Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

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Comedic “coach” serves up plenty of laughs

His next performance is Friday in Marion, Illinois
Reece+Coach+Alexander+performs+in+a+stand+up+comedy+competition+at+the+Celebration+Event+Center+in+Marion+Illinois%2C+Feb.+2%2C+2024.
Ethan Holder
Reece “Coach” Alexander performs in a stand up comedy competition at the Celebration Event Center in Marion Illinois, Feb. 2, 2024.

Ten years ago, Reece “Coach” Alexander and a friend attended an open-mic comedy show at Hanger 9 on the Carbondale strip. They were only there to watch but his friend issued him a dare: go onto the stage and tell some jokes. 

“I signed up and not five minutes later they said ‘And your next comedian coming to the stage is Coach.’ I didn’t have anything written down and I just freestyled off the brain and I killed,” Alexander recalled. “I remember getting off the stage and the announcer was shocked that it was my first time doing comedy.”

He was encouraged to return the following week. The laughter and applause from the crowd sealed the deal: a comedian was born. 

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Alexander, 41, of Carbondale, is now a beloved regular performer in a small but vibrant and growing local comedy scene in Southern Illinois. 

He doesn’t just do it for the laughs.

“My comedy was basically to mask a lot of pain I was dealing with at the time,” he said of when he first got on stage ten years ago. Only 10 days before that night at Hangar 9, his dad passed away. “I got on stage, and for the first time, told jokes about my dead father.” 

It brought him a sense of healing that he hadn’t expected.

“Whenever I told those jokes about my father, I actually went home and cried. It wasn’t really tears of pain, it was more like tears of joy and remembrance,” Alexander recalled. “I was like ‘Wow, I really told jokes about you without breaking down.’”

Alexander has been performing since then. One of his latest performances took place earlier this month at the Celebration Event Center in Marion. 

The event only gave comedians five minutes to prove they were the funniest person in the room. Shows that move fast like that,  Alexander said, sharpen his comedic wit.

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That’s the goal, said Jonathan Hiltz, co-owner of the Celebrations Event Center. He aims to give people like Alexander a space to gain experience, sharpen their acts and overall boost creativity in the community. 

“We have a passion for stand up comedy and the small town aspect,” Hiltz said. “We love our city and this is just another way to get people in our community to do something relatively cheap and creative.”

Carol Conley, a guest at the open mic night, said Alexander’s jokes were some of the best from the competition. 

“I thought he was great. I thought he engaged with everybody really well and he had a diverse set, relating to everyone in the audience” Conley said. 

Though he only had five minutes in this particular show, Alexander said he’s grown more comfortable with longer sets.

“That one joke you can be working on for the last few years can grow every time you do and it gets better and better and better,” he said. “Then, you perfect it and now it’s a whole bit. I started off doing seven minute sets, went to 14, from 14 to half-hours now. Now I can do a half-hour, easy.”  

Hilltz said he’s passionate about offering forums like the one his center hosted earlier this month because it’s helped numerous amateur comedians like Alexander get better over time.

 “I’ve seen how much people have changed and gotten better and how their acts have changed,” he said. “A lot of times they will do the same jokes or a variation or they will work on their timing. You can see how the joke evolves from where it was to how it’s gotten funnier over time. Sometimes things happen in their life and then they bring more jokes.” 

While a lot of local comedians put in enough work to improve over time, many of them struggle to make a living off of their jokes. Most of them, including Alexander, need to work a day job to support themselves while they pursue stand up. Alexander says his day job tends to shock people. 

“I’m a behavioral analyst. It don’t look like it, do it? He like ‘you a what?’ I’m a behavioral analyst for Trinity Services. I actually just came off of work and came here to do comedy” he said. 

Alexander said that finances are not the only thing holding him back: the stress of doing comedy full time is daunting. 

“I wanna do it full time but it’s very stressful and I know my anxiety won’t allow me to do it full time but I would love to, though, if I could get my anxiety under control.” 

Local comics may struggle to turn their passions into careers, but that does not stop them from gaining local support. 

And for Alexander, bringing those local laughs is still a thrill. 

You can watch Alexander – or “Coach” – to those who know him on stage – this coming Friday, Feb. 16 at the Celebrations Event Center in Marion. He is the opening act for Stewart Huff, a touring comedian, and will do a 10- to 15-minute set prior to Huff’s 1-hour show. Tickets are on sale now at the center’s website.

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