Daily Show Alum & Stand-Up Paul Mecurio

Most Wall Street lawyers are about as funny as a dead cat. But then there's Paul Mecurio, who for years worked as a suit by day and a stand-up by night, sneaking out of his swank Manhattan office to, as he says, "make drunks laugh at bars." The gamble paid off, and after a chance meeting with Jay Leno and a partnership with The Daily Show creator Lizz Winstead, Mecurio had himself an Emmy Award, a Peabody Award, and a stand-up career, which was all leading up to a CRACKED interview. He kindly told us about his new project—a Sports Center satire called Sports Central—and how he got there all the way from Wall Street.

Why do you think it's such a rarity that a lawyer became a comedian?

Because you have to be completely insane and idiotic to give up the security of that life to do this. You should've seen my mother when I told her... I come home one day and go, "I want to make drunks laugh at bars." She actually said to me, "You know, they do drugs in those bars." I go, "Ma, they do more drugs on Wall Street in a day than they do in bars."

Paul Mecurio

How'd you make the transition?

I would sneak out of work. I would go to dive bars and I would work open mic night. I'd dress back up in the cab, take my tie and my suit coat off, mess up my hair, slink into these bars where there were literally 10 pushers and open mic comics and folk singers and poets trying to work out their material.

When did you get caught?

I was working again at this new banking job and I was in Arizona, and a client comes in, in front of everybody and was like, "Did I see you on TV last night?" I was like, "No." And he says, "Yeah, were you telling jokes or something," I go, "No." It aired and I forgot about it, and I go, "Yeah that was me." There was this long pause, and I'm thinking, Here we go, this is it. But he says, "It was great, you were great! Hey everybody, our investment banker is a comedian, what do you think of that?!" It validated everything.

Paul Mecurio

How did you get hooked up with Jay Leno?

I'd like to say it was all part of a big plan, but basically it was dumb luck and a horseshoe up my butt. I was working late the law firm and over the course of a couple years I had been there I had been writing these jokes... One of the other associates was going to this open house of a big corporate client and goes, "Do you want to go?" I went, and as I was leaving I printed out my jokes. Literally my coat was on and I said, "What the fuck?" and I just hit the button. After the performance, I went up to Leno and said, "Look, I don't know if you buy jokes, but I did some jokes." I was really sheepish. A couple days later he called me and said, "I like your stuff, it has the right tone. Start sending me stuff." About a week later, he called me and said he was going to do one of my jokes on The Tonight Show.

So how did you go from there to The Daily Show?

Lizz Winstead, who is one of the creators of The Daily Show, I had known her from doing standup. I had made some short films and she was in one as an actress, so we just got to know each other. I always tended to talk about social and political issues in my act, and she asked me if I wanted to get involved in the show. I was like, "Yeah, I guess." I figured it would last a couple of months and I'd make a few bucks. And that's it. I didn't know I would win an Emmy Award and Peabody Award for it.

Paul Mecurio

Has The Daily Show changed since you left as a writer?

Yeah. I was there when Jon got there, and I think it really changed when he came in. I think it's always evolving, but I think even at the core of it from the beginning, the show is still the show. The core of it is about taking a look at the news and the media coverage of the news. But we started in '96 and we used to do a lot of celebrity stories, and Jon took us away from that and focused on the national political stuff. So I think it's changed that way, for good, and I also think it's great that he was able to bring on political minds as guests and they had to be really interesting and entertaining. That was really quite an accomplishment when you think about it—it's an entertainment show on comedy network. I can only imagine what the network brass thought when he wanted to do that. I think he was a real innovator in that way. Bob Dole, ironically, was the first one to come on and open the doors, because his young staffers were telling him, "Hey, this is a hip show, you should go on there." And he was great. He was a correspondent for us in the 2000 election at the Republican National Convention in Philly, and he was great. It was like, "Why couldn't he be like that in his campaign?"

Did you make the Sports Central pilot because you think shows like Sports Center aren't being critical enough?

Paul Mecurio

I don't think any of them are... I think there's kind of an unwritten rule among those guys, and you know that's not their agenda, to promote the sport and to make it look good. It's the only part of our society that we don't satirize and yet it's probably the most pervasive part of our society.

Why does the media have a hard time poking fun at sports when they have no problem poking fun at the government?

Because the media is just a reflection of the public. I can go on stage, and I can rail on Bush and Cheney and the Democrats or whoever is in charge for 20 minutes. I can rail on the Pope or religion, but if I say something about Brett Favre or Derek Jeter, and it's, "Boo!" And I'll say, "I just railed on people who are of real substance in your life, and you laughed, but then I rail on a guy who hits a ball with a piece of wood and your Booing?" You see the problem? For whatever reason, our culture has taken sports and professional athletes and put them into this pantheon of God-like stature and they can't be touched and they can't be offended. I think it's really unhealthy, and I think it's going to end up being the destruction of the sport. Not literally, that the sports will go away, but they'll lose a lot of credibility because they take themselves too seriously.

Watch clips of Paul's stand-up, catch the Sports Central pilot and check tour dates at PaulMecurio.com.

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