Faces of Fauquier: Comic pursues childhood ambition
Photo/Don Del Rosso
“I had to confess to my wife what I really wanted to do,” Mark Mensh says. “I had actually never told anyone I wanted to do stand-up. It was actually hard for me to tell her.”
I want to be the kind of comic that can walk into virtually any room, anywhere, with any crowd and make them laugh.
Kids of his generation dreamt of careers as football players and astronauts.
Not Mark Mensh of Warrenton.
Instead, Mr. Mensh spent hours of his childhood impersonating Jack Benny, listening to comedy albums and watching the likes of Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Saturday Night Live.
“It had been a secret desire of mine since I was 13 years old” to do stand-up comedy. “I always wanted do it.”
In the early years, he counted Bill Cosby among his greatest comedic influences.
“It’s embarrassing to say it now, because of the scandal, but I was a huge fan,” said Mr. Mensh, 57. “My brother had his albums. I listened to them constantly. I had the entire (Bill Cosby Us A Very Funny Fellow Right!) album memorized at the time.”
In April, a Pennsylvania jury convicted Mr. Cosby of drugging and sexually assaulting a woman near his Norristown home. For years, numerous other women have accused the 81-year-old comedian of similar attacks against them.
Mr. Mensh also became a devoted fan of SNL and Monty Python.
“For every comedian and anyone who loves comedy, those were ground-shifting shows.”
But, the idea of Mr. Mensh pursuing an entertainment career never would have flown with his parents.
“My parents are terrific people but certainly not supportive of anything that wasn’t immediately revenue-producing,” he recalls. “The notion of becoming any sort of artist was not appealing to them.
“To do something as irresponsible as show business, there was no way they were going to support that.”
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So, for much of his adult life, Mr. Mensh worked in the technology field.
“I was in enterprise sales, business-to-business, as opposed to retail sales.”
About 18 months ago, he had a job interview that went well.
His wife Laura, 56, asked the usual battery of questions.
“How’d it go?”
“ ‘Good,’ I told her.”
“How’s the money?”
“ ‘Fine,’ I said.”
But Ms. Lyster-Mensh, who founded and heads an international nonprofit that assists parents of children with eating disorders, could tell the experience left him cold.
He admitted sales bored him and that he no longer could do it.
That led to a discussion about his next step.
“I had to confess to my wife what I really wanted to do,” Mr. Mensh says. “I had actually never told anyone I wanted to do stand-up. It was actually hard for me to tell her.
“I’d literally never said it to anyone, because it seemed like an outrageous, ridiculous thing. But she was very supportive and said, ‘Well, do it’.”
Turning down plum sales job offers, Mr. Mensh committed himself to stand-up.
In spring 2016, he performed his first two stand-up sets during open mics at Epicure Café in Fairfax.
While the debut went “well,” he “bombed horribly” the second time out, Mr. Mensh admits.
“Comedy is one of the few things where you practice in front of strangers to find out what works and what doesn’t. It’s a brutal way to figure out your craft.”
But stand-up acts can be just as hard on audiences, Mr. Mensh says.
“The jokes can be so bad and so offensive that listening can be painful.”
During the early days of his apprenticeship, Mr. Mensh performed four or five sets a week at bars and restaurants in the Washington region.
Today, he performs at least once a week. Mr. Mensh receives an average $20 per set. The couple doesn’t need stand-up income to pay the bills, he says.
Much of his humor revolves around relationships with “your kids, your wife, your girlfriend, your parents” expressed through stories, versus traditional punchline-driven jokes, Mr. Mensh says.
“I have one or two jokes, which bring up politics. But, I try not to take a stand on it, because you alienate half your audience.”
He has no “expectations” of taking the craft to the level of younger, obsessive comics who strive for the kind of affirmation conferred by Netflix or HBO specials, Mr. Mensh says.
“My goal is just to be great at it. I want to be the kind of comic that can walk into virtually any room, anywhere, with any crowd and make them laugh.”
In June, the Menshes staged their first comedy show in the second-floor room at Sibby’s Restaurant & Lounge on Second Street in Old Town Warrenton.
They organized two more shows at Sibby’s (“Home of Boss Hawg BBQ”) — one in July and one in August.
