A couple of months ago Netflix launched, The Punisher starring Jon Bernthal. It was the 744th Marvel property to make it to either the big or small screen in the last eight years and was very popular. Well, for fans of the show and its star Bernthal, there is a good news. A new web series focused on The Punisher a/k/a Frank Castle when he is at home has launched and the 5 episode collection is worth fifteen minutes of your time. Enjoy!
This weekend continued by July of No Bookings Tour (#JNBT), so it was time to make my way to Martha’s Vineyard for my sister-in-law’s 50th birthday party that my brother put together. Given the peak season, I was still pretty happy to secure a solid rate of sodomy from hotels.com for a bed & breakfast for two nights. I also booked the Seastreak Ferry for my girlfriend and me, which conveniently leaves midtown Manhattan and arrives in Martha’s Vineyard 5 The Perfect Storm hours later. The cost was $240 round trip per person, which is reasonable except for the word “ferry.” The word ferry makes me think $22.50 round trip and kids travel free – not Amtrak Accela to Boston prices. And on an ironic note, there is no better symbol for my comedy career that there was a comedy festival a short ride away from Martha’s Vineyard in Nantucket, where many comics were being paid to perform while I was spending a small fortune to feel like I was an unwitting guest on a hidden camera show. And with that intro, here we go!
The Perfect Ferry Storm
When my girlfriend and I boarded the Ferry it was cloudy with on-again, off-again rain. We got two seats together on the lower deck with books, podcasts and sandwiches ready for our ocean adventure. The Ferry was full of men in pastel colored pants and shorts and women and men trying to hog 4 seat tables to themselves. The boat left on time and despite the heavy clouds and moderate rain the ride was nice and smooth for about two hours. And then at the halfway point we entered the Atlantic. Here is an accurate photograph of how my girlfriend and I felt for the next two hours:
As someone who is almost never on boats and hates flying I was still surprised at how anxious the up and downs made me. I never wanted to puke but the physical and mental tension I had as a constant for 2 hours made me very tired. But we arrived in Martha’s Vineyard safely just after 9pm and made our way to the 1720 House, the bed & breakfast I had booked.
Indiana J-L and the Temple of Bugs
The door was open when we arrived (I believe this is a vacation town’s self fulfilling prophecy – if we leave everything open then we cannot have crime!) and our key to the “Yellow Room” was sitting there waiting for us. Interesting fact: the place is called the 1720 House because it was built in 1720 when it was illegal to make a house for people taller than 5’10”. I have dealt with short doorways and stairwells my whole life, but the additional Fear Factor addition here was that from every low hanging lamp from the entrance to the stairwell to the hallways to our room has spiders and bugs hanging so I quickly had to turn into Rocky Balboa bobbing and weaving to avoid spider/bug essence in my mouth. When we entered my room I assumed the rooms would be bug free, but I proceeded to kill a spider in the room and in our bathroom. I actually almost asked some of the bugs to chip in to offset some of the costs of the financial gang bang hotels.com perpetrated on me.
Sidebar – if you are one of those “I don’t kill spiders because they actually kill the other bugs” stop it. Congrats, you would leave Saddam Hussein in power to suppress the good and bad elements, but I believe in the unfettered freedom to live without Daddy Long Legs walking over my face for $300 a night! I will allow the next Yellow Room (named for the quantity of urine you emit when seeing the bugs) administration to handle the Mosquito ISIS that emerges in the absence of strongmen spiders.
To date my most popular Instagram photos are now the photos of me in the tiny house so if you don’t follow me on Instagram (@jlcomedy) then here is a glimpse of me and various spots in and around the house.
My brother rented a (very nice) house in Martha’s Vineyard for his wife for 2 weeks. She is working on a new book so the house gives her 2 kid-free weeks to relax, sleep and work unencumbered. When I walked in the house I immediately offered money to be able to sleep on the floor for the night. And I could be mistaken but I think as I was wiping away the remaining Tarantula anal leakage on my forehead from the 1720 House I could see a look in my girlfriend’s eye that asked “Why did I get the Eric Roberts of the family?”
The party was really nice, the food delicious and I then got an ice cream sundae from a local shoppppppe afterwards (Martha’s Vineyard has 44,076 ice cream shopppppppes) so it was a nice night. I was in such a good mood I actually high-fived two of the spiders when I arrived back at the 1720 House.
The ferry ride back was a little better than the ride out and we got back to my place where my dog Cookie went nuts when she saw my girlfriend and gave me a head nod when she saw me (#Family #Respect #Blessed). We then watched Game of Thrones as I scanned my bags and clothing for any trace of stowaways from the 1720 House. None. This house is clear.
Normally my road recaps are about weeks or weekends performing comedy somewhere in America. However, this recap, because of its greatness and volume of information and humor will be my first road recap (that I can remember) that is simply a review of a non-comedy trip. I went to my girlfriend’s 20th high school reunion this weekend in Arlington, Virginia. Before you are done reading you will read about slavery, pornography and something far more depraved – a lying scumbag on Amtrak. You will also learn about a legitimate comedy milestone for me as well as chaperoning my Mom to a Bill Maher stand up comedy performance (well, that will be on this week’s podcast). So get ready to learn, laugh and hate!
The Preamble: The Train, The Porn Star and Mean Girls?
As usual, any trip via Amtrak for me will involved the “future glimpse at a dystopian future” known as Penn Station. My girlfriend and I saw the red caps bringing bags to gate 12 East so we, along with a dozen or so other geniuses, lined up there to beat the eventual crush of thousands. Then, the worst thing happened: the gate was announced as 12 West, which meant we were at the back of the line we thought we were starting. As Jesus and Amtrak said, “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.” Of course there was a guy I remember cutting about 120 people and I wanted to throw him down the escalator, but then I remembered this is not a Trump rally, just Penn Station.
