Today we’d like to introduce you to Greg Berman.
Greg, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
My performance career started before I was even in America. I was born in Ukraine, or at that time it was more commonly known as the Soviet Union. I was born a few months before the Soviet Union collapsed, and my birth certificate is actually handwritten with a hammer and sickle on the front. Which is badass!
As a kid, I was always really in magic. I used to watch David Copperfield tapes religiously and I have a picture that I treasure greatly of me as a five years old performing magic in our Ukrainian apartment. We left Ukraine when I was seven and moved to America as religious refugees seeking asylum in the US. There is a lot of anti-semitism in Ukraine.
Of course as a child, I didn’t understand much of that and my parents told me we were moving to America so that I could work with David Copperfield. Needless to say, that has not happened, and frankly if it did, it would legitimately blow my mind. I continued to do magic as a hobby throughout most of my childhood and in middle school, I met a man named Michael Madden, who was my science teacher. He was a professional magician and took me in as a mentor and taught me much of what I know. I started performing professionally as a magician before I could even drive. My parents would drive me to magic shows at birthday parties, libraries, company parties, and everything in between. I eventually started doing walk around table to table magic at restaurants and making decent money doing that. I performed magic seriously until about senior year of high school when I realized that YouTube and the internet was ruining magic by revealing all of the secrets, so I pivoted.
The biggest realization of my entertainment career was that the main thing I enjoyed about magic was making people laugh. The magic was always secondary to the laughter. It was a vehicle for laughter really. My senior year of high school, I started doing stand up comedy. I would sneak into bars and comedy clubs even though most were either 18+ or 21+ and I would try and get stage time. I was always the youngest comedian around, and it was definitely intimidating to be around all of the other comics and still have to call my parents to ask them if I could stay out late and go to one more open mic. I love stand up. It was exactly what I had always wanted. I started performing professionally shortly thereafter, as an MC at first, and then slowly working my way up. I’ve opened for some big names, I’ve performed for our troops, I’ve worked clubs, colleges, casinos, and corporate events among many other gigs that you wouldn’t even believe exist.
I started acting professionally in college and booked a bunch of short films and feature films and then eventually a lead in an ABC Docudrama called In An Instant, where I played an Iowa farmer who got trapped in a corn silo and barely survived. It was wild. Shortly thereafter, I flew to Chicago to audition for Chicago Fire, didn’t get a callback, but while I was there, the casting director, Claire Simon, for whom I am eternally grateful, brought me in for Chicago PD and I booked it! Those two roles got me into SAG and at that point staying in MN didn’t make any sense. There was simply not enough union work, so I moved to LA!
I’ve been in Los Angeles for about five years now. A few months after arriving in LA, I got a job as a data analyst at Nielsen TV Ratings and was involved in testing all of the brand new shows coming to television. It was a perfect job to sit and learn what works and what doesn’t for TV and see the inner workings of the industry. This really pushed me into writing. Eventually, I left Nielsen and told myself I would not take another full-time job. I’ve freelanced ever since as a data analyst and copywriter while also working on my own art. Los Angeles has really evolved me into a creator moreso than identifying as any particular type of performer. I’m still a stand up comedian, I’m still an actor, I’m still a writer… but above all, I’m a creator. I make things.
My most recent project was a pivot during COVID when all comedy clubs shut down and I needed to find an outlet for humor. The last stand up show I produced was at a Yoga studio, and I wrote a funny guided meditation that people really enjoyed. I performed another funny guided meditation at a SoHo house show shortly thereafter and people loved it there too, so I started recording them as a podcast. I now have 25 episodes out of my podcast called Greg’s Guided Meditation and it’s got over 3K downloads in 60 different countries worldwide. My podcast is like if a meditation Guru delivered a late night monologue. Relaxation mixed with acerbic social commentary. It’s weird, but it’s me.
My main deal is that I like to break genres, I like to bend rules, I like to take something that wasn’t meant for something and utilize it for something else and find the comedy in that process. I have a few more projects I’m working on now that are even more experimental and continue to push up against what we think about performance.
Has it been a smooth road?
It’s never easy is it. If it was, everyone would do it.
My road has been rife with struggle. As an immigrant family, we never had much money. You may not know this, but magic is actually a fairly expensive hobby to get into. All of the props and books and everything costs quite a bit of money so when I was doing magic, I would have to find ways to still be able to perform while not breaking mine or my parent’s bank. My mother would sew silk handkerchiefs for me, my dad would help my build props that I would use for stage performances. I always had to find a way to make it work. That was a large part of my childhood that has really made me who I am.
The biggest thing that I struggled with in magic was the idea that I was just buying these secrets, these props, these items… I wasn’t making them on my own. It takes a lot of engineering knowledge and money to be able to make your own magic and that was something I never really had access to, so I didn’t feel very creative in that process. I eventually transitioned to stand up comedy because that came entirely from me. I wasn’t buying anything, I wasn’t forced to spend money. All I needed was a notebook, and I could be creative.
Stand up comedy was also fraught with struggle. Being the youngest person in the group was a benefit because I was able to start getting experience much before other people did, but at the same time, being a young impressionable person in a group of comedians still looking or themselves took its toll. I was constantly made fun of, constantly ridiculed, constantly ignored, constantly discounted for my age. It did not do much for my confidence. People didn’t take me seriously. I was an outsider in my group of high school friends because they didn’t understand what I was pursuing, and I was an outside in the comedy community because I couldn’t drink at bars and I didn’t have crippling financial debt yet. I did stand up comedy all through college, which was not easy considering I was actively getting two degrees from the University of Minnesota in Marketing and Management Information Systems in a very difficult business school. I would go to class during the day, open mics in the evenings, and homework at night. Sleep is for the dead.
