Tingle shares his path to becoming a comedian

(Tingle encouraged audience members to follow their passions. Photo by Cesareo Contreras.)

Upon reflection, 61-year-old award-winning political humorist Jimmy Tingle sees success as a string of unforeseen opportunities just waiting to be acted upon.

“No one knows what is going to happen in our own lives,” Tingle said. “Life just unfolds and I think if you just keep on trying and just follow your passions and do what you really want to do, you can do it.”

As a precursor to his political comedy show in DPAC, Tingle shared his story with a small group of students and faculty in the Forum on Thursday, Oct. 27.

Graduating with a master’s degree from Harvard’s John F Kennedy School of Government, and with appearances on both “The Tonight Show” and “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” Tingle is no stranger to both the political and comedic stages. 

Tingle said he “lucked out” and found a passion for comedy as a young man after he performed at an open mic night at a comedy club which had just opened up down the street from his house in Cambridge.

While he initially thought he wanted to go into teaching, Tingle decided to pursue political comedy.

It’s a transition that was sparked by the lessons he learned while at college as he became more literate in the humanities, he said. 

Additionally, he was inspired by a film that featured the comedian Lenny Bruce, “who used humor to question norms of society,” he said. 

After Tingle graduated from UMass Darmouth, he began performing at open mics regularly and started street performing in Harvard Square.     

“I would go up there with my hat, coat [and] harmonica,” Tingle said. “I admit there is a fine line between street performing and simply being drunk in public, but I was up there doing my thing and it was a ball.”

On his way up the professional comedic ladder, however, Tingle said he became an alcoholic.

Tingle said alcohol made him a “different person.”    

He reached a turning point after his friend Colin Quinn, a former Saturday Night Live cast member, told him alcohol was holding him back from comedic stardom. 

Quinn pointed Jimmy to God, he said. 

After going through detox, Tingle said he moved out to New York, avoided alcohol, started putting his faith in God and prayed on a regular basis. 

Eventually, through this routine, Tingle said his addiction subsided and his comedy act improved. 

“I thought I was good when I was buzzed, but when I wasn’t buzzed I was much better and I went further and faster sober as a comedian then I ever did under the influence,” he said.

He hasn’t had a drink in over 25 years, he said.

Tingle added, “This is what I mean when I say nobody knows what is going to happen in life. I never thought I would become an alcoholic. I never thought I would start drinking and I never thought I’d become a comedian when I was in college.”

Tingle compared the world to a large white canvas just waiting to be drawn on by FSU students.

“There are challenges,” Tingle said. “You need a paint brush or a little crayon. You need something to draw with, but the point is we can do almost anything in this country or world, and that’s my honest opinion.”