We had the good fortune of connecting with Steve Mazan and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Steve, what role has risk played in your life or career?
I grew up in the the suburbs of Chicago. Risk was almost a bad word. Stability was valued above all. Even down to the clothes people wore. Things were more conservative in style. No-one at my high school dressed like the stylish, trendy teens that we saw on TV and in the movies. California and it’s influence seemed very far away. In fact if anyone tried to dress that way they were often ridiculed. So playing it safe and bland was the way of my world. Clothes were the most glaring example but it really permeated ever aspect of my childhood. Creativity and off the wall activities were not encouraged. Practical choices were rewarded and taught. Even if a talent emerged that was out of the box it was greeted with a “you better have a stable back-up” comment from parents, counselors, elders. I joined the Navy when I was 18 to get money for college (because having any student loans hanging over my head seemed too risky and unstable). I served aboard a submarine. I had a regiment. Discipline. Room, board, meals were never a worry. It was as stable as possible. I worked hard. I made more than enough money to pay for college. I got out and got a stable degree. None of it was rewarding at all I wasn’t happy. I realized stability, contentedness and playing it safe was stifling. And it was stressful in it’s own way. I HAD to keep these stable things in check. If there was any chance they would fall apart what would I do? It became obvious to me that no matter what I did I was going to be scrambling—so I might as well be scrambling for a life that made me happy. Even if it was more risky. I decided to chase a dream I had since I was 12yrs old and saw a Richard Pryor special on HBO (after my mom went to bed). I started doing stand-up comedy. My first set was at an open mic in San Francisco that was at a Laundromat/Cafe. There was an electricity in the air but that might have just been the static cling. I drove into the city after my stable 9-5 job and sat around for 4hrs as other people went up and performed, I finally got my chance at almost 11pm. I was the last one. I performed for a guy cleaning tables, and some lady folding her clothes. I got one laugh. It was terrible. But it was the most alive I ever felt in my life! I screamed and fist pumped in the air as I walked back to my car for the hour ride home. I had to get up early for work the next day. But I was excited like I had won the lottery. I did. A new world opened up for me. Because I took a chance. Because I risked being bad, Because I risked failing. Because it was something I was afraid to do, Because it was not stable. Because it was risky, The risk is part of the reward. My life has a clear delineation. Before stand-up comedy, and after. It’s not just the career though, It’s the mindset. It’s the leaning into the risk and riding it rather than fighting it. I’ve been lucky enough to make a living for two decades as a comedian and I can see how often taking a risky choice has paid off. I received a Stage IV cancer diagnosis in my thirties that doctors told me could kill me within five years. The earlier me would have hunkered down and tried to make things more stable–a job with the best insurance (that’s not comedy), something with less travel and a healthier lifestyle to it. But it became glaringly obvious to me: It’s not how much time you have it’s what you do with it. Instead I doubled down on comedy and dedicated myself to making a goal I had for a long time: performing on The Late Show with David Letterman. If I wasn’t having surgery, scans or blood work I was doing everything I could to make that happen. It took me almost five year (ironically) but I did it. I might not have escalated my drive and hustle had I not received that diagnosis. It used me to be more risky, not less. I’m happy and healthy 15yrs after that diagnosis, I get to perform all over the world for corporations, comedy clubs, universities and cancer groups, sharing my story and laughs. I’m very lucky, But I remind myself all the time, if you’re not chasing your dream, you’re already dead,

Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
Stand-up comedy is full of me. Lots of white guys. If you try to summon a picture in your mind as the avatar for stand-up comedy it’s probably an average white guy. On one hand that’s good. I’m on brand. But it also makes it hard to separate yourself. It’s easy to get lost. From the beginning I tried to make my own way by being original in my material, by being clean (which separated me from a huge chunk of comedians) and by not being afraid to do things that hadn’t been attempted before. For all the creativity in stand-up it can be pretty cookie-cutter: a person on a stage telling jokes. I’ve strived to make it more. Something more personal. Something valuable beyond just the immediate laughter. During my battle with cancer I started working with a few cancer support groups. They helped me so much. Realizing I was not alone. The shared stories from all the others taking this unplanned journey. Our stories were unique and the same all at once. Plus I was finding just as much humor in this terrible part of life than I was elsewhere. Cancer wasn’t immune to silliness, satire and sarcasm. And there were a lot of people that wanted to laugh at it. To take some of the power away from it. This shaped my comedy going forward. It became more personal to my story, but universal to the audience in that we all had these setbacks and pitfalls. Plus I was finding people who were inspired by my journey. I began to combine comedy, inspiration, storytelling and motivational speaking into something new. Something I wouldn’t;t hav eshosen but that life had thrown me into. I performed comedy at a bunch of Fortune 500 corporate events, conferences and parties. I would often see another speaker on the itinerary. Someone who was sharing their story of overcoming something or the incredible journey it took them on. I slowly started to realize I could fill both those needs: laughter AND inspiration. Companies are always looking to fill these needs for events and I’ve been lucky enough to kill two birds with one stone for them.

