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While it’s not exactly uncommon for lawyers to abandon the law for another field, going from the law to stand-up comedy is not the most well-trod path. Why would anyone who bothered to take the LSATs, attend three years of law school, and study to pass the bar exam want to throw away a law career to become a comedian? Al Lubel and Greg Giraldo, two former lawyers who have become nationally known stand-up comics, both say they had their reasons. As a kid, Lubel says he was shy and frequently hid behind his mother. He enjoyed watching “Perry Mason” on television. When he got older, he liked drama and enrolled in acting classes. He says that the movie “Lenny,” based on the life of Lenny Bruce, piqued his interest in comedy and he developed an appreciation for comedians Don Rickles, George Carlin, Robert Klein, and David Brenner. He eventually began performing at open-mike nights. He describes his first comedy performance as both “scary and exciting.” While attending the University of Miami School of Law, he entered a university-sponsored contest and won the title of “The Funniest Guy on Campus.” The prize was a trip to Los Angeles and the opportunity to perform in a Hermosa Beach comedy club. Lubel flew to California, but injured his back in a pickup basketball game and was unable to perform. After graduating from law school in 1981, Lubel packed his bags and moved to the Golden State, saying he wanted to “investigate California.” He then passed the bar exam. From 1982 to 1984, he practiced primarily criminal law by day in Newport Beach in a two-man shop. By night, he performed comedy, his true passion. In 1985, Lubel gave up practicing law for a full-time comedy career. How did family and friends react to his career change? Most “would squint their eyes and have a confused look as they said, ‘I don’t understand why you don’t practice law.’ “ But it didn’t take him too long to show why comedy might have been the best career move. In 1987, Lubel won the $100,000 Comedy Grand Prize on “Star Search.” In 1991, he fulfilled a childhood dream when he appeared on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson, one of the last comics to appear before Carson retired. Lubel’s humor has been compared to that of Larry David, the co-creator of “Seinfeld” and the star of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” As a legal analyst on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno, Lubel and Leno performed skits about the O.J. Simpson trial. On the cartoon show, “Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist,” Lubel gave voice to his cartoon persona. He has also appeared on “The Late Show with David Letterman,” “Evening at the Improv,” “The View,” and “MTV Stand-Up Comedy.” He regularly appeared on ESPN’s “Bill Walton’s Long Strange Trip,” a reality television show that chronicled the former basketball star. Lubel was also featured on the BBC/Showtime documentary “A Stand-Up Life.” The camera followed Lubel as he prepared for his appearance on “The Tonight Show.” Lubel competed with two other lawyer-comedian contestants, on “Win Ben Stein’s Money” on Comedy Central. He beat the two and earned the right to face-off against Stein. What was that like? “I always knew that I would beat another lawyer,” says Lubel, “but I didn’t know it would be on a game show.” Stein, a one-time lawyer as well, defeated Lubel in the final round. So why did Lubel go to law school? He says that he viewed it as “an opportunity to remain in school.” Perhaps his participation in student government, his interest in drama, and the fact that his uncle was a lawyer also influenced his decision. Although Lubel makes jokes about his legal background in his routines, he believes his legal training has helped his comedy career. He sees similarities between law and comedy, and says that lawyers have a unique way of looking at things, as do comedians. Much like an attorney analyzes issues from many angles, he analyzes the material for his routines. He says that he chooses words with a lawyer’s care, and he credits brief writing with helping him become a better writer. Moreover, Lubel says, “an audience, like a jury, will respond if your presence is relaxed.” Comparing practicing law to performing comedy, Lubel says that comedy, like law, “can be rewarding, but there is a lot of hard work behind it.” He adds that, in comedy, “there is a lot of free time, and you have to use it wisely, creating projects and dealing with the show business aspects. You are your own boss and your own employee.” Does he miss practicing law? Lubel admits that he’s curious about what practicing law today would be like. Yet when asked if he would return to the practice of law, he says, “I’d like just one more trial, something serious like a murder trial, because I want to see my client’s face . . . when right before I give a closing argument, and his entire fate hinges on each and every word I say, I turn to him and whisper, ‘I’m a comedian.’ “ Lubel isn’t the only wise-cracking lawyer to garner a national following on the comedy circuit. Greg Giraldo is also a former lawyer who now plies his trade in comedy clubs. As a youngster, Giraldo admired the clever wordplay of the”Monty Python” troupe and the humor of Richard Pryor and Sam Kinison. He graduated from Columbia University with a degree in English literature, and he made his immigrant parents proud when he was accepted to Harvard Law School. After graduating in 1990, he worked first at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and then Davis, Markell and Edwards in New York. He practiced corporate law, corporate litigation, and corporate real estate law. But he was always interested in comedy, and scribbled jokes in a notebook. In 1992, his life changed. He performed some of his material at an open-mike night at Gladys’ Comedy Club in New York City. The audience laughed, and he fell in love with comedy. Shortly thereafter, he won the title of “The Funniest Lawyer” at another New York City comedy club. He was hooked. He saw little reason to practice law when he could make people laugh. There was no turning back. He left his legal career and Manhattan to return home to Queens Giraldo continued to perform and took odd jobs to support himself. By 1993, he had a manager scheduling bookings for him. Shortly thereafter, he made his first television appearance on “Caroline’s Comedy Hour.” In 1995, Giraldo performed at the Montreal Comedy Festival, and industry insiders noticed. He developed and starred in his own short-livec ABC sitcom, “Common Law.” which was based somewhat on his experiences. Giraldo has been on a variety of television shows including “The Late Show With David Letterman,” “The View,” “Politically Incorrect,” “Late Night With Conan O’Brien,” and “Last Call With Carson Daly.” He is currently a regular panelist on “Tough Crowd With Colin Quinn,” which airs weeknights on Comedy Central. He recently entertained troops at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, as part of the USO Tours. Giraldo also just completed a comedy special for Comedy Central, scheduled to be televised in April 2004. He is now working on a sitcom development deal with NBC. Why did he go to law school? He says that he got a very high score on his LSATs. Not everyone who goes to law school wants to be an attorney. According to Giraldo, “Many people go to law school because they don’t know what to do. Most tended to be verbal, good writers and frustrated actors.” How did Giraldo feel about leaving the practice of law? It seems that he felt a sense of relief. Corporate law did not appear to be a good fit for Giraldo, who says that for a while he was able “to hide at a giant law firm,” referring to Skadden, Arps. “I should be the last person in charge of anyone’s life,” says Giraldo. He adds that he did not enjoy “keeping track of hundreds of documents.” As expected, his parents were “concerned and upset” when their Harvard graduate left law. However, as time passed, his father became accepting of his career in comedy. ABC promoted “Common Law” by placing posters in McDonalds restaurants. Giraldo says that his parents used to go to McDonalds to stare at him in the posters. While Giraldo talks about a variety of topics in his act, he says that he does not really make lawyer jokes. A former law firm colleague saw his act, and was disappointed that Giraldo did not make any jokes about his former firm. Wondering why she was so desperate for jokes, Giraldo then asked her, “How could you be miserable for 12 years?” Asked if his legal background helped his comedy career, he replies “Obviously, everything influenced it, but I never say I’m putting on my legal mind.” Moreover, he adds that his legal education has been helpful to his comedy career because “law school gives you a sense of how America is structured and how it works.” He says his legal background is helpful when he does social satire and addresses popular culture and current events. For example, Giraldo is often asked on “Tough Crowd” to bring his legal background to discussions of such newsworthy topics as the Patriot Act or the Kobe Bryant rape trial. Every profession has its good and bad aspects. It is obvious that both Lubel and Giraldo enjoy performing. But Giraldo says that he is forced to travel perhaps too frequently and is often away from his wife and children as a result of his comedy career. But he isn’t willing to say that he should’ve been a tax lawyer instead of a comedian. Asked what he misses about not practicing law, Giraldo replies, “Not having the opportunity to Shephardize.” Both Lubel and Giraldo perform nationwide in clubs, at universities, and at corporate events. They both perform for legal and nonlegal audiences. Lubel finds legal audiences to be the “smarter and more analytical” of the two groups. Is there room for humor in the courtroom? Lubel says yes, “as long as the joke is about the situation, and fits the situation.” Certainly, the confines of regulations, case law, and statutes leave little room for humor. Yet this doesn’t mean that lawyers can’t be funny, in fact, very funny. So go ahead and write that joke. But before you trade in your briefcase for a microphone, remember that if you like a structured work environment, do not like to travel, like to work only daytime hours, and don’t like to speak in front of large groups, comedy may not be the career for you. In that case, keep your day job and go to an Al Lubel or Greg Giraldo show. But leave your objections at home. Judith Bodin is a solo practitioner in New York and New Jersey with comical aspirations. She can be reached at [email protected].

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