Johnny on the spot

Comedian John Roy brings the laughter with a sense of urgency after heart surgery as a babe.

by Spencer Doar

Growing up as an only child on the north side of Chicago, John Roy was, on the surface, your average kid. He’d play baseball in parking lots and play war on the beach, using empty Schlitz cans for hand grenades.

But Roy’s unique. He was one of the earliest recipients of a life-saving surgery to fix a congenital heart defect that decreased the amount of oxygen in the blood pumped throughout his body.

“People talk about time travel, like, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to go to the Old West?’ No, I’d be dead,” Roy Said. “You get to be a cowboy; I get buried as an infant.”

Bald by his early ’20s and now pushing 40, it was Roy’s parents’ comedy album collection that got him focused on the craft.

“Every year around Christmas they’d get a new album, and they had all the old vinyl,” Roy said. “So the moment I decided to do comedy, I was like, well this is [my parents’] fault.”

His parents had a lot to be proud of when Roy won the reboot of “Star Search” in 2003. But his sudden thrust into the spotlight had unplanned effects.

“For about a year or two after I won, I was getting booked for gigs I wasn’t capable of doing,” Roy said. “I’d show up knowing 10 of these minutes are going to suck.”

Roy freely admits that he was not that great of a comic in the mid-2000s. Before winning “Star Search,” Roy had only been doing stand-up for six years — only in Midwest airport bars and the like.

Even now, doubt can plague him.

“There’s always that nagging feeling: Is this as funny as I will ever be?” Roy said. “I think each comedian has that after every joke that they write.”

It’s a good question, and, in Roy’s case, the jury’s still out. He’s been caught in the spotlight since an earlier moment than most comics, so his evolution has had more pressure behind it.

He still struggles with occasional banality, reverting to that painful airport bar comedian.

This can be particularly true when it comes to his stage presence. Roy has that tried-and-true comedic affectation, the one that “Stand-up Comedy for Dummies” would probably describe in its opening chapter.

His unsophisticated jokes might be more suited to a place with a name like The Chuckle Hut rather than The Laugh Factory, but the raw material is there. His desire is to be hilarious and unique — he’s just not quite there yet.

“When I do a show, I want to give [audiences] something they can’t get for free,” Roy said. “I’m not going to do topical jokes; you can get that online or from six different late-night shows.”