Aaron Hurley began his stand-up career after a friend signed him up for a comedy competition while he was studying at the University of Illinois.
"My friend Jorge told me I now had a new profession two days before [the competition]," jokes Hurley. "Then he wished me the best of luck."
Maybe it was luck that got Hurley onto the program, but it was his talent that won him first place and the opportunity to open up for Jim Gaffigan (Super Troopers, Igby Goes Down) a few weeks later.
Since then, Hurley has placed second in the Peoria Jukebox comedy club competition. He is also the 2004 winner of three Funny Bone stand-up comedy competitions, and he's been seen on the WB as a Late Night Laff-off finalist for The Punchline in Atlanta, Georgia.
So what's with his trademark - reading off a paper? Hurley marks it as his style.
"I love reading jokes off a paper, and most club owners figure it is from a lack of experience," Hurley explains. "It's just the only way I know how to tell jokes in front of a large crowd."
He's not the first comedian to read jokes off of cards. Many comedians don't create their best stuff while sitting in front of their computer, waiting for the joke muse to inspire. His ideas hit while being out with friends, or out to dinner with his parents, and he scribbles his ideas onto used napkins or unused toilet paper. This not only helps to provide the audience with a clearly outlined presentation, but also saves Hurley from having to make fun of the audience while trying to rack his brain to remember the next segue way.
While in college, comedy not only influenced Hurley's career goals, but also pushed him to start up the Hurley Agency.
"While I was a student at U of I, I had set my heart to promoting Mitch Hedberg for a student show," he says. "When the University could not fund the program, I figured I would. After the company was established, we spent three months trying to book him at a local theater. The rest just fell into place."
Since then the Hurley Agency has promoted such acts as Gaffigan, the man he first opened for, and up-and-coming comic Chris Schlichting.
"After my second time on stage, people came up and told me I reminded them of Mitch Hedberg, a comic I had never heard of at that time," Hurley says. "I had to ask them, 'Is he any good? Should I be insulted or complimented here?' He is now, by far, one of my favorite comedians."
Hedberg has certainly been a huge influence on Hurley's career. After performing previous to Doug Stanhope at a club in Peoria, Hurley was asked to open during the weekend Hedburg's wife, Lynn Shawcroft, was to perform.
"That certainly was a large boost for me," Hurley says. "They were two comics I really admired and looked up too."
It is important not to be misled. It may seem as if everything just fell into place for Hurley, but real life isn't this flawless. He reminds anyone struggling to reach a dream to not lose faith.
"Don't give up," he says. "Some comedians have to find their crowds - or rather, their crowds have to find them. My worst attempt at stand-up was in front of a Gun Club at a local bar. It was certainly not a crowd that you wanted against you, but I plugged away for thirty minutes [anyway].
"After that show, I thought about quitting, but I had too much fun at previous shows to do anything that crazy. Comedy is about having fun. If a show goes well, it's the most fun I think a person can have. [And] if it goes poorly, you always have a funny story for later."
Despite Hurley's routine being reminiscent of Hedburg, it is also one inspired by Steven Wright, and several comedy flicks, including Where the Red Fern Grows.
"Maybe I'm the only one who laughed at the end…" he says.
Hurley is presently searching for wet cement to place his footprint in the (metaphoric) Illinois Walk of Fame.
"Thank you for supporting live comedy!" he exclaims. "Enjoy life, and try to make other people's lives brighter by being yourself."