Michael Kosta
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Michael Kosta

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"Illini Tennis Standout makes headlines as comedian"

Then... Now: Illini tennis standout makes headlines as comedian

By Paul Klee
The News-Gazette

CHAMPAIGN – To answer the question – when did you know you had made it as
a comedian? – Michael Kosta had to consider the options.

Was it the invitation to the HBO Comedy Festival? Alumni include Jerry
Seinfeld and Chris Rock, two of Kosta's comedic idols. Or maybe was it
Kosta's national television debut Friday night on Comedy Central's "Live
at Gotham"?

"It's amazing how much a national TV credit adds to your reputation, if
you will," he said.

All good options, for sure, but Kosta knew he had made it as a comedian
when fans sought his autograph. Female fans, with Sharpies.

"When I signed a woman's stomach, I knew I was on my way," said Kosta, 27.
"When I signed a woman's breast, I knew I had made it."

He was joking, of course, but there is plenty of truth in his humor.

Whereas Kosta used to send zingers over the net, the former Illinois men's
tennis standout now sends them across the stage. After three years as a
professional tennis player and a brief stint as an assistant coach at
Michigan, Kosta is carving out a career on the comedy circuit.

His standup routine, developed for mature audiences, is popular enough
that he is booked for shows in Chicago, Indianapolis and Atlanta in July.
In the fall, he's booked in San Francisco and Detroit among other locales.

Still, and perhaps still joking, Kosta claimed his celebrity was larger as
an Illinois tennis player than as a comedian. He won 184 matches – 10th
most in the program's history – and helped the Illini into national

He credited former UI coach Craig Tiley for building his confidence on
stage. On road trips, Tiley would ask Kosta to address large gatherings,
such as when he spoke to a host family prior to the 2002 NCAA tournament
at College Station, Texas.

"Any chance Craig had, he was throwing me up there," said Kosta, a speech
communications major during his time at Illinois. "I didn't realize how
much he had helped me in that regard until I became a comic. He was always
putting me in these speaking positions. I was always trying to make my
speech funny."

There are parallels between tennis and life as a comedian, he said.
Mainly, the competitive aspect and "picking yourself up when it isn't
going well," he said. While the comedian's career is taking off, it seldom
has been easy. During one act he was pelted by a beer can. Another time,
"I had a woman in East St. Louis told me I was going to hell," Kosta said.

At a nightclub in Michigan he found that his microphone had gone silent.

"I said, 'The microphone is off,' " he recalled. "They said, 'No, we're
bringing on the next guy. You're finished.' "

Crummy scenarios like those are not unlike a double-fault to lose a tennis
match, or a shanked backhand.

"I didn't understand how vicious it is until some of those experiences,"
Kosta said. "I played tennis all around the world. There is nothing like
standing up there and trying to make people laugh and they don't laugh at

More often than not, they are laughing.

Kosta must cater his act to the type of audience before him. A crowd in
Fort Wayne, Ind., he said, reacts to his humor differently than a crowd in
his new home of West Hollywood, Calif. Role models include "the classics,"
he said, like Seinfeld, Rock, Ellen DeGeneres and Dennis Miller, though
his two favorites are Brian Regan and Dennis Tosh.

A normal week includes shows Wednesday through Saturday, while he spends
the rest of his time travelingin between clubs. A list of upcoming shows
can be found at www.michaelkosta.com.

Strangely, tennis-related jokes are rare.

"That's something I want to start incorporating more because tennis is
such a big part of my life," Kosta said. "When I first started doing this,
I wanted to keep them separated. I didn't want to be talking about a girl
having a nice (butt) while being paid by the University of Michigan."

Truth is, Kosta admitted, he will never say he has made it. Competition on
- The Champaign News Gazette

"A Bigger Stage- a former minor-league tennis player tries a new act"

Michael Kosta slept at a La Quinta Inn last night. “‘La Quinta’ is Spanish for ‘Next to Denny’s,’” Kosta deadpans. “But then again, ‘Denny’s’ is Spanish for ‘food poisoning.’”

But seriously, folks. Kosta does spend the bulk of his time on the road, pinballing around the country as a professional stand-up comic. The 27-year-old is working his way up from smaller venues to the biggest stages. He’s out there alone, performing by himself, making adjustments on his own. “It’s all on me,” he says. “When I kill, I did it. When I eat it, I did it, too.”