When we got to DC we headed to the Hyatt in Rosslyn, VA which was 2 blocks from the site of the reunion. We then ate at a nearby place called District Taco, which was incredibly delicious (including the rare Boylan soda fountain), so expect a big bump in sales after this endorsement DT. After that it was time to meet up with my girlfriend’s two best friends from high school and their significant others. Here is where things start to get interesting.
There are three main facts learned at the dinner:
- One of their classmates is now a porn star!
- That class mate is a man 🙁
- My girlfriend and her friends may have been the mean girls in high school.
We will cover the first two in the “Boogie Night” section, but the third was interesting because when I asked my girlfriend about being the mean girls in high school, she did not deny it. Instead, she said “I think I was the nicest one!” which is a denial worthy of a Sean Spicer press conference. When I asked one of the two friends later in the weekend, there was not a flat denial, but rather a series of explanations, which confirmed they were the mean girls. So I wondered if I, along with the two other significant others were being set up as human shields for some 20th Reunion school revenge shooting. The rest of the night I just paced around the hotel like Marion Barry yelling “Bitch set me up!”
Too Much Black History!
The next morning, my girlfriend and I went to the National African American Museum of Lit History and Fire Emjoi Culture. The place is stunning, though it requires a full day. We spent four hours there and only got through half of the museum (the lower three levels are the hard core history from slavery through President Obama and it involves a lot of reading, which keeps things to a fairly slow pace, especially when considering how densely packed the large area is with information, displays and artifacts. The top 3 floors cover more culture, sports, etc. and I figured we could see that on our next trip to DC. But at one point, my girlfriend and I were feeling so overwhelmed by the sheet depth and quantity of information that I just yelled out “THERE ARE TOO MANY BLACK… PIECES OF HISTORY!” at which point I got a lot of stares. I quickly pulled out a copy of my Sprint Cell Phone bill to prove my half blackness and everything was forgiven.
And as if there was not enough black history going on, while in the museum I got a message that my album Fireside Craps would be the first of my albums to make it on to the Billboard Comedy Charts (so look for annoying photos on social media from me when that happens this week).
Among my chief complaints about the museum (after they should have gotten twice the amount of space – though if they were limited to this square footage it is a marvel of design fitting everything in in the manner in which they did) is that there was no display dedicated to angry white guys yelling “But my parents didn’t own slaves!” nor was there anything dedicated to white women running amok with black twitter vernacular. But they did a strong job nonetheless. Though sadly, I expected to see a display of Amber Rose next to either Sojourner Truth or Rosa Parks, but I guess sex positive heroes have not found their place in the museum yet! Here is a photo journal of highlights from my first trip:
Now it was time for the reunion, which was located in a beautiful top floor space overlooking the Potomac River and basically every landmark in DC. However, because of the cost of renting that space the reunion was left with beer, wine, an appetizer station and someone’s iPod playing hits of the 90s over the PA system. It felt like someone buying a Park Avenue penthouse, but only being able to afford to furnish it with an air mattress.
So as I said hi to a few people (and was mistaken as someone else, but then had to have a 5 minute conversation wit the guy to ease his embarrassment) and then I spotted someone that might be the porn star. I worked for the DA’s office in the Bronx for 3.5 years so maybe it is unfair of me to use my skills like this, but I have a keen eye for clues:
- Dirty handsome. Tan, lean jacked, hair product – like Zac Efron if he had been abandoned as a child.
- Poor eye contact, but very friendly.
- Sort of a child-like voice
- accompanied by a woman under 23 covered in tattoos, with a shapely bum and friendly, but exhausted eyes
- said when speaking to my girlfriend “I work out of Vegas, LA, and San Francisco” (something I coined as the BermudAIDS Triangle” later that night)
When I later spoke to my girlfriend’s friend’s husband he said “that’s him, right?” and I said “he had me at Vegas, LA and San Fran.” I am sure that somewhere in Vegas there is a blog being written by the porn star about how he knew who the comedian was in the party:
- Too many jokes
- The frame of a guy who used to workout, but now has the cream filling of a cupcake
- Works in NYC, even though “works” really means has a day job
- Dating some Tina Fey-ish chick because that is as close as he will get to SNL
Church and the Devil
On Sunday morning I woke up to head to Mass before catching the train (I upgrade my girlfriend to the Accela so we could take the train home together #ReunionMogul). I had originally needed to leave earlier than her because I was taking my Mom to see Bill Maher in Newark Sunday night as her birthday present (I stored up just enough African-American Museum Wokeness credits to attend the show – that show and experience will be recapped on this week’s Righteous Prick Podcast Tuesday morning). I went to St Michael’s Cathedral near the DC Improv – the Church that Pope Francis And I attend while in Washington. DC. However, Mass was at 830am and as I found out the hard way, the DC Metro does not open until 800am – what kind of major city does not open their local train until 8am?! And then it was a 20 minute wait for the train once it opened (they should start a couple of trains in the middle of the route, but what do I know). So I was late to Mass, but I was sure to pray for the DC Metro system (“love your enemies/haters” – Jesus Chris and Katt Williams).
I then met my girlfriend at Union Station and we got on the Accela to NYC. Once we hit Philadelphia the train started to get crowded. A few people asked the man sitting in front of us if they could sit with him. He said that the bag next to him belonged to someone who had gone to the Cafe car. When we got to Newark (ten minutes from NYC) and the train was even more crowded and he told a woman “This guy has been gone for like an hour so you can probably sit here,” but she declined. Well, as we pulled into NYC this piece of shit stands up and picks up the bag. It was his bag. I almost said something to a conductor when he claimed it had been left there (hey, what if it is a bomb), but I didn’t. I wanted to say something to the guy as we were leaving, but all I really wanted to do was set his bag on fire, so that would not have been constructive. From his affected mannerisms I think he may have been in town to celebrate PRIDE Day/Week/Ethnic Female Guts Spilling Out of Crop Tops Day in NYC, but he should have been… ASHAMED! *drops mic*
Subscribe to the Righteous Prick Podcast. New every Tuesday. This week a full review of the Bill Maher show in NJ + Mateen Stewart as guest.
