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Comedy called, Gid Pool picked up

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Standup comic Gid Pool of North Port is finding success late in life. (STAFF PHOTOS / THOMAS BENDER)

Callings are funny. Sometimes they don’t make noise until you’re ready to listen. Gid Pool heard his at age 61.

Today, the North Port retiree is a standup comedian, and not one begging for marquees either. He’s been working the circuit for only six years, in which time The Wall Street Journal and TV journalist Jane Pauley have both jumped on his narrative. Pool’s tale began at Sarasota’s McCurdy’s Comedy Theatre in 2006, when he enrolled at the Humor Institute, crafted his first joke and discovered he could make audiences grin.

The adrenaline surge of inciting laughter was so potent that Pool was reborn with each clap. It had taken him more than six decades to experience that kind of joy, and from then on, he vowed he wasn’t going to waste another day without it.

And he hasn’t.

“My generation is the very first generation that gets a ‘do over’ for all those things that we wanted to do but didn’t. We grew up thinking you go to college, get a job, work for the same company, retire and die,” says Pool, now 67. “I never did anything like this. So now, it’s like getting a scratch-off lottery ticket that says, ‘You win.’ That’s what I feel like.”

On May 22, Pool will have the fortune of being featured on Pauley’s “Your Life Calling” on the NBC “Today” show and aarp.org -- an award-winning monthly series about people ages 50 and older who are reinventing themselves. Pauley is the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) contributor to the program, and she interviewed Pool on April 20 at McCurdy’s.

Pauley’s other subjects include a well driller who provides clean water to African villages, an Alabama man who uses his Social Security checks to raise prostate cancer awareness in poor communities, and a former filmmaker who is reforming the Chinese orphanage system.

The day Pauley’s segment airs, Pool will be appearing at the Sertoma Club of Greater Sarasota. On May 14, he’ll be back at McCurdy’s. Then it’s on to Bermuda, North Carolina, Virginia, Louisiana and various Florida venues. Last year, he spent 107 of 365 days on a cruise ship, teaching comedy classes and showcasing routines, and he is now in the process of booking gigs at mega churches countrywide.

Crowds dig his relatable joke repertoire, which touches on everything from bargain shopping at Sam’s Club with his wife to his dog’s gross idiosyncrasies.

“When you go up on stage, you’ve got about a minute to get the audience to like you,” Pool says. “I walk up, stand there and go ‘This is what you get’ (with a deadpan expression) and ‘I can see it on your faces, you were expecting somebody older.’ ”

The shtick works, and it’s because of who Pool is. He’s just a real, likeable guy whose conversational approach and southern drawl endear him to crowds.

Happenstance brought him into the industry, however. He didn’t enter retirement planning to follow a new, nontraditional career path. He just took a McCurdy’s course on a whim and found out he was funny -- a truth he never realized, apart from being the “class clown” in grade school and entertaining strangers in elevators.

“We’ve been teaching comedy classes since 1986, so we’ve had thousands of people come through. Granted, a lot of those people just want to do it one time for the experience, like jumping out of an airplane,” McCurdy’s owner Les McCurdy says. “Very few people get to the professional level, and even fewer than that get to a point where they can make a living at it. It’s inspiring to see anybody do that, and I especially love the fact that someone like Gid has taken this challenge at the age of 61.”

Pool’s life challenges have taken him practically everywhere else, from the journalism business to the insurance sales game. He graduated from Caldwell County High School in Princeton, Ky., in 1963; attended Western Kentucky College; served in the Air Force from 1964 to 1968 during the Vietnam War; and worked at his father’s newspaper. Pool returned to the Army in 1973 in the public affairs office at Fort McNair, D.C.; won some writing awards; dabbled in real estate; and graduated from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., in 1994. He has been a ski instructor and an employee at a pool management company, too.

“I’ve never been an overachiever. I went to college and I didn’t go to class. I went to a small school in Kentucky, and of the five seniors on my basketball team, one’s now a doctor, one’s head of surgery in a hospital, one’s a lawyer, one’s a pharmacist who owns several drug stores, and then there’s me,” Pool says. “All these guys were high achievers. And all these guys have had bypass surgery. Yet, as I went through my life, for some reason, I was always comparing myself to those guys.”

At some point, Pool stopped caring, and it had a lot to do with that first rendezvous with a microphone. Even when people didn’t take to his punch lines, the rejection made him more resilient. It made him want to overachieve to maximize those laughs. He was motivated, more than he’d ever been at any vocation.

“When people didn’t laugh, it was awful, of course. But comedians, by and large, somewhere in there, there’s a DNA code that’s bent,” Pool says. “That’s the thing that allows us to get beat up tonight but say tomorrow we’ll be better.”

In 2010, Pool watched the documentary “I Am Comic,” which introduced Steve Roye of killerstandup.com, a computer training program that teaches comedians how to generate positive audience reactions. Pool now calls the system his “success secret” that helped him pull 20 seconds of laughs out of every minute onstage.

He went from emceeing at Visani Restaurant and Comedy Theater in Port Charlotte to playing the Holland America Line and cruising the globe. In 2009, he was one of the winners at Missouri’s Branson Comedy Festival. His passion is wildly lucrative, and for the first time in his life, Pool’s barometer for success isn’t external. In essence, he has nothing left to lose and not too many more years to do what he loves.

“Growing older, it’s not so much about ego anymore,” says Pool, whose wife Jane, a retired English schoolteacher, is his steadiest support. He also has one son, Gid Scott Pool, an Army flight instructor with two children.

McCurdy is thrilled that the world is taking notice of his pupil. He’s even prouder that Pool is inspiring other seniors with his “it’s never too late” mentality and resolve.

“In a time when you generally thought you’d slow down and start taking safer roads in your life, it’s nice to see people who do the exact opposite and challenge themselves to do things that are kind of scary,” McCurdy says.

Well, Pool isn’t scared of anything anymore. He’s old enough to know better.

UPDATE: NBC has changed the airing of Gid Pool's appearance on "Your Life Calling" from May 11 to May 22.

For more information on Gid Pool, visit web.me.com/gidpool. For more information on McCurdy’s Humor Institute, visit mccurdyscomedy.com.
Last modified: May 4, 2012
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