Donald Trump is a Terrorist

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?

Religion

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.

If a Comedy Club Falls Do Comedians Make a…

I was disappointed to learn earlier this Summer that the Joke Joint clubs in St Paul, MN and Houston, TX had closed.  They were two of three venues to book me as a headliner so I just lost 67% of the rooms that headline me (though I say with no humility, but total honesty that I can probably torch 67% of the comedians headlining A-list rooms today).  They were venues that gave some comedians who were strong features, but not well known or well-represented comics a chance to headline, which almost always means more money and better merchandise sales (in St Paul – the policy for years had been if you buy a comedian’s merch he would give you a free pass to a future show – obviously a big help to road comedians).  And it allowed real experience in headlining (which requires not just material quantity, but reps doing that length of time).  The Houston location came under fire from some comedians for headlining porn star Stormy Daniels, who obviously is not a stand up comedian and drew this response from most comedians:

Now I have made many jokes about A-list comedy clubs booking YouTube stars, actors, Instagram celebs and WWE wrestlers to headline their clubs, but the Daniels booking did not make me feel the same way. Perhaps it was some personal bias, but the Joke Joints were basically C-list clubs.  They were not owned by a chain. They were owned by one guy who was giving opportunities to comedians who otherwise would not get that opportunity.  So with that goes a need to boost attendance in other ways.  If the JJs were booking A-list acts they wouldn’t need to stunt book, but they were giving working/struggling/up and coming/down on their luck comedians opportunities that other clubs couldn’t (and can’t) bother to provide. That should be understood and celebrated.  That is why I defended JJ’s specific booking of Daniels.

I emailed the owner of the JJs recently to thank him for his years of bookings and to wish him luck and say that I was sorry the clubs had to close.  He thanked me, but then said something that made me sad, but also confirmed a lot of my cynicism of the “comedy community.”  He told me that he was sort of surprised at how few people had reached out after the closings.  I was sad because this was not a business owned by a some faceless conglomerate – the owner was on site most of the time.  He did the bookings for the clubs. In St Paul, before he moved to Houston, the comedy condo was the top floor of his own family’s house (kept very nice with a separate entrance for comedians). You could not have an owner with a more personal connection to the comedians. And the response to the clubs’ closings was mostly silent ingratitude.

For years I have hoped for a groundswell of comedians to push for a guild (Hassan Minhaj’s Netflix show recently highlighted a push by video game developers to unionize – so now gamers are ahead of comedians on labor rights), but said many years ago that you probably cannot organize a work force that already acts with the self-centered desperation of  a scab.  But this demonstrated to me that comedians are just as big a problem to the comedy bubble that has already burst for the working class.  It is an industry littered with a workforce with Boiler Room ethics.  I have consistently blamed the management and business classes of stand up for its problems, but it takes two to tango and a stand up community filled with equal parts opportunistic social media and podcast stars and actual comedians  is not going to be the place to look for moral or ethical behavior.

I know it’s a small sample size, but there are top tier comedians and nobodies who have made their way through the Joke Joints and the club has been opened for many years.  That’s hundreds of comedians who have walked through their doors, many for their first or only headlining opportunities (hopefully local comedians were more thoughtful and appreciative than the headliners).  But as my comedy career winds down, to my deep disappointment (though a new doorman at my building found out I did comedy and binge watched my YouTube channel last night with his wife and loved it! #HopeSpringsEternal), I can take a perverse comfort in knowing that, although there are good people at all levels of the stand up comedy world, perhaps it is a community that I will be better off without.  I hope the JJ owner is better without it as well if he chooses to be done with the business.

Djokavic is The Best. But is he The GOAT?6

From die hard sports fans to casual sports observers, it can truly be said that we live in the best time in history to be watching tennis.  I myself was a casual fan who has sort of been forced into a more serious enthusiasm for the sport, based on the sheer historic greatness on display in the last decade.  On the women’s side we have witnessed the greatest of all time in Serena Williams (though arguing for a Steffi Graf is certainly a respectable position or I guess Margaret Court, who appears to have won 24 grand slam titles sometime before women’s suffrage I think.  But as great as Serena has been, the men’s game has been absurdly historic.  We have the three greatest players of all time at the same time.  The collective greatness of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokavic has basically snuffed out a later generation of tennis players. There is a generation of tennis players from age 28 to 40 who basically have no idea what winning a grand slam feels like unless they have a hook-up at Dennys.  It started with Federer who basically took over men’s tennis from the United States and then repeatedly snuffed out its heir apparent, Andy Roddick, who won the last U.S. men’s title in 2003. Federer won several titles from 2003-2007 basically unimpeded as the clear best player in the world.  But then he got company.

