Journeyman Comic Has Been Making People Laugh Over Four Decades
By: Jeff Walker, Entertainment Writer
His name may not be as familiar as some of the regulars he hung out with in the late 1970's and 80's, but veteran stand up comedian Jeffrey Jena is in demand just the same. More than 40 plus years since he first walked onto a comedy club stage, Jena still enjoys telling jokes for a living, and making people laugh.
"I taught American studies in schools overseas. I was returning from Australia and stopped in LA to visit some friends. This was 1975. My friends took me to this comedy club. It was the Comedy Store. It's is one of the first real comedy clubs in America. The emcee on stage was a guy named David Letterman. While I was out in LA I'd see guys like Jay Leno, Jimmy Walker, and Drew Carey. They were all unknown back then. Jimmy may have been on Good Times."
Jena's own comedy comes from his life. "All my jokes are from personal experiences. When I first started out it was all about teaching. But my comedy has evolved. Of course nowadays most of my routine is about family, and being a really old guy." 68 years young Jena didn't become a father until he was 48. "So here I am coaching my sons eighth grade basketball team, and the other fathers are like 'does he know the game is 40 minutes long, maybe we should get him a chair."
While teaching in Houston, Texas the comedy bug finally bit Jena. "I thought it was something I could do. So I told myself I'll take a leave of absence for one year and give it a try, maybe I'll write a book about my experience. 42 years later I'm still telling jokes. Sadly the book never materialized." Jena's first career played a part in his changing jobs. "I was teaching math and science to junior high school kids. I figured if I could keep teenagers attention for 30 and 45 minutes at a time, just maybe I could do the same on stage. The only difference is I had to actually write jokes."
He cut his teeth in the comedy clubs of Houston. "I started performing at a club called the Comics Annex. It was the same club where Bill Hicks and Sam Kinison began their careers." Sadly both larger than life comedy icons passed in the early 1990's, Hicks from a long term disease, and Kinison from an automobile accident. "Two huge talents. I was honored to have known them and worked alongside them."
Many fellow comedians Jena shared the stage with in her early days are among a who's who of comedy. "Aside from Bill and Sam, I'm still close to Drew Carey. When we first started out he was just Drew. Then he became Drew Carey. His comedy took off and then the show put him over the top."
He still keeps up with Carey, and recalls an earlier time when Carey was beginning to gain prominence. "I called him up one night and said let's go out and play some poker, some Texas Hold'em. He said he'd rather not, but he relented. After we started playing every 10 or 15 minutes someone would come up and ask 'are you Drew Carey'. Drew's always been a nice guy, and they'll want a picture or autograph. After that happened for a while he said 'you see what I mean', and asked if we could leave now."
Jena hasn't minded flying under the radar for the past four decades. "Comedy has been very good to me. It more than pays the bills. I love what I do."
The profession may not be a typical 9 ot 5 job, but Jena treats it just the same. "If you're not disciplined in your comedy career, it won't be much of a career. I tell young comics, write at least three days a week, and for at least three or four hours a day." Jena even lends his talents to his contemporaries. "I write for several well known comedians."
Throughout his career Jena has performed over 1000 times, appeared on MTV, Evening At The Improv, NBC, HBO, syndicated radio programs, the Dennis Miller Show, opened for renowned entertainers such as Barry Manilow, Engelbert Humperdinck, as well as been in several movies. "It's been a good ride. Again I can't complain. I'm 68 and still doing comedy. I'm so busy, I've actually turned stuff down."
Like his comedy, Jena admits his schedule has evolved. "I don't do the club circuit anymore. I'll do some from time to time, but more now I do corporate gigs, cruise ships, and comedy festivals. As my audience has grown older I've gravitated to where they all gather together."
Jena will once again host the 6th annual Kiawah Comedy Weekend happening Fri-Sun beginning January 24th. "I've been doing it since the beginning. What amazes me is they keep asking me back. My biggest worry is coming up with new material. These kind of events seem to attract many of the same audiences. I don't want to deliver the same jokes I told a year ago."
He admits time often is his friend. "I do have some classic material. If I did a few jokes from when I first played Kiawah, maybe the older folks won't remember what I did six years ago." He admits singers have it easier. "When James Taylor gets on stage the audience never tires of hearing 'Fire & Rain', but if I do the same jokes in front of the same crowd it's unheard of. Comedians constantly have to progress."
That aside, two of Jena's favorite jokes have to do with aging. "I hear those TV and radio ads that ask 'how long can you last in bed?'. I don't know. I love to sleep five or six hours at a time when I can get it." Another of his jewels deals with health. "I used to groan when I dropped something on the floor. Now I groan for a different reason, because I don't want to bend over to pick it up. I'll usually guy shame someone younger dude to pick it up for me."
He adds, "Getting older provides a lot of material for jokes. I guess that's because I lived a long life. Many the audiences I perform in front of can easily relate."
Jeffrey Jena will emcee the Kiawah Comedy Weekend throughout the three night event. "I'm thrilled to be back. I've grown to love the event and the people who put it on." Among the headliners are Moody McCarthy and Ryan Conner, with featured comics Julie Scoggins, Kermet Apio, Matthew Broussard, and Erin Jackson. For more on the event visit https://kiawahresort.com/packages/signature-events/comedy-weekend/
For more on Jena visit his website at http://www.jeffreyjena.com/index.html