Comedian Mike Armstrong stood at the bank teller’s window when the clerk asked for further identification. He was uncertain why.
“Well,” she said, “your account says Mike Armstrong, but your driver’s license says Michael Armstrong.”
He leaned in close for his straight-faced response.
“You should be a private investigator,” the former police detective said dryly.
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The 66-year-old Armstrong, a popular “Bob & Tom Show” regular who always has fancied himself as more silly storyteller than crazy comic, returns to a doubleheader New Year’s Eve performance at YES Cinema in downtown Columbus for the fifth consecutive year.
Last year, as with most of his local performances, one sold out and the other nearly sold out.
Fans seem to appreciate his on-a-whim, off-the-cuff act in which he generally refuses to write down jokes. Well, unless such is mandated by executives coordinating a special at HBO, Comedy Central or Country Music Television.
“And even then, I jump way off script — and I mean right at the beginning,” Armstrong said.
He spoke as he drove to a show last week in Spartanburg, South Carolina, touching on topics ranging from his upcoming marriage to random acts of kindness (his girlfriend Petra McGinnis, a former Michigan police detective, is known to spot lonely looking strangers in restaurants and secretly pay their tab) to his fans in Columbus, where he still greets ticket buyers at the door while thanking them for coming out.
“I’m well aware that there are a lot of ways people could be spending their time,” he said. “And I know most of them by their first name.”
And, judging by his Facebook responses, his followers seem to feel like they truly know him. Diane Doup, of Lincoln-Central Neighborhood Family Center that operates the cinema, has seen that relationship grow through the years as Armstrong has visited.
“Mike is one of the funniest people in the world — not only with the material that comes out of his mouth, but his expressions are hilarious and just as funny,” Doup said. “Many people know Mike is a former police officer and the funny situations he shares from his career in law enforcement, but equally as funny are the stories about his family. As the father of five — including kids who are in the Army and a priest — Mike always has lots of hysterical stories from their household.”
These days, he focuses a lot of his material on McGinnis, who will attend the attend the local shows. Yet, he never pokes rudely.
“I focus on nothing but the happy,” Armstrong said, adding that even with low-hanging fruit from the arena of bickering lawmakers he’ll still steer clear. “The minute you say something political in your act, you’ve immediately alienated half your audience.”
He recently completed a national tour with members of the Indianapolis-based syndicated “Bob and Tom Show.” He still speaks of the radio and TV show duo in hallowed terms for how they made his career — so much so that he still refers to his Louisville, Kentucky, home as “the house that Bob and Tom built.”
Tom Griswold produced and paid for his first comedy disc — and then promoted it heavily on the show’s website years ago until Armstrong was a hit.
“I make the sign of the cross every time I even say their name,” said Armstrong, a devout Catholic. “At the point before I met them 13 years ago, I wasn’t making any money in comedy. If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t even be doing this.”
Such breaks have further fueled his own acts of kindness, from recently handing cash to a struggling mom in the grocery store to buying a frail older man’s stamps in the post office while he waited comfortably in his car.
“I just tell people to pass it on,” he said.
What: New Year’s Eve YES Comedy Showcase with standup performer Mike Armstrong.
When: 7 and 9:30 p.m. Dec. 31.
Where: YES Cinema, Fourth and Jackson streets in downtown Columbus.
Tickets: $20 in advance at yescinema.org or at 812-379-1630 or $25 at the door.
Information: 812-379-1630 or yescinema.org.