LIFE

Cherokee County Herald - - COMMUNITY NEWS -

“She said, ‘Craig, this is your dream, you can get there from here if you work re­ally hard and you make some re­ally good choices.’ She gave me a home­work as­sign­ment that re­ally changed my life. She said ‘Craig be­fore you write any jokes, I want you to do some­thing. I want to go down to the li­brary and check out ev­ery biog­ra­phy we have on the great co­me­di­ans of the last cen­tury. I want you to re­search your he­roes and re­port what they did right, what they did wrong and who were some of the co­me­di­ans you want to model your ca­reer af­ter?’”

“What I never an­tic­i­pated, though, was how much it was go­ing to im­pact my life off­stage,” noted Torn­quist. “One of the things I dis­cov­ered that spring was half of the co­me­di­ans I stud­ied had their lives and ca­reers to­tally de­stroyed by drugs and al­co­hol.”

“Ev­ery sin­gle one was a star in their hey­day and ev­ery sin­gle one of them had their ca­reers and lives to­tally de­stroyed by drugs and al­co­hol,” said Torn­quist. “Well this read­ing as­sign­ment caused me to make a de­ci­sion in high school. And that was to stay com­pletely away from drugs and al­co­hol for the rest of my life. And for me that was a de­ci­sion that had noth­ing to do with a car crash, noth­ing to do with a tragedy in my fam­ily, For me it was a ca­reer de­ci­sion be­cause if I knew that not only did I want to do this for a job but once I got to I wanted to live to tell about it.”

And while he loves his job, the best part of his life is his wife Heidi to whom he has been mar­ried for 25 years, and their three daugh­ters.

And what led him to do­ing a show for 1,000 high school stu­dents at 8:30 in the morn­ing in Alabama rather than a com­edy club in New York, L.A. or Chicago, one might ask?

Lo­cal high school stu­dents join co­me­dian Craig Torn­quist on stage for a “dance-off” to a three-minute se­lec­tion con­sist­ing of snip­pets from his fa­vorite tunes of all time.

“In the 1990s my ca­reer path­way took me to com­edy clubs through­out the coun­try and I was do­ing okay but I seemed to be hav­ing the same frus­trat­ing con­ver­sa­tion ev­ery­where, ev­ery night when I walked off the stage with ei­ther the club man­ager or the club owner,” said Torn­quist. “The last time this con­ver­sa­tion took place was in Mas­sachusetts. I walked off stage and the man­ager made a bee line for me. She said ‘Craig, we need to talk right now. Craig, you have got to dirty up your act.’ But I said ‘they are laugh­ing.’ She said ‘you need to learn some­thing. This is a com­edy club. We don’t make our money off the sound of laugh­ter, we make our money off the sale of al­co­hol. We book th­ese peo­ple drink­ing a lot. Drunk crowds do not want clean ma­te­rial. If you are go­ing to make it in this busi­ness you ei­ther need to dirty it up or get out.”’

“I was furious!” said Torn­quist. “I went back to the mo­tel room and Heidi was with me on this trip, this was long be­fore the girls came into our world. I said ‘Heidi, I don’t want to do this any­more.’ She said, ‘But you wanted to be a co­me­dian since you were in high school.’ I said, ‘No, the only way I can be suc­cess­ful is to come up with a lot of rot­ten ma­te­rial for a room­ful of peo­ple whose be­hav­ior I don’t re­spect in the first place.’”

“We went home and I nar­rowed my op­tions to three,” said Torn­quist. “You guys al­ways have op­tions in your lives. Op­tion No. 1 was to dirty up my act. I knew all those words, I knew all those body parts. Most fifth- graders can write the bulk of that ma­te­rial but I can­not feel com­fort­able with those words com­ing out of my mouth, es­pe­cially in public.”

“Op­tion No. 2 was quit­ting, and I came that close to do­ing it, and then Heidi said, ‘Wait a minute, maybe there is a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion you can take than from what ev­ery­one else says you have to do and ul­ti­mately Op­tion No. 3 is the one I chose,” said Torn­quist.

“I de­cided to see if I could still find au­di­ences in Amer­ica who still want clean stand up com­edy, and now I do over 200 shows a year in schools, churches and for cor­po­rate au­di­ences, and that de­ci­sion has taken me from Cal­i­for­nia, New York, Texas, Maine, and ul­ti­mately it brought me here today to Chero­kee County in Alabama, and whether you guys re­al­ize or not, you are bet­ter than any com­edy club crowd I have had any­where in Amer­ica,” said Torn­quist. “You are smart, you are friendly and you are sober. All three qual­i­ties I find very, very at­trac­tive.”

Torn­quist in­vited stu­dents to join in a game of “That’s me” which in­volved sev­eral state­ments to which stu­dents were asked to re­spond.

-I am into sports! That’s me!

-I stink at sports! That’s me!

-I am the old­est child! That’s me!

-I am the fa­vorite child. That’s me!

- I can play a mu­si­cal in­stru­ment! That’s me! -I love to sing! That’s me! “When you drive, does the phone go in the box un­til you get where you are go­ing?” Torn­quist asked. “The next day when you get in your ve- hi­cle are you go­ing to buckle your seat belt be­cause just be­cause you are mak­ing great de­ci­sions doesn’t mean that ev­ery­one else is. And that will in­crease your like­li­hood of walk­ing away from a mis­take some­one else is about to make.”

“All of th­ese lit­tle de­ci­sions will de­ter­mine which doors open and which doors close,” said Torn­quist. “My ex­pe­ri­ence has been that if you dream re­ally big, you work re­ally hard and you make re­ally good choices, it can be a won­der­ful life.”

Torn­quist had the op­por­tu­nity to see one of his fa­vorite co­me­di­ans in con­cert, Red Skel­ton, who was a su­per­star in Amer­ica for more than 60 years.

“I met him at Pur­due Univer­sity and later that night I saw him do a two- and- half- hour con­cert for 6,000 col­lege stu­dents,” said Torn­quist. “He was so good they gave him a stand­ing ova­tion in the mid­dle of his show. He still had it at the age of 80. He shared with stu­dents a thought I would like to leave you with this morn­ing. He used to say, ‘Your tal­ent is God’s gift to you. What you do with your tal­ent is your gift back to God.’”

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