Comedian Michele Balan performs at the 2006 Charles Schusterman International Student Leaders Assembly.
Not many people would leave a six-figure salary job to pursue a career in comedy. Unless of course you are Michele Balan.
After moonlighting as a comic for several years, Balan left her job as an executive at a growing computer company to take a stab at full-time comedy.
“I was not the brightest bulb in the tree for giving up a pension and 401k, but I had no intention to be at the company long, ” she said.
Voted one of the “Top 10 Comics” by Backstage Magazine in 2004, Balan has since built a successful comedy career landing gigs on cruise ships and Comedy Central and most recently the fourth season of NBC’s "Last Comic Standing."
“It’s hard to do a competition with other comedians,” she said. “We are each very different and you cannot compare apples to oranges.”
While on the show Balan made her way to become the fourth runner-up and subsequently, the last woman comic standing.
“I had no idea I would be selected because of how many great other comics there were,” she said. “I was always surprised with each time they called out my name.”
While in Georgia, following her appearance on the show, Balan found herself in front of an audience different from any group she had performed for in the past.
She was on stage performing for over 300 Jewish students, Hillel professionals and partners at the 2006 Charles Schusterman International Student Leaders Assembly.
Though Jewish, she does not usually find herself performing for largely Jewish audiences. “I sometimes integrate Judaism into my comedy only because where I perform people know I’m Jewish from the way I speak,” the Brooklyn, NY native said. “Generally though, I have audiences of 300 people with about four of them being Jews.”
As a child, Judaism did not play a major role in her upbringing. “When I was younger going to temple in my family meant going to play bingo. I grew up thinking the Jewish language was B5, O67,” she joked.
Despite not growing up with a strong Jewish identity, Balan recently dabbled a little deeper into her Jewish heritage through participating in several Passover Seders and observing Yom Kippur.
“I am Jewish by birth, so it’s my religion and my family’s religion,” she said. “Jewish people as a whole are powerful and resilience, and we always build back from what’s taken from us and I am proud to be part of that.”
Balan believes she owes part of her comic success to being Jewish, having been referred by some as the female George Burns. “What good comic isn’t Jewish?” she said.