Passion Projects: Legal pros by day, comedians by night

Michael and Beverly Murray are all business by day, but after hours the married couple is a load of laughs. When they leave the daily hustle of their legal careers, Michael, an immigration attorney, and Beverly, a paralegal, are hustling to build up Miami’s comedy scene.

Michael is a former improv performer whose latest side project, a comedy karaoke night called Karaoke Gigante, launched this month at Ball & Chain. Beverly is the author of Back That Sass Up, a comedy blog that loves Miami as much as it pokes fun at it. We caught up with these two to tap into their passion for jokes and why they love making Miami laugh.

How did you get started in comedy?

Michael: I started doing improvisational theater a little bit in college, and then I moved to Los Angeles and took some classes at The Groundlings.

I’ve had this very sporadic, tepid relationship with stand-up comedy on an extremely amateur level, in which I dip into it once every few years and write a five-minute set and do an open mic night, and then I lose that set in a drawer somewhere. Which is exactly the wrong way of how one should pursue stand-up comedy as a career. For me, it’s always just been a hobby, and it’s exciting to get up there and challenge myself to perform.

Beverly: I’ve been writing creatively since I was six. I remember just kind of holing up in my bedroom with a notebook and writing little funny skits or stories about life. I also took quite a few creative writing classes in college, and I always had an interest in it.

The turning point was really in my early 20s, when I was going out and dating. What I realized was that the process of dating itself was so comedic, and the people I was dating just lent itself to so many zany, ridiculous stories that I would actually look forward to each date, even if it was a complete bust, just so I could type it up as a story and email it to all my friends before the days of blogs.

Along the way, I started out a couple of blogs, and I just launched Back That Sass Up. It’s heavily based on Miami and what it’s like to not be from here and being probably the only Asian person you’re seeing for months on end.

Running into another Asian person in Miami is like spotting another endangered panda bear in a forest. I’m always like “Oh! Oh! You’re here too! Let’s be friends!” That was a big culture shock moving from L.A.

It’s funny, we met in Miami, but Michael and I were at the same spots in L.A. and never ran into each other. We were both going to comedy things and karaoke nights, like at the Farmer’s Market, but we just never met up there. Are you getting the karaoke theme here?

Yeah, definitely. And now you started this new karaoke night, Michael. Tell us about it.

Michael: Well, aside from improv and stand up, in a more unconventional mode, I’ve been really into karaoke. I’m not a good singer. I don’t have a good voice at all. But that’s not really what karaoke is about. That’s lost on many people, but it’s never been lost on me, because I can’t sing.

I used to go to Farmer’s Market in L.A. and the greatest thing about it is that I would go sing like a Duran Duran song or something, and then right after a 90-year-old woman in a feather boa would get up and sing “Hot Stuff” and everyone would just go crazy for her. That level of celebratory love, and not taking yourself seriously, and just having fun, that spirit is what I’ve always loved about karaoke and about comedy.

So, that level of karaoke, I’ve never seen in Miami. People are just a little too image-conscious, if you haven’t noticed. (I have that license to say that, because I was born here.) So, I’m trying to just experiment and capture some of that silly, spirited, creative zest from L.A. and put it into this show at Ball & Chain.

Kicking it at the first Karaoke Gigante, earlier this month.

It’s called Karaoke Gigante, which is a play on Sabado Gigante, of course, and instead of the host being Don Francisco, my stage name is Don Guapo. It’s not scripted, and I’m just a host. We’ll see if little bits of magic happen, and we’ll have some salsa music in between. There are props and stuff and prizes. It’s on Calle Ocho, and that’s a character in itself. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

So, Beverly, you do more written work and less performance. Why is that?

Beverly: I like being behind the scenes. I love to write and I love making people laugh, but not necessarily on the stage. The fact that people email me or tell me or comment on the Facebook page that they laughed or that it made their morning, that’s it for me. I don’t need the money or the applause, really.

Michael: … But she does do a mean rendition of “Big Pimpin’.”

You have careers and lives, but comedy really drives you, even in a place like Miami, where there’s not a huge scene for it. Why?

Michael: I loved Los Angeles, but I had to make the decision to either stay there and try to eek out a living following my passion for comedy, or I could go back to Miami where I had contacts and networks and follow this more practical path of law that I also love, and build the creative infrastructure that I wanted to do comedy. So, that’s what I chose.

Beverly: This city is so special in that no one ever moves here because they want to be part of a safe, stable and vanilla scene. I think that what is so amazing about Miami, and what lends itself to good comedy is that there’s conflict.

There are a lot of different people from a lot of different backgrounds jammed into this one metropolis, that’s growing, perhaps a little bit too quickly and there’s bound to be a lot of conflict that bubbles up. Within that, lies the true gem of comedy. It generates a lot of material.

I don’t have to look very hard to find something that’s absurd or funny about Miami. All I have to do is walk down the street, try to have a transaction at a bank, go to Whole Foods … There’s a very sexually charged energy in that new downtown Whole Foods. It’s basically this nature documentary mating ground between noon and 2 p.m.

Michael: Oh yeah, there’s a lot of furtive glances over that hot bar. A lot of fake texting to check out the girl at the soup counter.

Beverly: I mean, I just came in for a salad, but it’s total gluten-free love in there.

The next Karaoke Gigante is set for March 18 at Ball & Chain.