Returning home from my mission was terrifying. As challenging as a mission was for me, there is a certain ease that comes with not having to worry about real life too much. No dating, no school, no job, no career, your expenses are covered and every day you know exactly what you’re supposed to focus on. I remember flying back home on the plane and contemplating what life would be like. Who I would marry, where I would end up career wise. Honestly at that point in my life comedy, acting and performing was not even a thought in mind. It had never occurred to me to try and pursue such a challenging goal as the entertainment business. At the time I wanted to be a math teacher, I thought that would be fun. What’s interesting is the reason I wanted to be a math teacher was because of two math teachers in particular I had in high school, Mr. Barkdoll and Mr. Nord. These teachers were funny. Their math classes were entertaining. They had bits and jokes all worked out, and were somewhat famous throughout the school as having particular interesting personalities. I was also a pretty decent math student, so I figured teaching math would be a good fit for me. However, I was really more interested in the being funny part. It never occurred to me that maybe I should not worry so much about the math part and just focus on the funny part.
I returned back to Mesa Community College and started taking math classes, and started dating. Now in the Mormon culture there is a preconceived notion that one a man has returned from his missionary services that all the women will begin swooning over him as a top marriage prospect. It’s almost suggested that being a “returned missionary” in and of itself is free pass to marry any woman you desire. This is not only misogynistic, it’s also not true. I began to realize that me simply being a returned missionary not only didn’t mean anything, but it was definitely not a free pass to dating and marrying any girl I desired. Instead for me, I found dating extremely frustrating and challenging. My insecurities were coming to the forefront and it was palpable, not only to me, but to the women I was interested in. This lead to years of disappointment and heartache. I was lost. I had no idea who I really was, what I wanted, and who I was supposed to be, and my lack of confidence and insecurity was making it even more difficult to obtain the life I thought would be so easily obtained just on account of me having served a mission.
A few years after my return several Mormon church congregations combined to put on an evening of one-act plays. One of these plays was a comedic melodrama, based in the West. I auditioned and was cast as the evil villain, Salty Sam! This was one of my only performance opportunities I would have in many years. The show went really well, and I received many accolades for my comedic portrayal of Salty Sam. I had a sense that not only was I good at this, but that perhaps I had a special gift for the stage and performance. However, again any idea that I should, or would pursue comedy or acting as a career seemed entirely preposterous.
Through a very random series of events I ended up obtaining a real estate license and switched my major to business. I graduated college from Arizona State University in the Winter of 2007, 5 years after returning home from my mission. I figured since I had a real estate license and had a bit of knowledge in that industry that I would be a realtor for my life’s work. There was a problem with this, and that was I didn’t really like it. I was a decent realtor, but it was not my passion. I had many incredible opportunities come my way, and was able to start my own brokerage with a business partner who pretty much paid to train me to get my brokerage license. I was part owner in my own business, self-employed, and had a few good financially as a realtor. However, there was one small problem, I was not happy. Actually I was pretty depressed. I was still not seeming to find success with dating or relationships, and had a few specific experiences that completely shattered me, my confidence and hope that I would ever find a successful wife or relationship. Shortly after graduating college something else happened, that I would forever alter my path.
Sometime shortly after my mission I heard about an improv troupe called Jester’z that was quite popular amongst the Mormon community, as they were an all ages friendly show, something that is very important to the LDS population, and also very funny. The first time I heard of this I was reminded of the Oxymoron’s, the troupe that Scott had introduced me to in high school. This was very exciting to me as I remembered how impressed I was with the troupe when I was younger. As it turned out, the owner of Jester’z used to be a member of the Oxymoron’s and when that troupe folded, he and his wife picked up where they left off, and started their own troupe, Jester’z.
The first time I saw a show I was blown away again by how funny these performers were and the fact they were making it up on the spot was absolutely shocking to me! Jester’z became somewhat of a “go-to” date for me. I went to see their shows fairly often. Around 2006 or so a friend of mine, Jason called me up. Jason was good friends of the owner of Jester’z, Jef, and told me Jef was looking for a piano player to start incorporating music improv into their shows. This was extremely exciting to me, but also very intimidating. To me Jester’z were rockstars, and so far beyond my abilities as a performer or comedian. Heck, I had never really acted before, other than just a few times throughout my life and occurrences. I had never taken an improv class and definitely had never taken a music improv class. But, I did know how to play the piano, and was a decent jazz piano player. I thought this might be a good opportunity to wiggle my into the Jester’z community.
I called Jef and we met for lunch. Now to me Jef was like a celebrity! He was the owner, the director and the producer of Jester’z, and he was meeting with ME!? I was still fighting for even a basic sense of confidence and definitely did not think I was in any position to meet with someone who ran the troupe I admired so much. I was nervous all through lunch as he rolled out his plans for incorporating music into his shows and I was excited that I might have this opportunity.
For whatever reason Jef felt comfortable enough with me to invite me to bring my keyboard to rehearsal and start incorporating music. He gave me a book on music improv written a man named Michael Pollock (he will come up later) and I went home and studied my butt off to try and learn music improv before my first rehearsal with Jester’z. Showing up to that rehearsal was extremely nerve racking for me, all of a sudden I was in the room with these improvisers I admired so much, had brought dates to and had laughed at so many times. And now all of a sudden I was supposed to the expert on music improv. I don’t remember much of the details of those first rehearsals, but it was a little rocky. I wasn’t really equipped to train and guide an improv troupe to love music improv, something I much better at now. Secondly, the troupe did not seem to care for music improv that much, they kind of had a groove and were happy doing their own thing. I rehearsed with them a few times and I don’t quite remember what happened, but it just kind of fizzled away. I never performed with the troupe at that time, but soon that would all change.