Guess which facts about Steven Springer are true or false:
- He was a bashful kid, but bold enough to hitch rides with rock stars.
- He was a Cook County Corrections Officer for fifteen years.
- He got his first break from one of the most significant figures in American comedy.
- He is a doorman at a high-rise on Lake Shore Drive.
- He got married at Zanies.
The first time I was impressed by Steven Springer was when I happened on his YouTube clips about seven years ago. His delivery is on an almost magical frequency – both inscrutably deadpan and intriguingly charming. I wanted to hang on to every word. The audience was similarly enchanted, rewarding him with big laughs every few seconds. It became instantly clear that Steven is in the midst of a most original life, the driver of his own destiny which has taken him through unusual pit stops, occasional stalls and ultimately, a successful unstoppable career in comedy.
The next time I was impressed by Steven, and I should add, also by my husband Jeff, was when I found out the two knew each other from childhood. “I was just watching his clips on YouTube!”, I said. “I’ll introduce you,” my husband promised. A few weeks later, my husband and I were at a show at Zanies in Chicago. We were on our way out and who should be coming in but Steven. Meeting him in person, it was clear that he is as kind as he is funny.
I continued following Steven on social media, continued to laugh and to be impressed. I heard that he had married a lovely woman named Cheri and was now, among many other appearances, producing his own shows at Laugh Factory called The Early Bird Special Comedy Showcase featuring comedians ages fifty-five and over. In October, my husband and I made it to one of those shows and it was outstanding. The lineup featured a diverse array of prominent Chicago comics including Harry Hickstein, Ken Sevara, Chevy Debbie and Jimmy Carrane.
A few weeks later, my husband connected with Steven at their Niles West High School reunion. I was fortunate to have that meeting lead to this interview. What took me so long? Read on to find out. Steven kindly spoke with me by phone about his unique path to standup and overcoming obstacles. And those true-or-false questions above? Every one is true.
GOING WHERE NO HIGH SCHOOLER HAS GONE
Teme: I was impressed when I found out that Jeff knew you. When did you meet?
Steven: I moved to Lincolnwood in second grade, so it must have been then.
Teme: I heard that you had a lot of initiative as a kid and met some famous people! I’d love to hear about that.
Steven: I was basically a groupie. I have a new bit that I’ve been doing about it. I used to go to the hotels and camp out, not just to get autographs, but to talk to musicians and watch them come in and out. I met Steven Tyler. I met everybody, The Who, The Rolling Stones.
Teme: I’ve also heard you say that you were very shy. That’s something I relate to myself. How did you overcome that to do all those things?
Steven: Well, I was shy around other kids. I didn’t have a lot of friends or girlfriends in grade school and high school, but with the rock stars I had a lot of chutzpah. I’d ask them for their autograph and go up to them.
Teme: Do you have a favorite story from that time?
Steven: Yeah, probably Aerosmith. Steven Tyler recognized me when I met him for the second time, and he took me with him in the limo to the show. I sat in front with his roadie. Then I sat on the side of the stage.
Teme: What was he like?
Steven: He was very drugged up. He didn’t talk too much.
PUTTING THE C.O. IN COMEDY
Teme: You’ve had many interesting jobs. What brought you to each of those careers?
Steven: I was a correctional officer. That was my longest job. I was an officer at the Cook County Jail. I’d always wanted to be in law enforcement. When I was younger I always wanted to be a cop, but that’s the closest I came to it. In college, I was a bouncer and a security guard. I’ve done a lot of things. Comedy I started fourteen years ago when I was living in Indianapolis.
Teme: Correctional officer sounds like a very challenging position.
Steven: Yeah, I have a five-minute bit about it.
Teme: Oh, I don’t want to ask you to give it away!
Steven: No, it’s no problem! The funniest thing was that I was even there. I didn’t belong there. I don’t have the personality for it. You have to be real mean and hard to work there. The story that comes to mind was I was sitting at my desk and I heard an argument in the washroom. I went in there to break it up, and it was just one guy arguing with himself with two different voices. He had multiple personality disorder. I’m surprised that I lasted fifteen years there.
Teme: In addition to comedy, what is your work now?
Steven: I’m a doorman at a high-rise on Lake Shore Drive.
Teme: I bet those are more pleasant encounters.
