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From retirement home to feature film: A young comedian starts at IU


Freshman Joe Goehl filmed a movie with actor Joey Lawrence titled “Pardoned by Grace” this past month. Goehl acquired on-stage experience opening for comedians Tim Harmston, Mary Mack, Ryan Budds and mentor Tom Dreeson, who suggested he try acting. Haley Klezmer

Freshman Joe Goehl thought making his comedic debut as a 10-year-old at a retirement home was a joke in itself. But it was a start. Goehl was ready to take any opportunity he could to experiment with his newfound interest in acting and comedy.

While watching an episode of the 1990s sketch comedy television show, “In Living Color,” Goehl was introduced to a dream that would soon become a reality. When a commercial aired announcing that auditions were taking place for the program at the Laugh Factory in his hometown Chicago, he begged his father to try out. Despite the auditions having an age restriction of 21, the Laugh Factory's founder Jamie Masada encouraged Goehl to come for a private audition. 

Three celebrity impressions and numerous jokes later, Masada was impressed. Goehl was not old enough to act on the show, but his audition catapulted him to where he is now.

“I love making people laugh, and I love seeing myself up on a big screen, making other people feel good,” Goehl said. “Hopefully I can inspire people to do what they want, and they’ll say, ‘If a kid at 10 years old can do this, well I can do it too.’”

Goehl acquired on-stage experience opening for comedians Tim Harmston, Mary Mack, Ryan Budds and mentor Tom Dreesen, who suggested he try acting. Dreeson, who opened for Sammy Davis Jr. for three years and Frank Sinatra for 14 years, took Goehl under his wing and taught him about the industry.

Goehl made his first television appearance in an NFL Play 60 commercial, where he worked alongside retired Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck. He then moved on to film another commercial for an Indianapolis supermarket named Martin’s.

Most recently, Goehl landed a role in his first feature film entitled “Pardoned by Grace.” Based on a true story, the film recounts the life of Scott Highberger, a pastor. Highberger was arrested 35 times and sentenced to jail five times, but turned to a life of ministry upon being released. Goehl portrays the role of young Highberger and worked with Joey Lawrence, famous for his roles in “Melissa and Joey” and “Blossom,” who stars as Highberger in the film.

“The best advice Joey gave me was to keep grinding and outwork others,” Goehl said. “He also told me that you have to want it more and to never be satisfied.”

Coming to IU to pursue business and entertainment seemed like destiny, as the majority of his projects were filmed in Indiana, Goehl said. As he enters a competitive industry, Goehl has his eyes set on improving his skills.

With every “no” he receives, he said he knows that soon a “yes” will come, making all the work worth it. His ultimate goal is to win an Academy Award, but overall, he hopes to reach a point where he can help other people reach their own acting dreams.

“I’m kind of wise beyond my years just because I’ve seen a lot more than a lot of people,” Goehl said. “I knew that I wanted to go in this direction at 10 years old. Most kids don’t really know what they want to do at a younger age.”

Similar to the feeling he had when he finished his set at the retirement home eight years ago, Goehl said he still feels reassured after each show that this is exactly what he wants to do for the rest of his life.

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