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Clean Comedian Acknowledgments,
  Links to Funny Friends, and
    Tools for the road


The ‘Path with Heart’ Meets Up With the Good Life

The words of a William and Mary religion professor were ringing in my head that day in February 1983 when I first stepped onto a comedy club stage:

“Work at what you love” he said, “and if you can make that your job you’ll never work a day in your life. Your vocation will be your avocation, you’ll draw life from your livelihood, and while you’ll still encounter problems they’ll become part of the flow, and yours will be the path with heart.”

My ‘path with heart’ has been many lives braided.

The Contemplative Life: “You think too much...”

I should explain the line that appears next to the comedy credits, on the PBS special: “All material written by Brett Leake.“ It hasn’t been. It's for comedy convention that I stake that claim but if it weren’t for the suggestions of family, friends and comics, I’d have no act.

The eighty notebooks I’ve filled with jokes funny and the not-quite-so provide enough handwriting samples for quick prosecution; my act is the work of many hands - matchbooks, bar napkins, hotel stationery are marked: “How ’bout this?” and “I liked it better the way you did it second show Friday.” My brother worked as a comic briefly and upon his departure for the law and then IT, I went over his act with an unbreakable comb. Lost to the record are the hundreds of conversations that led to a line being taken out, a new train of thought, attempts at reassembling ‘how it was in the first place’, along with suggestions to aid in my constant battle with performance and delivery. More cases than not, advice was right or led to improvement. I’ve sat and thought a lot but others have “puzzled on their puzzler” on my behalf, too, and I’m grateful.

The Active Life: “What to do when the next show isn’t for 24 hours?”

My grandmother who traveled out of the state of Virginia only once in her lifetime never let me forget that my career was worth it for the sightseeing alone. Initial concern that I could never drive eight hours in a day gave way gradually to 200 days a year on the road.
Reggie, my ’84 Honda Accord, two vehicles ago, topped out just shy of 400,000 miles. Stumpy, the Montero, gave me 280,000 miles of passing scene. For twenty-three hours a day living the life of an employed retiree, I’ve had the luxury and fully exploited the opportunity to see the country. I’ve developed and pursued interests in the marks we have left on the land - from Fort DeRussy in Louisiana, to Fort Massac on the Ohio to Ticonderoga. I have ridden west on the Santa Fe Trail and east on the Oregon Trail. I’ve stood at Pinnacle Rock, overlooked the Wilderness Trail at Cumberland Gap
and tried to imagine the passage of Boone, Burnside, Indians, Bison, Mammoth, water, rock and the most recent three hundred million years of time.

I’m glad at what I've seen. With each trip across, I get a little better at looking. “Know trees for 1200 miles, grass for 600, and rocks until I run out of land,” I remind myself sorting books and maps for the drive across. “But don’t forget to look up.” The stars start shining at Salina.

A lime Slushie from Sonic and a couple cans of tuna will hold me until dinner, but I sure could use one of her rolls. We were waiting for them to rise when Granny told me how lucky I was.


The Hedonistic Life: “Keep one foot in the path.”

That’s the last thing I hear when I’m pulling out the driveway and saying goodbye to Dad. The emphasis is on ‘one’.

“Keeping one foot in the path” was what he was doing the night he drove to Virginia Beach from Richmond to see my first night working the road. I was pulling up to the club when I saw ‘Big Rock’ outside getting some help climbing the curb. Squeezing in a late summer drive with the windows down to watch me ‘perform’, he had been up since 5:30AM. After my ‘show’, he would drive back to Richmond and be at his desk next morning by eight. “Keeping one foot in the path” is a blue-collar hedonism, finding and enjoying fun while meeting the obligations of the day: one-foot business, one-foot pleasure.

It means enjoying the pleasure that comes with business. For me ‘keeping one foot in the path’ has meant securing work at Wiseguys in Syracuse NY so I could witness Phil Niekro’s induction into the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown. It’s meant working Nags Head, NC
for twenty years before the sunburned, tired, and tipsy at 11pm to visit the sand dunes and sea of a happy childhood. It’s meant two pleasures in one - working Washington, DC to take in a Vermeer exhibit with Cathy Walker, to chase John Wilkes Booth through Southern Maryland with Beverly Farmer, to place hands on a thousand-year old bald cypress at Four Holes Swamp in South Carolina with Janice Moses.
I anticipate my week at Hermosa Beach this fall as much for the work and the professional opportunities it provides, as for the drive across it affords, last year including a geology tour at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison that was as notable for its interpretation as for its interpreter, a cute gal geologist. Gneiss!