Rafael Nadal showed up and has basically called dibs on the French Open since 2006.  The only reason Federer ever won in France is because Nadal was eliminated before they could meet (Nadal is currently 40,999,987-2 at Roland Garros).  He has been a Spanish brick wall.  Some try to pigeonhole him as a one surface star, but he still has 6 non-French Open titles on his record.  And that includes the 2008 legendary Wimbledon match that turned me from a casual tennis fan into a more serious tennis fan.  Dubbed until yesterday as “The Greatest Match Ever Played” it was an epic that basically took the entirety of my hungover Sunday 11 years ago.  It represented Nadal beating the older Federer on his best surface and proving he was not just a clay specialist.  It looked like it might have been a passing of the torch, but it turned out to be more of a sharing of the torch.  From that day I became a huge Nadal fan.  I had wondered why he was always sneering and picking his butt, but that day I watched him exhibit such will and athletic talent that his grimacing and wedgies just seemed like eccentricities of a genius.  And I simply took for granted Federer’s talent and effortless excellence.

As the years went by I made sure not to miss any majors and continued to root hard for Nadal in a race to be the Greatest Of All Time (GOAT).  As he continued to pile up French Opens and the occasional other major, and Federer looked to be aging, I felt confident that Nadal might take the title.  He has a winning record against Federer (but to be fair a lot of that is on his clay kingdom – but they do count!).  But then Novak Djokavic showed up and the Magic and Larry of tennis may have met their Michael Jordan.

I don’t know when I became aware of Djokavic. To me and many fans he just felt like the dude who kept messing up Nadal and Federer’s title chase.  But I know when I became a big fan.  The 2015 U.S. Open.  The rowdy crowd was, like every crowd in tennis, rooting hard for Federer in the Finals.  Djokavic was the world #1 and seemed to take it as disrespect. He dropped the 2nd set, but then proceeded to beat Federer’s ass in the remaining two sets to take the title.  I have always liked athletes with bad tempers.  Perhaps because I was one.  But Djokavic seemed to take the title of “J-L’s favorite angry athlete” from Paul O’Neill (who is now MAGA so fu*k him – how do you win championships with Puerto Ricans and immigrants and then vote and support a racist xenophobe?).  I was so impressed with Djokavic’s performance that day and realized that he might be able to run roughshod over men’s tennis for the next decade with Nadal’s physicality taking a toll and Federer getting old.

Except it hasn’t been like that.  Djokavic’s entire career has been a fight against immortal Federer and unmovable Nadal.  And yet he was won 16 grand slams and counting, without a 4 year solo head start like Federer or a single dominant surface like Nadal.  So I think it is safe to say that Djokavic is the best player in the history of tennis.  He has at least 3 years of dominance left in him (at least physically) and has a winning record against both Federer and Nadal in his career.  And his performance yesterday, while not dominating, was as gutty a performance as I have ever seen.  Down two match points to Roger Federer with the whole crowd about to climax for Federer he pushed the game to deuce, won the game, forced a tiebreaker and turned Federer into Swiss Miss en route to another Wimbledon trophy.  But then I realized something.  Federer is the GOAT.

For background I liked Federer early on, but the grit and range of Nadal made me more awestruck. And later, the “fu*k you, pay me!” attitude of Djokavic seeking his own respect in a sport married to Federer was relatable and enjoyable to me.  But the common thread throughout this is the greatness of Federer.  He innovates, adapts, augments and enhances his game at every turn.  He has no weaknesses and makes the brilliant look routine.  No great moment in tennis seems to be able to occur without his presence or shadow.  (Full disclosure, for blogger integrity, years ago I dated a woman who was a huge Federer fan. In terms of my life she ranks somewhere between Trump and 9/11 so needless to say I used to take glee in Federer losses. But yesterday I felt like Federer’s performance AT ALMOST 38 YEARS OLD forced me to surrender any resentments (towards Federer)). He is the standard to which every player must measure themselves – numerically and stylistically.

This may be the unfortunate fate that awaits Djokavic. If I had to pick any player in history to win one match (not on clay) I would pick Djokavic. He has incredible, well-rounded talent, has been dubbed by John McEnroe the greatest returned in the history of the sport and has Federer’s 20 titles in his sights.  And yet, seeing Federer, even in defeat, I felt like I was watching the man who invented tennis. It’s a weird distinction, to say that the best player ever may not be the greatest, but the most important thing is that we all get to watch the three greatest tennis players of all time play.

Gary Gulman: Putting The Funny Back in Painfully Funny

2000 years ago a lean Jew with a gift for analogies died for the sins of mankind and reshaped the world in the process. While not nearly as historic or dramatic, two thousand years later at a low point (in this writer’s opinion) for the art of stand up comedy, a lean Jew just turned his suffering into a comedy special that may save comedy-kind from its own downward artistic trajectory.  I am speaking, if you missed the title of the blog, of stand up comedian Gary Gulman (full disclosure I am friends with Gulman and have been a huge fan and deep admirer of his comedy for the last 15 years. But the friendship is not of the nature that I would lie if his new special was less than great. I would be silent if I felt like what I saw was mediocre or even merely very good). What I saw Saturday night in Brooklyn (this will contain no spoilers as far as material) was as important a special as there has been in the last decade. But its importance does not merely stem from its deep dive into Gulman’s mental health struggles, which give the framework to The Great Depresh. Rather, it stems from the fact that it is hilarious. In this age of cop out one man shows, mediocre stand ups elevated for their social media followings or podcast metrics and teary confessionals being praised as great comedy, despite the paucity of laughs, Gulman has offered definitive and hilarious proof that stand up comedy can still be used to turn pain into laughter, and not just applause and whispers of “how brave.”

