To be one’s true self is the goal in life. This blog series would not exist if it weren’t for a reunion with an old friend who had all the makings of a modern-day Mozart. But at a pivotal fork in the road, he chose the path behind a desk, instead of one behind a keyboard, which would’ve honored his gift - like Mozart did. Now, 20 years later, he’s unrecognizable, this friend who once had music radiating from every cell, especially when singing in random bursts of happiness. The years have taken their toll - not just in the added 20 pounds that don’t belong, but in the heaviness that comes when living someone else’s life, and not one’s true purpose. The life you came here to live.
As a writer, this inspired me to highlight the special souls who chose to follow their true path. The tougher path, but one that honors and expresses the powerful gift of music they’ve been given. To live the Mozart life. May some of their words help or inspire you to find your true calling in life.
Mark Viera is a rising star in the world of comedy. The Bronx-born and bred comic takes his audience on a hilarious, heartfelt journey, finding enjoyment in the absurdities of life, whether he’s talking about his crazy marriage, growing kids, or his beloved grandparents. Viera is a break-out star of truTV’s new comedy series Laff Mobb's Laff Tracks that premiered Jan. 3 and airs Wednesday nights at 11 pm. Offering up a unique spin on stand-up, the show features comedians bringing their routines to life through hilarious video recreations. Viera stars this season on HBO’s new All Def Comedy series and had his own one-hour Showtime comedy special.
He reflects on taking the plunge at leaving a day job to go full-time into comedy, his low points that pushed him further, what he does to unplug and what picks him up when he feels down.
What inspired this blog series was seeing an old friend who has a special gift of music, but didn’t choose that path, who, 20 years later, isn’t living the life he thought he would live. People who make music or make people laugh and to travel the country or the world doing so are a rare example of a life where one is able to honor and channel their gift. What are your thoughts?
I was so that guy. I had so many opportunities to do stand up in the early 90’s, but was too afraid of the unknown. It took a crappy job, a young son, a new marriage and the emptiness of knowing I was funny and was doing absolutely nothing with it. That’s what made me get on stage. That’s what drove me toward my gift. I was unhappy.
Do you feel you’re consciously living the life you thought you would be living?
Now I do. There were times, especially after I left my day job, where I thought I had lost my mind. Leaving the security of my day job, regular pay checks, health benefits, 401k to chase something as abstract as comedy was absolutely insane, but I knew somehow that it would work out. I just knew that the craziness was a part of the process.
I’ve said in that blog post about living the Mozart life, that it may be a tougher road to choose, but you’re fully living your true selves. Do you resonate to that? You did not choose the nine to five path.
I completely agree with you. It’s all the life I’ve known for the last nine years. Waking up to make people laugh. It seems surreal, but I’ve truly embraced it as my life. Everyone around me has had to make those adjustments as well. I now know that this was supposed to be my life.
But to embark on this path you chose, was that difficult? Because you didn’t know you would get here.
Leaving my regular life and day job was the most difficult decision I’ve ever made. I had a young family, a new house and a decent job. That decision only looks smart now that I’ve made my way in comedy. I couldn’t be more grateful for my opportunities. After a 16-year stand-up comedy career, I’m only now getting comfortable with the fact that I belong amongst the others.
How did you know that this is your life path, your calling? How does someone know when they’re on the correct path?
Every now and again a person will come up to you after a show and say something like “I really needed this laugh” or “I’m going through so much, but during your show, I forgot all I’m currently going through” and when those kinds of things are said, you immediately recognize that those interactions are not accidental. That person needed you and you needed them more. Those words, those sentiments are never forgotten. It puts into perspective the reasons you make people laugh.
How do you find inspiration for your work?
My inspiration comes from my life. My experiences. My upbringing. How I deal with everyday stuff. My marriage or past relationships. For me it’s not pain per se, it’s more like the stuff that really pisses me off. I’ve come to realize that “relatable” is not enough these days. I’m looking for connection. I feel like the struggle connects us all. Even people with all the money in the world are struggling with something! That’s what connects us, the struggle.
And when you create and write, do you feel that in those inspirational moments you’re most connected to your true self?
I really do. I create on stage. It’s in those moments that I feel like the real me. The most honest Mark Viera is the one on stage. I can say anything, I can be and not apologize for the person I’m being. My stand-up has become more of an emotional trip. That’s where the risk lies. It used to be trying to do a new joke, now it’s - will the audience feel me? Will they understand my emotional connection to the material? That’s pretty risky!
Do you have a daily routine or process?
Not so much daily, although I write down impromptu ideas or thoughts all the time including if I dream something crazy! I’ll wake up and write it down. My process is what I do with those ideas on stage. I work out in “labs” around New York City - the Bronx, Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Yonkers. These are rooms where an audience doesn’t know I’m going to be there, and I can walk on stage and really feel no pressure to be funny. I can search for what I’m looking for with a real audience.
When did you know you had this gift of making people laugh and how did it manifest for you? How did you start to do the human discipline it takes to channel your gift, hone it and bring it forth?
I’ve been funny for as far back as I can remember. In my neighborhood we had “snap” battles. These were circles of 8-12 of my friends where all we did was make fun of each other. I usually won these “snap” battles but that doesn’t always mean it ended well as we used to make fun of each other’s parents or lack of finances, which many times end up with us fighting. Looking back, this is where I honed being funny. Not so much as a comedian, but I prepared then much more than I prepare now! Much later, I was at a job I hated and started looking into writing funny. I found a class at Stand Up NY, signed up and performed at the “graduation” class. I’ve never looked back.
