The first time I met Nate Woogen, I didn't actually meet the man, I met the man's writing, specifically a scene from his screenplay, "Physical Therapy Massacre." I saw actors performing it at a cold reading presented by Naked Angels.
Nate's screenplay is about a violent physical therapist who is cruel to vulnerable people. The crimes take place inside a dirty gym that was converted into a clinic for people with disabilities. The setting was inspired by an experience Nate had at an unsafe clinic he visited many years ago for his ataxic cerebral palsy.
He described the clinic: "It was very creepy because you had to go around the back to the little door. It was mostly bare with just equipment around the edges." He spoke about the staff. "They weren't listening to me about my CP and they treated it like it was a sports injury."
Nowadays, Nate is pleased with the health professionals he works with and lives a very independent life in Chicago's Streeterville neighborhood.
Originally from Westchester, New York he moved to Chicago four years ago to receive medical care for complications he had from a concussion. He said he got the concussion "from a slippery floor and a radiator." He chuckled softly and called it "a perfect combination." And that's when we delved into the history of his sense of humor.
The 27-year-old said he was an early talker. "My mom said I started telling jokes really early. She thinks it might be because I had trouble moving and walking so I had to rely on talking more."
Of course, being talkative and funny doesn't necessarily mean happy. Nate said, "I was always sort of isolated because it took me longer to get places. I enjoyed being a kid. In general I enjoyed it. I just had moments of depression." He continued, "I think when I was younger, I was depressed about not being able to keep up with everyone else and then, as I got older, mostly medical things caused me to go back to depression." Nate has experienced depression at different stages in his life and said, "It's really hard to see a linear 'cause and effect' with depression."
Just as there is no single cause for one person's depression, there is no single cure. Some credit nature, exercise, nutrition, and medicine as reliable coping mechanisms. Nate credits writing horror and performing stand-up comedy for keeping him out of depression.
It is well known that some of the funniest people have depression. He said, "I know there is a high percentage of comedians who are depressed." He continued with his distinctive dry humor, "Depressed people become comedians. It's not that comedy makes you depressed."
To build the skills needed to write and perform, Nate took classes at The Second City. He started with writing classes, then improv, then stand-up comedy. Taking classes led to an internship at The Comedy Bar and after that, he started to hit the open mics.
Nate's stand-up comedy tackles serious subjects with puns from a comedian's perspective.
I watched him perform:
"This is my impression of a comedian at an assisted suicide conference. 'Hey guys. I hope you like these jokes. But if you don't, feel free to come up and pull the plug.'"
Nate charmed and amused his audience but sometimes his comedy isn't met with laughter or applause. That's how it goes. When that happens, he said it's usually because he is testing something new. When he realizes the new material is falling flat, he course corrects and performs material that is already proven. He is experienced and prepared.
Nate is an intellectual man who is often seen around Chicago performing, workshopping his writing, participating in cold readings, or supporting other people's work. He says he identifies as a writer second and a comedian first. When asked why, he said, "Comedy takes over your life once you get into it."