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A day in the life ... of a comedian

Working as a full-time comedian is more than just clowning around.

Stand-up comedians have a special sort of bravery. They stand in a spotlight and make fools of themselves while being heckled by drunks, all in the hope that someone finds them funny.

Flip Schultz, 24, was a class clown whose material drew dirty looks from teachers. Now it gets him paid. Jamie Porter, 34, is a funnyman with 10 years of experience entertaining on stage. They are two very different comedians with the same dream: making people laugh.

"It's something I always wanted to do, and I get paid to do it. It's the best having 300 people laughing together. I sit and think, 'how did I get here?'" Schultz says.

Getting started

The journey to the stage for these modern-day court jesters involved more than standing up for open mike night. Schultz, who hopes to take his career to a television or movie screen near you, launched his career by earning a bachelor's degree in fine arts at Broward Community College in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

"Standup is my first love, but knowing more about the business makes me very castable," says the man who claims he was born to make people laugh.

Porter made his way into comedy by turning tricks -- magic tricks, that is. He started out performing a magic show that incorporated comedy. "Somebody gave me a great compliment. Most magicians take themselves way too seriously, but you don't because you're a comic." Eventually, Porter had enough material to hit the road as a "visual comedian."

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"It's great. If they're not buying the jokes, the visuals definitely get them," says Porter, who eats fire and performs other wild and crazy stunts on stage.

Though he relies on the visual aspect of his comedy, Porter also does a comedy showcase each week on a radio station in West Palm Beach, Fla. He interviews fellow comedians, and they spend an hour talking about comedy and what makes them laugh. Porter hopes to have his program syndicated nationwide.

Take my life, please

Neither of these jokers has any problem finding material. "That's the cool thing about comedy. Comics are very true to their art. A lot of jokes come out of situations in life," Porter says.

"I get [material] from everywhere -- the things that happen to me, my family," Schultz says. When he's inspired while watching TV or observing people, he just types his ideas on his laptop.

While current events may be grist for Schultz's humor mill, jokes about OJ Simpson and Monica came and went in his routine faster than Lewinsky hit her knees. "I dropped all of that stuff. It had its time, but I don't do too much topical material."

And if the routine isn't going as planned? "If I'm bombing, I'm going out in flames. I think, 'F-- you. I know I'm funny,'" he says.

When preparing for a performance, both jokesters rely on their colleagues. Porter says: "I love to be in a room with other comedians. We don't steal material, but we can relate to each other."

Join the club

Schultz suggests that aspiring comedians consider joining a comedy troupe. "On stage, timing is everything. You have to learn it," he says. With that lesson down, he started bugging the comedy club owners in his native Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for time on stage. "It's the hardest thing getting up there, and when I first did it, I was horrible. But you have to be humble on stage and you'll have some of your greatest moments."

"Decide you want to be challenged," Porter says. Go to a lot of open-mike nights. Try it 50 to 100 times before you make a decision [about a career in comedy]."

Taking care of business

A career in comedy isn't all fun. It takes a lot of energy to plan not only the routine, but to book dates and go on tour. Porter counts on the friends he made in the business and Florida agents to book his gigs, while Schultz does his own booking.

Going it alone is a theme for both men. "It's very lonely on the road," Schultz says. He's forced to leave his girlfriend behind while traveling. He met her when she sat in the front row at one of his shows. "She saw every dark side of me that night," he quips. Ironically, now it's his shows that keep them apart.

Porter also feels that life on the road takes a toll. "It's hard to be away from family and friends. But the hardest is killing 23 hours a day for an hour's worth of work. It's like being a thoroughbred. You wait all day for that one race."

In addition, touring costs add up. "The clubs will put you up, but you are responsible for your own travel and food," explains Schultz, who recently sank an additional $2,000 in the production of his first comedy album.

But the job comes with a unique benefit -- making people laugh. "There's something about it. The high you get on stage. When you rock the room, there's nothing better," Porter says.

And the pay isn't bad either. Both men say they can earn $500 to $700 a week as an emcee, and Porter says he earns $4,000 to $5,000 each week he works as a headliner.

Rubbing elbows with the stars

That's what he made when he played a crowd of 13,000 people while opening for Celine Dion's North American tour. He's also worked with Jeff Foxworthy, Weird Al Yankovic, The Beach Boys, Donna Summer and Florence Henderson. Yes, Mrs. Brady likes a good laugh, too.

During the past three years, Schultz has opened in comedy clubs across the country for Pauly Shore, John Pinette, Bobcat Goldthwait, and Damon Wayans.

Schultz also made a name for himself when he was selected to represent the Southeast in the U.S. Comedy Arts Open Aspen Comedy Fest, sponsored by HBO. He auditioned in Los Angeles but didn't qualify for Aspen. He's still optimistic about his future. "To make it that far is incredible. It's all good."

He says he's reading for a pilot on NBC and will be auditioning for a Montreal comedy showcase.

Porter is focusing on working for corporations that hire him to entertain their employees at conferences and meetings.

"The hardest thing is just getting out there,' Schultz says, "but you'll know it if it's in you."

And that's no joke.

-- Posted: Dec. 2, 1999


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