Michael Palascak Says Comedy Is For Everyone
If you watched Last Comic Standing during the NBC show’s recent ninth season, Michael Palascak’s face is more than a little familiar. He was a finalist on the show and is now part of the show’s live tour.
Palascak says that although being part of a competition could be nerve-wracking, he found a way of coping.
"Normally, before a show, if I get nervous, I’ll say, ‘This is crazy! I do this all the time!’" he says. "But if I got nervous before a Last Comic show it sort of made sense, because there was something on the line. It was a competition. And it was a reality show, so I thought, 'Well, at least this is good TV, regardless of how it goes.'"
Palascak has ties to both Los Angeles and Chicago. It was in Chicago that he studied improvisation with the famed Second City comedy group. Although Second City specializes in comedy, Palascak points out that improv is different than stand up in some fundamental ways.
“The whole idea is to be in the moment and react to the other person and not concern yourself with the audience at all. The more you can avoid that, the better," he says. "And you’re playing a character. You’re supposed to be playing somebody who’s different than you and different characters throughout the whole show. I think that that was the biggest challenge for me.
"I think as a stand-up [comedian] it’s good to communicate and maybe not be as concerned with the laughs in that moment but when you’re writing and getting ready you want to make sure that you’ll get jokes that people want to laugh at. But in the moment it’s always better to say, ‘I’m telling you something because this is how I feel about it.' The part that’s harder for me in improv and sketch comedy is that you play a lot of different characters. In stand-up, you’re just playing yourself. You might go into your version of your mom or your dad, but it’s also filtered through you. I really love that a lot.”
As a comedian, Palascak chose to work as an observational comic, sharing stories about his life and travels. For him, that brand of comedy seemed the most natural fit.
"I kind of feel that that was closest to who I was. I felt like from what I learned and from people I talked to is that if you write about yourself and observe what’s going on around you, then that’s always going to be true to you, and no one can take that away from you. That’s where the most original things are. At least that’s the way it was for me. That’s what I felt the happiest doing," he says. "I was an English major in college. I just sort of liked reading. I remember that we read a book by T.S. Eliot about writing, and he was saying that the stricter the parameters you give yourself on writing, the more creative you’re going to be. So I think that from the beginning I gave myself those goals of, ‘It’s going to be about me and what I think and stay within those and see what happens.’”
Palascak also learned early on in his stand-up days that being himself rather than a character wasn’t just important in having the audience relate to him--tt was also important to the longevity of his career.
"When I first started, I was less close to myself, and I could sort of get away with it onstage. But then I would get asked to audition for an animated movie or a television show, and I really couldn’t replicate it. I started thinking, 'Well, I can only do that on stage,'" he says. "People were thinking that that’s who I was, but I wanted to do something that I could transfer to movies and television if those opportunities arose."
Stand-up comedy is currently in one of its most vital eras, and Palascak is quick to credit that rise in interest on the group that offers the most dedicated support: the young.
"I think younger people are really into comedy now," he says. "Comedy Central is definitely targeting younger people. The whole comic book, Comic-Con world is one that comedy groups have been trying to reach. I think that that’s made the appeal even more. I’ve always felt that the biggest comedy fans are people who feel that they want to do it themselves and just haven’t tried yet. I think even more people are wanting to do it and try to do it, and I think that that’s great."
There are, of course, those who are less generous and see the proliferation of standup comics as potentially harmful to the profession. But Palascak isn’t so sure.
"That’s one way to see it," he says, "but I see it as a positive thing in someone’s life to be able to go up and experience something that might be scary and enjoy it and see what happens. I think that it’s beautiful to know that people are trying to do that. I think if they try to make a career out of it, and it ruins their lives, then that’s sad. Or if it ruins someone else’s life because they take jobs away from me, then that’s sad too.
"But I think there’s enough for everybody. There are parts of the job that aren’t as glamorous or fun as going onstage and performing. So there are parts that some people may not be as interested in. But if somebody thinks it’s something they can do, and they do it, it’s always something pretty positive."
Michael Palascak performs Wednesday evening as part of the Last Comic Standing tour at the Orpheum Theatre.
Jedd Beaudoin is the host of Strange Currency. Follow him on Twitter @JeddBeaudoin.
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