When I heard of Nelson Mandela’s death last week it hit me on a profound level, most likely deeper than anyone outside of Mr. Mandela’s immediate family. Most people would rank Mr. Mandela on a level somewhere in the Gandhi-Martin Luther King-Abraham Lincoln section of History, reserved for the greatest citizens of the human race, but to me he was so much more. He was an inspiration, a role model and a mentor.
When I was beginning my career in stand up comedy, while moonlighting as an administrative assistant for 45 hours a week, I began reading the back of Mr. Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom. I did not have the patience to read the book, nor the money to purchase it, but I read the back cover as I camped out in a Barnes & Noble for two hours, impeding people trying to walk around the store, all while making a fort out of all the copies of the book as I ate a Starbucks scone. It was really inspiring and I decided that I would make my comedy career a tribute to Mr. Mandela’s legacy. I was so motivated that just a day after reading those first few pages I rented the movie Invictus and once again felt like Mr. Mandela was telling me personally to have patience and forgiveness to succeed in the tough world of stand up comedy.
Now this would already permanently link Mr. Mandela and I when our histories are written, but the greatest moment of my stand up career was definitely when Mr. Mandela came to one of my shows. Obviously I was a little nervous. After all this was a guy who was, according to the LA Times Book Review, a “page turner” (that’s what the back cover said at least). But I did my guest spot and was amazed when after the show, Mr. Mandela asked to speak with me. He shook my hand and said, “Robben Island was tough, but I don’t think even I could have the courage to do stand up comedy.” I laughed, but he looked me in the eye without a trace of humor said, “I am not making a joke. You have true courage and you are one of my heroes.” He then embraced me in a strong hug for a man of his age. It is a moment I will never forget and truly gave me the strength to fight on to try and make it in comedy.
Next week I celebrate my 7th month in comedy and as difficult as it has been and as slow as my progress in the business has been I swear that I will honor my hero and my friend Mr. Nelson Mandela and pursue comedy until I make it or until three years in the business, whichever comes first.
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