Moving to Los Angeles was also not easy, although I had finally saved the money to make the move, I had to deal with leaving my family behind… This is not easy for an immigrant family to deal with. I had grown up with the understanding that my family was an unbreakable team… we were all in this together. I had been translating tax documents and important meetings for my parents since childhood and leaving them behind was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. Of course, my younger sister has been a big help in picking up some of that slack since I have gone, I still struggle with the idea daily that I broke up our team. It was a difficult thing for them to understand and for me to not feel guilty about.
The hardest obstacle I still face today is the language barrier. Although my parents speak English well, stand up comedy relies heavily on the nuance of language and that is lost on them. Although I define myself by my sense of humor, I don’t think my parents even know my sense of humor, nor do I know theirs. It is devastating to not be able to share that with them. Although I know my father has a great sense of humor, we don’t have a common language to be able to participate in humor together… so the most important thing about me… I can’t share with my family. That’s tough. I don’t really show them my work, I don’t really invite them to my things, and although they have made a serious and very admirable attempt at supporting this part of my life, I can tell that they don’t really get it, and that kills me… but I know that they are proud of me for trying and that is what I hold onto.
We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
Comedy. I would say that my core competency (to use a business term) is comedy. I understand it at a fundamental level, and I know how to find it in anything. While I could not write a song if you pointed a gun at my head and told me to do it, I can write a joke anytime, anywhere, about anything. From a young age, I could feel comedy, and once I learned the rules surrounding it, I learned how to break them. While I do many other things, I believe the undercurrent of comedy exists in all of them. In short, I would say comedy is my specialty. Whether I’m writing a script, producing a branded content video, writing advertising copy, acting, and everything in between, you’ll find comedy somewhere in all of it. Just like life I suppose.
Some of the projects that I am most proud of are…
– I produced a show called The Show About YOU, where I asked the audience questions about themselves when they bought tickets and then alongside some of my best friends and performers, we wrote a live stand up and sketch show entirely about the audience. We did one performance and sold it out, I would love to do another one… once we can gather together.
– I am proud of my podcast. Having produced a few podcasts in my life, this one is the one that I feel most closely showcases my sense of humor. With Greg’s Guided Meditation, I have found the perfect means to deliver the things I think and feel in a way that is unique to my sense of humor. I’ve produced 25 episodes in a couple of months, and I’m really happy with where it is now. I have some big ideas, I just need people to find it.
– I am proud of my work with the Bernie Sanders campaign. I had always had a stake in the political world, however actively contributing to it and working directly with a candidate that so closely aligns with my personal beliefs was pretty incredible. Writing jokes and quippy punchlines that he could say or could be included in communication allowed me to speak my mind in the best way I knew how.
– I am proud of this short film that I made and I can’t wait to show it to everyone. I shot it last November, and I’m just now finishing post-production. It outlines the struggle of an artist balancing his creativity with the world around him, and that subject is near and dear to my heart as it has always been a difficulty of mine. How can one be obsessed with art, but also be a functioning human in a relationship and in the world.
Is our city a good place to do what you do?
I love Los Angeles. I feel like I belong here, however I am incredibly grateful for Minneapolis. I would ABSOLUTELY not recommend starting a stand-up comedy career in Los Angeles. Although there are a million shows you could do here at any given time on any given night… this is not a city for a brand new talent. Stand up comedy is incredibly vulnerable at first. Bombing sucks, writing is hard, you need support and this comedy scene is a little too big to offer that in a meaningful way. There are too many shows to centralize any real community and too many shows that split the comedy audience every night. This is also not great for new talent that just needs a real audience to hone their skills and skin their knee a couple times. Every show feels important here, and although that’s not true, it’s too hard to shake for a young comedian that doesn’t see the long con. I don’t mean to drag this scene through the mud however, I have met some amazing and helpful people in the scene and it has been a really incredible journey, but it’s not a place to start a career, it’s a place to take your career to the next level. Get some years under your belt in a smaller city where you can actually get up in front of a real audience frequently, and then come here and blow people away!
The Minneapolis comedy scene, although at times very tough on me, is my family. I love all of them. I was also lucky to have ACME Comedy Club, which is, and always will be, my favorite stand up comedy club. ACME was my home away from home, I love that place, and every time I go home, I stop by ACME, whether or not I’m performing. Finally getting a chance to feature there a couple of years ago was one of the most meaningful experiences in my stand up comedy career to date. The mentors I have in that city will always hold a special place in my heart and I stay in touch with many of them.
NOW, to say some nice things about LA. I LOVE the hustle of this city. I love how everyone here is always working and always creating. That is the magic of this city. Nobody here is standing still and if they are, they don’t last long. From entertainment to restaurants, if you’re not innovating, you’re getting lost in the pack. That kind of energy is inspiring for me. It makes me excited to wake up every day and consider the cool opportunities I’ll find that day. Everything is bubbling, everything is moving, that is magical about this city. You could perform at a show one night, and someone in that crowd could put you in a real position of exposure the next day. That is magical. Every joke counts, every move is real. That is exciting! That’s why I have no desire or plans to leave this city any time soon. I would miss the energy and the creativity too much.
- Website: www.gregberman.com
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: www.instagram.com/bermancomedy
- Facebook: www.facebook.com/bermancomedy
- Twitter: www.twitter.com/bermancomedy
- Other: www.gregsguidedmeditaton.com