In my mind, Mat Edgar's journey from open miker to Paid Regular is the archetypical one - through the bowels of the Comedy Store itself, like working your way from single-A up to the majors. And Mat's a fascinating combination of things - he can be mean, cynical and narcissistic while simultaneously being the most earnest, wide-eyed, open-hearted guy on earth. One of my favorite moments when I first met Mat really encapsulates this. One night, in the back of the kitchen, a somewhat heated conversation about success and friendship led Mat to give an impassioned "Mr Smith Goes to Washington" style speech about how everyone in the room felt deep in their heart that they were funnier and deserved more success than everyone else in the room. Which is flat out true - you can't get anywhere in comedy unless you have that kind of narcissism in your very core. It was just so interesting to watch as he both laid bare his own arrogance and came to realize a fundamental truth the rest of us already knew, either consciously or unconsciously.
Anyway, on to the story. Mat's first ever set was at the Comedy Store open mic. He was still living at home, going to college and working at a pizza place but he knew he wanted to to comedy and the importance of crossing that threshold weighed on him all day leading up to the mic at 7. And he was awful. He did a terrible observational set about buying a new car, despite the fact that he was a young pup of 21 and had never done so himself. But he got a chuckle here and there, which was enough for the drug of comedy to take hold. He kept coming back, mostly keeping to himself because he saw other people nagging and annoying Tommy and the other comedians and didn't want to be That Guy. Though it kind of backfired when he got a job there, because all the older employees looked at him and said, "Who the hell is this kid?"
The next period of Mat's development is another study in contradictions - he both describes it as pure hell, where he got the worst hazing torture of any young comedian, and also looks back and says there were so many people helping and supporting him, he 'd never be able to thank them all. In particular, Jeff Garlin took a liking to Mat and gave him the gift of opening a weekend in La Jolla and it was Jeff Garlin's continued support that eventually helped push Mat to get passed. But throughout the time, Mat was constantly harassed and heckled by Ryan O'Neil. First off, Mat wasn't the only one getting the Danis-O'Neil treatment. At the time, the pair (Jeff Danis & Ryan O'Neil) hosted the mike and ruled with an iron wit. No hack joke was left un-mocked and the ill-treatment didn't end when you walked offstage. Young comedians were fair game in the hallway, the kitchen, the parking lot. But Mat arguably got it the worst because, as Mat says, "I needed it... I was a pussy."
Finally, one day Mat called Ryan to plaintively ask "Why are you doing this to me?" Ryan responded, "Because you need it. Because soon you're going to break down and it's going to be funny."
"Sure, it'll be funny to you, but..."
"No, you'll be funny. You'll finally let your real self through and it will be funny."
Mat didn't get it at the time, but when he finally broke free from observational schtick and grew into his own comedic voice, he realized Ryan was right. He also found that trying to respond to the genius heckles from the back row of the Comedy Store made him nearly invincible against any normal audience disruptions anywhere else. [I'll say this, every good young comic around the Store right now says the same thing about how Danis & O'Neil's cruelty made them who they are today. Though, who knows, there may be a bunch of brokenhearted former open mikers wandering around LA, cursing every Yummy truck they see.]
On Valentine's Weekend 2010, Mat went down to La Jolla once again to open for Jeff Garlin, but Jeff was out of town on the actual holiday so Mat spent one of the nights opening for Ahmed Ahmed. Ahmed came back to the Hollywood Store and immediately told Tommy Morris (the talent coordinator) that he ought to consider passing Mat. Tommy consulted Mitzi Shore about it, who replied, "Is he 25 yet? No, then what's the rush?" but Mat at least knew he was on his way. Then Valentine's Day 2011 rolled around and Mat was back in La Jolla for the weekend. This time, Tommy had taken him aside to let him know he was getting passed, so he got to call in his first avails (availability for spots that week) from the car ride home.
As with all new Regulars, Mat's first set was at 9 pm. He was excited for everything about it, having grown up at the Comedy Store, the symbolism of being introduced by pianist Jeff Scott and then getting to bring up Argus Hamilton was not lost on him. Unfortunately, Jeff was out sick that night. Not only did that mean Mat wouldn't be introduced for the first time by the Store's beloved living history museum, but it also meant that a bunch of technical details - the lights, the mic level, a weird buzzing - were just a little off without Jeff's magic touch. But Mat had to go up and do his set and as Argus took the stage, he didn't just give Mat the customary handshake/fist bump, he embraced Mat in a big bear hug, officially welcoming him as a Paid Regular.
I have to admit, re-listening to my recording of our interview to write this choked me up a little when I got to Mat's reasons for wanting to be passed at the Comedy Store in particular, his reverence for the place is so authentic (and you can hear piano music wafting up from the Main Room as if it were some kind of heartwarming movie scene). "It's probably the greatest comedy club on Earth... I found myself here, I've cried here, I've given up here, I've had moments of greatness here, I fell in love here, I was heartbroken here.. to become a Paid Regular meant the world to me."
I'll be posting up short audio clips of our interview in the next few days.