blog single post

Using Real Estate to follow a dream and run from tragedy

Published Story about Aaron Foster

“I knew something was wrong when I was 5 and my mother opened the bathroom door and dropped a 2 foot cactus in the bathtub with me. She said your brother needed water.  I stood up with dirt stuck to me and learned what a shower was.  The doctor tried to explain schizophrenia but my uncle just called it “Crazy”.  Aaron has no brothers he is an only child. "I never took another bath around her in my life!” said Aaron

Most people with a memory like that would try to block it out and forget. Aaron Foster not only chooses to remember and share it with others -- he’s even able to find the surreal humor lurking behind it all.

That’s because Foster is a standup comic, and he’s managed to take life events that might crush weaker personalities and instead twist them into offbeat humorous tales that are earning him laughter from audiences not only in his hometown of Chicago but nationwide.

Yet he’s also managed to be serious when the need arose, spending years caring for the grandparents who raised him when his schizophrenic mother no longer could, while also gaining the knowledge necessary to invest in what is now more than a million dollars worth of real estate.

Through it all, he’s maintained a humility that’s kept him loyal not only to his roots in the African-American neighborhood of Beverly on the South Side, where he still lives, but to the friends and family that have helped him through his darkest nights.

“Growing up was rough. It was a tough situation. I had to adjust to helping take care of my mother at an early age, and that’s not easy for a kid,” Foster recalls over a Saturday breakfast at McDonalds “Plus, I had to deal with all the quirks that came with her illness, that come with her having a disease like hearing voices and seeing circumstances and situations that were not real but she believed were real. I was around 6 or 7 when she started to have trouble like that.”

Thinking back to those days, there is some sadness in Foster’s eyes, but more importantly, a steely resolve. Walking later through Beverly, showing the places that he hung out in as a kid, he’s somehow able to keep a smile going amid all the harsh memories.

“I was the only child so I had help from my grandparents, and they took me and her in and helped me have a stable home. Then of course I ended up having to take care of them,” he says. “My mom got pregnant in high school and was involved in my life as much as her disease let her."

Instead, Foster found male guidance from his grandfather, a hardworking man who owned and managed several rental properties across the city. It’s through that experience that he learned about the value of real estate, a career field he entered as a mortgage broker for several years before devoting himself to standup full-time and through which he gained the tools he uses today to maintain his own properties.

Foster’s already been invested in real estate for 15 years, and between his standup and work on properties, he’s proud to be his own boss now.

“I have two-units and four-units, that’s what I’ve purchased. I’ve had condos and fixed them up in the past, and the biggest I’ve owned in the past is a ten-unit building,” says Foster. “My grandfather always owned real estate and as a kid, I’d have to help him cut grass, fix plumbing and electricity at different places. As a young kid I ended up going through a lot of that stuff. My Grand fathers friends also owned so that was where I learned that that could help support you.”

Foster found himself returning the favor for all those years of care and learning almost as soon as he graduated from college. His grandparents had taken a turn for the worse and he stepped up to care for them for years as he launched his dual brokering and comedy careers.

“They were at least 70 years old when we moved in with them, and they lived to 93 and I took care of them to the grave. I would never put any of my family in a nursing home so I had to take care of cleaning up and feeding them, but the whole time I had to keep my dreams going. Learning about comedy is what kept me sane.”

That education in the art of laughter came through the now-defunct but legendary comedy club All Jokes Aside, where Foster DJ’d for four years as a summer job and watched acts like D.L. Hughley, Steve Harvey, Mike Epps and Cedric the Entertainer come through on their way to TV and movie stardom. He never took the mic himself all that time, instead soaking up the lessons learned from watching greats tame rowdy crowds before driving them again into hysterical fits of laughter.

Foster finally took the stage for a tentative couple of appearances in 1997, then eased his way in further after getting married the next year. But after winning his bracket in the Salem New Faces comedy competition in 1999, and with that validation, he started performing weekly and then almost daily.

“When I was young I’d get in trouble all the time and people would say, ‘So, you’re a comedian,’ and I didn’t really know what that meant ‘cause I was young and dumb,” he says, laughing. “Now I’m a feature and headliner. I have a lot of idealism to change the world and make people get along better, and so I’m one of the few comedians that can do well with all demographic groups: black, white, Latin, Asian.  I guess it’s come a long way.”

Thinking back to his first big night onstage, Foster recalls that All Jokes Aside owner Raymond Lambert – whom Foster still credits as one of his biggest influences – asked the young DJ if he wanted to take a shot of his own at making others laugh. Like nearly all those before him, nerves messed with his head that first night.

“I had mammoth-sized butterflies but my jokes were actually OK,” he recalls with a grin. “I riffed on an old friend who was in the crowd and made the crowd laugh. I knew he had to share a bunk bed with his little brother for a few months when we were children, so I said ‘Two brothers, one bed at 14 means virgin at 19’. The crowd erupted and I was hooked on comedy.”

Foster’s come a long way outside of comedy as well. Growing up amid the hard streets surrounding him could have led him into the kind of trouble with lifelong consequences. Indeed, he notes, “I’ve got friends who’ve done lots of time in prison. Some are never getting out. And I was a phone call away from being involved in things like deals, but I never did actually get caught up.”