This week’s comedy destination was Washington, D.C. for 6 shows at the DC Improv. Because I had to put myself up in a hotel I did what I do with all comedy trips that won’t make me much profit… I asked my girlfriend to join me for a weekend getaway (this is the way that I rationalize my comedy career – rather than being a struggling feature, trying to make a profit I instantly become a guy who gets paid a few bucks to take his girlfriend on vacation). #CheapVacationMogul. I arrived Thursday solo at the Westin City Center. It was a very nice hotel that I was able to swing a good deal on through Hotwire.com. I knew it was a nice hotel because nothing was included. Internet, breakfast and prostitutes were all additional fees. Normally when I go to a hotel it’s a Hampton Inn where they give you Internet, a waffle iron and a townie 7 to warm your bed, all for $62 a night. No such luck with the DC Westin. My favorite thing about hotels like this are the breakfast options. “You can have a thimble of coffee and one scrambled egg for $25.50… or our buffet which features, eggs, pancakes, french toast, pastries, cereal, an omelette station and a therapy dog for $26.00.” Hmmmmmmmm, can you come back and let me consult with Jared Kushner on the pros and cons of both options? So as I write this in a coffee shop (I had to check out of the Westin at noon, which leaves me as a nomad in DC for 5 hours before Mass and comedy tonight before hopping the 1010pm train back to NYC) here is a recap of the week in quips and photos:
With my lady not arriving until Friday morning, Thursday became “Thidepiece Thursday.” Only one fan showed up (thank you The Black Guy Who Tips for having the most engaged and loyal fans anywhere) and she was attractive, but unfortunately she did not get the memo about Thidepiece Thursday because she rolled in with her man. Maybe because he felt guilty about violating Thidepiece Thursday etiquette by showing up or because no one had bought any of my merchandise after the show, but he bought all three albums I had for sale as he and his lady were happy with the show. So I guess I will let it slide.
But after the 1 pity purchase I texted my girlfriend at 12:01 am (First Lady Fridays) and said, “Bring a bag with room; you are going to have to bring some of these CDs back home.” And not to be too down, my buddy Ross and a friend of his also came to the show so obviously I am being modest about my ability to draw audiences nationwide. We sat in Shake Shack in between shows and talked about deceased relatives, just to keep it light. Here is a fun clip from the show:
Food Court Friday
The girlfriend arrived Friday and we promptly went looking for food. Fridays during Lent mean no meat for Catholics so she got some free-trade, goat cheese-quinoa-avocado wrap that was smuggled out of Brooklyn and I got two slices of pizza. I actually walked from my hotel to Union Station to get her and then we walked all over DC. By the count of my new invention FatBit (which keeps track of all your steps and the fact that you are still horrible out of shape) I had done at least 25,000 steps before getting back to the hotel to prep for the evenings shows.
Before the evening entertainment we tried to go to the African-American History Museum (see my instagram – @jlcomedy – for Trump’s opinions on it) and there was a huge line. I ended up talking Utah Jazz basketball with the guy standing behind me, which is actually the least African-American way to have an NBA discussion. We then got about 30 people from the front when they said no more tickets were available #Blessed. We then went to an art museum where some Japanese lady who looks like a Pixar character had a big exhibition. We also failed to get limited tickets for that so we looked at other stuff, including a sculpture of a bald, fat girthy-cocked dude (the pic omits the girthy phallus for any young readers of bitter, anonymous comedian blogs #TargetMarket):
My girlfriend was meeting her high school friend and her husband at the show (THAT’S 6 FANS ALREADY FROM THE FEATURE ACT – #DRAW) and I had a very strong set. The audience was not full so I set my camera up in the back to capture the action. Unfortunately some folks sat near my camera (for no discernible reason) and bumped my camera so I learned quickly after the set that I had a great 18 minutes of the bathroom door killing.
As I steamed after the first show, and sold nothing, I considered quitting that very moment. However, I did something smarter. I decided to counter the JL Comedy Jinx with some self-hate. I decided not to tape my second set. And of course I crushed. So while I don’t have that set on tape, I did sell 12 CDs after the show (including 3 to ANOTHER member of The Black Guy Who Tips fanbase – 7 FANS MOTHERFU*KERS!). I then crawled into bed next to my girlfriend, who was in a wine-induced coma, at 1 am. #SpoonSaturdays
On Saturday we woke up and made our way to her friend’s house in East Falls Church for some brunch (“When in White Women Rome…”), though before that I had the pleasure of running into NYC comedian Anthony DeVito on the street. We had a nice chat and I wished him luck on his Comedy Central taping (for blog readers, you may remember Anthony from my intimate Winery Show/Bed and Breakfast in early 2016). After brunch the gf and I went for a long walk around DC and went to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and the World War II Memorial, which I think is the best thing in all of DC (thank you for your (lobbying) service Tom Hanks. Both are beautiful. The weather was beautiful, but then it was time to bring the lady back to Union Station (you either get 3 days in a Hampton Inn, or 2 in a Westin on the Broke Comedian Getaway Vacation Package). We ate Pizzeria Uno, which obviously put me on a 24-esque timetable to get back to my Westin bathroom and I put her on the train back to NYC. Before getting to the shows that night here are some photos (more on my Instagram):
That night I arrived at the DC Improv for three shows and was greeted by friend, former podcast guest and DMV comedy legend Rob Maher. We chatted and then I went on stage and did the Lord’s work. I then went into the DC Improv Lounge to follow another DMV legend and friend, Randolph Terrance and crushed even harder than in the main room (I feel like my new bit on the “Fluidity of Sexuality” would please most comedians and members of the Nixon White House). I then had my best post show sales of the week (I opted not to give CDs to the gf to bring back – either I would sell them (good) or be furious that I was dragging them back to NYC (justifying my rage at comedy) to the point that I had to run back to the Westin to get the remaining copies for the late show. All joking aside, I do wish I had gotten a job in DC over NYC after law school because the DC comedy scene has always been my favorite.
