- Joking While Half-Black March 6, 2021
When I first started doing stand-up comedy I relied heavily on impressions (contrary to how many of you reading may have come to know me, impressions have largely been absent from my stand-act from 2007-present day). One impression I had (shocker) was Arnold Schwarzenegger. Schwarzenegger impressions belong with Trump, DeNiro and DMX in the “not this again” impressions hall of fame. But I still had one and it was better than most. One of the frustrating things about impressions if one like an Arnold or a Trump become so ubiquitous, it almost does not matter if yours is great, accurate, etc. But I was new at stand up and had more voices than minutes of material.
One of my first bits that started doing really well for me in my first year in comedy in Washington D.C. (June 2003-June 2004) was an Arnold Schwarzenegger family reunion bit. But due to the length of the name, the family had an abbreviation for members of the family: “negger.” So Arnold would ask his son if he “wanted to be a big strong negger like his Dad or a lazy ass negger like Uncle Frank.” The bit almost always did really well because the impression was good and the concept was a little risque (like callbacks, being a little “naughty” is easy points with a comedy club audience). In fact, when Dave Chappelle debuted “The Niggar Family” sketch on Chappelle’s Show several months after I had been doing the bit around DC, three different comedians texted me their condolences, not because they thought it was stolen but because my station in comedy would make me look like a copycat if I ever did the bit again.
Now this is not totally a story about how even 17 years ago our comedy tastes were so much broader and less sensitive than they are today, though that is somewhat true (real comedy fans are no more sensitive, but the broader swath of society that consumes comedy through cell phones and the Internet is surely much larger and as I repeatedly say, if you are going to take the increased wealth that can come from increased exposure you need to accept some of the broader taste and sensitivity that come with it). The reason that the negger family also worked (and why this is not just a PC sucks screed) is because I built disclaimers about my racial background into my material. I had a bit in the beginning of every set where I planned to do “Negger Family Reunion” about being half Black. Therefore I had offered my proof of membership in the club where I could take more liberties with racially sensitive material. I was not saying the N word, but I was dancing on a line gleefully and realized that given my face and the city of my comedy birth, Washington D.C., I needed to offer some bona fides.
Several years later in my career, long after I had relegated my impressions to YouTube sketches and begun developing lots of stuff to say on stage in my own voice, I would encounter a different issue. Often when I spoke on racial issues, or made jokes about race I would make some audience members (not limited to one race of gender) uncomfortable if I did not offer my racial bona fides early on. To say nothing of white guys wanting to discuss my dick after shows or Black women (on much rarer occasions) wanting body hair proof of my half-Blackness, it seemed that I had to offer proof of my Blackness to joke about race. However, even after offering my biography and ethnicity CV in joke form, more frequently than I like, I am still not afforded basic respect for who I am. It is a small percentage of audience members, but it happens at most shows (perhaps being more well known will reduce awkward skepticism, but then it will just be transferred to the next Rashida Jones looking comedian down the road so that doesn’t really spell comedy progress) So as my comedy became more centered on my thoughts and experiences in life I became much more hostile to proving anything. The Schwarzenegger joke is really the only time, other than one bit on my first album, where I ever uttered something close to the N word in life or on stage. So I felt like I was not taking any liberties that a comedian should not be entitled to, let alone one with a Black father. And as my friend Josh Homer commented one night many years ago (and on a few social media posts during the years), if a crowd did not respect my jokes on their own merits, I would often not bail them out with an “hey folks, it’s ok – I am half-Black” permission slip to enjoy the material they were already anxious about.
Without divulging anything beyond the title, my next album (or hopefully first special) is tentatively called Half Black Face. We are in this annoying time in comedy where so many of the free speech warriors in comedy veer into “offensive bigots just using comedy as a shield to protect indecency” and people who are so concerned with policing comedy appear to be people who don’t seem to either enjoy comedy or know anything about it. So if you want to be a decent person with free reign to be somewhat indecent in an art that is built partly on indecency then your creative space feels like it is shrinking. But what annoys me on a personal level is that too many people want to judge me by rules that I don’t think should apply to any comedians, but still have force because they are about “protecting” certain groups of people.
Over the last year I have picked up an exponentially larger following than I have ever had in my career and I am grateful for it. But I have also had too many “fans” (often, but not exclusively white progressives) inform me that because I am white (to their eyes… and let’s be honest for half of the year almost all eyes) my comedy did not hit as hard as someone who is not ostensibly white. While people fawn over clapter comedy or the latest Pet Rock of humor, I found myself forced to defend my material as both original and valid, despite appearing to come from a white person.
Beyond that I have been lectured about my own jokes. One joke I wrote said that London Breed, Keisha Lance Bottoms and Lori Lightfoot (all Black women mayors who were appearing jointly during Covid news appearances) sounded like the names of superheroes or porn stars. Multiple people informed me that mocking Black women names was problematic. I am fairly certain if I looked Black I would not have been lectured by a white progressive (because then they would likely view that as “violence towards me”) but I also believed the joke stood on its own, like I feel about most jokes. Other than “Keisha” there is nothing about those three names that screams “Black woman.” Follow that with me making a joke about Timothy Chalamet and JB Smoove looking like Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock and someone calling it racist (mind you, the Ossoff doppelganger was not racist, just the Warnock doppelganger). And then this morning, a joke I made a few months ago about Cornel West looking like an old Don Lemon (the joke was about the verbosity of West, not their appearances being similar, and was promptly met with some progressives denouncing my terrible comedy).
I am of the opinion that offensive comedians should be allowed more space because like speech in general, it is the ugly stuff that needs to be protected. No one is required to laugh, but condemning jokes seems to be happening too often, especially from people who don’t seem to know or enjoy most comedy. I am not a jazz fan (musically, we all know I love the basketball team) so I won’t buy tickets to a jazz concert, but I would never deign to lecture someone on what good jazz is or what jazz they should support. But everyone appears to want to be funny or be seen as having a great sense of humor, which seems to be the only qualification for dictating the terms and taste of comedy. This would not annoy me as much as it does (though it would annoy me), but for the racial angle, which I take personally. Some folks seem to think that even including a Black person in a joke as a white (looking) person is off limits.
It reminds me of the time a nice fan complimented me after a show, but told me I should stay away from jokes about trans people (the joke had been about wanting more diversity among serial killers – all the docs were about white killers, but what about women, POC and trans serial killers – the joke was literally about diversity, not attacking trans people, but the new wave of comedy fans truly seem to be triggered by words before they even interpret the context). That would be bad enough, but that sensitivity is coupled with an outspoken boldness. So in many cases you have people too sensitive to enjoy or understand comedy, but simultaneously emboldened enough to condemn it. This particular fan was nice and almost inquisitive so it was not a time for an argument but just an exchange of words, but many people come much more forcefully, despite being equally ignorant.
So when it comes to my own material I want to remain uncompromising, though I do believe I have probably missed out on some opportunities during my recent run because I am a comedian and not an actor or PR creation cosplaying as a comedian. I don’t need people to know my race and would prefer audiences that embrace the quality of my comedy on its merits without needing a demographic cosign. I am not comfortable being a spokesperson or representing something other than a true stand up comedian. That is because I am honest about my experiences in life. When I visited Ireland as a child many kids asked if I was North African. But as I grew older many people thought I was Italian, Jewish or occasionally Egyptian. I understand I have had in some ways the whitest (or at least lightest) of privilege – being a large, angry looking beige guy has not drawn the scrutiny that someone my size and disposition might have gotten if I had a different role of the genetic lottery between my parents. I respect that experience when compared to other POC, but it doesn’t fully strip me of my identity and my right to be who I am without having to constantly prove it.
I still think Billy Crystal’s Sammy Davis Jr is a great impression that poses no problem. Can I say this as a half-Black man who looks white or non-Black to most people? Who determines if I can say or feel that way? I am not trying to speak for others, but is my opinion not at least somewhat valid? I would love to live in a world where all jokes are ok if they are truly meant as jokes, but for every 50 audience members that are triggered, there is a comedian who probably uses comedy more as a weapon to vent hate than to explore ideas. But I think we need to protect that person as comedians and comedy fans, even if we don’t like it. But I don’t want to have to protect my own audiences from jokes anymore.
