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Comedy and Law: The Price of Dying

Son Tran

Comedy and Law: The Price of Dying

There was no doubt about it. I was dying. In fact, I had been dying for the last 15 minutes but the pain of it was becoming very acute. Even though I was the youngest person in the room, I was the one sweating and breathing heavily. It was my own  fault for accepting an offer to perform com edy for a group of senior women in a small town in Texas on that hot summer day. Like too many stand-up comics before me, I had severely overestimated my skill.

My venture into the world of stand-up comedy began in 2014. At the time I was a young-ish father to a seven-year-old boy and a four-year-old girl. We lived in a nice suburb outside of Houston and I had a stable job working for an energy company.

I had grown my legal career beginning in Calgary eventually moving to California, New York and Houston, seeing the country through my work. I had carved out a place for myself developing my expertise in the energy law field and was managing a team of attorneys and contract professionals.

My wife was enjoying herself as a stay-at-home mother and the kids were flourishing. Yet something was missing. I had the feeling that there was something that I was supposed to be doing and neglecting. I slowly began to realize that I was neglecting myself.

My days were dedicated to my employer, making sure the company was protected, looking out for the people on my team and providing answers to colleagues who had questions. My nights and weekends were consumed by the health and well-being of my children and my wife and the daily upkeep of the material things that surrounded us. It was not a bad life by any stretch, but it felt … incomplete.

From an early age I had a strong creative drive, especially when it came to the written word. I ran through books at a rate that would have bankrupted my parents had it not been for the public library system. I began to write my own stories and joined theater in high school.

But as people say “real life” began to impose itself on me and I had to focus myself on getting through law school. In the early stages of my career, I worked late, as many of us do, proving my worth to the firm. My creative endeavours took a back seat and then eventually faded away, like toy placed in a box.

In New York I found myself at the Comedy Cellar one night. At the time I was working for an investment bank that would become infamous. My wife and I were enjoying the lifestyle and energy of a young, childless couple in the “Big City”. At the comedy show that night we saw several famous comedians including Gary Gulman and Dave Attell. If this were a Hollywood movie one of those comedians would have whispered some inspiring words to me and I would have started performing the next day. But this was real life and I walked away from that show with nothing more than a grainy photo with Gary Gulman.

As my career settled down my personal life was just ramping up. Any spare time I thought I might have was gone after my wife and I had our first child. I could not have been happier to be a father and threw myself into the role, rushing home from work to see my son only to be told I could not pick him up because he was finally sleeping. I had to placate myself with staring at him, using whatever Jedi mind tricks I could to will the baby to wake up.

My daughter came along a few years later and now I had two friends to play with. Yet even in those days when the children were finally asleep, the clothes had been washed and folded and the kitchen cleaned I had that feeling something still needed to be done.

As my children grew older and needed less constant attention, I began to stretch those creative muscles a little more. Almost like someone who picks up that forgotten baseball glove and has a game of catch after years away. I began by writing movie reviews for a small website. I doubt if more than 100 people read my reviews. Then I began to write articles for a comedy website. At its height those pieces I wrote were being viewed by millions of people. It was at that point I realized I was having as much fun reading the comments people left on my article as I had writing them. It was the feedback that I really enjoyed. Prior to that I felt like I was writing into a vacuum.

It was then that I remembered that night at the Comedy Cellar. Although I was in the audience I recalled thinking how amazing it would be to be on that stage making people laugh. The people I had watched that night seemed to be doing something that was completely out of reach. But with my writing experience I thought perhaps it was something I could do that would incorporate my love of performing and writing.

My first night performing stand-up comedy was six months away still though because I was a trained attorney. This meant there was research and preparation I needed to complete.  I began to Google highly technical topics like “How do you do stand-up comedy?” and “How do you write jokes?”. I debated writing a memo on the topic but ultimately decided against it.

I started watching comedy specials and documentaries about stand-up comedy and began to seriously wonder if comedy really involved that much drinking and drug use. (The answer is yes, but not by me). Then I started writing jokes. Page of jokes. Pages of horrible, terrible jokes that no one would ever find funny. Finally, it was time to Google, “Open Mics in Houston.” I stepped on the stage for the first time shortly after that and I have never looked back.

It's been almost 10 years since I first told jokes to a room full of strangers and I enjoy it as much today as I did back then. I had very modest goals when I began, never expecting to do much more than open mics and perhaps get paid to do a real comedy show.

But over the years I’ve managed to perform all over the world including Europe and Asia. I have worked with amazing headliners in front of crowds of hundreds of people. I even had the chance to perform for the troops in Afghanistan where we did nine shows in ten days. I should clarify it was the American troops, it wasn’t some weird Taliban comedy tour. I’ve won contests (and lost many more than I’ve won) and have been accepted into dozens of festivals. I’ve also made a little bit of money.

But despite all those things what I still enjoy the most is when I am on stage and the show is going really well. On those nights I let myself just enjoy the laughter, getting lost in that moment. There is nothing like a group of strangers letting you know that you’ve brought them happiness and laughter. This is why I still perform 10 years later.

As a whole, lawyers are a motivated group of professionals. We strive to always find the right answer and the best solution. But sometimes that drive can lead us to forget to take time for ourselves. We can be good lawyers and fathers and mothers, but we should also remember to be good to ourselves. It’s OK to be a little selfish and indulge in your passions. Some of the best attorneys I know are the ones that have shared their love of photography, music or woodworking with me. I believe that bringing your whole self to whatever you do will help you in all areas of your life.

Now I share my whole self with my children. They know me as a father, a husband, a lawyer and, yes, a comedian. My daughter has taken to stalking me on social media and always lets me know when I do something that isn’t funny. And even when I have moments, like that show in front of those senior citizens, I understand that sometimes the price of dying, is to live a little.