John Heffron is doing his best to enjoy a rare day off at his home in Los Angeles, but it's proving rather difficult. At the tail end of an exhausting seven-month tour, the standup comedian has only been awake a few minutes and is already on his third interview of the day. "Can I switch phones real quick?" he asks. "I just woke up, and the next phone will get me that much closer to the kitchen."
It's a wonder Heffron even has time to eat. His career has gone into overdrive since winning NBC's Last Comic Standing competition last summer. In the course of a single television season, the boyish comedian went from being one of thousands of struggling comics plugging away in the vacuous vacuum of L.A. to a household name, thanks to his endearing high-energy delivery -- a rapid-fire succession of jokes told with the zeal of a kid flying high on Pixy Stix. The result has been overwhelming.
"You forget people know who you are," Heffron explains with disbelief. "Like sometimes I'll be someplace, and somebody will be staring at me, and I'll think, why is that fucking person staring at me? And then they'll come up and be like, 'We love you on the show!' And that's when you're like, 'Oh, that's right. I was on that show.'"
It's easy to attribute his success to the reality-television nature of "that show," a foolproof formula designed to catapult relative unknowns into prime-time superstardom, but Heffron is no newcomer to the standup game. "I think I was a freshman in college when I first got started doing comedy," Heffron recalls of his days at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti some fifteen years ago. "We had to do a humorous speech for a class, and so I wrote mine, and the teacher hated it. She said there was no structure, that it was more like a standup routine. I was like, ŒYeah, and they're laughing.'" Inspired, Heffron and his friends hit nearby open-mike nights before moving on to Ann Arbor, then Detroit. "There were about twelve clubs within driving distance at the time. Everybody needed a host, so I started emceeing and got to be pretty good. It helped me craft my style and become more confident on stage."
Though he was somewhat established from his days in Michigan, Heffron's post-graduate stint in L.A. did not prove as immediately successful as he had hoped. Of that time, he recalls watching club-goers file in for a show, nervously calculating who would laugh and who wouldn't and struggling for stage time. Eventually he moved back to Detroit, where he worked as a radio personality for five years, further honing his comedy on the side. By the time he returned to Tinseltown, he was ready to give it a real go. "When I came back, I was a little bit older, a better standup. Things were a bit easier for me."
He quickly rose to the top of the L.A. scene through television appearances, a Comedy Central Presents special, and high-profile stops at comedy festivals. By the time the second season of Last Comic Standingrolled around, Heffron was one of a handful of comics handpicked from the legions of wannabes waiting on the street to battle it out on stage. The rest, as they say, is history.
"I just got that new real thin PlayStation," Heffron says excitedly toward the end of the interview, a stream of consciousness that reveals shades of the kid in Ypsilanti, the same childlike exuberance that resonates throughout his act. Abruptly, Heffron pauses, the adult realization that he has to leave tomorrow -- and thus not be able to play with his new system -- setting in. "I'm going to have to learn to stop buying things that occupy so much of my time."