Sean Jordan's journey from Sioux Falls comedy clubs to 'The Late Late Show with James Corden'
Sioux Falls native achieves a milestone for a comedian, a spot on a late-night talk show. His debut appearance on CBS comes after 17 years performing stand-up.
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — If you visited a Sioux Falls comedy club around 2005, you may have seen a young man doing a bit of stand-up before the main act.
You probably don’t remember that young man, other than to note that he wasn’t that funny.
“I was 24,” Sean Jordan said recently. “I had a lot of pointless things to say.”
Some 17 years later, Jordan has morphed from material on “partying and being broke” to what not to wear to the birth of your first child. The finer points of the placenta may not sound like the topic of a matured comedian, but in Jordan’s case it is.
And it’s decidedly on point.
Now 40 years old with a toddler, Jordan demonstrates his comedy chops on the popular podcast “All Fantasy Everything,” which he co-hosts with two close friends.
And he hit one of those entertainment career milestones recently that make you step outside yourself and consider everything that it took to get here, in this moment, on this stage.
Sean Jordan, the kid from Nitwits comedy club in Sioux Falls, who went to John F. Kennedy Elementary, Edison Middle and Lincoln High, and who opened a couple shows for Soulcrate Music. Yeah, that kid made his network television debut on "The Late Late Show with James Corden" on Friday, Sept. 23.
“I was scared,” Jordan admits during a phone call from his Portland home.
Standing behind the curtain before being introduced by Corden, with nothing but a microphone and his thoughts, Jordan reminded himself that this was the point of all the work and persistence.
And when the curtain opened and he started with a joke about his daughter Maxine, his hands shook and his voice cracked, but he made the people laugh. It was the product of hundreds of next steps to some measure of fame.
“It sounds corny but the whole time I was thinking about my mom, my wife and daughter and friends and all the things you do to get here,” he said. “I was trying to be present. Leading up to it and afterward, I tried to take it all in. It’s a crazy experience that not a lot of people get and I really wanted to let that soak in.”
'Like getting in a fight'
The Corden show in Los Angeles is — physically and metaphorically — a long way from the first time Jordan took the stage in Sioux Falls. That debut was a comedy contest, which he entered because a friend encouraged him to do it.
“That was scary. It was much scarier than I wanted it to be,” he said. “It was a feeling I’ve never felt before. It’s kind of like getting in a fight. That feeling right before, when you know this fight is going to happen and there’s nothing you can do about it. That’s what it was like the first time I did stand-up. You make yourself do it. Coming off it felt great, like, hey I did that.”
That led to hanging out at comedy clubs in Sioux Falls, eventually landing emcee and opener spots for touring comedians at Nitwits. Then performing on weekends at clubs across the Upper Midwest, the garden spots of comedy from Rapid City to Fargo, Duluth to Peoria, while working full time in a Sioux Falls call center.
When Nitwits closed, it was decision time.
Friends were moving to Portland in 2012 so Jordan took the opportunity to move on and start over.
That meant tearing down his act and rebuilding from scratch. And while the material changed — and improved — the grounding in Sioux Falls hasn’t wavered.
It sounds hokey or cliche, but his upbringing made him polite and well-mannered, which ultimately serves his comedic persona. He’s a nice guy telling funny stories about his family and some of the dumb things that happen to him, like sitting in a rocking chair in jeans and no shirt in a dark corner of a birthing room.
When he was young, just having access to a stage and performing allowed him to get comfortable in front of a live audience. That doesn’t mean it was funny. And if there ever doubts, there is always the video.
“They are so bad,” he said. “I can barely watch them. If my wife wants to watch them, I have to leave the room.”
Lessons from Soulcrate
Jordan returns to Sioux Falls once or twice a year to visit family. When he does, he tries to book a show to keep in touch and help where he can. Watching him attain the level of success he has is inspiring to local comedians, said Zach Dresch, who performs regularly at Boss’ Comedy Club in Tea, the primary venue in the Sioux Falls area.
