Peter Alexander Bresnan Credit: Mykael Leigh

is a first-person account from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford. This week’s Chicagoan is Peter Alexander Bresnan, stand-up comic and podcaster.

“Before I moved here, I had been to Chicago only once, when I was in high school. I had a big crush on one of my friends who went to school here, and as a result the whole city of Chicago took on this romantic air for me, even though this guy was not into me at all. So when I graduated from college and could move anywhere, I said, ‘Why don’t I go to this city that, in my head at least, is romantic?’

“I had worked really hard for a very expensive degree, and I was desperate for something to do. I very much wanted a quote-unquote ‘serious job.’ I wanted to make documentaries. But I was working at a restaurant, and that was all I was doing—going to work, coming home, watching Food Network. I remembered that once somebody told me that I was funny and I should do stand-up. I said, ‘Maybe I can,’ and I just started doing open mikes.

“The very first time I got onstage I did a joke about how sexy I thought yarmulkes were. The audience was very kind to me, given the maturity of my material and my ability. I recorded it, and I listened to it on my way home and heard giggles here and there, and in my head, that was huge, like I might as well have been in the Chicago Theatre hearing belly laughs. The more distance I got from it, the more I was like, ‘Wait. Those are just polite giggles.’ So my ego died that day, and I got into the real work of actually trying to be funny.

“When you start out in comedy, there’s so much failure. It’s just part of the work. But I’m pretty sensitive, and I take criticism personally. So I had the idea for my podcast, Tell Me I’m Funny, which is a serialized audio journal. The podcast lets me turn that inevitable failure into something productive, so I don’t have to go to an open mike and bomb hard and go home and be sad about it and eat tuna from the can. I can take that failure and make it into something valuable for me and, I hope, for other people.

“I’m very tired. All the time. It never stops. I do shows almost every Monday night at CSz Theater Chicago. Then I try to do at least two to three open mikes a week, and then I’ll generally do two to three other showcases in a month, so I guess that’s about six shows and 12 open mikes a month.

“Any success that I feel, I feel so briefly. I can work hard at my day job and then go to a show and do well, but the next morning I need to be revising material, networking, trying to get booked, submitting to comedy festivals. I recently submitted a comedy festival application that asked what you’d put on your tombstone, and I think I put, ‘Didn’t sleep eight hours a day in his life, and that’s the way he wanted it.’ The fact that I’m 22 certainly helps.”