BOCA RATON – When stage fright prompted Jamie Morgan to drop out of a public speaking course for the second and final time, few could have figured he’d make his living on stage.
“I was terrified,” Morgan said. “I quit college twice because of it. Then I decided to do stand-up. It makes no sense.”
Almost two decades after stepping on stage for the first time Morgan is still performing.
A fan of stand-up comedy since his elementary school days Morgan, surprisingly, drew from an assignment in one of those public speaking classes – a directive to use humor in a presentation – as a catalyst for his comedy career.
“Looking back on it, that was the easiest one,” Morgan said of that assignment. “It’s the same thing as stand-up. You’re nervous before you go up, then once you get that first laugh it kind of eases all that tension and then you feed off of that and get going on a roll, I guess.”
Not long after his second dropout, Morgan summoned the courage to attempt his first open mic.
He’d been attending a local comedy hot spot in Gainesville, Fla., for weeks, watching comics line up near the club’s entrance before being called to the stage. As he waited for his name to be announced Morgan considered ducking out the door and never returning.
Instead, he walked up to the microphone, surveyed the crowd for an unexpectedly, even uncomfortably, long time before, with a Steven Wright-inspired poker face, uttering his first-ever comedic line.
“I’d hate to be a midget,” Morgan deadpanned.
The line killed.
“It comes out of nowhere,” Morgan said. “It’s the first sentence that I’m saying, And then I had shitty, probably at this point hacky, midget jokes after that. But that first line I just kind of scanned, looked around, and then delivered that one line. For whatever reason it worked.”
Following the set veteran comics questioned whether the performance really was Morgan’s first. Some 20 years later, he doesn’t get that question anymore.
A polished comic who can follow a bit about his tour in the navy with one that juxtaposes Helen Keller, Anne Frank and Amelia Earhart, Morgan also comfortably mixes a good portion of crowd work into his sets.
Not too long ago Morgan spent as much as 250 days per year on the road. Now he’s experiencing stand-up comedy from a different perspective.
A co-owner of the Laugh In Comedy Cafe in Fort Myers, Fla., Morgan spends as much time cultivating and encouraging young comics as he does refining his act.
Morgan will still hit the road, though, as he did on one Thursday in mid September when he crossed Alligator Alley to headline at Boca Raton’s Biergarten.
The city of Boca Raton resides in the same state as those public speaking classrooms that once terrified Morgan, but his mindset now might as well be a solar system away.
“It’s a psychological thing for a lot of us,” Morgan said about performing. “You have to go on stage. Even if I didn’t own the club and I ended up getting a job or whatever, even retiring altogether, I would still find a way to go on stage. I feel like I need it sometimes.”