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The Independent Press
Jun 28, 2006

Local Standup Comic Finds Laugh Lines in Everyday Events

Comic Michael Somerville, a native of Berkeley Heights, has found the key to gentle laughs and ready audiences in his expanding career. He has been spreading his wings for the last seven years in the world of stand-up comedy.

Somerville can be seen on Road Crew, some Friday evenings between 10 and 11 p.m. on Nick at Night.

Or you might catch him at a comedy club, either in the city or the suburbs. Most recently, his act has taken him to Atlantic City. He'll be at Rascals in Cherry Hill July 13-15 and will be on TV Starz Comedy's "Stand Up and Shut Up," on July 14. Later in the month he'll be at the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut and then heads for Las Vegas.

"I'll go wherever they let me on the stage," Somerville said in a recent interview. And that includes London and Montreal. "I was nervous when I appeared at The Comedy Store on Leicester Square," he said, "but after the first laugh, I realized people are the same wherever you go."

"I love traveling, meeting new people, making them laugh. It's absolutely addictive."

When a joke bombs, he says, "It's the worst feeling in the world." On the other hand, "I think you learn the most from the shows that don't go well." "I realize some people aren't going to like me." And he has even had people walk up to him and tell him that. When things don't go well, he said it's tempting to speed up, to go faster. Somerville's humor is a matter of taking an ordinary experience, then adding a twist, whether he's riffing about his problems with dating, his limited wardrobe or his third place in the family hierarchy.

"I've always loved humor," he said. "My brothers were funny. My mom was a hoot. I became funny by default."

The youngest of three boys, he says he was treated like a football by his brothers. He attended Mountain Park Elementary School and Columbia Middle School before moving on to Delbarton, a private Catholic school in Convent Station. He recalled in eighth grade doing a Kung Fu sketch in a talent show and deciding to create a smoke effect. Unfortunately, the smoke filled the room, setting off the alarm and resulting in firefighters arriving at the school building.

But he got his serious start in comedy at the University of Notre Dame, when a classmate dared him to take part in an open mike night. That experience proved his offbeat view of the world has universal appeal.

Somerville says he rarely ventures into political humor. "It's not my strength and it doesn't have a shelf life. I don't want to do jokes that expire." He also is not one to skewer people, he said, but adds, "At the end of the day, it's hard work." His focus, in fact, is usually making fun of himself.

He's always been a night owl (one reason he didn't last too long in advertising at McCann and Erickson), and at the age of 10 would sneak downstairs to watch Johnny Carson. "I was making $19,000, living in Berkeley Heights and taking the Lakeland bus to New York. I saw Andy Richter, who used to be on the Conan O'Brian show. He was doing a commercial and earned more in an hour than I was making in a month." With that, Somerville decided he might as well do what he loves.

He finds improv the most intimidating aspect of comedy. "With a standup routine, you know what you'll say, but with improv, it's all in that moment," he says.

His home base is an apartment in New York, but a small one. "The bathroom's in the hall," he says, although he makes frequent forays to New Jersey to see his parents.

The strangest thing about it, Somerville reflects, is that performance can be isolating, but there's an odd energy when you suddenly face 300 people.

Sometimes, he thinks his life doesn't have enough of a balance. "I used to play the piano, but then I thought how can I use it in my act, so it isn't just a hobby anymore."

Looking back on his seven years in the business, he says, "I know I'm getting better. I'm the product I'm selling."

--Liz Keill
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