OPEN ON: ACTING CLASS - 1994
I remember my first foray into any sort of performance was an acting class in Milwaukee. All I remember was the acting teacher made us crawl on the floor and pretend we were lions and when I read a scene he said I needed speech therapy. I was off to a great start. One of the ladies in the class thought I was funny and suggested I go to ComedySportz in Milwaukee. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.
I was introduced to some amazing comedians and was taught by Dick Chudnow (part of the Zucker/Abrams/Zucker crew) and later Dan Harmon (from Community & fighting Chevy Chase). I was awkward and goofy and was told by someone I reminded them of some guy named Conan O’Brien. I had no idea who he was talking about and at first I thought it was an insult. It sounded like a name you’d make up when you’re trying to do an Irish accent (Hoity toy I’m Conan O’Brien!). I checked him out and I loved him! He was everything I was, but much better.
CUT TO: 1998
After a few years of doing both improv and stand up I started getting better, not great, but not horrible. I was interviewed by the local news about Conan O’Brien’s Five Anniversary Show. The interview is below if you want to watch it, but essentially I said I’d love to be a writer for Conan O’Brien.
I performed at The Chicago Comedy Festival that same year. I was still awkward and goofy, but now it was on purpose. I embraced who I was. Following the festival I was told that the booker from Conan wanted to see a tape. I had no idea what the hell I was doing, so I sent a tape of me singing about a potato and a joke where I screw up the whole thing…it was ten minutes long…not exactly a tight five. I never heard from the booker and unfortunately first impressions last a lifetime.
FLASH FORWARD TO: JUNE 2009
Conan got The Tonight Show job and moved to LA. There was a new booker on the show who knew me! I put together a solid 7 minute set and sent it to the booker. He liked about 3 minutes of it. I sent another set in November and he approved a 5 minute set, but would need to see it performed live. It took a bit, but on December 20th, 2009 I recorded an amazing 5 minute set…perfect for late night. I sent it to my manager to send to the people at Conan and then on January 7th, 2010 it was announced that Jay Leno would be returning to The Tonight Show. I was crushed…probably not as crushed as Conan, but it was pretty devastating.
Conan eventually returned to TV on TBS, but I was pretty discouraged and for whatever reason I just didn’t want to go through the process again.
CUT TO: JANUARY 2015
I got married to the wonderful Stephanie Phillips and she encouraged me to submit again, but I just felt what was the point. I went back to Milwaukee to see my mom as she had moved into hospice care. People kept telling me my mom wouldn’t make it, but I refused to believe that. She’s a tough lady and the one who encouraged me to continue to do comedy when I hit one of my lowest points...
CUT TO: MARCH 2015
My mom was getting better. One night I came home and found her up late watching Conan. She knew of him, but hadn’t really watched his show on NBC because it was on so late. There she was watching the show and laughing. She said, “He reminds me of you.” I set my mind at that point that being on Conan’s show was my mission.
In April I sent in a 6 minute set. Two weeks later I got notes back that the booker liked 3 minutes. After 2 months I sent in my second set…and nothing.
I waited 2 weeks, then a month, then six weeks and nothing. I thought I was done for, but my wife encouraged me to resend it. Wives are always right…turns out Conan had been on hiatus and my e-mail got lost in the shuffle. I soon found out my five minute set was approved, but I still had to shoot the five minute set just to make sure it all flowed. Finally on August 28, 2015 I got the set I needed. I owe so much thanks to The Improv in Hollywood, Jason Love, Bill Devlin, Ventura Harbor Comedy Club and The Comedy Magic Club for letting me put together this set in their rooms.
Two weeks later I got the news…I had final approval. I would be on the show (hopefully) before the end of the year. At this point my mom was in much worse shape. She could barely talk due to a stroke and I could barely understand her. Her 92nd birthday was October 12th and I was hoping she’d be able to watch me on Conan and see me fulfill my dream and her dream (okay her dream was for me to get my Master’s in Social Work, but this was probably a close second).
I’ll leave you with these words from the man himself because it really sums up my journey and life itself…
“Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get.
But if you work really hard and you're kind, amazing things will happen. I'm telling you…amazing things will happen.”
- Conan O’Brien
Truer words have never been spoken. Thank you Conan!
WATCH THE SET: HERE