20 Funny Stories About Becoming a Comedian

Zack Galifianakis, Joan Rivers, Wanda Sykes, Jerry Seinfeld, Jerry Lewis, and 15 other stand-ups share their funniest stories about being a comedian.

from Reader's Digest | September 2011

On the Cusp of Stardom

by Brian Kiley

Years ago, I got the opportunity to open for Jerry Seinfeld in Worcester, Massachusetts. There were 4,000 people per show, and they were great. The next day, my wife and I came home to New York. Waiting for us was a message on our answering machine: “Brian, this is ABC TV calling …”

I began to shake. This was my big break. “Your VCR is ready.”

Then we remembered: ABC TV was the name of the place where we had taken our VCR to be fixed.

 

• Brian Kiley has been nominated for 12 Emmy Awards as a writer for Late Night with Conan O’Brien.

 

On Cruise Control

by Tom Papa

It was my first time on the Late Show with David Letterman, and I was doing my best to control my nerves. After all, the crowd would be excited. Tom Cruise was scheduled.

The problem was, that night Tom Cruise was pumped. Really pumped! He was trading-jokes-with-Dave and running-through-the-crowd pumped. I was doing my best to stay cool before going on, when Cruise ran offstage and made a beeline for me. He was sweating and breathing heavily like he had just won a prizefight. He grabbed my hand, locked eyes with me, and shook all his adrenaline into me.

“Whoo!” he yelled.

“Whoo?” I tried to say. I looked down and saw a drop of Tom Cruise sweat on my new suit.

He gripped my hand harder and screamed, “Kill it out there!” Cruise slapped my shoulder and in two quick leaps was up the eight steps to his dressing room.

I was now about to perform in front of a crowd of people who apparently filled Tom Cruise with pure rocket fuel, and I was freaking out! Making matters worse, David Letterman — who I’d totally forgotten about — was getting ready to introduce me. Me. Covered in Tom Cruise sweat!

Despite my brain screaming otherwise, my body went out and did the set without me. I don’t remember much of it. The good thing about being a comedian is you don’t really have to be there as long as the jokes show up, which, luckily, happened that night.

 

• Tom Papa hosts The Marriage Ref on NBC.

 

Best Heckle

by Tom Dreesen

I was at a club trying out new material. Every time I got a laugh, some guy in the back would say something for a bigger laugh. I’d reply and get a laugh, then he would top me. After ten minutes of this, I finally trumped him.

“Just between you and me,” I said, grinning, “I won that one.”

He responded: “Just between you and me, you needed it.”

 

• Tom Dreesen is touring with his one-man show, An Evening of Laughter and Memories of Sinatra.

 

The Day I Won Them Over

by Jim Mendrinos

Right after 9/11, I performed for some relief workers. The audience was justifiably on edge, and I was just as nervous. What could I possibly say under the circumstances? How about the one thing that kept nagging at me?

I began by thanking them for working so hard. Then I said, “On that terrible day, New Yorkers asked two questions: ‘Is everyone safe?’ and ‘I wonder if I’ll have tomorrow off?’”

The relief workers laughed their butts off, and we had a great show.

 

• Jim Mendrinos wrote The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Comedy Writing.

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