He had a CNN internship on his resume, a journalism degree from Central Michigan University and even a job in his field but Gary Cannon was miserable.
“I worked for about a week at the newspaper, I hated it and I quit,” he said. “My parents thought I was crazy.”
Cannon worked in a variety of different jobs but “always quit before I was fired.”
“I knew that I loved to make people laugh and I was always the life of the party but I never knew I could make a living doing it.”
Cannon has been making a living making people laugh for more than a decade and he will do so as the feature comedian at the Temple Theatre’s New Year’s Eve Comedy Show on Dec. 31 at 8 p.m. Chicago native Rocky LaPorte will be the headliner and local Saginaw comic Dan Ballard will kick off the night’s festivities.
Each of the comedians, who will help the audience ring in the New Year with laughs, took a roundabout path to the Temple Theatre stage.
The then-Chicago truck driver was not easily deterred.
LaPorte was shot, once in the arm and once in the leg, while working as a truck driver.
“They put me on a better route, delivering to prisons and malls,” LaPorte said. “How bad must your route be if the better route is delivering to prisons?”
It was the mall stops, however, that helped LaPorte find his true calling.
“The lady who ran the mall, I used to make her laugh all of the time, and she asked me if I ever though about being a comedian,” LaPorte said.
Comedy had not been a career choice LaPorte had considered.
“When I was growing up, I got into trouble for making people laugh,” he said.
Like the first day of high school when he and a few of his friends were sent to the office after folding a 15-foot world map into a giant paper airplane and launching it out of his geography class window.
In February 1988, LaPorte gave the comedy thing a shot at a local club. In March he won a local contest that qualified him to a trip to Las Vegas. By October, he quit his truck driving job.
In the two decades that followed, LaPorte, now 51, has continued to develop as a performer. There have been movie appearances in “The Shaggy Dog” with Tim Allen and other feature films and a standing ovation during a “Tonight Show” appearance and plenty of new material with four children and eight grandchildren, a divorce and subsequent re-entry into the dating scene. He will be appearing in Showtime’s “The Godfathers of Comedy” in late January.
It all came full circle for LaPorte when he traveled with Drew Carey to Iraq to perform for the troops.
“We were all in flak jackets, in Saddam’s (Hussein) home town,” LaPorte said. “We heard gunfire and artillery all day and all night.”
But, unlike his truck-driving days, LaPorte came away unscathed.
“It was a great experience.”
The journalism grad loved making people laugh but it was a trip to the classroom, not the comedy club that got him started in the profession.
“I was living in San Francisco when I saw a sign for a comedy class,” Cannon said. “There were 20 people in it with me and the teacher said we’d be on stage after lunch. Only eight of us returned.”
The year was 1998 and Cannon quickly became a regular on open mic nights around San Francisco. He made the move to Los Angeles in 2002 and was soon working regularly with comedienne and actress Brett Butler at the Improv.
“I did well in front of the right people,” Cannon said. “She is really responsible for me getting my start in L.A.
“It is partially who you know but it’s also about being ready in the moment.”
Cannon quickly found his niche in television audience warm-up. He has worked on both the “Late Late Show with Craig Kilbourn” and “Last Call with Carson Daly.” The 40-year-old would love nothing more than to host a game show or talk show of his own someday.
“Some guys hate hosting but I love it,” Cannon said. “My act is very crowd interactive; it’s a nice way to start a show. Jump starting a crowd from 0-60 in a matter of minutes, there’s nothing better.”
Dan “the Wildman” Ballard is just a memory – a vague and fuzzy memory at that.
“He died a tragic death,” Ballard explained.
“The Wildman” was Ballard’s comedic persona for two decades, one he describes as a “drunk, partying maniac.” Now three-plus years sober, Ballard, whose resume includes stints in radio, restaurant, bar and gentleman’s club management, is still at the mic.
“The first time I was up there sober, it was the most horrific feeling I ever had,” he said.
But the long-time road comic, who has been performing for more than 30 years, keeps climbing back on stage. Why – the reason is simple.
“The love of doing it, I love being on stage.”
While his act is a bit tamer these days, he never has a lack of material. It helps that he has experiences running from dealing with strippers to hanging out with his grandchildren.
“I get more and more and more material all the time,” Ballard said. “There’s a plethora of material when you are dealing with people.”
Ballard will be on stage first at the Temple Theatre New Year’s Eve Comedy Celebration.
“We’ll get a little wild, just not as wild as I used to,” he said.
How to Go
New Year’s Eve Comedy Show
Where: The Temple Theatre, 201 N. Washington St., Saginaw
When: Friday, Dec. 31
Time: 8 p.m.
Tickets: $25-$35 in advance, $27-$37 at the door ($35 tickets include a private meet and greet and champagne toast after the show)
Information or ticket purchase: 1-877-754-SHOW or www.templetheatre.com