Jason Crane has always had a hard time figuring out what he wanted to do with his life — so he decided the simplest solution would be to do it all.
As far as cop-outs go, it’s certainly an ambitious one. Crane is a regular renaissance man, a workhorse who wears many hats. Enough to open his own haberdashery, in fact — not that he’d have the time.
By day, he’s the mild-mannered manager of Webster’s Bookstore Cafe in State College, but by night he takes to the streets as a poet, podcast host and budding stand-up comedian.
Eat your heart out, Batman.
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Crane’s online interview show “The Jazz Session” has been downloaded more than 2.5 million times, and the poetry series he hosts at Webster’s provides local wordsmiths with a forum to flaunt their work. In between, he continues to sharpen his funny bone as the emcee at Wisecrackers Comedy Club events in State College.
“I’m not sure at this point there is a right fit as much as a bunch of things I can pull together into a life,” Crane said.
Crane’s career in creativity is of the nonlinear variety, a series of left turns, sudden stops and diversions that on paper would seem to amount to more of a joy ride than a purposeful push in any one direction, but the professional multi-hyphenate was always following his own north star.
“I think that all of my life is about that, about trying to build communities where I am,” Crane said.
A friend once advised Crane to take a job where he got paid to love people. For a while he considered becoming a priest; he even audited a few seminary classes before deciding that he wasn’t cut out to be a man of the cloth.
For Crane, comedy has always been a different kind of religious experience, the chance to communicate big ideas with a spoon full of sugar. As a kid, he and his friends rented “Robin Williams: Live at the Met” on video almost every weekend.
“Stand up, to me, has always been very, very sacred,” Crane said.
By the time he auditioned for an emcee job at Wisecrackers, Crane had already amassed quite a bit of stage time — just not necessarily as a comedian. Crane has been writing poetry since he was old enough to grasp the expression “teenage angst.” His first collection of poems, “Unexpected Sunlight,” was published in 2010 and his second book is due out later this year.
The poetry series he hosts at Webster’s has an open mic and is a nonjudgemental space for Crane and other poets to each share a single poem. Crane said each reading is typically packed from beginning to end.
“It’s just a really welcoming space to come read poetry,” Crane said.
Getting on stage at Wisecrackers requires stretching a different set of muscles. Crane has a knack for casual comedy in the company of friends or family, but planning to be funny on stage and then delivering is a different breed of challenge.
As emcee, Crane is responsible for 10 minutes at the top and middle of each show. He descibes his set as mostly observational, dealing with the realities of being single and the other minutae of everyday life — targets that may continue to broaden in scope as he wades further into the stand-up comedy pool.
“It’s important for me to go forward from there and into some larger things,” Crane said.
His most recent podcast “First Laughs” began as an attempt to refine his stand-up by recording himself onstage. Crane quickly began branching out by including interviews with other comedians.
“First Laughs” isn’t the first podcast to be born of Crane’s lifelong fascination with artists and the creative process. In 2007, he launched “The Jazz Session,” a series of in-depth interviews with various jazz musicians spanning more than 400 episodes.
“It was really interesting to me to find out what made creative people do what they do,” Crane said.
He believes that no matter the medium, good programming can bring people together. Crane has moved more than 30 times in his life and has always tried to leave behind an impact on whatever community he was sharing, a reminder of his presence made tangible by art.
“If I got hit by a bus tomorrow, it would be totally fine,” Crane said.