Steven: You said it. It’s more my personality style. In the jail, you could be too friendly.
Teme: How do you balance your work as a comedian and as a doorman?
Steven: Well, it’s interesting. I’m glad you asked because my regular job, I work midnight, which is good because it’s so quiet and everybody’s sleeping. Nobody comes in and out, and I do all my rehearsing and writing at work and kill two birds with one stone.
Teme: So you work all night starting at midnight?
Steven: Yes. Midnight to 8:00 a.m. I get a lot of rehearsing done and I watch my tapes. I read and I write. I go over my lines.
Teme: Wow, it’s 6:30 p.m. It’s especially nice of you to speak with me now. So do you sleep during the day and then get up and go do comedy?
Steven: Yes. I just woke up an hour ago. I get up and I go out to mics. I’ll go out later tonight and go to a late mic.
HOW TO LAUNCH A COMEDY CAREER
Teme: How did you get started in comedy?
Steven: Well, the stories I had at the jail really entertained people, and I got a lot of laughs with my friends and family. Then in Indianapolis, I started going to open mics and seeing other people do it. I’m like, “I could do that, too.”
Teme: Do you remember the first joke you told?
Steven: I don’t remember the exact joke. I’d just left my job at the jail. Something like “Give it up for the unemployed.” Then I talked about dating. Things have metamorphosed so much. What I do now is nothing like what I did in the beginning.
Teme: How has your comedy changed?
Steven: It’s gotten better, longer. I got more material, more me. In the beginning, I had people helping me. Now I write more of my own stuff.
Teme: You’ve talked about your mentors. They’re some of Chicago’s greats, like Bill Gorgo, Harry Hickstein and Larry Reeb. How did you meet all of them and form a bond?
Steven: I met them on the circuit. Bill Gorgo was a teacher at Zanies. I took his course. Harry Hickstein and I met at a couple functions. I talk to him almost every day. He’s a great mentor.
Teme: Why comedy? How does comedy align with your purpose in life?
Steven: My purpose is to make people laugh, that’s the main thing. To make a joke out of things that are bad and turn them into laughter.
Teme: What does your comedy say about you?
Steven: That I messed up a lot. I made a lot of mistakes and I turned them into humor.
Teme: I feel like everything you just said is why comedy is a higher calling. I think we’ve all made mistakes and have regrets. If you can have that perspective and find the humor, it’s really healing.
Steven: Yep. You said the keyword. Healing.
Teme: What are you thinking right before you go on stage?
Steven: Well, I probably shouldn’t do it, but I think about what I’m going to say. I think about my lines and the order of the jokes. It’s probably not a good thing because I should probably be more spontaneous and not in my head.
Teme: Being prepared like that seems pretty cool. I’ve heard that Jerry Seinfeld plans every single word down to “a” and “the.”
Steven: Really? I didn’t know that. I thought everybody was off the cuff, except for me.
Teme: When you’re on stage you sound very natural and spontaneous.
Steven: Thanks. Then I’m doing my job. That’s the way it’s supposed to sound.
Teme: Do you have a favorite story from your comedy career so far?
Steven: My first paid gig was on the South Side at Jokes and Notes. Mary Lindsey gave me my first break. I’d performed at her open mic and she liked me. She gave me a chance as an opening act.
Teme: Another thing I learned about you that I love is that you and your wife got married at Zanies in Rosemont!
Steven: Yes. We got married there about three years ago.
Teme: How did that come about?
Steven: I just thought it was natural because I’m there all the time, and we went there on our first date. I thought it’d be cool. I was going to say I finally headlined Zanies, but my wife headlined it.
Teme: How was it to have a wedding there?
Steven: It was wonderful. It wasn’t that big, but we had our close friends and family. To me, it’s like a holy place. I mean it’s where all these famous comedians performed. I have performed there, but it’s always cool to be there where all these famous people were and be in that dressing room.
Teme: Does Zanies generally allow people to use it as a wedding venue or is it because you’re a comedian who performs there?
Steven: Well, I think being a comedian helped, but I think they’ll rent it out to anybody. But I think I’m the only one that’s ever done that.
Teme: And you and your wife started producing shows together. I’d love to hear more about that.
Steven: We’re developing a Burns and Allen type of act. We put it on hold because I want to prove to myself that I could host on my own before I start hosting with her again. It’s kind of hard to do both at the same time, to do a duo act and solo, but we’re going to resurrect it eventually.
