do that for a living. But there’re all kinds of demons that keep you from following your dreams.”
Luckily for STL audiences, those demons have beaten back and Orton’s established a solid foothold in STL comedy circles.
“I love the connection with people, making eye contact, having people smile back at you,” he says. “I like to be appreciated. I like to just kill it.”
And among his next, big chances to kill: LouFest.
“I’ll do the best I can,” he says. “I’ll be engaged and connected to the audience.”
Even better is that “I love music. The guitar was my first creative love. So I’m excited to get to interact with musicians. It’s like a mutual respect. They’re terrified of the idea of doing standup, while we’re mesmerized by their talent.”
You can follow Nathan Orton on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/orton_nathan.