Banking on a lucky streak

Patrick Combs is enjoying a lucrative run with his monologue about cashing a junk mail cheque, reports Colette Sheridan

AMERICAN writer and performer, Patrick Combs, returns to Cork with his real life David versus Goliath-like story next week. Combs’s show, Man 1, Bank 0, which he performed at the Everyman Palace Theatre last year, is at the Cork Opera House on Mar 13 as part of a national tour. The show is Combs’ account of taking on a bank after depositing a junk mail cheque for $95,000 which was cashed to his personal bank account.

Man 1, Bank 0 has captured the imagination of audiences with its fantasy-like element of suddenly coming into a large sum of money. The windfall was timely for Combs, who had run up credit card debts of $45,000. But he only lodged the cheque as a joke. Instead of signing the back of it, he drew a smiley face on it, which he hoped would make a bank teller laugh. Having forgotten about the cheque, he was astonished when he checked his balance five days later. The $95,000 was there. What ensued was one man’s stand against the might of a bank, whose officials threatened Combs with ‘jail time’ and ‘death.’ He took on the bank on the basis of “the principle of the matter.”

Combs, who spent seven weeks in Ireland last year, is “proud to be back presenting this show in an economy where the banks have been dastardly. My show is a stand against banks being dastardly. It reminds people that banks can lose too.”

In 2004, a talent scout from HBO spotted Combs performing Man 1, Bank 0 in a 40-seat theatre. She thought his show was the best she had seen all year and booked him into “the No 1 comedy festival in the US, the HBO Comedy Festival in Colorado.” It was the start of a roller coaster for Combs, who had been struggling with his business as a motivational speaker. He is now a successful speaker, writer and performer and has published three books.

Combs says: “There is this surprise that I could make a two hour show about depositing a cheque in a bank, seeing it cashed and then being told to give it back. In fact, I’m done with that in the first five minutes of the show. All hell breaks loose after that.”

The show is not just about Combs. “I bring 13 characters alive in front of the audience’s eyes, helped by multi-visual aids. The point of the show is to make the audience think about what they’d do (in a situation like his). I give them my experience so that they meet the banker, they meet my mother who is terrified, and they meet my brother whose values are suddenly turned upside down by money.”

Combs won’t disclose what happened to the $95,000. All is revealed in the show. He is now financially comfortable but admits to feelings of insecurity. “I’ve worked on the script for so many hours to make it look easy, but it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. Every performer, including Jay Leno, knows that you make your living off your talent and there’s always the fear that opportunities to perform will dry up. Right now, things are going great. My next show, Foolhardy, better be big. But I’m going to be a blue collar guy until the day I die. I was raised in a trailer house. No matter how big my house gets, you never leave the trailer house. I know the value of working hard for my money.”

Combs says that the show has “a very satisfying ending. Audiences don’t know what happens with the money until the last few minutes. The last three minutes are my favourite part of the show and the audience’s too.”

Foolhardy was inspired by Combs’s observation that he lacks “the gene that should stop you from doing certain things. I’ve had more humiliating moments than any human being I’ve ever met. Being foolhardy puts you in situations that you have no business being in.”

Combs is the first member of his family to graduate from college. “Going to college wasn’t a reflection on me. It’s a reflection on my mother. She is the hero in my story. She barely graduated from high school but she raised us with very good simple messages; do what you love, don’t worry about making mistakes – and look up the encyclopedias she bought us.” Mrs Combs is no doubt proud of her son, who has made hay from a piece of junk-mail. You couldn’t make it up.


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