When I arrived at Roulette on Saturday there was a long line (I was attending the second show). As my girlfriend and I (she bought the tickets – I was offered comped tickets, but in this age of “gimme free content” I believe in paying for great musical, comedic and pornographic artists) approached the entrance Judd Apatow exited the building (he is producing Gulman’s special for HBO).  I briefly contemplated kidnapping Apatow (he was only surrounded by three women, all of whom I think I could take) and demanding he produce a special for me, but I thought better of it.  When we got to our seats (the balcony – we were too late for the lower level) and it was the only time I was disappointed the whole night.  The leg room was a tight fit, which felt ironic because Gulman, at 6’6″, is the patron saint of tall comedians (apologies Brad Garrett).

Only drawback to the show was doggystyling the guy in front of me #TallProblems

Without discussing any of the specific jokes I can tell you that Gulman’s set, running about 70 minutes, started with an upfront admission of his recent mental health struggles.  I actually briefly feared that he was going to do a one man show confessional (I was the Doubting Thomas to Comedy Jesus), but within a minute he was into classic Gulman. It almost played like a comedic biopic, where the movies starts a little before present day to showcase the low point, but then we go back to childhood and work our way forward chronologically.  It was all the language and in-depth story telling that are signatures of Gulman’s brilliant comedic style, but applied almost exclusively to autobiographical material (if Apatow is reading this I would like to nominate myself to play Gulman in the biopic or limited series).

So the show was an A. That’s the easy part. When a great comedian takes his game to a more personal level it should not be surprising when it is great.  But what made me happiest, as someone who cares about stand up, is that this special will re-set the current standard for personal pain as great stand up. No longer should we have to choose between good comedy and teary confessional spoken word as two branches of stand up – stand up comedy requires laughs and Gulman’s latest proves that a truly great comedian need not sacrifice laughter for truth and depth.

And on another note I think this is exactly the special that HBO needs.  They have been in a particularly long drought (with exceptions for Michelle Wolf’s strong special a few years ago), which is painful for a network that gave us Chris Rock, George Carlin, Dave Chappelle and others. Netflix now has a gluttonous chokehold on specials (but seriously Netflix – call me, I’m really good and need the money), but with Amazon inking a deal with Jim Gaffigan and now Gulman delivering a masterclass for HBO perhaps the prestige can return to HBO, or at least loosen the Netflix monopoly.

So hopefully my “Comedy Jesus has come to save comedy and HBO” has not set the expectations too high for Gulman, but on an equally serious note for Judd Apatow, if you don’t want to cast me as Gulman in a limited series (though please consider my tour de force sketch as Gulman in Comedy Academy Episode 3) my other thought is developing a movie with Gulman and Jon Bernthal playing brothers (Gulman is the big sensitive brother, Bernthal is the ex-military jerk who gets kidnapped and requires his large, but gentle and cerebral brother to save the day. Hilarity and life lessons ensue). I think it’s comedy and cinematic gold!  But if not, at least Gulman and Apatow are going to give the world a great and needed comedy special.

Come on folks – Bernthal would make a great brother to Gulman in an action comedy!

The Comdedy Bubble Has Already Burst

At the end of 2018 (way back then) I decided to ditch Facebook and Instagram. Aside from the negative psychological impacts of Facebook, their actions related to the 2016 Election, privacy and just their overall deplorable corporate conduct made me realize that I had to delete my accounts (Facebook owns Instagram for those that don’t know). And full disclosure, Facebook’s 5+ year saga to crush content that was either hosted on other sites (blogs, YouTube, etc.) through their constantly evolving greed algorithm made it easier to depart as my content was not even benefiting the way it did years before. So, as I told fans/friends/followers in a few posts in December that they could still follow my site, YouTube and Twitter for my content, a few of my 4000+ “friends” followed me, a majority didn’t see it (a vast majority thanks to Facebook’s work) and the rest offered something akin to obituary comments. Some explained that they hated Twitter (but were apparently OK with Facebook, a far more morally and psychologically corrupt company) and others just had no compelling interest to continue to consume my content (the overwhelming majority of which is free – only my 6 stand up albums cost money – my weekly podcast, blogs, videos and tweets are all free and occur with far more regularity than the roughly 2.5 years in between stand up album releases) despite near daily amusement (which I assume from the many likes compiled every day). It dawned on me that most of these people liked my comedy, but liked Convenience a lot more.

