Joke telling is an ancient art. The earliest recorded joke was discovered by archaeologist Howard Carter in the tomb of King Tutankhamun. It went like this:
Loosely translated, the joke goes “Why did our bird-headed divinity Horus cross the stone path? To get to the other side, where there were many loaves of bread and fatted calves. How great is the king for our people!”
Admittedly, this joke has lost some of its punch over the past 3,000 years. That is why joke telling needs innovators, people who are not afraid to stand up in front of a crowd with the simple and terrifying goal of making the people in it laugh. Fargo has Fred Bevill for this very purpose.
Fred grew up in Lake Tahoe, California, the son of the head of security at Caesars Tahoe in nearby Nevada. While nepotism didn’t permit Fred to break gambling laws, it did grant him access to the casino’s lounge where he got to see the up-and-coming comedians of the day. “I saw Sinbad back when he was still David Adkins,” Fred reminisced. “I watched Jerry Seinfeld perform before he got tired of airplane food. I had it made.”
Inspired by this new crowd as well as legends like Bob Newhart, Don Rickles, Lucille Ball, and Carol Burnett, Fred left for the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Pasadena as soon as he graduated high school. He landed some bit parts on Beverly Hills 90210 and Saved by the Bell, roles which he owes to his looks alone, but he always found himself gravitating more toward the purity of stand up. He started haunting open mic nights in the Bay Area, forging his craft in the crucible of the San Francisco bar scene.
“I worked my way up the comedy ladder the way a lot of guys do,” said Fred. “I started by goofing around at open mics, just experimenting and having fun. I graduated to road gigs, which meant living out of a car and a suitcase for five years. That’s the ultimate test of your professionalism: driving 400 miles to your next gig and still being in a mood to make people laugh. The audience doesn’t care if you’re in a funk because you just ran over a deer.”
As Fred continued to hone his skills he earned the status of headlining performer at comedy clubs across the U.S., spending more than 40 weeks a year crisscrossing the country to gigs from Florida to Alaska. It was while working at a club in Kansas City that he received the most important call of his career, however. Tommy Chong of Cheech and Chong fame canceled a show in Fargo because he had to film as many episodes of That 70’s Show as possible before a writers’ strike took hold, and they wanted Fred to fill in for him.
“I flat-out said no,” recounted Fred. “Filling in for a celebrity is horrible. Everyone in the crowd will be disappointed going into the show, which sets you up to fail, and who wants to be compared to a great like Tommy Chong anyway? But, my agent persisted, and against my better judgment I went to Fargo anyway.”
As fate would have it, someone very important was in Fargo’s audience that night. Fred’s future wife would see him for the first time then, and they married shortly thereafter. They now have two sons and live together in Fargo. “My wife calls me the one-night stand who never went home,” Fred joked. “I imagine a lot of parents have some pretty neat stories for their kids about how they were born. Mine are probably the only ones who owe their existence to the fact that Hollywood writers were having trouble paying off their mortgages.”
Although he’ll always keep Fargo as his base of operations, Fred now travels all around the country to perform on cruise ships, at corporate functions, and in clubs. “I never go to the office and wish I was somewhere else, because a lot of the time my office is a cruise ship,” Fred said, although he noted that much of his work travel is not as luxurious as it may sound. “There are many nights that I would rather be sleeping in my own bed. But I love what I do — I love making people laugh. My favorite shows are in Fargo, where I can entertain the hometown crowd and go home to my family at the end of the night. But, I’ve also been fortunate enough to see some of the most beautiful places in the world, and meet amazing people from all over the globe. You can’t beat that.”
Does comedy have occupational hazards? “Sure,” said Fred. “It’s the only job that other people think they can help you do. Would you shout out pointers at your surgeon while he’s giving you a gastric bypass? Hopefully not, but try explaining that to a heckler. You have to be careful not to trespass on your audience’s sensibilities, too. It’s better to avoid polarizing topics. I leave the Trump and Clinton stuff to the other guys. I learned that it’s better to go on stage with a shotgun instead of a sniper rifle and try to hit as many people in the audience as I can. Figuratively, that is — don’t take that quote out of context.”
“Coming up with material is the hardest part. A comedian has to sit down every day and write. Jokes, stories, anything you can put on paper will wind up sharpening your wit in the long run. Sure, 99% of what I write is never going to be said on stage, but it’s the only way to get to the sweet dirt below the mud. Above all, though, life experience is the key to coming up with good jokes. I’m lucky to have my family, which is a wealth of material, and especially my wife, who is my greatest critic. If I can’t make her laugh, it’s probably no good.”
Fred Bevill is managed by the fine people of Comedy Productions in Sioux City, Iowa. If you would like to engage Fred’s unique brand of comedy for your upcoming corporate event, you may reach his agent by calling (800) 655-LAFF or writing to firstname.lastname@example.org.
By David Scheller