- Malcontent Creator February 19, 2021
Callbacks in stand up comedy are a common trick. The comedian will mention something in an early joke and then later, or at the end of the set, the comedian will re-introduce or allude to the earlier mentioned thing in a way that wraps up the set. It can often be funny, but sometimes it is simply a trick to make the audience feel smart. They get to say to themselves, or the person next to them, “I remember that from earlier!” And the joy that comes from that is not always because the callback is funny, but because it allows the audience member to pat themselves on the back.
Or as I once said to someone, “people are mostly stupid and callbacks give them the momentary feeling of being smart.”
Now, I have been a bitter curmudgeon for a majority of my career. As long time readers of this blog will know, up until 2020, I spent over a decade as a road comedian, performing as a middle act at comedy clubs around the country. Middle acts have not seen a raise in pay in at least 30 years and as you know, bus, train and plane fares are not operating at 1987 rates. In addition to that, some comedy clubs have stopped providing rooms for middle acts so a typical weekend may end up netting a middle act zero profit unless he has albums to sell (which I do) or t-shirts to sell (I would rather work in a Spencer’s Gifts than use my stand up career to hock t-shirts, though I sympathize with those that do it because of the awful economics of stand up comedy). I spent years writing about the shameful economics of stand up comedy and once I realized that middle acts were too scared to jeopardize their meager opportunities and headliners were too far removed from struggles to care or help that I came to the conclusion that I was simply a tree falling in an empty forest.
So realizing that trying to change the business of stand up comedy was futile I became sort of depressed with the life I had chosen – attempting a career in a profession with horrible business practices and a workforce with a factory-installed scab mindset is a tough place to try and change things. But as time has gone on, from things like Soundcloud rap to Twitter “front facing comedy” to Tik Tok dances I see that what once felt like an industry problem has become a much bigger societal and cultural problem: commerce and virality are not just driving business decisions, but are now the driving force of art itself.
The De-evolution of Dance
I am not a dancer. Even at my most athletic I was not much of a dancer, but certainly not now, as I am practically an inanimate object, but for my expanding waistline. But we all know great dancers – from Fred Astaire to Michael Jackson to Chris Brown, etc. we know a great dancer when we see one. Great dancing was once something we could gawk at or would make you really cool at a Bar Mitzvah, but as Tik Tok demonstrates, it seems that dancing is no longer about doing something that no one else can do – it is about doing something that everyone can do.
Years before I reluctantly joined Tik Tok I would see people posting “Tik Tok challenges” and wondered “what is the challenge?” They often appeared just to be 15 seconds of easily replicated choreography. But like the callback in stand up, the point was not to make a great dance move; the point was to get engagement. And by calling it a “challenge” instead of “anyone can do this you uncreative sack of shit” you incentivized engagement and might even go “viral,” the holy grail of 21st century creation. And as Tik Tok goes, not only to the original inventors go viral, but copycats can go viral as well!
Art nowadays feels like the meeting point of “inclusivity” and “the death of expertise.” Like if anti-maskers got together with the San Francisco school board and decided on the worst ways to ruin real creativity. But Tik Tok is the current king of social media, so it seems “imitate” is the new “create.” My only question would be did Tik Tok create this world or simply accelerate where we were headed? Seems safe to bet that it is the latter, since the genius of Tik Tok’s algorithm is delivering what we already want.
Making Art for the Algorithm
As I write this blog on Word Press, there is a running tracker on the side bar, indicating this blog’s “readability.” Through algorithms, the site is telling me how “readable” my sentence structure and paragraph breakdowns are. I started at “good,” but am now at “needs improvement” (the last time I got “needs improvement” on something was my 1st grade report card where my math and reading were 100, but my “listening skills” needed improvement. My answer to my parents at the time was “I must be listening if my other grades are 100” – that is how a condescending monster is born). In other words, Word Press is helping the writer curate their writing to an algorithm-based audience. I am ignoring the advice because this is not 2001: A Blog Odyssey, but it is instructive. More and more the goal is to modify one’s work to meet the audience, rather than produce work and hope that your truest, best effort gets an audience.
I referenced Soundcloud rap earlier because of this point. A few years ago I read about how Soundcloud rappers were making shorter songs, often with a hook that seemed indistinguishable from so many others and only one verse because that combination would often lead to maximizing the number of plays of a song. So as we all laughed at the record executive in Bohemian Rhapsody questioning Freddy Mercury on the lunacy of a 6 minute pop song, in real life “artists” (quotes because I cannot really consider someone an artist who doesn’t prioritize the art in the creation of said art) were basically trying to serve up songs under 3 minutes!
In stand up comedy I see the same thing happening. Because of horrible economics, Sirius XM is one of the greatest sources of income to (trying to be) working comedians. Because I never shared the rights to my work with any large labels for “exposure” (something I have told comedians for a decade to little avail) I have made almost $200K since 2014, largely through satellite radio royalties. But, like Soundcloud rap, shorter has become better and I have seen comedians making albums with 30 tracks, all under 2 minutes to help rotation. Once again, I understand due to the economics of stand up comedy why someone would do this, but would we have a comedian like Gary Gulman if when he started the economics of comedy were basically making him choose between a 10 minute bit on cookies and a 90 second bit on Hydrox? Is that in any way good for stand up comedy? To favor only quick hits and to have that favoritism shaping newer comedians? I would say no. Sure a Dave Attell would not have to change a thing with his great comedy, but not everyone is or should be a Dave Attell.
Something that seemed to begin with Jon Stewart but really accelerated under Trump has been people getting their news from comedians. John Oliver has rode this trend to multiple Emmys for what is a very good show, though not necessarily the funniest. While I don’t think Stewart or Oliver are particularly at fault here as they do provide a lot of laughs, it seems that the growing trend is that if comedy is “important,” whether it be Hannah Gadbsy’s Nanette, John Oliver’s shows or Dave Chappelle’s recent foray into spoken word then it is “good comedy” (when did comedians stop trying to make their points through comedy, at least while on a stage, and just decide “this will be the serious part of my comedy show”? I always thought the extra genius of Stephen Colbert on Comedy Central was that he made all his points sharply and brilliantly with, and through, comedy). When we reward “importance” over laughs in the comedy space it seems to incentivize comedy on both sides of the political aisle that is merely hammering one’s ideological opponents (there are plenty of funny people I know right of center who seem to have become redundant bashers of what they view as P.C. culture so it is not just the left that does this). It also has probably let many people off the hook in terms of being engaged and serious citizens. When The Daily Show was at its Jon Stewart-peak it was often said, perhaps apocryphally, that more young people were getting their news from Jon Stewart than mainstream media. As fun as that might sound, it is not actually a good thing. Reading the paper every morning is about 90 minutes of my day. I know not everyone has that much time or desire, but 22 minutes of comedy at 11pm is also not the answer (to say nothing of the garbage being called “news” on right wing stations).
Even in a year when I put out a disproportionate amount of political comedy relative to my normal amount, I am proud that at least 90% of my content whether stand up, impressions or comments, have been comedy. If I had remained one note for the whole year perhaps my following would have continued to grow but I am a comedian. Though I have lots to say about lots of things (as this “needs improvement” blog shows) I feel like if people follow me for comedy, then it is my job as a comedian to provide… comedy. However, social media seems to want people to be Mariano Rivera and not David Cone. Let me explain non sports folks. Rivera is the hall of fame pitcher who threw one devastating pitch for his entire career. David Cone was a master craftsman who could throw (if I remember correctly) 4 different pitches, threw them from different angles and was also a workhorse. I prefer to be a David Cone (if not an outright Bo Jackson hehe) of comedy, but it seems that Twitter often rewards people for staying in one, predictable lane. And the way it works on our brains is that once we are rewarded for certain content, the motivation becomes to provide that content or opinion all the time, like a Mariano Rivera cut fastball, except more annoying and less interesting.
