School was never easy for Jason Merrill. And while he struggled academically, he didn’t give up. “My father always said he didn’t care what grade I got – he just wanted to see high scores in effort. He just wanted to see I was trying and giving it my best.”
He describes his dad, Dan Merrill, a retired police officer from the Methuen force, as a “hero”. “My whole life I looked for an idol and I as I got older I realized it had always been him. I always say if I die half the man my dad is, then I’ll die a happy man.” Dan, originally from Andover, married Sharon (Shea) from Methuen and together they raised a family of five children on Kendall Street in Lawrence. Jason was the youngest of the five kids, all of whom attended GLTS: Kim (’88), Chris (’90), Stacey (’90) and Shawn (92). Jason followed in their footsteps.
Merrill played football for Coach Rosmarino and was captain of the defense freshman year before joining the wrestling team and subsequently losing a lot weight. “Sophomore year I came in and Rosie said ‘what happened to you?’ and moved me to outside linebacker and I just wasn’t fast enough.” He struggled for the next two years to reclaim his advantage and his hard work showed off in the ’93 season when GLTS went to the Superbowl. “I wasn’t born a gifted player – but I had heart and I had knowledge of the game and I was good at reading the formations.” Merrill had a season high twelve tackles in that game against West Roxbury.
“My dad brought me up to believe that I didn’t have to be the superstar – it was about the team winning, so that’s the way I tried to play. And we had some great players that year – Jim MacDonald, Jerry Pelletier…they were awesome. And so was Coach Rosmarino – he made every kid feel like they were a family, he was a father figure to a lot of kids who didn’t have that. Rosie was always there if you needed something, you could talk to him.
Merrill grows emotional when he discusses the other major influence in his life while he was at GLTS – his machine shop instructor, Norm Martin. “He had such a big effect on me as a teacher. He wasn’t easy on me – he pushed me to do my best. He believed in me.”
At the beginning of his junior year Jason was pulled out of class for a new educational assessment test. It finally explained the academic difficulty he had always struggled with – he had dyslexia. Mr. Martin wouldn’t let Jason use it as an excuse. “He knew about the dyslexia but he didn’t take his foot off, he just kept pushing me. I had to get an A on a test in his class senior year, and I don’t know if it was a perfect “A”, but I think Mr. Martin saw that I had sat down and put my heart and soul into it. That made me think that I could achieve stuff, we had good teachers but he was one of the best.”
Jason didn’t stay with machining, he tried out different jobs in construction when he met his future wife, Ann, and that changed everything. “I met her when I was about to turn twenty-one. I was still being a wild and crazy, fresh kid and then I met her and she loved me and believed in me. And I knew if I was going to be her man, then I was going to be the best man I could be. She deserved nothing less.” The two married and Merrill had an opportunity to join the union which he saw as a solid foundation upon which to raise a family. Today, Jason is Vice-President of local 1887, foreman at his company and in charge of fourteen employees.
Jason and Ann have three daughters, Sarinya, Marissa and Arianna to whom they are obviously devoted. “They are”, he says, “the best thing that ever happened to me.” He is a firm believer in challenging his kids to always go after their dreams, to “go after what they want in life, attack things!”
Pretty soon he was listening to his own advice…
Merrill describes himself at GLTS as a “class clown.” He rarely got in trouble for it though, because, he said, “I always had respect for the teachers. You can tell a joke and not be rude. And I had the sense to shut up when I had to. I had to face my dad, after all.”
But that’s not the only reason he avoided rebuke. According to Bill Berard, GLTS Alumni Association President, who remembers Merrill well, “he was a really, really funny kid. He always had a very smart, very intelligent sense of humor.”
He had always toyed with the idea of professional comedy, but there were always excuses. He worked two jobs when his kids were younger, and as they got older they became involved in sports and dance and he didn’t want to miss a second of it. “I was making good excuses, it’s the easiest way out of anything. But, at the same time, I keep telling my daughters that they had to do it, they had to go for it. And finally, I thought, they’re watching me, I can’t sit back and not go for what I want.”
So at the age of forty-one, Merrill embarked on his dream. “I got up one morning and said I’m going to do this, I was getting tired of ‘what ifs’, I’d already did it for forty-one years and I didn’t want to end up with a plate of ‘what if’…fear of failure…it’s the worst thing.”
Merrill showed up to an open mike night and as he was waiting to go on he felt his palms getting sweaty, his breathing getting a little quicker, his heart rate rising. He started to convince himself that it was a bad idea. “I turn around, and my buddy, Billy, walks in with a bunch of his employees to watch me. Then I was stuck – I couldn’t tell them to all go home. I did it and they loved it.”
As did Merrill. He continued working open mikes and then he met Dave Ratigan, a well-known Boston comedian who owns Scamps Comedy Productions, at a comedy show. Ratigan took the time to talk to Jason and he opened the first door for him. He got a lot of laughs when he first started and a friend warned him not go get used to it.
“You do a lot of the same material, it’s like a singer, and people come out to hear the songs. You know it works and then there’s some days it doesn’t work and you wonder what’s going on. And it’s uncomfortable…the hardest part is being up there and hearing silence.”
But that’s now what he’s hearing from most of the crowds and many well-known comedians. “I was doing a show with Christine Hurley and she told me I did great and I told her I was just getting started.” Hurley didn’t believe him when he told her it was only his ninth time on stage. “Honey,” she said, “I see big things for you.”
Merrill has been lucky and caught some breaks from professionals like Joe Yanetty, Bill Farrell, Danny Miller, Johnny Pizzi and Mac Livingston, but luck is not the reason for such early success. He sees comedy as a “craft” and works hard to hone his skills and perfect his routine. He learns by “just doing it – writing it, doing it, saying it. When I come up with a topic I record it on my phone so I can remember how I said it and what I was thinking about when I said it. Then I bring it on stage and I keep trying to figure out where I got the laughs and where I didn’t get the laughs – so I keep working it.”
Family, has been, and continues to be instrumental in his success. “My brother, Shawn, is a huge supporter, he’s come to almost every one of my shows.”
There is too much sensitivity in the world right now, Merrill believes. And he’s not afraid to call it out on stage. “Unless you have hatred and racism and spite in your heart, then it’s funny. You’re just laughing at life. That’s helped me through everything, to just laugh at life.”
Recently he was involved in a debate over which was better – clean comedy or dirty comedy. Everyone was going back and forth and then Merrill chimed in. “Dirty comedy that’s not funny is just filth, and clean comedy that’s not funny is just a boring story. Funny is funny.”
Jason Merrill’s professional calendar is filling up quickly as more and more people take notice of this hard working comedian. He always remembers his father’s lecture on effort. “I’m a firm believer that you get out what you put into something, I just wish I really knew that when I was younger. I see problems not as ‘why’ it can’t be done, but ‘how’ it can be done.”
Jason Merrill will be appearing at Lots of Laughs Comedy Lounge with Johnny Pizzi in North Andover on July 21st, Salvatore’s Lawrence at Riverwalk on July 27th with Lenny Clarke and Giggles Comedy Club in Saugus on August 5th, 2018
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