The greatest story ever told

Apparently in the US, an estimated 100 billion junk mail letters are sent every year. Among this collection of unopened nonsense are pyramid schemes, get-rich quick offers and the odd junk mail cheque for all sort of daft amounts of money. Most people don’t ever look at them twice... or more accurately look at them once when they come in through the letterbox and second only when they throw them in the bin.

Apparently in the US, an estimated 100 billion junk mail letters are sent every year. Among this collection of unopened nonsense are pyramid schemes, get-rich quick offers and the odd junk mail cheque for all sort of daft amounts of money. Most people don’t ever look at them twice... or more accurately look at them once when they come in through the letterbox and second only when they throw them in the bin.

But what if you got proactive on the junk mail front? What if instead of throwing the fake cheque into your bin you decided to deposit it into your bank account. For a laugh, like. And what if they cashed it?

This is exactly what happened to San Franciscan Patrick Combs. Oh, and his cheque was worth $95,000!

Looking back he calls it, in that understated way of his, “a staggering series of astonishing events”.

OK, basically there is not enough room to tell all his story here -it could fill a whole book which, quite coincidentally Combs has written, or a one-man show which he’s bringing to the Riverbank in Newbridge - but here are a few of the things that happened after the bank realised their mistake, which took them 33 days to notice. They got an ex-Navy Seal to ring him up and threaten him with jail time (Combs actually acted this bit down the phone - it sounded impressive and pretty terrifying).

Combs uncovered that the fake cheque was technically legal tender as it adhered to all nine criteria for a negotiable instrument in American law. His bank account was frozen.

Irked that the bank wouldn’t give him a simple letter to explain how this happened (which is another pretty incredible story in itself) he took his story to the media in America. Now he’s turned it into a hit play, an international bestseller, that’s taken him to some of the biggest festivals in the world. As you do.

It’s this, the genesis of the show itself, he spends most of the time talking about during our phone interview, and it turns out the story of the cheque was only the start of Combs’ journey through an incredible world of coincidences, opportunities and ultimate success. In American terms, you’d probably venerate him for his never-say-die attitude and willingness to always look on the bright of things, in Ireland we’d probably call him a bit of a “chancer”.

Combs grew up with his single mother, in a family without much money to spare. He is the American dream incarnate, having struggled in every way to get where he is today. With just a bit of help from magic along the way. In fact as a preface to the story of how his show came to be, he says this;

“I believe in magic, if you really get involved with something you want to do and just gut it out, eventually a crack in the universe opens up and you start to get some almost magical help. It’s a crazy belief that a lot artists have.”

A noted public speaker at the time, he freely admits that he was awful when he started telling his cheque story. Really awful. In fact after about a year of playing to half empty college class-rooms his best friend told him it was time to call a halt to it. Or less tactfully:

“You’re embarrassing yourself. You’re no good at this, you’ve got to give this up.”

Of course he didn’t give up instead he entered a competition to win a place at the San Fransisco Fringe Festival, with the winners being drawn from a lottery. And he wins. He gets six shows at the festival with a show that everyone has told him is no good. Opening night, five people turn up and he says, he “goes backwards”.

The second night though the magic finally kicks in and he starts to relax and the audience even enjoy themselves. By the final night they’re turning people away at the door.

Then another another miracle happens.

While tidying up after the show a woman taps him on the shoulder and says, “you were really good tonight.”

Turns out she’s from HBO who are looking to showcase the two funniest shows in the world right now, and she feels Combs has a shot at winning.

He couldn’t believe what he was hearing.

“I sucked seven shows ago and now here I am in front of a HBO talent scout... I’ll take that to my grave, they’ll never pick me, that’s impossible, but look how far I’ve got.”

Impossible is clearly nothing for Combs and he wins a slot at the Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, performing alongside some of the world’s most famous stars such as Chris Rock, Drew Carey, Diane Keaton, Sarah Jessica Parker and Jack Black. His show, now reaching a wider audience, really takes off with Combs insisting a one point “it was like God had came on stage and was whispering in my ear.” With God on his side, he’s never looked back really.

A year later he played the biggest comedy festival in the world, Just For Laughs in Montreal, the show went Off-Broadway in New York for a month, sold-out theatre’s in New Zealand and now he’s got a 20 date tour of Ireland.

And what happened to the $95,000? Well you’ll have to watch the show to find out, which, suffice to say is full “astonishing events.” Cheque or not, Combs is still a completely self-made man.

At 26 he set out to become a successful motivational speaker and author with no prior experience of either, by 35 he was on TV speaking to Barbara Walters about his success. At 36 he turned his hand to writing a comedic one-man show and today, at 44, that show has taken him all around the world, winning rave reviews where ever it’s been.

It’s safe to assume that whatever Patrick Combs wants from here on in - be it president, astronaut or Queen of England - he’ll probably find someway of pulling it off.

Patrick Combs brings his one-man show Man 1 Bank 0 to the Riverbank Theatre on June 10/11. Tickets are €18 from 045 448327.