Make Your Money with a Suit and Tie… I’m ̶N̶o̶t̶ King of Comedy


Make Your Money with a Suit and Tie… I’m  ̶N̶o̶t̶  King of Comedy

When people ask what I do for work, I say, “professional stand-up comic.” I usually leave out some details: I’ve only performed twice; I was paid with high-end gift baskets (consideration is consideration). But who really needs those?

I come from a long line of stand-up comedians — Seinfeld, Burns, Marx (Groucho not Karl) — if you go back to biblical Abraham. My younger brother was a stand-up comic — he even made real money from corporate and other gigs. He retired, and I picked up the mantle, going into the family business, like the Hemsworths, just less muscly and good looking, and more neurotic.

You never forget your first: the hot lights; the sweats; the dead silence when you’ve done it wrong. My comedy debut in April 2021 was over Zoom, my second monitor as a teleprompter, and only my own living room light behind me. I still had to deliver funny material.

There’s a number of stand-up classes in Vancouver. I took exactly none of them. I’m a solicitor; unlike a litigator, I never really stand up and deliver a speech to an audience; my deft skills using Microsoft’s track changes features were of no value.

I had a few things in my corner: a friend who coaches mooters to help with pacing and cadence; and my brother who could tell me if a joke would land. One joke I thought was hilarious; my brother said it required “implied knowledge” — facts the audience already knows, otherwise the joke bombs.

Nowadays, the biggest challenge is determining if a joke is off-colour, or if it just approaches that line. Eddie Murphy’s stand-up in the 1980s had a number of insensitive jokes about AIDS; he’s since apologized for those. The Supreme Court of Canada determined one comic’s jokes about a disabled teenager were not discriminatory because the teenager was a celebrity, and jokes about being a celebrity are not a prohibited ground of discrimination. Most lawyers dream of making legal history; that’s NOT the kind I want to make.

Except for the odd joke about my own ethnicity — Jewish — I don’t want to make jokes that are off-colour. I have jokes about extra-marital affairs; I know people who have been on both sides of that coin; if they’re in the audience, they may find those jokes triggering. I don’t know if I’d want to make those jokes in front of them.

If a lawyer writes an article for a lawyer publication and does not mention a legal issue, was that article really written? There’s no copyright when a joke is told, only when written down, and the author has an exclusive right to perform it. Legend has it, when Robin Williams would visit Vancouver comedy clubs, no one wanted to get on stage, fearing their jokes would be stolen. There’s no copyright violation if your original material is the same as someone else’s if you had no prior knowledge of the other material. A comic’s biggest scarlet “A” is accusations of stealing another comic’s material.

As much as I love the look on people’s faces when I reply, “professional stand-up,” I have concerns pursuing it.

One concern is brand. Someone records my stand-up, part of a joke is on-line, which without the rest of the joke is off-colour. I’d like to serve on charity and for-profit boards in the future, or even just stay gainfully employed. The internet is judgmental and vitriolic. I don’t want to be burned in effigy or spend hours and energy defending myself because of something taken out of context. I’m willing to do it for things taken in context. And it’s not just about me. My wife is a lawyer, and we have a young child. They should not have to deal with my out-of-context failings.

As cool as it would be to do stand-up for real, to get the 10,000 hours would mean lots of open mics, take me away from practising for the World Series of Poker being with my family, and getting better at my lawyer side-hustle.