Comedian Allan Finn, who will be one of the featured comics at the second annual Toronto Jewish Comedy Festival: Jews on the Roof, said that his road to forging a career in the stand-up circuit was by no means a smooth one.
Born in Belgium to Russian-Ukrainian parents, he was raised in the Bronx, before moving to a New Jersey suburb and finally settled in Queens as an adult. Finn, born Fuks, said his last name was just one of the things that made for a challenging childhood.
Finn said his parents came to the United States from the former Soviet Union with nothing.
“They were fleeing, not only for better opportunities, but they were fleeing oppression and vicious anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union,” he said.
“My father had to go through his own personal hell in the Soviet Union, not being accepted into schools solely on the basis of his religion.… He was getting into fights all the time when people would call my grandmother or someone in the family a filthy Jew.… I remember my father’s speech to me when I was a kid. He said, ‘Joy doesn’t exist. Friendship is a myth. And if people like you, chances are you just don’t know yet what they’re after.’ ”
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Despite coming from “some of the most serious people you’ll ever meet,” Finn found himself attracted to the comedy scene.
“It was finally some catharsis, it was a relief, it was almost a liberation,” he said.
But growing up with a name like Fuks, he recalled being teased and bullied by other kids, which contributed to his development of insecurities and stage fright.
“I would need to take like a week off work, just to get in the right mindset, to be able to get up on stage. Every show was a huge deal for me and I knew I wasn’t going to get anywhere like that,” he said, adding that because of his stage fright, he wasn’t able to work regularly enough to forge a full-time career in comedy.
Everything changed following an accident that caused Finn to suffer a debilitating back injury that required multiple surgeries.
“I fell down a flight of stairs … and I wrecked my back. I was in excruciating agony,” he recalls.
He said he made the decision that if his final surgery in 2010 was successful, he’d go into stand-up comedy “full-force.”
“Thankfully, it worked. I decided right after that life is too short and you never know how many days you have where you’re able to walk around on your own … and be healthy. Who knows how much time we have to do that,” he said.
When it came to his stage fright, he said he knew it was something he needed to overcome.
“I felt that I couldn’t let that get the best of me,” he said. “I forced myself to get up there and do things that would take me out of my comfort zone.”
And on May 28, at the Regent Theatre in Toronto, Finn will have yet another opportunity to get on stage and delight audiences with jokes about his Jewish-Russian background, his very serious parents, his life, dating and “screw ups and terrible predicaments I’ve gotten myself into.”
The show will be hosted Simon Rakoff, a Just for Laughs alum, and headlined by Ian Sirota, a Gemini-nominated comic who has opened for legendary comedians, including Jerry Seinfeld, Jim Gaffigan, Dennis Miller, Robin Williams and Dana Carvey.
For more information, or for tickets, visit jewishcomedyfestival.com.