Mike Weiss is having a mid-life crisis. But unlike the rest of us, he is having the time of his mid-life doing it.
At 46, Weiss has embraced his inner comic. For the last three years, he has been going to his office by day, and by night, he rips off his businessman’s mask as the owner of a mail order company and reveals the stand-up comedian within. Weiss runs the Midlife Comedy Crisis, which features comedians over the age of 40, at Tumulty’s Pub in New Brunswick on the last Thursday of every month (next performance is Thursday, September 28), and he couldn’t be happier.
Weiss remember the exact date that comedy became his passion: March 20, 2004. The place: Rascal’s in Asbury Park. Weiss says: "Deep down, it’s what I always wanted to do. I guess I thought about getting up on stage but I thought it was such a scary thing – at least I thought it was until I started to do it. I remember the first time I did it. I had taken this class, and I was so nervous my arms and hands were tingling. I’m more comfortable now. There I was at Rascal’s, which no longer exists, in front of about 100 people I didn’t know. Once I got my first laugh, I felt like this is where I belong, and I was very comfortable up there."
I went to the August show, where Robin Fox, a slick performer of the Roseanne school, headlined along with Weiss and three other comics. It was obvious that Fox and Weiss had the most experience but all the comics had worked professionally before – this was not open mike night. Viagra jokes did abound, and certain acknowledgments of the vagaries of middle-age, but each comic brought a unique persona to the stage, and the mix kept the audience in a jovial mood.
The show is Weiss’s brainchild. "I had this idea after I had been doing comedy for about six months," he says. "I had met a handful of middle-aged comedians, and I thought this would be a great idea for a show. I really decided that I wanted to produce something, and I kept coming back to this. I think there are a lot of people my age who really want to go out for comedy but don’t really enjoy what they are seeing. And there are a lot of comedians my age who really have trouble playing for an audience of 20-year-olds. I can do it; I’ve played to all ages but it’s really nice to play an audience of your peers. I can appreciate the craft of comics on Comedy Central but it doesn’t really relate to my life."
Weiss has a point. Comedy Central was once an eclectic mix of young and old, male and female, but for a long time now it has been strictly the property of the 18-to-34-year-old male. Think Dave Chappelle, the Mind of Mencia, and endless reruns of Happy Gilmore. There is an homage to sophistication for one hour per weeknight, the 11 p.m. to midnight slot occupied by the Daily Show and the Colbert Report, but other than that, it’s the all Dorm Room Channel. And most of television and nightclubs follow its lead.
Weiss, an East Brunswick native, and his wife live in South Brunswick and have a ten-year-old daughter. Everybody in his family was funny, he says, but none of them took to the microphone until now. "My dad was very funny," Weiss says. "It would have been interesting to see what happened if he got up on stage. He didn’t like public speaking but if he was in a room full of people, he’d have them all laughing."
In 2004, Weiss decided he’d like to take an improvisational comedy class. He didn’t find one, so he signed up for a class, "Stand-up Comedy from A to Z", taught by Brad Trackman, at the Princeton Adult School. He is the only student from the class who has stuck with it.
`For the first year or so, I was calling around to find the open mikes, which are few and far between in New Jersey. But it’s what you have to do to pay your dues. Now I work at a number of places regularly – the Comedy Shop, Rascals in Cherry Hill, and the New York Comedy Club in New York City. I get a lot of E-mails asking me if I’m available. It’s a big ladder but I’m climbing it. It’s all baby steps but I can’t complain. I’m doing very well."
He says, "When you’re older, you bring something different to the table. If I had started when I was 20, I’d probably be burned out by now. And if I had been staying out until two a.m. when I was in my 20s, I probably wouldn’t have a family now. Family is first. I’ll turn down work if it interferes with family."
The upside of having a family, though, is that it gives Weiss a lot of material. "Thankfully, they don’t mind," he says. "One of the reasons I write about my life is that hopefully I’ll still be able to use it six months from now, or a year from now, and keep adding to it."
The response to the Midlife Comedy Crisis has been good, and comedians are now contacting Weiss to get on board. "I started out by contacting people I knew, and by putting notices on bulletin boards at phillycomics.com and Standup Asylum," he says. "I requested DVDs and VHS. I got a lot of responses. I’m looking for a variety of different takes – a balance."
The first show was in June of this year, and it’s been building ever since. "August was the biggest show we’ve had, and we just hope it grows each month. We got some press, some word of mouth, and we are getting some repeat (customers). Comedians who have appeared have told their friends, and they want to do it. In fact, in October, we will have an evening of comics in their 30s, who just missed the cut-off for mid-life."
The September 28 show will feature Rose Wilde and Eric Deskin, along with Weiss. Bill Chiang – "a very funny comedian; people don’t remember his name, but they say, `That Chinese guy, he was good,’" says Weiss – will host.
Unlike the New York clubs, there’s no two-drink minimum at Tumulty’s, which has been a staple of the Rutgers college scene for decades. "Tumulty’s has been absolutely terrific," Weiss says. "They’ve been very kind to us. It’s a great place run by great guys. I’ve been eating at Tumulty’s since I was 17 years old. They let us do what we want down there."
Despite the ever-changing cast, he will continue to appear each month at the Midlife Comedy Crisis. "That’s one of the advantages of being the producer."
Weiss’s ultimate goal is to just keep working. "A lot of young guys want their own sitcom, to be on Comedy Central, or have a special on HBO. I just want to keep moving forward. If I could be a working comic, that would be terrific. Not that I would turn down my own sitcom."
Midlife Comedy Crisis, Thursday, September 28, 8:30 p.m. Tumulty’s Pub, 361 George Street, New Brunswick. Stand up comedy presented by Rose Wilde, Erik Deskin, and Mike Weiss. $5; $4 with proof of middle age. 732-545-6205.