Life

Boxers or briefs? Both are comedian's cover charge for shows in Iowa City, Cedar Rapids

Traveling comedian collects for homeless people

Traveling comedian Elvis Mujic performs his set Sunday for an audience on the patio at Old Neighborhood Pub in Cedar Rap
Traveling comedian Elvis Mujic performs his set Sunday for an audience on the patio at Old Neighborhood Pub in Cedar Rapids. Mujic asks for donations of clothing for homeless people as a cover charge and travels the country to gather donations and perform. He lives out of a van and spends about three weeks in each city before getting back on the road. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — As standup comedy gigs go, it wasn’t the stuff of show business dreams.

Sunday afternoon at the outdoor patio of Old Neighborhood Pub in Cedar Rapids, Elvis Mujic performed in the July heat before about 15 people plus whomever happened to pass by on bicycle or foot. He even had what he called a drive-by heckler.

Such is his career. This isn’t a comedian who has visions of one day playing theaters or doing Netflix specials. His act isn’t slick and his motivation is the opposite of fame and fortune. He is a nomad living out of his minivan, which may be fitting since he has dedicated his career to helping homeless people.

Mujic has based himself in the Cedar Rapids-Iowa City area since late June. His mission here is twofold: He wanted to line up some paying gigs, and his Sunday show was the first of several he quickly got booked. But he also has canvassed the area hard to help people he hasn’t met — homeless Eastern Iowans.

He persuaded more than two dozen businesses, most of them bars, spanning 10 cities in Linn and Johnson counties to be locations for his collection bins. Those will be in place through next Sunday.

Mujic asks for donations of socks, undergarments and hygiene products for the homeless. His bins are decorated with notes from homeless people he has encountered.

“The clothes will go to the Salvation Army in Iowa City and Cedar Rapids,” Mujic said, “and they’ll hand the stuff out during their daytime meal services.”

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He calls it his “Socks & Undies Comedy Tour.” Homeless people, he said, “need undergarments the most. That’s what they ask for a lot, especially in summer.”

While his audience was small Sunday, his bin at Old Neighborhood was filled. He happily interrupted his act to welcome a woman who brought him a small sack filled with clothes.

Mujic, 30, was born in what is now Bosnia and Herzegovina. “Elvis” is his real name. His family moved to the United States when he was 7 and he grew up in Detroit. He became a comedian nine years ago. Within the last two years he started doing free shows at homeless shelters, not feasible now because of the coronavirus.

“My whole life I’ve seen homeless people,” Mujic said. “It just seems so strange. We kind of give up on them like they’re not even people anymore. It’s like they’re visible ghosts.

“People say being homeless is a choice they’ve made, but no one chooses a harder life. It’s usually because of something binding them to that life.”

His van, a virtual traveling billboard touting his website and plastered with stickers of goats, is his home and office. He uses a national gym membership for his hygienic needs.

“I live pretty healthy,” he said. “I eat well, I don’t drink, I sleep well.”

Mujic returned to the road after shutting down for two months because of the pandemic. He was in Tennessee for a few weeks, then headed to Cedar Rapids and Iowa City. He hasn’t figured out where he’s going next, saying, “it has to be accessible.”

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Eastern Iowa has been accessible. He will perform Thursday night at Uptown Snug in Marion, Friday night at Grizzly’s South Side in Iowa City, Saturday in Dubuque, and Sunday afternoon at Odie’s Bar & Grill in Ely. Early next week, he’ll collect, launder and distribute the donated clothing.

After that, Elvis will have left Cedar Rapids. He and his van will find somewhere else in America to repeat the process.

“I like it a lot,” he said. “It keeps developing.”

For more information about his shows, visit elviscomedy.com.

Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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