Risk and reward
Mike E. Winfield
Mike E. Winfield always knew he wanted to be in the spotlight, but he wasn’t quite sure how. The Sacramento-based stand-up comedian grew up in Baltimore and graduated from Sacramento State. He aimed to be a sports announcer, but ever since watching Eddie Murphy as a child, it was comedy that beckoned. Performing stand-up for only eight years, Winfield has already appeared on Comedy Central’s Live at Gotham, ABC’s Comics Unleashed and BET’s Comic View. Most recently, he made his debut appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman on November 19.
How did it feel to get Letterman? How did you react when it happened?
I didn’t really want to talk about it. It was like keeping a big secret. This is big. This is the one comedians really want. It’s one of the biggest ones, if not the biggest.
How about the waiting game?
I was bumped twice. It was hard the very last time I got bumped, because I made it all the way to New York. I was literally in my car on the way to the hotel, and that’s when I got the call that they put on the Chilean miners. I was just so close, but that’s the one that got me the most.
Did you get a chance to enjoy New York?
Absolutely, I was there twice. (Laughs.) I did about four or five shows. I was in Harlem, I was in Manhattan. I did The Comic Strip, too. They call that “the house that Eddie Murphy built.”
How did you get Letterman so early in your career?
I think it was a lot of hard work. When you work hard at anything, results are going to show. The results aren’t always going to come in the fashion that you think they will. They just show up.
Describe your work ethic.
I write daily. When I get offstage, I review all my tapes and audio tapes and I take notes. I take any risk that I want to do. I’ve never been afraid to take risks. I think a lot of these things add up.
Did you know you were destined for the stage?
No, but something in me knew it, because all the things I wanted to do involved being in front of people. I wanted to be a newscaster. I wanted to be a sports announcer. I thought I was funny, like everyone else in the world. I was in a speech class. When I went to the front, everyone tuned in. They would laugh no matter what my subject was.
Were you a funny kid?
[Teachers] always selected me as the master of ceremonies in [elementary and middle] school. They would always have me in front of people. As far as the funny part, I loved comedy. I always knew I wanted to be in entertainment.
Who are your comedy influences?
My cousin got a copy of Eddie Murphy’s Raw. That was the first stand-up that I saw. He had that in the basement, and we watched that, and that was exciting. That was like a breakthrough.
Are other people in your family funny?
If I had to just pick one person I got it from, I would say my grandma. She’s not even subtle. I have a down-to-earth family. Everybody has some jokes in them.
How old are you?
I like to keep my age ambiguous. I will tell you why. Because I tell everyone how much older my wife is than I am, because that’s like a big deal in my comedy. I talk about the age difference we have. If I tell my age, then that would let her age out, and then I’d be ruined. (Laughs.)
What are your future goals in comedy?
I would like to have a TV show one day. I want to be in some movies. My biggest goal is I’m going to be a talk-show host.
Do you think this Letterman set will pave the way?
Every time you do something, it’s just different for everyone. This can be huge, or this can be just another building block. I do know on paper, it looks gigantic. I’m grateful to have this credit, and I’m looking to doing bigger and better things.
Have your kids watched you on TV?
That’s the joy of my life. It’s one of the most fulfilling feelings ever. In my TV appearances, I’ve made efforts to be really clean. They can watch me, I don’t feel weird. I can’t watch it, because I don’t like to watch myself on TV.