It’s a packed Saturday night show at The Laugh Factory on Broadway Street, and the host finishes warming up the crowd with what feels like an oddly sweet sentiment. After condemning child-rearing and the way white people prepare Mexican food, the comic says he’s happy to be celebrating his 15th wedding anniversary.
The crowd cheers at the thought, and Paul A. Farahvar is introduced.
“I just turned 40,” Farahvar says quietly, “and I have not been married for 15 years.”
Laughter ensues. They’re on his side.
And so begins Farahvar’s 15-minute set of self-deprecating reflections on what it’s like to be middle-aged and single, Persian (“It sounds better” than Iranian) and dating women half his age.
Spoiler alert: They don’t know Alanis Morissette, Bruce Springsteen or Paul Newman. For Farahvar, that continues to be a dealbreaker.
“I just became a groomsman for the 17th time,” he tells the crowd. “You know what they say: Always a bridesmaid, never a bride. Always a groomsman?”
The crowd fills in: “Never a groom!”
“Never unhappy,” he corrects them.
Farahvar has been a stand-up comic for nearly four years and regularly performs here and in Florida, Arizona and Las Vegas.
What he leaves out of his routine is that most of his jokes are based on true stories. He really has been a groomsman 17 times, and younger women he dated really didn’t know anything about his era of pop culture.
Most of the time, the Cuisinier & Farahvar Ltd. partner also refrains from telling the crowd that he’s an attorney.
Being an accomplished professional wouldn’t quite mesh with his down-on-your-luck shtick. A fellow comic described his onstage personality as a “fish-out-of-water type.” But his real-life success might explain some of his humor.
Rather than self-pity, his onstage candor about his back hair (what he calls “a full ape cape”) and life’s other unfortunate realities (being the runner-up to his neurosurgeon brother) actually stems from a bold self-assuredness that makes him relatable, not isolating.
“I’m a pretty confident person,” he said in an interview. “But if you can’t laugh at yourself or laugh at life, you’re not doing it right. Especially if you work all day.
“What I do or what any other lawyer does, you’re constantly fighting with people. And that needs to be eased.”
Law and laughs
After telling his eighth-grade yearbook staff that he wanted to be a lawyer or politician when he grew up, Farahvar graduated from the University of Illinois College of Law in 1999.
He worked at a small insurance defense firm for about two years before he joined Hartigan & Cuisinier, a firm that broke up in 2008 when Francis P. Cuisinier and Farahvar left to form their current firm, which focuses on litigation, specifically insurance, commercial and municipal defense.
He has been fascinated with the law since he was young, but his creative side budded in college when he started playing guitar in bands. He eventually started an artist and band management company, Shoeshine Boy Productions Inc., which still operates.
He jokes onstage that he does comedy because he has been “asked to leave 15 bands.”
He has actually played in that many groups. He described his cover bands that played songs from 1990s artists such as The Cranberries and Sheryl Crow as “sissy rock.” But he said he gave up music because it was too difficult to coordinate band members’ schedules.
“I started realizing if I wanted to do something, I had to do it on my own,” Farahvar said.
After helping a friend write some jokes and find a stage in the city, Farahvar started taking improv comedy classes at The Second City and iO Theater in 2010.
The first time he did stand-up was at an open-mic competition at Merkle’s Bar & Grill in Wrigleyville. He placed second out of about a dozen comics. Shortly after that, he and Amy Shanker, another comic who performs regularly at The Laugh Factory, began hosting Merkle’s Monday night open mic.
“Paul’s a storyteller,” Shanker said. “He comes off as down-to-earth, friendly, real. He doesn’t mind telling embarrassing things about himself. … He’s often, like, the odd man out in his stories.”
A bottle of ‘sorry bourbon’
Farahvar got a knock on his door a few days before New Year’s Eve. Two younger women who live in his building in Lincoln Park were at the door.
The neighbors began telling him about a party they were throwing on New Year’s Eve.
“Oh, sure, I’ll stop by,” he told them, lying that he might have to scrap his other plans.
They weren’t expecting that. They just wanted to warn him the party might got loud. That’s why they gave him a bottle of bourbon — “A brand my dad likes,” one of the women tells him.
“Ten years ago I’d be getting invited to that party,” he says onstage. “Now I’m getting ‘sorry bourbon?’”
That self-reflection is known in comedy as “tagging” — attaching a joke that connects the audience to a story.
The punchline, which is worth the wait, comes a bit later.
It may be tough to get laughs talking about an insurance-defense practice. But being a comic has helped with his litigation-focused legal work because being on stage helps him feel comfortable in front of judges and juries. He’s in court two to three times a week.
“When you’re doing stand-up, your struggle is to be likeable and make them like you,” he said. “And it’s the same thing with a jury. If they can like you, you’re halfway there.”
Being “likeable” is also another reason Farahvar doesn’t always tell the crowd that he’s an attorney.
“We’re the most hated entity in the world, other than al-Qaida,” he said in an interview.
“So it’s like, I’m not going to bring it up. But if I have them on my side, they think this guy’s self-deprecating, he’s not an (expletive), he’s not cocky, then I’ll bring it up.”
For his part, The Laugh Factory’s founder and fellow Iranian Jamie Masada said Farahvar could successfully incorporate being an attorney into his set. The audience likes to see another side of comics, Masada said.
Regardless, Masada said, Farahvar has two things required of every successful comic: a tireless work ethic and passion.
“He’s really put his time in,” Masada said. “If I give him (a show at) 11, 12 o’clock at night and he’s got work in the morning, he goes to court the next day. That shows me the passion he has and what he’s really about.”
His age, his punchline
On Wednesday, Farahvar hosted the 6:30 p.m. open mic at The Laugh Factory, something he does often.
With the venue’s talent scout in the audience, comics can be on edge.
And, being an open mic, things can get awkward.
The first would-be comic announced he was a stand-up rookie. He then spent his three minutes discussing a jail sentence.
It’s Farahvar’s job to ease the tension and to warm up the crowd, and that’s something he likes to do. Interacting with people is his favorite part about comedy. That’s where he gets most of his material for his feature sets, and it’s what he likes about hosting or being an emcee.
“That’s really where my heart is,” he said. “I like to talk to people, interview people. Conan O’Brien is, like, my hero.”
While he doesn’t intend to “make a career out of comedy,” Farahvar said he’d like to host a TV show or a weekly show that is based on interviews.
“I feel like I have a lot of information, a lot of history in different fields, so I don’t think I could pigeonhole it into just law or music or comedy,” he said. “I think I bring a lot to the table.”
Jeff Arcuri, a comic and regular at The Laugh Factory, said Farahvar’s real-world experience is an advantage.
“You’ve got a show where all these comics go, ‘Isn’t the show ‘Girls’ weird?’” Arcuri said, referring to the HBO series.
“And he has all these life experiences where he can actually talk about (expletive). If anything, his age is a benefit to him. And I don’t know why I keep harping on his age.”
Probably because Farahvar does.
“Yeah, that’s true,” Arcuri said, laughing. “Him going out there and being honest about it, it is kind of refreshing to see somebody who’s generally in a professional environment let loose and just be a cool dude.”
“A cool dude” is probably not what those women who knocked on Farahvar’s door around New Year’s Eve thought when he showed up to their party.
Towing the same bottle of “sorry bourbon,” Farahvar tells the audience, he partied with the women who were “three Olympics” younger than him.
“Then I went home and called the cops,” he concludes, drawing a big laugh.
“That’s true,” he said after the show. “Except I didn’t call the cops. I just thought about it.”