Rick is a real court jester
Rick Roberts manages to keep a busy comedy schedule while also being a Partner in a law firm. He’s performed at Caroline’s Comedy Club in New York City as well as Mohegan Sun and several theaters in Connecticut. He regrets not starting sooner because it has been a huge complement to his law career.
In this episode, Rick says that all firms want to have intellectually stimulated staff so why not encourage that? He admits most professional jobs are all-consuming so it’s easy to get into a routine of passive entertainment, like going home and watching television, instead of actively pursuing a passion.
Rick is a partner at Nuzzo & Roberts, a 22 lawyer firm in Cheshire CT, focused on trial work defending people and companies who get sued.
He graduated from Binghamton University and SUNY Buffalo Law School and is now listed in Connecticut and New England Super Lawyers.
Other pictures of Rick
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John: Welcome to Episode 25 of the Green Apple Podcast. Before we jump in to this episode I’ve got a huge favor to ask. I’m doing some research so when you have just a free 60 seconds, please answer my anonymous survey about employee engagement by going to greenapplepodcast.com and click on the big green button. I know you’re super busy so I designed it with just a few questions. The more data points I have the more legit my research so I really, really appreciate it.
And now let me introduce you to this week’s guest, Rick Roberts. Rick is a partner at Nuzzo & Roberts, a 22-lawyer firm in Cheshire, Connecticut, focused on trial work defending people and companies who get sued. He graduated from Binghamton University and SUNY Buffalo Law School and is now listed in Connecticut and New England Super Lawyers. And now I’ve got him here with me on the Green Apple Podcast.
I know you’re a successful lawyer, Rick, but I’m going to mix things up just a bit and start with asking how did you get into comedy.
Rick: I guess I always had that sort of flirtation with the entertainment world going back that far but never really did anything about it. I’ve actually been writing comedy though for about 20 years and I’m 57 but I didn’t start comedy till I was 45, and I had probably hundreds of index cards with sort of jokes and situational humor. And I finally took a class and what sort of propelled me to do that, I was walking down Broadway with my then 12-year old son and I just passed by Caroline’s and said “Oh, I haven’t been to a show here in many years”. And I just walked inside and I saw a little flyer for the Manhattan School of Comedy and it was basically a standup class given by Tom Shillue, who you probably know is a pretty well-established comic.
John: Yeah, yeah, he’s on The Tonight Show with Fallon a lot in those sketches. He’s one of the barbershop quartet guys.
Rick: That’s right, that’s right, he’s great. And I’d already missed one class, I just kind of slipped it in, I said before I die I want to try this. And it was my son who started to say “Are you dying?” We had an intriguing conversation, like “what’s up dad.” And I started talking to my wife about it, she’s heard me mention it before, and she actually deserves credit, “Just shut up and do it, stop whining. Just do it.” So I got on the train, I missed one class but I took five of the last six. As I’m sure you know, consummates with the show in Caroline’s and it was such a thrill and rush that I want to keep doing it and I just kept doing it and that was 12 years ago.
John: Wow! So how does doing comedy mix with your law practice?
Rick: I do civil litigations so most of what our firm does is defend companies and people who’ve been sued and it’s usually in a tort or accident arena. Some newspaper article kind of wrote a story about my comedy hobby said “I do tragedy by day and comedy by night” which is a pretty good summary. Like in the last week I had like two depositions where I had to question in detail someone with a brain injury and then it’s like “Oh, I’m going to get pumped up in my show tonight”, it’s just sort of an interesting contrast and one that works for me because it’s a good release.
John: It almost makes going to work more tolerable, I guess.
Rick: Absolutely! No, absolutely, it’s just a real thrill. I’d go few weeks without doing a show and I actually start to get a little depressed. It’s almost for me you can call it an addiction, that’s one way to look at it. But more importantly, it’s so fun and I just kind of prepare for it. I work out before, I actually jump in a hot tub, I have a whole routine and I’m just ready to go for the night.
John: Now that I know the hot tub is part of your routine, I don’t know… I’m just kidding! Next time we do a show together I’m going to go “Whoa, hey, all right, got your champagne”, you’re all like… you’re like MTV Cribs for Connecticut comedy.
Rick: I have a friend that just gives me a hard time about that all the time, she’ll be like “Did you have your bath yet, did you have your bath…?” I deserve it though.
John: No, no, man, that’s great. My apartment’s not even big enough to have a hot tub in it.
