LOOSE ENDS: A big laugh, and bigger dreams

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Keith Lindsay Jr. serves up coffee and laughter at Starbucks in Princeton. 

By Pam Hersh
   At first, I thought it was just the coffee at Starbucks that so energized me. After further scientific investigation, I deduced that the coffee was spiked — with an infectious booming laugh. And even though the source of that laugh was someone who was trying to make it as an actor, the laugh was no act.
   The laugh belonged to Nassau Street Starbucks barista Keith Lindsay Jr., who for the past few years has made my day as he makes my coffee every time I’ve heard his bellowing laugh. No matter how irritated I was with my job or my relatives or my technology, when I entered the coffeehouse, Keith’s laughter instantly changed my mood. It never mattered to me why he was laughing, only that he was spreading the gospel of giggling.
   About a year after I first met Keith’s laugh at Starbucks, I was shopping in Hulit’s Shoes on Nassau Street with my grandkids when I heard it, that happy reverberating laughter that belonged in Starbucks. Much to my surprise, I looked around and saw Keith joking around with my annoying hyperactive grandkids. They were all laughing, but sitting in a chair while Keith, working at his second job, was helping them try on their new shoes.
   ”It is really amazing to be in the room when Keith and his dad (Keith Sr.) and his brother (Evian) and all of them are laughing at the same time. They all have the same laugh. It is like a symphony of laughter,” said Dave, the manager of Hulit’s with whom Keith works.
   ”We are known for the Lindsay laugh,” said 26-year-old Keith, a Princeton resident who is trying become known in the world for more than his laughter.
   Keith — like most of the baristas at Starbucks and other Princeton coffeehouses — has ambitions that reach way beyond making one more venti cup of coffee for Pam Hersh. Celebrating his sixth anniversary on Aug. 18 of working at Starbucks, Keith thinks his ability to “get acting gigs” has been the result of that unforgettable laugh, a lot of luck, great people in Princeton, and his training at Starbucks.
   ”It is all about concentration, memorization, stamina, being flexible, and playing the role of the cheerful barista no matter how awful your day has been,” said Keith, whose acting resume lists several small jobs with independent films, online shows, and music videos. “Being a barista is hard work. In Princeton, things can get really intense — graduation (people are lined up to get into the store at 5 a.m. on the Tuesday of graduation), Princeton University Reunions, and busloads of tourists throughout the year. You can’t get rattled, have to keep smiling, focus on what is in front of you and move forward. All these skills have been very useful for me in my acting jobs.”
   The one quality that goes unlisted on his resume is sleep because it is nearly non-existent. But he can say he is an expert juggler. “My three jobs (and a girlfriend) do keep me going, but for now it is what I have to do to get where I want to go,” said Keith, who is considering adding a fourth “job” to his life by taking acting classes perhaps at Mercer County Community College.
   Although he was not raised in Princeton — he was born in the Bronx and moved with his family to Egg Harbor Township, and then Colorado — he came to Princeton after graduating from high school to live with his aunt, Yvette Felder.
   ”I came with one of my five siblings, Evian, because my aunt thought we would love Princeton and she was right, “said Keith, who now has his own apartment. He had seriously thought about college but was restless, artistically restless. “I liked acting and my mom and dad encouraged me a lot, especially since my father has been acting most of his life in theater productions. I went to an agency in Colorado, but it was very expensive, so I turned to drawing. I designed skate boards (the art not the mechanics) and T-shirts, but I ended up just selling mostly to my friends and could not really make a living. I decided to come to New Jersey and then the luck kicked in.”
   He was hired at Starbucks, where one of his customers, a photographer, offered to take professional head shot pictures of him at no cost. His father suggested that he use “Backstage” magazine for actor help wanted ads. Another customer was an acting coach who gave him some advice about auditions. He started to answer ads posted in “Backstage” — and “again, I just got lucky. I actually started to get some response… I just feel good about the acting, and think I might be able to make a career out of it.”
   In the meantime, performing at Starbucks and Hulit’s is providing a stage for him to practice his “outstanding skill” of being a “purveyor of exuberance… He is the real deal,” to quote Princetonian Peter Soderman, another one of Keith’s fans who would love to see him go from Starbucks to stardom.