Olympia, Wash., was the epicenter of the grunge movement a generation ago. Such iconic bands as Nirvana and Bikini Kill formed in the small town 60 miles southwest of Seattle just before punk broke in 1991.
Gabriel Rutledge was a fledgling Olympia musician during the early ’90s.
“The guys who were about two years older than me and were part of the punk scene in Olympia all knew (Nirvana singer-songwriter) Kurt (Cobain) really well. Kurt and his bandmates lived in a house a block from where I lived. If I were a little older, I would have been Kurt’s peer but instead I was a fan.”
Rutledge, 44, a charismatic drummer, was part of a number of punk bands, which never emerged from the underground.
“The bands I was in didn’t have a mainstream sound,” Rutledge said by phone from his Olympia home.
At the turn of the century, Rutledge morphed from musician to comedian.
“When I tried doing stand-up, it was a transformative experience,” he said. “I wanted to get good at comedy and I’ve done that. I found a profession that I absolutely love.”
Rutledge, who will perform Friday and Saturday at Penguins Comedy Club in Cedar Rapids, riffs about what he knows, which is primarily his family. The married father of three kids, ages 7 to 16, delivers amusing anecdotes but never demonizes his family a la Louis CK.
“You won’t leave my show thinking, ‘Wow, this guy hates his family,’” Rutledge said. “I’m not that kind of comedian. I’m brutally honest but in a nice way. But it’s not like, ‘My wife is terrific and my kids are all knocking it out of the park at school.’ We all have our issues and that’s why I think what I do as a comic is relatable. We all go through crazy stuff in life. It’s fun to talk about it. My kids are crazy but I love them to death.”
Rutledge would rather be with his family. So he never made the big leap to New York or Los Angeles.
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“I decided to stay in the Olympia area,” Rutledge said. “Younger comics have asked me, ‘Have your kids held your career back?’ Yes, they certainly held my career back — but I don’t care ...,” he said.
“My act stimulates me. I talk about what’s happening in my life. That’s the way it’s always been. I remember a decade ago talking about how terrible my son was when he played soccer when he was 6. He ended up in martial arts, which is where all the kids go, who suck at all the sports. He’s 16 now and he thinks he knows everything.”
Rutledge’s son is the same age he was when he was a kid in Olympia watching Nirvana soar into the stratosphere.
“That’s true,” he said. “I never met Kurt at that point, but I did meet him and Courtney Love a couple of years later.”
Cobain, who was the epitome of the reluctant rock star, killed himself in 1994. Rutledge, who clings to a normal existence, is a content Olympia resident.
“I wouldn’t trade what I’m doing and how I’m doing it for anything,” Rutledge said. “You can’t put a price on happiness.”
WHAT: Gabriel Rutledge
WHERE: Penguins Comedy Club, 208 Second Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday (9/28) and Saturday (9/29)
TICKETS: $12 advance, $15 door; (319) 362-8133 or Penguinscomedyclub.com
ARTIST’S WEBSITE: Gabrielrutledge.com