After a decade as a comedian, Zoltan Kaszas got an unexpected boost this year thanks in part to his cat Jessica.
In the aptly titled “Cat Jokes,” a special he did for Dry Bar Comedy, Kaszas was talking about cat people versus dog people (He’s not anti-dog, he just likes dogs when they’re other people’s dogs).
A video of that joke went viral on Facebook, gaining nearly 15 million views, including a few from the people behind the reality competition show “America’s Got Talent,” who reached out to Kaszas to schedule an audition.
Kaszas described the audition experience in a recent episode of his podcast, “This Week in Zoltan,” including what it was like to audition after a man whose act involved him wearing a homemade butterfly costume.
“It was a slow reveal of what his act was going to be sitting in the waiting room …,” Kaszas said. “If I get on the show and everything goes well, there’s still a really solid chance I’m going to be beaten by a juggler or a human butterfly.”
Kaszas expects to hear back about his audition sometime in January. Before then, he’ll headline the Spokane Comedy Club through Saturday.
The last time Kaszas was in Spokane, sandwiched in between headlining gigs of his own, he opened for both Josh Blue and Gilbert Gottfried.
The latter of which was particularly exciting for Kaszas, as he grew up watching Gottfried in the ’90s film series “Problem Child.”
“I know him as Mr. Peabody, so it was really cool to be in the same green room,” he said.
Growing up, Kaszas used schools presentations as his own comedy shows, often using his full time, while his classmates dreaded speaking in front of the class.
“That’s where I brought my grade point average up,” he said. “I wasn’t doing homework, but I would get an A for the speeches and book reports.”
In 2006, Kaszas took his comedy beyond the classroom and performed at his first open mic night, looking for something that would occupy his time after he had shoulder surgery.
Kaszas bombed, getting laughs where he wasn’t expecting them and nothing in the spaces he was, but nonetheless, he was hooked.
“I ended up booking a show and ended up canceling the surgery, so my shoulders are still messed up,” he said. “Comedy has led to zero great decisions.”
But it has also led him to performances around the country, including first place gigs at the Seattle International Comedy Competition, the San Diego Comedy Festival, San Diego’s Funniest Person Contest and the Rockstar Energy Drink Comedy Throwdown.
In May, Kaszas recorded an album, “Uncle McFatFat,” at the Mad House in his hometown of San Diego, and in August, Kaszas took his act overseas to the month-long Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland where he premiered a set called “American Immigrant.”
Kaszas said it was a great experience but also quickly learned the difference between American and international audiences.
“Those audiences I felt like I couldn’t be lengthy with,” he said. “Here in the States, I feel like even if a joke’s not finished, I can get by on a little pizzazz or make a goofy face and fumble my way through it til I get to a laugh if I’m working on a new bit. But over there, they’re very content-heavy.”
But Kaszas enjoyed the challenge and ended up writing one of his favorite jokes after adjusting to the audience.
More recently, Kaszas performed at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona, which he also discussed on “This Week in Zoltan.”
Kaszas said he approaches college shows a little more loosely than he does a club show.
At the Embry-Riddle show, for instance, the person controlling the lights and sound would edit Kaszas’ background with a word or phrase depending on the joke, and a student in the audience was knitting, so both elements made it into his set.
“It might lighten the room up and make you seem present and in the moment, which I always try to do no matter where I perform,” he said.
Come next year, Kaszas could be performing on a much grander scale if he makes it onto “America’s Got Talent,” though he could also see himself writing for TV and has sent in writing packets to a few shows.
He wouldn’t mind working in front of the television camera either, though he’s not giving up stand up anytime soon.
In the meantime, it’s back to the cat people who made that clip from “Cat Jokes” go viral.
“I get messages all the time from crazy cat people across the country who send me pictures of their cats,” he said. “I respond to all of them. ‘Gee, she’s fuzzy.’ I’m running out of things to say to people’s cats, but it’s a good problem to have.”
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