There are divine moments of serendipity, where a catalyst opens the door that leads to the path we’re meant to be on, the one where we live out the fullest expression of our true selves. What was the moment for you and how did it happen?
The thing with stand-up comedy is that every single night, every single time on stage is different. So many moments come to mind, but the one that stands out is my first time on stage. I had a huge argument with my wife that day. I had a full day at work and had invited over 25 friends to come to my show. I took the stage, and five minutes felt like five seconds. It was over really before it started but those laughs will last a lifetime. I knew that night that I was meant to be a comedian.
What is your idea of success, especially on the path you chose?
My idea of success has evolved and changed as I’ve reached different milestones in my career. I wanted to be funny on stage. I wanted to be on TV. I wanted to make a living being funny. I do all of those things. Now, my success is wrapped up in how the world laughs with me. I know I can’t be everyone’s favorite comedian, but I do want people to say he’s so funny. People all over the world. I don’t believe there are lines in stand-up. If you’re funny then you’re funny. I also want to be talked about by other comedians. In this business, it’s very rare that other comedians give you love. Once other comedians stop seeing you as a threat and just see you as great, you’ve reached a certain point in your comedic success that so many never reach. I know I’ll get there.
Life gives us catalysts, a release valve, which often is our lowest point in life, that allows us to push up to the next, hopefully better chapter. Like a desert, wilderness period in life, that helps raise our consciousness and stay true to yourself and your own path. What was that low point for you that helped you push yourself further, evolve and do better, and what did you do when you had that epiphany?
Truthfully, I’ve had roughly three low points that forced me to re-evaluate, regroup and begin a new strategy all together. The one that stands out as the most influential was roughly six months after I left my day job to solely pursue comedy. I had been helping out on my former day job as a consultant as they hired someone to replace me. The day came when they didn’t need me and I was truly on my own. No more parachute and I was at a free fall. No manager, no agent, just talent and dreams. Month after month my phone began to ring less and less for work. Money going out, not much coming in. I began to miss payments on just about everything. My life had become a mess, including my marriage. I wanted to just quit comedy and go back to work. The bank started to call to ask how was I going to catch up on my mortgage. I didn’t have answers, but I had talent and dreams. The thought of losing everything made me separate myself from the comedian I was and pushed me to be the comedian I needed to be to succeed. I got better. Much better. The phone started ringing. It hasn’t stopped ringing yet.
It’s been a tough time in recent years, losing many of our legends or those we grew up with whose music was our soundtrack. Do you think about time much and what you want to achieve in the time we have?
I’m a little over 40 so I think about time quite a bit. One of my biggest comedy idols is Bernie Mac. His life ended way too soon and I often wonder what he would do different. So, I often push myself to try new jokes, take as many risks on stage as I can, and do all the gigs I can, even some that I wouldn’t normally take. The reasoning is, Bernie Mac was an underground secret for around 20 years. That’s crazy to me. I don’t want that, so my approach must be different.
Unlike any time in history, we’re in an overwhelming digital era. There is so much detritus, noise and schadenfreude. What’s your view on that and what do you do to connect to your Higher Self? Do you have a day you unplug for example? How do you ground yourself, focus on your own life path and purpose?
How I stay grounded is pretty easy for me. I’m married 21 years to a woman who was with me before I began my comedy career. She keeps me in tune with the little things that truly mean the most. My two sons also do that. Their lives and their activities with kids whose parents go to regular jobs everyday are subtle reminders of the life I left behind. I have friends who knew me since I was a kid. They never change. They’re the same guys from the neighborhood, and see me as Markie, the guy they grew up with. The other part to that answer is, I often work on cruise ships. Which means I don’t have cell phone access while we’re at sea. It affords me moments to turn my phone off and leave the “cellular leash” behind.
I’m a firm believer in doing mitzvahs, especially in the tougher times of or lives. To give back, be of service some way, to use our time most wisely, can only help us in the end. What are your thoughts and do you try to do your own mitzvahs to help others, even in the smallest way?
I’m a firm believer in mitzvahs. I love to give back as I believe I’ve been given this gift to share. For obvious reasons it’s great to get paid for this gift, but it feels even better to give for a cause. From the drug rehab centers in the Bronx where I’m from to performing for toy/coat drives, absolutely nothing feels better than giving back.
What advice do you have for people who have the gift of comedy, but don’t know how to start channeling it, to develop that gift and bring it out.
My best advice for those who believe they’re funny and are thinking about a comedy career is watch a lot of stand-up comedy. When you watch the greats do it, you learn. So you become more conscious of the styles and the way the comedy is done. You have to start asking simple questions like “What made that joke funny?” Was it the timing, facial expression, call back or was it the subject matter? Once you begin to see what comedy really is, then a comedy class or a stand-up comedy book like the Comedy Bible will help to put in perspective what comedy is. Then the biggest step of all is to take the stage. Whether it’s a show where you have to bring five people for five minutes or one of these comedy nights at a local bar, nothing will take the place of getting on stage. The first time can be the best or the worst, but you’ll never know till you try.
What do you do to help pick yourself up when you’re feeling down, and help you stay the course.
This one is easy. I watch comedy! Sometimes my own, but usually I’ll watch an old Eddie Murphy bit on YouTube or a Netflix comedy special and that gets my motor really revving high. I’m at the point in my career where I watch other comedians and think “Wow! That comedian is not funnier than me.” When that happens, I know it’s time to get back to work. I know my time is now, because of that sentiment. When you do a show with some of the biggest names in your field and you realize you belong right there it’s a moment that you could never plan for. It just happens. And when it does, you know there’s no looking back. The sky is truly the limit.