So social media, at least on Twitter (I quit Facebook over 2 years ago because I felt like destroying democracy in this country was not worth getting birthday messages from people I did not know in real life), it has devolved into people hammering home the exact same points over and over again, including the rise of “front facing character comedy,” but which seems to exponentially grow, like a the mob of zombies in World War Z (see below). Along with this what has bothered me is a sort of rise in cowardice in comedy. I did a series of parodies as Dave Chappelle recently and was told by someone that I shouldn’t do it because Dave is doing some cool philosophical stuff. Huh? Almost 8 years ago I went viral for impersonating Louis CK. It was done with some venom, not because I had anything personal against the man (none of his scandals were public), but because I do comedy with some bite. I got a lot of hate and a lot of love for that video, but now there seems to be even more caution. Because the powerful in comedy seem to have so much power people seem to only want to mock those who do not threaten their fiefdom. If you are on the right you will dunk on The Nation and late night hosts because those avenues are not open to you, but you probably won’t do too much critiquing of Joe Rogan. On the left, you will continue to mock the GOP, but will tip toe carefully about “punching down” or making jokes about Joe Biden. I have said this for 8 years, but in comedy it used to be “nothing is sacred,” but not it appears to be “as long as I don’t align with it, it is not sacred.” This is in part because of algorithm-driven content but also in a selective form of bravery among today’s comedians.
Are Fans Getting Dumber and More Entitled or Did We Make Them that Way?
I have often written that many of the people who complain about “PC Culture” and “Cancel Culture” do not seem to recognize that their increase in wealth and exposure did not occur in a vacuum. It happened on the Internet. The cost of greater exposure is greater exposure. People watching comedy are no longer just stand up comedy or sketch fans – they are bored people who may have never entered a club or said a funny thing in their lives but want a diversion. If their eyeballs helped fuel your rise then their opinions are going to be part of tearing you down as well. I have not griped about being cancelled, but I do wonder if the business of comedy and the Internet, combined with what feels like an increasingly dumb population is what will really destroy art and comedy in particular.
I remember watching a season of a singing show (I think it was the X Factor, but it might have been American Idol) where Nicole Scherzinger of the Pussycat Dolls was challenged by an angry contestant to sing and sing she did. The songs of the Pussycat Dolls songs did not exactly require the range of Mozart’s Queen of the Night aria so I assumed Scherzinger would be mediocre. But she was not. Her voice was excellent and powerful. And I had a thought those many years ago that I am guessing very few people have had, other than the Pussycat Dolls – were the Pussycat Dolls dumbing down their talent to make it more accessible? And that seems to be the perfect storm we have arrived at of late. Business models that cater to short attention spans, art that inspires and encourages imitation rather than awe and fans that are conditioned to need art curated to their tastes, opinions and capacities as they are.
We elected George W. Bush because people wanted to have a beer with him. We have a Covid outbreak because your angry neighbor’s opinion on masks was as valid as Dr. Facui’s and we have an art landscape that seems to be increasingly driven by algorithms rather than artistry. If they redid The Matrix today, Neo would just be a Tik Tok star producing 15 second hooks because that is all that would be needed to thrive on the app (while his comatose body lay hooked up to machines in a comedy club). I see political pundits driving conversation about comedy, comedians being praised for offering self-serving, punchline-free “analysis” and fans treating comedy like it’s Uber Comedy Eats (do zero impressions and you’ll be treated like an unknowable genius; do 30 impressions and fans will treat you like a jukebox). And this does not even touch the loss of the concept of “selling out” (a friend once told me about a survey many years ago where the impact of Kim Kardashian (who might as well be Patient Zero of the plague known as “influencing” – I think of her as the George Washington of Only Fans), had basically eliminated the concept of “selling out” in young people’s minds. Being a brand or an influencer was as good or better than being an artist or creator and you can certainly do both now with almost no one questioning your integrity. We can save that for another “needs improvement” blog).
I will (finally) leave you with this. A few weeks ago I took a selfie of my hair and said “a week away from being able to do my Malcolm Gladwell impression.” The following exchange then took place (paraphrasing):
Fan: More like another year
Me: Oh you need to update your Gladwell afro reference point.
Fan: shares a picture of Gladwell with the date 2008 on the picture. In it, Gladwell has a very large afro
Me: sharing a 2020 picture of Gladwell with significantly shorter hair saying “yes your pic is from 12 years ago.”
Fan: Hey dude – it is your joke – if I have to know what Gladwell’s hair is like now it sort of ruins the joke. Sorry you can’t take some friendly Twitter sparring.
I then blocked him for being a nuisance, but I felt the exchange illustrated so much of what this blog encompasses. So I suppose, even though the Twitter algorithm has not been friendly to me over the last 4+ months (but still I am way ahead of the game compared to my social media worth a year ago) I am falling prey to the deal I warned others about: the Internet giveth happiness but it can taketh away. However, this has not changed my fundamental desire as a comedian: to headline comedy clubs. I still have faith in the people that spend their moneys to go to live comedy that they truly understand the art and what it is about (not 100% but a lot more than the social media world for sure). In a comedy club they are not there just to be distracted from their office job or Covid; they are there for stand up comedy. On-line content, and especially comedy, feels ever more disposable and as platforms cater to the whims of their shareholders, it becomes harder and harder to get a critical mass of fans to provide meaningful support. As business, social media & clout chasing mediocrities posing as creators combine forces they will strengthen their collective grip on determining what we want and like. And at some point, even a callback will not be enough to penetrate the stupidity we will have fostered.
- The Best Thing My Trump Impression Got Me October 25, 2020
This year has been a terrible year for the world and so many people. But for awhile it seemed that I would be one of the few people along with Jeff Bezos to have a career year. Once my Trump impression took off in March I began gaining fans by the ten thousands and getting a lot of money from digital platforms like YouTube and Cameo. There were frustrations, expected and inexplicable alike, but by almost any possible measurement my year was going great, let alone graded on the curve of a global pandemic.
By late May I had not seen my family in Riverdale (Bronx, NY) since early March and my Uncle John’s 71st birthday was coming up. I grew up with my uncle as my neighbor. From 1986 to 2020 my uncle lived directly across the hall from my family (which for the last few years was just my mom, his sister) so needless to say he played an outsized role in my life compared to the typical uncle. He was also a tough person to buy gifts for sometime. And despite my unexpected positive economic numbers I had no idea what to get my uncle with my new money during a pandemic. And then I had an idea.
During my rise to Twitter infamy several celebrities that I am a big fan of began commenting, retweeting and following me. Pop stars, Emmy winning actors, legendary actresses and many other people of that ilk were in my mentions frequently. But one new fan stuck out in my mind as it related to my uncle: Bob Gunton.
For those of you who do not know who Bob Gunton is by name, when I say The Warden from The Shawshank Redemption, there should be no other questions. In one of the most popular and acclaimed films of my lifetime his performance stands equal to (and for some, like my uncle, surpasses) the great work of Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman in that film. He has been in many, many films and TV shows, but the iconic and defining performance of his career is Warden Norton. And for my uncle, a lover of movies generally and Shawshank specifically, Gunton’s performance was an all timer. Anytime it was on TNT (44.7 million airings and counting) he would say “Why didn’t Gunton get nominated?” But it went beyond that. My uncle, armed with Google and a computer in the 200os became a Google/Wikipedia expert on anything or anyone that piqued his interest. Gunton’s life story of being a lifelong Catholic that attended seminary and receiving a Bronze Star in Vietnam were some of the Wiki details that my uncle shared with me about Gunton. Almost as if their shared faith and an impressive service record further validated my uncle’s appreciation of his acting work.
So in late May, after receiving multiple complimentary tweets from Mr. Gunton I decided to write to him to ask a favor. I relayed my uncle’s appreciation of Mr. Gunton’s work and asked if he would be willing to send him a signed headshot. The answer was an immediate yes and it was placed in the mail the next day. The headshot arrived on my Uncle’s birthday and was opened separate from my card so the surprise was total to say the least. When you know someone long enough you know when they really appreciate something. My uncle’s response was akin to the janitor clapping at the end of Rudy or Mr. Miyagi’s smiling nod to Daniel at the end of The Karate Kid. Not hugely vocal, but undeniably pleased. I knew because the next day we had a chat where he basically described the headshot in greater detail.
