My Junior began with great optimism. I was moving up the ranks in the drumline and respected as a leader. I was moved from snare to tenors and we had high expectations of being a top high school drumline. But perhaps the most significant thing to happen to me my Junior year was I became friends with Albert. Albert was also a drummer, but he and I had many things in common. We were both born on the exact same day (Year, Month and Day), we both had fathers who had a PhD’s in music, his father was a piano player and my father a singer. We both played piano and drums, both enjoyed video games, we were both raised and active in our respective religious communities, and we both enjoyed performing and making people laugh. Albert and I became instant friends. Of course being on the drumline you already share a bond with the other drummers, as you see each other every single morning at 6am, every Friday evening at football games, as well as multiple pep rally’s, marching band competitions and afternoon practices, but given our commonalities we began hanging out beyond drumline commitments. Albert was and still is one of the most remarkable people I have met, and possessed one of the most impeccable characters. He was mature beyond his years, confident, extremely kind and gracious to others, responsible and talented. He did not seem to carry with him the insecurity that was so pervasive for me. He did not seem to really care that much what people thought. He wore clothes that were somewhat out dated and inexpensive, and didn’t seem to be bothered if someone considered him “cool” or “popular.” And ironically enough, he seemed to have no problem gaining popularity and friends. I noticed he was not at concerned about social status, cliques, who was popular, who was not, he would be anyone’s friend who wanted it. I remember this character strength had a tendency to attract friends to him who were perhaps not considered “cool,” or popular. This was particularly impressive to me as I was most definitely concerned about such things. Sad to say it was not beneath me to perhaps avoid fellow students who I felt were beneath me in the social strata. I didn’t realize it at the time but now it is clear to me that this was a response to my own insecurity and my deep rooted desire to be popular and liked. Albert was also involved in drama and was actually cast as the lead in the musical that year. He was only a Sophmore and this was an insult to the upper classmen who felt their seniority warranted them the lead. He killed the role. Something began to occur to me, Albert, at least in my opinion, was better than me in almost every area I could think of. He was a better performer, a better drummer, a better piano player, he was more confident, more religious, a far better student, more responsible, a better leader, and he was actually more funny than I was. Looking back I’m actually surprised I wanted to hang out with him at all, perhaps it was just the fact that he accepted me as I was as well, and I didn’t feel the need to have to be funny or impressive, I could just be me.
I remember being excited to introduce my new friend to Scott and company, yet much to my surprise they did not seem to gravitate toward him as I did. They would actually make fun of him as being a bit of an “artsy” type, especially when he got the lead in the musical, and there some jokes that he was probably gay thrown around, because in high school the only reason anyone would favor the arts over sports must be gay. This was significant as I found myself more and more inclined to hang with Albert and less and less inclined to make an effort to hang with Scott and my friends in that world.
However, Scott still played an extremely important role in my comedy development. I believe it was this year for his birthday Scott had a party at a local improv theater, the performing troupe was called the Oxymorons. This was my first exposure to improvisational theater. I was blown away. It was the funniest thing I had ever seen in my life. The fact that a cast of performers could take audience suggestions and make up entire scenes on the spot blew my mind. I remember wishing I could be a part of something like that but also thought, “I could never do that.” My insecurities and lack of confidence couldn’t fathom the notion of being able to perform in front of a group of people, unscripted, and so confident. I only saw the Oxymorons twice but those performances left an impression on me and would prove significant to my journey as a comedian later in life.
That year Albert and I began to create somewhat of our own comedic duo. We could bounce off each other, go into bits, and entertain the masses. We used to walk around campus and if we saw a group of students who we didn’t know, we’d walk up and interject ourselves into the group and meet them all, bouncing off each other and entertaining the group and getting them laughing so that they accepted us in their circle. This was something I would NEVER have the confidence to do on my own, but with Albert such extreme social moves were no problem for me.
Our comedic timing and chemistry lead to 3 specific comedic performances. The first one I recall was for a band fundraiser. Albert and I both one of our arms in our shirt and the gag was he and I both had one of our arms cut off in shop class, “Band saw,” but we had committed to play drums and piano before the accident, so keep the show going we were going to combine our forces and continue the concert. We then sat at the piano with Albert’s left arm and my right arm, and played the piano together, one arm each. After the piano number, we hopped on a drum set and played a drum set solo, again, one arm each, while we both jockeyed first position sitting on the drum thrown. The piece was a HUGE hit.
The next performance I remember was for a mask and gavel competition. Although I was not part of the drama department, he was and suggested that we should submit to compete. A week before the competition I agreed and we found a comedic duo piece where a man praying to God receives a visit from an angel. We rehearsed like crazy that week and ended up taking 7th in the state (6th would have qualified us to compete at the next level competition).
The final performance I remember would be the biggest performance of my high school career. Albert and I one day randomly started vocalizing one of our drum cadences. Think of beat-boxing meets an A Capella group. We would use different vowell sounds to verbalize the different drum sounds, “Deek dook dook dook Deek dook dook, schouge schouge schouge, daka, donk donk donk donk,” all in rhythm and in a duo splitting the different drum sounds between the 2 of us. We used to get a kick of being able to vocalize entire drum cadences, and we would randomly walk up to people and start our vocalized drum duet. I don’t remember who had the idea, but somehow we thought this could be something we could do at a pep rally….in front of the ENTIRE SCHOOL! We were excited at the proposition of performing something so experimental and a little crazy in front of our peers, but we also realized that it could totally bomb. But we spoke to the pep-rally chairman, and performed a little snippet of what we wanted to do, 5 seconds in he stopped us and said, “You’re in!” Now, it was real. We joked that this would either the crowd would love us, OR we’d have to transfer schools.
We planned out our routine, added some choreography, and next thing we knew we were standing in the middle of the gymnasium, with our entire student body starring at us…”Deek dook dook dook Deek dook dook, schouge schouge schouge, daka, donk donk donk donk,” we launched into our vocalized routine with high energy and confidence, we were strutting around the gym floor, engaging the audience, and they were LOVING IT! We ended the routine with a unified bow to the screams and cheers of our peer group. For the rest of the year people would randomly walk up to us, “Deek dook dook” and extend high fives. Despite these successful performances with Albert, it never really occurred to me that perhaps I had a knack for performing and that comedy was my calling, more so than music. Music was safe for me, I could hide behind a drum-set, or behind an orchestra. Comedy was exposed, vulnerable and raw. I graduated high school with never taking a single drama class, never joining a performance ensemble, never having done stand-up or an open mic, or never even considering the notion that I was destined for a life involved in comedy. In my mind I was just a halfway decent drummer, an even less decent piano player, and an insecure kid who had no idea what he wanted to do with his life, or what my career or purpose was or would be.