Teme: It sounds wonderful.
Steven: She’s better at crowd work than I am. I’m not good with crowd work and she is.
Teme: Is she a comedian, also?
Steven: No, that’s just it. She doesn’t have jokes, but she’s good with a crowd. I tell the joke and she reacts. That’s how we started. We did the Laugh Factory a couple times.
Teme: That’s very romantic and very cool.
Steven: We’ll do it again, maybe soon.
THE EARLY BIRD SPECIAL COMEDY SHOWCASE
Teme: What inspired you to create the Early Bird Special?
Steven: It used to be named the Geezer Show. I just figured there’s not a lot of comedians my age. It’s for comedians fifty-five and over.
Teme: What are opportunities like for Chicago comedians in that age bracket?
Steven: There are not as many opportunities because [bookers] usually want younger people. So that’s why I created the show to give an opportunity to older comedians. They’re not considered as bookable.
Teme: What is your vision for each show?
Steven: I like to have a diverse and varied lineup. I like to represent everybody. It’s tough finding people though because there are not a lot of comics fifty-five and older. I don’t have as big of a pool as if I had all ages.
Teme: So how do you find people?
Steven: I put ads on Facebook comedy scene pages and people reach out to me. I’ve had people reach out from other states like Wisconsin, Indiana, and even from Kansas City.
HOW TO SAY “BYE” TO SHY
Teme: What is something unexpected about you that your fans might not know?
Steven: Just that I eat, breathe, and live comedy. I mean it’s my whole life. And then, well, I used to be shy, and it’s kind of brought me out a little bit.
Teme: So you felt shy as an adult, also?
Steven: Yeah. It’s just over the recent years that I’ve been less shy.
Teme: Please tell me more about that. I think we’re about the same age and I have never overcome the shyness. I actually feel like it’s got a bit worse as I’ve got older.
Steven: Really? With all the people you interview?
Teme: Yes. How do you overcome it as an adult? It gets in my way. Like I have a hard time reaching out for interviews. I’ve wanted to speak with you for a while! I’ve kind of come to the conclusion that if I haven’t overcome this by now, I’m probably not going to.
Steven: No, you will. I’m trying to think how I did it. I started doing a little bit when I worked in the bars as a bouncer. I hate to say this, but I think, initially, alcohol helped a bit. But I didn’t want to become too dependent on it. And then I found that without alcohol, the practice stuck with me and it was easier.
Teme: I can understand because alcohol helps to loosen the barriers a little bit.
Steven: Right. But I’m not suggesting anybody become an alcoholic. I’m saying keep trying. Be around friendly people. If you want to be less shy, I wouldn’t go work in a jail.
Teme: How were you able to work there and feel shy and be successful?
Steven: I wasn’t really that successful there. I kept getting accused of being too nice to the inmates and letting them walk all over me. Like I said, how I lasted there fifteen years with my personality … I don’t know how I did it.
Teme: Well, good on you. Persevering. I appreciate the encouragement.
Steven: Well, another thing I’m big on is … I’m not trying to get in anybody’s business, but I’m big on therapy. A therapist can help you overcome it and deal with it and find out why and all that kind of stuff. I think everybody needs to see somebody. Everybody’s got issues. Even if you’re not shy, everybody should see somebody.
MORE GOOD ADVICE
Teme: What is your advice for anyone who would like to get started in comedy?
Steven: Go to a lot of open mics and watch other people. Take some courses. If you want to and you can afford it, work with a private coach. That’s even better. Listen to the veterans. After fourteen years, I still learn from them. Don’t get discouraged. Just keep doing comedy. It may take a while to get good at it, but it’s all practice and going to open mics.
COMING UP …
Teme: What’s next? Where can people see you?
Steven: The Early Bird Show is every third Sunday of the month at The Laugh Factory. And I’m at open mics almost every night of the week.
The next Early Bird Special Comedy Showcase is:
February 19, 2023 at Laugh Factory, 3175 N. Broadway, Chicago at 7:00 p.m. Steven will host Jan Slavin, Kandis Heckler, Brian Atkinson, Dan Brennan, Linda Collins and Rhonda Cohn. Tickets: laughfactory.com/chicago. Free tickets with promo code: earlybirdspecial
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