Rick: Well, mine’s outside.
John: Oh, there you go, that makes sense.
Rick: But it’s this part of my routine. And let’s face it, when you’re dealing with… I mean, lawyers get a lot of grief but if you think about it they really do have an annoying job, let’s put it that way. You know when you have a problem whether it’s with your mortgage or with some product that you brought or you were in an accident or you may be facing a divorce, these are very stressful situations and I’m basically throwing myself in these stressful situations 40, 50 hours a week. And then you’re arguing with another lawyer, you have court deadlines to meet… I mean it’s very intellectually-stimulating and I actually really like doing a good job with clients but on the other hand, the stress is there and the comedy is really truly a comic relief for me so it works out great. Although, interestingly, I never talk about law on stage unless it is a bar association because I do kind of like to separate the two.
John: Yeah, that is interesting. So then do your coworkers know that you do comedy or do you kind of keep that under wraps?
Rick: No, they all know. My assistant helps me with flyers and things and some of them are on my–
John: Yeah, that’s what happens when your name is on the door, right?
Rick: Yeah, exactly, exactly. I had my little mini productions through the office. I don’t know, probably 15 of the 50 employees have seen me onstage and most of the lawyers at some point have seen me do a show somewhere along the line, so yeah. It is funny though that not everybody know, for example, this has been happened recently, I’ve got a mediation, serious claims, and I don’t know the claims representative very well. I mean, we’ve talked on the phone but we just never got to “What are your hobbies?” The mediator who’s a retired judge not only knows that I do comedy but have seen me a few times and he’s like “Hey, funny boy, what’s going on?” and the claims person’s like “Whoa! What’s up with that?” And I realized that he assumed that anybody who knows me is going to know that do it.
But interestingly, I don’t always drop that far at all, not right away, and yet I do it more often than I used to. I’m realizing that it’s not something I should hide, it’s something that I should celebrate and share. And people love it, and they’d much rather be talking about standup comedy and how I got into it and what I do and hearing some of my shticks and how I write stuff than talking about the stupid case we have.
John: Right, that’s interesting. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Rick: It’s become a hook whether it’s an existing client that hears about it… Let’s put it this way, the reactions that I’ve gotten have been so much better and supportive than I would have expected. I always was a little bit worried about hey, it is an opposite, you walk like a serious lawyer but you know, people want interesting people to work with whether you’re a client or.. Even other lawyers are kind of fascinated by it and I think it makes my dealings with them more pleasant and probably more humorous because I can maybe get away with more jokes, take some liberties–
John: Yeah, yeah, that was the comedy Rick Roberts that said that part.
Rick: That’s right. So it actually has been relevant to your whole podcast. In some aspects, I think celebrating it has been a lot of fun and I’ve enjoyed how its complemented things. Even my partner who is 15 years my senior, we’ll be chatting at a marketing event and he’s like “Oh, my partner is a standup comic”, he just throws it out there because he realizes it’s a lot more interesting than whatever else we’re just talking about. So it does work in that respect.
John: Yeah, yeah! And I think though that one thing that is important is you could have this hobby or this passion and other people that are listening, you don’t necessarily have to do it at work but just sharing it with your coworkers. It’s one thing to say “Hey, on the weekends I do comedy” and it’s another thing to actually be doing funny things. So people that feel the pressure or maybe if their thing is an activity that you can’t necessarily do at work but you just share it that “This is what I do enjoy doing when I’m not at work” I think is an important thing. And with you you have that skillset where you can actually be doing it at work which is a unique thing but for people that are listening that are like “I can’t do running marathons while I’m working” or…
Rick: Right, but you can live in humor obviously in your personal interaction. Look, most people have great senses of humor, I use comedy often is I’m sort of sarcastic anyway so if I’m giving someone a hard time I’m going to infuse humor into it which is probably not the best management style because they don’t know how much of it is serious. Some of it is serious and some of it I’m just making light of the situation.
John: “Are you really firing me right now?” or “Is there a camera somewhere?” right, right. That’s an excellent point, that there are certain skills that you are sharpening on the nights and weekends when you’re doing shows that others aren’t and you can bring that directly to work with you.
And I guess one thing that you brought up earlier about sharing it at work and the benefits and how people want interesting people to work with which I think is a really good point, I guess before you got into comedy just 12 years ago was there something else that you shared at work or was comedy kind of the thing that broke that open?