I had a very good second set and sold a few copies more. Then I received news that Louis CK had started his SNL monologue with a “Why Did the Chicken Cross The Road” joke. So as I kill some more time on this beautiful DC Sunday, enjoy my video from 2013 that proves that I am way ahead of Louis CK. #JLouisC
As I have been forced to come to grips with the fact that Donald Trump is about to become the 45th President of the United States (seriously, forget how awful a person he is – he is also devoid of any intellectual curiosity and offensively simple minded), I have noticed something troublesome, even by the new Trump-related definition of troublesome. Absorbing daily reminders of his intellectual, social and moral failings, I have discovered that the President-Elect bears more than a passing character resemblance to one of the most famous small time roles in any movie from my lifetime: Ellis from Die Hard.
For a recap (or an introduction to the cinema ignorant), Ellis is a co-worker of John McClain’s wife and basically the prototypical finance douche bro of the 1980s. When he enters the film he is finishing off a line of coke and shortly thereafter insisting that McClain’s wife show off the Rolex that he and/or the company gave her as a bonus. The way he says Rolex and looks at our protagonist is basically saying “I banged your wife or am going to soon because I can get her a Rolex.” Once I made the Trump-Ellis connection I felt like I needed to investigate more about Ellis, one of the most despicable characters of the 1980s. So here is what I found, through the words of Ellis:
“Hey babe, I negotiate million dollar deals for breakfast. I think I can handle this Eurotrash.”
Ellis says this when he decides to negotiate with Hans Gruber (is it a coincidence that Alan Rickman dies in the film he shares with Ellis and then dies the year Trump, Ellis’moral doppelganger, wins the White House?). A confident negotiator? Check. Disrespect for Europe? Check.
“It’s a Rolex.”
The line, mentioned above, is basically Ellis’version of “She was married, but I went after her like a bitch” to Billy Bush. Except, at least Ellis confronts McClain semi face to face, even if it is only through scummy eyebrow raises.
“Well, I’ve watched 60 Minutes, and I’m saying to myself, they’re motivated, they’re happening, I.E. they want something. Maybe it’s because you’re pissed off or maybe it’s the camel jockeys, the hebes; northern Ireland; it’s none of my business.”
This line is incredibly Trump. Instead of 60 Minutes Trump claimed “Watching the Morning Shows” was his foreign policy expertise. He said to a room full of Jewish people “You all love to negotiate” and I think “Camel Jockeys” cannot be too far from what Trump has said of the people of the Middle East in his efforts to ban all Muslims from the United States.
“Hey, business is business. You use a gun, I use a fountain pen what’s the difference? Let’s put it in my terms: you’re in a hostile takeover, you snatch us up for some green mail, but you’re not expecting some poison pill to be running around the building, am I right? Hans, *bubby*, I’m your white knight.”
This line is the sum of Trump’s appeal. The first part is the claim that his experience in business basically makes him fit for anything that ever requires negotiating. The second part about being a white knight – this was Trump’s literal message to the Alt-Reich (term I heard from comedian Jena Friedman at a show)
“I told ’em we were old friends and you were my guest at the party.”
This is the lie Ellis tells Hans Gruber to get him to take him seriously. The truth is he had never met McClain until that night. Sort of a reverse of Trump claiming to not know Putin, when he really did. The only difference is Ellis’ lie gets him killed. Trump’s lies will likely lead to a lot more deaths during his presidency.
So basically Ellis and Trump are the same – scumbags obsessed with material goods and themselves and willing to lie to make themselves seem better. There are only two differences. Ellis was high on coke and at least trying to free his co-workers from a terrorist. Trump is sober and trying to enrich his portfolio and ego at the expense of the American people. Who knew in 1988 that Ellis was the hero we would need in 2016. #RIPEllis
Get J-L’s new stand up albums KEEP MY ENEMIES CLOSER & ISRAELI TORTOISE on iTunes, Amazon & Google.
As 2016 rapidly approaches its conclusion I am reflecting on a year that has been by far my most successful financially as a comedian and also in some ways the most frustrating. I have made the most money of any year, in part thanks to royalty payments for my albums, in part thanks to President-Elect Donald Trump and in part thanks to 13 years of diligence in trying to get booked as a feature at as many comedy clubs as I am able. I had an album reach #1 on iTunes and have made repeated performances on the top podcasts in the country. All done on my own with no representation. However beneath the veneer of budding success lie harsh truths. I have been unable to build an infrastructure for my career. Unlike a regular job, having a good year does not guarantee anything of the sort next year. There are no linear promotions in stand up comedy, at least not for the unrepresented among us. Having a good year in 2016 simply means I will have to redouble efforts in 2017 just to maintain the level I achieved this year and hope for recognition, notice and/or opportunity in 2017 that may allow me to surpass where I am currently. But the difficulty is that even if you double the money I made in comedy this year I would still need another source of income to continue living the pleasant, but month-to-month existence I have had for the last several years. So what that amounts to is that as I approach my 14th year in comedy (and look up the lyrics to Guns N Roses’14 years for a solid description) in what at times feels more like compulsion than enjoyment, I will have to work at a pace that didn’t fatigue me when I was working as a full time attorney and open mic comedian 10 years ago, but now exhausts me. And unlike the comedian I was in 2006 a lot has changed since then. In 2006 I had to worry about stage time, writing and getting clips to bookers. Today there are a dozen social media platforms, YouTube videos and podcasts all of which help you expand a fan base, but all of which take time and energy (in some cases money) and are not stand up comedy. And without a larger platform, media presence, or gatekeeper, you are only likely to expand linearly (my podcast has grown from 200 to 1000 listeners a week since I started it over 4 years ago, which is nice and from a larger comedy business perspective, completely irrelevant) and in this business exponential growth is needed and is still almost always controlled by powerful players in the business. However, just like state lotteries, the powerful in and around comedy have no qualm feeding the myth that the average guy with some pluck and a $1 can be the next success. So as we approach the conclusion of my most successful year as a comedian I offer some words of how comedians can help themselves and how the business can help comedians. Do I expect any of these to take hold? No. But I need this Starbucks coffee to cool off so might as well write.
