“America’s Got Talent” season 13 finals contender Samuel J. Comroe knows a lot about navigating challenges as the fifth child out of seven kids growing up in Southern California. He recalls a lot of door slams, fights to get into the bathroom, fights to sit in the front seat of the car and in general, “pure chaos.”
Above all the bickering and noise, though, he remembers the incredible amount of love and support he received from his parents and siblings while growing up as a child with Tourette’s Syndrome and facing constant taunts from bullies. He often turned to his mom, who was always optimistic, loving and supportive after a particularly hard day. He eventually developed really thick skin and decided to respond to bullies with humor.
“The bullying happened so much that at a certain point I started making fun of the bullies or I’d joke about my own Tourette’s and I’d do self-deprecating humor in front of a group where I was getting bullied,” Samuel told AXS in a recent phone interview. “I saw other people laughing at that and then they’d laugh at the bullies for making fun of me because I already said the things they were about to say. So, I think through humor and self-deprecation I was able to kind of put them off and let them know I was okay with it and whatever they were saying didn’t affect me.”
Samuel’s decision to pursue stand-up comedy as a career came while watching Dave Chappelle do stand-up on television. It sparked a sense that getting up on stage and telling jokes was something he could do.
His father always wanted to do stand-up as well, and Samuel often saw him fill notebooks with jokes. So, he commissioned his dad to give him 20 minutes of material after convincing his principal at Canoga Park High School to let him do a 20-minute stand-up routine during lunch.
He expected a small turn out but was stoked to see hundreds of kids file into the auditorium. He took the stage, told his set of jokes (courtesy of his dad), and fell in love with stand-up after getting his first laugh. He didn’t know until after the show that his dad gave him a list of Rodney Dangerfield’s jokes, which some people recognized and pointed out to him back then.
While he jokes it might not have been the greatest way to begin, Samuel remained undeterred in his quest to forge a successful stand-up career after that first high school show. He went on to perform at hundreds of clubs and college campuses and he even unwittingly won a contest to do a standup set on “Conan” that a friend submitted a video for without his knowledge.
All those prior gigs led up to this point in his life and his decision to audition for “America’s Got Talent.: He’s hoping to further his career via his AGT journey and make a better future for his wife, Alfe and their baby daughter Zaina. Samuel immediately impressed the AGT judges with his audition jokes which focused on living with Tourette’s. AGT’s resident comedian, Howie Mandel, paid Samuel a great compliment saying, “This is exactly why they say laughter is the best medicine.”
Samuel sailed through the Judge Cuts round only to land in the Dunkin’ Save pool, facing elimination. However, he won America’s vote and moved on to the semifinals, after which he was voted as one of ten AGT season 13 finalists who will fight for the title and $1 million grand prize this week.
Samuel recently took time out to speak with AXS via phone about overcoming bullying and inspiring others in his AGT journey in the following exclusive Q & A interview.
AXS: You were inspired to do standup watching Dave Chappelle, who is undoubtedly one of your comedy heroes. Do you have more?
Samuel Comroe: I have so many. I really admire anybody who gets up on stage to do stand-up just because it’s so hard to make a group of people laugh at your sense of humor and something you find funny, when you don’t know who they are –to just relate to an entire crowd is a pretty difficult thing.
Dave Chappelle is definitely my favorite. Robin Williams is one of my all-time favorites – I loved his improv and off-the-cuff humor. One of my current favorites is Bill Burr for the same reason. He can just pick a topic and talk about it for 20 to 30 minutes and still make it funny. And it just feels conversational. It doesn’t feel like he wrote down a bunch of jokes. It just feels like he’s talking to you.
AXS: It seems like an incredible amount of pressure to face a group of strangers and try to make them laugh – and when you do it, it’s such an awesome thing. How do you deal with the negative, if you fall flat on something?
SC: That’s just part of the beast and you learn as you go along it takes a person with really thick skin. I think being bullied actually helped me with stand-up a lot because I was able to understand, you’re going to fail a lot. On any given night you can get up there and not get any laughs or maybe just get a couple laughs. You just have to get on stage and understand that’s part of the process and you just need to work on those jokes and fix something or word something different and it’s just all part of the process. I don’t see it as a loss or a negative thing. I see it as a positive, working toward a better joke or a better performance for the next time.
AXS: You have a really sweet, romantic story with your wife. You guys are childhood sweethearts. What does her support mean to you?
SC: We met when we were 17, right around the same I started stand-up comedy. So, her support means everything to me. The fact that she stays home to raise our daughter, so I can pursue my dream is very selfless. She’s just an amazing person. She’s always been there for me. She used to come to open mics with me and she always has my back. Before we were in a relationship, we were best friends and that’s just a perfect way to start a long-term relationship because it’s based off of something real.
AXS: Congratulations on your baby girl! How has being a dad changed your life?
SC: It’s amazing. She’s the sweetest, happiest baby I’ve ever seen. She’s a little angel. It’s been amazing. Everything I work for now, everything I’m determined to do is for her. It doesn’t feel like it’s even about me anymore.
Stand-up comedy is sometimes a selfish career because it’s just you on stage. It’s your own business. Now that I have a beautiful daughter it’s all about her. Everything I do, trying to get to the next level and everything throughout this whole AGT process, I’ve had Zaina and my wife Alfe on my mind the entire time. I’m like, “What can I do for them? I have to give my next best performance now so they can have a better life.”
