I grew up in the South suburbs of Chicago. I was raised by a single mom who got pregnant at 18 and who herself came from a broken home. We lived very modestly, constantly moving from one apartment to another sharing places with various roommates. However, the one thing my mom recognized early on was that I possessed many talents and she went out of her way to spend whatever she had to make sure that I had an excellent education in the arts. Piano lessons, acting lessons, singing in choirs and more guitar lessons.
At one point, she even had to borrow money in order for me to get my own saxophone just to participate in the elementary school band. Saying my mother was “supportive” of my dreams of being a rock star would be an understatement. Naturally, this desire followed me throughout my life and as soon as I graduated from High School (and by graduated I mean, got my GED before my senior year was even finished), I packed my car and drove down to Nashville TN to become a famous songwriter. I was offered a “development deal” with a record label and thought this is it I’m on my way.
In less than 3 months, I was dropped from the label and had to come back to Chicago feeling like a failure. It was very clear that I didn’t understand “the business”.
I came back home feeling rejected and I got a job working for Portillo’s Hot Dogs in Crestwood, IL. I didn’t want to touch the cash register and I didn’t really want to handle food but they had a position I was born for, they called it “PUSH.” I was the guy at the end of the counter making sure everyone’s order looked right and I would call out their order numbers to be picked up. It was a great opportunity to explore crowd work early on. I’d say silly things over the mic and sometimes even got myself into trouble with management. I had come up with a list of puns I’d say when calling out an order. “Number 1 your order’s done” and “Number 2 this food’s for you” and so on. I had a ton of them. One day Dick Portillo himself asked me to write all of them down on the back of a paper bag and he said, “I want all of our stores to use these.” I didn’t have the forethought to ask for compensation back then, I was simply more focused on my dreams of rock stardom.
Then in November of 1998, I met one of my best friends to this day Djay. This kid could out drum any professional drummer of the day (and still can). He and I decided to form a rock band and call it Slipstream. Within 2 months of writing and rehearsing, we had our fist gig at a dive bar in Bolingbrook, IL. We only had 3 original songs so we played Foo Fighters and Aerosmith covers to fill the rest of our time but it was at that very first show we met who would become the band’s manager Jerry Hatchet (what a name). Fast forward 10 years, I am able to look back on radio competitions we had won and venues that we had played for fans all over the US. We were on TV and even had some international radio interest.
We did this ALL without a major label until in 2007, we sat down with a well known label who gave us “the offer”. It was an offer that we would’ve jumped at a decade earlier when we were all single. But unsurprisingly, we had become 5 grown men with mortgages and children of our own. It no longer made sense to enter into a contractual albatross with a record company that we weren’t even sure had our best interests in mind. Within a few short months of turning the offer down, we all figured we had done everything we were going to do and simply unplugged our instruments.
That is when the depression set in. I used to get up and have something to look forward to. A new song idea, a new show to promote or a new album release. But now it was suddenly all gone. It seemed like it all took place in the blink of an eye and I didn’t bother to enjoy any of it while it was happening due to the fact that I was constantly thinking about the next bigger and better thing. I was 10 years older now with a family, a mortgage and 2 car payments and without Slipstream, I felt like I had absolutely no identity. I wouldn’t go out. I started gaining more weight.
I would just stay in and watch TV and play video games and feel sorry for myself. I wasn’t a fun person to be around. Things for me were growing darker and darker to the point of not knowing where it would’ve taken me. Then my close friend Scott told me that he had been studying improv and that I should look into it. Throughout all of my years, I’d always been “the funny one” doing silly voices and impressions but I never saw myself even considering a career in comedy. But he knew I would benefit from it and so he pushed me to take the leap.
I took to it like a fish to water. Almost 90% of my fellow classmates were just trying to overcome their stage fright. Well that wasn’t a problem for me. I mean, the stage is where I’m the most comfortable. Admittedly in the beginning I thought I knew what “funny” was but I didn’t understand WHY it was funny. So it became my goal to educate myself on the fundamentals of comedy as much as I possibly could. From joke construction, to the rule of 3’s and on stage characters. I worked and worked and worked at it and then suddenly, I started getting job opportunities. I was being asked to be “funny” and get paid for it. Are you kidding me? This is amazing! I was finding that the more I made people laugh, the more I was able to command a crowd and the more I started to feel like myself again. Then as soon as I discovered musical comedy? Forget about it!
Now, 10 years into regularly performing improv, stand-up and yes even making appearances as President Donald Trump (fake hair and all), I feel like my life had been literally saved. I know now that I’ll never have to worry about performing again because I’ve been given the tools to be able to produce comedy on any platform that’s available and I know that the darkness that was out there suffocating my mind has been snuffed out by the light of laughter. (Or maybe it’s just the stage lights). Either way, it feels really good and the darkness is gone.
They say laughter is the best medicine and I believe that it truly is. But creating laughter, for me, has been even better.