My uncle had always wanted me to focus on my legal career and I think comedy always seemed like a fool’s errand to him (and for most of my 30s it felt that way to me as well). But the Bob Gunton headshot was an unintended flex of how my talents had finally reached a broader and impactful (to us at least) audience. I genuinely cannot remember ever getting him a present that seemed to make him happier and it would not have happened if my impression had not blown up during Covid. So, at the risk of sounding hokey, it is clear that the money and increased attention and opportunities have to be considered secondary to being able to get the headshot for my uncle. A month later he told me that he had framed it in a nice frame. It said “Hey Uncle John, Happy Birthday! From The Warden (signed Bob Gunton)”
On August 12th I got a phone call while I was sitting at my desk wearing a ball gag around my neck, which is how so many bad stories begin. I had just finished recording a video doing my impression of Mike Pence (hence the ball gag prop) when the phone rang. I picked up and it was my uncle. He had been waiting for medical news and the news was not good. A few weeks earlier he had to get bone marrow tests because his white blood cell count was skyrocketing. His doctors believed it was chronic leukemia, but as I sat in my desk chair my uncle delivered the bad news to me: it was acute. Instead of being able to just get oral medication he would have to start a chemotherapy regimen soon. Because the leukemia seemed to have changed from chronic to acute it appeared that it was aggressive. I had planned on going to visit my uncle and my mom at the end of August, which was a week away, after not seeing either of them in person since early March, but now that would be delayed with his chemo. He would require a 5 day stay in the hospital monthly until his levels got back to acceptable. Unfortunately some other health issues emerged before he was set to go to the hospital so he had to go early. When speaking to my mom she had told me that my uncle thought about bringing the Gunton headshot to the hospital. We laughed about it and he did not bring it with him.
From there I would only have a few more conversations with my uncle. A series of health issues emerged, but the chemotherapy seemed to strike a knock out blow instead of helping. It was a very rapid and unexpected decline and about 2 weeks after first going to the hospital he passed away. We did not get to say goodbye as he was sedated for almost 2 weeks. As we talked after, piecing it together it seems like my uncle knew his health was in trouble for a lot longer than he let us know. He had purchased a lot of new things in the last year and it makes me think that it was a form of retail therapy and/or an attempt at optimism. But I thought of the headshot as well. We laughed that he might want to bring it to the hospital, but as I think about it maybe he wanted it because it was a really bright light in an otherwise dark year. A year that denied him peace of mind for his health and usual contact with his loved ones. It is tough enough to go through Covid more isolated, but if you know that your health might be failing it can only exponentially increase a hopeless feeling. And I think the headshot was something that meant so much to him and was so cool to him because it was a gift and connection he never expected in a year of bad news and diminished connections.
So it has been a tough year for so many in so many ways and my family is no exception. But I want to say thank you so much to Mr. Bob Gunton. Your work gave us decades of enjoyment and your kind and generous gesture touched my Uncle in a time when I did not know quite how much he needed it. So for my Uncle I put my trust in the Lord, but your headshot belongs to me.
- The Trump 10 Commandments September 23, 2020
As I listen to podcasts and read articles about the hopes of conservatives have of getting a “pro-life” judge on the Supreme Court to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I feel like it is time to update Christianity and the Bible for Trump Christians. For example, Jesus 1.0 asked “What does it profit a man, to gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” But wouldn’t Jesus 2.0 say “When you’re a celebrity they let you do it?” And when Jesus 1.0 said “Easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven,” wasn’t he just being an unsuccessful loser? Wouldn’t Jesus 2.0 say “Please donate so I can buy a private jet to deliver the Gospel?”
I think of this as Judge Amy Coney Barrett is the front runner for the Supreme Court nomination because of her strong legal credentials and even more importantly, her pro-life credentials. She is a Catholic, as am I, and yet no one seems to have asked if she thinks the death penalty is unconstitutional. She also has a special needs child that she chose to keep (a beautiful personal choice for sure) and she adopted two Haitian children (I am sure she won’t mind thanking a man who called their native country a shithole) so she seems to walk the walk. I don’t know if she is as dedicated to abolishing the death penalty, but my guess is not. Perhaps it is because, despite her Catholicism, she shares a lot in common with Trump Christians. Trump Christians, previously known as Conservative Christians or Conservative Evangelical Christians, appear to believe in a Jesus-less brand of Christianity. They are people who appear to have replaced John the Baptist with Ralph Reed and Jesus with Donald Trump (after all, Jesus was not actually a Christian, as I have pointed out in many of my satirical Trump videos). I think conservative Christians in this country are basically savvy marketers who have chosen to adopt the wrath of the Old Testament with the popular branding of Jesus, while ignoring what Jesus said. After all, if they only like the Old Testament then that would make them Jews (“yikes!” said the conservative followers of Christ who think supporting Israel to bring about Judgment Day constitutes supporting Jews). If this were a modern day conservative Christian marketing team, Jesus would be complaining to the press that he was brought in for PR and diversity numbers but that his views are not being heard or respected.
So because Jesus is basically being used for branding purposes I think it is time to start redefining Trump Christians from the ground up. So let’s start with the Ten (Trump) Commandments for Conservative Evangelical Trump Christians:
- Trump is the Lord Thy God and anyone who contradicts Him is Fake News/Fake gods
- Thou Shalt Allow The Trump’s Name to be taken in vain if it constitutes a lucrative branding deal
- Remember that standing in front of a Church holding a Bible after violently removing peaceful protesters is even better than keeping the Sabbath
- Honor They Father and Mother as long as he supports Trump and she is hot
- Thou shall not question how many people died as a result of Trump’s actions or inactions; thou shall be ok with death penalty and abortion shall be ok if the pregnant woman is a mistress of a wealthy Republican
- Thou shall not be judged for committing adultery if you are Trump or work for Trump
- Thou shall consider stealing by Trump or Republicans smart and strong
- Thou shall not be held accountable for bearing false witness if you are Trump or work for Trump
- Thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s wife, but you may bang thy neighbor’s Republican wife if her Christian husband pays you to and watches
- Thou shall not allow people to move into your neighborhood for fear that because of their skin color they will covet your goods
So now we are finally building the foundation for a more honest and righteous Trump Christianity – actually Jesus was sort of too nice, so let’s just call these folks Trumpians.
- Donald Trump is a Terrorist August 30, 2020
A middle child of privilege. A man with deep contempt for the majority of Americans and its principles. A man who used a warped vision of a world religion to produce fanaticism among his followers. A man whose leadership has led to the death of thousands of Americans. This is a description of Donald Trump, though you could be forgiven for thinking I was referencing Osama bin Laden. In America, we have become reflexively accustomed to equating terrorist with Muslim and/or Brown, but make no mistake: Donald Trump is a terrorist. His whole life he has lacked both courage and faith, but do not think of him as a fanatical warrior engaging in actions that strike fear into people. Think of him more as the leader who issues orders and spouts religious platitudes while committing adultery and looking at porn in his private quarters. Dictionary.com defines terrorism as “the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes.” By that definition can there be any doubt?
I think I need to acknowledge the fact that many people colloquially think of a terrorist as a sort of violent, religious fanatic, or at least someone conducting their terror with religious undertones. Obviously the definition does not require this, but real life and dictionary definitions can often diverge. For those more inclined to link terror with religion, I would ask: doesn’t Donald Trump often wed a religious fanaticism to his political objectives? Donald Trump has no religious convictions, but is very happy to weaponize religion to suit his pursuit of power. As I have often thought of some fundamentalists (I am a Mass-attending Catholic for what it’s worth), faith becomes a post-fact rationalization for desired effects. For some it is violence. For many it is misogyny. For some it is to repress things about themselves. For Trump it has been an easy way to weaponize a group of people who want to win more than they want to embody Christ. He clearly believes in none of it, but he is willing to conduct violence on peaceful protesters just to send signals to his true believers that he is a tip of their religious spear. Combine that with lies and misrepresentations about abortion and inane declarations like “Joe Biden wants to hurt God” or “get rid of Churches” and you have effectively primed your religious fanatics for a Holy War (likely with trademarked merchandise).
Violence For Political Purpose
Donald Trump issues calls to violence repeatedly but because he and his followers are white, “Christian” men they are called patriots instead of armed fanatics following their leader’s fatwas From claiming “2nd Amendment people” could take care of candidate Hillary Clinton, to demanding Michigan and Virginia be “liberated” (and a non-vague reference to the 2nd Amendment in Virginia’s case) he has consistently encouraged violence on the part of his followers as the way to fight for his cause (himself). He could not even bring himself to condemn the racists in Charlottesville because it would have contradicted his one and only goal: retaining his most fanatical and solid supporters. The political aim is always about him and his reelection and he will both encourage violence and ignore violence if it clashes with his sacred purpose of protecting Donald Trump’s power.
