Mitch Mekulsia: Shut Up and Listen

August 24, 2018

Interview by

Lara Smith

Article by

Lara Smith

Listen

Inter­view­ing come­di­ans is always an excit­ing adven­ture. You learn what makes them unique and what ties them togeth­er. Some­times you also learn about their exten­sive knowl­edge of soap operas and this was the ice break­er I had with Mitch Mekul­sia. Mekul­sia is ener­getic and engag­ing, but doesn’t give the impres­sion of being always on” the way one might expect from such a high-ener­gy comic. 

Mitch Mekul­sia didn’t grow up in a big city or even a small town, Mekul­sia grew up in a vil­lage. Sit­u­at­ed about an hour away from Pitts­burgh, Mekulsia’s small school had a grad­u­at­ing class of 107 stu­dents. Raised by his grand­par­ents, lend­ing insight into his vast knowl­edge of soap opera his­to­ry, the clos­est town was Indi­ana, PA. Mekul­sia describes the cul­ture there as a very Ford vs Chevy” kind of trib­al­ism. Mekulsia’s moth­er is a hos­pice nurse, to which he attrib­ut­es his dark sense of humor, being able to laugh and find humor while deal­ing with death on a dai­ly basis.

Grow­ing up with that sense of humor, Mekul­sia was drawn to the weird and non­sen­si­cal styles of humor. He spent a lot of time watch­ing SNL and movies, but didn’t yet see the draw of stand up. 

Mekul­sia recalls mak­ing his friend laugh after being hit by a bomb in Iraq and that was the shove” it took to get him into com­e­dy. He was still more inter­est­ed in writ­ing and direct­ing at the time, but after real­iz­ing the instant grat­i­fi­ca­tion and feed­back of stand up com­e­dy, he com­mit­ted him­self to that process. After two months of writ­ing, he did his first open mic. While his ini­tial expe­ri­ences stripped him of the con­fi­dence and self-esteem he had built up, he real­ized that get­ting good would take time and effort.

Not long after, a man­ag­er of an Atlanta club approached him after a set and told him to keep going because he had tal­ent. Mekul­sia empha­sized, Those lit­tle moments of sup­port are very rare, but if you keep get­ting them … it keeps you going.” Mekul­sia was ded­i­cat­ed to get­ting bet­ter. Liv­ing in Augus­ta at the time, he would make the two hour dri­ve to Atlanta four to five nights a week. He formed a laser-focused work eth­ic in which he began dili­gent­ly keep­ing track of his sets, con­vinced he would be bet­ter with each bench­mark he set.

Mov­ing back to Pitts­burgh for school, Mekul­sia soon met fel­low come­di­an Dan­ny Palum­bo. After com­plet­ing his under­grad degree, Mekul­sia was look­ing for a bet­ter scene to grow his com­e­dy chops. While the Pitts­burgh scene gave a fair amount of oppor­tu­ni­ty for stage time, the crowd size was unre­li­able and often small. By Sep­tem­ber of 2011, Palum­bo was look­ing to move to Austin and Mekul­sia was hap­py to join.

Behind the com­e­dy scene, Mitch Mekul­sia bat­tled his own strug­gles. Fol­low­ing an exten­sive back surgery in 2015, Mekul­sia was in and out of the hos­pi­tal for months, due to com­pli­ca­tions. In that time, he devel­oped an addic­tion to Oxy­con­tin. It affect­ed his abil­i­ty to write, do com­e­dy, and do much beyond sleep­ing. Real­iz­ing he couldn’t just quit on his own, he turned to fel­low com­ic and friend, Michael Priest to take him to a detox facil­i­ty. Fol­low­ing that expe­ri­ence, Mekul­sia vowed to avoid the drug, main­tain­ing a strong self-aware­ness of his weak­ness to cer­tain substances.

Where writ­ing and film­mak­ing is con­cerned, Mekul­sia pitched, wrote, and shot a fea­ture film for his the­sis in col­lege. He has direct­ed shorts and videos, and is cur­rent­ly writ­ing a pilot for a series. A series that I have decid­ed, fol­low­ing our inter­view, I will hound him at least once a month about until it comes to fruition. It’s that good.

Mekul­sia still writes about his expe­ri­ences in the mil­i­tary, but has been mind­ful not to make it his sole focus, but rather a part of his entire life nar­ra­tive. He did­n’t want to be labeled the Iraq com­ic” and after see­ing his sets sev­er­al times, it is tru­ly just a part of the fab­ric of Mitch Mekulsia.

Mekul­sia also believes in giv­ing back to a scene that has giv­en so much. He hosts Par­ty Week­end, the open mic at Mis­ter Tramps on Wednes­day nights. His open mic has a rep­u­ta­tion for being gen­er­ous, espe­cial­ly to new comics try­ing to get their feet wet on stage. 

When asked if he could go back in time to his first open mic and give him­self advice, Mekul­sia says he would tell him­self (and any new com­ic) shut up and lis­ten.” He advis­es new comics on a scene to just sit down with old­er comics and lis­ten. So just shut up and lis­ten, and let it all hap­pen organ­i­cal­ly. You don’t know what you’re doing yet. And you think you do, but you don’t and you might nev­er. But you don’t for sure now.” Sound advice from Old­er Mitch” to Young Mitch,” right along with don’t for­get your girlfriend’s birthday.

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