The fact that he stops at Boss’ when he's in town is a great contribution to the local scene, Dresch said.
The Corden appearance “gave me a lot of confidence,” Dresch said. “To see someone, who I’ve met a handful of times, and got to work with, that he is making it on the national level, that is really cool to see.”
Jordan is also connected to Soulcrate Music, the Sioux Falls-based hip-hop group who spent several years making records and touring nationally.
Beyond opening for the band a couple times, they were friends. Soulcrate’s do-it-yourself ethos demonstrated that you can find success from Sioux Falls.
It’s not going to be easy, but if you work hard and pay attention, it’s possible, Jordan said.
For instance, he still doesn’t have a manager or a booking agent. He does it all himself, a reflection of that lesson learned watching Wes and Dan Eisenhauer and Corey Gerlach build their self-contained music company. Even today, while Soulcrate is retired, the trio are ambitious business owners in Sioux Falls.
“A lot of people think you can’t do it from home,” Jordan said. “Soulcrate was a huge motivation behind why I started doing stand-up and keep doing it. They really helped me with that and I love them to pieces.”
He's done the work
Wes Eisenhauer says he recognizes the similarity between Soulcrate and Jordan. In both cases, it took time, making the connections, sticking with it and not giving up.
“What I see in Sean is, from then to where he is now, he obviously has done the work,” said Wes Eisenhauer. “He’s a pro. That’s awesome.”
Doing the work means looking at that next step, imagining that it’s possible and then figuring out how to make it happen, Jordan said.
Even if that seems crazy.
“When you think about anything like this, like a band or anything, it seems daunting but you just do it and things just work themselves out,” he said. “It sounds so naive, but I've always thought just have that goal in my mind and it will work. It’s proven to be true for me.”
A podcast on the road
"The Late Late Show" notwithstanding, the podcast is currently the prime vehicle for Jordan’s career.
It’s more than a podcast, actually. The hosts often take it on the road, recording a live podcast worked in and around stand-up shows, usually over a few days.
Ian Karmel hosts the show with Jordan and David Gborie as co-hosts.
Karmel has an Emmy and is currently the co-head writer for "The Late Late Show."
Gborie is a comedian, writer, voice actor, who is currently the voice of the Comedy Central Network.
It's possible that three funny people, who are also good friends, could sit around for an hour and record a pretty good podcast. But it helps to have some structure.
On "All Fantasy Everything," that framework is applying the principles of fantasy sports leagues to pop culture. That means picking a "team" of Italian TV characters, boat names or, most recently, sea creatures.
Turn on the mic and let it go. After more than 300 episodes, they aren't running out of ideas.
Sept. 30 to Oct. 2, they are at The Improv in Washington, D.C. That’s followed by the 10,000 Laughs Comedy Festival in Minneapolis, Oct. 6-8.
Both weekends are sold out.
'You want people to care'
The live recordings are rewarding because it’s a chance to meet and mingle with their listeners around the country, Jordan said. The fans are engaging people who want to share their perspective of "All Things Fantasy."
“One of my favorite things is meeting people before and after the show,” he said. “A lot of people have touching stories about what the show means to them, that it got them through hardship, or during COVID it gave them something to look forward to.
“That’s the best thing in the world. That’s what you want when you are doing any form of entertainment. You want people to care a little, be a bit invested.”
The reality is that 6 minutes on a TV show doesn’t make a career, particularly one built for the long term.
Jordan got a lot of messages after it aired, from friends across the country, some of whom he hadn’t seen in many years. And maybe it will lead to more opportunities.
Maybe a bigger tour.
Or a Netflix special.
Or a sitcom.
Or … not.
“It helps that I did it when I was older. I didn’t expect my entire world to change the next day, whereas 10 years ago I might have,” Jordan said. “It’s a huge step in the right direction and it will help tremendously, but it doesn’t change your life.”