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Comic is serious about laughs

Rob Gleeson at TEDxDU in May.

Rob Gleeson (BSBA ’10) says his finance degree comes in handy as a stand-up comic.

“I can manage what little money I do make,” Gleeson cracks.

The 23-year-old Gleeson, a former fixture on the Denver comedy circuit, takes his funny business seriously. He constantly emails himself jokes or bits of information which could make their way into his act. He even keeps a file of all the advice he’s ever gleaned from fellow comics and makes sure not to indulge in the industry’s temptations.

“In a job where I can go to work and get trashed … I don‘t. I‘m there for the work,” says Gleeson, who credits both his grandfather and fellow comic Jim Breuer, who is now in recovery, for his approach to his craft.

The latter, who once entertained the nation as a regular on “Saturday Night Live,” met Gleeson in comedy event green room and shared his newly sober vision.

“This is your job,” Breuer told him bluntly.

For Gleeson, that wasn’t always the case. The affable Gleeson entered DU as a finance major, and the thought of using comedy as a career springboard seemed a lark.

“For me, I always enjoyed finance, and I wanted a background that was sound and reliable,” he says. But that first time before a microphone at the age of 18 started to shift his priorities.

“I was comfortable [on stage],” says Gleeson, who spent an entire day rehearsing for that first stand-up appearance at the Festival Playhouse in Arvada, Colo. “I grew up performing for my sisters, so with 200 people in the crowd what’s the worst they’re going to do? Pin me down and paint mascara on me?”

From that first gig he went to perform around the city, including at Comedy Works.

“By the time I was a senior it was my career, and I had an agent, a manger and a tour schedule,” Gleeson says.

The young comic paid his dues, and then some, while working as both a student and rising comic. He would travel by bus up to three hours in a single day to make it back and forth to some gigs. All the while, he kept up with his studies.

He might have lobbed some college-approved jokes at his audiences, but Gleeson knew he had to expand beyond his social group if he had a chance to be a full-time comic.

“I definitely had to adjust and make sure my material could cater to my friends as well as the 45-year-old account manager out with his wife,” he says. “The best way to do that was not to work dirty … but to write smart. I never was a dirty comic anyway. That’s not my MO.”

Wende Curtis, owner of Comedy Works in Denver, says it’s hard to believe a seasoned performer such as Gleeson is only 23.

“He has a quiet confidence in his comedy and his writing that also runs through the way he handles himself throughout this business, a biz that can really eat you alive if you don’t know what you’re doing or have help,” Curtis says.

Carl Johnson, DU’s director of student programs and Greek life, recalls Gleeson committing himself to his Greek brothers as much as he did his comedy routines.

“He was a very active part of the DU community and applied the same focus and drive he applies to his comedy to his college career,” Johnson says.

Gleeson’s Greek family would support his live comedy shows, and they even absorbed a prank he pulled on April Fool’s Day of his senior year.

He sent an email he “crafted” with Greek adviser Megan Pendley Pickett’s email address to his chapter stating the University “knew what they did” and that they were in “trouble.”

The chapter leadership panicked before Gleeson let them in on the prank and apologized.

Now, when Gleeson pulls a stunt he often has a broader audience. Last year, he released a comedy album called Getting Normal on iTunes and, more recently shot a pilot for NBC for a “Wipeout”-style show.

“I get to make fun of people who are more athletic than me,” he cracks about his gig as a judge on the show. He also recently wrote for an online Web talk show for Tom Hanks’ production company Playtone.

Even if the NBC pilot gets picked up, or another entertainment-related gig catches fire, Gleeson doesn’t see himself abandoning the mike any time soon.

“I always want to be able to come back to standup, like Tim Allen, who never left it [after ‘Home Improvement’],” he says.

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