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THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED: THE LEVELED MENTALITY OF MICHAEL PRITCHARD

www.michaelpritchard.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED: THE LEVELED MENTALITY OF MICHAEL PRITCHARD

ARTICLE BY SHANE GRAHAM / INTRO BY JOHN WHITMAN

It was Emmanuel Swedenborg who said: “The Rich always want to be richer, the powerful always want more power, but you gotta leave the happy alone.” That has been a philosophy of Dr. Michael Pritchard, a man known by many in Marin County as a local celebrity and friend. But if you were to ask him he would insist on only being the latter. Mike Pritchard grew up all over the country, and by the time he was an adult, after serving in the Vietnam War, he started to work as a youth probation officer in the city of St. Louis, all while pursuing a career as a standup comedian. Basically he would make people laugh while helping youth with their problems. As much as Mike enjoyed both jobs, he knew that eventually the time would come where he would have to choose one…or would he?

While Mike didn’t exactly take the route of super star comedians like Robin Williams, Billy Crystal or Whoppie Goldberg (all of whom Mike has had the pleasure of working with) to become household names and make lots of money, he still to this day uses standup comedy and stars in film and television projects, but his first priority is helping the youth of not only his community of Marin County, but all over the country. Mike was nice enough to sit d own with me at his favorite coffee spot and tell me straight up why he took the road less traveled and chose to work with youth instead of fame and fortune.

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Tell us about your early career as a standup comedian.

I arrived in San Francisco in 77 to continue my work with kids and a bunch of them told me about the Holy City Zoo and I’m so glad they did because it’s where I met my wife of 37 years. By then I had already known Robin Williams for about a year and I was watching him self-isolate. That was my first glimpse of the world of professional stand up. I started doing standup professionally and I was drinking a lot because I was so anxious on stage. All the guys said I was funny until the beer kicked in. ‘You missed a lot of jokes and timing’ they would yell, and that hit me hard. But not as hard as when one of the kids I was in charge of said ‘how can you help me with my heroin if you’re a drunk?’ My partner Mel Philips1 said he’s right. I quit drinking right then and there. I had slips, but my life changed for the better. Within 8 months I won a comedy competition, I was on Johnny Carson, appeared on an Emmy winning episode of ‘Taxi’2 and signed a contract for $100,000 with NBC. All within 8 months! But my Mom, who is Irish Catholic said “why did you quit your city job, you had dental” I said Mom I’m making 10 times what I did, and I’m not getting shot at or stabbed. And she says “So? You never quit a city job.” Needless to say I held onto my city job, just in case.

1 Before working with Mike Pritchard and youth Mel Phillips was a San Francisco 49er
2 That episode was titled “Elaine’s Strange Triangle” in which Mike played a large homosexual who loved to dance.

So let’s put humility aside for a second, you were probably on your way to being a star?

01726 Maybe, but it was me that said nuh-uh. Hollywood is a place where people spend all their time searching for each other’s weakness. I didn’t know how severe it was, only recently after Robin died and I saw how it treated his family. Here’s a man who spent all his time doing USO, raising money for homeless, and making movies that uplifted. It was the abuse of power by the press that was so tragic for everyone in the family: his daughter was attacked on social media, the family was so disrespected. I went to church one morning and I was grateful that my level of fame would not draw hurtfulness to my family. I am so grateful that I walked away from show business. I get to work with doctors, special needs kids, hospice, PTSD vets. There were probably 500+ press there and not one took a statement from an ambulance worker. You saw people with no filters and saying such cruel things. Let me put it this way, I met a guy in hospice who said: ‘I hired a lawyer I hate, to defend me from family I hate more’ I see so much wealth. It was so clear to me, that I made the right choice. People are only focusing on the money and who gets it.

What was your single “aw-ha moment” in deciding to work with youth as opposed to the life of fame and fortune?

When working on the documentary ‘Happy’3 a guy who was worth almost a billion dollars was depressed after an accident, and he sent people to me because I was always happy. That’s one moment that recently happened that stands out to me. There wasn’t really a single moment, but bottom line I couldn’t find anyone who was happy in show business, not even the comedians. My “famous” friends would call me because they were depressed, mean while I’m in the back yard with “regular” friends, and my wife, being happy because we’re playing a game of find the M&M in the whip cream. Filming PBS series, being a working class guy, teaching kids, that has always been enough for me.

