Can it get any cooler than voicing Willie Nelson on MTV’s “Celebrity Deathmatch?” Well, sure, especially when you one day find yourself chatting with Russell Crowe, who is a big Willie Nelson fan, about it.
That’s only a little glimpse into the comedic life of Joe Ohrin, a Northeast Pennsylvania native who is a professional comedian. Ohrin has worked in New York City clubs such as Dangerfield’s, The Comic Strip, and the Comedy Cellar. The 47-year-old funny guy has opened for acts such as Chris Rock, Weird Al, and Jeff Dunham, and he has contributed jokes to “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”
Next weekend, Ohrin will bring the laughs to the newest Wisecrackers Comedy Club location in Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs. He’ll perform with headliners Isaac Baker and host Scott Bruce.
THE WEEKENDER: How did you get into the comedy business?
JOE OHRIN: It’s something I always wanted to try. As a kid, I would go to family parties and do little bits, like George Carlin routines – the clean stuff; that’s all I was allowed to listen to. In college, I went to a bar in Edwardsville, an open mic night. A friend encouraged me to go, and I planned to do something for the next one. I did, and I got a few laughs here and there, some I didn’t get so many laughs. After college, I moved to New York, lived in Long Island, and had the chance to do more city stuff. That’s where I got my footing.
W: After all these years, all this experience, do you still get nervous before you go on?
JO: I do a little bit, and that’s good. It tells you what you’re doing is important, that it means something. I mean I’m not falling to pieces banging my head off the wall, but there’s always that tinge of excitement there.
W: Describe your style of comedy.
JO: Well, funny. I try to go for funny, and hopefully that works. I’m energetic, I do some ad-libbing off the crowd. Nothing too over-the-top vulgar, or dry. I’m somewhere in the middle.
W: Ad-libbing with an audience has to be tough. Is that a natural ability you’ve always had?
JO: It is something I’ve always been able to do. You have to have a quick wit to be a comedian. You can’t just look up one day and go, “Hey, I’m going to be a comedian.” I’m always making jokes; I joke with the girl at the coffee shop, I joke with the guy delivering me my pizza. It’s in me. When I hear a conversation in everyday life, jokes pop up in my head. It does take a while to get good at ad-libbing. It’s a dangerous thing. You put yourself out there, and you don’t know what answers are going to come back at you. It’s dangerous, but exciting; it makes it interesting.
W: What’s been the most memorable moment of your comedic career thus far?
JO: Playing the F.M. Kirby Center. My first concert was there in 1975, Sha Na Na. A comedian opened up for them, so that was my first real professional show I went to. I ran into Bowzer a few years ago, and he said how he remembered playing in Wilkes-Barre a lot back then.
Also, having Jay Leno use my jokes. Here is someone who’s one of the biggest guys out there, with a No. 1 show, and he thinks enough of my material to use it in front of a national audience.
I also had a small part in “A Beautiful Mind,” working with Russell Crowe and Ed Harris. There’s a scene where I’m playing a board game on a bench, and they come up behind me and start talking. The director comes over to direct me, and it’s Ron Howard. A day like that really shows you the range in this type of entertainment. I did that shooting, a huge, great experience, and then that night I had to drive to Quakertown to do a comedy show for like 50 bucks and a turkey sandwich. Things are definitely interesting.
W: What can we expect from your Wisecrackers shows?
JO: I’ll be playing, singing a parody song with regional flavor. I’ve done it a couple times in the area. Let’s just say… you know that song, “Walkin’ in Memphis?” Well, sometimes when I go to a town, a different place, I’ll write a song about the people. If I do a corporate party, I’ll write a song about the company. This one is a song written about the people of Northeast Pennsylvania, “Walkin’ in Wilkes-Barre.”