First time on stage: Sunday, August 16th, 1986, at the legendary Cleveland Comedy Club. I bombed so swiftly and so brutally that I bailed after three minutes. The MC, Mike Mailck, said, "Let's hear it for that Jeff Shaw kid. Kind of a short set. I caught it between strokes in the men's room."
The first person to congratulate me on surviving my first open mic was future superstar Drew Cary. He really liked one of my jokes: "My mom says I'm so slow I'd be late to my own funeral. I said, 'No, I wouldn't. I wouldn't even go. I never liked the bum in the first place.'"
Regardless, I felt so humiliated that I quit my factory job the next day, packed up my car and moved to Chicago, IL, in order to work at a Czech restaurant called the Dumpling House. Having graduated from the Intermediate Czech program at the Army's Defense Language Institute at the Presidio of Monterey, CA, a few months earlier, I figured I should create every opportunity possible to develop my language skills since I obviously had no knack for comedy.
After watching the first episode of the 1986 season of SNL with Dana Carvey--my newest and instant comedy idol, I asked my mom to mail my comedy notebooks to me. I started writing jokes again, moved back to Cleveland, got a job delivering pizza, went to my Army Reserve drills every month, and readied myself to give open mics another try.
1987 (DATES MISSING)
Unfortunately, I cannot find my date book for 1987. Fortunately, I do remember the following highlights...
- Sunday night, February 23. Six months after my first open-mic night, I shook off the humiliation enough to give it a second try. I did well enough tonight at the Cleveland Comedy Club to become a regular open-micer on Sundays at the Cleveland Comedy Club and on Mondays at the Akron-Canton Comedy Club.
- March 16th (Oscar Night): First paid gig, $25 to MC for Cleveland Comedian "Basil" at "Chicago's" in Rocky River.
- April: Can't remember the date, but I middled for Shang Forbes at a club near Akron U called "The Armadillo."
- April 22-26: First professional MC week at Hilarities in Cuyahoga Falls, OH. The Headliner was Bert Challis and the middle act was Jordan Brady.
- June 17th: I quit my day job at Pizza Master in North Olmstead, OH, and started sending out promotional kits to bookers around the Midwest.
- July: I meet "Bob & Tom" star Tim Wilson at "Cartoon's" in Willoughby. I performed an open-mic set and he was the paid headliner. We hung out in his hotel room afterwards listening to Richard Prior tapes. Around 5:00am I drove Tim to the airport where he gave me the contact info for the Punchliner Comedy Club Chain based in Atlanta. A week later I had booked a five-week run in all of their clubs.
- August: I take a break from working local clubs and convoy to Ft. Bragg, NC with my reserve unit, the 350th PSYOPS Co. for two-week summer camp.
I consider the third week in September, 1987 to be the official start of my career as a full-time touring comedian. I featured at the Toledo Comedy Club. Current Carnival comedian Hank McGauley was the MC at the time and blew me off the stage every night.
Some of the other gigs for the last quarter of 1987 were...
- Wiley's Comedy Club, Dayton, OH.
- One-niter tour of Illinois for the Funny Business Agency. I remember being so excited about getting paid $500 for the entire run.
- Featuring for Drew Carey at the Funny Bone in Milwaukee for Thanksgiving week. I remember listening to Aerosmith's "Permanent Vacation" album on the tape player while driving Drew and myself over to the club owner's house for Thanksgiving dinner.
- The Punchliner Comedy Clubs in Columbia, SC; Greenville, SC; Columbia, SC; Sandy Springs, GA; North Lake, GA and Jacksonville, FL, where I opened for future "Tool Time" host and "Buzz Light Year," Tim Allen.