Algonquin teen has a bright future in comedy
AJ Lubecker has been telling jokes onstage at bars, coffeehouses, performing arts venues and more for two years, putting on about 90 shows and earning the label "youngest working comic in Chicago."
But despite his knack for making others laugh, the 17-year-old honors student from Algonquin is no class clown.
When not entertaining onstage, AJ is an honors student, maintaining a weighted GPA of 3.54, who serves as sports editor for the school newspaper and plays varsity golf and hockey.
As for his comedy, his style is more understated than over the top.
"In general my personality is pretty deadpan," said AJ, a senior at Dundee-Crown High School in Carpentersville. "I'm not loud about it. In school I'm not the one who says loud things in the back (of class). Maybe I'll whisper something that is funny."
According to at least one longtime comedian, AJ has real potential to make it big.
"I see him definitely as catching the attention of Hollywood or film. He's got a lot of those qualities," said Mikey O, a Chicago comedian who runs a production company with which AJ performs. "Obviously he needs more training, but I do see him as a guy that's in it to win it."
AJ is among more than 40 comedians who perform locally and nationwide for Mikey O Comedy Productions. Among the company's alumni are "30 Rock" writer Hannibal Buress, Vanessa Bayer of "Saturday Night Live," and comedians Michael Palascak and Alex Ortiz.
"I do not claim having made their careers," Mikey O said. "They were superstars when they walked in because they were just like AJ -- focused, writing their own stuff, and definitely, definitely knew this is what they wanted to do for the rest of their lives."
Chicago-area standup comedian Dave Odd, who has performed with comics like Dave Chappelle, Tracy Morgan and Bob Saget, says AJ puts a lot of thought into his comedy.
"He has a sharp, dry wit. He's heady, has jokes that are more writing-based than performance-based," Odd said. "He has the material down. He always gets laughs. He's got his stuff together. He's a lot more put-together than some of the comics than are much older than him, that have been doing this much longer."
AJ began entertaining when he was about 8. He and his little brother Shane, now 15, started filming their own bits and later created funnymania.com to feature their work. His mom, Carolyn, said comedy is a way for AJ to express himself. "He's really pretty introverted, and fairly quiet. There are people who've known him for years and when they find out he does standup, they are really surprised," she said.
AJ was 15 when he decided it was time to tackle performing in front of a real crowd, so his parents started driving him to open mic nights throughout the Chicago area. His first performance was at a cafe with four people in the audience -- three of them comics. That same night he traveled to a bar/restaurant and performed to a crowd of about 40.
"I was pretty nervous going up, but I wasn't scared necessarily," he said. "The crowd reacted well. I was getting more comfortable as I went along."
Since then AJ has been performing about every other month at Duke's Alehouse & Kitchen in Crystal Lake, where he always draws a crowd, said general manager Zak Dolezal. At first Dolezal couldn't believe AJ was just 16.
"I was running around working, and I was just listening to him. He was really funny," he said. "Then I saw him onstage and he was a 16-year-old. I was really surprised."
Despite a schedule packed with school, sports and extracurriculars, AJ always finds time to work on fresh material and new jokes, keeping meticulous track of it all in journals. He even videotapes himself performing new material to carefully analyze how he did.
"It's hard to write a really good one-liner that isn't stupid, that isn't a cheap laugh," he said.
Mikey O said he began hearing from others in the business earlier this year about AJ making a name for himself in the local standup world. In July, AJ performed three weeks in a row at open mic nights organized by Mikey O at the Wicker Well in Chicago. By the fourth week, the veteran comedian got onstage to warn the other performers.
"I told them, 'There's a kid who's 17 who rocked it a few nights ago. He didn't do the same set three weeks in a row,'" Mikey O recalled. "I told them, 'If you're going to do the same set you did last week, I'm cutting off the mic.'"
This summer, AJ got a scholarship for a two-week improv and sketch comedy camp led by Second City for talented young comics from all over the United States. He also performed in his biggest show to date, as part of a lineup of acts before more than 150 people in mid-September at the Chicago Performing Arts Center.
Comics Demetri Martin and Steven Wright are among AJ's favorites, but he especially admires Adam Sandler because of his range.
"He's funny for a lot of different people. He can be funny for grown-ups and kids. (He's) pretty unique; a lot of comics can't do that," he said. "Also, just how big he is. He is the comedian that everyone knows for my generation."
His own style is mostly observational humor -- funny takes on everyday events and common aspects of life -- interspersed with one-liners. As for dirty humor, he pretty much stays away from it.
"I'm a kid; I'm not going to say something that people are going to freak out about," he said.
And if he verges onto not-so-clean territory, well, "it's more goofy than dirty," he explained.
AJ said he plans to stay in the Chicago area for college and will study communications, journalism or something else that involves writing. That will allow him continue building his standup career while also laying a foundation for becoming a television or screenwriter.
As for the money he is making doing standup, he's saving it in case he moves to New York or Los Angeles to pursue his dream. "I'll go wherever it happens to take me," he said.
• Elena Ferrarin wrote today's column. She and Kimberly Pohl are always looking for Suburban Standouts to profile. If you know of someone whose story just wows you, please send a note including name, town, email and phone contacts for you and the nominee to firstname.lastname@example.org.
AJ LubeckerAge: 17
School: Dundee-Crown High School
Who inspires you?: My parents; comedians Adam Sandler and Demetri Martin
What book are you reading? "When You Are Engulfed in Flames" by David Sedaris
What is on your iPod? Rolling Stones, Bob Marley, Lil' Wayne
The three words that best describe you: Funny. Sharp. Confident.