But beyond his direct calls for, or ignoring of, actual violence Donald Trump’s self-absorbed “leadership” has also cost tens of thousands of lives. Not pursuing Russian bounties on U.S. troops, lying about the risks of Covid to protect his economic numbers, failing to properly provide for the American people and then diminishing the risks of Covid again as the election nears he has shown at best, a grave indifference to the lives of American people, especially those in Blue states. In other words, those who did not support him were expendable. If “Terrorism by omission” were ever a thing he would be its supreme leader.
In summary, Trump encourages violence, looks the other way when his supporters engage in violence and prioritizes his reelection over the safety of Americans, especially the ones from places that do not support him. And as the cherry on top, sometimes, “friends” of his like Herman Cain are simply collateral damage. Unwitting suicide bombers in a Trump 2020 jihad.
Donald Trump Serves Donald Trump
These words will come off as sensationalist or incendiary to some, but I mean them. If Donald Trump were running another Democracy this way we would be encouraging new leadership. If he were in charge of a young democracy or a developing nation I think we would either have the CIA or SEAL Team 6 seeking his ouster and would cheer his downfall as a victory for Democracy. But he is a white, American, self-proclaimed Christian and he is afforded all the protections those labels provide while representing a daily threat to human life, Democracy and the founding principles of this country. Fans of Trump, like the rabid moron Alex Jones, love to claim that 9/11 was an inside job. Well, Trump actually is an inside job. We put him in office and he is causing more death and lasting damage through commission and omission than any terrorist ever has or ever could.
As heinous as 9/11 it did not break us as a country. In fact it unified the country, at least in the pre-Iraq War days. Donald Trump’s brand of terror is not an isolated incident. It is a governing strategy and personal philosophy and it is ongoing. Donald Trump’s terrorism does not profess to serve God or Yahweh or Allah. He serves himself and is willing to sacrifice all in that service and that should earn him at least as much scorn and condemnation as the agents of death and fanaticism that have preceded him.
- Defund The Comedy Police July 26, 2020
Growing up my favorite priest at my local Church was Father Murphy. Father Murphy was a pretty hard-lined priest, but he was also a riveting speaker and someone that made me feel prouder to be Catholic after one of his homilies. I have often told people the feeling I got from his speaking must have been akin to the feeling than some get from lives in military service (a life style as difficult for me to imagine for myself as it might be for an atheist reading this to associate with being a Catholic) – a call to sacrifice and to make personal decisions for a greater good. Though I am sure Father Murphy was/is a political conservative, he never made me think in political terms. Rather, he amplified the value and righteousness of my personal life decisions.
The reason I bring that up is that beyond Church, the other thing in my life that has given me the same sense of purposefulness has been stand up comedy. I do not beat my chest and try to use “I am a comedian and therefore a First Amendment hero,” but I have found stand up comedy a sanctuary to express and/or escape some of the worst things in my mind and in my life. And in return for that I have tried to not censor myself when I believe in material, never steal material and always put humor as the primary point (though not ignoring the meaning and power of words, I do not want to be a comedian that ever pursues “clapter,” something I have seen on both sides of the political aisle in comedy – more to come on that later – at the cost of laughter). This is my way of respecting the freedom that stand up comedy has given me. So for most of my career I tried to produce stand up comedy and videos at a headliner pace while only operating on a funny first, consequences second standard and adhering to that. In keeping with an overall honest approach, I also spent a lot of spare time in my career critiquing and calling out bad business practices in stand up, highlighting comedy I thought was overrated and seething over comedians who seemed to always forget the good fortune in their self-proclaimed Horatio Alger tales of comedy success (these were the blogs, not the material on stage or in videos). These did not help me advance I am sure, but I have always embraced an all encompassing honesty when it comes to comedy – with the freedom to do comedy comes a responsibility to be honest about it, if that makes sense. Probably stupid, but quixotically consistent.
But the one thing I never did was declare some comedy “not allowed.” I might not like it, but I never believed in limiting comedians’ ability to take risks and fail. The only time I ever did that was when Michael Richards went on a tirade of N words directed at Black audience members. Although it took place on a comedy stage it was about as artistic as John Wilkes Booth shooting Lincoln at a theater. But other than that I have taken a very broad – “if you don’t like it, don’t listen to it/watch it” stance on stand up and comedy in general. Not to say you cannot have an opinion, but the bar for “cancelling” in comedy for me is skyscraper high. I know it is a cliche by now, but stand up is worked out in public – the art needs people to fail to advance. And to be completely honest, I often hate when I see comedians being provocative for the sake of being provocative and then hiding behind this same rationale, but perhaps that is the price we have to pay to have stand up. The same way free speech protects hate speech, comedy speech protects provocative-for-the-sake-of-being-provocative speech.
I should also point out that as the Internet has expanded money making opportunities for comedians it has also expanded the viewership and listenership far beyond the comedy club attending audience. I have scolded comedians for not expecting that thorn to accompany their rose of booming profits. And on this point I may be somewhat hypocritical because recently as my social media following has blossomed so have condemnations of some of my jokes. And I hate it.
It feels like there are two types of Progressive comedy fans. The type that leave a $10 tip in the tip jar and walk out and the type that wait 20 extra minutes until someone sees them put their $10 in the tip jar and then walk out (OK, there are definitely more than just these two but go with it for the analogy). The thing they are doing is good, but for the latter the real reward is being recognized for doing the right thing. It feels that way with some of the people who have become my fans on Twitter. They like that I am making fun of the President, but do not like it when any group that is not rich, white, powerful men get mocked. As I have joked before, as a 6’7″ genius I really have no choice but to punch down with my humor. But the reflexive push back from people is absurd. Take this recent tweet:
Many people informed me that I should take this tweet down and that fat shaming was wrong. I told several of them that their comedy opinions were so misinformed that they should definitely not be trusted on what is good comedy. And I wrote this joke with the intention of avoiding controversy – my rule is, if I could sell it to Jay Leno then it is probably harmless. And yet the trigger words came out and told me that it was mean and not funny. In other words, any mention of Lane Bryant in a joke violates some newly created rule of comedy. Here is another that got people upset:
Many people were offended by this one. I had seen these four mayors on CNN together and thought, wow those names all sound like they belong in a superhero movie or a porn parody of a superhero movie. All of the women are Black, but other than the name Keisha, in a color blind guessing game, I would have guessed that London Breed was the white daughter of a hipster celebrity couple in Brooklyn, that Lori Lightfoot was a white woman and possibly in an upcoming sequel to The Incredibles and that Muriel Bowser was the grandmother of the Mario Brothers character. And if Keisha Lance Bottoms were Ken Lance Bottoms then I would have been only the 40,000th comedian to reference porn. But the Twitter comedy police were not having it. I was informed that mocking the names of Black women is a harmful stereotype and that I said porn because they were all women. Others gave me the “jeesh maybe this would sound better at a club, but not here” type comments.
Perhaps it is because I am half-Black, or more likely because I am not an insecure person trying to constantly prove their racial awareness bona fides, but if these jokes are not OK then what these heroes without a cause are really saying is that “certain topics cannot be talked about ever.” Another good example from one of my last live shows in 2019 – I did a joke about all the white, male serial killers getting documentaries and I asked “it’s 2019 – are there no serial killers of color? No trans serial killers?” A woman came up to me after the show very complimentary but told me “trans people have it very hard and I think you should leave them out.” It was as if she thought trans people were the subject of the joke, when actually the subject of the joke were people who come up to comedians after shows and tell them that the mere mention of trans people should be off limits. For the sake of being consistent, I know these are criticisms and I said that criticism is OK, but laced along these criticisms is a desire to wall off certain topics to make it easier to appear more righteous, when it is really just cowardice and laziness.
Perhaps I am overly sensitive and after all this is only Twitter, but right now YouTube and Twitter are the only two ways for me to really perform. In 2018 I listened to The New Yorker podcast proclaim that Hannah Gadsby, a month before Nanette aired, would change comedy (I now know this was probably as much the input of a publicist as it was the opinion of The New Yorker podcast host). In my head I thought “what does The New Yorker (a magazine I like to read, but not take stand up cues from) know about comedy?” And then they were right! And I wondered – is this an aberration or a trend? Is The New Yorker the new stand uptaste maker?