Comedians Need a Guild
Having attended law school and practiced as an attorney I wish I were more well versed in labor law, but I am not. But I do know that stand up comedy needs a guild. Now I would not expect it to wield as much power or prestige as the Screen Actors Guild, nor provide certain things like health insurance because the economies of comedy clubs are not what they are for film studios, but certain protections and rights need to be enshrined for comedians at some point. For example – the fact that feature acts continue to be the most squeezed of the three comedian levels (emcees – often locals, entry level, middle acts – who have to do the travelling of headliners and perform more time than emcees for a fraction of the money headliners get). The pay per show of feature comedians has not gone up in 30 years. Half the clubs now do not provide lodging for feature acts. That means a feature act, who presumably is the next decade’s headliner (after he or she waits for the Vine stars, Instagram stars and MTV2 stars to leapfrog him or her) must find a way to travel and lodge themselves and hope that frugality and merchandise sales can help them make a little money. And of course the real reason to do it for net gain of maybe a few hundred dollars is to make contacts, hone your act and possible make some fans. But this is no longer really a viable path for people to earn a living and become great comedians. Therefore a Guild should guarantee lodging and/or increased pay for features. Now clubs can be organized by levels (colloquially we call them A or B (or C) rooms – based on crowds, location, prestige, etc. and those levels can be required to pay features a certain level. For example if no lodging is provided then an A room would have to pay a feature $150 per show instead of the standard $100 per show. These are just figures meant to illustrate my point as several clubs already do pay $100 per show plus room, but obviously there is something wrong with a job that is paying the same or less than the same job in 1986 (in real dollars, not adjusted for inflation). Like America, the Middle Class of comedy has been the one most decimated by cutbacks at clubs. In fact, I would argue that they are the only ones paying.
Another issue I would want a comedy guild to address is an outright ban on clubs managing talent. SAG for many years (I could not find out if the rule was lifted recently) banned talent agencies from producing content because of the obvious conflict of interest. I manage you; I make a movie; I cast you ahead of other talent and then I collect 10% of the salary I pay you for being in the movie. However, there are clubs that manage talent, allow that talent to monopolize spots at their club or clubs and then force feed their talent on showcases for networks under the guise of presenting a cream of the crop of talent for networks to select from. In this age of everyone telling comedians that gatekeepers don’t matter – they still matter a lot. We can keep producing free content while being sold a false dream or we can wake up and realize that for every Bo Burnham there are 10,000 people producing free content, some of it good, with no shot of breaking through without an established entity or gate keeper paving the way.
These are just two ideas I have regarding a comedy guild, and I realize they, along with other ideas, would require a collective action that the comedy community may not be capable of. I have said this with some scorn and also some self-blame, but it is hard to organize a labor force when the majority already act and think of themselves as scabs. New comics are afraid of ruffling feathers, comics with some heat and opportunity are afraid of squandering what feels like a shot at the dream and big time comics are too removed from their struggling days to relate or care about the diminished outlook for comedians today. Of course, nothing is guaranteed, but with the Internet demanding more of comedians than ever, having a business that is increasingly stacked against the middle class of comedy cannot and should not be tolerated by comedians at any level.
Facebook is not Your Friend
I have a buddy who is a comedian, but also owns and operates a hugely successful non-comedy Internet company. He has over 2 million fans on his business Facebook page. And over the last couple of years, as Facebook has approached 2 billion users worldwide it has become more and more difficult for him to reach his fans with posts because of the algorithms Facebook has instituted. Facebook has become immensely profitable and their answer to that has been to squeeze the people, business and creators that have helped make it successful. Google pays successful video makers and Twitter does not hide posts – there is still an egalitarian spirit in their business model, unlike Facebook, which basically holds its creators hostage. Facebook, as many of you know, discourages YouTube videos from being seen. As an example, 3 years ago I had a YouTube video link go viral. It had 81 shares and 200,000 views in 3 days. Last year I had a video get 80 shares and it had 5,000 views. There are other factors to explain some disparity, but none to explain that large a disparity other than Facebook’s algorithm. Now Facebook wants its users to directly upload through Facebook and your reward is the ego boost of more views, but nothing else. No compensation, no credits for ads. Nothing.
Facebook is a media giant. Make no mistake about it. They deserve to be treated like CBS, ABC and NBC and I hope the criticism from fake news stories being spread finally gets them to wield the power they cultivated with more responsibility. And as their ads continue to cost more and more money it will reach a point where your feed will be flooded by only the companies and entities that can afford to advertise on radio and television. So like many things in this country, they are driving their success on the backs of content creators, but making it unaffordable for those creators to get exposure (get exposure and make no money or upload a YouTube clip and get no views). Once again, at least Google pays people (there are plenty of issues with Google as well, but trying to keep this under 3000 words). My solution, as unrealistic as it is, would be for comedians to not upload any content directly to Facebook. Once again, this would have to be some sort of hashtaggy moment to draw attention, but we are now addicted to likes and clicks like a digital heroin, so I know it is unlikely. Facebook is just another big, bad company, except they actually don’t make anything. They steal ideas from other apps and they use free content from its users. And comedians should consider themselves one of the main foods on the plate of the social media parasite.
