Boy-next-door comic on stage in Carbondale, Aspen | AspenTimes.com

Boy-next-door comic on stage in Carbondale, Aspen

April E. Clark
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

Stewart Oksenhorn/The Aspen TimesPete Lee, winner of the Comic's Comic award at last year's Aspen Rooftop Comedy Festival, returns to the festival this weekend with appearances Friday at Rooftop at Steve's at Steve's Guitars in Carbondale and at the Late Show, Saturday, June 12, at the Wheeler Opera House in Aspen.

ASPEN – New York City comic Pete Lee takes the notion that nice guys finish last, chews it up and spits it out. Especially as he makes a name in the stand-up comedy world.

“There’s a juxtaposition between the nice guy I am and the mean things I say,” Lee said. “I rip on myself for being a total wimp. My dad was an interior decorator, and I was raised by my mom.”

Lee is a self-described metro-sexual who believes the stand-up comics who truly make it big – and enjoy continued success in their careers – are the nice ones. He worked his way through the ranks of stand-up in the Midwest, coming out of Janeseville, Wis., where country music is as popular as Jeff Foxworthy’s “You might be a redneck …” jokes. This spring, Lee was voted Country Music Television and Rooftop Comedy’s Next Big Comic.

“My act is not terribly country, but I know a lot of people in country radio,” he said. “The big General Motors plant in my hometown closed, and the people who worked there who were laid off voted for me like it was their job. You would never know people would catch on to this like they did.”

Winning the CMT competition reserves Lee a coveted headliner spot at the Aspen Rooftop Comedy Festival running through Sunday. He performed in Aspen last year, and relishes the opportunity to return to making Aspen audiences laugh.

“I love performing at the Wheeler,” he said. “The crowds are always incredible here, so smart and educated. You can definitely do wrong with them, as they are discerning crowd. But when you do a joke right, they really love it.”

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Lee is bringing his arsenal of self-deprecating humor to Aspen’s Wheeler Opera House Saturday, and to Steve’s Guitars in Carbondale for Rooftop at Steve’s Friday at 8 p.m. A recent newlywed, Lee will talk wedding planning, marriage and, of course being a wimp.

I talk about my wife being tougher than me,” he said.

At 32 and married, Lee has come a long way from the 18-year-old rookie who was coerced into finishing college with a journalism degree before being a professional comic. He said he always wanted to be a comic, but his dad wanted him to take the college route first. He recalled a friend who wrote down everything funny he said for a year and put it in a notebook for him to use as material.

“It’s weird,” he said. “My humor just incubated over the years. I was just afraid to go on stage. I think comedy gives you red arrows. There are certain things I’ve done that tell you in your gut you’re going in the right direction.”

For Lee, that direction is appearances in “Prairie Home Companion the Movie” and a Montreal Festival New Faces documentary. He has also made his mark in the Montreal Just for Laughs Comedy Festival and the New York Comedy Festival Competition, to name a few. Such success is a long way from a funny college freshman with stage fright.

“I guess my point of view is that it’s OK to be an underdog,” he said. “And everybody loves an underdog.”

Even with success, Lee said the stage fright hasn’t completely disappeared.

“I know that I’m well equipped and I know it’s going to go well,” he said. “But maybe it’s an inner fear that I’ll fail. Once I get that first laugh, I always feel better.”

Lee prepares by writing five days a week, taking the weekends off to relax.

“I do it like a normal job,” he said.

That work ethic caught the eye of Gram Slaton, Wheeler Opera House executive director, last year when Lee performed in Aspen. He is champion of Lee’s act.

“He is the next big thing, and I’m a tough audience,” Slaton said. “A comic really has to make me laugh. Lee’s very inventive. He just doesn’t let his act get stale. He’s constantly coming up with new stuff. That’s the kind of talent this festival offers.”

Proof that nice guys do finish last. Especially when they’re funny.