Category Archives: Life as a comic

A picture is worth a thousand words (or dollars)

Special thanks to Mark Pitta for dredging up a picture that I thought was long long gone!


Here’s the story: A little over two years into comedy, I was lucky enough to win the San Francisco version of the Johnny Walker Red comedy competition. That night remains one of my memories of my early days. I had auditioned for this contest with two minutes of jokes in the afternoon, after standing in a line of about 200 people.

Basically, I did one-liners because you can only set up so many premises in just two minutes. I remember performing for four judges in a big empty room, and laughter was not abundant during my micro set.  But somehow I made it to the stage show held that night featuring all 10 finalists. They were guys and gals I started with, and many (maybe most) were further along than I was and, to be honest, funnier.

The show was held at the San Francisco Improv, but I had an emcee gig  that night at Cobb’s Comedy Club across town. At the Improv, I picked my number out of the hat, hoping whoever got #1 would trade with me. I drew the sweet spot, #4, and when I approached #1, he was thrilled to trade. So I got up on stage with no stage jitters, but the anxious about finishing my set in time to catch a cab to my paid gig. Being up first was fine. My 10 minutes as a finalist was far better received than my two-minute qualifying set, proving once again that a crowd helps immensely. I caught a cab, got to Cobb’s with minutes to spare, and had a blast with that show too.

Towards the end of the evening, the manager at Cobb’s got a call from the Improv asking if they would allow me to return.  Tom (who owned/managed/booked Cobbs) agreed, helped me into a cab, and even wished me good luck.

I offered the driver $20 if he could get me to the Improv in 10 minutes. The cabbie got a demonic look on his face and drove the wrong way down one-street saying it was the best short cut in the city. I showed up still not sure what was going on, when some of my pals said that no one had done as well as my first spot. It was good-hearted “welcome to the club” feeling of finally being a comedy peer and not just the nice guy hanger-on.

This was a truly wonderful feeling, but I felt even better when they announced that I won and would travel to Los Angels to compete in the Nationals (I was not a peer to those comics). The $1,000 check I won that night paid my rent for almost four months. Maybe I was on my way before, but this knocked everything into a higher gear.

I kept that oversized check for a long, long time, and have happily revisited the memory long after I had any physical evidence. Thanks to Mark Pitta (and happy birthday,  too) for sending me this photo and letting me relive one of my best career moments.

A salute to one of my humor heroes

Fifty years ago, “The Dick Cavett Show” became a hit thanks to the insightful and humorous celebrity interviews conducted by (no surprise) Dick Cavett. His personality and honesty lit up the TV no matter who he interviewed. As a kid, I probably only saw the show in reruns or heard adults talking about it. ButContinue Reading

The two sides to giving thanks

I love this time of year. It fills our lives with so much abrupt, yet familiar, change. From seeing the leaves turn colors, to turning back the clocks, to hearing holiday music for the first time (this year), ’tis the season to welcome change. In fact, let’s hear it for that extra hour of sleepContinue Reading

Fundraising for a barn raising

In performing and writing comedy, I’ve found success in trying out and working in new material when it’s attached to an “anchor joke,” a solid bit that already works. This often helps win the audience’s confidence which allows them to move forward with you. It’s a comedy strategy that I hope works in this thingContinue Reading

Ray Charles paid my rent

Thirty years ago, as a baby comic, I would  venture almost anywhere my car would take me to do comedy. Living in San Francisco (when a starving artist could live there), I was always on the hunt for places to play and ways to make this laughter thing “full time.” Back then, I just skippedContinue Reading