I live in NYC, a fairly liberal city at least in how it votes. But every time I see people from my midtown Manhattan building ordering Uber (a company I ditched much faster than Facebook for many of the same reasons), or see Starbucks recycling cans stuffed with non-recyclables (or recyclables in the garbage can right next to the recyclables can), or witness thousands of people shuffling along zombie like on crowded rush hour streets and subway stairwells or a thousand other things I realize, even in some of our most ostensibly progressive/liberal places, we are now in the era of Convenience. And I capitalize it, at the risk of appearing Tom Friedman-ish, because I think it is a social movement that trumps almost everything else (somewhere Progress was replaced by Convenience, but we never stopped calling it Progress). If a city with extensive public transportation and a fleet of yellow cabs cannot separate themselves from the convenience and control of hailing a cab to their door, even if they must wait longer and contribute to an epidemic of traffic and pollution in NYC, then what chance is there (let alone ethical right to moralize to) to get more conservative (individual liberty leaning) people in redder parts of the country to agree to give up their way of life, especially when the sacrifices they are asked to make often are part of a much more substantive change to their lives?

I am only examining the small microcosm of comedy in this obviously very large problem of Convenience. Our addiction to Convenience has already decimated lower-middle class and middle-class jobs (Amazon is at least 5 years past the point where they should have been broken up on Antitrust grounds… yes I quit Amazon/Amazon Prime/Whole Foods as well) and is still at least an equal force as the GOP in stopping our needed commitment to fight climate change – the metaphorical asteroid headed for Earth. However, I do think examining stand up comedy is instructive. Comedy is something most people enjoy on some level, but have come to expect it to be curated and delivered to them with the least amount of physical or intellectual effort (if clubs could book memes at this point I am sure they would). So as Comedy Central and HBO have abdicated their previously vital role of stand-up comedy cultivation, Netflix has entered to dominate the realm with a gluttonous oversaturation. They are in the business of eyeballs and will deliver more comedy than is necessary, good or wanted just to achieve more eyeballs. They are literally devaluing the concept of a special before our very eyes. Meanwhile, social media, especially Facebook, has given people loads of free content, while also cultivating an environment that makes the average person appear on par with comedians as algorithms cultivate feeds and motivate people to get thumbs, hearts and smiles. I learned this the hard way when I saw how many people were unwilling to either ditch Facebook (not really my point, but it would be nice to see) or add a less putrid social media site to their rotation to follow a comedian for whom they expressed enjoyment . In other words, the platform now trumps the content and eve more so, the content creator. And I think this is a clear sign that the Comedy Bubble is set to burst, if it hasn’t already.

Of course, I have other anecdotal evidence that suggests to me that the Comedy Bubble that has built up will burst and burst big. The Funny Bones – one of the big chains of comedy clubs has joined the Helium chain (a smaller, but prestigious collection of clubs) in only offering 5 show weeks (eliminating Thursday shows). Now if you are to ask and listen to comedians already in the money, they will tell you stand up comedy is fine and the only threat is “PC culture” or some other boogeyman. I will address that later, but when the biggest chain of clubs decides that a 17% reduction in shows is better for the bottom line it should be making more headlines for comedians than what a comic said at Columbia University. Mind you – middle acts are not getting an increase in pay (making it 30+ years at the $100 a show rate, but now with fewer shows and higher transportation costs than in 1988) but this also has not really registered for the “comedy community” either. Money in stand up is like the stock market at this point – those with the leverage, power, management and means to be at the Netflix special level or a similar perch see money and pilots being thrown around and think it’s a Bull Market for comedy. But to borrow an analogy from politics – Main Street comedians are making less than their counterparts in 1988 from club work. Not to mention the fact that many more headliners (both elites who sell out rooms and guys lucky enough to just have the spots) are bringing their own features which in many cases is elevating mediocre comics ahead of the once normal selection process because of… Convenience (multiple A Comedy Club bookers have told me this, though all you need is eyes and ears to know this). Some do it because they want a friend. Some do it because they want a shitty opener. Some may have another reason. But for a profession that often likes to proclaim itself as a meritocracy this is about as Un-Darwinian as it gets.
So why isn’t there an uprising among comedians? Some form of concerted action? A guild? People simply giving a shit? One easy reason is that like country bumpkin Republicans who vote against most of their own interests, rank and file comedians often think they are going to be the next elite comedian and want all the riches and privileges that come with it, so why change it? But a more widespread reason, in my opinion is that Facebook is now the nation’s comedy club and the majority of comedians (the comedy proletariat) who make nowhere close to a living are content to thrive on social media and people are content to absorb tons of humor (and try their hand at it) from Facebook. My new album was the worst selling of my career, despite me having my largest social media reach to date and it being my best album. I think it is because the idea of paying for comedy (especially from a *gulp* “nobody”) has never been a tougher sell. If you don’t have a streaming subscription already to a Spotify or Apple you just are no longer programmed to pay for content that way.

Sidebar – I wrote many years ago that Louis CK selling his special for $5 set a bad marker. He had the power to cut out the middle man and as someone who has self-produced every one of my stand-up albums, I respect it. But by creating a new expectation that the best in the business only asks for $5 I thought it might have had an Amazon-like psychological effect on the comedy market. If a comedy star places that price on their work, why would the standard $10 from me or someone in my position be enticing? As it turns out sites like Apple and Spotify one upped him with a “How about all the comedy AND music for $10 a month?” But I digress.

If I cannot get fans to sign up to Twitter to follow me, what the hell chance is there of them opening a wallet? And this is all fine, except how can the stand-up comedy art expect to grow in a substantive way when it is borderline impossible to make a living at it (as in survive without a day job – I am not expecting to be rich, or even thrive at the middle level), except at the highest level?

