Ron Popp hasn’t been home to Fairland, Indiana for more than a few hours in the last 15 years. A resident of Chicago, the stand-up comedian hasn’t had the time because he’s been one very busy guy. But the University of Indianapolis graduate is looking forward to making up for it when he returns to Central Indiana by way of his show, “It Gets Bitter: The Ron Popp Story,” which will be performed six times during the 15th annual IndyFringe Theatre Festival. The festival, consisting of 64 shows at seven venues along Mass Ave, takes place Aug. 15-25.
Also an actor, Popp, 42, has extensive credits that include the Chicago premiere of “WTC View,” “Never the Sinner: The Leopold and Loeb Story,” the Midwestern premiere of Terrence McNally’s “Corpus Christi,” “Breaking up is Hard to Do,” and numerous other productions.
For the past two years, Popp has been concentrating on his stand-up act and has been seen in Chicago at The Laugh Factory, Elbo Room and Chemically Imbalanced Theatre (CIC), among others. He’s also been featured in Chicago shows “Steph’s Darling Parlour,” and “Holding On: A Benefit for the Brown Paper Box Theatre Company.” A writer and performer, Popp produced his first one-man show “It Gets Bitter: The Ron Popp Story” to a sold-out crowd at Davenport’s Piano Bar and Cabaret.
I reached out by phone to Popp at his Chicago home recently to chat about his show and the first thing I asked him was whether or comedy is easy for him, to which he replied, “It feels like it comes easily, but that sounds arrogant to say that (Laughs). I have a pretty good sense of timing and can form a joke. It is not like when you are in a show and you have an intense dramatic scene and you have to pull out something to do it. It is easier than that.” But he admitted that his line of work does have it challenges. “A lot depends on the audience. One night it will be funny and the next night it won’t. You always have to be alert and I find that challenging. Reading the audience is probably the hardest part for me.”
When asked about the content of his show, Popp said, “I do stuff about growing up gay in a small town, horrifying auditions like the one I did for ‘Hamilton,’ embarrassing dates and other topics. I like topical humor. I mention Grindr. We didn’t have it when I was dating, so I had to do horrible things like go into a chat room.”
Popp says he also jokes about his marriage. He and his spouse Micah Fortenberry have been together for nine years and married for six. “I think marriages go through the same stuff whether they’re gay or straight. I do try to tell jokes that are more specific to gay people. Usually when you go to a show, there is a headliner and two or three comics. Two of them are straight men telling jokes about stuff I know nothing about, so I introduce jokes that represent my experience by saying, ‘This just for the gays.’ But for the most part, I tell jokes that everyone can relate to in one way or another,” he said, adding, “ A lot of what I touch upon regarding my gay identity are things that are also found in the straight community, such as body issues. Every time you see a gay man on TV, there is this really attractive, buff, totally hot person. Conversely, women go through that too. They feel like every time they open a magazine, there is a person like that staring back at them.”
When it comes to playing to an all-gay audience, Popp said sometimes there is a disconnect. “So much has changed in such a short a time, so it is hard to tell a joke to a gay audience that everyone will get. Something that was big in my generation isn’t as big of a deal to younger audiences. I made a ‘Valley of the Dolls’ reference and only two people laughed. I just have to be me and hope my jokes land. The audience will tell me what’s funny and I just need to listen to them.”
“Have you ever bombed?” I asked. “I haven’t yet,” he said. “I’ve told jokes that I thought were funny and just kind of got a chuckle, but as far as a whole set, it hasn’t. I hear it happens to everyone at some point, so I am just biding my time, but I haven’t yet. I am fortunate, I think.”
As for stand-up comedy, in general, Popp said it is different from his work as an actor. “Coming from a background in theatre, which is very collaborative, I love how freeing it is to be out there solo. It’s also incredibly frightening, but the challenge has forced me to grow,” he emphasized. “It sounds a bit melodramatic, but it’s almost like skydiving. You have to have faith that you’re doing good work and that’s your parachute, but every audience is different and you really never know exactly how every joke is going to land.”
Popp said his Fringe audiences “should expect to laugh at me and at themselves. I poke a bit of fun at everything.” He will “skydive” in “It Gets Bitter” at ComedySportz at 721 Mass Ave. on the following dates and times: Friday, Aug. 16 at 9:00 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 17 at 10:30 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 18 at 4:30 p.m., Tuesday, Aug. 20 at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 21, at 6:00 p.m. and Saturday, Aug. 24 at 3:00 p.m.
The show contains adult language and is recommended for audiences ages 15 and up. For tickets, go to www.indyfringe.org.