If you asked a teenage Michael Kosta what tennis meant to him, he’d tell you, “It’s no laughing matter.”
After all, the now 36-year-old comedian grew up in Ann Arbor playing competitively before going on to win four Big Ten titles with the University of Illinois. It was getting serious. But when it came time for the pro circuit, Kosta topped at number 864 in the world, earning around $11,000 over four years. That’s when he began to see some humor in competition.
After moving back home to work as an assistant tennis coach at the University of Michigan, Kosta turned to stand-up, eventually breaking out at the HBO Comedy and Arts Festival in Aspen.
Naturally, before returning to perform a run of shows at Dr. Grins Comedy Club (20 Monroe Ave. NW) this month, he’ll also stop by a different home court when performing as the emcee during the exhibition match at this year’s USTA Nationals in Kalamazoo on Aug 6.
“Junior tennis is pretty intense,” Kosta said of performing for the USTA crowd. “I love doing stand-up comedy and it’s my job, but tennis is also a big part of my life. To go back and mix being funny with the sport that I love and spent 25 years of my life playing, it’s a real pleasure.”
Obviously, the material is pretty different. Commentating is improvisational and there’s kind of an implied PG rating at any K–12 sports match. The crowd itself brings another vibe as well.
Dr. Grins Comedy Club
20 Monroe Ave. NW, Grand Rapids
Aug. 11–13, 8 p.m., 9 p.m., 10:30 p.m., $5-$15
thebob.com/drgrinscomedy, (616) 356-2000
“I’m not dealing with drunk audience members who are ordering fried mozzarella sticks,” he said. “Instead it’s tennis players and their parents in a competitive environment, so it’s fun to give them a little entertainment.”
Kosta relocated to Los Angeles in 2005 and began a career in comedy and television that saw him making regular appearances on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Chelsea Lately, Conan, @Midnight, and his own special Comedy Central Presents: Michael Kosta.
He also made a brief return home while hosting Fox Sports Detroit’s CCHA: All Access, which earned him two Michigan Emmys. Of course, never losing his sense of humor, Kosta comically posed with the award on the cover of his debut comedy album, Champion, in 2009.
More recently, he mixed that sports experience and his comedic chops as co-host on Fox Sports 1’s Crowd Goes Wild in 2014. Doing the show live allowed him to get real-time feedback from fans — and haters — via social media. He became especially intrigued by the negative feedback and, in 2015 explored the absolute worst of the trolls on the Internet as host of E!’s short-lived series The Comment Section.
Kosta doesn’t feel that the show — or his string of other cancelled or never-aired TV series — has made his comedy darker. Instead he thinks he’s just evolved as he’s gotten older.
“I don’t want to use the word ‘smarter,’ because I don’t love that type of humor,” he said. “I think maybe I’m touching on less goofy ideas, maybe not as silly. I’m happy to be politically incorrect, not just to piss people off, but I think it’s important that we allow real and open discussion on certain topics. I mean, it’s very hard to write a joke on gun control, but if you can pull it off, maybe you can say something that is valuable.”
After the release of his second standup album, Comedy For Attractive People, in 2014, Kosta started his own podcast, titled Worst Birthday with Michael Kosta. He’s still working on the project, with all 42 episodes available on iTunes and the All Things Comedy Network.
“I’ve been a part of so many worst birthdays, with girlfriends and ex-girlfriends,” he said. “I somehow always seem to screw up and make it their worst birthday. So I was motivated to share these funny, real worst birthdays with people, and hopefully we can just lower the expectation on birthdays.”