“I’m the son of immigrants, a true American,” stand-up comedian Russ Rivas told me. “My father was Guatemalan, and my mother was a Jew from Poland. That’s an awkward mix of a heritage. I always wanted to hit the piñata, but I was afraid that if I broke it we couldn’t return it to the store.”“It’s my theory that Italians are all descended from Jews and Guatemalans, because everywhere I go, people think I’m an Italian. I can’t even get a table at a restaurant without the hostess seating me with my back to the wall.”
Russ grew up in the south side of Chicago. After high school he proudly served our country for four years as a soldier. After the army he proudly serviced our cars for 12 years as a mechanic. He was his garage’s funny guy, and his coworkers always told him he ought to do stand-up comedy. Unlike most people who are told they ought to do stand-up, Russ actually went and did stand-up at a club. Eighteen months later he was touring the country, and now 27 years later we can’t get rid of him.
“I love being a comedian instead of a mechanic,” said Russ “I still marvel that my fingernails are clean now. Also, if I wasn’t funny, how else could I have married a woman who’s so much prettier than I am? She’s younger than me, too, but we still share a lot in common. I read books, and she colors them. As soon as I get her a green card I’m going to have her do my bookkeeping.”
“When you’ve been doing comedy for as long as I have,” explained Russ, “you’ve got to learn humility. When I was coming up, my dream was always to headline in Vegas. And then, one day, it finally happened for me. I took a limo to the Maxim and paid the driver $20 to take my picture in front of the marquee. It said ‘Russ Rivas’ in big letters. But then I noticed, above my name and in even bigger letters, were the words ‘All You Can Eat Shrimp $14.99.’ That made me appreciate that no matter how far I got, I’d always be second to shrimp. I should have gone into the shrimp business.”
“Rodney Dangerfield gave me a big scare one time,” Russ reminisced. “I was opening for him and his friend in Denver back when they were shooting Ladybugs. His friend was being a real pain in the neck, telling me how to introduce him, how to warm the crowd up for him, poking me in the chest, being rude like that. So when it was time to bring him up on stage, I just nonchalantly said ‘Here’s so-and-so’ and left. That’s the comedian’s equivalent of not tapping gloves before a boxing match. As I was walking off stage, I heard Rodney call out ‘Hey kid, come here’ to me. I figured I was toast, that I’d never work in comedy again. Rodney was the king back then, and I’d just burned his pal. But when I went up to him he said ‘That was good, kid, he had it coming.’”
Russ Rivas is an agent with Comedy Productions in Sioux City, Iowa. If you would like to engage Russ or one of his performers’ unique brands of comedy for your upcoming corporate event, you may reach him by calling (712) 276-3035 or writing to firstname.lastname@example.org.
By David Scheller