A Lawyer and a Stand-up Comedian Walk Into a Bar…

Schuchat headshot

 

Law & Entertainment: Attorneys in the Limelight

Lawyers suffer a public perception that we are humorless, overly serious, and no fun at parties. In my experience, the perception is undeserved. Some of the funniest people I know are lawyers. In our line of work, a healthy sense of humor is an occupational necessity. But while many of us think we’re funny, (and quite a few actually are), how many of us have the guts to actually climb on stage and try our hand at the Big Show: stand-up comedy work?

It is not for nothing that we all know the old axiom: “Dying is easy—comedy is hard!” The gulf between tossing out a few witty bon mots at a cocktail party, lunchtime speech, or closing argument and standing under the lights down at Comedy Works is wide indeed. Frank Schuchat, however, is one guy who has managed to clear it.

In his “day job,” Schuchat is an international trade and business lawyer in Denver at his own firm, Schuchat International Law Firm, LLC. Before venturing out into his solo shop in 2013, Schuchat was a founding partner at Schuchat, Herzog and Brenman, LLC for eleven years. Before that, he practiced with Holme Roberts and Owen and Ireland, Stapleton, and worked with the government and in private practice in Washington, D.C. Born and raised in D.C., Schuchat came out West to attend the University of Colorado. He graduated in 1977 with a B.A. in History. He then returned to D.C. and graduated from Georgetown Law in 1980. All the while, he was dreaming in comedy.

Schuchat started writing comedy as editor of the “Georgetown Law Revue,” the law school humor magazine. But he said he “had to make something of this investment in law school,” so he put the funny business on hold to begin his serious legal career. After moving to Denver in 1995, he took the plunge into stand-up, climbing onto the stage at Comedy Works during one of their weekly “open mic” nights. Schuchat has been performing ever since.

His style is dry, with self-referential humor mixed in with current events. Many of his jokes are slow-fused. Here’s one of his favorites, which he says still gets a laugh (though, maybe these days, the laughs are coming from audience members past a certain age):

“When I was a kid in D.C., we used to trick or treat at J. Edgar Hoover’s house. Mr. Hoover never answered the door himself; it was always a chunky figure in a red satin dress with a half smoked cigar, a two-day beard, and really bad makeup!”

Schuchat is also a frequent guest speaker at attorney gatherings, firm retreats, and business conventions. Like any good comedian, he tailors his material to his audience. For example, when speaking to a group of “Big Law” lawyers back East, he tossed out a topical modification of an old lawyer joke:

“So, what do you call a group of 500 lawyers trapped in a cave, with no light, no air, and no hope? Dewey LaBoeuf!”

Speaking to a business group, he might start out his presentation with the following:

“As you know, I’m a lawyer; I only have ten minutes up here, but if you don’t mind, I’m going to bill you for the full hour!”

Schuchat’s comedy sideline can lead to some dizzying bounces between the worlds of stand-up and serious law. In one two-day period, for example, he finished a late-night stand-up gig at a casino in Farmington, New Mexico, then hopped a plane back to Denver the next morning to be a speaker at an international law conference of the Nanda Center at DU’s Sturm College of Law. When asked how he liked working in two divergent worlds, Schuchat answered that he “gets a huge thrill from stage performing.” He finds the discipline, timing, and sensitivity to the immediate feedback coming from the audience that he applies in his stand-up work to be a huge help in his practice, too. So maybe the two worlds aren’t that different after all?

What can we learn from Schuchat’s stand-up experience? First, because it bears repeating: comedy is hard. Schuchat warns there is a very “delicate balance” between comedy and law in his, or any, practice, in terms of tight timelines and a fast pace.

There is another benefit to stand-up, though: immediate feedback. Schuchat said real-time reactions have developed his ability to “gauge” what is working with his audience—both in comedy and his practice. It also has sharpened his ability to listen and pace his presentations to their reaction.

“Stand-up comedy can be a lot like appellate argument, Schuchat observed. You have a very limited time to talk. You have a script or outline, but frequently don’t get to follow it—you need to immediately and effectively react to the feedback you get,” whether from the appellate panel or an audience at Comedy Works.

Though Schuchat’s gigs are infrequent right now because of his busy practice., it can’t hurt to keep your eye on Comedy Works’ calendar so you can catch his act—you’ll enjoy it.

Thinking of making the leap yourself? Comedy Works still has a “New Talent” night, every Tuesday. Good luck !

 

By Doug McQuiston

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