In this week's Miami New Times, we profile 30 of the most interesting characters in town, with portraits of each from photographer Stian Roenning. See the entire Miami New Times People Issue here.
Nery Saenz is a funny guy. Everybody around him can sense it. In fact, his friends and co-workers have been predicting his success in standup comedy for more than a decade.
The problem was that Saenz couldn't see it himself.
"All my co-workers said, 'You should do standup, you should do standup,'" Saenz remembers. "But I always just kind of brushed it off." After all, Eddie Murphy, Saenz's comedy idol, had begun his career at the age of 16. Saenz, then 22, figured he'd missed his chance.
But at the urging of a fellow comic, Saenz signed up for a standup competition in 2003. When he finally took the stage, he killed.
Of course, Saenz is quick to admit, he bombed in his next gig. But he kept hustling and honing his craft. Soon he'd been taken in by South Florida's main comedy venues -- the Improv clubs in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Palm Beach.
Along the way, he also got married and started a family. Saenz's oldest daughter is 3 years old, and he welcomed a new baby in October. Stories about them began to appear in his performances, and today his funny yet heartfelt tales about his wife and kids continue to fuel his work.
"Somebody once gave me a really good compliment. They said, 'My daughters love the way you talk about women; you talk about them like they're so much better than you.' And I said, 'That's because they are,'" Saenz laughs.
As he became more and more relatable, Saenz grew increasingly popular. He toured nationally with comic Aries Spears and recorded his own comedy album. His podcast, What's Up, Bro, is among the longest-running on the Miami comedy scene. Other comics might have moved to Los Angeles by now, but Saenz's family keeps him in South Florida.
And that's just as well. That meant he was in the right place at the right time when Dave Chappelle came to town seeking an opening act for his series of standup shows at the Fillmore Miami Beach last year. Saenz got the gig and killed onstage. He says it turned out to be the biggest break of his career.
A newly converted fan offered him a gig at a private party. At that party, a Carnival Cruise Lines honcho decided Saenz would be a great addition to the cruise entertainment circuit. Now Saenz tours on the ships two weeks a month, a job that has allowed him to quit his former day job at an insurance agency. He still tours with Spears and also appears regularly on the Paul and Young Ron Morning Show.
And perhaps most exciting, Saenz continued to tour with Chappelle throughout his Florida appearances.
"I got to watch him perform for a week and a half, just seeing what he does," Saenz says. "Now I can say I saw one of the best that ever did it."