Funny, Famous, and From Here

NA grad Joe Kwaczala, '04, performed a 30-minute stand-up special on Comedy Central earlier this month.

Joe Kwaczala, NA '04, went from writing

image courtesy of Comedy Central

Joe Kwaczala, NA '04, went from writing "pretty bad" humor pieces for the NASH school newspaper to performing his jokes on the big stage for Comedy Central.

By Jordan Atkins, North Allegheny Senior High School

It’s not uncommon for North Allegheny grads to go on to successful careers out of college, but 2004 alumnus Joe Kwaczala might be hard to top.

Earlier this month, Kwaczala’s stand-up comedy show “The Difference Between Being a Bad Boy and a Bad Guy” premiered on Comedy Central, garnering him a national audience for his talent.

Kwaczala’s interest in stand-up comedy began in college.

“In the back of my head, I always wanted to do comedy, but I didn’t think it was realistic,” he said in a recent interview with the Uproar.

It was at Notre Dame that Kwaczala found his calling.

“When I was a freshman in college I saw that there was a stand-up night where students could perform, and that gave me the confidence to get on stage,” he said. “I figured if my peers could try it, so could I.”

  Be persistent. You cannot get good at anything unless you work hard at it for a long period of time.”

— Joe Kwaczala, NA '04, Comedy Central comedian

Kwaczala continued, “After that first set, I kept finding or making my own opportunities to perform on campus, then at open mics in Pittsburgh during the summer breaks, and eventually at open mics in Chicago after graduation.”

Soon after his time in Chicago, Kwaczala moved to Los Angeles, California, where he currently resides.

“I never lived in Pittsburgh as an adult, so I guess the biggest lifestyle change is that in Los Angeles, I don’t sleep in a room next to my parents,” Joe said.

Kwaczala remembered his time as a North Allegheny student fondly.

“Like any sane person, my most fond memories of high school are goofing around with my friends,” he said. “Imagine if I said, ‘Definitely AP Chemistry!’ I also wrote stupid ‘humor pieces’ for the school newspaper that were pretty bad but definitely helped me find my voice a little bit.”

It’s no secret that making it big in the entertainment industry requires years and sometimes decades of effort. It took Kwaczala twelve years to get to where he is now, and it has been 15 years since he graduated.

“It was around 2007 when I started to perform stand-up regularly, and my first break was being asked to perform at Comedy Central’s big annual festival, Clusterfest,” he said. “That was in 2017. A year later, I found out I’d be doing a half-hour special with the network, and it took about another year for the special to be filmed and then get on TV.”

Kwaczala’s advice to NA students who aspire to careers in entertainment is straightforward.

“Find a way to do the thing you want to do, ideally in public,” he said. “If you want to do stand-up, there are open mic nights in nearly every city. If you want to act, take a class. If you want to write, find places where you can submit your stuff.”

He also encouraged students to use their youth to their advantage, as they are in a position to absorb the most knowledge from others.

“You’re young and you can and should learn from other people,” he said. “Whether that’s in a formal classroom setting somewhere or in a more non-traditional setting, that’s up to you and what you can find. But working with, or even just being around, other creative people is important.”

Kwaczala also mentions the importance of being repetitive and persistent in anything you want to achieve.

This story was originally published on The Uproar on November 24, 2019.