Story by Darl DeVault contributing editor
What does nationally successful comedian Greg Schwem, 58, do when he hears a return performance at Tellico Village in Loudon, Tenn. set for October sold out in two hours? Realizing the power of comedy is important to his burgeoning senior audience Schwem looks at his busy national schedule and calls back to offer to do a second show because he wants to accommodate his fans.
“I’ve already written my opening line,” Schwem said. “Rather than say, ‘How many of you saw me last time?’ I’m going to say, ‘How many of you can’t remember if you saw me last time?”
Schwem has been writing a nationally syndicated comedy column appearing in Senior News and Living since 2010. Now that he has joined the active senior demographic, he realized it was time to start talking humorously about his own senior “experiences” as opposed to just writing about them. (story continues below)
Schwem joins a famous Oklahoman who realized he needed to include senior humor in his routine when Will Rogers quipped “When you are dissatisfied (with aging) and would like to go back to youth, think of Algebra.”
Schwem is grateful to his audiences as he secures more bookings speaking to this demographic. He has generated a good amount of interest with bookings at Sun City Austin, Texas and the Forest CC in Fort Myers, Fla. for next year. Many fans are joining the legion of Schwem devotees because they can watch his online videos of his national performances on his website www.gregschwem.com and via his social media channels. His followers have howled as Schwem recounts his battle with a kidney stone, the embarrassing sounds he emits during yoga classes and seniors who are building massive houses as opposed to downsizing.
“Why do you need a wine cellar?” he asked a recent audience. “At some point in your life, the only thing in your house that should be aging is you!”
Already hugely successful as a comedian writing and performing customized routines for some of our nation’s largest corporations, Schwem is enjoying the opportunity to add seniors to his national schedule. He says he is delighted seniors are such great laughers; they inspire him to write new routines to tickle their funny bone.
He has been writing comedy at the national level for many years. His column appears in the Chicago Tribune’s web edition and more than 25 other newspapers and periodicals around the world.
The Illinois native left a promising career as a broadcast journalist in 1989 to pursue his love of standup comedy. After several years traveling the country working comedy clubs, Schwem transitioned into providing humorous keynote presentations for the corporate market.
“I realized I had a knack for writing customized material about individual companies, whether it was making them laugh about their products or just their culture,” Schwem said last month. “It can be tricky; there is a very fine line when having fun with a company’s employees, so I am careful to make the business community laugh while also praising its work.”
Over the past 20 years, Greg’s corporate clients have included Microsoft, Cisco, IBM, Southwest Airlines, McDonald’s and even the CIA. “If I can get America’s covert intelligence agency to laugh at itself, I think I am doing pretty good,” Schwem said.
And now seniors are squarely in his sights for humor. “It is such a joy to watch people who are clearly enjoying their golden years be entertained, and laughter is a big part of that,” Schwem said. “Since I am 58, I realized performing in front of active seniors would allow me to continue doing what I love. People love to laugh at their aches and pains and other issues associated with aging and I’m no different.”
He shared a joke in our interview that fits here: “I’m now playing Pickleball. The game begins with everybody meeting at the net and revealing what physical ailment drove them to play Pickleball.”
His humor reaches out from his audience to the communities they live in.
“Florida retirement communities always seem to contain an animal’s name in the title. And yet you never see that animal in the community. I stayed with a friend who lived in Panther Crossing. Trust me, any panther who attempted a crossing would have been nailed by a golf cart.”
Finally, knowing his audience is suffering from assorted maladies, he is happy to share his own.
“I threw out my back pulling weeds. I tore my retina shoveling snow,” he said. “At this point, I’m only two seasonal injuries from laying on the couch for the entire year.”
Schwem has booked dates at several Del Webb communities and now seeks out active retirement communities near the sites of corporate dates where he is to perform, “In February, I’m doing a date in Fort Myers, Fla. for a metals association and, the next night, I’ll be performing for 200 active seniors 10 minutes away. I hope I can keep the audiences straight,” Schwem quips.
Greg Schwem is a monthly columnist for Oklahoma’s Senior News and Living.