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
If someone was visiting my town (Los Angeles) I’d take them to play beach volleyball in Playa Del Rey. There are courts as far as you can see and the other players are welcoming. It’s not the high level talent you might get in Manhattan Beach but rather a friendly all-levels welcoming vibe. And what’s better than spending a day having fun on the beach… especially in the winter when you know the rest of the country would be jealous! I’d save Manhattan beach for the evening and then go hit one of the awesome restaurants that have a patio view of the sunset. Sushi if they’re up for it. And you can’t take a bad hike in Los Angeles. From the mountains, to the ocean to the spread of city centers (Nakatomi Tower anyone? )and the Hollywood sign there is always a great new view around each corner.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
This is gonna sound crazy for a shout out… but women. Women in general, Some very specific women. I’ve been very lucky to have my life steered, mentored and influenced by some amazing women. If I look at my life I can see a through line and there’s always a strong woman influencing me in a way that changes everything. My mom Jackie Mazan was a single mother in a time and place where she was the only one. She worked 5-7 days a week at a factory. She showed me there are plenty of ways to do something but one of them is always hard work. She gave me stability early but also allowed me to rebel against that stability. Something that made all the difference. My sister Cathy Murata. My sister was 7yrs older than me so I don’t remember much of her growing up–she was out, busy with friends or in college by the time I was old enough to think about family in a serious way. But in her 20’s ( a time when many people are more selfish) she reached back to me and filled my with all the options and possibilities my mother and my surroundings weren’t showing me. She traveled the world and took chances and had ideas I never considered. My sister Cathy challenged me like no one else had ever done. I had a stable job when I started comedy. A 9-5 job as a headhunter. I knew it wasn’t something I could do forever. Heck, I didn’t even want to take the job. I went to the headhunter for a job they were filling and these two amazing women convinced me I should work for them. They were the partners who started the agency Ute Julson and Marilyn Pascoe. They saw something in me that thought would be a great fit. They were right. They were caring, encouraging, thoughtful–something I had never seen from a leader during my time in the Navy. Their approach and belief in me made me wasn’t to work as hard as I could for them. It was such a stark lesson of how things could be done. To top it off, when I started doing comedy at night they only became more encouraging. They knew despite the fact thats I was their top earning employee that I had different long-term aspirations. Lesser bosses, lesser people would have become concerned about my outside activities that kept me up late. Marilyn and Ute only stirred those asprirations in me more. They motivated me to do it more by taking an interest and egging me on. They were my biggest fans. They taught me lessons about leadership, friendship and humanity. When it was time for me to do comedy full-time they were happy to push me from the stable next they had provided. A few years into comedy I met the woman who would become my wife. Denise Mazan. Denise Smith at the time…it wasn’t that magical! Besides our love story she is just the next in line of smart, strong, independent women that I’ve been blessed to come into my path. As the antithesis to my childhood Denise was all about making bold choices and not worrying about if there was a safety net. There has never been a time when I suggested something anyone else would suggest is ridiculous that she hasn’t heard me out, encouraged me and most of the time pushed me further than I was originally thinking. Comedy is a a strange dichotomy of ego and self-doubt. In my wife Denise I found someone who always ignores the self doubt I come with. In the strangest, to me, part of it she will often encourage me in ways that don’t necessarily benefit or match up with her own goals and decisions. Hard to find that in any other human, let alone a partner. Sorry it’s hard to pick one person. But I thank the powers that be all the time for womanhood. As someone that couldn’t be more different from them I know how lucky I am to have had an extra amount of extraordinary ones come into my life.

Website: https://www.stevemazan.com/
Instagram: @stevemazan
Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/corporatecomics/
Twitter: @Steve_Mazan
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/steve.mazan.1
Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RFYxXHkNENE&t=65s

Image Credits
none. all owned by me

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