By day, Michael Gilkison works as one of Santa Clara University’s Academic Technology Instructional Resource Specialists, but, by night, he wears more than a few different hats – from comedian to podcaster to writer to director to musician (and the list goes on). Gilkison’s most recent project reflects his multitude of talents. This eighteen minute dark comedy film he wrote, directed, and scored called Comedy of the Corn starring his wife Heidi Brown Gilkison, local comedians Reggie Shorter and Johnny Corn, along with himself – debuted on Thursday, November 3 at the famed San Jose Improv.
For Gilkison, his love of artistic expression reared its head at age three in Kentucky. “I used to stay up and watch HBO and Showtime specials with my dad. I was well-acquainted with Richard Pryor,” Gilkison explained. “By middle school, it was Carlin and Mandel.” While Gilkison was too afraid to follow his passion for comedy as a young adult, his love of writing and music were always present. He majored in creative writing at Georgetown College and played tuba for ten years in several orchestras.
Dr. Peter LaRue, the long-time director of Georgetown College’s music program and a “genius with perfect pitch,” inspired Gilkison. “He’s a perfectionist – in an orchestra, he’d have a one-to-one connection with all sixty musicians. He would make eye contact with anyone who wasn’t on pitch until they were on again.” Gilkison said, a slight drawl creeping into his voice as he gushed about his mentor. The comedian recalled having to memorize all his music – after all, LaRue expected his band to play any song in their repertoire after hearing just the first four notes. “That taught me a strong work ethic,” he laughed.
A turning point came for Gilkison when, after several years and more than a few moves, he landed in the Bay Area in 2013. Then, he started to take his passions seriously. In comedy, he carved a name for himself at local open mics, starting with five minute sets at Woodham’s Lounge on Stevens Creek, then moving to clubs in Redwood City, downtown San Jose, San Francisco and Oakland. Slowly, Gilkison worked up to showcases where local comedians then invited him to be in more shows. At the popular Off the Hook Comedy Show in Campbell, he met Johnny Corn, one of the film’s stars. “I’m one of two people other than Johnny to host and headline the monthly showcase,” he mentioned proudly. “I love to make a big audience laugh but you still have to put in the work and take the small victories. When I do standup at a bar, and tell a good joke, I know my set is good if I can get someone to turn around and listen to me – I know that joke will get a huge roar in a big show.”
Even as Gilkison’s comedy career was taking off and he wrote jokes every day, he still explored other outlets for his talents. For nearly a year, Gilkison kept up a grueling schedule: he wrote a screenplay from 6:30-9 a.m. every morning at a local bagel shop, then worked a full day from 9-6 p.m. at SCU before going on to open mics at night. Additionally, in 2014, he and his close friend Jaye Williams started hosting a popular podcast called In the Galaxy that has been downloaded more than 40,000 times. In these on-going weekly sessions, the friends review “albums, songs, and life in general” and occasionally feature comedians (http://inthegalaxypodcast.podbean.com/).
But, over time, Gilkison became aware that this frenetic pace wasn’t sustainable. “Comedy is one of the most underrated art forms out there – it’s hard work to take something serious and make it funny,” He explained, “Look at Bill Burr, it takes one to three years of being on the road, traveling all the time to have a one hour special.”
So, with the knowledge that he liked his day job, Gilkison decided to marry his interests by starting to write Comedy of the Corn in 2015. “So, no, I’m not Superman. I took everything I love about standup and standup writing and put it into a movie. It makes me want to be a better director and writer as well.” The film is based off a true story – all the movie’s stars had a comedy show in Hollister that they traveled to and from together, where much hilarity ensued. “Sure, I embellished a lot of things, we let our imagination go wild. […] It’s a comedian’s comedian movie. It sounds cheesy, but the movie’s about the journey, not the destination.”
The process of finishing the film also reflected a journey for Gilkison. “Reggie, Johnny, and Heidi and I were all like family working tirelessly on this movie and it helps that we really like each other,” he explained. But Gilkison also had another source of help – his SCU community.
“In Kentucky, I was afraid to tell people about my love of comedy. […] But SCU has been really supportive of everything I do.” In fact, Gilkison credits SCU with helping him grow in his work. “I took classes, including Comm 30 and Comm. 191 Digital Filmmaking Practicum taught by Fern Silva. Some of the students helped with production ideas and creative suggestions. One, a law student now, even consulted with the script.” For the final score, Gilkison created three songs in GarageBand, a program he often uses – and teaches to instructors at SCU.
After the San Jose Improv show, Gilkison reflected, “It was great to have family and friends there who support my work.”
While the Comedy of the Corn gets added to the lineup at other venues, there’s no limit to what new creative talents Gilkison might tap into next.