Rick: It’s hard to almost look at my pre-comedy era. Again, I always was doing certain funny things. As far as non-comedic interests, I was the president of the film festival in New Haven for about five years and spent a fair amount of time working around that not as creative output as I’d like. I mean after being in high school my mother is a pretty good watercolorist and she was a commercial artist, my sister was an art teacher and still does art, so growing up in my household I learned to do watercolor so on vacation I do something like that.
But I really didn’t have any strong passions or hobbies other than you’ve got little kids and you’re working and you’re exercising and you’re doing a normal life, it’s like who has time for hobbies. And in a way I regret that because it’s fine to just work and take care of your family and watch the movies, go out to dinner, but comedy is such an enriching experience for me artistically, socially, it just added a lot of dimension to my life that I almost regret not pursuing some of those other outside the work interests more seriously. And I also feel like you’re never too old to do anything is another lesson this has taught me. I mean Rodney Dangerfield started around my age actually and I don’t think I quite come as fast as he has but it’s still been a really fun ride.
John: One thing that you said about early on in your career, kids certainly take up time and raising a family, but you never really had a strong passion to begin with, something that you would be even known for at work which is certainly not as strong as comedy which I think is interesting.
Rick: The problem with most professions is they’re fairly all-consuming. None of them are 9:00 to 5:00 jobs and even to the extent that if you work as a lawyer, doctor, accountant, dentist, or whatever, and you’re working 9:00 to 5:00, you don’t have a lot of energy to go do something completely different than get into a whole hobby outside of work, you’re tired. And I think that was part of the reason that especially when you’re a younger lawyer you tend to work 60 hours a week and then 12 hours or ebb and flow throughout your career, and you get home. You may get a drink and you read the paper and you throw on a TV show. It’s just easy to get into that routine. I’m just talking to my daughter about this who grew up on TV and she’s like “Mom and Dad, you’re watching too much TV” — we’re tired.
John: Right. What do you want us to do, we raised you already, we’re done.
Rick: We’re done, that’s right, it’s time to put our feet up, come on. But she’s right. It’s easy to engage in passive entertainment when I could be out taking a dance class or watercolors.
John: Right, that’s an excellent point, that’s the easy route is that passive entertainment but to actually get out there and to your thing and do what you want to do, what’s really inside you, then that certainly takes a little bit of effort and some work.
And I guess when it comes to sharing at work and other sharing, how much do you feel is on the organization to the tone at the top, people like yourself, the names on the door type of thing, to set that tone where people can share, versus people just bringing it up at lunch or talking about their hobby on their own?
Rick: I think it’s a two-way street. I feel like I had been somewhat remiss in not drawing out other people and even encouraging other people’s interests and hobbies. Part of this process and not only this podcast to talking to you before has inspired me a little bit to maybe do something like that where… We have various social functions at work, we have summer outing and a holiday dinner and various other events here and there, when someone has a ten-year anniversary we get a pizza truck and have an hour, lunch on the deck, but why not incorporate something like ten people just stand up and let us know about your hobbies although public speaking probably and death are the two biggest fears people have so I wouldn’t want to subject them to that.
But I’ve been to various conferences where sort of an opening way of getting to know each other you sort of say write something down that many people may not know about you and those really interesting conversation pieces and ways to know people outside the office and maybe even to encourage them. Of course, you don’t want them to feel bad when they don’t have, like they have a dog–
John: Well that’s your thing, it could be that simple, like “I love springer spaniel dogs” — great, at least it’s something. Or even if it is that passive “I love watching Modern Family”, all right, well that’s your show, House of Cards, Scandal, whatever it is, but then at least it’s something. Then at least you have an identity and I know who you are. If you have nothing then man, like I do not want to hang out with you, at all. And everybody’s got something, I mean even before you did comedy, like you said, you ran a film festival, you do watercolors, things like that, that’s at least something. It doesn’t have to be this world changing you’re the only one that does this, oh my goodness, type of thing, it’s something. And if anything, I think more people would gravitate towards “Hey, I got a dog and I hang out with my dog”, “Sweet, me too, because I got nothing.” Then you can relate even more I think to people.
