Profile: Paul Morrissey ’96
“I basically kind of failed upwards.”
When Paul Morrissey was planning his wedding, he ran into his idol, David Sedaris, at a book reading. So he gave him an invitation. A month before the ceremony, he received a handwritten letter saying, “Dear Kimmy and Paul. Thank you for the invitation, but I’ll be Germany on the day of your wedding. Please accept the following gift, which will come in handy when building your new life. Sincerely, David Sedaris.” Enclosed was a one-dollar bill.
As a starting point guard at Binghamton University, Paul Morrissey dreamed of a career in the NBA. But, he says, “my height and my athletic ability kept me from that dream.”
So, upon graduation in 1996, Morrissey used his English, Literature and Rhetoric degree and his basketball experience to land a job as a sports reporter at a local television news station in northern California, but half the job required taking general news assignments.
“I didn’t like covering news,” he says. “If they wanted me to cover a murder, I’d be like, ‘that sounds bad. I don’t want to do that. I want to cover a chili cook-off or something.’ So I was the ‘fair-news’ man. I figured out that if I was really bad at reporting the news, they’d just make me do the sports.”
His plan not only worked, the station quickly promoted him to sports anchor. “I basically kind of failed upwards.” Even though Morrissey liked reporting sports, he noticed his sense of humor and independence were getting him in trouble with his bosses.
“In local news, making fun of things wasn’t that great of an idea,” he laughs. “When you get really famous you can do that. But when you’re covering a Little League team, you can’t really pick on somebody’s kids. ”
After a couple of years on television, Morrissey took a class to learn standup because he thought it would help his work. Within six months he was getting gigs. Six months after that he quit his job, moved in with his folks in Owego, near Binghamton, and transitioned into standup. Soon he moved to New York City and earned his master’s in education at New York University while doing comedy nights and weekends.
Looking back on his time at Binghamton, Morrissey says, “I used to joke that my degree is in rhetoric, and I don’t really know what that means.” But then he saw a tribute video to George Carlin in which Carlin explains to Jon Stewart that standup is “rhetoric. It's not just comedy; it's a form of rhetoric.”
“That made me feel the degree was kind of worth it,” Morrissey jokes. Actually, Morrissey says his degree helped him in both news and comedy, where “brevity of words is very important,” and helped him distill his act to 4 and a half minutes for his first appearance on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. He performed so well, the show asked him back three more times in the next 18 months, which is nearly unheard of.
Television shows are amazing, Morrissey says, because a comedian could tour for 20 years and not reach the amount of people one TV show can reach in one night. “And the Craig Ferguson Show studio is above The Price Is Right, so you get to go down and mess with the Plinko board.”
More at: http://paulhasawebsite.com/