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Keepin’ it clean

Robert G. Lee makes his way back to Cup O Joy after 11 years

By Rachel Sankey

Robert G. Lee has been working and performing in the comedy industry for over three decades. He returns to Green Bay after 11 years for his performances at Cup O Joy on Saturday, June 4. Mark Atteberry Photos

After an 11-year break from the Green and Gold city, comedian Robert G. Lee – with more than 35 years of experience in the comedy industry – is making his way back to Green Bay for another performance at Cup O Joy.

Growing up in Indiana, Lee said he always knew he wanted to be a comedian, but didn’t know how to become one.

He said it wasn’t until he was in fifth grade that he realized he had some funny bones in him.

“(Our teacher) showed us a movie in class, and made us make a report on it,” Lee said. “And everybody did this very serious report. I made a comedy routine out of it. The whole class was dying. It wasn’t the fact that I got laughs; it was afterward when I realized, ‘Oh, I don’t think like anybody else. That’s when I became very aware that when you’re a comedian, you think differently – your brain operates in a different realm.”

From then on, Lee said he became enveloped in comedy, and pursued it in high school and college. Once he had his degree, he said he moved out to California, where he met his wife.

Finding the right place

In the beginning, Lee said he would hit the town with other comedians, performing at clubs to drunk audiences. Soon after, he said he realized it wasn’t the kind of life he wanted to live, and got his start in TV warmups.

TV warmups, Lee said, happen during the live filming of a show, and are meant to keep the audience’s attention up and the laughs large.

“When they start (recording the show) it takes three-and-a-half to four hours, on average, because they will shoot each scene two or three times,” he said. “When the whole show is done, they have to have an audience that is still interested and still laughing. So, my job as a warmup is to make sure they’re laughing the same in the beginning as they are in the end.”

Lee said he worked as a warmup on shows such as Everybody Loves Raymond and Frasier.

On top of being a TV warmup, Lee started working with Sirius XM radio, as well as with a handful of churches.

“I realized, ‘Oh, the churches have families, they have people all the way from kids in junior high to grandmas. These are my people,’” he said. “So it really worked – finding what I was supposed to perform for.”

Clean comedy

Lee said it was those experiences that sparked what he does now – clean comedy, which doesn’t involve swearing, inappropriate or crude jokes.

As the culture around comedy has changed over the years, he said there have been many misconceptions over what clean comedy is and what it does – noting the biggest misconception being that clean comedy isn’t funny.

“A lot of blue (dirty) comedians go, ‘Let’s go as extreme as we can and shock you,’” Lee said. “Clean comedians say, ‘All right, I can’t do that. I’m going to go back to the classics. How can I find something we all universally understand?’ I always say, ‘Have fun with, don’t make fun of.’”

Another misconception he said people have had in the past is that since he believes in God, that his stand-up is all about faith.

“What I do is 90% ‘let’s have fun,’” he said. “And it’s about family and life. But I do weave in a little (faith) at the end, but it’s not a testimony or anything. It’s not to hit people over the head.”

He also said the challenge is to find laughs and work hard enough to make clean comedy be just as funny as a dirty comic, as clean comics have become a sort of anomaly.

Back in the day, Lee said the situation was flipped, and clean comics used to be the norm.

Lee said there are still times where he needs to revise his acts to not offend people in the audience and hinder their experience.

In today’s age, Lee said with the heightened tensions coming from the news, social media and other outlets, it’s much easier for people to find a way to be offended.

“You have to go through and comb material from your act,” he said. “If somebody pulls back, that negativity spreads. It’s not like walking on eggshells, but I will sacrifice jokes I think are really funny if they hurt the sensibility of the audience.”

Lee said he always wanted to be a comedian, but he didn’t know how. It wasn’t until the fifth grade where he said he realized he though different than others. Since then, he’s performed stand-up in churches, been a TV warmup and is on Sirius XM Radio.

More than three decades

After working in the comedy industry for more than three decades, Lee said he’s been through many different experiences and witnessed a lot of changes happen in the comic realm, such as the kind of freedom a comedian has on stage to the cancellation of hurtful and degrading commentary.

At the end of the day, he said he wants to make sure everyone who comes to one of his shows leaves thinking, “life is okay.”

“My job is to lift people up,” Lee said. “We’ve come out of COVID-19, and it’s a hard time out there. I am here to inspire, to let people laugh and to have a good time. I know there are people that are depressed. I know there are people dealing with sickness and disease. I know people are having a hard time in relationships. So, as a comic, it’s my job to make them feel better. I’ve learned that it’s a really important job. I’m not trying to blow it out of proportion, but I’m saying when people leave, if I don’t leave them better than when they came in, I haven’t done what I was supposed to do.”

The show

Lee will perform at 6:15 p.m. and again at 8:30 p.m. Saturday, June 4 at Cup O Joy, located at 525 N. Taylor St.

There is no cover charge, but early bird seating and reserved seats are available for purchase.

Rachel Sankey is the associate editor of Green Bay City Pages. She can be reached via email at [email protected].

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