Local comedian and producer Casey Moran talks about his journey through depression and how a career in sports broadcasting led to the stage
On a recent foggy November night in Moorpark, a disco ball hung above a small corner stage in Jax Pizza on New L.A. Avenue. While a black drum kit stood silent in the corner, Animal from the Muppets jumped through his latest Geico commercial on the overhead TVs.
Maybe he’d drop in and bang out a rimshot for the comedians gracing Jax’s stage. Unlikely, but the city itself may seem an unlikely destination for professional stand-up comedy.
“I got really lucky with this opportunity,” says host Casey Moran. “In June a friend messaged me: ‘I’m working at this place, wanna do a comedy show here?’ I was already doing one in Camarillo.”
A long-time resident of Simi Valley, Moran knows about the sense of isolation even busy suburbs can bring.
“I look at cities, there’s not much going on. This is an opportunity to bring some positivity to a town that could use it. People are all going through stuff. We’re here for them.”
“The best part is when people come up and say ‘thank you for bringing comedy here! It means so much. We needed a laugh.’ I did a show in Simi and someone said ‘I went to a funeral, we came to get a drink and there was a show so we stayed. Thank you so much.’ That’s what it’s all about.”
Some comedians and producers, Moran agrees, have a knack for bringing comedy into unlikely corners.
“What Stephanie Clark does with Funny Girl Events, she is a master at finding a place, a little wine bar and turning it into a comedy show. She’s one of the best at it. And Tom (Clark) is so funny. Those people are what this world needs most.”
So what does Moran bring to a show like Jax?
“We all need laughter. It’s universal. And,” he added, “you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
The city beneath the sleepy fog grew up around the straight shot that is New Los Angeles Avenue. The long sloping road served for years as a secret shortcut around the truck scales of the Ventura freeway, poised atop the peak of the Camarillo grade.
Then housing in nearby idyllic suburbs became prohibitively expensive. Developers eyed the little ranch town.
And those new suburbs were going to need entertainment.
Moran’s show at Jax Pizza runs every first Thursday. Recent slates have featured some notable performers: Samantha Hale recently released her comedy special ‘I’m Only Happy When it’s Raining Men,’ and the December 2nd show was headlined by Conan O’Brien writer Laurie Kilmartin.
“Shows are just starting to come indoors again,” Moran said, who speaks often and easily about his battle with clinical depression.
“What the pandemic taught me was – the world got depression. People who didn’t understand depression, maybe they understand it more because they had to isolate.”
“It feels good to do comedy, an art form, to heal not just others but yourself. You start to really realize what’s important. I’ve done benefit shows. Laughter heals. Telling jokes has helped when I didn’t have a therapist. It’s been my therapy, and comics – the Samantha Hales, the Alex Hoopers are my therapists.”
“It’s OK to take a mental health day whether you have issues or not. Sometimes I just wanna lay in bed all day. I can sit inside and cry, but it’s not going to take eight hours. I have to do these things or I’m gonna go crazy.”
The 35 year-old Moran has already worn a lot of hats: comedian, radio announcer, podcaster and producer.
“I worked at the Regal movie theatre in Simi. I was sixteen. Loved it. I was part of this group called UFL: Ushers for Life. The camaraderie, it’s very much like comedians.”
“Maybe there’s a dream job out there. But if there is? I want to create it myself.”
In recent years Moran has found himself more likely alternating between those two enduring masks: the classic Greek Comedy & Tragedy symbols. He may battle depression, but producing comedy shows has been a reason to get out of bed.
“I started comedy because I was a sportscaster,” Moran says of his years working with Angels Radio. “Had an agent, did all that. It was great. When I stopped, I needed an outlet. I did a comedy podcast to help me through it.”
Then came stand-up. “I thought ‘I could try that. I could perform.’ So I went up, bombed for two years and learned how to put on shows.”
Moran recently sat down over a burrito and Sprite to discuss trading in broadcasting for the joy of producing, his time living with depression, and how comedy has helped balance it out.
“I like to produce now more than I like to perform,” Moran said. “Be sure the crowd’s having a good time, that the comics get paid and fed. That’s helped me tremendously. It’s a form of therapy.”
“And it’s gonna sound weird but I didn’t intend for it to be. I thought it was just going to be a way to occupy my time. I had so much time after I left sportscasting. I lost friendships and relationships and all kinds of stuff because I was so focused on ‘making it.’”
“With stand-up, I never wanted to make it. I still don’t. The lifestyle of an actual comic – I don’t want to say I’m not an actual comic, but I’m not someone who can stay out til two in the morning, go on the road to random towns. I have depression, I need to be in bed by ten!”
Moran now revels in the groundwork of assembling shows. Like a baseball manager he assembles a team, provides the field and presents his line-up card on game day.
