Everyone knows that even the most talented athlete has put in long hours of practice and developed a mental toughness second to none. To prepare for competition, athletes spend exorbitant amounts of time on the practice field or in the weight room, just as their coaches do in the film room, looking for clues on how to perfect their offense or counter a defensive scheme. No matter how much talent a professional coach has on his roster or a player has in his God-given gene pool, there's nothing that compares to preparation through practice, even if the ticket-buying public thinks they can just roll out the balls and play.
Now picture the life of a stand-up comic.
"Some people think what I do is ... 'Oh, yeah, just show up and be funny,'" said comedian Jim Breuer, one of Comedy Central's 100 Greatest Stand-Ups of All-Time, as he approached the May 29th debut of his "Comic Frenzy" one-hour special on EPIX (check local listings). "Comedy is on my mind 24/7," he noted when asked of the comparisons between a stand-up comic and a pro ballplayer. "I'm always thinking, always creating and always developing in my head, and I need to a couple months ahead.
"I have this new special coming out now (on EPIX), but I'm plotting and planning for the future and trying to be ahead of the game," continued Breuer, a Long Island native and ardent New York Mets fan. "You're a writer, and you have to come up with new material to keep your audience. You want your new stuff to be even funnier. Otherwise, you're dead. You're dead in the water.
"It's just like sports, really. Great, you hit the game-winning home run yesterday but today, you if blew the game with an error on what could've been an easy, game-ending double-play? Or, forget it if you're a pitcher and you just got shelled in today's game."
So what's is like to get shelled as a comedian?
"Thank God, at the stage I'm at now, (I know) I'll rebound from this. And if I ever get that shelling, it might be from a private, bizarre gig that I probably shouldn't be doing in the first place, like a small private party with eight people attending in somebody's living room."
Popular comedian Jim Breuer doesn't have to worry about that scary scenario any more. After some 20 years in the business, he can command a stand-up comedy stage much like his favorite New York Mets pitcher, Dwight Gooden, commanded the mound in 1986.
"Dwight Gooden was one of the best pitchers I've ever seen in my life," recalled Breuer, who attended many games at Shea Stadium from 1984 to the Mets' world championship season of 1986. That's when Gooden was enjoying a span of about 50 starts when he went 37-5 with a 1.38 ERA and 412 strikeouts in 406 innings pitched.
"It was an EVENT! He'd show up, he sold out, and people came out just to watch him pitch. He was invincible, mowing people down. It was like watching a Mike Tyson fight (in his early days)."
While it's fun to watch a game on TV, there's nothing like attending the event in person. Breuer feels that live comedy supplies that same experience.
"What describes me best (and what portrays him at his best), is when you come see me live. Stand-up comedy is the best "a-game" that I put out there," said Breuer, after being prompted for insight. "And the reason I feel this show is so good is that I did it 100 percent my way. I filmed it where I wanted to film it - on Long Island, in front of some of my hometown people. I hired the director I wanted to direct, and this is my personal project. I'm very excited about it.
"If someone wonders what I'm like, live, this (EPIX special) is a really great description."
It's a rare comedic star who becomes an overnight sensation. The more typical path to stardom is similar to the long road an athlete must travel, where hard work, perseverance and dedication to the craft are what make a star a star.
"It comes with experience and it comes with confidence, especially confidence," Breuer paused to emphasize. "It comes with a drive and determination.
"I went out there in 2008, and here we are, seven years later, and it's my third or fourth special. But technically I started my career in 1989, so I've been around a while, working TV. When you finally find your voice and how you want to use it? It took me quite a while to find that. I was always a huge comedy fan, and I watched it since I was little," he said, remembering watching Johnny Carson as a youngster, as well as the likes of Laurel and Hardy or Abbott and Costello on Sunday mornings.
"I loved it all. George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Buddy Hackett and Don Rickles. I can remember Laugh In and Sonny & Cher. But Eddie Murphy? I went to see him at the Westbury Music Fair when I was about 17 or 18 years old and to see someone that young (Murphy was only 23 at the time), I could just taste it. He was the super-inspiration for me."
The thrill of making people laugh the way Eddie Murphy could was the attraction to Breuer and drew him to a profession that, like professional sports, provides valuable entertainment value to the average fan.
"Music - Comedy - Sports, they all have healing power," said Breuer. "They can heal a major part of you. They can be healers of pain or healers of (bad) memories. But they can create great memories...I think that's why everyone relates to them.
"Sports, music and comedy, everyone needs them."