Most comedians grow up loving comedy.
They’d sneak out of bed to watch who was on the Johnny Carson Show. Or they’d seen Eddie Murphy on stage and know that’s what they wanted to be when they grew up.
Not Jimmy Yang.
He found himself in the comedy scene out of fear and desperation.
“What were you afraid of,” I asked him.
“I was picturing myself sitting behind a desk until I was 65 at the same job,” Jimmy said.
Some people take that job. And they do it for a few years while they pursue another dream.
Not Jimmy Yang.
“I just couldn’t,” he said. “After 2 months of this internship I literally wanted to kill myself. Can’t do it. Physically, it was impossible.”
Jimmy grew up around more chaos than the average kid. And he sort of used that to fuel him subconsciously. I think we all do this to some degree. We let our patterns drive us. And if those patterns don’t serve us, we shrink.
At age 13, Jimmy and his family immigrated to America from Hong Kong when he was 13.
“That’s why I’m more used to an unstable, risk-taking life,” he said.
“But it wasn’t a very conscious decision. I was just bumbling around trying to find something that would make me feel a little better about myself.”
It took a LOT of desperation.
And he kept wondering, “What am I doing with my life? Nothing?”
So he googled “open mics.” It was the last step before googling “best ways to kill yourself.” (See, desperation.)
The first open mic he went to cost $5 to get on stage for 5 minutes. One night became seven. Seven became a lifetime. He went up every night. And he wasn’t even that funny to begin with. But it wasn’t about that for Jimmy. It was about finding something greater. A tribe… a community of people just like him.
“There was a sense of purpose there,” he said. “If you get good at this then there might be a future at something.”
So he started polishing his act.
“How’d you make money?” I asked.
He told me he was working as a strip club DJ in San Diego (while trying to brush up on his act).
“I was the only idiot who wanted to work there,” he said.
He was selling lap dances over the microphone. I tried to picture myself doing this. And cringed.
The gangster owner saw his promise.
“I was pretty good on the microphone already cause of my training as a stand up. And I was pretty good as a salesman cause I was selling used cars,” he said.
He combined the two skills. And lap dance sales were up 44%!
So he got an offer from the owner to run his own strip club.
He said, “yes.” And I thought ‘What an exciting opportunity for a young kid like Jimmy!’
But there came a fork in the road. And Jimmy had to switch lives… again.
The story gets kind of grim (as all success stories do). But it’s nice to see how people are so resilient. I’ll tell you the story. This is the switch. It’s what finally pushed him into a better life.
Christmas. At the strip club. Jimmy was working. It sounded so depressing. I felt depressed listening to him.
They let the dancers go home early for the holidays. But customers came anyway. And a fight a broke out.
“These two drunk college kids came in. They were cussing us out.The next thing I know the bartender and bouncer were beating them up. That picture was an alert for me. I was their age. I was them.”
He could’ve gone to jail that night.
The next day at the comedy club Jimmy bragged to kids friends about the fight.
“Dude, it was so cool. We beat up these two kids,” Jimmy said.
His mentor, Sean Kelly, called him and said, “I heard you telling those stories at the comedy club. It’s not cool. You’re a funny dude. You need to get the f— out of there (the strip club) as soon as possible and move to LA. And try and make it as a stand up.”
“And that’s what I did. I quit the next day. And I moved to LA the next week,” Jimmy said.
He still had a long road ahead, but he was getting closer to filling the void in his life.
His story isn’t about following your dreams. It’s more honest than that. It’s about leaving something that isn’t working for you. Even if that means not knowing the next step.
There’s nothing easy about this. It takes practice. Jimmy’s done it twice so far. And I don’t know if he’ll do it again.
I hope so.
Then I’ll get to have him back for another interview. And another great talk.
Links and Resources
- Ha Ha Comedy Club
- The Wire
- Freaks & Geeks
- Beavis & Butthead
- Dr. Drew
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