Do Not Use a Label to Produce Your Album(s)
I have self produced 5 albums and self producing has had real financial benefits. This year I will make a little over $15,000 in royalties because I am both the artist AND owner of my material. I have produced good content, but I have never been able to get a label to produce any of my albums. Now this comes with a caveat before I continue. If you are a major artist you can negotiate a deal that works for you. Like most things in comedy (and America) if you come into a deal with power you will leave with power and lots of money. Or if you are an up and coming artist and Comedy Central wants to work with you and produce your album that relationship has immense value for your career because of their reach and their numerous platforms. However, if you don’t fit into these categories I would advise you to take to heart what you half-heatedly tell yourself when trying to justify continuing a rocky career path: do it yourself.
This is one of the few areas where there is an ability to do it yourself (this assumes you are at a level of skill and talent where your material is at a point where it is worth putting down in an album and can find, if not an audience, at least respect, if people hear it). I get the breakdown of my royalties each month and it is roughly 47% to the artist and 53% to the rights owner. Now I probably make a decent amount relative to most no name comedians, but let’s say you are a comedian with one kick ass album. Maybe your label even negotiated a good deal for you, but bottom line is they will make half of your money in perpetuity of your album(s). Why? Because they put up the up front costs for you and got you a nice venue – it may not be a deal with the Devil, but I assure you it is not angelic either. Once again the lure of a top notch production and immediate gratification lures comedians to wager their long term benefits. These labels aggregate albums from big time people and dozens if not hundreds of no-namers like myself. So while you make $500 a month they may make $550 a month x 100 (or more) comedians. Individually, like class action lawsuits, you have no reason to really challenge, but as a collective comedians could change this industry.
If you look at the iTunes comedy charts you will usually see albums from 5 labels dominating and they will also occupy the “New and Noteworthy” spots with high profile placement. My album Israeli Tortoise hit #1 on the comedy charts in August, but it had no backing, no label and never got placement as new and noteworthy, even though one might think reaching #1 in its first week might make it both new and noteworthy. The point is that the only way to change the business is to practice what we preach, or at least pretend to believe. In an era where music labels, television studios and movie studios face increasing competition, comedians continue to be a reliable source of entertainment slave labor where large companies feed the narrative that “gatekeepers are not necessary” to encourage free content, while simultaneously benefiting from their monopoly on real and concrete opportunity as… gatekeepers.
Of course I must admit that I do not know how each of the major labels operate or the nature of the deals they sign with comedians. I can only extrapolate what I know from my payment breakdown, how I see working no name comics treated by the business and the general lessons of history when powerful interests and business operate without restriction or restraint.
And In Conclusion…
America recently elected Donald Trump president. This was the insane result of many things and one of them was working class people willing to buy a lie wrapped in a fairy tale because they were desperate to believe something that catered to their anger and diminished clout. In comedy there is no need for a Trump because it is already run as if Trump is in charge. Contradictory policies, false promises and the middle men and no-namers buy in against their own interests. As my friend Mike Payne said perfectly (and hopefully now famously?) “Comedians talk about the world like Karl Marx and then become Paul Ryan when speaking about comedy.” I am not here to say that I am going to burn myself in front of a comedy club like a monk during Vietnam, either literally or metaphorically (though some might say this blog is doing just that), but there is no better industry more emblematic of income inequality and a rigged system than the broken backs of the middle class of comedy. The question is – will comedians ever band together and do anything about it because it is only getting worse.
Get J-L’s new stand up albums KEEP MY ENEMIES CLOSER & ISRAELI TORTOISE on iTunes, Amazon & Google.
In a week full of controversial statements, even by his standards, Donald Trump has made a desperate, but significant play for black votes by declaring Atlanta, FX’s new comedy starring Donald Glover, “the second best show ever made, after The Apprentice of course.” This week, Donald Trump made headlines for acknowledging President Obama’s American citizenship, but without apology and by falsely claiming Hillary Clinton as the source of the birther movement. When that caused a predictable backlash Trump went to his playbook of “say something worse to distract from earlier bad thing” by suggesting Hillary Clinton’s protective detail abandon their weapons. Well Trump may have finally made his first real play for the African-American vote today when at noon he tweeted out “Atlanta on FX is great. Really great. Probably best show since The Apprentice.”
Trump is a lover of polls, statistics and click bait and he gets all three with his support of Atlanta. Atlanta has had strong ratings for FX, especially if you read titles of articles saying “Best Ratings for an FX comedy premiere since 2011” (which really means it is less successful than Wilfred, but that is not really the point). In a study of Black Twitter, Atlanta recently finished ahead of Barack Obama, Serena Williams and Beyoncé on things black people thought were important and excellent (a metric that combines quantity of shares of content with quantity of superlatives used in those shares). So whether it is genuine or pandering, Trump’s pivot to be pro-Atlanta is the only thing right now in black social media that may have the power to cover up his birther agenda, viewed as one of the low lights of disrespect shown to President Obama during his presidency.
“Hillary keeps hot sauce in her purse? Believe me, I keep Atlanta at the top of my DVR queue. Really great…” gushed Trump outside a white power rally this afternoon.
The response on Black Twitter to Trump’s love of Atlanta has been mixed, but one popular account, going by the name “@ThotsAndPrayers” said “Trump has done a lot of bad and said a lot worse, but he is right – Atlanta is (flame emoji).”
So it seems that it may be too little, too late, but the praise for this amazing show (it is at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, so it is not just black social media that has noticed) as one of the greatest in television history by Mr. Trump is not falling on deaf ears.
Episode 4 of Atlanta‘s first season airs Tuesday.
Get J-L’s new stand up album ISRAELI TORTOISE on iTunes, Amazon & Google.
