I’ve been fascinated with stand-up comedy for as long as I can remember — so much so that I would spend hours listening to comedy albums as I fell asleep in middle school. From Daniel Tosh to Chris Rock, I was obsessed. The ability to make other people laugh just by being yourself, with no bells and whistles, is one of the most impressive things we do as humans. 

I was a freshman in high school when I saw Dave Chapelle’s 1998 “HBO Comedy Half-Hour” special, and it changed my life. The roar of the crowd and his ability to be quick, clever and outrageously himself captivated me. At that moment, I knew comedy had sunk its hook in me, and it was something I had to try. 

The performing arts were never my thing growing up. I was far more invested in athletics. Although I was in the school choir and held a part in the ensemble of our middle school’s rendition of “The Lion King Jr,” I never shined on a stage — partly because of a lack of talent but mostly due to a lack of confidence. I loved acting and musical theater but knew it was never something I would pursue. Comedy, on the other hand, I always wondered about. 

I always thought I was funny. I was never the class clown, but I was always good for a few quick remarks to spark a room with laughter. 

When I left Michigan to go to school in California, comedy was one of the last things on my mind. Like most college freshmen, I was worried about leaving home, family and friends and everything I’d ever known. But, subconsciously, I think a part of me thought, “Hey, it’s Los Angeles, anything can happen.” 

My second week of sophomore year, life was tough. The homesickness was crushing, and doubts about my college decision began to set in. I was hanging out with some new friends one night, and somehow the conversation shifted to “things we’ve never done, but wanted to try.” As the conversation came around to me, I didn’t have an answer at first. I paused to try and figure out something, anything to say — and that’s when it hit me. 

Embarrassed at first, I admitted, “I’ve always thought stand-up comedy would be fun.” Expecting them to laugh at me, I tried to change the subject quickly. But to my surprise, they looked at me with a smile on their face and told me I should go for it. We even shook on the fact that if they conquered their fear of roller coasters, I would have to give comedy a shot. 

My sophomore and junior years went by and so did my comedy dreams. I got caught up in the busyness of college life and didn’t think much about it. This past summer, heading into my senior year, I took time to reflect. I sat down and made a list of things I wanted to do before I graduated because I didn’t — and still don’t — know if I can afford to stay in LA after graduation in the spring. Unsurprisingly, comedy was at the top of the list. 

I mentioned it to my mom, and, bless her heart, she got right to work looking for classes and opportunities to get on stage. We ended up finding a six-week class with Cool Beans Comedy where I would get the opportunity to perform at the world-famous Ice House Comedy Club in Pasadena, the oldest comedy club in America.

For six weeks, I made the weekly drive to The Ice House on Sunday afternoons to workshop jokes, try out new material and gain confidence. My first time taking the stage was during week two when I got my first chance to perform for the eight other people in the class and my coaches. 

To say I was nervous would have been an extreme understatement. After all, I had no idea what to expect as I had never performed before and wasn’t sure if my material was any good. My nerves were easily calmed after I got my first laugh. Instantly, it was like I wasn’t performing for strangers, but I was just telling jokes to friends gathered together at a party. 

Immediately after my first set, I knew I had to get back on stage. The rush of electricity that hit me on stage was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. So, in addition to the class, I began booking spots at open mics wherever I could get stage time. For four weeks, I’d spend my weeknights driving out to Huntington Beach to perform at open mics and my weekends in Pasadena workshopping my material. 

While the open mics were fun and a great opportunity to get feedback from other comics with more experience than me, my eyes were entirely focused on the class showcase, where I would perform for a nearly sold out crowd at The Ice House. I would be performing on the same stage thatas comedy legends like Jerry Seinfeld, George Carlin and Steve Martin had, and I couldn’t believe it. 

After the six-week class, the night of the showcase finally arrived. I was booked for the nine o’clock show, which meant I had all day to worry, panic and doubt whether I actually knew my material well enough to perform it for such a crowd. 

Sitting in the green room before the show, my nerves were a mess. I tried to calm myself down by talking with the other comics, but all I could think about was the fact that this was the biggest thing I’d ever done. I was ninth in the lineup, so I had plenty of time to watch the other comics take the stage and see how receptive the crowd would be. 

As the night went on, my slot drew nearer. With one comic left before I went on, I made my way to the main room. I said a quick prayer as he finished his set, and the host called my name. A quick fist bump from the comic before me, and it was showtime — and it was perfect. 

Inside I felt like I was about to throw up, forget my material and embarrass myself. On the contrary, as soon as I grabbed the mic and delivered my opener to a wave of laughter, I was instilled with a confidence unknown to mankind. I knew I was about to crush it, and I gave the best performance of my life. Every joke I told got the biggest reaction I’d ever gotten since I wrote the set. I was so “in the zone” that I even went off script for a few jokes and crushed them.

Eventually, I got the light from the back of the club and knew my set was nearing its end. I finished with my closer and brought the house down. Walking off stage, I high-fived the next comic and had a feeling of euphoria that I can only imagine Tom Brady felt winning his first Super Bowl. I made my way back to the green room where I was greeted by the other comics who all agreed that was my cleanest set yet. 

When the night ended, I went home knowing that I’d finally begun living out the dreams that my middle-school self once had. To this day, my friends and family back home still can’t believe I’m doing comedy. And while I may not reach Tom Segura levels of fame anytime soon, I realized I have a passion for telling jokes and making others laugh — something the world could use a bit more of these days.