“Producing gets me that creative outlet. Especially during Covid. People need to let go of what’s building up, building up. Putting on a show, meeting these people, I never thought that was going to help me.”
“As a host, you can be part of the show without being the headlining act. I no longer want the attention. If I can make you laugh by putting on other comics, then I made you laugh.”
“You have to step aside and say ‘I’m not gonna be Jerry Seinfeld,’ but I can be the guy who produces Seinfeld’s show. Other people will get credit and I’m OK with that. When I was younger? I was like ‘fuck that, I wanna be the guy.’”
“What I live for is people coming up after a show and saying ‘hey, this really helped me.’ You don’t realize what you’re working through until you’re midway through it. Then you get messages from people that say ‘hey I didn’t know how to get out of bed today. But then I heard what you said and I related to that. And I got up, brushed my teeth and took a shower.’ That’s why I do what I do. Those messages keep you going.”
When not producing, Moran works with ARC of Ventura County helping adults with developmental disabilities.
“I was in entertainment, making good money. But I hated myself. I didn’t realize it. I didn’t like that cut-throat industry. Now I’m really helping people. And those people are smiling. These are people who have autism, they have reasons not to smile. And I’m mad about, what, not having the wifi code?”
“I don’t know what my reason for living is, but I think I was put on this Earth to do something good for people. I’m hoping that one day I can look back and go ‘OK, this was meant to be.’ There’s a reason I got into entertainment, there’s a reason I got out. There’s a reason I got into sportscasting, there’s a reason I got out of sportscasting. You start to look at that and say ‘OK, what’s next?’
There are plenty of old sayings about being the early bird, sticking to things, going down swinging. An American comedian once said ‘eighty percent of success is just showing up.’
“That’s accurate,” Moran said. “Here’s what you learn in comedy: rejection, how to be heard even when no one wants to hear you, and to speak your truth and hope someone’s listening.”
“In improv, you’re working with other people. But comedy? In comedy it’s only you and the stage. Live by the sword, die by the sword. That stuff happens. You could have a great day, and the next day you get jumped outside of Arby’s. It taught me, don’t go to Arby’s. It taught me to just keep going.”
“Failure is not trying. Not picking up the bat and swinging. You’ve just gotta keep showing up.”
Moran talked about how his role began to come into focus in the comedy scene, and about writing new jokes.
“When I was starting out I did observational stuff, because I thought that’s what you were supposed to do. It wasn’t until year four that I wanted to talk about me, to really get into my depression. I’ve never had to deal with people stealing my jokes. Talking about being in a mental hospital? That’s my experience. Someone can’t take that.”
Does he still write about his experiences?
“Yeah. I went on Grinder because I was bored with Tinder. There were times when I put myself in dangerous situations and thought ‘I’m gonna write a joke about this.’ But now? I just need to get home and not die.”
“Now as a host, I prepare my own set like bullet points. It’s a pet peeve of mine when a host spends too much time doing their own jokes, when a host does ten minutes, then five between comics. It’s about the comics. Nobody’s coming to see the host. Just introduce the comic. All you need to do.”
“I’ll do five minutes, get the crowd fired up, the comics fired up. Don’t be a ball hog. I don’t wanna be the manager who takes credit for his players. Samantha Hale’s not funny because I made her funny. Someone like Sam, she was meant to be a performer. I’m a manager, able to put my players in the right position and let them play their game. As a manager you’re trying to win. For your teammates and the fans.”
LEAVING THE SAFE ZONE
Many with conditions such as anxiety or clinical depression are often tempted to just stay in bed or whatever safe zone they’ve established.
“For a long time, my parent’s house was my ‘safe zone,’” Moran said. “My bubble. Now my safe zone is the stage, and helping people off-stage.”
Has he got any idea on where it’s all leading?
“Currently I’m looking to move out of state. I’m in a better place physically, emotionally than I was. Right now, it’s Wilmington, North Carolina. Where Dawson’s Creek was filmed. I’m a big Dawson’s Creek fan. And there’s nothing holding me back. Even friendships are growing apart. It feels like maybe it’s my time to do that.”
“The problem with the Safe Zone is: sometimes you get complacent. I know sportscasters who never left the town they were in. They had offers. Big markets. They didn’t take the opportunity.”
“With comedy, some people don’t leave what they’re comfortable with. People don’t like change,” Moran says. “I didn’t when I was in my 20’s. Love it now. The idea of something new? Fresh, exciting, scary all at once? I’m ready.”
CASEY MORAN hosts Comedy Night at Jax Pizza on the first Thursday of every month. For info, call: (805) 529-6220
Comedy Night at Jax
530 New Los Angeles Ave
Every first Thursday
CREDITS: Lance Tooks is a former illustrator at Marvel. Beverly Willenberg is an L.A. based artist, available at Artcritterarts.etsy.com