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5Q :: Michigan funnyman prides himself on being 'clean'

Wolverine State comedian Andy Beningo is truly a workhorse, sometimes doing two sets nightly for weeks at a time. Submitted photo

Dear Jay Leno's people: Andy Beningo is a name you should be familiar with. Not only is appearing on "The Tonight Show" one of the Michigan comedian's biggest dreams, but he's actually funny -- so it's win-win for everybody.

And it looks like Beningo is a little bit closer to getting on everybody's radar with his participation in the reality series "Selling Laughs" (details at the bottom of the page), which features the talents of veteran comedian Chili Challis, who's had everybody from Ellen DeGeneres to Drew Carey open for him.

But enough about that. On with the questions:

Budgeteer: You bill yourself as a "clean" comedian -- do you have to work at this, or does non-offensive humor come naturally to you?

Beningo: My favorite comedians growing up made me laugh by using relatable material and/or using callbacks to previous jokes. Most of the comedians I like don't really work "blue": Jerry Seinfeld, Bill Cosby and Dave Coulier.

I've made an effort to be clean on stage, but I feel like it's natural, too. Some comedians I work with have a hard time writing clean, but I'm the opposite: I have a hard writing a dirty joke. Dirty jokes never really got laughs for me on stage, and I'm OK with that.

But, I'll still laugh at a good dirty joke like anyone else. Funny is funny.

For those of us who haven't seen your set before, what are some of your favorite topics to expound upon?

I talk a lot about my life: personal experiences, family, friends, going to college and my short career as a teacher. I think real-life experiences are fun to talk about because people in the audience can relate to them.

You do a lot of dates -- and sometimes two shows a night -- does it ever get exhausting? How do you keep your mind fresh and stay funny for such long stretches?

The travel sometimes takes a little bit of a toll on your body, but I really, really enjoy the performing part.

I think the important part to staying fresh and funny is writing. It's fun to change it up and try new jokes because you're taking risks. A new bit might totally bomb on stage, or that new bit might now be the funniest thing you do in your show. I think walking that tight rope makes stand up pretty exciting. And even if the joke doesn't work, the audience isn't going to hate you for it.

You try to find some type of "saver line," and get them back. Johnny Carson was a master at that. When I do the same jokes over and over, I feel burnt out. And, to be honest, I think the audience senses it, too. So trying new jokes, I think, is the key.

Is stand-up your dream job, or do you hope to move into movies or TV? If so, what kind of projects could you see yourself shining at?

Stand-up has pretty much been the only thing I've wanted to do since the 8th grade, so the fact that I'm traveling and doing it for a living is pretty exciting. I have to pinch myself sometimes.

I think the dream for any stand-up is a "Tonight Show" spot, and I would love to do one in the future. I'm not really looking for movies or TV right now, but if something came up, I'd definitely jump at it.

Finally, what can you tell us about Milford, Mich., aka Dax Shepard's hometown?

Dax Shepard is great! It's so exciting to see somebody from Milford doing really well. I've never met Dax personally, but hope to one day.

Overall, Milford is a great town. It's a pretty small town, but I think it's the people that make it great. We have a lot of positive, hard-working, good-hearted people here. Michigan has an underrated comedy scene. We have some great clubs and some great comedians. We have a class in Ann Arbor that's taught by a former staff writer for "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," and we have the Comedy Castle, where Tim Allen and Dave Coulier started. It's a great place to live!

NEWS TO USE

Comedy Pro Tour, featuring clean comedians Tim Wilkins and Andy Beningo, will be held at 6:30 and 9 p.m. Saturday, March 13, at Dubh Linn Irish Pub. Cost is $10. Reservations recommended; call 727-1559. View clips from Beningo's routine at www.rooftopcomedy.com/andybeningo -- or, for a more intimate look at his life on the road, watch the first episode of "Selling Laughs" at www.youtube.com/watch?v=eav9jYNNrVc.

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