Darren LaCroix insists he wasn’t born funny.
In fact, the Las Vegas resident says that he was considered “least likely to be funny” in high school. Today, the 44-year-old is laughing all the way to the bank as he makes his living teaching others how to be funny. On Sept. 30, he’s even offering a free lesson to the public (more on that later) on the art of humor.
The freedom to do comedy was, admittedly, born from financial tragedy. It was in the early ’90s in Boston that his Subway franchise tanked. Another Subway opened up just a couple of miles from his and started taking all of his customers. He sold the business at a loss and, in his early-to-mid-20s, moved back in with his parents. He was working as a telemarketer at Bose to pay off his debts.
Knowing he was at a low point, a friend gave LaCroix a motivational tape that asked this pivotal question: “What would you dare to dream if you knew you wouldn’t fail?”
“I said, ‘Man, if I could do anything I would be a comedian. Making an audience laugh and earn a living at it? That would be the ultimate.’” He had nothing to lose at that point. So what if he tried to be funny and flopped? So he went to a comedy show, found a comedian and asked for advice. The guy’s first question: “Are you funny?” LaCroix’s response: “No.” So the guy told him to buy some books, take some comedy courses and attend open-mike nights to see how the amateurs start out.
A good student, LaCroix took his advice. He read. He workshopped. He toured the amateur circuit, and one night, when he had the courage to get up onstage, he bombed.
Still, LaCroix kept at it. He was convinced that humor was something he could learn. His mentors encouraged him, saying the most important thing is stage time. “They said it’s not about how well you do tonight,” LaCroix says. “If you go up tonight you’ll be better next week.” So he spent two years getting comfortable onstage, practiced telling jokes and learned from watching others do the same.
In addition to the comedy clubs, LaCroix added Toastmasters to his circuit. There, at the nonprofit organization that helps its members hone their public-speaking skills, he not only tried to make people laugh, but he shared with them the lessons he’d picked up along the way about comedy. To his surprise, his fellow Toastmasters shared his desire to master humor. They even laughed as they learned. Before long, Toastmaster members were inviting him to be the keynote speaker at their conferences. By accident, he found his calling.
LaCroix was happy to trade in standup “haha” moments for corporate “aha” moments. Teaching sales forces, CEOs, public speakers and others about humor actually turned out to be a better business than trying to be funny. Before he knew it, he was making $2,500 and up per speaking gig.
He teamed up with another speaker in Boston and they began hosting humor boot camps, storytelling boot camps, public speaking boot camps and more. Along the way, he became a kind of Toastmaster supreme: In 2001, he competed against 25,000 people in 14 countries to win Toastmasters International’s World Championship of Public Speaking.
He quit his job at Bose and started traveling around the world to conventions. That led him to Las Vegas, where, about a year ago he decided to stay. Here he has easy access to convention traffic, and he gets all the stage time he wants—so much that even the license plate on his silver Mercedes SLK says “STGTIME.”
But what’s most important to him is that during that stage time, his audience is gracious. Teaching is a performance in itself and people actually thank him after his shows. It’s a big change from the comedy circuit. “People were glad when I got off the stage because I was so bad,” he says.
Now, LaCroix is the one getting the last laugh.