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Alumnus Follows Passion to Fulfilling Career Path

September 8, 2017

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From the Summer 2017 Western The Magazine for Alumni of Western Illinois University

By Jodi Pospeschil

The interesting career path Western Illinois University alumnus Joseph R. Roderick '07 followed after his graduation has resulted in his discovery of his life's passion—working with struggling youth.

After Roderick graduated from Western with a degree in English and a minor in creative writing, he began working as a residential counselor at The Children's Home in Peoria, IL. It was in the former hometown of comedians Sam Kinison and Richard Pryor that Roderick's desire to become a stand-up comedian began to grow.

Roderick eventually got a job counseling foster children, which freed up his evenings to build a stand-up comedy routine in Peoria.

"I invited all of my friends and co-workers out to the Jukebox Comedy Club's open mic night and completely bombed," he said. "I grew up in Macomb; I never grew up around a comedy club or really understood how stand-up worked. I assumed someone from Comedy Central just knew some funny people and asked them to do stand-up commedy. It was my wife who helped me realize comedians write their jokes and don't just wing it every time."

Roderick began performing each week at the Jukebox's open-mic night, then he began weekly trips to Springfield, Champaign and Mason City to craft his comedy. Thirty-thousand car miles later, he won a Jukebox regional competition, beating out 60 other comedians to become the opening act for comedienne Caroline Rhea.

For the next four years, he worked as a Jukebox featured act, eventually becoming an emcee. At the same time, he took over the podcast "The Stand-Up Chronicles," which was a consistent iTunes Top 10.

"This was the perfect storm of opportunities," said Roderick. "I got to work intimately with all of the headliners coming through town, which, because of Peoria and the club's reputation, were always the best and biggest comedians from Los Angeles and New York."

After developing relationships with comedians such as Saturday Night Live veterans Chris Kattan and Tim Meadows, Roderick and his wife, Rachel Waters Roderick '09, decided to make the move to Los Angeles.

Once in California, Roderick began working in an inner-city school in Los Angeles while he pursued his comedy dream. Through a fellow comedian, he began working for a Hollywood location company on Fox's television shows "Brooklyn 99" and NBC's "This is Us."

"It was my job to work with the director, the set designer and the locations company to try to make everyone happy," he said. "This meant that if Andy Samberg wanted to do a spit take, for example, the director would have to ask if this was okay or if it would ruin anything belonging to the locations company."

Roderick said the job allowed him to skip many of the steps people seeking to work in television have to take. But there was something about his work that left him feeling empty.

"I had spent the past eight years working with children with special needs and behavior disorders, and working on set of a TV show felt cold," he said.

He said that while most of the people he worked with were also living what they considered to be their dream, he was struck by how no one seemed happy. The final straw came for Roderick while filming a scene on "Brooklyn 99" in a supply closet and realizing the "fake" closet had better supplies than the inner-city school he had been working in.

"I realized my dream had turned into something nightmarish, and the skills that I had learned at Western and the Children's Home, of being able to help children in need, were being squandered," he said.

Roderick and his wife eventually moved back to Peoria so he could follow his passion of working with struggling youth and still make weekend performances at The Jukebox Comedy Club. The only thing that still tops Roderick's comedy bucket list is performing on the WIU campus.

"Everything in my life has a seed that was planted back at WIU," he said. "I am working full time as a children's counselor and am enjoying comedy as a passionate hobby."

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