I know this is just my own experience, but I am smart enough and more than experienced enough in this business to see that these are not isolated experiences that I am having. A population programmed to value the convenience of content over the provider of the content thanks mainly to Facebook, a workforce that largely doesn’t actually work at any level where labor issues might concern them (sort of the Uberfication of stand-up comedians – treat an art like a side hustle and you’ll never be motivated to join forces or value the art) and a streaming platform that cheapens the special-ness of live stand-up comedy is a toxic combination that has brought stand-up comedy to a brink. Combine that with a powerful class of comedians blinded by riches at the top and a mentality that is unfiltered Paul Ryan – an almost absurd, self-serving belief that those at the top are simply more meritorious than some of those stalled on the way up and you have a recipe for a massive decline in stand-up comedy.

So while Facebook, whose likes, if not the new opiate of the masses, certainly are the opiate of the comedians, joins forces with Netflix (both metaphorically and in stolen data) to drive comedy this way we also have a cultural civil war going on in stand up comedy. We are starting to see the results of when stand up comedy, overexposed and overinflated through the Internet smashes up against the scrutiny of the Internet, the very means of much of its exponential, short cut growth. It is very much the chickens coming home to roost. And I for one welcome it. I am not saying I agree with all the arguments on either the left or the right (though the Kumia Kompound Krowd tends to scream bloody murder whenever one of their favorites is called out for offensive content or slurs, but responds with a chorus of “shut the fu*k ups” to those who voice disagreement, unable to see the irony through their MAGA hoods apparently). But as the traditional path to stand up quality and success (writing and performing and travelling – the path I have taken that has made me an excellent comedian and an economic failure) has faltered and been replaced with an Internet and social media warp speed path, weaker comedy and bigger opinions have filled the void. This has led to failure. Certainly not economic failure (I’m sure the mean income of comedians is fine, but the median income is undoubtedly dogshit), but a larger failure for the quality and stature of stand up. Just because it suddenly got easier to be booked as a headliner for a select few, did not suddenly make the process of creating good stand up any easier. And the cultural battle within stand up that has spilled into the public square has problems on both sides. I see the right-wing folks demanding that their preferred voices not be diminished at all, as if benefitting from the greater and accelerated exposure should not or cannot come with anyone validly objecting. And on the other side I see left wing voices willing to throw away context and respect for an art embraced for pushing envelopes to satisfy their day job. human resources department concept of right and wrong. And often both sides are expressed with an aim of accumulating responses on social media.

I will tell you my two favorite specials this year were from a woman who hadn’t done stand up in 15 years (If I need to tell you who then why are you even reading a long essay on stand-up comedy?) and a Showtime special (Erik Griffin) that most of my contemporaries (let alone non-comedian friends) hadn’t watched. I saw HBO hit new lows, numerically and qualitatively. with stand up and I watched Netflix present a veritable parade of mediocrity (I cannot and did not watch everything, but I found myself largely unimpressed). There is no incentive or for the public to buy/support unknown comedians thanks to social media. There is no incentive for the business to develop or rigorously scrutinize specials and acts because Netflix is basically a blank check. And there is no incentive for comedians to stand up for what’s right because a majority don’t make enough, don’t expect to make enough, or just don’t plain care to treat it like a real job (you know, when they aren’t “Roast Battling”). So instead overly sensitive stand-up comedy neophytes, who have been convinced that their social media reach has magically enhanced the quality and importance of their opinions (and in some cases their stand-up), do battle with crude morons cloaking themselves in “free speech” while the foundations of the art and business crumble beneath them.

So in 2019 I think the Comedy Bubble will burst more. I say more because every time I see a club advertising a YouTuber, a WWE wrestler or a washed-up actor I realize it already has burst. It’s just time for it to continue leaking until enough people notice. “The medium is the message” is a phrase coined by Marshall McLuhan and I think it applies perfectly to comedy in 2019. Facebook and social media ARE the comedy. Comedians are the only ones who still seem to think they are important to the process.

Coco and Her White Co-Sign

The day after Thanksgiving I took my nephew to see Coco, the new Pixar masterpiece about the Day of the Dead in Mexico. It follows one boy’s quest to find his great, great-grandfather’s spirit and also his love of music, which has been forbidden by his family due to a long simmering resentment towards musical artists.  It is basically Pixar doing a brilliant mash-up of Ghost and Footloose.  My review would be an A or 4 out of 4 stars.  The animation was outstanding, the story was incredibly original (nice to see that Disney actually allows Pixar to do Pixar things once in a while since buying them, instead of another half-baked franchising attempt) and it provided accessible exposition on some of the Mexican culture that was the backbone of the story for an outsider like me.  I cannot vouch for how authentic it was culturally, but after reading articles by the filmmakers who went to great lengths to be accurate, and from the applause after the film ended from the majority Latin sold out crowd, I am guessing they did their homework and executed it well. In fact, Coco is now in my Pixar Mt Rushmore (which also consists of Toy Story (for those pleading for Toy Story 3 to be included, let’s just say the TS saga has a spot – it is the only story and franchise to date that Pixar has flawlessly executed, though with Disney shamelessly pushing Toy Story 4 out in a year it shows that they feel the need to cash in and potentially diminish a beautiful ending to the trilogy that would make Six Feet Under‘s finale writers proud), Finding Nemo and Wall-E).

