“You know, this reminds me of comedy class,” Chris Roach observed as he surveyed the dimly-lit and drafty performance room at Governor’s Comedy Club, unencumbered by the usual sounds of clanking drink glasses and chatty spectators. “It’s like, no one’s in here, it’s cold, you all come in with your jackets at 10 a.m. And then someone goes onstage and says the material they’re working on. It’s really cool.”
The Ronkonkoma native can’t help but reminisce; even in the wake of his recent standup success, which helped land him a recurring role alongside Kevin James on the CBS sitcom Kevin Can Wait, he still misses the days of writing and workshopping material with other aspiring comedians. But he also knows that the esteemed Levittown comedy club will have an entirely different look and feel on the nights of April 14 and 15, when Roach will be performing as part of a lengthy standup tour that will run through Saturday, Aug. 12. The tour’s schedule is decidedly New York-heavy, but also features numerous stops in Florida, Indiana and Texas.
“I think when I found standup comedy, I realized that I wasn’t alone in the world,” Roach said, before deadpanning, “there are other nuts out there.”
Roach’s aspiration to make a career of performing for an audience didn’t stem from a desire to be the center of attention, as is sometimes the case. It actually stemmed from a deep-rooted fear of public speaking. Prior to becoming a comedian, Roach worked for a company that required he give small, two-minute presentations. Roach, uncomfortable in even the smallest of crowds, said he found only one way to cope.
“What helped with it was, any time I added humor, the crowd laughed and it would relax me,” he said.
Roach was attending public speaking seminars when someone in the class suggested he try his hand at an open-mic night. To prepare, he did a comedy routine at a graduation party, surrounded by family and friends. Though Roach “killed” at the party, he experienced a different result when removed from the comfort of a well-acquainted audience.
“I did the open-mic night four days after, and I did the same act, and almost no laughs,” Roach recalled. “As they say in the business, I bailed. They told me to do seven minutes and I did two.”
Nonetheless, Roach continued to hone his craft at open-mic nights, also studying with an acting coach to improve his versatility on stage. Though the acting lessons helped Roach land several small television and film roles, Roach’s big break didn’t come until Kevin James spotted him doing standup at McGuire’s comedy club roughly a year ago. James, unbeknownst to Roach, was looking to cast the role of Mott for his new sitcom.
“I was looking at my notes, literally about to get called on stage,” Roach said. “And I saw a few people enter the room in my peripheral vision, and I looked to the side, and it took a few seconds to realize that it was Kevin James sitting there with [comedian and producer] Rock Reuben. At first I was really nervous, but I said to myself, ‘go up there; keep to your cadence; don’t rush.’”
Roach didn’t get to meet the former King of Queens star that night, but he later found out that James left the club knowing that he had found his “Mott.” However fortuitous the encounter may seem, Roach felt a shared comedic sensibility with James from the start.
“I think he likes my comedy. I think he can relate to it,” Roach said. “There’s a saying: ‘when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.’ I feel the way Kevin came into my life, when I look at some of the signs, is no accident. . I think being on [Kevin Can Wait] made me realize that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. Until my last day on earth, I want to be an actor and a comedian.”
But for now, Roach can only look forward to the immediate future, which for him means performing at a venue that’s recently added him to its wall of fame, alongside the likes of Judd Apatow, Kate McKinnon and Fred Armisen, among others. Roach, who considers Governor’s his “home club,” calls his inclusion “one of the biggest honors I’ve had in stand-up comedy.” For Roach, the tribute is a culmination of his hard work in a profession that’s allowed him to connect with people in ways he hadn’t thought possible.
“I think some of the moments I like the best would be when someone comes up to me after a show and tells me how much they needed to laugh,” he said thoughtfully. “Just the fact that I could take them away from their lives for a half hour, that means a lot.”
And of course, so does sharing wall space with some of Long Island’s most beloved comedians.
“But I always remember where I came from,” Roach said.