It means enjoying the business that comes from pleasure. In 1991, I flew to Los Angeles to have fun. A friend invited me along, a friend of a friend gave me a place to sleep, a hometown friend scored me stage-time, a new friend put me on ABC’s ‘Into the Night’ and a friend-to-be watching on his living room TV found enough redeeming to invite me on a show he was guest hosting on Monday nights: Chip Chinery, Mike Imfeld, Jordan Brady, Brad Garrett, Jay Leno. I played The Tonight Show in 1991 because I had traveled to LA to see clubs I thought I’d never play. It was the first time since 1983 that I played for Dad, curbs then too hard to climb. Keeping one foot in the path works like a pivot — eventually, it brings one full circle.


The Fatalistic Life: “Playing the cards you were dealt.”

Resignation. If part of my fate was to be born with FSH muscular dystrophy and to be born into such a family and among such friends then anyone should be so lucky. I still count as friends high school buddies David Johnson, David Tuck, Joe Sumner, and high school chum and fellow standup Merl Council Hobbs Jr. Had I not become a comedian my life would not have been enriched by the friendship of fellow comedians Jim Hanna, Chip Chinery, Jeff Caldwell, Roger Mursick, John Beck, Robert A. Somerby.

The limitations of this disease are considerable. I do not believe I would have funneled as much energy into one thing but for how it constricts. It advances with a ‘purifying power of fact’: time is not limitless and now is better than later. But for this disease, this path with heart would have no channel, would not cut as deep.

The Good Life

I’ve spent the last few years traveling unaccompanied, my comedian friends having moved down their paths with striking success - a writer for Dennis Miller, several screen writers, the keeper of a media watchdog website. I fill the empty passenger seat with a rotating cast of professors from the Teaching Company. In daylight, they wait patiently in their audiotape boxes tidying up their college lectures while I scout out anticlines, cavalry actions, buffalo traces. When the sun has set and the outlines of the trees and the grass and the rocks recede into the night, and there are hours left to drive, I pop in a cassette, still my mind and listen to a wise person order the world. Dr. Daniel Robinson’s concluding lecture to his fifty lecture course, The Great Ideas of Philosophy, is entitled Four Theories of the Good Life and its categories — the contemplative life, the active life, the hedonistic life, the fatalistic life — provide the framework for the preceding acknowledgements. Dr. Robinson concludes this final lecture supposing that the good life is one lived in accord with facets of all four.

But, he adds that it must also be lived ‘unselfconsciously’, beyond one’s own desires. Rooted in Aristotle’s ‘teleia philia’, a completed friendship, it’s a life which to do for others is not for the recognition of what is done but for the sake of the good we find in someone else that warrants it. It is a life that looks to another, first. It is a life of service. It is the life led by saints. As I write these notes, my mother calls to check on my shoulder, my father and housemate prepares dinner, my brother emails to tell me he’ll attend a show and provide the expert analysis I look to him for. From the path with heart, I dedicate this to Mom, Dad, and Derek — you are living the good life.

Websites and/or contact information of funny friends.

I'm sometimes asked to recommend a comedian. Here's a short list, long overdue, of my favorites. They are friends who are funny, clean, professional, and easy to work with. Robert A. Somerby, paterfamilias. The first great comedian I saw live in concert. At least two of his routines earmark him as my vote for the father of funny, contemporary comedy: his treatment of consumerism, and his explication of “Sickness unto Death” by Soren Kierkegaard, 19th century Danish existential philosopher, “...but I don't have to tell you people that...” College roommate of “the man who invented the Internet”, author of the upcoming, “The Spinning of the President”, Bob also is the mind behind the web’s best media watchdog.

Jeff Caldwell: Jeff Caldwell is the total package – jokes, point of view, delivery — as viewers of late night television can now attest. Drop by Jeff’s site to enjoy and study two of the best Letterman sets in recent memory, keep up with his travels, and order his comedy CD, I’m No Epidemiologist. Word to the Martin clan: that album cover is outta’ sight.

Roger Mursick: The best relationship comedy I’ve heard. Long time happily married man portrays the war of the sexes as a win/win. Not antagonistic and without bitterness, his is a portrait of two people who love one another and make it work and for a long time. And, he’s one of the nicest guys.

Dr. Clifford Kuhn is a physician, medical school professor, comedian, professional speaker and personal counselor who helps individuals and groups employ humor to enhance performance, productivity and health. When I met the Laugh Doctor at the Comedy Caravan in Louisville, Kentucky in 1992, I had no idea why he kept asking the comics those goofy questions: “Why do you think telling jokes is important?; How does it feel when you make someone laugh?” I still haven’t a clue what he was getting at but he’s got a book that I understand explains it all. Read it or hear the funniest parts in his keynote/plenary address, “Open Wide and Say Ha”, and on his website,

Tony Deyo left behind the bright lights of Greensboro, North Carolina for Astoria, New York because he heard of an Emerald City where comedy clubs are open every night of the week located on an island just west of the East River. Are you sure this is a good idea, Tony? I thought you were pullin’ down some pretty good bread as a middle school band director?

