Joey Ficken releases debut album


Courtesy Joey Ficken. Photo by Danny Carmen of Danny Does Pix.

Local comedian Joey Ficken has released his debut album, “That Wind Has Been Blowing for Years” on Nova Labs. Ficken will perform at DG’s Tap House on Tuesday, Jan. 20. 

Waylon Sternhagen

On Jan. 20, Joey Ficken, local comedian and ISU alumnus in advertising and psychology, is releasing his debut album, performing at DG’s Tap House, and celebrating the five-year and one day anniversary of his first standup performance.

Oh … it’s his birthday too.

It is an exciting day, but you might not catch that if Ficken was telling you about it. Onstage and off, he speaks in a dry, measured and unwavering monotone. There is a hint of self-deprecation in much of what he says, even when he talks about pursuing his passion and trying to make it as a standup comic.

“I don’t want to be the guy who says, ‘I could have been great,’” Ficken said. “I want to be guy who says, ‘At least I tried.’”

Standup was not always something he wanted to try. Growing up in rural Nebraska with a father who was not a fan of comedy and no cable TV, his first taste of standup came by way of comics-turned-sitcom-stars like Jerry Seinfeld and Ray Romano. The straight-laced comedians did little to pique his interest.  

That all changed when his older brother introduced him to the deadpan, absurdist humor of Mitch Hedberg.

“I was just like, ‘Dude, you can be like this?’” Ficken said. “I had no idea … you can be funny the way you want to.”

Ficken began working on material of his own not long after. He started writing television scripts, but feared that no one would take his work seriously until he proved to them he was funny. Telling jokes onstage was the logical way to do that.

“One night, I got mad at myself because I wanted to do standup but I was so scared of it,” Ficken said. “I just picked an open mic date and [said], ‘I’m doing this. There’s no talking me out of it.’ And I tried talking myself out of it, but I stuck to it.”

On Jan. 19, 2010, a date he can cite from memory, Ficken made his debut at the Maintenance Shop in the Memorial Union. He performed a seven-minute set and did well for a first timer. It was a formative experience for the young comic.

“That was the greatest rush I have ever felt in my entire life,” Ficken said. “I’ve never wanted to quit since.”

Ficken has performed at dozens of open mic nights and comedy clubs since then. In 2012, he won the annual Veishea Says I’m Funny comedy competition. It was a milestone not only in his comedy career, but also his life in general.

“It was the first time I’d ever won anything completely on my own merit, not like a team thing,” Ficken said. “It was really gratifying getting that trophy. I felt like I made it, even though I knew I didn’t. It was something I will remember for the rest of my life.”

Three years later, the time has come for another milestone. Ficken is releasing his first live album, “That Wind Has Been Blowing for Years” on local record label Nova Labs. Recorded last November at DG’s Tap House, the 45-minute album features 63 jokes, most of which are observational and unpredictable. 

Though it is the first recording of Ficken’s work that is available for purchase, it is not the first he has made.

“I was supposed to do [an album] a few years ago but the file got lost and I’m kind of glad it did,” Ficken said. “But at some point, you just have to record yourself.”

While many comedy albums are edited to play up the laughs, Ficken opted to leave the recording mostly unchanged. The end product is a true-to-life representation of his set, warts and all.

“I put out there that I could edit anything that he wanted, but he left everything in tact,” said Nova Labs co-founder Bryon Dudley, who also recorded and mixed the album. “I think it’s just a document of that whole evening.”

“That Wind …” is the first comedy album to be released by Nova Labs, but it probably will not be the last. The label has unveiled a new imprint, Nova Laffs, especially for the occasion. Dudley said the decision to release a comedy record was an easy one, even though it is a departure from the label’s typical musical fare.

“When I was a kid, the first records I bought were comedy albums and I just played them over and over,” Dudley said. “Nobody’s putting out comedy albums around here, so why not? Hopefully, if it goes over well enough we’ll do a whole series of them and help bring a little bit of spice to the local comedy scene.”

Ames residents will have the opportunity to pick up the record and hear Ficken tell jokes in person when he performs at a free album release show at DG’s Tap House on Jan. 22. While Ficken’s name is at the top of the bill —he is after all, releasing an album on his birthday — the night will not be all about him. He booked five other comedians to perform, all of whom reside locally or have Iowa ties. It is a testament to a comedy scene that is small, tight-knit and very supportive.

“[In] community scenes like this, you’re not going to get famous with your own name,” Ficken said. “Comedy’s going to get famous, not you. Most people [wouldn’t] know or care who I am, even if I were famous. It’s just a big effort to grow crowds.”