Posted on 28 August 2009 by dubs
Keith Lowell Jensen takes off with a new stand-up CD
Words Adam Saake | Photo Kiny McCarrick
A comedian walks into a bar and says—well, he says lots of things, actually. The comedian is Keith Lowell Jensen and the bar is actually a juice bar: Luna’s CafÃƒÂ©, to be exact. Jensen’s new stand-up CD titled To the Moon was recorded live at Luna’s CafÃƒÂ© back in April of this year and features an hour of Jensen’s signature lowbrow, indie comedy. Jensen is typically known for his atheist, Christian-bashing humor that has grown in popularity due to the success of the Coexist? Comedy Tour that Jensen is a part of. The tour is a motley crew consisting of a Muslim, a Christian, a Hindu, a Jew, an atheist and a Buddhist. Jensen, along with fellow Coexist? comedian Tapan Trivedi, founded the tour after realizing their shared affinity for blasphemy.
To the Moon finds Jensen rocketing his material to new heights, touching upon anything from having a kid to the costumes in porn. Jensen gets introspective too, poking fun at his experience of attending continuation school as well as the constant confusion of whether or not he’s gay. But the most poignant moment on the CD is the closing track, a nine-minute story describing a childhood memory in which Jensen was duped by his older brother first into sitting in a pile of German Shepherd feces and then making his own deposit in a can, all to the dismay and laughter of his mother. What starts off sounding like a poop joke ends up being a window into the early developmental influences of a talented, comedic mind.
Standing at about 6 feet tall, with low maintenance attire and a unique voice that’s been described as “Muppet-like,” Keith Lowell Jensen is a true performer. He got his start in his early 20s when he was put on stage as an MC for the infamous Spike and Mike Festival of Animation, which reached the height of its popularity by showcasing shorts by such industry greats like Bill Plympton, John Kricfalusi, John Lasseter and Nick Park, just to name a handful.
“That to me is when I started doing stand-up.” says Jensen about his beginnings. “I could have said longer, because I was a ventriloquist in the fourth grade.”
From there his love of performing took him in the direction of sketch comedy, which would put his MC personality on the back burner. But for Jensen, being pulled away from stand-up to do sketch was all part of the process to becoming a better comedian. Biographies of other comedians that Jensen grew to love all had one thing in common: some kind of sketch comedy experience. Jensen wanted that experience too. So in 2001, Jensen formed the sketch comedy troupe I Can’t Believe It’s Not Comedy and focused his attention on writing, acting and directing.
“I just fell in love with it,” reminisces Jensen. “And not just performing it but when you write and direct something and someone else performs it; it’s a really satisfying feeling.”
ICBINC has performed all over Sacramento and also found its way up north to Seattle and down south to Los Angeles. The troupe, although currently on hiatus, is still in existence and all but one of the members is part of the original cast.
During the course of performing heavily with ICBINC, Jensen still found time for stand-up when he could.
“I did it once in a while to keep my chops up.” says Jensen.
Jensen made the jump back into stand-up when his friend and fellow comedian Brent Weinbach needed his help with booking a gig. One of the comedians on the bill, Tapan Trivedi, asked Jensen to share the bill with them and he agreed.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to talk about, it had been so long. So I did half the show on homophobia and half the show on religion.”
That night, his atheist comedy was born—and not long after, so was Coexist?. Trivedi and Jensen assembled four other comedians for the tour and what followed were gigs at some of the top comedy clubs on the West Coast including the Hollywood Improv and San Francisco’s Punchline. What also contributed to the success of Jensen’s atheist brand of humor was his use of YouTube as a means to broadcast his stand-up to a larger audience. Fan bases around the world have popped up, especially in Sweden, where his Swedish last name rings bells with the locals.
Since the conception of the Coexist? Comedy Tour, the past two and half years have been a learning process for Jensen, who has been extremely focused on his stand-up, always looking to improve upon his jokes and build upon the foundation that was formed from doing years of sketch.
“Sketch gave me a freedom in stand-up to play characters a little bit more, to change my voice when I’m giving the words of another person or in quotes within a joke. I think sketch certainly helped me with pacing,” he says.
For Jensen, the writing and performing process is ever changing and spontaneous. Some of the material on To the Moon was written the day it was recorded. Depending on how the crowd is that night, Jensen can add or subtract material at a whim.
“It’s just an interesting part of this art form; it’s so fluid and it’s such a back and forth with the audience. There are very few art forms where you put it in front of the audience and you go back and forth and you keep molding it and changing it according to how it sits with them,” says Jensen.
With a tour schedule that has brought him attention outside of Sacramento and the Internet at his disposal for promoting his stand-up, its seems that at this point in his career it would make sense for Keith Lowell Jensen to move to where there’s more work and a bigger market. But making the move to somewhere like Los Angeles just isn’t in the cards. In fact, being from Sacramento is part of his brand, says Jensen.
“It’s an unusual identity to be from somewhere like Sacramento, and to be proud of where you’re from and not feel the need to switch it up and go down to L.A. I don’t want to be an L.A. comic, I’m a Sacramento comic,” says Jensen.
Sacramento is lucky to have Jensen, who is more than qualified to be an ambassador for the River City. He’s practically a household name in the arts community, and for good reason. This past March saw the release of his documentary, Why Lie? I Need a Drink, a hilarious look at panhandling from a homeless and non-homeless perspective. The non-homeless perspective showcased Jensen in various costumes with a multitude of signs bearing clever phrases like, “Large bills OK, can make change.” It premiered at The Crest Theatre and had quite a successful run; look for a DVD release this September. And if a tour, a CD and a documentary weren’t enough, Jensen authored a book titled The Atheist Survival Guide: A Humorous Guide to Getting By in a God Fearing World that is slated for release in November.
Considering the breadth of his undertakings, it may seem like there’s no rest in sight for Jensen. However, he might have to take a break after all with the arrival of another important something—a baby girl due in October. With the success of all his other endeavors, fatherhood should be a walk in the park. Or should I say, a trip to the moon.