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I was still doing standup, but not as much because the clubs were getting dark: drug abuse, overly drinking. Hollywood is this place where the more exposure I had, the worse things I saw. I was offered a sitcom, around 1988, and everyone said this is gonna be big for me. It was created by a man named Danny Arnold. He came to me, and he looks at me and says “I’m gonna hire a bunch of writers, you’re gonna make money and you’re gonna hate me, and I’m gonna hate you because it won’t be enough. Or you can stay working with kids and change their lives. What do you think you should do?” I laughed and thanked him. The rest is history

But let’s not act like you haven’t gained any fame; you’ve gained quite a bit of notoriety on the public speaking circuit. Any projects you’re working on now?

Right now we’re working on the “Uplifting Down”, a documentary about kids with Down syndrome, we’re actually being honored by the UN, When you get around the show biz and see how tragic it is, I get reassured. My son works as sit com writer, a son who is a doctor, and daughter who is a ‘hairapist’. All of them are happy. Happy is not fame or fortune, its relationships. People want to have a lot, but need less! Marin County is one giant garage sale of stuff people thought they could keep forever.

3 ‘Happy’ is a documentary that examines people from all walks of life and what makes them happy.

You mentioned your son is a writer, now with a hit sitcom. Are you at all nervous about him being sucked in to that dark side of Hollywood?

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No not at all. He never wanted to be a performer, he’s strictly a writer. In fact I said be a writer or be a producer. When I go to a fellow actor’s house, there are always pictures of other famous people. When I go to a producer’s house I see Van Gohs and Picassos. If you’re a successful writer, no one knows who the hell you are, you can be a fly on the wall.

Do you ever wonder “what if” I chose to focus more on being a comedian and a star?

No, just the opposite, nothing but gratitude. You’d have to counsel so many stars and their kids as I have to realize how unhappy they are. Not all of them, but so much. We think when they have money they have no problems. You can ask Brad Pitt, Walberg, Clooney and everyone will tell you home is that place you go where they have to let you in.

All you’re teaching is values. There was this moment in my life, I was giving heart massage and CPR to a guy in show business(a superstar) and two weeks later he’s talking shit about me on the radio. I said how could he do that, and a fellow comedian looks at me and says ‘cocaine’. Those were the guideposts, for me to not want that life style.

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Who were your inspirations growing up?

My parents. The Ratto family4. Catholics who live Catholic lives. Frank Ratto showing trophies with pride in his eyes, he wasn’t showing trophies, he was showing life. In order to understand wealth, you have to understand poverty. And definitely Robin Williams. Robin and I would spend time with the homeless guy on the street, play ball with developmentally challenged adults, go to hospitals with Cancer patients, do USO shows, prison shows, but on any given night be in front of billionaires. On any night you go from feeding homeless to a San Francisco ball room, looking into a crowd of people who own the world, and buy politicians like sox. So it’s not just people that inspire me, but moments like that as well.

4.  A local Marin County Family who are pillars of the community.

One thing Mike Pritchard taught me was that it has been scientifically proven that helping others is what makes people the happiest. If that is the case, then Mike Pritchard is the happiest person I know. I, along with many others, envy him for his ability to reach and help youth. But just when I thought I couldn’t envy him anymore, it turns out I do. I wouldn’t blame Mike if he regretted choosing the road less traveled of a career of helping instead of a career of fame and fortune, or even for wondering what if. But now I see that not only is there no regrets, but not even a question. Mike knows exactly where he is supposed to be, and that is being surrounded by those he cares about while helping make this world a better place.

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 SHADOWBOX STAFF WRITER CONTRIBUTION TRACK TO MR. PRITCHARD

 MIKE PRITCHARD SHARES THE SHADOWBOX MISSION TO END BULLYING FOR GOOD.

If you wish to learn more about Mike Pritchard or book him for an event you can visit his web page at www.michaelpritchard.com.

MORE DETAILS ON THE SHADOWBOX ANTI-BULLYING CAMPAIGN COMING SOON  SB.TV_logo_8.15.13

If you wish to learn more about Mike Pritchard or book him for an event you can visit his web page at www.michaelpritchard.com.

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Also published on Medium.