Yesterday I took a trip to Springfield, MA, home of the Basketball Hall of Fame (oddly enough one day before the ceremonies begin for Shaq, Allen Iverson and Yao Ming among others, so it ended up feeling almost like a private exhibit). It was a pleasant day trip and my girlfriend drove (I gave her 4 stars on Uber – too much complaining about the radio) so it was a rare trip where I was not going to make people laugh and the money I spent/lost would be intentional, instead of the risky Russian Roulette associated with the finances of road comedy work. Rather than bore you with more of my brilliant comedic words I will bore you with some of the photos I took and provide witty captions (if you follow me on Instagram @jlcomedy – this may actually bore you since I spent most of my time at the HoF gawking and posting photos with humorous captions). Before the photo album, the one fact that made me laugh hardest was that it took 21 years from the invention of basketball before they decide to use open baskets/nets so that someone did not have to climb a ladder to remove the ball from the basket. 21 years. Contrast that with the fact that it took 66 years from the first flight by the Wright Brothers (really solid, inspiring and quick read by David McCullough by the way) until Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. The point is we all progress at our own pace. Without further adieu here is my trip that was funny, but by choice, not employment obligation:
In 1987 I was eight years old and Appetite for Destruction came out. My first introduction to the best rock album of all time (in my opinion), or at least the best in my lifetime was my brother arriving with the single (for my young readers that was like an iTunes song but played on vinyl, not ironically or to be cool because you think it “sounds better,” but because that was the option available) for Sweet Child O’ Mine. I mostly laughed because he kept trying to sing along, but did not know the words. Of course once I started seeing videos for Welcome to the Jungle, Sweet Child O’ Mine and Paradise City I became a huge fan. I managed to purchase Appetite for Destruction right under my Dad’s nose, who as a well meaning, but misguided and strict immigrant parent, often took PG movie ratings too seriously (“It says parental guidance – I am your parent.”) and missed the Parental Advisory sticker on AFD. Much to my surprise as I hit song #2 on AFD, curse words happened (“so fu*king easy” on It’s So Easy) and I was a little startled, but the music sounded so good I quickly got over that. By the time I was a 7th grader GnR had released 4 albums and were clearly destined for status somewhere near the Rolling Stones. And then Axl Rose went Axl Rose and it all disappeared. I was too young and broke for the use Your Illusion Tour in 1991-92 so basically my last chance to see the original GnR in concert was a quarter of a century ago. I discussed on my podcast before the rumors of the Not in this Lifetime Tour began that a GnR show was a bucket list for me. And then, as if I was Knockin on Heaven’s Door, my bucket list chance fell like November Rain (sorry)! I bought 2 tickets to Philly when I thought I couldn’t get tickets to their NY/NJ show – but then they added a second NY/NJ show – so I will be headed to that next week. But this Philadelphia show is the special one. Short story – I would give it an A+, To compare it to virginity (since it was my first GnR concert) it was like losing your virginity to your favorite porn star, while she tells you she had never had better and decides to quit the business because she wants to marry you and have kids with you, while putting her Harvard M.D. to good use to give medical care to poor children, but only when you are not home. In other words – great! Here are more specifics:
Travelling to Philly – The Daly Show
I took Amtrak down with my girlfriend and it pretty much resembled this scene from Step Brothers:
When I arrived in Philly I saw my buddy Jim from law school. I knew he was going from social media, but had not thought to ask “Hey will you be on the 12:54pm train from NYC?” with the show at 8:30pm. My gf and I went to our hotel – the Doubletree and as we walked in (not a joke) Sweet Child O’ Mine was playing. I then ate multiple Doubletree cookies and we headed to the nearby Cheesecake Factory to try and get diabetes so that the concert could become a literal bucket list event.
At about 7pm we hopped on the train to the concert venue and when we got off the train we ran into… Jim from law school. We walked to the venue where Jim parted ways to have some beverages with his buddies and I went to the gift shop to make my girlfriend buy me a t-shirt (#ComedyMogul handles train, hotel and tickets, but inside the arena it’s time to earn your keep).
As the show as about to begin (probably an hour between opening act and GnR, which was within the bounds of reason – the only thing more notoriously late than CP time is WAR (W. Axl Rose) time) I get a text from… Jim from law school, indicating he can see me – his tickets were basically directly behind me in a higher section of the stadium (obviously the financial difference between us two Georgetown Law grads is that my comedy earnings of $45.51 per week allow me the finer things in life). Other than sweating like Striker at the end of Airplane! it was pleasant enough waiting for the greatness to begin.
The show was great. How great? The band performed one song off of The Spaghetti Incident (McKagen’s cover of New Rose (sounded great) and four off of Chinese Democracy (none of which were my favorite two – Street of Dreams and Prostitute – FYI – hate on that album all you want, but it showcased that Axl was still a great song writer – and with the original band lending themselves to those 2008 songs they sounded damn good live) and the show was still an A+. I am pretty sure to get Axl to commit they had to let him do at least 4 songs off of Chinese Democracy (an ego thing – like these are the songs I did by myself but they count). It is an easy thing to agree to though. Axl is like Phil Jackson – he is demanding to run the triangle offense – but as long as he brings Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen (his voice and name recognition) to the table you are content to let him believe that everything he does is genius.
They opened with some deep voiced Axl songs (It’s So Easy and Mr. Brownstown), probably to warm Axl up because when he hit Welcome to the Jungle a few songs later, all doubts about his range and power were put to rest. When the band did Double Talkin’ Jive, a song I actually didn’t like, I was mesmerized by Slash’s 3 minute solo. And Axl takes too much heat for putting on weight. He is a little more burley, but who looks the same at 25 and 55? And Slash has old man A-cup man nips, but no one is ripping him?! Only Duff McKagen looks like a statuesque rock God (seriously – dude is in his fifties and is a tower of lean muscle – in his bio he talks about how he got into martial arts and running to get out of alcoholism – he then was an early investor in (I think) Starbucks and Amazon (he is a Seattle guy) so basically fu*k him! But Slash and Axl are holding down the Dad bods to make up for Duff’s stubborn commitment to healthy living.
