Duplessy Foundation’s Profiles in Purpose series is a celebration of people pursuing their life purpose. Our profiles highlight indviduals from all walks of life who have chosen to pursue purpose-driven lives.
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Corey Manning relishes challenges. The 30-something North Carolina transplant left his job at Mass Mentoring Partnership to run TryMEntertainment, the business idea he’s been nurturing for the past decade. He calls it “Comedian by Night, Superhero by Day,” aka performing on the nightclub circuit and then waking up to inspire young people at seminars that meld his humor and mentorship skills.
We sat down with Corey at his Dudley Square apartment and office on a recent Sunday to talk about his passions, who inspires him, and what his own ice-cream flavor would taste like. Here are the highlights:
Q: How did you first get involved in the nonprofit world?
A: What got me started in [the nonprofit world] was being involved in this program called “Public Allies.” “Public Allies” is a national organization, a ten-month apprenticeship that places young adults, between 18 and 30, into community service organizations for ten months. So while I was doing that four days out of the week, one day I would get personal training on conflict resolution, peer mediation, how to implement those trainings. It was fulfilling because I was giving back and I was doing direct service with a lot of young people in the communities where I grew up, so I really enjoyed doing that. When I had the opportunity to move to Boston six years ago, I was looking for a job that would help fuel that same passion or goal. When I was a little kid my goal was to get a job where I could travel, be teaching, have my own office with a nice window and all that stuff and Mass Mentoring gave me all that.
Q: Why are you moving are on then?
A: I had my goal for like five years, so now I’m saying, “OK, what next? What’s the next step in this process?” For me, I’ve always had this dream of doing stand-up comedy. I dreamed about being a stand-up comedian, watching the “Tonight Show,” Richard Pryor, Robin Williams, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Abbott and Costello. I always liked being funny and making people laugh. So it was doing that and also being a superhero. It was like, “How can I do both?”, so my moniker is “Comedian by night, superhero by day.” And what I do at night is, of course, I tell jokes and by day, I do consulting work, working with youth and also adults. So I said I could literally do this a business. That’s my focus over the next couple months and years to come, to really build that into a profitable business.”
Q: Can you give an example of how the concept works?
A: Four years ago I worked with Citizen Schools and did a training on the art and business of being a stand-up comedian. They asked me to come in and teach them how to do stand-up comedy and what the business part of it was [like]. With my background in youth development, in the midst of it I saw it as an opportunity to work on their self-esteem, speaking in front of groups, how to use comedy as a means to understand homework – memorization, things of that nature, work great.
One of the exercises we did was looking up a word in a dictionary, finding a word that you never used before and using that word and making it funny. So what some of the young people got out of it was “OK, this is a way I can really use vocabulary words – by making it funny.” So they’re writing funny sentences, they’re clowning it, but they’re still learning it at the same time.
Q: Expand on that: How is comedy more than just being funny?
A: What I try to do with my comedy is incorporate teachable moments in the jokes. Some of the stuff can be some serious stuff. It can be controversial. I love being funny on stage, I love joking on stage, but to me comedy is not a joke. Sometimes it’s very important to get across information that people need to understand.
I did this show called “Confessions of a Black Man in Boston” and it touched on some of the issues that black men go through in the Boston area. It wasn’t just something that I came up with. It was based on conversations I had with men of color and also other men and other women about issues black men go through and questions you might want to ask a black man. The thing was you had to be honest – “What would you ask him?”
So [the show] talked about race relations, interracial dating, it spoke to the dating scene for men and how it’s challenge for men and women. Talking about that stuff allows people to be honest when you do comedy because you don’t have to be serious, it’s relaxing, and that’s one of the things people say I have a great ability do – make people feel comfortable and relaxed when I’m interacting with them and facilitating trainings and it carries over onstage. It just opens the door for people to be honest and comfortable.
Q: How did you get involved with D3B? What do you like about it?
