Robyn Von Swank
Though such a blow might signal the beginning of the end for some comedians, Wheelan views it as a chance to rekindle his relationship with what got him the SNL gig in the first place: stand-up comedy.
Or, as he explained it to Isthmus last week: "I lucked out because now my career is not a career. I've won the lottery!"
Wheelan, who hails from Dubuque, Iowa, began doing stand-up at age 19. After graduating from the University of Iowa with a degree in biomedical engineering, he moved to Los Angeles, where he worked on heart valves by day and his stand-up routine by night.
By chance, former SNL head writer Seth Meyers caught one of Wheelan's stand-up sets in L.A. He added Wheelan to the show's cast for the 2013-14 season, a position that Wheelan seemed to recognize wouldn't be permanent.
"I was very worried about the future the whole time I was there," he says.
In the four months since being let go, Wheelan has worked tirelessly on his stand-up routine, whittling it down to an hour's worth of brand-new jokes that will make up his debut album, which he'll record at the Comedy Club on State this Saturday, Nov. 22.
"Honestly, it's one of the best comedy clubs in America," Wheelan says of the local venue. "Good audiences bring in better comedy, which in turn brings in more audiences."
Energetic in his delivery, Wheelan performs like a humbler, Midwestern-molded Dane Cook. Though Wheelan's past punch lines have centered on the mistakes he's made in his life, the comedian is hesitant to pin down his new material. He does, however, expect it to be "a super-loose record."
This loose approach is perhaps most evident in a string of recent morning talk show appearances.
"I love going on morning talk shows," Wheelan says, "because it's the most sterile environment." By sterile, he means that each appearance feels noticeably forced. But when the cameras start rolling, the absurd takes over and anything goes.
At times, Wheelan's on-air shenanigans have had him kicked out of studios. Yet he doesn't seem too worried about that. In fact, Wheelan doesn't seem too worried about anything besides his routine; he told Isthmus that stand-up is just about the only thing he takes seriously.
Wheelan currently relates to Wisconsin through Noah's Ark visits and fireworks purchases, but he may remember our state as his launching pad to stand-up stardom after visiting Madison this weekend. And he's certainly not going to sit back and wait for fame to find him.
"I'm going to put this record out and never say any of that material again," he says. "My next goal is to make a second album that's even better."