Whiskey Bear Comedy Festival: Tom Plute

Erica Thompson

Whiskey Bear Comedy Festival co-producer Tom Plute can trace his interest in comedy back to his childhood in Granville. In third or fourth grade, he kept an Adam Sandler comedy album hidden in his room and secretly watched episodes of "Saturday Night Live" on his black-and-white TV. However, he didn't expect to have a chance to become a comedian himself.

"I never thought standup was a thing that you could just do," he said. "It just seemed unattainable … like you have to be in LA for a few years before you could even try it."

So after high school, Plute embarked on a more traditional path, majoring in environmental studies at the University of Toledo and working a few jobs in and outside of his field. It wasn't until he moved to Columbus in 2009 that he learned about open mic nights for new comedians, and decided to try one out.

"It was real bad," he said of his first attempt at Surly Girl Saloon. "But I was like, 'I love this, I don't ever want to stop doing this.'"

Plute eventually worked his way up to doing shows at venues throughout the state, including the Funny Bone, Wiley's Comedy Joint and Go Bananas. His material consists of exaggerated personal stories, which can be dark. "I've struggled with depression my whole life … I think most of my act is making sad things really funny," he said.

While onstage, he refers to a notepad, a "setlist" of material to help him transition from joke to joke, which is difficult for him. "It's unprofessional," he said laughing. "I should memorize my jokes."

Despite the "bad habit," Plute has had some big breaks, opening for his comedy hero Doug Benson and former "SNL" cast member Tim Meadows, whom he got to know really well. "I'm in the middle of this conversation opening up to him and telling him personal stuff and he's telling me personal stuff [and I thought] 'I'm bonding with Tim Meadows! Tim Meadows is my friend.'"

However, it's difficult to get consistent work and advance a comedy career in Columbus, Plute said. "There's kind of a ceiling with how much you can do here and when you get there, you either have to be fine with where you're at, or you've got to move."

Plute has been proactive, creating his own opportunities like his Thursday "Comedy Dead Spot" open mic, his live podcast, "Whiskey Deep," and the Whiskey Bear Comedy Festival.

"You can expect a lot of great comics that we've painstakingly gone through and selected [who] are from all over the United States," he said. "I'm going to feel a lot of pressure like, 'Oh God, I don't think I'm good enough to be in this festival.'"

Plute isn't sure what's next for him after Whiskey Bear ends. He may audition for a sketch comedy group, which would be a completely new experience for him. He's unsure about leaving Columbus, but if he ever makes it big in Hollywood, he'll ensure he's prepared.

"Eventually, when I get the arena tour, that's when I'll get rid of the notepad," he said.