John Cantu doing the door at the Zoo John doing the door at the Holy City Zoo

Bits and Pieces: Drew Carey, Aisha Tyler, Stephen Wright, Joan Rivers

by John Cantu ©

Drew Carey

Cantu says, "I am a humor coach. I teach people how to tap into their innate creativity to be funny." And I love to collect examples of performers who are stars now, but who weren't natural comedians in the earlier stages of their careers.

Given the fact that for years, I ran the San Francisco comedy club called the Holy City Zoo and that was the club where Robin Williams, Kevin Meany, Paula Poundstone, Rob Schneider, Dana Carvey, and other name comics started, I know a bit about the myth of being naturally funny.

And I was ticked to run across this brief essay about Drew Carey now a major television star. In the fall of 1985, Carey was living in Cleveland and working as a waiter.

A disc jockey friend thought he was funny and offered to pay him if he ever came up with some ideas for his radio show. How did Drew do it? Well not by using his "natural" sense of humor and not from looking at life "from a weird angle and twisting and bending and turning it in a 90 degree angle till the humor just pops forth..."

I think you might be both shocked and yet at the same time inspired at how one of today's top stars actually started his humor career. He did something that you or anyone could do. He went somewhere to learn - - - and it wasn't a comedy club.

Carey found a book on how to write jokes at (are you ready?) the local library!!!

Yep that's right. One of today's hottest comedy stars learned how to be funny from a how-to-be-funny-book - - - that he got from the library.

He made good on his New Year's resolution to try them out on stage during an amateur night at a local comedy club. His first paid job doing stand-up was in April, 1986; and according to Carey, he "just barely" started making a living at comedy later that year.

If you want to be inspired, visit this URL

Aisha Tyler

Question: How did Aisha Tyler, the gorgeous host of Talk Soup on El Entertainment, get in showbiz? --Fred Warner, Alexandria, Va

Answer: Tyler 29, was a student at Dartmouth when she discovered a talent for stand-up comedy. (And at 6 feet, she was noticed the moment she stood up.) "I just talked about all kinds of subjects, then wrote down what worked" says Tyler of her early days at The lmprov in L.A.

"Walter Scott's Personality on Parade" Parade June 24, 2001

Stephen Wright

"Comedy demands logic, which is fine, I love it," he says. "With painting, you don't need any logic. You can express yourself on any level. Comedy is almost like math. There are guidelines. If you step out of them, it doesn't work."

While painting and comedy might seem incongruous, Wright says seeing a painting exhibition while a student in the suburbs of Boston helped him to form his unique worldview.

"I went in to see a surrealist exhibit, and it blew me away," he says. "This road turning into a waterfall, a clothespin the size of a silo. It was layering realities that couldn't really happen. It affected me."

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Joan Rivers

And for a slight different change of pace some musings from a comedy writer about a famous comic using a joke of hers on national television and bombing with it - not once, not twice - but three times.

"Joan Rivers delivered one of my joke three times on The Tonight Show. She used one of my jokes as her opening joke. Because it didn't get a laugh the first two times, she made that the joke - that no one laughed the first two times. So I probably hold the record for Joan Rivers repeating the same joke three times in the same show and not getting any laughs!

Contribute by Helaine Witt, New York based comedy writer.

Robin Williams

Another memory: Robin Williams used to come into the Zoo and anyone who was on the stage - no matter how amateur... would be finished soon enough so Robin could perform! That person would go around for ages afterwards saying, "I opened for Robin Williams!"

Contribute by Helaine Witt, New York based comedy writer.

NEXT: The Difference Between the Amateur and the Professional