LEWISTON, Maine — Mark Turcotte felt neither sweaty palms nor wobbly knees. Instead, he waited and he paced.
“I felt like a caged animal,” Turcotte said, remembering the moments before he climbed the stage, held the microphone and began his first comedy routine.
“I couldn’t wait to get up there,” he said. The June 2012 routine was meant to be a five-minute bit, his piece of a graduation showcase for students of a seven-week, stand-up comedy workshop in Portland.
But Turcotte stretched his routine to 12 minutes and began a weekend career.
Since then, the 43-year-old Lewiston man has performed dozens of times, arranged comedy showcases in Lewiston and Auburn, and played both small bars and big rooms in three states.
It’s what he wanted to do since he was 13 and first heard a recording of stand-up legend George Carlin. It led him to be a scholar of stand-up comedy.
“I love the purity,” Turcotte said. “It’s just one person onstage with his microphone, entertaining you with nothing but his thoughts and actions.
“Stand-up, to me, is the last bastion of free speech we have in this country, where you can have an entertainer go on stage and say exactly what he or she feels,” he said. “And there are no repercussions.”
Though he wanted to be a comedian since he was a kid, Turcotte never took that route. He went to school, got day jobs and started a family.
He worked in radio, spent eight years working for Oxford Plains Speedway and worked as a writer for Sun Media. Turcotte currently works as a communications specialist for The Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope and Healing. It’s work he cares about and will continue to be a priority.
But Turcotte hopes the comedy will build into an even stronger sideline. He hopes to produce a DVD this year while continuing to perform at a steady pace.
“If I have one gig a weekend, I think, I am a happy guy,” he said.
Since his first graduation bit, Turcotte has been working to develop a voice, what he describes as “high energy, low self-esteem.”
“I’m really self-deprecating on stage,” he said. “In a lot of my jokes, I’m the victim.”
Lots of his humor is about his home life, his marriage and his two children.
He’s found that he seems to connect best with audiences when he’s talking about people that matter to him.
“For the audience to be engaged, you need to be personal,” he said. “There needs to be some kind of underlying truth.”
Meanwhile, he’s living the dream of a guy who grew up wanting to be a comedian but put it off for so many years. He has opened for veteran comedian George Hamm and many other local and national names.
“I am still in awe of these people. I’m not in two years yet. I am such a newbie, it’s not even funny,” he said.
Part of him laments waiting so long to grab a mic.
“Through my own naivete, I never pursued it,” he said. “I never asked anyone how to get started. I’d been to the Comedy Connection a number of times. I’d seen Bob Marley and George Hamm and a bunch of other guys. It wouldn’t have taken much for me to go up to them and ask how they got started.”
Then again, he’s managed to be there for his wife and children in a way he couldn’t if he were always traveling, always climbing a comedy stage in another city.
Somehow, he’s found a balance.
On Nov. 10, he performed at the Colisee for a tribute to veterans with his biggest audience yet, about 2,000 people. It also marked the first time his kids saw him perform.
Before the show, Max, 14, teased his dad.
“He said, ‘I don’t even know if you’re that funny,’” Turcotte said.
When the show ended, his whole demeanor had changed.
“My son comes running up to me,” Turcotte said. “He goes ‘Dad, all my friends want to meet you.’”
Turcotte paused and smiled at the memory.
“OK,” he said, “Who sucks now?”
Distributed by MCT Information Services