Checking in with Jim Zarling

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What were you doing when we called?
I was checking out baseball scores and sitting with my dog. I just got home from work. I have a part-time job at the University. I work for the transportation training academy, and we basically set up workshops for road crews, and we do construction and design classes, stuff like that.

A recent C-VILLE story on local comedy quoted one of comedian Jim Zarling’s notable one-liners: “They say life is hard for gifted children. It was double hard for me: I was a re-gifted child.”

How do you prepare to work on something?
The first thing we tell people getting into comedy is to always carry a notebook, because it never fails that you’ll come up with something brilliant, and forget to write it down and lose it. But if you wanted to be a standup comic and you stole my notebook it would not help you at all. There’d be random words written everywhere and you’d have no idea what it all meant.

Tell us about a work of art that you wish were in your private collection.
Sticking with my own trade, it would be great to have Jim Gaffigan in your house all the time. It would probably keep things really upbeat and funny. I don’t think he’d appreciate it, he’d probably want to go home, but you’re not asking him the question, you’re asking me.

What’s your earliest memory having to do with comedy?
I was the silent class clown, so I stirred up trouble and someone else would take the heat while I blended in to the background. Once in elementary school this kid and I were sitting around before class. He was talking about how he could dance, so I egged him on, into doing a little shimmy, and the teacher saw him. As punishment she made him get up front of the class and dance for five minutes. It was the most awful punishment she could come up with.

If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?
I would say Bill Hicks, just because he was like the first comic I really got into. Now it’s kind of overplayed, you know everyone likes Bill Hicks, but he was the first comic who I heard and thought, “This is speaking to me. I’m getting this. This is important.” He’s got a list of 12 pieces of advice to new comics, and I’ve got it as my desktop background. It’s all really helpful stuff, about keeping focused on being a comic and not getting distracted by all the things around you.

Do you have any superstitions about your work?
I have no superstitions. I perform best when I remember that I’m there to have fun and that I’m gonna do what I do. If I’m nervously thinking about what I’m going to say, then the audience can tell that I’m not in super-fun mode. But that’s not a superstition, that’s just the way it is.

What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?
I know this might sound pretentious, but I can’t fail. I’m going to do what I’m going to do, and as long as that’s what I’m doing I’ll be fine. As an artist you have to do it for yourself, and as long as you do that you’re not going to fail. The only time I feel unsuccessful is when I base how I feel on the audience instead of just doing my thing.

Tell us about a recent concert, exhibit or show that has inspired you.
Two years ago I saw Flogging Molly in Baltimore and it was awesome. And then I went to see Bad Religion in Milwaukee, which is where I’m from and it was just a great experience. With punk music they always talk about how it looks like a mosh pit, but it’s really a bonding experience. It makes you feel like you’re really a part of something. There’s definitely a feel when you get into a really good pit at a concert, just like we’re doing this and no one’s going to stop us, which is kind of my approach to comedy. I’m doing this and if you want to come along for the ride you’re welcome. If you don’t, see you later.

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