Only a few house lights were on inside the Catch a Rising Star Comedy Club last Friday evening as Nelson, club director and Sparks resident, looked around the empty room just one hour before the doors were propped open. Nelson sat comfortably on a bench seat peering across the still, silent room inside the Silver Legacy Casino, envisioning what kind of night it might be for his sanctuary.
“It can be up or down, depending on the lineup,” Nelson said of his nightly shows Tuesday through Sunday. “It is always a gamble, but when this room is rocking, it is something special. When every seat is filled, it is like the Coliseum because it is so compact and has a great echo.”
As Nelson hilariously reminisced on his journey to become club director at “Catch,” he was not embarrassed to admit the road began with an enthusiasm for professional wrestling. The Sparks High School graduate said Hulk Hogan and company captivated his entertainment needs during his youth, and around the age of 21, he stopped going by JD Nelson, moved to Los Angeles and began training and competing as a pro wrestler.
While the former Sparks High three-sport athlete was pursuing his passion, an injury and surgically repaired ankle ended his career in the ring. While he was physically hindered, Nelson refused to leave the wrestling scene and attended Butte College in Oroville, Calif. to obtain a video production degree to impact the wrestling world through camera work and various consulting opportunities before he abruptly chose to quit.
“I kind of gave it up and got tired of wrestling,” Nelson said. “I ended up coming back to Sparks about four years ago to take care of my grandmother because there was nobody else who could.”
Nelson, 33, then bounced around the Reno-Sparks area holding jobs at Best Buy and Channel 8, before the fateful night he set aside his fears and preconceived notions about stand-up comedy. Nelson won a comedic competition at 3rd Street Bar in Reno, which allowed him to advance from a five-minute set to a 15-minute set, which was accompanied by a personal revelation.
“The guy who was handling the mic handed me a 20 dollar bill, and as soon as somebody handed me money to do stand-up comedy I said, ‘This is for me.’ That was the trigger, the catalyst. That is when I kicked it into high gear.”
Nelson continued to hit open mic nights around Sparks and Reno before the former manager of Catch, which comes attached with a rich history of comedians who got their start at the club, asked Nelson to do a set at the Reno location. After one show, Nelson said he “got the itch.”
“I just kept coming around (Catch) and asking if I could help seat people or if there was anything I could do to help,” Nelson said. “I learned in the wrestling business that you always go out of your way to help. It lets people know that you are hungry and that you are willing to do whatever it takes.
“It is kind of a mixture work ethic that my dad taught me about getting there early and staying late, and also what I learned in the wrestling business where you don’t just go in there for your match and then go home.”
Nelson began as the weekend manager of Catch before taking over as the full-time manager in March where he said he has put many of his wrestling skills, outside of the ring that is, to good use.
“Comedy and wrestling are very similar,” Nelson said. “It’s a show, so you have to have a beginning, middle and end. Your headliner is your world champion, your main event and you have to build up to that. Sometimes, that first guy is going to be great and it might mess up the rotation and throw some guys off. Other guys who have someone like me come up first and do really well, it makes them work harder and it becomes a great show.”
Nelson performs inside Catch weekly and he also travels to California, Oregon and other cities in Nevada. It has helped his act gain traction, boosted his local celebrity status and even allowed him to step up on the Nugget World Rib Eating Championship stage for two consecutive years.
“Some of the guys who have been doing it for 25 years, and it is a job to them, get mad when your opener kills it,” Nelson said of his act at Catch. “My thing is, if you are making headliner money and you are going to play my room, you are going to have your hands full because I am going to bring it. I love entertaining people and making people laugh.”
Nelson hopes to make a move to California eventually to pursue a career in comedy. However, he said Sparks will always be his home and it helps “keep my ego in check and keep me grounded.”
“I have the number one job in comedy right now,” he said. “I run the club and I am onstage six nights a week, so I am not in a big hurry to leave.”
- Food: Ribs
- Team: Reno Wrestle Factory
- TV Show: Walking Dead
- Hobby: Stand-up Comedy