Recipe for Becoming Keith Lowell Jensen

July 19, 2021

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Keith Lowell Jensen

Interview by

Valerie Lopez

Article by

Sara Cline

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2021 Summer Vacation Series

Destination - Sacramento, California

The world is in the midst of a host of debuts, including the blinding sight of faces that haven’t seen true sunlight for many months, poking out of doors and taking the cautious first steps back into the great outside.
It’s only fitting that we debut something of our own for the podcast: the 2021 Summer Vacation Series. While we’re in no way on vacation, the theme speaks more to that most summer-y of concepts, traveling to new places near and far. Many of our guests are local to Austin, but during the pandemic we had the honor of “hosting” comics from around the world on our Isolation Comedy series, and the Vacation Series is our way of bringing them back for the full Comedy Wham interview treatment.

Let me lev­el with you all: My job here — curat­ing cool sto­ries from come­di­ans — is not ter­ri­bly hard. Think about it: For one thing, come­di­ans are pro­fes­sion­al sto­ry­tellers. For anoth­er, strange and fan­tas­ti­cal things hap­pen to them often. (I don’t know if that’s by mag­ic or just by virtue of inter­act­ing with drunk peo­ple on a night­ly basis, but I digress). That’s a pret­ty fool­proof recipe for cool sto­ries. The only prob­lem is, every so often, we get the priv­i­lege of talk­ing to a sea­soned com­ic like Kei­th Low­ell Jensen — some­one with so many inter­est­ing sto­ries and fab­u­lous cred­its, it becomes a strug­gle not to make the arti­cle sound like one long infomer­cial à la Bil­ly Mays. (“But wait, there’s more!”)

Seri­ous­ly though: Jensen has eight com­e­dy albums, a suc­cess­ful­ly pub­lished book called Punch­ing Nazis: And Oth­er Good Ideas and anoth­er one on the way, and he has opened for the likes of Norm Mac­don­ald, Robin Williams, and Doug Stan­hope. Hear­ing those cred­its — as a come­di­an and writer myself — I had to fight the urge to start furi­ous­ly tak­ing notes. Turns out, the secret to suc­cess was start­ing out as a punk ska kid in Cal­i­for­nia with four broth­ers, so I’ve already missed the boat on mul­ti­ple counts.

For those of you still inter­est­ed in the recipe for becom­ing Kei­th Low­ell Jensen, fol­low these steps: Start a band, but don’t play any instru­ments with too much skill. Instead, rely on your tal­ent­ed gui­tarist friend to help you turn your lyrics and ideas into some­thing tru­ly musi­cal. Pro­mote the band until you’re gig­ging reg­u­lar­ly. Then, watch help­less­ly as your friend leaves the band to be a dad. Whip eggs until light and fluffy. Wait, sor­ry, I’m get­ting my recipes mixed up.

Comedy was something where I could again be putting my words out there, be expressing myself in the way that I wanted to, and getting the attention that I wanted.
Keith Lowell Jensen

Jensen reflects on the expe­ri­ence of los­ing the band, You know, it was a lot of work. And then to have it gone overnight, because of some­one else … left me feel­ing a lit­tle bit pow­er­less.” For­tu­nate­ly, with the help of a local com­e­dy writ­ing class as his train­ing wheels,” Jensen found a sur­pris­ing­ly viable sub­sti­tute in the form of being fun­ny on stage. Com­e­dy was some­thing where I could again be putting my words out there, be express­ing myself in the way that I want­ed to and get­ting the atten­tion that I want­ed,” he mus­es. He even formed the comedic equiv­a­lent of a band: a com­e­dy troupe (with the added caveat that, this time, they would sail on if any­one jumped ship).

Sur­pris­ing­ly, Jensen was actu­al­ly not the fun­ny one” grow­ing up; he was the art­sy one with the oil paints and the poet­ry. By the same token, he was also the only one allowed to have nudes on his wall, much to his broth­ers’ cha­grin. Because their nudes, you know, came out of Play­boy, and my nudes were artis­tic,” Jensen says cheek­i­ly. Mine were in black and white.” In the same vein, Jensen start­ed out on the art­si­er, weird­er side of com­e­dy, influ­enced heav­i­ly by Andy Kauf­man: I was putting strain­ers on my head and per­form­ing my whole set as a fly, or doing a bit where I would­n’t come out on stage; I made the emcee bring the mic back­stage to me because I had stage fright.’”