Pressing forward as he waxes on about living a ‘no regrets life’, Tony is now available full time to do what he’s done well at the DC Improv. and for corporate giants like Johnson Controls: tell funny, clean jokes and make people laugh. Good idea, Tony.

Coach Tom Holaday: Something interesting happens when comedians watch Coach Tom Holaday for the first time – they laugh. The slightly weary baritone, hulk of a frame, and deadpan demeanor coalesce as he takes on married life and the years he’s put into public education and as he breaks into his motivational speaker who could use some motivation. A prince of a guy, he’s lots of laughs on and off stage.

Chip Chinery: Promoting the latest for Staples, Budweiser, Jack in the Box, to name just a few, we know him as the “The Man America Trusts”. One of TV’s top pitchmen is also a top comic and a longtime pal. When he’s not busy searching his name on Google has been known to put together a nice looking promotional packet. By celebrating himself on stage, he gives us all a lift. Ask for his inspirational presentation by name: “Me!” Doesn’t leave the act in the dressing room but delivers on the platform: “has a real nice way about him up there.”

Frank King, CSP: Stepping tentatively toward the corporate market, I could not have hoped for someone more gracious with his time and talents guiding me in this fun, new direction than Kingo. Thank you, Frank. Frank’s is one of the best evenings of corporate comedy available; little wonder American Corporate Entertainment Magazine placed him on their list of “Best acts under $10,000.”

Brad Montgomery, CSP: I worked with Brad in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee and he immediately won me over. He’s blessed with a great attitude, a loving family, and excellent patter.

Joey Callahan: Working out of Philly, this super guy is a great for corporate events telling jokes, relating his story, or someone else’s as a ‘pseudoexpert.’ Ask for Joey’s ‘Custom Comedy Corporate Quiz show’ and ‘Mr. Know It All’.

Jan McInnis: “The Work Lady” is one hard worker and soon to be filling morning radio airwaves enlightening the ‘cubicled’ as to “how to look busy.” Great at writing jokes for any group or occasion.

Karen Mills: In her college days, she was an All-American point guard. With her funny take on southern society, this Cleveland, Tennessee native proves she can still take it to the hole.

Michael Aronin: Speaking of nice moves, Michael has a few I thought only I could admire. A fellow ‘Super Evolved Being’, Mike spins his Cerebral Palsy to humorous effect and shares in his keynote how we can all ‘Rise Above.’

David Glickman: Hard working, conscientious, reliable. Think your convention attendees would remember better the convention content if the keynotes were reiterated in song, in a funny memorable way? Or maybe you want an entire comedy show written about your company, your people? You want customized corporate ‘Comedy Services’ and Playing host to a their most invigorating, uplifting conference, The Positive Power of Humor, Hope, and Healing, Dr. Joel Goodman and Margie Ingram speak on the message they so fully embody - the intentional, conscious act of choosing to live with humor affects positive change and helps you and the folks around you feel good. She sees others as art and painting makes her whole.

Dave Werner: Yikes! Where did this guy come from? In November 2002, he opened for me at the Old Town Theater and turned my solo act into a two man, one man show that peaked one man too soon. Formerly of the Capital Steps and too funny to be a lawyer, too, this former attorney is really, really good. Really good. For great topical standup and/or song parodies of the week in review contact the C-span Music Man at

Keith Barany: Smart material, compelling story-teller, and a great audience worker, you’ll find him most often working synagogues and a circuit of country clubs he’s created. I understand he’ll still put in the occasional appearance as a moil where he works for a cut. Reach Keith at

Just a few tools for the road, not often enough mentioned, that I have found indispensable.

Time in the car is time to learn
Roadside Geology Series
Blue and Gray Magazine:
Pike and Phelin, Digital relief map of US
Bailey's Ecoregions
Longstreet HighRoad Guides

Halka Chronic
John McPhee
David E. Johnson

The three B's: Beethoven, Brahms, and Bruckner. Sunup and sundown are 'Anton Time'. Karajan's Eighth

Lectures on Tape The Teaching Company. Turns 'stuck in traffic' into continuing education. More than once, college professors cut me a look for staring out the window, but these teachers don't seem to mind. Auto audiocassette learning so enriching, I couldn't take my hands off the wheel.

More to come!

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