So other than getting over my disappointment that Coco was not a 2 hour film about Ice-T’s wife (the name is for the main character’s great-grandmother), it seems like it was a pretty flawless cinematic experience – so what could J-L have to complain about?

Frozen.

Disney making sure that white people have 20 minutes of safe space before watching the Mexican-themed cartoon!

Before every Pixar movie that I can remember (and I have seen all but two in the theater – Cars 3 and A Bug’s Life being the exceptions) there has been an animated short.  Usually about 5 minutes, and sometimes getting nominated for the Oscar for Best Animated Short, these mini-movies are often testing grounds for up and coming directors for Pixar to showcase or audition their talents in front of receptive audiences.  Well, before Coco, there was a 20 minute (at least), 3 song, mini-movie involving the character from Frozen.  For those of you that don’t know Frozen is arguably the most overrated phenomenon that Disney has ever produced.  It was a throwback the The Little Mermaid-The Lion King era of Disney musical movies, but a shallow and weak descendant.  Despite a great song from the wickedly talented Adele Dazeem, most of Frozen left me confused as to why it was such a phenomenon. Maybe cartoons and comic book movies had become so male, and even worse – adult-centered, that it offered a clear girl-focused story, even if weak by comparison to something like The Little Mermaid  or Beauty and the Beast.  So that may explain the success of Frozen, which is fine.

However, it does not explain why Coco required a 20 minute opening act involving Frozen, whose characters are so white, the Snowman almost passes as their black friend.  I only mention race, not because I have a problem with Frozen, which takes place in Scandinavia I think, having a white cast. But I don’t think there is anyway to read it other than an animated white co-sign for the first Mexican-centered Pixar film.  They broke every pattern of previous Pixar movies to do so, so the question is not if they did something wildly different for Coco, but why.

Don’t worry white people – this is a story about a Mexican IN Mexico!

Obviously we live in polarizing times. The “President” is a racist and a white supremacist (I am still waiting for him to call out Jimmy Kimmel and Eminem the way he called out NFL players, Steph Curry, LaVar Ball and the mayor of San Juan, PR) and he began his campaign targeting Mexicans.  And there are still many people who support him in this country and I am guessing some of them enjoy Pixar films.  But Pixar, even with Disney’s money grubbing abuse, still has a track record of excellence that I think exceeds even that of Stephen Spielberg.  Their films are original, creative and work so well on child and adult levels.  They are all hits, almost universally critically acclaimed (ahem – Cars 2 and 3 please leave the room).  Basically if Pixar makes a movie all they should have to say is, “Hi, we are Pixar. Enjoy.”  But for some reason, in the 22 years since Toy Story graced movie theaters, the formula needed to be changed for Coco.  And it was even featured on the posters as if to say, “Hey I know this *whispered* Mexican *end whisper* story may not be the normal Pixar you are used to, but if you give it a chance, you also get a bonus Frozen movie that is so white it will make these Mexicans at least feel like light-skinned, GOP voting Cubans. So come see Ivanka Trump and Taylor Swift sing in the snow!”

 

Please give Coco a chance! We don’t usually beg at Pixar because we are amazing, but you get bonus white people if you come!

There is a benevolent interpretation to this move of course. Disney may recognize the political climate of our country and moviegoers’ tendency to ignore stories involving minorities unless they are comic book heroes or played by Denzel Washington or Will Smith. So maybe, taking a practical approach they said “This movie is great. We need to do whatever it takes to get folks to see it, even if it is pandering.” I appreciate that and in some ways think that that is good.  But what does it say about this country that either the biggest entertainment studio in America is too insecure or cowardly to let their track record and a new great film speak for themselves or the company recognizes that even in movie going, white people may not support a story that isn’t white no matter who is making it.  Because I am pretty sure many of those Latino people in the theater saw Toy Story, The Incredibles and many other Pixar movies with characters that didn’t look like them.

I hope Coco is a big success as it deserves to be, but the interminable Frozen movie before it was bad. On many levels.

The One-Dollar Bet from Price Is Right: The Political…

It cannot be argued that Donald Trump is intellectually, morally, emotionally and mentally unequipped to be president.  He doesn’t read (he prefers briefings with “killer graphics” according to a member of his cabinet) and he seems to have no greater than a 7th grader’s knowledge of our institutions.  He has no moral compass beyond “is it good for me” and as a parent he seems to have only passed on a name and equally shitty character.  Now of course, you can make an argument for this man as a human being or as president, but in either case you are wrong.  In baseball when a player has all the necessary skills to succeed he is referred to as a “5 tool player.” In Trump’s case he is the exact opposite – as a president he is a “5 failure tool” (sorry if this feels like I am pulling a Tom Friedman – trying to coin my own phrase). Emotionally unstable, morally bankrupt, selfish, stupid and arrogant – literally a Voltron of the 5 traits you would want least in a leader – and he has all 5 in abundance.  But this is not about stating the facts. They are not in dispute among anyone not brainwashed or brain dead.  This is about the people who don’t hate Trump and don’t support him, but for those faux intellectual warriors on social media I call the “One Dollar Bet” people.

