When Michael Che took the stage three years ago at Caroline’s in Manhattan, he was polished, poised and prepared. Che left the tiny stage to hearty applause. The big surprise was that Che made his stand-up debut in 2010. His development continues at warp speed.
Che, who will open for Mike Epps on Friday at the Mahaffey, was a writer for “Saturday Night Live” until he left in April to become a correspondent on “The Daily Show.” Che also is co-starring in an upcoming Chris Rock film, “Top Five,” which will hit movie screens next month.
“It’s been incredible,” Che said. “I couldn’t have written a better script for me.”
The 30-year-old isn’t an overnight sensation, but he’s close.
“I’m loving this,” Che said of his rapid ascent during a phone call from his Queens, New York, home. “It’s wild how I’ve gotten here so quickly.”
Up until April, he strolled through the halls of 30 Rock while working for “SNL.”
“I worked in the Yankee Stadium of comedy,” Che said. “ Eddie Murphy, Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray. Comedy legends worked there.”
And then there is “The Daily Show,” which is as demanding as “SNL.” As a result, he’s had little time for other projects or stand-up.
“That’s why I jumped at the chance to work with Chris Rock,” Che said. “I squeezed it in to be in a movie with him. He plays a very successful comedian going through a rough patch. I play one of his friends from the old neighborhood. It was a surreal experience being in a movie with him and Tracy Morgan.”
Che opened a bunch of dates for Morgan in 2013. “I learned a lot from him,” Che said. “Tracy said my stage presence sucked. He told me that when you play to 2,000 people that you can’t stand still. It was cool. If he didn’t care he wouldn’t have said anything.”
The laid-back Che is a quick study who is an inveterate comic. He won’t use stand-up as a way to score a sitcom or a starring role in a film. “It’s the opposite for me,” Che said. “I want to work in films and television so I can get more notice and play bigger venues. For me, it’s all about stand-up.”
For him, the approach to comedy is simple. “I find things that confuse me and I talk about them,” Che said. “Fortunately, I’m easily confused.”
He also waxes about why it’s better to be liked than loved. “You always hear about people killing their loved ones,” Che said. “You never hear about anyone killing someone they liked.”
Che grew up the youngest of seven children on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. “When you’re at that spot in the birth order, you learn to look around and observe,” he said. “I think that’s helped me as a comic. I learned to appreciate things because we didn’t have money for much.”
Prior to making the leap into stand-up, Che thought about taking comedy classes. “But I couldn’t afford them,” he said.
He’s been learning on the fly. “I’ve had to take it all in rapidly,” he said. ”It’s all happened extremely fast but I’m thrilled about that. For some comics, it never happens at all.”
Che doesn’t dream of about being on the level of Rock or Morgan. He could live with the success the late theatrical comic Patrice O’Neal enjoyed.
“Patrice was amazing,” Che said. “He did some television. He broadened his fan base, but he never became a big star, and that’s all right. He got to make a living doing what he loved. That’s what I want to do.”
Che is already there. It wouldn’t be surprising if the quick-witted, self-effacing comic breathes the rarified air Dave Chappelle and a lionized few enjoy.
“If that happens, that’s great,” Che said. “But I’m not desperate for the fame and fortune. I’m doing fine. Just let me get out there and perform to an audience.”