The comedy life isn’t exactly all first-class airfare, agents hustling for gigs and sitcom deals. Just ask Steve Sabo, stuck in traffic as he drove through Chicago on the way to a show in Wisconsin last weekend. On Saturday, he makes the trek to Western New York, as he appears at Rob’s Comedy Playhouse in Williamsville.
“Good god this guy is an idiot,” he said, breaking his original train of thought during a phone interview. “I’m about 4 inches from a semi on my right, and this guy decided to take his motorcycle between me and the semi. Just idiots.”
But comedy has been an inspiration for Sabo for his entire life, dating to childhood when the neighborhood kids were blaring Def Leopard on their boom boxes and he rode around with George Carlin and Eddie Murphy cassette tapes on his bike. Originally from Cleveland, Sabo entered a comedy contest during his freshman year at the University of Miami.
“It was absolutely terrifying,” he said. “It’s one of those moments that’s very strange, because I remember to this day, every second from when they said my name to when I (grabbed) the microphone. It felt like I was walking the Green Mile. But from the moment I grabbed the microphone to when I said, ‘Good night,’ I don’t remember anything but the feeling I had. It was the greatest feeling I’ve ever had in my life. It was complete euphoria, and I said ‘I have to do this for the rest of my life.’ ”
Twenty-five years later, Sabo has made a living at comedy, as he released his fifth album, “Fervid, Uncouth, Callous and Kinky.” He worked part-time jobs off and on during his first 10 years of performing, including some lean years where he talked about having six bucks to his name and haunting 7/11s at night when they throw out that day’s hot dogs.
“That’s part of the struggle,” Sabo said. “It took me being able to headline (clubs) and selling merchandise to make that happen.”
Over the years, Sabo has performed with some of comedy’s top stars, including Chris Rock Kevin James and the late Joan Rivers; entertained the troops in Iraq and Insane Clown Posse fans at the Gathering of the Juggalos festival; and appeared on various programs on HBO and Comedy Central. As he notes on his website, he’s performed for crowds as large as 5,000 people, and as small as two.
But even those tough rooms later make great stories for comics. Sabo related a memory of one night in Michigan after the Detroit Red Wings were eliminated from the playoffs after triple overtime.
“The room had about 200 people there, and simultaneously, 200 people left,” Sabo said. “There was literally nobody there. The owner was like, ‘Oh, people will come in and sit down if you just get started.’ That’s not how comedy works. You’re not playing a jukebox. So I go up there and tell jokes to an empty room. There was a curtain up between the stage and the pool tables. At one point in time, I’m telling a joke and I’m getting jabbed from behind by one guy trying to break.”
Thanks to the Buffalo Bills win, the atmosphere at Rob’s Comedy Playhouse should be far more festive Saturday.
Who: Steve Sabo (www.stevesabo.com)
When: 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Rob’s Comedy Playhouse, 1340 North Forest, Williamsville