On The Price is Right when contestants bid on the price of items to be selected to come to stage the last person will often bet $1. The reason for this is any bid that goes over the price of the item is disqualified.  Therefore, if you bid $1 all you are saying is “I think everyone went over so even if I am the farthest away from the price of the item, I win by default.” That is sometimes a good strategy on the game show, but when discussing issues of the day these people act like their $1 “objectivity” lends them some sort of intellectual heft.  In fact  they look just as stupid as the wrong side, but without the passionate support to at least provide justification for their stupidity.

These are the people that used to say “I am not a scientist” when it comes to climate change. WOW – how brave. By saying you aren’t a scientist ($1 bet) you now have absolved yourself from listening to or believing scientists?  Maybe the creationist CEO of the oil company is right that climate change is a hoax!  Maybe Trump is right that it is a Chinese hoax – I DON’T KNOW BECAUSE I AM NOT A SCIENTIST.

Now these folks have evolved into the “I don’t like Trump. Heck I didn’t vote for him, but both sides are bad! Hillary was bad too!”  Oh shut up you One Dollar Betting Bitch!  First off a vote for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein is not even a $1 bet. It is more like when Drew Carey or Bob Barker called your name to come on down and instead of coming down you went outside the studio and burned your name tag. But now these morons have evolved from the types that question scientists’ on climate change (AND PLEASE DO NOT RESPOND THAT YOU BELIEVE IN CLIMATE CHANGE IF YOU ARE ONE OF THESE PEOPLE – CLIMATE CHANGE IS AN EXAMPLE, NOT AN EXHAUSTIVE LIST OF HOW YOU ARE INTELLECTUALLY DISHONEST) to now demanding rigorous evidence from every commenter on social media:

  • There seems to be collusion with Russia – WHAT IS YOUR EVIDENCE? – Ummm, common sense
  • (a few months later) There have been contacts with Russian – SAYS WHO – Ummmm Donald Trump Jr.
  • (a few days later) The emails say they intended to collect dirt on Hillary thinking it was Russian government intel – SAYS WHO – DO YOU HAVE DNA EVIDENCE AND VIDEO TAPE PROOF? WHERE IS IT?  YOU ARE REALLY REACHING HERE!

This kind of shit just keeps happening. The $1 bet people keep puffing out their chests like they are Copernicus challenging whether the Sun revolves around the Earth, but they are really just Frank Drebin in The Naked Gun insisting there is nothing to see while the store behind him explodes.  You can have your vote and your opinions – but stop pretending that ignoring facts and being a simpleton makes you an intellectual heavyweight. It just makes you complicit in an administration that should have an approval rating of a terror attack instead of in the high 30s.

And this goes for a lot of independents as well (the Kings and Queens of the $1 bet in many cases). Standing outside the parties may win you moral points and (for left leaning indies) make you feel a strong kinship with Bernie (who still insists on using as much of the Democratic establishment he can while not joining so he can just bitch about it, keeping up his brand).  So keep complaining about the system, remaining an independent (I would be curious how many independents actually show wide variance in the parties they support from election to election) and be sure to complain about the parties not letting you vote in primaries as you insist on not joining the parties.   I am not saying some people are not truly independent and do not have valid concerns, but I genuinely believe a lot of independents care more about feeling independent than actually maintaining some sort of political independence.

But at the end of the day yes, it is all Hillary’s fault. Because “any decent candidate would have crushed Trump.” But if that is true, then why after watching President Sleeper Cell destroy America’s credibility from within and put millions of people’s health care and safety at risk every time he has a thought, are his ratings still around 40%? Maybe the country, full of hate and morons has its own issues and the cure may not be “Hillary was bad too.” But keep making your $1 bets if it makes you feel good. I am sure you will get some nice parting gifts.

Kevin Durant May Have Killed The NBA

Celebrating my 30th year as a Utah Jazz fan in 2017 (in exile in NYC for the whole time, like a hoops Roman Polanski) I began the 2016-17 season with deferred optimism. Last year (2015-16) the Jazz would have made the playoffs if they had not been the most injured team in the league. This year they had a contract year Gordon Hayward, an ever-improving Rudy Gobert and veteran additions of George Hill and Joe Johnson, so it was not hard to convince me that this was the year they finally became relevant again. They won 51 games, despite losing the most starters’ games to injury in the league.  They have a young core, a rabid fan base and a series win over the Clippers to give most of their players a first taste of playoff success.  And as of last night’s bitter defeat in Game 3 of the second round hope has been snuffed out. And it may have been snuffed out for the rest of the NBA for some time.

