I’ve wanted to be a comedian since I was 5 years old. The moment that I understood the power of comedy was when I saw my parents stop arguing (they argued a lot) and sit down together to watch a Saturday Night Live sketch. From that moment on I looked everywhere for funny because I knew it could be a tool that could be used bring peace and happiness to my home. I soon discovered stand up. The first set I can remember seeing was Steven Wright on the Tonight Show. I was hooked.
The seeming simplicity of stand up is what intrigued me. Before that, John Ritter was my comedy hero but to be funny but he needed a scenario, a reason to fall over a couch… and a couch to fall over. Stand up is just a person relating their ideas to an audience. That was magical to me, still is.
Throughout my adolescence, “comedian” was my answer to “what do you want to be when you grow up?”. We moved around a lot so I didn’t have distractions like friends to take my focus away from my only real passion. At 12yo, I did my first set of original material in a laundromat to an audience of my mom and a couple of unsuspecting patrons who didn’t have a choice in the matter. My mother was brutally honest when I asked why she wasn’t laughing and simply told me she didn’t think it was funny. Personally, I think she didn’t connected to my 3 minutes of jokes about Super Mario but comedy is subjective etc.
I started high school in the early nineties right around the collapse of the comedy boom. Started making friends and though I still followed comedy stuff at home, stand up wasn’t what was cool at the time. Music, skateboarding, video games, sex, and weed kind of bumped jokes out of the prime spot of my interests. Also, high school will replace any desire to put oneself out there with the desire to look cool or at least not attract unwanted attention.
Fast forward a decade or so. I had experienced some of the world. Fell into a career that I didn’t hate. Started a family. Did all of the things that I thought people do to be happy and I loved those things but I wasn’t happy. I was bored. Looking back on it, I just had no way to express myself. During this time, we saw the rise of podcasts. I could consume comedy for 8+ hours every day. I dove head first into comedy nerd-dom.
Eventually, I caught the bug and decided I had to give it a shot. I mustered all the confidence I could and went to Portland to try an open mic. Sunday evening at Harvey’s Comedy Club I did my first real set to a room full of comics with their noses in their notebooks. I promised myself that if I got one laugh, I’d try it a second time. I got a halfhearted chuckle during the set up to one of my jokes. Overall, huge fail.
Well, that’s settled. I’m not a comic. Right? I wish it worked like that. That bomb kept me away from microphones for about a year. Deep down, I still wanted to do comedy more than anything. I still felt like I was capable of being funny on stage though I had little evidence that it was possible. I continued voraciously consuming comedy and talking about it to anyone who’d listen but I was still shell shocked from my only attempt.
At one point my then mother-in-law called me to say she read in the paper about a local comedy show where they were holding an open mic afterwards. I tried to come up with a reason not to. She offered to watch the kids all night so I’d have time to prepare after work. I had no good reason to not do it. I asked where it was. She replied, “Cozmic Pizza”.
I arrived early, signed up for the open mic portion of the show, and sat in back. I watched the show. It was fine but far from a professional comedy show. People were still laughing though. That did settle my nerves a bit. The main thing that kept me in my seat was knowing that I could get up and leave whenever I wanted. No one is making me do this. Despite all of the dread I was feeling, I reminded myself that I wanted to be here.
Pretty soon, they called my name. As I ascended the steps to the stage, I cursed myself for wanting this so much. I wanted to get it over with as soon as possible so that I could go back to enjoying comedy safe in the knowledge that I am wholly unfunny. My set was the exact set I had done a year prior because why start learning from my mistakes now? Also, I sincerely thought they were funny.
As I delivered the first joke into the mic, I braced myself for the overwhelming silence that I was certain would follow but then they laughed… at the punchline… where they were supposed to laugh! I was actually shocked. What now?! Oh yeah, another joke! I did everything I had prepared and they laughed at every punchline. It felt so good that I started riffing after I got through my jokes. That didn’t go as well but I did end on a laugh.
I walked down the steps off the stage in slow motion. It was the first time I actually felt validation for something I had done. It was the first time I felt relatable. I knew that I’d come to this late in the game. I knew that being a beginner in comedy over 30 years old with a family and a mortgage in Eugene, Oregon was not exactly the path to The Tonight Show or an HBO special and I didn’t care in the least. As I walked of that stage that night I knew one thing, I will never not do this. Whenever I had an opportunity to tell jokes into a microphone, I would take it.
That was 9 years ago this past August. Also, this August, Rudy and I hosted two shows on that same stage (although the name of the venue has changed and the pizza is better). That space means so much to me. When Rudy and I were putting the first few Just Comedy shows together we discussed a lot of venues but we always came back to Whirled Pies and I’m so thankful that we do these shows there. It is the most Eugene venue I can think of. Kaj and the staff are incredible! A lot has happened since that first good laugh but one thing that hasn’t change at all is that I still love comedy and I will never not do this.