By Lisa Wilton
CALGARY — As legend has it, Steve Simeone killed it the first time he got onstage to do stand-up comedy. He was 22 years old and at the end of his college years in Baltimore when he performed a 20-minute set during an open mic night at a bar called Winchester’s.
But the comedy scene in the mid and late ‘90s wasn’t exactly fertile and Simeone moved back to his native Philadelphia, finding work in the marketing department of the Philadelphia Eagles. He did a handful of stand-up gigs here and there before taking the plunge moving to Los Angeles in 2000. Since then, he’s become a regular performer at L.A.’s legendary comedy institution, The Comedy Store, and recently made his Comedy Central debut on Gabriel Iglesias Presents Stand-Up Revolution.
The comedian chatted with BeatRoute about getting a helping hand from Pauly Shore and working for one of the legends of the business.
BeatRoute: Your first time doing stand up was a really positive experience, but you didn’t pursue comedy right away. Why did you wait?
Steve Simeone: There weren’t many stage opportunities in the late ‘90s. The only people doing comedy were people that really loved it. Many of the clubs had closed.
The limited clubs didn’t really have open mics or encouraged new talent. I was probably on stage less than 15 times over five years before I moved to L.A. to pursue comedy. I had such limited experience.
BR: You moved to L.A. after winning a competition to find Philadelphia’s funniest comedian.
SS: That was crazy. It was 15 years ago and Pauly Shore was there. He said, ‘Dude, you’re great. You should be at The Comedy Store.’
BR: And so you packed your bags and headed west.
SS: Yeah, I worked as a production assistant on the set of Pauly’s movie (Pauly Shore Is Dead.) He was using his own money so I would work 15 hours days for 50 bucks a day. He saw how hard I worked. I remember there was this one night, about two in the morning, and I was carrying a couch up a flight of stairs by myself and he was like, ‘OK man, I gotta get you into The Comedy Store.’ So he got me a job answering phones and part of your compensation as an employee was three minutes of stage time a week. The Comedy Store is really the only place in the world where someone who wants to be to be a stand-up comedian can really learn it.
BR: What was it like working for (legendary Comedy Store owner) Mitzi Shore?
SS: It was an incredible experience. One of my jobs was being her personal assistant. I would get her out of bed every morning and put her to bed every night. They were 15-hour days. This is how much of a legend she is, she has the Richard Pryor autobiography sitting on her coffee table, inscribed ‘To Mitzi, Love Richard.’
BR: Was L.A. what you’d hoped it to be? Was it difficult to get started?
SS: I don’t think I could survive it again. If somebody said you have to start all over again. I’d say yes. I’d try to do it, but I don’t know if I could survive it again. It was just so difficult. I remember one year, I didn’t have a day off. Because I was pursuing this comedy thing at night, I didn’t take another professional job. I worked as a telemarketer, I worked at a gym, I worked in a pizza parlour. I took all these part-time flexible jobs in the event somebody would let me open up for them on the road.
There are many more opportunities for young comics now, but the toughest thing is still getting stage time, which is necessary for a comedian to grow. There’s light at the end of the tunnel though. Stand-up comedy is really popular and you go to The Comedy Store and everybody’s famous. That alone would give me hope.
BR: You’ve done a weekly podcast for the past year. What’s the appeal of a podcast for a comedian?
SS: I think for the listener it gives you more insight into the real person. What I love about it is that while we want to be as honest as possible onstage, there’s still that immediate expectancy of a laugh. With a podcast, you don’t have to make people laugh. You just have to be interesting. I love that about it. I love breaking down life and I love that there are no rules or timelines with podcasts. You can open yourself up more with a podcast. And people all over the world respond to it.
BR: You gushed about Canada during a recent podcast. Why do you like us so much?
SS: I think a lot of my comedy is based on family and celebrating life instead of just complaining about life. I think Canada just gets that. I hate to paint with such a broad stroke, but my first trip to Canada was just in August. I went to Toronto. People up there are like Americans after two beers on a Friday. They’re a bit looser, a bit nicer. People just get it.
Steve Simeone is at Yuk Yuk’s from Thurs., April 23 to Sat., April 25.AB, Alberta, comedy, Pauly Shore, podcast, stand-up comedy, Steve Simeone, The Comedy Store, Yuk Yuk's