It has been 28 years since comedian Brad Upton quit his job as a teacher to pursue his dream of becoming a stand-up comedian. Since then he’s won the Las Vegas Comedy Festival, appeared at Caesar’s Palace as part of the HBO Comedy Festival and performed more than 5,000 shows across the United States and around the world. The Seattle-based comedian has built a solid a career out of making people laugh and will celebrate his 30th anniversary as a performer with a headlining slot Aug. 28-30 at Laughs Comedy Spot in Kirkland.
At what point in your career did you realize this was a life-long gig?
I didn’t go into it with a 30-year plan, I just wanted to do it for a living and here it is, 30 years later. I’m 58 and just now starting to realize that this is going to be my life-long gig.
There must have been times when you experienced self-doubt, what got you past that and kept you performing?
I didn’t go through that much. You HAVE to have confidence in yourself if you’re going to succeed. You have to believe that you have the right stuff. I’ve always walked onstage believing I was going to succeed. I know that sounds like Tony Robbins, but it’s true.
What was your first time on stage like?
Sept. 4th, 1984. I truly signed up for what I thought was the Tuesday night open mic at the Comedy Underground, but in reality was an audition for the Seattle Comedy Competition. I actually signed up a year earlier and then chickened out about 15 minutes before I was to go on stage. I drove back to Pasco with my tail between my legs hating myself and taught school for another year, before coming back and signing up again. The Comedy Underground was packed (it used to be like that for open mics in 1984) and I killed. After my set, the late Laura Crocker came up to me and told me congratulations, that I had done great and they wanted me in the competition. I didn’t understand what she was taking about. I thought it was an open mic. She explained that it was an open mic, but also an audition and I had passed and the competition started the following Tuesday night. So starting the next Tuesday night, I commuted from Pasco to Seattle each night to perform in Seattle and teach in Pasco the next day. I finished 18th out of 20 for my week.
How did you decide to become a full-time comedian?
During the 1985 Spokane Comedy Competition I was in a week with a couple of guys that were doing it for a living and I felt like I was as good as they were, so I decided if they could do it full-time, I could too. My last year of teaching was the ’85-’86 school year and I resigned. I knew I could always go back and teach if it didn’t work out. I quit teaching 28 years ago.
What’s your secrete to longevity as a comedian?
I am confident that I am better now than I have ever been. If you keep writing and enjoy performing you keep getting better. Stand up is a wonderful skill in that regard. Also, the longer you’ve been doing it the more contacts and relationships you establish and your network of potential gigs keeps expanding. Once you make enough of a name for yourself, a lot of work comes to you!
(Trigger warning: vasectomy jokes)
You work a lot of corporate gigs and cruise ships, what’s the strangest audience you’ve ever performed in front of? Is it harder to get laughs in these environments?
Yes and no, sometimes they’re actually easier. People are on vacation or at a convention and they’re ready for a good time so they can be a lot of fun. Not always! But they can be. I once did a show for the Washington State Holstein Breeders annual semen auction. As soon as I was done the semen auction began.
How many dates a year do you book?
About 1990 I did 306 shows in 250 nights. I do about 130 shows a year now. When you work mostly clubs you do a lot more shows–two on Friday and Saturday–sometimes three.
You came up in the mid 80s in Seattle, what was the local scene like for young comics back then? How about now?
In the mid 80’s there were only a couple of places to get onstage–mainly the Comedy Underground on Monday or Tuesdays. At any one time there was only about 25 people in the ‘open micer’ category. A couple of them would drift away, a couple of more would replace them. Quite frankly, I’m not part of the local scene for young comics anymore. I only keep track from the Facebook group that I’m in. I do know there are a LOT of places to get on stage and what seems like 100’s and 100’s of people that are doing/trying stand up. I was following a thread recently where some of the local comics were saying that they needed another open mic somewhere on Capitol Hill or Belltown because they sure as hell didn’t want to drive all the way to Renton to do an open mic. WTF? I drove from the Tri-Cities to Spokane or Seattle to do open mics. I was thinking, “I guess they don’t want to be comics very badly.” If it’s your passion, you’ll do whatever it takes to get good!
Seattle finally has a new comedy club (Parlor) what’s your thoughts on that? What took so long?
It’s nothing new! About 1991 we had four full-time comedy clubs in Seattle. The Comedy Underground in Pioneer Square, Giggles in the U District, The Last Laugh was underneath the viaduct near the ferry terminal and The Improv was in the Showbox Theater. They all thrived at one time. There were also more bars and restaurants that had one night of professional shows as well. Anywhere that gets people going out to watch live comedy is a good thing for all of us. We still have four full-time clubs–two in Seattle and two on the Eastside, plus the Tacoma Comedy Club is one of the best clubs in the country.
You’re material pulls from your personal life (marriage/fatherhood) is it hard to get younger audiences to relate to that? How about your family, how do they feel about being the butt of your jokes?
I do very well with 20-somethings. I have to make them like me first. I don’t jump right into the long-term marriage and teenage kid material right away. I get into that about 15 minutes into my set–if it’s written well enough and funny enough, it can be funny for all ages. I am always very, very pleased when I sell CD’s to 20-somethings after my show. None of my stuff about my family is too cutting (at least in my opinion) and they all know it pays the bills. I did a fundraiser at my daughter’s high school and she requested that I drop a couple of jokes that evening …which I did.
You toured with Joan Rivers, what’s it like opening for one most legendary comedians in the game?
Joan is a sweetheart and a brilliant comic. She’s absolutely filthy, but hilarious. She’s always liked me because she wants her opener to be clean. SHE wants to shock the audience. They are always great shows because they are in big, beautiful theaters and the crowd is ready to laugh. I love doing them!
What kind of advice do you have for young comedians just getting started?
Get on stage, get on stage, get on stage. There are comedy classes available and you can learn things in them that you might not have anticipated, but you have to get on stage. Also, if you’re still doing open mics 6 years into it, it’s probably not going to click for you. The comics that wind up having a career usually move up faster because they just have the aptitude for it. If your dream is doing it for a living, you’ll probably know fairly soon if you have a chance. BUT, if you are that person that gets better than everyone else at the open mic pretty quickly, it’s still not going to be easy!
Can you share a one-liner?
You’d think Dale Chihuly could make himself an eye.
Jeff Albertson: email@example.com