AXS: You’ve done gigs at hundreds of clubs and college campuses and you even got to be on “Conan,” which was amazing. What prompted you to go on AGT?
SC: Conan was a dream come true because my wife and I have been watching him for so long. We are such fans of who he is as a person. With AGT, I’ve been watching the show for so long and I’ve seen a couple friends who are stand-up comedians go through the process and how it’s changed their lives.
Just watching the show, I felt like my story and my style of comedy --because my delivery’s so fast and you only get two minutes, I just thought it was the perfect fit. It’s always kind of been a dream come true and then the fact that a comedian hasn’t won “America’s Got Talent” before, I think it just made the fight in me and the ambitious part of me really think I could be the first one to do it.
AXS: You got an incredible reaction after your first audition. Everyone went crazy and Howie said, “This is exactly why they say laughter is the best medicine. What did that mean to you in that moment?
SC: It meant the world to me. Howie is somebody I’ve looked up to for a long time. He’s a stand-up comedian too, so, we relate on that level. He’s been through everything I’m trying to accomplish. So, to get those words from him were awesome. It took my confidence to the next level going into the following round, thinking, “Howie Mandel believes in me. I think I can do this.”
AXS: You slayed it again in Judge Cuts. Then, I think we were all shocked when you were facing elimination in the Dunkin’ Save. It had to be a rollercoaster. What was that night like?
SC: It was crazy. Once I got put into that, I made eye contact with my family in the top row of the Dolby and I could just see them in panic mode. But, I felt okay. I felt pretty good that I made it to the live shows. I’m just excited to be here at this point and I’m trying to just enjoy the moment and take it all in and not stress about eliminations.
Comedy is subjective. So, what one person thinks is hilarious, another person won’t find funny at all. So, I understand that’s why a comedian hasn’t won AGT yet. It's really difficult to connect with all the voters and all of America on that level. It’s just me, a microphone and stories. I don’t have any theatrics. I don’t have music or fire. So, being in the Dunkin’ Save motivated me, going into the finals to just go all out and really deliver a strong performance and whatever happens, happens.
AXS: After Judge Cuts, Howie also said, “You’re a great symbol for what people should do when barriers are put up in front of them. What does it mean to you to be an inspiration to people watching who may be struggling with disabilities of their own and have goals and dreams to chase?
SC: I think that’s the most beautiful part about this whole thing, is that I didn’t realize how many people I’d be inspiring along the way. I was just trying to make people laugh and I didn’t realize my story would touch so many lives. I probably get 20 to 30 messages a day from families who have kids with Tourette’s or other disabilities. It’s so awesome to hear them say, “You inspired my kid.’ One mom wrote to me about her son and said, “He used to get bullied and now he stood up to them for the first time after watching your performance. He told them I have swag, get out of my face.”
I thought it was so cool because I didn’t really have anybody, especially with Tourette’s Syndrome to look up to. I didn’t know anybody who was in the spotlight like this. So, that’s really the coolest part about it. I’m inspiring a whole generation of kids to pursue their dream and I think it’s really powerful.
I also think that’s why, when the Dunkin’ Save happened or anything happens throughout the journey, I just have to remain confident and show people that I’m okay with what’s happening and I’m just happy to be here. I think that shows kids even you get knocked down, stay strong and keep pursuing what you enjoy and keep pursuing what you love.
AXS: Now you’re moving into the finals. Do you get nervous at all or are you pretty calm moving in?
SC: I’ve felt pretty calm through the entire experience. Which is crazy, because a lot of times in the past, with cameras on me, I would get nervous. For Conan, I was definitely nervous before I went out on stage. So, I think it’s just been an experience where I’ve matured a lot as a performer and I kind of know what I’m capable of. I’ve been doing it long enough, and I know when I go out on stage I’m going to deliver my best performance and that’s all I can control. I hope everybody else likes it and if they don’t, it will just motivate me to go back and work on it and try to get better.
AXS: Are you getting stopped and recognized now after being on the show? How has your life changed in that way?
SC: My life has changed completely. I sell out comedy clubs now. I used to only have 20 or 30 people showing up and last weekend I sold out a 500-seat comedy club. I think that’s why I’m okay with whatever happens. AGT has already done so much for me. I’m so thankful for it.
When I get recognized, people don’t always know my name, so they will yell “America’s Got Talent” or “Tourette’s” at me, which is weird because that seems like a form of Tourette’s. It’s been a cool experience to see people kind of light up when they see me. To have that kind of effect on people has been pretty surreal.
AXS: Finally, what would it mean to you to win?
SC: It would mean everything. That’s why I got in the competition. I’m a very competitive person and I’ve worked over 10 years for this, non-stop. I’m going up against some other talented people. But, to be the first stand-up comedian to represent what it is stand-up comedians do every night and how much work we put in every night, would just a really magical moment. So, like I said, I’m going to go out on stage, give it my all and hope for the best. Either way, AGT has definitely changed my life for the better.
Watch Samuel perform in the “America’s Got Talent” season 13 finals which air Tuesday, Sept. 18 and Wednesday,y Sept. 19 at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on NBC.