Friday, December 14, 2007

Quitting The Day Job

(Updated from Dec. '03)

Sitting in my cubicle, I twirled a pen in my hand staring blankly at my computer screen. The walls which once held sheets of printer paper quoting my favorite authors or funny emails that got passed around the office were empty. There's the spot where the list of acronyms that the company used once hung. In a small box on my desk behind me you'll find all of the toys and keepsakes that were one strewn all over this tiny office. I look again at my computer screen, this time at the bottom right corner. July 13, 2001. It's almost 4pm. I wonder if Friday the 13th was the right day to take such a big leap. We'll soon find out. My boss awakens me out of my daze. "We're going to miss you around here. Good luck and stay in touch. Now go on home." And that was it. I turned in my employee badge, and said adios to the corporate giant that had funded my life for the last few years. It was time to move on.

I still can't believe it's been 6.5 years since I quit a day job that most people go to college and hope to get one day. I remember the skepticism on a lot of faces when they'd ask, "You're quitting Procter and Gamble to tell jokes for a living?" Though it's an obvious risk, it's nearly impossible to explain to people the passion I have for what I do. I meet many comics who are bitter, hate working the road, hate the crowds, hate the bookers. While I also get downtrodden at points, all it takes is a simple reminder that I GET to pay my bills by telling jokes. The traveling can be tiresome, the loneliness of not being with friends or family you've known your entire life can be saddening, but at the end of the day, it's worth it.

Whether it was standing in front of The Alamo in San Antonio, looking up at The Space Needle in Seattle, taking a ride to the top of the St. Louis Arch, or freezing my butt off in 40 below temperatures in Alaska, I seem to have the same epiphany over and over. As my friend Mark Sweeney would say, "This is some life we lead." My job is the greatest job in the world. Sometimes you're not feeling well, sometimes you're tired from traveling, sometimes the airline loses your luggage, sometimes the crowd just isn't digging you, sometimes your only friend is your laptop or cell phone. But at the end of the day, it's worth it.

In July 2001, I said goodbye to the steady paycheck and was lucky to have two weeks per month booked, for the next six months. Little did I know, 2002 would be a benchmark year for me. I had the most wonderful person in the business, in my corner, Janet George. After my first time coming through the South Bend Funny Bone in December of 2001, we clicked. She'd considered managing someone, I was looking for management. We thought 2002 would be a good trial for her to manage, and me to work. While we didn't see eye-to-eye on everything, but she busted her butt and I worked 50 out of 52 weeks that year. What 2002 did for my act and career is immeasureable. And it is ALL thanks to Janet. She worked so hard to get me in these clubs and opened countless doors. I can never repay her for what she's done for me as a person, and my career. 50 weeks on the road is a lot, sometimes being gone from home for 5 weeks at a time, living out of a suitcase, but at the end of the day, it's worth it.

In early 2003, I submitted a tape to the Comedy Central Laugh Riots and was picked to head to Miami, FL for the semi-finals. One of the judges that night was John MacDonald, who worked for the company that represented Jeff Foxworthy, and the other comics on the Blue Collar Comedy Tour. Thanks to John and the other judges, I was fortunate enough to make it to the finals in Los Angeles. Before heading to LA, Janet and I agreed to part ways as she felt she'd taken me as far as she could. I was moving to LA the week after the finals of the contest, and she wanted me to be free to sign with someone out in LA who could take me to the next step. HOW COOL IS THAT!? That tells you what kind of person she is, and it's easy to see why everyone that knows her, adores her. I didn't place in the contest, and interest from the industry folk who were there that night seemed minimal at best. I wanted to win, but didn't. But I knew my journey was just beginning.

After living in Los Angeles with best friend, and fellow comic, Jamie Lissow, my career continued to grow. Jamie and I toured together all summer doing stand-up/improv shows in some of our favorite clubs. I think my act came a long way because friends like Jamie, Mark Gross, and Greg Warren have all made me strive to improve it. I'm trying to weed out "easy laughs" and become more proud of my act. After working in South Bend with another friend and very funny guy, James Johann (keep an eye out for him), I learned that he had signed with John MacDonald. He offered to put in a good word for me, and followed through the very next day. I scheduled a meeting with John and JP Williams after sending a copy of my tape, and after two very long meetings of brainstorming and getting to know what each other's visions were, John asked me if I wanted to join the Parallel family. I couldn't have been happier. John is like Janet in that everyone likes him. That's so rare in this business, and I'm honored to have a chance to work with him and all of the people in the office at Parallel. They're amazing and I can't wait to see where my path is headed now that he's at the helm.

So here I am, 6.5 years later, still a full time comic. I look back on what's happened since then. I've played clubs from Alaska to Florida. I've visited many national monuments and historic sites. I've worked with comedians who were movie and television stars. I've gotten boos. I've gotten a standing ovation. I've moved from Cincinnati, the only place I've ever lived, to Hollywood. I've been sick. I've been cheated. I've laughed. I've cried. I've laid on the beach. I've walked in 40 below temperatures. I've loved. I've lost. I can't count how many friends I've made. Comics, club staffs, audience members who wanted to make sure "the comic" had fun in their town. Taxi drivers, airline personnel, even the nice woman in Little Rock who rented me a car without my driver's license. For every person that didn't think I was funny, to those who said to me on their way out, "Thank you, I needed that." And that's the kicker folks, right there, plain and simple. People need comedy. Whether it's someone trying to get over a loved one they've lost...or someone that just had a bad day at work. People need comedy. And it's that mindset I do my best to keep everyday. Sure there are times when I want the old life back, only because of it's simplicity, but I'm quick to realize how lucky I am to do what I do...and get paid for it. I've always been the type of person who hates to wonder, "What if...". That's why I chose to do this for a living. Will I be a big star someday? Who knows? Will I just be a regular comic that only works clubs and never hits it big? Couldn't tell ya. All I know is that I have the right people in my corner at work, and at home. Who could ask for more?

So in 2008, I ask that everyone do what you love. Be bold in your decisions, and never settle. I'm living proof that you can do whatever you want, as long as you're driven to see it through. Sure the road isn't perfect for me, it's not perfect for anyone. But I can look anyone in the face who questions my decision, and say that after the cancelled flights, mixed reviews, sickness, loneliness, and failed relationships that couldn't handle the strain, all it takes is one person to say, "You were awesome."...and at the end of the's worth it.

Happy Holidays and New Year everyone...see you out there.


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