A: Derrick met me at a comedy show about four years ago, came up to me and said, ‘Man, I’m leaving my job’ – it’s kind of the same situation I’m in now – ‘I’m leaving my job, I want to do some things, I want to do this fundraiser for this organization that did so much for me. Can you do a comedy show for us?’ And it was like, ‘Yeah, cool,’ we did the comedy show and it was a great success the first year. We came back and did it again last year and he was like, ‘Let’s do it again!’ What I like about this one is it’s people pursuing their passion. That’s perfect. It’s ironic because I’m leaving my job to pursue my passion so it’s exciting for me to host it along with a group of talents who are doing exactly what I’m doing, which is pursuing that passion. Just being around people who are pursuing their passions, it’s energizing to me.
Q: What is your passion at its core?
A: I would say it is “edutainment.” It’s using the arts to provide unique experiences and facilitate trainings. So next to my son it would have to be entertainment, but I don’t think I’m just an entertainer. I like to educate when I entertain.
Q: What obstacles have you overcome to get where you are today?
A: I grew up in a single-parent home – four boys, my mom, in a two-bedroom house – and that’s why what I’m doing now is so amazing. I can remember those days and going to sleep at night potentially not having enough to eat. You had four big boys in the house so food becomes scarce sometimes. I also have a 10-year-old son living in North Carolina. That’s where my biggest obstacle is right now for me. Not being able to spend as much with him as I’d like. This also affords me the opportunity to get down to see him more. With the comedy and superhero thing, I can take that anywhere and do it, so the goal is to not only do that here in Boston, but to be able to take that to other cities.
Q: What message do you have for younger students to stay focused and achieve?
A: It’s not simplistic, but it’s as simple as this: It’s about deciding what would you do with your life if you had all the money you needed to take care of all of your bills and if you had all of that, what would you do for free in your free time? It’s about trying to find a way making a living doing that. Doing stand-up comedy and working with young people – I would do it for free. I would seriously do it for free, but still the lights have to be on, I need a place to stay and my son needs school clothes.
It’s about figuring out what you want to do when you grow up and you can do it. Like I said, for the past six years, I’ve been doing what my goal was [for] when I grew up. If I can achieve my goal, why can’t I pursue my dream? You need to chase after your dream as soon as you can because you never know when you might wake up. Once you wake up, you’re dream’s going to be gone.
Q: Who inspires you to achieve?
A: Professionally, the people that I admire are Dave Chappelle, Will Smith, Oprah Whitney with her rich self. Oprah’s so rich. Any time you could put your picture on your magazine every week, that’s too much money. That’s what I’m going to do, come out with my own magazine and just start putting my picture on it every week. I doubt my sales would rise, but at least I’d have a collection. Every chance I get I like to read biographies of people who are in the field that I’m in and how they got to be there. Bernie Mac is a great example. Bernie Mac had been doing comedy before he got on Def Jam in 1990 – he had been doing it for like 20 years. The world didn’t know who Bernie Mac was until the “Bernie Mac Show,” which was like five or six years ago when it came on the air. This man had been doing comedy for like 30 years before was “famous.”
Q: How do you measure success?
A: I know that success is possible. It’s how you measure it and my measure of success is not about being famous. If it happens, that’s great, but that’s not what I want to do. What I want to do is be able to make a living being a comedian by night and superhero by day. If I can go around the world and be able to perform at night and speak to kids in different communities during the day, then that’s successful.”
Q: What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?
A: “Everything But.” It’s a Ben & Jerry’s flavor. Everything’s in it. Either that or cookies and cream. If I could make my own ice cream I would take vanilla with some Snickers bar, granola, peanuts, some hot chocolate. Yeah, I’d put all that in the ice cream.
Corey Manning is the first recipient of the Duplessy Foundation’s Pursuit of Purpose award which recognizes individuals who are pursuing their life purpose and creating a positive example for their community.
You can learn more about ‘Hero by Day, Comedian by Night’ at www.coreymanning.com