By Michael Miller
4:31 PM PST, December 4, 2012
The following column is very funny. At least, it better be. A prize-winning comedian helped me write it.
The other week, an email landed in my inbox declaring that Mark Schumacher, a high school teacher who lives in Trabuco Canyon, had trounced the competition in the Orange County's Funniest Person Contest. The 11th annual contest, held at the Encore Dinner Theatre and Club in Tustin, puts standup comedians through one grueling round after another before a packed crowd and a panel of judges.
Schumacher, who has entered the contest several times, took home the gold this year. The thing is, though, being Orange County's Funniest Person isn't like being a beauty pageant winner. You don't get to appear at ribbon cuttings, ride the fire engine during the Fourth of July parade or otherwise represent your geographic area.
In short, even if you get anointed the county's funniest resident, many people won't know just how funny you are. So after hearing the news, I contacted Bill Word, producer of the contest, and asked him to put me in touch with Schumacher. And then I posed a challenge for 2012's champion: take some of Times Community News' recent articles and see what kind of material he could create from them. Times Community News, or TCN, publishes the Daily Pilot, Coastline Pilot and Huntington Beach Independent.
More on that material in a minute. But first a little more about Schumacher. On the phone last week, he came off as warm and modest, someone who sounded bemused, more than anything else, that he had bested the competition.
For the last six years, Schumacher has taught psychology, economics, government and sociology at Santa Margarita Catholic High School in Rancho Santa Margarita. Before that, he taught English in China and Taiwan. He often hones his standup material by telling jokes in class, and he'll reward students on occasion for their wit; once, he said, a student defined "extradition" on a government test as "more than just tradition."
"I gave her half credit," Schumacher explained. "She had a valid case."
There's something to be said for perfecting material over a long period of time. But what about the late-night comedy writers, who take the latest headlines and conjure material out of them in days or even hours? I figured anyone who qualified as Orange County's master cutup should be able to craft some topical material, so I sent Schumacher a pair of recent TCN pieces.
The first was my column (which, to give due credit, followed Chris Epting's on the same subject) about the McDonald's mural in Huntington Beach that was defaced by vegan activists. The second involved Rep. Dana Rohrabacher's absence from a League of Women Voters debate in Laguna Beach, which many had expected the Costa Mesa/Huntington Beach Republican to attend.
Sure enough, Monday afternoon, an email from Schumacher arrived. For the mural story, he wrote a mock news story in the style of the Onion, with the headline "Hamburglar has a change of heart, admits mural damage was him":
In an interesting development, the Hamburglar admitted Thursday that the large black and white painted "Vegan" message on the iconic Huntington Beach mural was his doing. "I didn't mean to ruin the mural, only to get my point across for people to eat healthier," he said. The Hamburglar's transformation started about five years ago after swiping some burgers, "I was fleeing the scene, and I noticed that my breathing was very labored and sluggish. I went to the doctor, and he told me I had heart disease. My only option was to drastically change my diet."
The Hamburglar said he was surprised nobody figured it out. "The Vegan letters were painted in my trademark black and white colors, so I'm surprised nobody made the connection." Now, not only has the Hamburglar changed his own diet, he's also urging others to do the same. City officials say the Hamburglar will have plenty of time promoting his new lifestyle behind bars, as they're expecting to press charges this week on vandalism, destruction of property and numerous burger theft-related charges.
For the Rohrabacher piece, Schumacher crafted a David Letterman-style list: "Top 10 reasons Rohrabacher was a no-show at the League of Women Voters event":
10. His Apple Maps app accidentally sent him to Riverside.
9. He wanted the more neutral Rush Limbaugh to moderate.
8. He was attending a "Fifty Shades of Grey" party.
7. He was out campaigning for Nancy Pelosi.
6. He didn't realize it was his turn to pick up the kids.
5. He was Googling himself and lost track of time.
4. The surf was too good to pass up.
3. Grover Norquist made him pledge not to go.
2. He claimed his Evite always said "maybe."
1. He couldn't find his lucky puka shell necklace.
So what does Schumacher plan to do with his newfound prestige? Well, he's filmed a spot for an upcoming episode of the TV show, "What's Up Orange County," and said he's been asked to give more live performances. He added that since his students found out about his victory, they've been heckling him about it thoroughly.
But as Orange County's Funniest Man, he undoubtedly can take a joke.
Features Editor MICHAEL MILLER can be reached at (714) 966-4617 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.