NORTH LIBERTY— He’s been to Iraq and Afghanistan but he’s not a soldier. His words have brought comfort to our troops, but he’s not a chaplain. He’s written a book about his life. He has a dog named Kitty. He has raised money for charity, but he’s not a celebrity…yet.
He is Nathan Timmel, a professional comedian hoping to make it big.
Timmel calls himself, “a comedian, by accident.” His debut was an open mike amateur night at a bar in Milwaukee called The Safe House. A Wisconsin native, Timmel experienced 10 moves by the time he was 10 years old. In his adult life, he’s moved around quite a bit as well. College at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, led to time spent in Boston and Los Angeles before returning to the Midwest and Iowa.
With an English degree in hand, few if any prospects for using it, and his college band broken up, Timmel found himself looking for a way to, “express what’s in my head.” Growing up he’d watched Saturday Night Live and listened to the comedic genius of Steve Martin and Richard Pryor.
“Holy sh*@, I can do that,” he said, and has.
He’s quick to point out he doesn’t pattern himself after Martin, Pryor or more contemporary stars like Jerry Seinfeld. “I just try to be me; I just try to be who I am.” In his 14th year of doing stand-up comedy he said, “the deeper you get into it, the more you want to do your own thing.” Some comics do the same set, the same jokes every time out. Timmel mixes up his act, adjusting it to the crowd.
His jokes cover the baby he and wife Lydia are expecting, his visits to entertain the troops, a series of quick one-liner jokes, and even some stories about his life; depending on his mood and the mood of the audience. Timmel said he asks himself, “How can I keep it interesting for them and fresh for me?”
Timmel’s humor has had therapeutic benefits for our fighting men and women. The comedian has made nine trips overseas to entertain the troops, including venues in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It’s more rewarding bringing smiles to combat-weary faces compared to a crowd at a casino, he said. “The difference is near indescribable.” Along with the satisfaction comes a sense of giving something back to the troops.
One visit in particular sticks with him and was chronicled in his book, “I Was a White Knight Once…” Following a journey marked by glitches and an extended layover at Kandahar, Timmel and a friend were sent to a base that had suffered the death of a soldier. Timmel had witnessed the ramp ceremony in which the soldier’s body was loaded aboard a plane for the final flight home. The troops had been out all night on patrol looking for the insurgents that had killed their comrade when Timmel arrived. With tensions running high, the commanding officer issued an order making attendance at Timmel’s comedy show mandatory; even though they’d lost a comrade, they were still alive and needed to understand that life goes on, and it’s okay to laugh.
“They were exhausted but the show went surprisingly well,” he recalled. “Ultimately it didn’t change anything, but for 10 or 20 minutes, they were able to set their troubles aside and take a small break. (This performance will remain) the pinnacle of my time spent cajoling strangers into smiling.”
Through his Comedy for Charity events, Timmel has offered his brand of humor as a means of raising funds for worthy causes. Last December he teamed up with Liz Jackson and the St. Baldrick’s Foundation in an effort to raise money for pediatric cancer research. After three people had their heads completely shaved, Timmel took the stage on a night that saw $6,000 in donations.
This year, the fourth for his charity efforts, Timmel is thinking about putting on a show on Veterans Day to benefit vets. In 2009 he provided entertainment for the Veterans Day dinner put on by the North Liberty American Legion Auxiliary.
As an up-and-coming comedian trying to make the big-time, much of his time is spent trying to raise money for himself, wife Lydia (who he first met in L.A., where she started out as an apparent comedian groupie, stalking him after a performance) and the baby they have on the way. “It’s hard to turn a gig down,” he said the day before departing for yet another tour, this time involving casinos. “I’ve got a mortgage to pay, a kid on the way, a paycheck is a paycheck.” A fan of Cedar Rapids Kernels Baseball, Timmel said he feels a kinship with the players.
“They’re busting their asses to make it to the next level…and so am I.”
In ”I Was a White Knight Once…” he chronicles his life from a troubled childhood, living in 10 cities in the first 10 years of his life, time spent in Boston and Los Angeles, visits to the troops, and his life in general. Much of the material originated from his days of blogging on My-Space, when he said he was always writing. Before the Internet took off he would type up four to five page stories about life or what was going on that day such as, “I donated sperm today.” His My-Space page received over 80,000 hits in the early 2000s and people kept telling him he should write a book. “I hate saying I have an ego, but they fed it.”
After four years of writing and editing, he completed the book last fall and self-published it after receiving 50 rejections from agents. The book is available on Amazon and at Prairie Lights Bookstore. As a tech-savvy man of the 21st Century, Timmel has also made it available in electronic form for Kindle, Nook and iPad. Recently his tome was ranked in the top 20 out of over 57,000 memoirs available through Amazon kindle.
Examples of his comedy can be found on YouTube. Timmel also has his own website: www.nathantimmel.com , and can be found on Facebook: www.facebook.com/nathantimmel .
Ultimately Timmel takes to the stage for the enjoyment of that hour.
“That time on stage, it’s just electrifying. Taking words and getting laughs from them, I enjoy it. There’s no getting past it.”