Even­tu­al­ly, Jensen real­ized that his heart’s true loy­al­ty lay with telling sto­ries. From aspir­ing to be a graph­ic nov­el­ist, to want­i­ng to make movies, to just gre­gar­i­ous­ly swap­ping sto­ries at par­ties, every­thing was com­ing up sto­ry­telling. And yet, the first time that Jensen bombed was when he got up and told a reg­u­lar old sto­ry, instead of his Kauf­man-esque bits. (Grant­ed, the real rea­son it bombed was not the sto­ry itself, but rather that it was a com­plete­ly new, untest­ed joke.) That scared me off of sto­ry­telling for a while,” he rec­ol­lects. Of course, too stub­born to sim­ply write the joke off as a dud, Jensen lat­er worked out the story’s kinks and made it the clos­er of his first com­e­dy album. In fact, turn­ing fail­ures into slow-burn, late-bloomer suc­cess­es is one of his obses­sions. Some­times I’ll keep doing some­thing I don’t even like any­more for a real­ly long time,” he admits. Just because, like, I got­ta win before I can quit.”

I thought I wasn't going to make it as a writer, just because the process was too painful.
Keith Lowell Jensen

That same per­sis­tence col­ors many of Jensen’s accom­plish­ments. Take his most recent com­e­dy album, for exam­ple; he orig­i­nal­ly wrote and pitched it to pub­lish­ers as a book, but to no avail. To spend months of my life writ­ing some­thing and then not get any feed­back except a rejec­tion let­ter. Wow, that hurts,” Jensen remarks of the expe­ri­ence. And so, I thought I was­n’t going to make it as a writer, just because the process was too painful.” But much like the sto­ry that first bombed, he refused to let the book die; instead, he brought it back to the draw­ing board, allow­ing it to meta­mor­phose into his suc­cess­ful com­e­dy album Not for Rehire.

As for pub­lish­ing a book, anoth­er oppor­tu­ni­ty pre­sent­ed itself rather serendip­i­tous­ly — in the form of a neo-Nazi get­ting punched in the face on Inau­gu­ra­tion Day. (Stay with me, here.) You see, Jensen became quite out­spo­ken in favor of punch­ing Nazis. Some­how or anoth­er, a friend put in a good word about his writ­ing to Sky­horse Pub­lish­ing and before he knew it, Sky­horse was ask­ing him for a punch­ing Nazis book. And the rest, as they say, was history.

I did­n’t real­ly have faith in myself that I could write the book,” Jensen says, or that any­one would get my style. I’m so influ­enced by graph­ic nov­els and mag­a­zines … so, it was gonna be short and all over the place. And some of the sto­ries weren’t going to have real clear plot lines; they were just gonna be lit­tle slices of life.” But the book was a suc­cess. (Plus, as a come­di­an, Jensen is basi­cal­ly on a nev­er-end­ing book tour, which always helps.)

With that book under his belt, Jensen now looks for­ward to the release of his newest book, What I Was Arrest­ed For. He is espe­cial­ly fond of the project because it’s not one that any­one asked him to write; it’s what he want­ed to write. It’s me telling sto­ries, which is what I do,” he affirms simply.

That quote from Jensen might not sound so pro­found out of con­text, but giv­en the jour­ney (or recipe) sur­round­ing it, with all the piv­ots, pri­or doubts, and set­backs meta­mor­phosed, that quote sounds like the per­fect end to this cool sto­ry; we can’t wait to hear the ones he tells next.

Want to know more about com­e­dy in Sacra­men­to, California?

Kei­th’s rec­om­men­da­tions for comics to check out from Sacra­men­to include: John­ny Tay­lor, Ngaio Bealum, Becky Lynn, Park­er New­man, Chazz Hawkins, Mike E. Win­field, Kiry Shabazz, and JR De Guzman

If you’re in Sacra­men­to, check out the com­e­dy scene where comics gen­er­al­ly work at one club in town, but often head to near­by San Fran­cis­co to earn greater fame while main­tain­ing their home base in Sacramento.

Fol­low Keith


Kei­th can be seen and heard:

  • Pod­casts Host­ed — Kei­th Low­ell Jensen Presents: The Kei­th Low­ell Jensen Show with Kei­th Low­ell Jensen
  • Com­e­dy Albums/​Specials — Kei­th Low­ell Jensen: Bad Com­e­dy for Bad Peo­ple; Elf Orgy; Athe­ist Christ­mas; Not For Rehire (on Ama­zon Prime now)
  • Books — Punch­ing Nazis: And Oth­er Good Ideas; New book com­ing out in late 2021
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Keith Lowell Jensen