Astoria Characters: The Sit-It-Out Comic

It’s the left eyebrow that gives Mike Rockwitz away.

It arches, mischievously.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Check out Mike’s eyebrow.

Mike’s eyes, celestial blue marbles, take the cue, bugging out as his mouth settles into a colossal clown-like grin.

It’s a wickedly funny look, and Mike, a big guy with a Santa snow-white goatee and tons of tatts, plays it for all it’s worth.

He loves getting laughs, but you’ll never catch him on a stage in front of an audience.

This aversion to stand-up comedy is, he admits, why he and his eyebrow sit things out.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
For several years, Mike worked for Marvel Comics.

“I’m a funny guy, but I don’t want to perform,” he says as he contorts his face once again. “I don’t like going to comedy shows because I don’t think they are funny. Not everyone has the same sense of humor or gets your sense of  humor – it’s a personal thing.”

But that hasn’t stopped him from working the room or, for that matter, the sidewalk, which is where he is now, yucking it up for the camera.

If his funny face looks familiar, it’s because he plays the off-stage straight man to Astoria stand-up’s Greg Kritikos.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Mike’s funny — but he’s never on stage.

On Sept. 24, you can see him and his marvelous morphing face when he MCs “The Meth,” a live unscripted and uncensored storytelling contest at the Archdiocesan Hellenic Cultural Center on Crescent Street in Astoria.

(He also works the door the last Sunday of every month at the Broadway Comedy Club’s “Greg Kritikos & Friends Broadway’s Got Talent” show in Manhattan.)

Mike, who was born on the Upper East Side, learned early in life that a laugh or two will lighten life’s sorrows.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Mike works in educational technology.

When he was 10, his father died of leukemia, and when he was 13, his mother succumbed to breast cancer.

He and his older brother were sent to Elmhurst to live with their aunt, who was around 70.

From the beginning, Mike turned to the things he loved: art and humor.

“I had started doodling in the second grade,” he says. “I used to draw Marvel comic book characters like Spider-Man. That and reading comics was my escape.”

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
How do you like this face?

By the time he was in high school, Mike had an internship with Marvel Comics, which eventually became a full-time job.

“It was my dream come true,” he says. “I was an editor, so I didn’t get to do any drawing – and I would have been too intimidated to do that anyway because all the artists I idolized worked there. Eventually, I did coloring, and I was good at it.”

A decade later, in the 1990s, Mike was laid off when Marvel Comics filed for bankruptcy.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Mike designs posters for a local comic.

He took a job with a competitor in San Diego.

He returned to New York City two years later and began freelancing for Marvel and other comic book publishers, eventually transitioning into educational publishing/technology, the field he still works in.

In 2010, by then a divorced father of two, he moved to Astoria, where he lives with his cats, Alfie and Cleetus.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Does this make you laugh?

His job is demanding – he oversees what he calls “gigantic” projects and supervises teams of five to 30 people – but he still finds time for his art.

He designs the posters for Greg’s shows and also creates black and white ink-on-paper illustrative art with what he calls “sword and sorcery fantasy themes.”

At some point, when he begins winding down his career – he’s 55 – he intends to work on his art full time and even begin selling it.

Photo by Nancy A. Ruhling
Mike’s right where he wants to be.

“I love what I do – no, make it I like what I do – and I’m in no rush to retire,” he says with a straight face. “My job keeps me interested. It uses up a lot of my brain power because it involves problem solving.”

Suddenly, his eyebrow arches.

“What I do is like spinning plates on pencils on The Ed Sullivan Show,” he says. “Every day is different.”

Copyright 2022 by Nancy A. Ruhling