By KEVIN CHIRI
Slidell news bureau
SLIDELL – For anyone who questioned Michael Strecker’s talent when he was moonlighting as a standup comedian for many years—the joke is on them.
Strecker’s true lifelong ambition has been to become a novelist. He graduated from LSU in 1986 with a Journalism Degree and has written short stories, four novels and many other things during a professional writing career in public relations.
As he kept alive his dream for fame with the written word there was always a competing love—standup comedy.
“I always enjoyed comedy, and standup in particular—the simplicity of a person with a microphone entertaining all alone and making people laugh,” he said.
Now, his dream appears to be coming true, thanks to his talent in both arenas. Released in January of this year and currently available on Amazon.com are two books penned by Strecker, Volume I and II of the “Young Comic’s Guide to Telling Jokes.”
Strecker will be performing his standup routine in Slidell this weekend with a Saturday, April 8 show at Slidell Little Theater beginning at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 and the show is G-rated. Tickets are available at 985-643-0556 or online at extremetix.com, with Strecker’s show right on the home page.
Strecker grew up one of six boys in the family of Bill and Mary Strecker in Slidell. He was the youngest of the boys and said he always admired the brothers who could make people laugh.
“I realized years later that we are a family of storytellers,” he said. “My brothers were all witty and everyone got laughs. I always admired them and wanted to be the funny person.”
He went to LSU determined to become a novelist and worked part-time with a New Orleans newspaper before heading to Alabama and writing for a newspaper there. He was always freelancing during the next 15 years when he eventually landed back in the New Orleans area where he was hired by the New Orleans Museum and Tulane University as a public information officer.
In 1995 he saw that the University of New Orleans was offering a Standup Comedy class and decided to take it out of pure curiosity. As the class wound down the students had an assignment to create their own standup act they would perform at a hotel in New Orleans.
“I remember there were eight or nine of us that performed, but of course we all had friends come in the audience so it was a friendly crowd. I remember telling myself that if I do it once and it goes well, I will try it again,” he said.
Not surprisingly, the crowd was positive and Strecker was ready to try it again. Along with a few classmates they created a small comedy team that performed for drinks at regional lounges, clubs or anywhere that would have them.
“One tip,” Strecker hinted at. “If you are an alcoholic you shouldn’t go into comedy. We performed for a long time without getting paid.”
Finally he began getting paid for his act as it was refined and people were laughing, and now he performs about twice a month at many regional locations as well as performances from coast to coast.
During it all he got married and had a little fun using pun jokes to tease his wife, Jillian.
“She finally told me the jokes were good and I should write them down for a book,” he said.
Strecker followed the advice of his wife, sent them to many publishers and was pleasantly surprised to get a response from one of the major New York publishing firms, Stirling Publishers.
“I sent in 100 jokes and they wrote back to say they liked them and wanted to publish them. But I needed enough for Volume I and Volume II all at the same time. They wanted 1,200 jokes,” he said, remembering the stunning request when he first heard it.
“At first it was daunting to try and write so many,” he said. “But once I had the well primed I could rattle them off pretty well. My wife would finally tell me, ‘will you turn that thing off!’ I could write 45 some days and finally got up to 1,200.”
Strecker was given an advance for writing the jokes and now receives 10 percent of the sales for the books that sell for $6.95. It appears to be a shot at something big and he has been asked by Stirling to write more, while also getting a request from a different publisher for a joke book entitled “Jokes for Crescent City Kids.”
“It’s so exciting and gratifying to have this happen,” Strecker said, still somewhat in disbelief that fame is apparently on its way. “This is something I truly love. It’s such a good feeling to make others laugh. The truth is that it’s about our ego—when people laugh it feels like everyone loves you. It’s very gratifying.”
Strecker has performed at the House of Blues, on New York City stages and opened for famed comedian Brett Butler as part of a comedy career that has taken him to improvs from Los Angeles to the East Coast. He still works full-time for Tulane University and said his best material continues to come from real life, including a recent incident when he went ice skating and broke both ankles in a fall.
“The best comedy is autobiographical. For me it used to be starting out and trying to find a woman, but now I have the best wife and two kids a guy could have,” he said. “My wife is the reason all this is happening since she encouraged me to try the book.”
Even the tough nights of standup provide material for him.
“I’ve had my share of terrible shows where nobody was laughing,” he said. “I haven’t had any real booing and truthfully, stone silence is worse than booing. I would ask them, ‘do you folks speak English?’”
And about that career as a novelist, Strecker may be seeing both things explode together.
“I sold one short story in a journal a few years ago and now have interest in a novel and some short stories,” he said. “The notoriety with the joke books can only help so I’m still keeping the dream alive for my novels. You have to keep trying—you never know when things might happen for you.”
Copies of his books will be on sale at the Slidell Little Theater show this Saturday.