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Whiteland comedian sees humor in life’s struggles

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Comedian Dennis Tooley suffers from multiple sclerosis.
Comedian Dennis Tooley suffers from multiple sclerosis. PHOTO BY SCOTT ROBERSON

Dennis Tooley loves to laugh at the challenges of life. From the crazy predicaments the family pets seem to get into to the rigors of being part of an active family, Tooley finds a way to see the bright side of life regardless of how many obstacles lie in its path.

For more than a decade, Tooley has used his gift of laughter to entertain thousands of people.

The professional comedian also suffers from multiple sclerosis.

Tooley and his wife moved to Indianapolis in November 1999. At the time, he worked for The Salvation Army, helping establish the Fountain Square facility. When the job was complete, both the couple decided to relocate permanently on the southside. Today, they live in Whiteland.

Initially, Tooley set out to be a motivational humorist, helping young people deal with life’s challenges with a lighthearted approach.

“People would say, ‘You should be a comedian,’” Tooley said. “I was already doing some comedy with the motivational speeches. I backed away from some of the more serious material and focused more on the comedy,” he said.

He had always been drawn to comedy. Some of the people who inspired him the most were members of his family.

“I grew up in a family with a pretty good sense of humor,” he said. “Reality is that my dad and uncles would goof around, singing and playing.”

He refers to one of his uncles as “Uncle Happy.” The other, Uncle Tony, is also a huge part of his life.

In addition, Tooley remembers watching the antics of Harvey Korman and Tim Conway on the Carol Burnett show. Many times it was just a facial expression from one comedian to the other that would lead to the hysterical laughter and the audience in stitches. Tooley learned from them and others.

His comedy show is always family-friendly. His routine tends to be about the silly things that can happen to all of us. His comedy is meant to help people enjoy a good laugh, unwind from a busy and stressful day and put their problems on hold for a little while.

As a kid, Tooley said, he always wanted to have a career that would help people. Even though he didn’t grow up with the idea he would become a professional comedian, he often thought how he wanted to help others. He believes his comedy does that.

Dealing with multiple sclerosis has had its challenges, Tooley said. The disease is unpredictable.

Some days are more demanding than others. Tooley said he takes heart in knowing that tomorrow is a new day and perhaps one that is less of a challenge than what today has been.

“There are days when physically I just don’t have the energy, but overall I think I have the ability to live the moment I am in. I can see that life doesn’t have to be lived so seriously. It is my faith keeps me focused, that God has what is best for us in store,” he said.

Tooley admits he has let that question “Why me?” enter into his mind a time or two. He learned quickly, however, that sitting back and thinking negative thoughts doesn’t serve much of a purpose.

“I don’t find that that helps me. I would rather ask ‘What am I supposed to be learning right now?’”

It is the people who are around Tooley who most inspire him, he said. Knowing people in his church who have faced the loss of a spouse, the battle of cancer, the challenge of raising autistic children, yet manage to have a positive attitude, remind him that life is indeed a journey, a journey that can be a positive one despite the challenges we are forced to face.

Tooley has turned to his faith to not only help those around him but to fight his own battle against MS.

“There’s power in the word,” Toomey said. “If you focus on the peace and grace that God provides, you can make it through.”

Carol Edwards is a fourth-grade teacher and has taught at Greenwood schools since 1978.

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