Comedian Alex Stokes' book pokes gentle fun at Sevier County tourists
No joke: There are people who actually think the Great Smoky Mountains’ famous fog might come from a machine.
“I’ve asked a lot of people who work around here, ‘What question do you get the most?'” said Seymour-based standup comedian and author Alex Stokes. “The fog machine is number one. Number two is, where do they keep all the bears caged?”
Stokes has compiled questions like that, along with his humorous responses, in “Messing With Tourists: Stupid Answers to Stupid Questions,” a book that pokes gentle fun at Sevier County visitors.
The idea for the book evolved over the last year, as Stokes and his wife, Jenny, did street-level marketing at a Gatlinburg tourist attraction. They got a lot of goofy, random questions. (He declined, probably wisely, to name his employer.)
Stokes began responding the way he responds to hecklers in comedy clubs. Here’s a sample:
Me: You’re asking about the mountain fog machine?
Tourist: Yes. It’s really neat how they make it look so pretty in the trees.
Me: Oh, I know. The little man who runs it is like an artist.
Tourist: So where is he located?
He posted the exchanges on Facebook. “Then,” Stokes said, “people all over the country said, ‘This needs to be a book.’”
There are about 80 exchanges in “Messing With Tourists,” a self-published title that is available on Amazon, and at Loralei’s in Sevierville, the Old Mill in Pigeon Forge, and Old Dad’s General Store and Deli in Gatlinburg. More details are available on the book’s Facebook page.
The exchanges are real, Stokes said. Someone truly asked whether bears mating with deer is a local problem. Stokes’ response: “I wouldn’t necessarily call it a ‘problem.’”
“They actually happened,” Stokes said. “I could pretty much tell before one started that it was going to be a keeper.”
With the sheer variety of its questions and answers, “Messing With Tourists” provides a nearly comprehensive look at Sevier County tourism circa 2013. Lines like this ring true: “Them stupid go-karts got my wedding dress dirty.”
Stokes is quick to note that he doesn’t mess with tourists to be unkind. “Lots of times people read the book and say, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe you did that!'” he said. “But I’m the nicest person in the world, and no one ever left mad.”
He also recognizes the importance of the tourist economy. He understands that local business owners might not appreciate the humor.
“But on the Facebook page for the book,” he said, “people who work in Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge – not influential people – say, ‘Gosh, we love this, because you say the things we wish we could say and not get in trouble.’”
Stokes is a 1991 graduate of Sevier County High School. He played basketball at Walters State Community College before completing a literature degree at UT in 1997. He worked as an investment broker for 14 years, and then he got started in comedy.
“I’ve always been kind of a goofy, funny person,” he said. “I watched standup comedy all the time, but I never thought about doing it as a career.”
He began doing comedy open mics and performing regularly at Side Splitters, the Knoxville comedy club. “I got lucky early,” he said. “I won a few contests. I didn’t know what I was doing. But it took off from there.” With two other comedians, he traveled nationally on what was billed as the Midlife Crisis Comedy Tour.
Stokes worked a lighter performing schedule as he completed the book – and as he and Jenny negotiated the ongoing task of raising their four boys. Now he has several standup events coming up, including bookings in Charlotte, Asheville and Huntsville, Ala. On Wednesday, Nov. 27, he will compete in an open mic contest at Side Splitters.
For audiences, standup comedy is “an escape or a release,” Stokes said. “I like to sit in the lobby and watch a crowd come in. You can tell, when some people walk in, that they’ve had a hard week. My goal is to get them laughing.”
When people like that start laughing, he noted, they can’t stop. “It’s very powerful for me,” he said. “I enjoy it.”