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April 21, 2017

The new and improved Michael Che

Che performs Friday and Saturday at Punch Line Philly

Tracy Morgan laughed when asked about how raw Michael Che was when he opened for the 30 Rock alum four years ago.

“He was a young comic, who was just starting out,” Morgan said. 

“He was funny, but he was learning how to be a stand-up. That takes some time. You need to work so you get experience.”

Che recalls how blunt Morgan was when he offered feedback. 

“Tracy said my stage presence sucked,” Che said. 

“He told me that when you play to 2,000 people that you can’t stand still. It was cool. If he didn’t care, he wouldn’t have said anything. I learned a lot from him.”

The laid back Che has come a long way in a short time as a stand-up. The co-anchor of Saturday Night Live’s news, is a composed, engaging comic, who works the stage.

Che, 33, performs Friday and Saturday night at Punch Line Philly, and is more than comfortable under the bright lights. 

“The more you do something, the better you get,” Che said. “I’ve learned a lot just by doing stand-up as much as I can.”

Che is a critical part of "SNL," which is enjoying sky-high ratings, thanks to political turmoil and performance. The last time ratings were so high for "SNL" was 24 years ago. As a result of the success, four half-hour episodes of "Weekend Update" will air in prime time in August, according to NBC.

Even though Che is busy with "SNL," stand-up remains his passion. He’s not using his credits for a sitcom 

“It’s the opposite for me,” Che said. 

“I want to work in films and television so I can get more notice and play bigger venues. For me, it’s all about stand-up.”

Che makes keen observations. Perhaps that has something to do with growing up the last of seven children in lower Manhattan.

“When you’re at that spot in the birth order, you learn to look around and observe,” Che said. 

“I think that’s helped me as a comic. I was always watching things and thinking. I learned to appreciate things because we didn’t have money for much when I was growing up.”

Prior to making the leap into stand-up, Che thought about taking comedy classes. 

“But I couldn’t afford them,” Che said. “I think that was for the better. I learned how to do things in another way.”

He’s been learning on the fly in comedy clubs, on the set of "SNL" and “The Daily Show,” where he toiled as a correspondent.

“I’ve had to take it all in rapidly,” Che said. “It’s all happened quickly but it’s cool.”

Che doesn’t dream of about being on the level of Chris Rock or the aforementioned Morgan. He could live with the success the late theatrical comic Patrice O’Neal enjoyed.

“Patrice was amazing,” Che said. “He did some television. He broadened his fan base, but he never became a big star, and that’s all right. He didn’t care about the stuff that didn’t matter and was out of his control. He got to make a living doing what he loved. That’s what I want to do.”

The outspoken Che helped broaden his base courtesy of his Netflix special, “Michael Che Matters,” which was released in November. Che hit topics ranging from Black Lives Matter to Donald Trump.

“The specials are advertisements for the live shows,” Che said. “I take them seriously but everything comes back to the live shows.”

And then there is his home away from home, SNL. The unabashed comedy fan is aware that the halls of 30 Rock are hallowed

“It’s the Yankee Stadium of comedy,” Che said. 

“Eddie Murphy, Dan Ackroyd, and Bill Murray. We always have a lot to live up to. There's always been a certain standard at 'Saturday Night Live.' It's been a lot of fun with all of the political craziness. I know how fortunate I am to be on the show. I'm also fortunate to be able to have an audience to do stand-up."