Comedian Greg Warren has been on a Savannah stage just once before. In February 2011, he performed at the Johnny Mercer Theatre with the "John Boy and Billy No Collar Comedy Tour," a spinoff of the popular syndicated redneck radio show.
Warren was one of four or five comics at that gig, and played a criminally shortened set. This week, he's in the headliner spotlight for the 2012 edition of the Laughs For Lemonade show at the Lucas Theatre.
The annual comedy concert is a benefit for Mom's Lemonade Fund, a non-profit organization dedicated to the fight against ovarian cancer.
One of the most popular guests on John Boy and Billy, and the Bob & Tom radio program (he also does the Bob & Tom tours), the Missouri-born Warren has made numerous appearances on Craig Ferguson's late-night show. He's also been on Comedy Central, whose record label subsidiary released his CD One Star Wonder.
In high school, Warren was on the wrestling team and he played clarinet in the band. Walking the fine line between cool and dorky forms the basis for some of his funniest and most requested bits, including "No-Neck Nick" and "Flute Man," which is officially the most-requested routine on Bob & Tom.
"Wrestling," Warren says, "was really hard. I remember taking these car or bus rides to matches, or to practice, and just dreading going there. I would do anything just to escape that feeling of impending doom. I remember making my buddies laugh on the bus."
Soon, like Blue Suede, he was hooked on a feeling. "I ran for student body president. And the only reason I wanted to run was so I could get on a microphone in front of people and make them laugh. I got elected, and I said ‘You know, I don't really want to do any of this stuff. I just want to give another speech in front of people.'"
In college, one of his wrestling team chums encouraged Warren to enter a contest at a local comedy club. "I remember winning the contest and thinking I was really good," he says, "and doing it a couple times afterwards - some sorority hired me to do it - and I was godawful. Just terrible. And I'd never felt that feeling, that public humiliation and failure."
Duly traumatized, he explains, "I toyed with the idea that I wanted to have sort of a normal life. And I had a real job for 10 years - I was a salesman for Procter & Gamble. I sold Pringles and Jif peanut butter and Folgers coffee. Incidentally, Procter & Gamble owns none of those brands any more. I'm not sure I had anything to do with that.
"Anyway, towards the end I think I knew what I really wanted to do. So I would do my sales and stuff during the day, and then at night I'd go and do standup."
Warren's adept and "doing" voices and characters, like the various people who frequent one-star hotels as opposed to the four-star variety. Or his fast-talking "idiot" Uncle Earl. He has an appealing, "who me?" everyman quality.
That's something he had to work his way up to.
"I had a lot of crazy things going around in my head, but I didn't really tap into that until the second part of my comedy career," Warren says. "In the first part, you do what you think comedians do, and then later - when you become a little more secure, a little more relaxed - you can do what you actually believe is funny."
Novice comedians, he explains, will throw anything and everything at a crowd, just to see what sticks. "You do anything to cause the people in front of you make some sort of guttural noise. You just want to hear noise. Anything to make them laugh, you know, and not be silent.
"And then after a while you're like ‘OK, I've learned how to do that. Now I'd like to actually make them laugh at what I think is really funny.'"
That, of course, is the comic's key to finding his own identity.
It's not so bad, Warren admits, to have to keep doing some of the same bits in every show. "If you're doing an hour set, and you come to a market every year, you do about 30 minutes of new material, and then the ‘hits' that maybe people heard on the radio ... that's usually ‘One Star' and ‘Flute Man.' I sort of believe you should blend the two."
He's happy for whatever notoriety he can get, he says. "I'm thankful that anybody remembers me for anything other than sucking."
Laughs For Lemonade
Where: Lucas Theatre, 32 Abercorn St.
When: At 8 p.m. Saturday, June 23
Tickets: $20, $35 and $50; $100 VIP ticket includes meet-the-artist reception
Phone: (912) 525-5050