This year I have seen things I never thought possible in comedy, one of which is my relative success. But I have also seen politically motivated, left wing social media dictate comedy in those spaces. I am no doubt a beneficiary of that, but what has alarmed me is how humorless (and entitled) many of these people appear to be when the comedy (and comedian) does not align perfectly with their personal and political aspirations. People who have accused me of comedy theft clearly are ignorant and may have never attended a comedy club, but I cannot dismiss them entirely because this is the platform we have for the foreseeable future. I do my best to post other jokes (see above for sources of criticism) and encourage folks to check out my vast library of videos and albums that are neither political, nor Trump related in an effort to cultivate the portion of my fan base that likes stand up comedy. But the the desire is far less for that work. On top of that, for too many “comedy fans” on social media, their support becomes about affirming themselves. I told someone recently that my comedy can make some progressives laugh, but I don’t make progressives feel good about themselves, which appears to be the ultimate aim for many of them. And I could ignore them because they won’t ever go to a show of mine anyway (if those ever happen again). But when they start assessing me as a person or telling me what to do with jokes (“take this down now!” “This is wrong!” “No!” “I thought you were funny but now I see you are an asshole!”) I would rather call them out and ask them to leave my virtual comedy club. In fact, I don’t even think they like comedy. They like affirmation and wrapping it in comedy seems cooler or more fun, but when stripped of the “me” the rest of comedy is just Cody and they don’t know him.
As a quick example of why this is not just a one-sided issue, though it appears more prevalent on the left, I wrote this after attending a Dave Chappelle show a year ago. He did jokes on a 2015 or 2016 special on trans people that offended many. In all honesty I thought they were hilarious. I am not saying they were not offensive, but they were also grounded completely in humor. However, after the backlash he went through, in the show I saw live he decided to make a tortured metaphor between his usage of the N word and his usage of a homophobic slur. The response was not laughter because there was no joke. Instead there was head nodding and “clapter,” normally only found at a very progressive comedy show, but found in abundance at the Chappelle show I saw. Chappelle is free to share his thoughts how he chooses and I simply didn’t like that bit, but the crowd’s reaction was sort of a mirror image of the cancel progressives. They were clapping at a crude analogy because it was affirming their desire to say the F word without condemnation, not because it was a great joke. Is that so much different than someone wanting to cancel an artist for an offensive joke, no matter how funny?
Now, as I have navigated the last 4 months of my life and all of its successes and frustrations I have been given kindhearted advice from friends, associates and even a couple of celebrities to ignore haters, not comment on other people and keep my eye on the prize. But right now the prize still just remains offering content from my apartment. And despite my writing, videos and impressions I am first and foremost a stand up comedian. And no matter what level my career was at, I approached it in the funniest, but also most honest to myself way that I could. And if becoming successful as a comedian requires suppressing that which made me an excellent comedian then I must circle back to a quote from Father Murphy. When I was in high school he ended one of his homilies pondering, what if people who say religion and the Church are false are correct. And he said “If it is false, then damn it all.”
- Trump to Hold GOP Convention at Florida Hooters June 7, 2020
In response to Charlotte not willing to guarantee a Covid orgy for Donald Trump’s August convention, Trump and the RNC, in a joint statement early Sunday morning, announced that the convention would be held at the end of August at a Hooters restaurant in Clearwater, Florida. “We wanted a restaurant that reflected both our Christian values and could provide the kind of sweaty intimacy that the President wants for his convention,” said Ronna McDaniel, chair of the RNC. “It’s like the original Hooters and also in a great state of Florida so those are two things I really appreciate,” Trump emphasized. “Great food, great people and women who have to pretend to be nice to you while you drool over them is what makes America great so I am proud to have our great convention at Clearwater Hooters.”
In addition to the location change, which was praised by faith leaders Jerry Falwell Jr, Franklin Graham and Ralph Reed, the announcement also provided a detailed itinerary of the convention:
Monday August 24 – “All Lives Matter”
- Opening prayer by Joel Osteen
- Sheriff David Clarke (AKA “Angry Hootie”) will take the stage, scream “Blue Lives Matter” and shoot himself to prove solidarity with his fellow officers and convention goers
- Steve King will endorse Donald Trump while urinating on an immigrant child in a cage
Tuesday August 25 – “The Real America”
- A salute to Patriot Farmers will feature a selection of songs by Kid Rock and Ted Nugent and a documentary about the beauty of the teenage women growing up on farms, narrated by James Woods.
- The “Jews will not replace us” marchers from Charlottesville will take the stage in a powerful moment to honor Robert E Lee and Strom Thurmond.
- Keynote speaker: Don Trump Jr will be introduced by his girlfriend Kim Guilfoyle, who will not at all wonder how she went from Gavin Newsome to Donald Trump, Jr. Junior will announce his plan to run for office in 2024 and will humanize his father with a speech expected to highlight the time his father said he didn’t want his first born to be a Jr “in case he is a loser” as well as the time his father bitch slapped him while he was a student at Penn.
Wednesday August 26 – “Faith and Guns”
- Dana Loesch of the NRA will come out after the opening prayer and make herself climax using a loaded AR-15.
- Alex Jones will eat his neighbor’s body on stage.
- Pastor Robert Jeffres will set fire to a copy of the Koran
- Vice President Pence, introduced by Jerry Falwell’s pool boy, will declare Donald Trump the greatest force God has ever unleashed on America and that Covid, like being gay, is just something we needed the strength to overcome.
Thursday August 27 – “Keep America Great”
- Candace Owens will start the evening by walking on stage with George Zimmerman and the officers that killed Tamir Rice, Eric Garner and George Floyd (following his pardon by President Trump) and declare “It’s time to get off the Black Lives Matter/DNC plantation.” She will then announce a new dating show on OAN where she will choose from among 10 cops who have killed black men/boys to get engaged. It will be called Tie the Knot.
- Jon Voight will introduce President Trump declaring him the greatest leader in the history of mankind. Voight will also apologize for having a black son on the show Ray Donovan.
- President Trump will take the stage as MAGA children bring up surgical masks on stage for a giant burning. Stephen Miller’s wife will then give birth to a demon live on stage. Ivanka will parade the stage in a bikini while Trump speaks. He will then end his speech with a threeway kiss with Ivanka and Melania and declare his second term “The Wild Things presidency.” Balloons filled with hydrochloroquine will fall from the ceiling.
Promises to be an incredible week in Clearwater.
- A Bunch of Non Trump Stuff June 5, 2020
The most frustrating thing of the last month or so has been constant accusations of stealing my impression of Donald Trump. For the record, I have been impersonating Donald Trump since 2015 and my current crop of Twitter videos were started March 11th of this year. On April 23rd comedian Sarah Cooper began posting her lip sync videos of Trump and to her credit, the world seems to have redefined what the default assumption of what an impression is. Now instead of people being impressed with my impression many assume mine is also a lip sync (which is a compliment to its accuracy and plausibility, except when it comes with “stop stealing from Sarah” and the occasional, incorrect comment about my race, almost always from a progressive white woman, desperately guarding their new cyber connection to a black woman and viewing my work as an attack on her (once again – I was first, it’s an impression, not a lip sync and I am half-Haitian, half-Irish). But to be fair a conservative sent me a private racist message because he thought I was Mexican.
I never understood why so many got money making opportunities off of Trump during his first term and I couldn’t, but to blow up on the strength of my impression and then have the very definition of impression changed on me is a level of #JLJinx I could not have seen coming. But as a 17 year stand up comedian (June 2, 2003 being my first open mic), with hundreds of sketch and stand up videos, dozens of impressions and 8 albums (6 stand up and 2 as Trump) I would rather someone consume that content and then assess and compare what level of comedian I am. So here are some albums, impressions and sketches that I think will make you a real fan of mine (though if you are reading my blog perhaps I am already preaching to the choir) because when Trump is done I want and need real comedy fans in my corner to have the career that has eluded me for 17 years. The sooner I get out of the developing nation that is “Trump comedy” the better I think we will all be (but to be clear I am, or at least should be, the dictator running that nation 🙂 )
The Two Albums to Judge Me By: Keep My Enemies Closer (2013), Thots & Prayers (2018 – double album)
You can stream or buy these albums anywhere you listen to music. They are my two best and I think each should have made me a headliner. Neither did, but the best way to judge if you want to come see me do stand up when the pandemic passes is to listen to these. I have 6 in total and stand by all as quality works that also provide a sort of chronology of my life if you listen to them in order, but I know asking you to buy or listen to six stand up albums is probably a tall order (but feel free to do so).
