As the youngest of three boys, all Eli Leonard was looking to do was get a laugh out of his older brothers.
“I was four and six years younger, and I would do like pretty much anything to make my brothers laugh,” Leonard said. “I would hit Beanie Babies on my crotch trying to make them laugh. It worked. I was 5, but I really got them.”
Leonard, a Minneapolis native who lives in Los Angeles now, is back in town this week for both standup shows and his one-man show. The stand-up performances with Sam Salem are at Sisyphus Brewing on Oct. 20 and 21, and the Minneapolis premiere of Good Show Biz, is at the Phoenix Theater Oct. 26.
Comedy has advanced beyond the crotch-shot for Leonard. He said his comedy writing starts with the very shticky “12 Gates” at Herzl Camp, a Saturday night, post-Havdallah staple.
“I really tried to go for when I learned that it actually was a career,” he said. “Jason Shapiro and Jake Lieberman are both Minneapolis guys who went to Herzl and went to LA and I saw that they had jobs. Once I saw that it was like possible at all for someone from our community, I went out my junior year of college for an internship. And then just started to get up on stage as much as I could.
“I was seeing more people talk about how it was possible, and how you just have to hang in there. And then I was like, I don’t know, I could hang in there.”
Life in comedy isn’t easy, and Leonard is living the grind day in, day out.
“Not only do you live and die paycheck to paycheck, but you you live and die based on the last laugh you got,” he said. “If I have a bad show in front of 10 people, I’m in the dumps until the next time I get on stage – where I think I’m going to do terrible again. And then if I do well, I’m on top of the world again.”
Leonard is lucky enough to have one of the kings of comedy as a mentor, Curb Your Enthusiasm creator Larry David. Leonard worked as an assistant to David before pitching ideas to him. If David puts them in the show, Leonard gets paid for them.
“He’s definitely been a North Star for a lot of my life and then being able to work for him and see how he does it has been extremely helpful,” he said.
As someone who writes jokes and sketches, Leonard picked up from David keeping a journal.
“He’s always writing whatever he sees,” Leonard said. “That’s something that he told me, and it was the simplest thing to hear, but he said just write down whatever you see.”
That life lesson from one of the best in the business is how Leonard has 30 minutes of standup to go with a 75-minute one-man show. There is some crossover of material – maybe 5 or 10 minutes he said. But his shows start with working through the ideas he’s written down.
“I go up on stage and see what worked and what didn’t work,” he said. “With stand-up, I just accumulate [material]. But I’m an improvisational stand-up: I have this material, and my goal when I go on stage is to see how little of it I can do and still have the audience laughing.”
The audience is a key difference between the stand-up act and the one-man show.
“With the one-man show, while it does rely heavily on the audience, I still am able to lock down something so that I know I’ll be good at it,” he said. “Also it’s more emotional for me to make this one-man show yeah, because I get so few chances to really try it out. I can go to an open mic any day to and work out a joke, but I can’t work out pieces of the one-man show without an audience in a theater.”