The GnR set ran over two hours and delivered everything I could want except for the lack of Patience (and if they did Patience I would have screamed for the acoustic version of You’re Crazy). If I had to rank any one song as the highlight it was, surprisingly, Civil War. I always liked the song, but the live version was beyond incredible. The only time I frowned was when I would look at the girl next to me recording herself dancing. I understand taking pictures or even recording a little bit of video – but this girl was almost pretending to dance to capture a video of herself dancing at a concert. It was “peak millennial” (the caption was probably “Feeling so #Blessed that all I can do is dance to this amazing song by Whitesnake).
Back to the main event – Axl’s vocals are there. Slash’s guitar playing is mesmerizing. Despite the crowd looking like a white power rally (I counted by the end of the night – 11 Indian/Asian people, 6.5 black people (including me) and 400,900 white people, with approximately 1.7 million tattoos among them. It looked like a Comic Con for people whose favorite comic is Donald Trump: 2016. But the concert, which concluded beautifully with Paradise City, was everything I wanted and hoped for and more. For more photos (not that many, but some) – check out jlcomedy on Instagram. Now I have my GnR experience locked away forever, in case they suck in NJ and then break up forever.
For more opinions, comedy and bridge burning check out the Righteous Prick Podcast on iTunes and/or STITCHER. New Every Tuesday so subscribe for free! And look for J-L’s new stand up album ISRAELI TORTOISE in August 2016.
This weekend, in the spirit of patriotism and comedy, I travelled to Albany, the capital of New York, to perform at the Albany Funny Bone. For anyone concerned for my safety, do not worry – Albanians do not come from Albany. The club is located in a mall with an 18 screen theater, a Pizzeria Uno and a Dunkin Donuts (along with dozens of other stores with no relevance to my life) so you can anticipate that this recap will be full of humor, movies and gluttony. But it will also feature a horrible heckler, a terror threat in the Mall and Donald Trump watching fireworks. So here we go…
Travel and Accomodations
I left for Albany on Thursday morning on a packed train (and 90% of the people were headed to Albany – who knew it was such a big destination – perhaps it was just a bunch of corrupt business people and escorts headed to the capital to celebrate another “hey at least WE weren’t federally indicted” end of the political year for the State Senate and Assembly. Anyway, when I arrived in Albany I was greeted by Travis, the club manager who drove me to the Hampton Inn (I have always liked Hampton Inn and this one from the staff to the accommodations was the best one I’ve ever been in). The only thing I found disturbing was one of the guests who each morning during breakfast basically gave herself DVD commentary on her whole breakfast (while verbally smothering her son – I thought he might have had some special needs, but then I realized it may have been the Mom with a social and/or personality disorder (“Ok so we are going to have some oatmeal and then – where is the milk? Oh here’s the milk – do you want cereal or waffles – you have to have one, cereal or waffles – and they have bagels, what kind of bagels do they have – need some kind of juice…”) But some kid’s awkward upbringing is hardly a concern when you are crushing delicious waffle iron waffles (the three historically great equalizers in society – the printing press, the Internet and the budget hotel waffle iron).
J-L’s Movie Life
I ended up seeing three movies that weekend. The first and worse by far was The BFG. I will post my review here for your perusal, but it was weak on effects and boring – perfect combination. I then did a Purge marathon on Friday – watched the first two on my computer and then went to see the third in the theater before the Friday shows. Unlike many thriller/horror franchises that just become shameless money grabs, The Purge started with an interesting and provocative concept and has actually improved with each installment, especially as mild social commentary. I couldn’t help but think that the man with his two kids under 10 years old had made a poor choice bringing his kids to it, but no judgment. The third movie I saw was The Shallows with Blake Lively and other than a goofy climax (and no I am not referencing my reaction to the first 15 minutes of the film that feature Lively in slow motion putting on and taking off her surfing wet suit) was a very well done thriller. So who would think that a shark movie starring the wife of Blond-Dane Cook-with-creatine and a third installment of a low budget horror franchise would beat Spielberg, but they both did.
Terror Watch List
I realized a harsh lesson walking through the mall on Friday. As a comedian on the road I spend a lot of time walking on the side of highways and milling around shopping malls – plenty of time to kill, but not a lot of money to spend. And I like to take cell phone pics I think are funny. Well in today’s environment, looking like an HGH infused angry Egyptian walking around a shopping mall taking pictures can rightfully raise suspicions. And that is what happened, because as I was walking around a security guard approached me and said “Hey sir, can I help you find something?” to which I responded, “which way is Mecca – I need to pray ASAP.”
Shows: 5 Great Shows, 1 Incredible Heckler Lady
So I had a great weekend in terms of crowd response (but so-so in CD sales). Guy Torre (headliner) and Frank Gentile (emcee) were both very fun to hang out with and there was only one blemish on the weekend – a drunk lady (of course) at the Friday early show (the only thing stopping me from a perfect 6 for 6 weekend). She was loud, drunk and never shut up for 18 of m 20 minutes (she was escorted out at the 18 minute mark). I got good marks from the crowd for my increasingly hostile response to her, culminating with calling her “DJ cu*t” because she kept scratching every one of my bits before they were done. Below are a couple of clips I threw up on YouTube.
Epilogue – 4th of July
I arrived home on the 4th of July to be greeted by Cookie, who was so happy to see me she peed not once, but twice in my apartment upon my arrival. That night I made my way over to my girlfriend’s apartment which has an east river view so good for fireworks it was as if they were right outside her window (because they were). And here is the comedy gold I produced while watching the firworks (enjoy and tweet this one today!):
For more opinions, comedy and bridge burning check out the Righteous Prick Podcast on iTunes and/or STITCHER. New Every Tuesday so subscribe for free! And look for J-L’s new stand up album ISRAELI TORTOISE in August 2016.