PHIL KEELING: CONQUISTADORK
At 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 17
Muse Arts Warehouse, 703D Louisville Road. Free
Surprise! Standup comedy has become a commodity in Savannah. At Bay Street Theatre, there's a monthly show called the Savannah Comedy Revue, featuring regional and even national comedians. The Wormhole brings in A-list standups once a month, too.
The grassrootsiest, however, is a local movement called - at least on its Facebook page - We Need a Comedy Scene in Savannah.
Phil Keeling is a charter member of this loosely-knit association of funnymen and women, which has been putting comics on local bar and restaurant stages - with increasing frequency - for nearly two years.
Keeling, 29, is taking the next step by recording his show Friday, Feb. 17 at Muse Arts Warehouse. Admission is free to the 8 p.m. performance, which Keeling has called Conquistadork.
He's making a CD because, well, he's taking comedy seriously.
"I've always been a standup comedy junkie," Keeling says. "And I can't believe it took this long to realize this was the natural flow of things."
Along with Shane Gray, Lee Keeler, Christopher Soucy, Chris Davison and a handful of others, Keeling first took to the standup stage at the Sentient Bean's Open Mic Comedy Night.
"I was an actor, and I've always been a writer, and I tended toward comedy writing," he explains. "Don't get me wrong, I definitely went through that phase of being pretentious as all get-out, trying to write the play, the book or the poem that would set the literary world on fire, but the things that actually got published and produced were the ones that I just wrote to be funny."
In the early Bean days, there were never enough comedians. "You'd get your 15 minutes, and then we'd literally run out of performers," says Keeling. "So the host would say ‘Uhhhh ... if anybody wants to come back up again ....'
"And now, you have to get there 30 to 40 minutes early to get on the list. It's absurd. There's so much interest in it. It's just been growing and growing, and last month we had a show somewhere every few days.
The guys now regularly gig in Hilton Head, Bluffton, Beaufort and even Statesboro. "Basically, if you've got a microphone and you'll give us 50 bucks, we'll friggin' be there."
Redneck bars, as Keeling calls them, are the truest test of one's mirth-making mettle. If the crowd doesn't like you, they'll quickly let you know.
Heckling "makes you better. It makes you funnier and keeps you on your toes. And it really separates the great comedians from the good ones."
He doesn't, however, appreciate being ignored. "If a person screams ‘You suck!' at me or something, I can handle that," he explains. That doesn't bother me one bit. Because he probably wasn't paying attention in the first place.
"It's when people talk over you and just won't pay attention at all. That will shake you. Make ‘em laugh? Awesome. Make ‘em scream at you? Cool! But when they just ignore you, that doesn't feel good."
A few months ago, Keeling went to Los Angeles to visit his old Savannah pal Keeler, who managed to wrangle him a 15-minute stint onstage at the legendary Improv club.
That's when Keeling decided to take the plunge, declare himself a full-time comedian and record a local show, in order to get some attention.
"I think I'm good at what I do," he says. "I have a lot of confidence in it; if I didn't, I wouldn't try. But being one of the best comedians in Savannah is like being the world's tallest midget.
"I don't need to be famous or rich. If I could pay my bills by going around and telling jokes, I'd be the happiest damn guy in the free world. That would thrill me."
There are several Phil Keeling live video clips on YouTube.