Rick: It’s true. Basically, the way our firm rolls is that there’s a fair amount of events where people drink and hang out so you sort of socialize on that level. But you don’t really often get into… I mean, you might know about people’s families, you might know about if they’re going through some difficulties but you’re right, you really don’t know what people’s passions are. And I certainly don’t know that most employers do anything to encourage those hobbies, passions, avocations, what have you. Even though I’m sure they look at it objectively they realize that you want happy, healthy, creative, intellectually-stimulating people to work with because that puts a good face on your company so why not encourage those things?
And I think very few employers do and I’m probably no exception. I don’t think we do a lot to encourage that. A lot of it is there is the bottom line, in a law firm the only way you get paid is by billed hours which unfortunately is a disincentive to socialize and get to know people really well. It’s sort of like other than interacting on the bare minimum sort of case or file related, I almost feel like… I’m not sure people really want to hang out with me as their boss so I really want to have a little love fest and get to know each other better.
But the truth is, in any organization, I think all those qualities or things you want in employees I certainly look for them when I interview people. You want smart hardworking lawyers and paralegals and legal assistants right up and down a totem pole. But I can tell that other quality, the personality, a big part of that is whether they have a sense of humor, whether they are stiff, whether they’re going to be fun to be with, because yeah, I don’t want someone who’s had a pole up their ass, I don’t want to work with that person. So you want people that are pleasant.
John: Yeah. Are they a three-dimensional person, or are they all law, or do they have something else to help prop them up, to make them a real person. They have that third dimension to them of like “Oh, so you’re human” because if you’re all law, come on, nobody’s all law. I mean, seriously? That’s crazy.
Rick: And if they are it’s kind of scary, let’s face it. I knew a guy in law school, he read every United States Supreme Court decision not because it was related to any class that he was taking — but I have to give him credit, he really was interested in them. And he became very, very successful, worked for the Department of Justice, I haven’t really stayed in touch with him, there are some exceptions to that rule. And God bless him. I really enjoy practicing law but I wasn’t going to read every US Supreme Court case just for pleasure reading.
John: Right, because there’s Google now. Come on, computers do enough of this work for you.
And I think something that you brought up earlier just about how employers and you had admitted as well, a lot of people aren’t, it’s kind of this attitude of okay, work life balance, go do your thing when you have your time and I don’t want to hear about it type of a mentality and that’s where I think the ball is dropped because it should come back, boomerang back where… What if there was a charge code one hour per month where people were sharing or hanging out or getting to know each other better, one hour per month’s not going to kill business, and think of the benefits that could happen from that, or something along those lines.
Rick: Right. Or another idea would be an hour a month maybe have a guest speaker to maybe enlighten people. I don’t work in Manhattan or Boston but the big cities near me are Hartford and New Haven which are not big cities at all. A lot of people who work in my office live in the suburbs and to some extent their world is a little more narrow in their focus, like they wouldn’t tell me “Let me just jump on the train and go down to the city.” But that’s where we’ve had firm retreats. We’ve done that and it’s been really a lot of fun. But why not have a lecture on mindfulness or how to express your artistic side or how to learn how to sculpture or something, like have a sculpture class, have a music appreciate class, or an art appreciation, I mean, why not?
We have a series we try to do for lawyers on sort of continuing legal education that we have, you know, just like in LA Law, they have regular meetings. We have meetings where we talk about cases and shared thoughts and strategies but we also have training– why not expand that to other outside the law type of enlightenment and ways to pursue other interests.
John: Yeah. In the Accounting, CPE world, they’re soft skills or personal development is what they really call it. It’s not the Xs and Os of doing law or doing accounting, it’s how to interact human-to-human type of bases.
Rick: That’s like accounting social skills, it’s almost like as an oxymoron, isn’t it?
John: Ouch! Too soon, Rick, too soon.
Rick: Too soon, I only gave up accounting like five years–
John: Just for that I’m cutting all of this, you’re done, you’re out. No, this has been awesome, man, really, really good. So I guess just to kind of come in for a landing here, kind of wrap it up, do you have any words of encouragement to others that are kind of on the fence or reluctant to share?
Rick: Yeah. Like I said, first of all, it’s never too late to try something. What’s the expression, 90% of life is showing up, if I didn’t show up at that comedy class I would have never had the confidence to take a five-minute bit and do open mikes. You have to kick yourself in the butt to follow your heart and your passion and it’s never really too late to do that. Some people wait till they retire and that’s fine too when they really do have time and they really do have the focus. But there’s no reason to wait till you’re in your mid-60s to try something that floats your boat. It’s not choosing to abandon your full-time career. In my case, I think a complement and a comic relief and a digression, but it is a symbiotic relationship for the reasons we’ve discussed. So yeah, my point is just go for it and kick yourself in the butt to take that first step.
