The least interesting thing about Brooks Whelan, the stand-up comic and member of the ignominious SNL one-season club, is that he lives out of an REI backpack. He used to take that backpack on trips through Europe. He has spent Christmas with it on a camping trip in Catalina. It’s what he took to Alaska to tour with his buddy John Oliver and what he brought when he recorded his soon-to-be-named and released standup special in Anchorage. It sat by the side of the road as he ran an entire marathon during quarantine with minimal training, just so he wouldn’t lose a bet. Dude commits and takes pride in efficient packing. No shock there. He’s an engineer by trade.
More specifically, Whelan is a biomechanical engineer. He studied to become the next great stent innovator. He got fired from a job making heart valves. There’s a metaphor there about the life, death, and afterlife of careers. Whelan is kind of famous for getting fired and he’s fine with that. He’s got a backpack and no trouble moving on.
And that backpack (a co-op flash 55 in moss) is emblematic of Wheelan’s goofball pragmatism, which, if it could be stocked in a sporting goods store, would sell out immediately. Like a bad engineer or a good comic, he’s comfortable with entropy. Like a good engineer and a bad comic, he wants solutions. During the WGA strike, he toured Alaska of all places meeting local celebrities. The podcast he was obliged to start to participate in the circular, ummm, promotion of his chosen field, Entry Level, is about first/worst jobs.
He’s got a good job now. It’s portable.
SPY: When you were hired as a cast member and writer at Saturday Night Live in 2013, did you buy yourself anything to celebrate? If so, what was it?
Brooks Wheelan: When I got SNL, an MMF record player was the first thing I bought because I thought I was going to be rich forever, and that wasn’t the case. I was 27, it was $500 and it’s still the most expensive thing I own.
Music Hall mmf-1.5 Turntable
SPY: Other than your REI backpack, are there any other items you’d recommend for someone looking to camp or travel in general?
BW: I have a sweet North Face tent I like a lot, and a Jetboil is super helpful for making coffee. I didn’t know how helpful it was until I had it. It’s the best.
SPY: Are there any creature comforts that make home feel more special when you return from traveling?
California Map Tolkien Inspired
BW: I love maps. Like a map of California that’s drawn like Lord of the Rings? That’s cool as hell. I have maps all over my place. Well, now I have three really nice ones from the fifties that are framed. But since I started living with my girlfriend the number of maps has gone down dramatically.
SPY: Based on all of your travel experiences over the past few years, are there any trends you predict in the near future, in comedy or otherwise?
BW: Everything is trending towards clips. I was trying to move up in the comedy world by having a television show. And I promised my girlfriend that if it didn’t take off, I would download TikTok and join that insanity. But, like most people, I’m addicted to my phone. I really try to not look at it when I don’t have to so I’m more into anything that helps with that. I bring a book everywhere. Right now I’m reading a book called “Isaac’s Storm” by Erik Larson, the guy who wrote “The Devil in the White City.” It’s about the biggest natural disaster in U.S. history, a hurricane in Galveston.
SPY: You’re also the host of a podcast about terrible first jobs called “Entry Level.” Have you had any terrible first jobs you can tell me about?
BW: I used to be a tour guide in a cave in Iowa, and anytime my boss pissed me off I would steal geodes and rocks from the gift shop. I was like, “Alright, she just yelled at me, so I am going to steal this rock that looks like a bird and give it to my friend.”
I remember when I was 15 my mom found all of this shit from the cave in my closet, I stole a lot from there. And she was like “Brooks, did you buy this stuff?” And I was like “Um, some Doris gave it to me.” So she said, “If I call her and ask, what is Doris going to say?” And I was like, “Please don’t call her!” And she said, “Well, no more then.”
SPY: Doris is such a cave lady name.
BW: She owned the cave!
SPY: What’s your favorite accessory and why?
BW: Probably my ASICS shoes because they’re great running shoes. I love running. That’s what I do when I have anxiety, which in this career is all the time. I also use the app Runkeeper that tracks your progress. People love it.
SPY: What’s your favorite t-shirt you’ve ever owned? And why?
BW: The coolest shirt I have is a Dave Schultz Wrestling Club t-shirt, my brother got it after Dave Schultz was killed. I don’t know if you know the movie “Foxcatcher” but this dude Dave Schultz was this Olympic wrestler who was killed by John Du Pont. It’s this really old shirt that they gave out after he passed away to raise money, and my brother gave it to me. It’s just a cool indie shirt. If you knew Dave Schultz, that meant you really liked wrestling. And in the last 10 years, they’ve started making a lot of documentaries about it, and I was like “I’ve had this shirt for 30 fucking years.”
SPY: What’s your favorite cheap thing you own?
BW: I have a cheap little cassette player that can actually play tapes. I like buying tapes because they’re very cheap and I can listen to them while I fuck around in the garden. They’re like two bucks. I like listening to this Bob Seger tape I got in San Francisco while I was drinking rum out of a coconut in Dolores Park on tour.
I also like a notebook that’s pliable. I have a hard notebook and I fucking hate it, so I just got a Moleskin that can fit in my pocket a lot easier. I’m not picky about pens, I’ll write with a pencil sometimes, it’s just whatever is around. I used to sit down and write stand-up, but now I just write on stage. I’ll jot down an idea, but just like a word, and then I’ll go on stage and riff on it. I’ve gone through all sorts of different ways of writing, right now I’m just fucking around on stage a lot.