It shouldn’t seem strange that a profession such as law, with all of its dull, earnest subject matter and buttoned-up disciples, produces as many professional funnymen as it does. After all, you hopefully read on this site every day how well a Bitter Lawyer can translate into a comedic one.
For whatever reason, there’s something about a Juris Doctor degree that draws closeted stand-ups into its tractor beam. Some become lawyers just to make their mamas proud. Others are lured by the promise of a more lucrative career—or at least one that doesn’t (usually) include the word “struggling” in the job title. But every year, for better or worse, a handful of brave souls ditch the prestige of law to pursue a life in the two-drink-minimum spotlight.
One example is Alex Barnett. Over the years, Alex has chronicled his transition from Ivy League-educated law firm partner to humble comedian in a series of columns he wrote for the New York Daily News. “Creating a funny routine is as hard or harder than writing a persuasive brief that a lawyer would submit to a court,” he confessed in November 2009.
Well, as much as we’d like to care about the comparisons and struggles, the net result is that you’re either funny or you’re not. (And Alex is.)
Many lawyer-comedians have tried to make us laugh. These are simply the ones, we think, who do it best.
Should a law school drop out make the list? Well, yes—if he’s really damn funny. Comedian Bob Newhart flunked out of law school, and if he were slightly more . . . umm, current, he would have made the list. So we let Demetri Martin slide and put him at #3. After all, he still made “the list” of famous NYU Law alumni.
Anyway, after two years of excellent grades, Martin dropped out of NYU Law as a 2L in the late 90’s.
“In the summer after my first year, I was a White House intern in Bill Clinton’s domestic-policy office,” he told A.V. Club. “When I returned for my second year, I decided to find something I liked more. So at the end of the school year, I dropped out to pursue a life of temp jobs and open-mics.”
And it worked out. Last year, Martin starred as the lead in the Ang Lee-directed film Taking Woodstock. But mostly, he’s done some pretty hilarious stand-up comedy since being a 2L—and even has his own show on Comedy Central.
Al Lubel is a classic example of a man who became a lawyer to please his mother. Practicing law and stand-up comedy simultaneously in Los Angeles, he knew it was time to pick a direction when “[a]t the comedy clubs, the crowds would stare; in the courtroom the juries would laugh.” So he quit the law, and a year later, he won the $100,000 grand prize for his comedy routine on Star Search.
Most recently, you may have caught his cameo in the Adam Sandler movie Funny People, where Judd Apatow explores the world of a stand-up comedian.
Despite success, he does admit to miss being a lawyer.
“I’d like to have one more trial, something serious like a murder trial because as my client’s fate hangs in the balance I’d like to see his reaction when I whisper in his ear…I’m a comedian!”
Hardly your average Harvard Law grad-turned-Skadden associate, Greg Giraldo is now best known for being hilariously insulting—often on Comedy Central roasts. Punchline magazine rated his comedy album, Midlife Vices, the best of 2009. We first discovered Greg as a guest on Adam Corolla’s podcast when they kicked off the interview by having a hilarious rip session on law school and lawyers. Listen to it here.
Update: Sadly, Giraldo died from an overdose in September 2010. Here’s a tribute that someone put together shortly after his death.
Alright, sticklers. Who’d didn’t make the list that should be on there? Lambast us for it.