John: Yeah, yeah, that’s awesome. And I feel like we’ve definitely gotten to know you and obviously we’ve hung out before but I still have my 17 rapid fire questions that I run everyone through.
Rick: All right, I’m ready, I’m ready for you.
John: So here we go, man. I hope you’re sitting down, this is not for the suburb weary. Here we go.
First one, Star Wars or Star Trek?
Rick: Star Wars.
John: Cats or dogs?
John: Sudoku or crossword puzzle?
Rick: Crossword puzzle.
John: Jeans or khakis?
John: How about writing a brief or arguing in court?
Rick: Arguing in court.
John: Yeah, I figured so. Your favorite band?
Rick: Like, of all time? I’m still a classic rock — The Who, Pink Floyd, Beatles, Springsteen. That’s my year.
John: Sure, sure, you haven’t left Queens at all. Here’s one, a movie that makes you cry.
Rick: There are many but I guess it’s a Wonderful Life, it’s an easy one.
John: Yeah, that’s a great movie, yeah, very good movie. Do you have a favorite number?
Rick: Well, 7 because it was Mickey Mantle’s number but my wife is born on the 22nd and it’s become a family favorite number.
John: Okay, so if it was up to you it would be 7 but since you’re married it’s 22. Is that what it’s mean?
Rick: Yeah, exactly, succumb to the will of my wife, basically.
John: Sure. Do you have a least favorite vegetable?
Rick: I’m not a big radish fun.
John: Oh, yeah, that’s a good answer. Yeah, radish.
Rick: I really like almost all vegetables, though.
John: Yeah. I mean radish is one of those where they cut it so thin so that then you don’t have to taste– I mean, that’s how bad radish is.
Rick: Exactly. Why not just like flavor it and put some other color on it so it basically doesn’t become a radish anymore.
John: Right, pretty much. All right, next one out, PC or Mac?
John: How about right click or left click?
Rick: Right click.
John: Yeah, that seems like a right click kind of guy. Do you have a favorite color?
Rick: Actually, aqua, technically bluish green but more blue than green, I’d say. Two-thirds blue, one-third green.
John: I got it, all right. Least favorite color?
Rick: I’m not a big yellow fan, it just seems sickly.
John: The best answer you could give right there, seems very logical. It is kind of that jaundiced whatever. Do you have a favorite adult beverage?
Rick: It’s a choice between beer, single malt scotch. Non-alcoholic?
John: No, no, just whatever you like.
Rick: I would have to say beer probably, but I like my iced tea as well.
John: Sure, sure. Do you have a favorite comedian?
Rick: These days I really like Jim Gaffigan. I like Louise Day. I guess you could say I grew up on Seinfeld situational humor and if there’s anyone I sort of modeled myself after it would be more Seinfeld. But I really enjoy those two lately.
John: Oh, yeah, absolutely. How about pens or pencils?
John: And last one, what is the favorite thing you own?
Rick: My hot tub? I don’t know.
John: That’s what I figured.
Rick: I’m not really sure, I’m not a real materialistic kind of guy, I don’t have any gadgets that I really like. But I’d say that’s something that gives me the most pleasure.
John: Yeah, that sounds like an excellent answer, man, especially from the beginning of our talk. And it also reminded to take an extra shower and… no, I’m just kidding.
Rick: Just talking to me, you’re sweating.
John: I am, I am. I’m like “Oh, man, I can’t wait to see this guy again. I’m just going to do my whole act, it’s going to be 30 minutes on Rick Roberts.
Rick: I’m going to send you pictures just so you really have an indelible image of me in the hot tub.
John: There you go, that would be awesome.
Rick: To the extent that you might need therapy just from talking about it, I’ll make it worse.
John: Right. And on the Show page on greenapplepodcast.com we’ll throw up some pictures. But thank you so much for being on the show with me, Rick, I really appreciate it.
Rick: John, it was my pleasure, I had a lot of fun. Thank you.
John: I hope you enjoyed hearing what Rick had to offer and what a great line that “firms want intellectually stimulated employees so why not encourage that.” Go to greenapplepodcast.com for some links and pictures of Rick onstage doing his comedy.
And thank you so much for listening and helping spread the word so others can go out and be a green apple.