Small Towns: Northeast Wisconsin’s only veteran turned comedian

Small Towns: Northeast Wisconsin’s only veteran turned comedian
Updated: Nov. 9, 2023 at 6:35 PM CST
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APPLETON, Wis. (WBAY) - An Appleton man has a distinction few people can claim, he’s a veteran turned working comedian.

Ahead of Veterans Day, we traveled to a local comedy club to check him out.

This week in Small Towns, we follow Trevor Clumpner’s journey from war zone to making people laugh.

“What’s up Skyline Comedy Club?” shouts Trevor.

He’s hosting an open mic night with our news camera present.

“I’m not doing this story because I’m better than any of you comics, it’s because Jeff owes me a lot of money, gambling,” says Trevor as the other comedians break out in laughter.

He is kidding, of course, but now that we have that joke out of the way, Trevor’s path to the comedy scene is unique.

Before serving up laughter, Trevor served his country.

“I grew up in a very poor family and so I knew that there was no way any college was going to be paid for, I didn’t want to be in crippling student loan debt, so I decided I’m just going to join the Army,” recalls Trevor.

Six months after joining in 2006, Trevor was in Iraq at Camp Bucca conducting military police detainee operations for nearly a year.

After his deployment, Trevor says he got lucky in overcoming the stress of war.

“When it comes to traumatic experiences, we had a really good commander who was very, like I know when a lot of people come back and when they get out of the military, they kind of have a hard time getting in the VA system, out battalion just signed us all up right away, we didn’t have to do anything,” explains Trevor.

Which meant immediate therapy.

“And it was very helpful, so I’m one of the lucky ones for sure,” says Trevor.

After leaving the service in 2012, Trevor worked a day job and played in a band.

But his passion since he was a kid was comedy.

“I never thought about it as like a career though, I was just like well that’s just something other people do, like it’s fun to think about, I like making my friends laugh but we’ll leave it that that,” says Trevor.

That is until 2019 when a friend convinced him to take a swing at an open mic night.

“And it was like yeah, you can just do that can’t you, so then I went and watched a couple open mics, had a good time and then I tried it, did ok for my first time, but I was hooked, like there’s no looking back once you do it, it’s crazy,” says Trevor breaking out in laughter.

And for Trevor, it was now all about building a network of comedian friends and hustling for gigs.

“I’m messaging people constantly, trolling Facebook groups looking for people posting shows and reaching out to them, most of it is word of mouth, I used to work here at the door which is like a time-honored tradition among comedians, working the door at a comedy club because you get to joke around with all the comics and you have a good time, they see you’re funny, they learn you’re a comedian and then they’re like if you’re ever in Austin, hit me up, I’ll get you up,” says Trevor.

Like many comedians, Trevor’s material comes from his life experiences.

“I pull from growing up in a small town, growing up poor, I think people have described me as like dark, off-beat, silly I guess,” explains Trevor.

While there’s no place Trevor would rather be than on stage, he admits the stage is sometimes very lonely.

“Think it was Mike Birbiglia that said you’re five days away from your next bomb and I’ve been on a hot streak lately and then I was in Minneapolis last night and I bombed, and it was like you know what, that’s the one, there it is, very humbling,” says Trevor.

Just a few years after getting serious about his comedy, Trevor Clumpner is making a name for himself, and turning his dream into reality.

“I’m further along than I thought I would be at this point, which is really cool, making people laugh just brings me just so much joy,” says Trevor with a smile.