The 10 Sketches of Mine That You Should Watch
These sketches are all written by me and feature me in some capacity, many as impressions. So watch, enjoy and share your favorite(s).
Biggie (2013) – a spoof on the Movie Big
Joel Osteen’s Early Sermon (2015)
Adam Carolla Show with Trump, Bernie and Matt Achity (2016) – my Carolla impression got me on the Adam Carolla Show as a repeat guest – the Trump was still in its infancy and many of you will not know that the Matt Achity is strong – Carolla Show fans the most likely to get this one to its core
This is Trump (2018) – my Trump centered parody of This Is Us (yes it is a Trump sketch, but more as a sample of parody writing of a popular show)
Ken Burns Comedy pt 1 (2015) – As a fan of Ken Burns’ documentaries I decided to do a 2 part series on stand up comedy as a send up of both comedy and Ken Burns. Trumpet, JB Smoove and narration by me.
Booty (2011) – a send up of the Kardashian Craze
The Punisher at Home (Jon Bernthal) ep 1 (2018) – An impression a lot of people like from me, just need Bernthal to become a certified A-lister so I can capitalize
Adam Sandler and Tyler Perry Make a Movie Together (2014)
If Bad Boy TV Heroes Were Black (2014) – the most relevant sketch I made that sadly stays relevant
Tout Bagay: A Half-Haitian Comedy Saga (2018) – a sample of my stand up that tells about my upbringing. The main part is not on any album, but this should entice you to check out the albums I hope
So if you made it through some or all of this thank you and hopefully you will continue to check out my stand up albums and my many other videos. When Trump is done there will be more and more content for you to still laugh at and hopefully fewer annoying comparisons and comments.
- The Top 10 TrumPandemic Videos May 25, 2020
It has been two months since I went viral with Donald Trump vs God on Easter PPV, though the first video was even earlier on March 11, 2020. Because the Twitter algorithm has people missing some videos, two pieces of advice for fans on Memorial Day. One, subscribe to my YouTube channel. You will not miss a video and the views I get on YouTube pay me (versus the views on Twitter which just make my ego feel good, but do nothing for my bank account). Two – share the list I am about to share far and wide with people who are fans and those who have never heard of me. If you do enjoy the impression and have money to spare (subscribing on YouTube costs nothing, if you are not aware) then go get Fireside Craps: The Deuce (dominated the iTunes and Amazon comedy charts for 2 weeks this month) on iTunes or Amazon. OK, without further adieu, here are the top 10 videos of the #TrumPandemic that the J-L Video Committee (me) decided on as the top 10 (all are superb so the deciding was very tough):
10. Donald Trump Encourages People to Drink Diet Fresca
9. Donald Trump Mourns Brian Dennehy (one of two videos that cracked me up and needed re-filming)
8. Donald Trump vs God Easter PPV (the one that went viral and started this)
7. Donald Trump Appoints James Woods (the definitive “reading” Trump)
6. Donald Trump Angry with Georgia (feat. JB Smoove)
5. Donald Trump Reviews Joe Biden’s Appearance on The Breakfast Club
4. New Easter (feat. Andrew Cuomo)
3. Trump Congratulates Tiffany Trump on Law School Graduation
2. Trump Re-Opens Mar-A-Lago
And the Number One for me was a no-brainer. It is the video I had to re-film multiple times because I kept cracking myself up.
1. Donald Trump Is Concerned for Kim Jong Un’s Health
- Never Call Me a Thief May 17, 2020
In a few weeks I will “celebrate” 17 years performing stand up comedy. After my second year at Georgetown University Law Center, a year that found me deeply depressed, so much so that my then-girlfriend called a priest from Georgetown to counsel me. Basically he showed up to my apartment like Father Merrin in The Exorcist, we had Chinese food and subsequently had a few months of therapeutic lunches. At the end of that I realized I needed a hobby and went to my first open mic in DC in June of 2003. And if law school was my heroin, for many years it seemed that stand up comedy became my methadone. It stopped me from being depressed about law school and later, about being a lawyer but then it became its own dependency. After a good show in 2006 I might feel high for three days. Six years later the buzz from even a great set would wear off by the time I descended the stairs of the stage. This is not some exaggeration – I remember the show at NYC’s Gotham Comedy Club in October 2012 when it happened.
Part of the problem was that my career, after a solid trajectory for a few years started to feel like treading water. One or two things might happen to give me hope that a career in comedy was in the offing only to realize that it was just a tease. In 2007 I made my national TV debut on The Late Late Show (a great debut set that I find hard to watch simply because I was in such great shape), but months later, when looking to make another appearance on TLLS two things happened: my manager (nothing in writing, but he was helping me immensely with an eye to the future) was let go and I made the rookie mistake of trying to stay with the agency. They officially dumped me months later after the heat of my appearance had died down and this occurred around the time of a writers’ strike in Hollywood. By the time things came back TLLS did not return emails from my manger-less ass.
I was then laid off from my law firm in 2009, but with savings and the money from a returned (snatched) engagement ring I felt like I was good enough to make that money last until I became a star. I ended up featuring around the country (one memorable gig in Detroit paid $300 for 5 shows – I took a train to Detroit… from NYC and a Greyhound back. Found a cheap hotel and managed to make $13 profit, which I considered a major accomplishment and why I have not stopped complaining about stagnant feature pay for years, despite the fact that the industry and almost no headliner care. I kept taking gigs that did not make financial sense because I though if I could keep writing and performing and rubbing elbows with headliners a combination of skill, luck and relationships would take me where I wanted to go.
Most headliners seemed to enjoy my presence and my material but none extended a hand other to say good job. And that’s OK. I think maybe my combination of NBA/NFL size, the “side gig” as an attorney and the fact that I was in my early 30s did not lend itself to a conventional mentoring relationship. I was not some young kid in need of guidance. I was a smart, grown ass man in need of work and a manager, not someone to “teach me the ropes.” But in 2010 I worked with a comedian who would be able to see me in a different light, because he seemed to think of almost every comedian as beneath him: Patrice O’Neal.
I only worked with Patrice twice, but you can hear me introducing him on his two big albums. I emceed for him the first time by luck. I did not take emcee work, not because I was above it but I refused to lose money on road gigs (e.g. you could have me for $13 profit). But my brother and his family lived in DC at the time that I was offered an emcee spot at the DC Improv so I would not have to pay for my own hotel if I took the emcee spot. So I took it. It was a few months before Patrice would record Elephant in the Room and it is one of the three biggest killer weeks of shows I have ever been part of. In terms of pure killing (strong audience reaction) the three guys who have destroyed crowds harder than anyone else I’ve worked with are Patrice, Sebastian Maniscalco in 2013 (another emcee shot I jumped at in DC) and Gary Owen. I watched every one of Patrice’s shows. Patrice did two things that week that made me think that perhaps I had made a potential friend. The first was that he told me one of the nights that he liked my Rocky bit (a bit I never performed in front of him, but that he had seen looking up my stuff – here is the updated version from Thots and Prayers) and the second was that he ripped me for about 10 minutes in front of the local comedians after the last show. It was more friendly roast and felt basically like he “fu*ked with me” as a comedian.
The great compliment came maybe 6 months or so later when he asked the DC Improv to have me emcee his next set of shows. I still feel like it is the single best compliment I have ever received in stand up. He valued the emcee spot, which he told me when I was trying to impress him that I “usually featured” (this is what he ripped me for in front of the comics the previous year). Now I have never asked a comedian “if I could open for them.” I am not super pushy to begin with, but I feel like that is like asking someone if you are invited to their wedding – let them invite you and if they don’t then you just keep working for the next opportunity. But once Patrice invited me back personally I thought that I might ask him if his feature could not make a gig, would he keep me in mind. Like I said, I only would have done this because I felt like he had asked for me first. But a few months later, Patrice would have the stroke that would take his life. I remember being 99% sad that a giant of stand up was gone, just a couple of years into me really delving into his work, but admittedly 1% of me was sad for me because the only headliner who had the physical and mental stature to see me as an inferior (in a good way) and might help me was now gone.
