Funny doesn’t cost a thing
by Mike Young
It was 2001 and I had $1500 left in my account. I was thinking of what I would do when I moved back to Detroit. Would I go into the family scrap metal business, maybe work for my brother and help build on to his insurance reconstruction company or just take a break in my mom’s basement and be happy with a full fridge? It was a good ride out here. I had been in L.A. 8 or so years, had some success, a couple development deals with different networks where they paired me with writers who made some strong attempts at turning me into the next someone on TV. Although every attempt at development ultimately led me back to the drawing board searching for ways to write for myself, I still feel lucky to have been in such talented company.
I thought to myself ‘If I’m going out, I’m going to let the world (or at least my two broke roommates) hear my comedy.’ So while I was on the road opening for Joe Rogan who was already making a big name with Fear Factor, I taped one of my sets in Phoenix.
I got back to L.A and I met a guy through my ex girlfriend who had a studio. Before she left me for her guitarist, I thought this was a great gesture. The owner would charge me $50 an hour. This was it. It’s all I wanted, one good CD and the whole world could hear the comedy of Mike Young and I could go back to Detroit. I got in the studio, laid down the audio, listened to it and realized you could hear waitresses taking large drink orders, a drunk mumbling obscenities about me in the corner and a man heavy breathing. Well I didn’t have the money to fix the audio so I called it an “edgy” recording. And so it was.
The engineer did his thing and I walked out of there with a CD and $450 left in the bank. But I was going back to Detroit with an album. I took a picture of myself as a child sitting on the toilet at 2 years old wearing sunglasses for the cover and called it Dropping Bombs. I was broke but I was real. I was hurting but I had something.
A friend worked as an assistant at a management company. I asked him if he could listen to the CD and see what I should do with it. He did. He listened and asked if it was okay to send the CD to a guy in Montreal who worked at the Just For Laughs Festival. I said sure — send it everywhere — it’s my first and last CD. So he did. He called me and said they listened to it, liked it and wanted me in their “New Faces” show. I didn’t know what that meant but I was in!
I think there’s a word limit on these stories, so let’s speed it up. I get to Montreal and I’m terrified. There’s Dave Chapelle, Dave Attell and Chelsea Handler and they’re all friends with each other. And here I am — a kid from Detroit doing wind sprints in the alleys of Montreal so I can look and feel good on stage for 6 minutes. Not to mention Seinfeld was somewhere out there because they were filming his documentary Comedian. I saw camera crews and people following the ghost of Jerry who I’ve wanted to be since I was 12. My friends told me, “relax, have fun, deliver your material and you’ll be great.” I didn’t hear a word. I even flew my brother out there from Detroit to keep me company.
Show time is here. New Faces. Hosted by Dom Irrera. A legend.
Dom warms up the crowd. I’m in the wings, my brother is in the crowd drinking, Tony Rock and a slew of “New Faces” I’d later become friends with are on the bill and it’s game time. I went out there and told my jokes.
My manager (who I had to convince to manage me) rushed me after the show and said “They want to meet you.” I said “who?” He said “Warner Bros.”
I said, “What are they doing here.” He said they were in the TV business. They wanted to give me a deal. I told my manager I was broke and if they were serious could they try to make the deal sooner than later. He told me to go have a great night with my brother and he’d call me later.
I went to bed at 10 and my manager woke me up at 1. Warner Bros. wanted to give me $75K. I told him to take it immediately. He told me to hold off as he was going in for more. I told him “Hell no, take it. If they back out I have to go from here to Detroit on a train.” He told me to relax. He’d been through this before. And he was right. He ended up getting me almost double the money. That was my first development deal and the first sign out here that you can get in what you put out.
This isn’t a story about money, it’s the story of putting everything into something and watching the returns. It hasn’t been easy sailing from there, but I’ve been able to put things out there and get things back. I wrote Grounded starring Aaron Paul and Jeff Daniels, which will be out later this year. My Man Is A Loser, which I wrote and directed, will be released by Lionsgate this year as well. I also sold a concept to HBO, which is in development.
If you’re a writer or a dreamer or a creative head that can’t stop moving, somehow some way do just that, don’t stop moving. We’re the real sharks. We’re the ones that die when we stop moving. Hope this tale inspires you to keep it moving even in the dark days. Plus if I wanted a 9 to 5 gig, I’d do artwork for album covers. The baby on the toilet cover has been a hit for years.Tags: Comedians, Dom Irrera, Entertainment industry, Grounded (film), Hollywood, Joe Rogan, Just For Laughs Festival, Mike Young, My Man Is A Loser (film), Screenwriter-Director, Stand-up comedy, Television, Tony Rock, Warner Bros.