Friday July 25th, 2014 – Milwaukee, WI
I love being a mentor. It’s got a lot of the same rewards of fatherhood without having to change any diapers. I have had some tremendous mentees along the way of all ages, and it’s funny when they have been physically older than me. It doesn’t matter, as they are still in the role of student.
I am a student myself of many things, but in comedy I am the mentor. It’s one of the few topics I’m able to speak on with relative authority, even though the entire time I am teaching I remain a dedicated learner. I just happen to be farther along than most, so I can reach back and nurture.
The challenge of figuring out how to bring out the best in each individual is something I never get tired of. Everybody is different, and mentoring is not something that is started and finished in one session. It’s long term, and requires dedication and input from both parties. I really enjoy it.
One of my current favorites is twelve year old Trevor Burke along with his father Joe. Joe took one of my classes at Zanies in Chicago many years ago, and now Trevor is doing comedy. He’s a super kid and I have grown to really like him – even though I would highly recommend that kids don’t do standup comedy for more than fun. There are several reasons for that, and all are legit.
First off, kids don’t have the life experience to be able to draw upon for material. They are in a tough spot, and I don’t think it’s fair to the average kid to put them in a position to be on stage in front of total strangers – especially adults. Too many things can go wrong, and it’s intimidating.
Second, bombing on stage can be an absolutely horrific experience. I wouldn’t want to throw a kid – especially one I like – into such a precarious position with any sort of regularity. If the kid is doing a talent show at school or something for other kids, fine. But as a career path? No way.
Of course there are exceptions to almost every rule, and Trevor is it. Joe has a background with entertainment, as his brother had a band. Joe is fully aware of the pitfalls, and is very good in the way he keeps Trevor grounded. He and his wife Pam are excellent parents, and it all just works.
People frequently ask me, “Is the kid funny?” He’s a KID. He’s still developing as a person, so it’s unfair to put adult expectations on him or any other child. He’s funny enough, and should he decide to stay with standup as he matures, I think he’s got an extremely bright future. What he is loaded with is likeability and experience. He’s been acting for years, and is at home on the stage.
He enjoys performing, and that’s a huge part of it. He’s a novelty right now, and everyone gets that. He’s getting a lot of attention because Joe knows how to play the entertainment game. He is Trevor’s manager, and it’s a chance for them to bond as father and son but still develop a career.
Tonight I rode to Milwaukee with them both and watched Trevor compete in a talent contest at a street fair. It wasn’t the greatest of circumstances, but he went up and did his set anyway. There was a girl about his age that was a singer, and she had a bunch of her family come out so she was the winner because it was based on audience response. Trevor wasn’t disappointed, and we went to dinner at The Safe House afterward. It was fun to hang out, and no matter what happens I will still be his mentor and friend. Comedy is a nasty racket. I want to see him enjoy his childhood.