Which is to say, Kosta’s existence as a funny man is a lot like his previous one as a tennis player. A native of Ann Arbor, Mich., Kosta was a top junior in the late ’90s, playing the national event in Kalamazoo twice. He also played for four years at the University of Illinois at a time when the Illini program was beginning to establish its supremacy in college tennis. “Once I left, they won [64] straight matches and an NCAA title,” he says. “Guess they got rid of the right guy, huh?”

Kosta graduated in 2002 and, like so many good-but-not-great college players, he circumnavigated the globe trolling for ATP ranking points at Futures events. A big-serving baseliner, he topped out at No. 864 in singles and No. 439 in doubles. He first made use of his down time by writing a book, 101 Tips for Winning More Tennis Matches (Coaches Choice Books). He then took to writing down observations and assorted thoughts that he found to be funny.

After two years, having exhausted money and patience in equal measure, he quit the ATP grind to become an assistant men’s tennis coach at the University of Michigan. Having transformed his observations into a five-minute comedy act, he tried his hand at stand-up, and damn if it didn’t fire him with the same intoxicating rush that had surged through him when he played a big tennis match. When juggling his coaching duties with a steadily increasing performance schedule became overwhelming, he chose pacing stages over pacing sidelines. “I went to my parents’ house to tell them,” Kosta says. “By which I mean, I went downstairs.” “My dad told me to go for it,” he continues. “My mom
started reading a book titled, When Our Grown Kids Disappoint Us.”

On stage, Kosta channels a cross between Jerry Seinfeld and a better-looking David Spade, his act a mix of satirical narcissism, biting sarcasm, and self-deprecating sex jokes. Some—OK, most—of the material isn’t fit for a family publication. Let’s say this: His business card begins, MICHAEL KOSTA, COMEDIAN AND LOVE MAKER (I MAKE LOVE) . . .

So far, life in front of the faux-brick wall has treated Kosta well. He still teaches tennis in Ann Arbor a few hours a week to supplement his income, but he’s been steadily working his way up the ranks. In March, he performed at the HBO Comedy Festival in Aspen, and
he did a New York gig that will air later this spring on Comedy Central. He’s been hit with a beer can, but he’s also had audience members ask him to autograph their breasts. “It’s a full-time job,” he says. “You’re constantly traveling, writing more material. But I’m loving it. I admit it: I like attention.”

Kosta says he can’t overstate the parallels between comedy and tennis. If he once needed a few minutes to adjust to the wind and court speed, he now eases into his act, gauging the lighting, the age of the audience, its sobriety level. Just as he once “zoned” and “choked” on the court, he can now “kill” and “bomb.” The same way he once watched videotapes of his matches, he now takes the stage with a digital audio recorder in his pocket so he can later dissect his performance. Asked to cite the biggest influences on his career, he ticks off a list of comedians that includes Ellen DeGeneres, but singles out Craig Tiley, his tennis coach at Illinois.

“Preparing. Traveling by yourself. Taking the good nights with the bad nights. Knowing yourself inside and out. Barely making enough money to live on. That’s tennis right there,” he says. “The biggest difference is that in comedy, the competition smokes more, drinks more, and farts more. Otherwise, it’s practically the same drill.”
Tennis Magazine, May 2007
L. Jon Wertheim is a senior writer at Sports Illustrated. He also writes the Tennis Mailbag column on SI.com
- Tennis Magazine





Michael Kosta has appeared on Comedy Central’s ‘Live at Gotham’, and at the HBO/ US Comedy Festival in Aspen, Colorado. His stand up has been seen on TBS during commercial breaks and the summer of 2009 he’ll be showcased on Showtime’s ‘Live Nude Comedy’ (no he won’t be nude) and at the Montreal Just For Laughs Festival. Michael can also be heard on the nationally syndicated Bob and Tom Radio Show and on The Playboy Comedy Channel on XM/ Sirius Satellite radio. Michael recently hosted his second season of “CCHA All Access” on the Fox Sports Network, where he won a Michigan EMMY as a performer/host. Michael lives in Los Angeles where he hopes to soon become famous and forget all the little people.