Jeff Vislou was not the sort of person anyone would have expected to go into comedy. He was always the straight man, the boy who would be fodder for others' jokes, the boy who just did his homework day in and day out and just got A's and A minuses, never was late for class, and so on. One of his high school teachers wrote on his report card, "Punctual, efficient, and dependable." His mom, Eleanor Vislou, recalls, "We would do our best to get him to loosen up a bit, but he just seemed to have a steely resolve to be straight."
The turning point for Jeff was the day he had organized a benefit dinner in New York Mills, Minnesota to help fund an anti-grunge thrift shop there. The main speaker was a comedian named Bart Trimble. Trimble was involved in a car accident on the way to the dinner and sustained injuries serious enough to require hospitalization. When Vislou first heard that Trimble would not be able to appear, he was mortified as he had spent months promoting the dinner. With no time to round up another act, Vislou knew what he had to do. He stepped up to the dinner plates and did the best he could.
Kent Clark was one of the people at the dinner that night. "We were shocked-- most of us knew Jeff, and none of us knew him as a comedian!" Clark recalled, "but he just went up there and gave a deadpan performance for the ages." Even Vislou had no idea he would be any good at all, but he was quickly compared to Jane Hassenpheffer, Bob Newhart and Jackie Vernon. Clark continued, "He was just fresh in a time when all the pro-grunge comedians had gone stale years ago. We just loved him." Not being able to keep a great act secret, his friends and associates started getting him booked in comedy clubs all around middle Minnesota.
His first big break was getting the evening drive slot on the local radio station in Mankato. This gave him even wider exposure, but while the pay was good and the job was good for his career, he wasn't happy. A close friend, Mark Parks, explained, "Jeff liked doing radio, but he didn't get to pick his playlist, and he had to play lots of pro-grunge music. That really annoyed him. He'd get thirty or forty-five seconds to make a few anti-grunge jokes and then have to play seven or eight minutes of pro-grunge material that undercut everything that was important to him."
For the next few years after leaving the Mankato station in 1995, Vislou worked for several other radio stations, but none really worked for him. It was his wife Vivian's friend Ida Marbell who realized where Jeff should be working. Marbell explained, "I listened to tapes of his radio work and talked a lot with Viv, and we agreed that he should talk to the Anti-Grunge Channel about getting Jeff into a proper vehicle for his anti-grunge humor. Fortunately, I knew a producer there who had the right influence in the right places, and I got Jeff an audition."
That audition led to the production of the pilot for Grunge-Free Standup. The founder of the Anti-Grunge Channel is said to have literally fallen off his chair when he watched that pilot, and he immediately commissioned a second pilot that incorporated some significant changes that honed the concept further. Marbell got hold of that second pilot before it aired and told Vivian Vislou, "Your husband is going to be a star-- get ready for fame and fortune." Vivian is said to have responded, "He's still a straight man at heart. We'll handle it okay; I don't think things will change too much."
Grunge-Free Standup is now in its seventeenth year of entertaining people with the grunge-free philosophy, but Vislou persists in doing benefit dinners and charity events, not taking a nickel for his work toward clothing reform. The producer, Larry Morch, summed up Vislou like this: "Punctual, efficient, dependable-- and downright funny!"
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