From Switzerland to stand-up: A unique voice in East Texas
Aaron Cortinas • Staff Writer
Zach Santschi has big dreams, and he’s not joking this time. Santschi wants to sell out Madison Square Garden or write for Saturday Night Live.
He’s willing to compromise, though. He’d be equally happy working as an author, music producer or Lego designer.
Santschi is a Tyler comedian who works in information technologies at UT Health East Texas. Almost every Monday night, he performs at Tyler’s first comedy club, Rando’s Comedy Store.
“I’ve accepted that I’ll probably embarrass myself everyday,” Santschi says.
He says stand-up comedy allows him to embrace embarrassment. Additionally, it helps him resist negativity and exercise his imagination.
Santschi writes jokes about subjects no one has thought of before. He carries around a stapled packet of over 280 of his jokes.
“Can I be the first person to get an elephant to Mount Everest?” Santschi asks when imagining what he’d do if he was the world’s richest man.
Another joke involves him brainstorming how parents can get a three-year-old to remember his birthday party. Santschi’s solution is to “leave a psychological imprint” on the child by screaming at him when they give him his gift.
Santschi says he writes comedy by looking at the world slightly differently from everyone else. Sometimes he chooses to do this. Usually, it comes naturally. His life experiences conditioned him to view the world from an outsider’s perspective.
Santschi’s dad was an international chef. After he met Santschi’s mom, they had two kids in the U.S., including Santschi. Then they moved to Switzerland for a few years, where they had Santschi’s youngest brother.
Eventually, Santschi’s dad “wanted to cook with other spices,” and they moved to Saudi Arabia for a year.
Following their residence in Saudi Arabia, they moved back to the U.S. After Santschi’s parents divorced, his mom, his brothers and he moved to Tyler.
He says his parents had a messy divorce. As the oldest brother, he became the conduit for passive-aggressive messages between his parents.
Santschi’s outlook on life changed when he went to school in East Texas because he wasn’t athletic and had a heavy Swiss accent.
“All the perfect ingredients to get picked on,” Santschi says with a chuckle.
Around fourth grade, he learned a secret weapon against bullies:
“If you can make them laugh,” Santschi says, “they’re probably not gonna hit you.”
He noticed he could use his creativity to gain attention and be liked. Further, he developed an awareness of social systems.
“Everything is a social experiment,” Santschi says in a matter-of-fact tone.
In seventh grade, Santschi’s social status changed. At that point, he could play sports and began to gain in popularity.
He says he became a bully. Now, he says he feels guilty for picking on less popular kids. He knew how they felt.
Santschi’s life went through another change after he started dating his future wife during his junior year of high school. He says they talked on the phone almost every night for months. By the end of Santschi’s senior year, he and his wife married and had their first child.This, combined with having to care for his younger brothers after his parents’ divorce, resulted in Santschi never wanting to take risks.
He calls himself a “paranoid square.”
Since he was 17, Santschi has taken computer science and math classes at TJC and UT Tyler off-and-on. Even though he was interested in writing, he wanted to take classes that would guarantee him a job. He says he always wanted to make sure he could provide for his family, rather than face uncertainty.
In addition to caring about academics, Santschi says he tries to be a good dad to his three kids. Although unconventional, Santschi says having kids at a young age created a more trusting relationship between them. As a result, he says they share a mutual respect, and he doesn’t talk down to them.
“I still understand a bit of their world,” Santschi says, comparing himself to older parents.
Santschi’s youngest daughter, 20-year-old Mya, says in a phone interview that she’ll talk about anything in front of her dad.
She says he’s “honest” and “won’t be judgmental” if she comes to him for relationship advice.
Santschi says his unconventional life made him an observer. He combines his observational skills with his creativity, and the result is his comedy.
Joel Rando, comedian and owner of Rando’s Comedy store, says Santschi improves each week. Santschi’s next step is to build a 30-minute to an hour-long set of jokes. Eventually, he wants to perform at open mics in Dallas in front of larger audiences.
“Or be big in Japan,” Santschi says with a chuckle.
He says he wishes he would have started comedy earlier in life.
His advice to everyone, especially creatives like himself, is to not delay creative pursuits. He says he’d be better at comedy today if he’d started writing jokes twenty years ago.
He says people should practice something every day and work toward a goal.
“It’s very easy to take a nap,” Santschi says, reflecting on time he regrets not using.
Santschi is working on his stand-up comedy, writing a book of short stories and creating a podcast. He can be found on-stage Monday nights at Rando’s Comedy Store.
Santschi has big dreams, but he’s determined to make them a reality.