When Greg Warren performs two shows this weekend at the Wildey Theatre in Edwardsville, the St. Louis-area comedian pledges to find the funny in farming.
Warren — who has appeared on Comedy Central, “Late Night With Seth Meyers,” “The Late Late Show” and “The Bob & Tom Show” — will deliver a routine centered on farming,“ all coming from a person who doesn’t know anything about farming.” His performances here will be filmed for an upcoming special.
The idea started taking shape while Warren was in the early stages of a new comedy album, the follow-up to “Fish Sandwich” (2016), released by 800 Pound Gorilla Records of Nashville, Tenn.
That album did well on SiriusXM, and Warren reached out to his contact there to brainstorm ideas. Warren recalled a bit he did about farming that went over well. He’d been in Des Moines, Iowa, a few years ago and told a joke about his lack of knowledge of types of beans, inadvertently tapping into a whole new stream of jokes.
“The farmers got a kick out of it,” Warren says.
His contact at SiriusXM said the idea could be developed, but it sounded more like a comedy special than an album. 800 Pound Gorilla Records likely would be interested; so would SiriusXM.
Though Warren usually comes up with the themes for his performances, he took the advice and wrote more material about farming. He says the whole show won’t be about farming; he’ll also riff on living in the suburbs.
Research for this weekend’s shows involved visits to several farms in Sparta, Ill., Louisiana, Mo., and Ames, Iowa.
“I’d call up and say, ‘Hey, I’m a comedian doing this thing about farming. Can I come and see you?,’” and the response was positive, he says. Warren tried out some of the new material at shows in Red Bud, Ill., and Cozad, Neb.
Warren, who lives in Kirkwood, was asked if he wanted to film the special in New York or Los Angeles. But that made no sense, he thought, for a special focused on farming — especially since he lives in the Midwest.
“I really wanted to shoot with the farming community, and I’m adjacent to all these farming communities here,” he says. “I have a following in St. Louis, so I can get people to the show. It’s not just for farmers, but we want farmers to be in the crowd.”
The special will be directed by Eric Abrams; Matt Schuler is the producer. When and where the special airs will be determined.
Warren isn’t the only local comedian with ties to 800 Pound Gorilla Records. Rafe Williams recorded his debut album for the label in March. Warren says he recommended Williams to the label. Warren’s friend, Florissant native Kathleen Madigan, also has recorded for the label.
For Warren’s half-hour Comedy Central special a decade ago in New York City, he shared the audience with another comedian. He was turned down twice before finally landing the gig.
“It was a big deal — the most fun time I ever had,” he says. “It was mostly tourists, family and friends. My brother was living in Jersey then, so it was a real celebration.
“It was good, but I look at it now, and I’m like, ‘Ugh.’ As a comic, you get better. There’s better writing and a more relaxed performance. I always thought I’d love to do a one-hour special, and I think I’m ready now.”
Warren has been working toward this moment for a long time. In 2001, he quit his day job selling chips for Procter & Gamble in Houston and Cincinnati to pursue comedy full-time. He had been working in comedy clubs at night and dabbled in stand-up as a student at the University of Missouri-Columbia.
He describes his comedy as self-deprecating and has included characters in the past such as the Flute Man and his uncle Earl, the latter a combination of real-life folk. His biggest influences are Eddie Murphy and Bob Newhart, whom he says is underrated. Warren has adopted Newhart’s stand-up technique of portraying two people having a conversation. “The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart” is one of his favorites.
Warren performs every year at the Funny Bone St. Louis and has opened for Madigan at the Pageant. He opens for her again in November at Stifel Theatre. He’s a regular on the “Courtney & Company Morning Show” on Y98 and is heard on SiriusXM’s Laugh USA and Jeff & Larry’s Comedy Roundup.
He competed on NBC’s “Last Comic Standing,” where he was, in his words, a “two-time loser,” though he made it to the semifinals in 2007 and 2015.
Unlike on “Last Comic Standing,” where producers decide what makes it to air, Warren has control of the content of his upcoming special.
Being able to do the special at this point in his career means a lot to Warren, 50, who says good opportunities are scarce for comedians his age unless they’re already bona fide stars.
“You get to a certain age and see it’s not all going to work out like you wanted it to, but I haven’t given up,” he says. “I’m cool with things now and excited about the material.”
What Greg Warren, Tim Convy • When 7 and 9:15 p.m. Saturday • Where Wildey Theatre, 252 North Main Street Edwardsville • How much $15 (early show is sold out) • More info wildeytheatre.com