But I kept plugging away. In 2013, after ending a relationship in 2012 that had to suffer through the most disappointing stretch of my career I drank a lot, but also created my best work. In April 2013 I released a video that would be my first viral video – Louis CK Tells the Classics, where I mocked Louis CK’s writing and delivery style through knock knock jokes. This was CK at the height of his powers within and outside of the stand up world. Many people called me a hater, but most thought the impression and the content were A+. It got me a few meetings with managers that went nowhere. But in September of 2013 I released Keep My Enemies Closer, the best album of my career. I wrote and worked the 75 minutes of material in only 16 months (as I had released a very solid album Too Big To Fail in the beginning of 2012). It sold modestly, but almost every fan I have acknowledges that it is a superb stand up album (performed in front of about 30 people, because 10 years into your career your friends abandon your career because they have families and little of the “oh man you do comedy!” enthusiasm that overflowed when you were new and terrible. But you have not developed a large enough fan base of strangers because you are not very successful by the measure of the lay person who often assumes that 10 years without headlining or being on TV regularly means you are probably not that good. It is a terrible place to be in your comedy career, but I had dropped the two best pieces of content in my career at this nadir.
But, predictably, 2013 yielded nothing except all my money had run out, I was a feature of great skill, but little renown and I had put on 50 lbs since my Late Late Show debut. So I started doing part time legal work. Living month to month for the next 5 years. Dependent more on the godsend of Sound Exchange, which paid out streaming and satellite radio royalties (one of the fortunate moves of mine in not believing in the shady comedy labels that dominate the stand up album world and believing in myself, no matter how foolhardy, was that I owned the rights to every stand up album I self produced. So from 2015-2018 the vast majority of my comedy earnings came from those albums, not the 1988 wages clubs were/are still paying middle acts (features, if I did not explain earlier)).
So I went from being a prosecutor and a big firm associate to a meagerly-paid document reviewing attorney, simply to have the flexibility to do road gigs that would most of the time net me less money than clicking on emails for large corporations as a “contract attorney.” I had fun runs on The Adam Carolla Show as a resident impersonator and video maker (videos that cost me as much to make as a weekend of feature work), flying myself to LA on my own dime just trying to boost my Twitter and YouTube numbers by appearing on a big podcast (see how much my Trump has improved by watching a sample video below – which will mostly only make sense to Carolla Show fans). I made around 15 appearances on ESPN radio as a Trump impersonator, but could never convince the show to make a guest, despite being a huge sports fan and a popular segment on the show.
In 2018 I recorded Thots and Prayers, for me the only album of mine at the level of Keep My Enemies Closer, at Helium in Philly. I remember when the set was done I felt a complete exhaustion and sense of relief. I had cranked out 6 stand up albums, all an hour or more in 15 years (at the time) as a stand up. I was proud of every one. I had produced every one. I had been a road warrior. I had cost myself relationships, financial stability, physical health and happiness in pursuit of making myself a real stand up comedian. I had made podcasts and videos and was proud of that work too, but a headlining stand up comedian was the goal for me. A real popular headliner. Special event on my poster outside the clubs level comedian. And I had maintained an elite headliner level of output, all while only featuring and doing bar shows in NYC because no club had yet passed me after all that time and all those seemingly important accomplishments. But after that 2018 recording I felt done. I felt like I had done all that I could, had become a great stand up, but the career wasn’t going to happen for me.
On a related note from 2016 to today I believed I had the best Trump impression (though it clearly has improved “tremendously” since my early assumptions about its quality), but I was seeing everyone from comedians to sketch guys to famous actors getting paid well to play Trump and I couldn’t even propel ESPN radio and Adam Carolla appearances into anything even decent as far as a payday. So combined with exhaustion from stand up I felt like, “If my best pitch (Trump) is not getting me a sniff then it really is not going to happen.”
The final straw was 2019 – I had only received 3 gigs after March – a headlining gig in Ann Arbor (lots of fun) and two feature spots in Baltimore (fun) and Long Island (some fun and an awkward racial conversation after one show). That was it. So when I received a call out of the blue from a legal staffing agency offering me a position at a big firm I took it. I also moved to NJ, away from the hustle and convenience of NYC, because I figured if I was not working as a comedian and work was no longer coming to me, why not get 2 bedrooms for the price of the studio I was living in. When I left my apartment in midtown in August 2019 it was a happy day for many reasons, but it also felt like the saddest day of my life. I was leaving the only home I’d really had as a non-student since my childhood home. It also felt like my stand up career was staying there while I went to start a new life.
I have messed up relationships. I have hurt people. I have been hurt. I have not been the perfect Catholic I sought to be in my youth and adulthood and I am not the Daniel Caffey/Atticus Finch lawyer I thought I could be when I enrolled in law school. But comedy was the thing that I had done perfectly. Not successfully, but perfectly. I worked hard at it. I had multi-faceted talents within it. I had received unsolicited praise from big time comedians. I had achieved some rewards and opportunities, with the exception of The Late Late Show, all on my own. I have a track record of videos and albums to prove I was here and I produced. And I did it the right way. I stuck true to my voice. I didn’t violate any personal rules I had set for myself in my personal or professional conduct. I wanted my comedy career to be pure, in the sense that if and when I reached where I wanted to get it would be an unassailable journey that others could look at with admiration and for which I could feel an unblemished pride. I did all of that and it did not happen. Until March 2020.
The Covid-to-Riches story of my career is probably the best known thing about me because it what I have discussed on TV and podcasts for the last month. The Covid hit and thanks to a text from a friend I decided to make a selfie video as Trump. It was my 4th or 5th video in the last week and a half, but this one went off like a fire. Within a week I was already Twitter famous. All of my social media metrics skyrocketed and the irony is that I am now famous and have fans with nowhere to perform. And the undeniable flip side of this is that if the world was not in a health and economic crisis I would have been in an office and not posting an off the cuff Trump impression video on March 24th. And my career would likely have been done.
But as I was enjoying recognition and increased opportunities to entertain, a comedian posted a video lip syncing Trump that caught fire in a way that literally doubled, if not tripled the viral impact of my big video a month after mine. I remember laughing at the video and thinking “wow that is blowing up.” But unlike most comedians who will not acknowledge their competitiveness I will admit that I did not feel threatened because I thought, “That is not even my lane. I am free styling A+ material in the best Trump voice people have heard. Hers is a fun Tik Tok.” But then people began @-ing me telling me she was better and/or that we should collaborate. I would be lying if I said it did not bother me on an artistic level to have what I do compared, or equated to a lip sync, but these are tough times and anyone who can make people laugh (including myself) deserve respect and positive vibes. So I just liked the comments or ignored them. Lot of people just want to laugh and equate big belly laughs with big belly laughs no matter how they get them.
But over the last few days I have gotten several messages accusing me of stealing this comedian’s successful act. Never mind that I predated the comedian’s video by a month or that I am improvising a great impression that has been 5 years in the making. They are not merely dismissing that. They are accusing me of theft of something that I take the highest pride in (ironically it is because they think my impression is a lip sync, which is an accidental compliment, but I truly don’t care). For many years, all I had in comedy was pride in that I was doing it the right way because I did not have any other marker of success or progress. To quote Scarface, “All I ha[d] [wa]s my word and my ballssss.” It was like being on a hamster wheel and having to tell yourself, “well I haven’t gone anywhere, but I am really running with good form.” But accusing me of stealing will not be tolerated. I don’t know if you are ignorant of comedy, stupid or just an aggressive on-line presence. I do not give a shit. You put that out there I will stomp it. And if you among the people questioning why I have reacted so strongly to those accusations it is simple. I am not a Twitter comedian. I am a stand up comedian and impersonator that you discovered on Twitter. Please, enjoy my work, but do not confuse my work as a quirky diversion. It is born of many years of hard work and sacrifice. I will not surrender pride in my work and how I got here to be more palatable for Twitter. I hope you understand that. I am not diminishing others. I am defending what I am doing, which I did not think would be necessary. My blog and my podcast were often places where I would write and speak truths (and a lot of humor) about life, politics, art and most of all, stand up. The things I wrote, in some cases, could have been detrimental to my career, but they were always honest words from a frustrated comedian who wanted to see the business work better for himself and others similarly situated. So forgive me if you did not expect this level of honesty from someone you may know as a “Twitter” comedian. Diminish my work and I may be able to bite my tongue. But call me a thief, after all this and how I have tried to pursue it in as pure a way as possible, then all I can say to you is fuck you.