Family friendly touring comedian bringing laughs to NHSPublished 8:50am Friday, April 16, 2010
By AARON MUELLER
Niles Daily Star
Squeaky clean and stand-up comedy are rarely used in the same sentence these days.
Except when you are talking about comics like Craig Tornquist.
The Mishawaka comedian travels across the country doing his family friendly routines for schools, churches and other events. Tornquist will bring his act to Niles High School Saturday, April 24 at 7 p.m. as part of the Volunteer Center of Southwest Michigan’s National Volunteer Week festivities.
Early in his comedy career, Tornquist was faced with a tough decision.
He was a young comedian looking to make a name for himself at a comedy club in Massachusetts, when he was told by the owner to “dirty up your act or get out.”
“I chose to get out,” Tornquist said matter-of-factly. “I know all those body parts and all those four-letter words. Most fifth grade boys can write that material. I want to do shows my grandmother can come to.”
For those who are skeptical someone can do clean comedy and still put food on the table, consider that Tornquist has done more than 2,500 gigs across the country and even opened for Jay Leno and Sinbad.
“And I’ve been able to pay the mortgage for some time now,” he said.
Performing with Leno 20 years ago was a big moment in Tornquist’s career.
“It gave me great credibility, and that opening act only increased in value over the years,” Tornquist said. “Nothing is scarier to an audience than an unknown comedian.”
And nothing is scarier to a comedian than a serious audience.
Recently Tornquist did a show for a group of engineers in Indianapolis.
After the routine, “you couldn’t pay me all the money in Michigan to go back out and face the audience,” Tornquist said of his performance. “Like my dad used to say, ‘my 24-hour antiperspirant lasted about 30 seconds.’”
But after the show, he received a wave of compliments.
“They said that’s the most fun we’ve had in a long time,” Tornquist said. “And I said, ‘that’s the saddest thing I’ve ever heard.’”
Tornquist models his comedy after some of the past great clean comedians, like Bill Cosby, Red Skelton and impressionist Rich Little.
He still remembers watching Little’s television show in third grade, thinking “that is the job for me.”
Tornquist will bring his own celebrity impressions and audience participation routines to Niles in his 90-minute routine next week. It’s somewhat of a homecoming for the comedian, who used to work for the LOFT (Learning Opportunities for Teens) in Benton Harbor before pursuing comedy full-time.
It was then he captured his vision for reaching teenagers with comedy with a message. His skits, impressions and novelty songs encourage teens to make responsible decisions.
But more than anything, Tornquist hopes to bring laughter to southwest Michigan.
“People right now are hungry to laugh,” he said. “The news is pretty depressing right now with the economy and all these earthquakes. I hope this can be like a 90-minute recess from all that.”
Volunteer Center of South West Michigan Comedy Night
Featuring Craig Tornquist
Niles High School auditorium
Saturday, April 24, 7 to 8:30 p.m.
Tickets: Advance $5, individual; $20, group. At the door $8, individual; $25 group