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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Monday, Sept. 1, 2014

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In Arts & Entertainment

Wisconsin native Nathan Timmel has taken his comedy across the country and as far away as Iraq and Afghanistan.

In Arts & Entertainment

Timmel performing in Afghanistan in 2005.

In Arts & Entertainment

The comedian shares even more of his life outside of the spotlight in his new memoir, "I Was a White Knight ... Once."

Comedian Nathan Timmel takes a more serious turn in new memoir


Wisconsin native Nathan Timmel has been at the comedy game for quite some time. Since his first time onstage at The Safe House, he's been performing at venues across the country and as far away as Iraq and Afghanistan.

Offstage, he's worked just as hard, coming to grips with his tumultuous childhood, learning to accept his family and starting one of his own.

Timmel's life makes for quite the story, and his new self-published memoir – "I Was a White Knight ... Once" – covers all its ups and downs.

Although writing a memoir might seem like an old person's game, Timmel had no shortage of reasons to chronicle his life so far.

"In my mind, and I could be wrong, I felt I had enough of a narrative arc to get away with it," he explained. "I felt that going from a child that moved 10 times before he was 10 years old, learning that friendship isn't real, then watching my parents' unhappy marriage learning love isn't real – overcoming that, you can have sort of crappy, dysfunctional experiences and come out of it OK.

"Maybe I'm not an old person looking back, but I feel I've settled into a groove. Most people have a mid-life crisis; I'm having a mid-life 'Hey, this isn't so bad.'"

The Madison native spent his formative years relocating around the Milwaukee area, eventually settling in Oconomowoc with his parents before studying English Literature at UW-Milwaukee. It was here that Timmel started to channel both his flair for writing and his future career in comedy.

"I've always written. If anything interesting, in my eyes, would happen to me, I would type it up and send it to a handful of friends. This goes back to the days of Brother typewriters, before computers and word processors," he said.

"One day, I heard that The Safe House had an open microphone for comedians. I went down there and got onstage and I fell in love. I did really well. I got a little cocky, like, 'Oh, I can do this! Nobody does well their first time out.' And then of course naturally, the next three or four times in a row I just failed. But, I was hooked off that first show."

Although comedy is his full-time gig, Timmel's memoir doesn't focus on being funny. Rather, it explores his past with real, honest emotion – humorous or otherwise.

"There are funny moments in it, but it wasn't written specifically to generate a ton of laughs," he explained. "On stage, everything should be funny. If people have paid to see a night of comedy, they want to laugh. It was actually sort of relaxing to write the book and not have that sort of idea of 'Make everyone happy' hanging over my head."

While it may not be stand-up funny, there is a fair amount of comedy in "White Knight." Among other things, Timmel covers his experiences performing for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan through the military's Morale Welfare and Recreation division.

"Something that is absolutely the best part of my entire comedic career is I've been lucky enough to go overseas for American troops a handful of times and perform for them," he said. "I write about that in uncensored ways that people really seem to respond to. They have funny moments in them, but they're also very heartbreaking to read."

It's the real, down-to-earth stories like this that people have connected with most in Timmel's memoir. Even with limited release (it's available on Amazon.com for digital download and in paperback, as well as at Timmel's stand-up shows) its honesty has captured people's empathy and admiration.

"The feedback I get the most often is that people tell me – and they say this as a compliment – they say I have an average story, very well told," he said. "I didn't overcome a drug addiction, I didn't climb Mount Everest with two broken legs. They enjoy reading something fantastical, but at the same time my story is very relatable because it's an average story of a dysfunctional childhood, working through it and becoming an adult without blame, without pointing fingers at my parents, without blaming society.

"A nice, quiet story can be a good thing also."

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