Over the years the set ups will change, but the punch lines stay the same.
"I read once there were only six jokes," Tony Boswell says. "Everything you hear is just someone retelling one of them."
Ronald Reagan was president the first time Boswell told a joke on stage.
He had already dropped out of college twice, and was hanging out with a bunch of actors taking improve classes and performing. He warmed up the crowd one night before the group's show, "on a lark." He's been on stage ever since.
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"You'll see people do a joke about cell phones now," he says. "It used to be about switching from rotary to touchtone."
One thing he's learned is, the tougher times get, the more material he has to write about.
"Comedy does well when other things aren't [doing well], some of the best audiences are in places where times are tough," Boswell says. "When you have an idiot for a president it makes it easier on me."
Not much comes easy, though. Boswell, who moved to Fort Mill in 2006, spent last November battling his way through four rounds of competition in Seattle during the Seattle International Comedy Competition. Over three weeks 32 comics, out of hundreds that auditioned, were whittled down to five finalists. Boswell took second place overall, $2,000 in prize money and several gigs based on his performances.
"I'm much more respected in Seattle than I am here is Charlotte," he says. "Part of that is there are no competitions here."
Boswell, who grew up in Chicago, performs some at the Comedy Zone in Matthews, N.C. He also spends a lot of time on the road.
But because he sets his own hours, Boswell says he tries to never be away from home for more than a few days at a time. He has a 7-year-old son there that spits out a lot of his material for him.
"He says things that are so funny you can't help but laugh," he says. "But he's bored with me. You put in a tape of my show and about a minute in he's asking what else is on."
Boswell says his mother still can't believe he makes money telling jokes.
Neither did one of his neighbors. He was never the class clown type, he says.
"I was at a poker game and one of my neighbors asked me what I did," Boswell said. "He got mad at me when I told him because he thought I was lying to him."
More and more people around may start to recognize him, though. Boswell is starting a comedy night at Lancaster Tavern, in Lancaster at 1436 Hwy. 521, starting at 8:45 every Tuesday. Boswell or one or two other local professional comedians will perform a couple sets along with a few amateurs brave enough to try.
The comedy night will go on hiatus in April and come back in May.
Those interested in a spot on stage can contact Boswell through his Web site, www.tonyboswell.com.
Eventually, if the comedy night takes off, people may be able to sign up at the tavern, he says.