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Making funny: For Alex Haley, Putting on a good show is as cool as being in a good show

By on June 25, 2019 in Arts with 0 Comments
Alex Haley performs at the Numerica PAC for the Cold Winter Nights Comedy Series. Photo by Chris Ohta

By Susan Lagsdin

What big-time comedian would you like to spend a whole day with, to soak up some vibes, take away a few pointers? 

“Jerry Seinfeld,” Alex Haley said immediately. He likes those trademark “So what’s going on with…?” observational openers.

 “Oh, then… Robin Williams if he were alive, Bill Murray… but really,” he continued, “My favorite would be Lorne Michaels.” He’s the masterwizard behind TV’s Seinfeld, not the lead, and that choice makes sense. 

Though he’s performed live comedy for years, Alex, at 31, maintains he wants his legacy to be helping other people gain confidence in their comedy, and that “it’s just as satisfying to put on a good show as it is to be in one.” 

Alex admitted that stand-up comedy is tough on the soul. Some nights… well, some nights people just don’t laugh. But If you want to make a career of it you just have to go on — the next line, the next night.

And, ironically, though most comic bits need to be honed with countless live repetition, audiences respond best to fresh material, rarely do they savor favorite old punchlines. 

In Seattle or New York, you can uber 10 blocks after a set and find a fresh club with its own crowd; in Wenatchee, it’s not so easy. That’s partly why Alex is driven to diversify — keeping it fresh and bringing in new audiences is good for everybody.

Ever since he veered away from sports his senior year at Eastmont High School (’06) to take a role in Godspell, Alex has been connected to some edgy form of show business as a stand-up comic, impresario, writer, actor and program planner.

In 2012, back home from Western Washington University after receiving his BA in business — and after his own debut, a roommate-coerced stand-up set — he invested in and staged his first comedy show as Alex Haley Presents, in the riverfront basement bar 10 Below.

 The invited comics got enough laughs from a first-time audience that Alex knew he was on to something: his hometown, coming of age in the arts, might actually enjoy and support comedy. 

Alex joined with his friend Pete Lolos on other ventures as the four-initial anagram LAPH (“You think that works? We thought about maybe ALPH, or PHAL…” he deadpanned) and gained a growing audience in venues as diverse as Campbell House, Radar Station, Café Mela, Clearwater and the PAC.

Working shifts at local bars and bistros, he still made time for what mattered most to him. He produced ambitious shows (the first Wenatchee Comedy Festival featured 36 comics, possibly too big for starters, he reflects); he was an MC, a talent judge, an event planner at Pybus for a year. 

He started May’s Blossoms and Brews event at the Centennial Park and did some writing: promo sketches for North 40, articles for experimental regional publications like The Telegram and Field and Compass.

Alex is also proud to claim stage time in most of Don Fox and Jaime Donegan’s eyebrow-raising Hot August Nights musical productions and has a part in Hands on a Hardbody this summer. Serious drama’s new to him, but he’ll play a strong supporting role in September’s The Elephant Man, directed by Matt Cadman. 

This acting opportunity is especially meaningful because Cadman, the former director of the Numerica PAC, has praised Alex’s work ethic, characterizing him as “completely adaptable… hungry and talented, smart… with incessant drive,” and tapped him in the summer of 2018 to become the PAC’s program manager. 

Now his full-time job is vetting and booking stage productions, securing local sponsorships and continuing community outreach efforts. He’s nurtured Full Circle’s Twilight Theatre (Shakespeare in the courtyard) and EKAP (“every kid at the PAC”), and he initiated this year’s Apple Awards for excellence in high school theater.

And the laughs continue. 

LAPH Productions partnered with the PAC last winter for Cold Winter Nights, billed as a three-part stand-up comedy series in Wenatchee’s chilliest months and featuring young comics from late night TV gigs and sold-out comedy concerts.

Alex fosters good connections with West Coast comics, but the big city’s more boisterous comedy scene hasn’t pulled him away; being here has been good for him and good for Wenatchee, where he hopes to stage at least one indy comedy show a quarter. 

“I get the chance to experiment,” he said. “Sure, it’s a smaller market, a smaller scale, but it’s great being in a community where your work can actually have a personal impact.” 

“How about ending with just one joke?” (Any interviewer can elicit a deer-in-the-headlights look from a comic with that request.)

Alex hesitated, made one false start, chuckled at his awkwardness, then flawlessly riffed for three minutes on finding a listing on Craig’s List for a used casket. 

The bit was really funny — buy-a-ticket, take-a-seat funny.

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