Featuring five professional comics recruited by Mr. Mensh, the events filled the room, which can handle about 80 people.
The couple decided to do the shows to bring live comedy to Warrenton, give local comedians a chance to do longer sets and provide him a venue to work on his material, Mr. Mensh says.
As the event’s host, Mr. Mensh does a set and introduces the comedians.
The next Stand-Up Warrenton show will take place Oct. 13 at McMahan’s Irish Pub & Restaurant on Broadview Avenue in Warrenton.
Stand-up comedian, March 2016-present; vice president of sales, Latakoo Inc., Austin, Texas, 2015-16; vice president of sales, JumpSoft Inc., Reston; 2013-15; Northeastern Regional sales director, Anystream Inc., Sterling, 2006-13; international sales director, COLT Telecom, Reston, 2000-05; senior sales consultant, PSINet, 1998-2000.
• Why do you do stand-up?
It had been a secret desire of mine since I was 13 years old.
I don’t know that I can explain why it makes me so happy, except to say that my wife will tell you I’ve been doing stand-up ever since she’s known me. I do it in the grocery line, elevators, bank lines. I just love making people laugh.
Wife: Laura; 2 grown children.
Bachelor’s degree, history, James Madison University, 1983; T.C. Williams High School, 1978.
• How long have you lived in Fauquier?
• Why do you live here?
I met my wife in Massachusetts. Two things chased us down here — the weather and also my wife was at the time working for a nonprofit. So we wanted to be in an area where there might be other nonprofits. So that was in Alexandria, where I grew up.
And, after two years in Alexandria, we really wanted to get out of the city and we ended up here.
I used to drive out here for work; it was part of my territory. I liked it. People would use their turn signals before they changed lanes. They’d wave to you from their cars.
• How do you describe this county?
I have to describe it to the comics who come out here, because they want to know what kind of audience they’re going to get. This is what I tell them: I say this is not a town, not an audience that’s going to go with you on real vulgar humor. You’re going to lose them; you’re just going to shut them down.
It’s a rural county. It’s a county with diverse socio-economic inhabitants. We have some rich people; we have some very poor people. It’s a friendly place.
• What would you change about Fauquier?
I would stop all change, which is ridiculous and I understand that. I’m not recommending that that’s the right thing to do. I’m just saying I don’t like the growth.
We never used to have traffic jams in the center of town.
At the same time, we have more choices of food than we did 20 years ago and there are some other options that we won’t have, if we don’t have growth.
• What do you do for fun?
Stand-up. For the first time in my life, what I do for work and do for fun is exactly the same thing.
• What’s your favorite place in Fauquier?
Crockett Park (near Midland). It’s one of those under-used resources. It’s got a beautiful body of water; it’s a beautiful park.
• What will Fauquier be like in 10 years?
It’ll be more like Manassas. We’re already getting there. On the one hand, it means more traffic, less of that rural friendliness that we’ve come to expect.
But, on the other hand, it’s going to bring things we might not otherwise have. We started a comedy show here that means more people coming to town, more people who are interested in doing that kind of thing. That’s good.
And there will be more things for young people to do in the county. Most of our young people have nothing to do in the evenings and on the weekends.
• Favorite TV show?
The single-best season of television I’ve ever seen was Season One of “True Detective.”
• Favorite movie?
• Favorite book?
“A River Runs Through It” by Norman Maclean.
• Favorite vacation spot?
Outer Banks, N.C.
• Favorite food?
Strawberry rhubarb pie.
• What is the best advice you have ever received? From whom?
My dad. When I was a teenager, he always said live below your means. He said If you make $20,000 a year and you spend $19,000, you’re a success. If you made $100,000 a year and you spend $101,000, you’re a failure.
Part of the reason I can do comedy now is because for the last 20 years we’ve lived below our means. And so we have savings to allow me real freedom.
• Who’s your hero and why?
I don’t know that I actually believe in heroes as much as I believe in heroic actions. And, I generally respect anyone who sort of charts their own path.
• What would you do if you won $5 million in the lottery?
Go right in the bank. Wouldn’t change my life at all. I have no noble response — like I would donate any of it to anyone. No. I wouldn’t. It would go in my bank. Who knows what’s coming down the road. I might need that money.
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