Instead, he channeled his energies into standing out as “class clown, class bully, best athlete – all of that.” It didn’t take much for him to stand out at an early age because he was one of the first kids to be bused to school in Chicago, riding an hour each day, each way, across the economic and social boundaries that divided his financially challenged neighborhood to the privileged environs of Lincoln Park.

By the time he was in eighth grade, a concerned basketball coach enlisted him for the team, giving Foster discipline and goals outside the home. But being serious on the courts didn’t mean he was cutting back on being funny in the classroom.

“I was just one of three or four black kids when I started to go, and I had to beat up a lot of kids before they started realizing that it wasn’t necessary to get beat up,” Foster remembers. “I got into trouble but it was more creative than criminal. I got my hand paddled by one of my teachers with a ruler because I was throwing snowballs inside the classroom.

“Then in high school, I got confronted by the police for acting like a rifle sniper with my fingers outside the window of my high school and they came and got me out of class. The dude went easy on me but I kept laughing at them in the hallway and they didn’t like that.”

“I couldn’t get involved in gangs because half my family was in one gang and half was in another. It would be stupid to pick a side because I’d get beat up at the family reunion.”

It was in college at University of Illinois University that Foster really started to shine as a comedic storyteller. It also was the place where he formed some of his most sustaining friendships, including his roommate, Rasul Freeman, who says he always knew Foster would make a great comic because the romantic predicaments he wound up in throughout college provided hilarious joke fodder.

But one of his favorite memories of Foster shows not just a brash young guy’s quick thinking and ability to make a memorable scene, but also his willingness to go to any length to stand up for a friend, particularly one who is female.

“He had a buddy whose girlfriend had gotten disrespected at a party. Aaron took the lead to go look for the guy who did it, even her boyfriend wasn’t doing much, but Aaron didn’t like what he heard from the guy who insulted her,” recalls a laughing Freeman. “Aaron slaps the guy in front of everyone, and he had the most complete disbelief, but Aaron doesn’t let people he cares about get messed with.

“He freezes and slaps him, and the guy holds his cheek and runs off stage left and falls off the face of the earth. He was so embarrassed that he had gotten slapped by a man at a party that he was embarrassed and went home. I thought this guy is crazy, but he’s funny and loyal as hell.”

Another college friend was LaDon Reynolds, who is now a detective sergeant with the Oak Park Police Department. Though he was just a friend of Freelaian’s and not even a student at the same college, he enjoyed hanging with Foster so much that they became friends across campuses.

“Whenever I went to SIU I’d come by, we’d hang out and Aaron would be the one who told these funny anecdotal stories that guys were captivated by. I don’t know if it was from intoxication, but we were captivated,” recalls Reynolds. “Once I really got to know him, I learned he had a lot of depth behind being funny. To think that he as a 5, 6 or 7 year old kid had to help care for his mom – it’s just hard to process.

“But his grandfather really taught him a lot, so he knows a lot of things a guy his age wouldn’t know how to do: building, repairs, woodworking and metalworking along with auto repair, plumbing and electrical work. And since he still has a lot of his grandfather’s old tools, I make sure to stop by when I need to make a repair.”

It was Reynolds and his family, in turn, who helped Foster fix his broken heart after a frustrating divorce 8 years ago. Because even Reynolds’ wife considers Foster to be like a family member, they frequently invited him over for dinner and let him stay the night – so much so that their daughter thought Foster had moved into the house.

“My daughter’s 7, but when she was 3 or 4 she thought he lived in the basement because she always thought he was in the basement or coming out of the basement. She would tell everyone that came over that,” Reynolds laughs. “Mostly he’s like that guy who’s a part of the family, like a cousin. And that stems from his amazing ability to connect, to communicate with that much consistency. I’m a family guy who works as a cop, so I don’t have a lot of changes – there’s crimes, soccer games, book reports. With Aaron it’s a departure, I’m able to go out and laugh.”

“I said on national TV, to my ex- wife” Tell your mother I never liked her". As for our relationship- she was an evil selfish woman.  We were married, living in a one room apartment, and I saved my little extra money to buy her a computer for Christmas - as I'm setting the computer up.  She says ‘I don't know why you’re setting up that computer you can’t use it’.  I said you think I'm gonna give you a computer and not use it?  She said well if its like that you can take it back.  So I'm sitting in the car on Christmas morning with this computer, thinking ‘What a bitch!’”
Facing his future with a hard-won confidence born from a life filled with hardships overcome, Foster is sure of his purpose: making people laugh. He’s experienced the giddy thrill of doing so well opening a show for former “In Living Color” star Tommy Davidson that Davidson had him removed from a weekend of shows, won over some of the most off-beat, threatening rooms across the Midwest en route to his current life of playing good clubs in big cities. Yet no matter how far he goes, he finds his past keeps him rooted in the present.

“My real ‘hardest moment’ was when my grandmother and grandfather died. Because that's when I knew I had to be a man.  However, I go through hard moments every week- this week alone I drove through McDonald's drive through at 2 am to find my uncle begging for ‘spare change’ near the entrance of the drive way,” says Foster. “Also every time my mother tells me of ‘friends’ I know are non-existent I die again.  But I’ve been through it all, man. And I feel the greatest moments are yet to come.”