Kevin Durant – Possibly The Biggest Bitch in NBA History

I think I learned that I hated Durant for the first time last night.  I thought his decision to sign with Golden State was weak and anti-competitive (you get to an NBA Finals at 23, take the defending champs to 7 games – after BLOWING a series lead – and you decide to join your vanquisher instead of staying put?), but I did not really care that much.  I was more focused on the development of Utah and figured we would not be championship ready for a couple of seasons anyway.  But seeing the Jazz, who I think could have easily been the 3 seed this year if they had merely suffered the league average for injuries, make such strides so quickly made me feel more helpless as a fan much sooner than I expected.

The Jazz have built a team slowly and surely that could be a conten- oh never mind.

And before I continue destroying Durant, I think some of the blame for his decision rests with the fans and the media in our age of easy markers of success and low attention span.  As a Jazz fan, and a 90s hoops fan of any good team without Michael Jordan on the roster, I felt many stinging defeats, but in retrospect I am happy to have rooted for a team that was competitive for 2 decades and elite for 4 or 5 years.  Malone and Stockton are among the game’s greatest players and losing to Jordan did not tear them down as much as it enhanced the legend of Jordan’s greatness.  However, with social media, the Internet and stupidity all playing a bigger role in our lives, the scrutiny and need for an easy token of “greatness” dominates sports’ conversations.  So after Lebron was crushed, but then redeemed for winning, by a fickle and hypocritical fan base, Durant probably looked and said “The only way for me to be legit is to win a title and the media and fans will forgive my cowardice if I win, just like they did for Lebron.”  Of course, there are critical differences (Lebron joined a 47 win team and had been in a purgatory of Cleveland – never bad enough with Lebron for elite draft picks, never enticing enough for free agents. He did not join one of the 5 greatest teams in NBA history that had just barely beat him), but I cannot say that fans and media are completely blameless in creating the atmosphere that made Durant choose Golden State.  But that said, his move to Golden State was the most cowardly and bloody coup since the Red Wedding on Game of Thrones (there will be more GOT analogies).

The Decision now looks like storming the beaches of Normandy compared to Durant’s gutless decision to play for the Warriors.

But none of these things made me hate Kevin Durant.  No, it was not until late in Game 3 of the Warriors-Jazz series, when Durant cursed out the Jazz mascot, Bear, that I realized he was a bitch.  YOU (clap emoji) DONT (clap emoji) GET (clap emoji) TO (clap emoji) ACT (clap emoji) TOUGH (clap emoji) WHEN (clap emoji) YOU (clap emoji) BITCHED (clap emoji) OUT (clap emoji) AND (clap emoji) JOINED (clap emoji) THE (clap emoji) WARRIORS!

I’ll admit I was deeply frustrated that my Jazz squad had nullified Curry, Thompson (FYI – the only non-bitch superstar on the Warriors) and Draymond to bad games and the Warriors were able to rely on the Johnny Gil of their Shitty New Edition to drop 38 points.  But seeing Durant try to be a tough guy, a villain and an “assassin” has made me (I never thought I would say this) miss Kobe Bryant – who may have been a douche and a jerk, but never an anti-competitive turd.  Watching Durant emotionally flex felt like seeing Amazon do a touchdown dance in front of a neighborhood bookstore that was closing.

So is there any hope? Probably not.  I mean maybe Klay Thompson could leave and maybe the overall bitch-ass-ness of the team would force it to implode, but other than that I think we may be stuck with this squad for a while.  But if there are any chances for the rest of the league here they are (with a slight Utah bias showing on one):

Lebron.  Lebron may be the Jamie Lannister of the NBA at this point (how ironic that the King is best represented by the King Slayer).  The Decision was when he pushed a kid out of the window (boooo), but he then helped a giant, unappealing woman (Brienne of Tarth = Cleveland) and we all were fans again (yay).  Well with Durant and GS being Cersei and The Mountain (a bitch and a powerful monster tandem) it may be the King Slayer who will provide us the best chance to prevent a terrible dynasty.  And, by the way, if Lebron actually does beat this Warriors team in the Finals, I (clap emoji) DONT (clap emoji) CARE (clap emoji) ABOUT (clap emoji) MICHAEL (clap emoji) JORDAN’S (clap emoji) SIX (clap emoji) RINGS!  The GOAT title will have passed and I will not longer entertain other arguments… even when it is revealed that Lebron uses HGH for milk in his cereal.

Lebron and Cleveland… GoT style

Chris Paul to the Spurs (or if not, the Jazz).  Gregg Popovich is the only superstar in the NBA besides Lebron with a shot to stop the Warriors.  And getting Chris Paul would greatly enhance their competitiveness for the next few years while Paul can still deliver (he was outstanding against the Jazz).  The Spurs are the Patriots of the NBA, except their leaders don’t like Trump, so they are even better.  With Chris Paul taking over for Tony Parker they would immediately be a legit contender again, especially if Apple updates the Kawhi Leonard operating system for 2017-18.  But if the Spurs cannot get him I would argue that the Jazz could make a compelling argument.  They have a great defense, depth at each position (except center – maybe address that in this Summer’s draft) and with George Hill injury prone and not under contract a possible place for major upgrade. And only a few teams are better than the Jazz and almost all have the pG position filled – GSW, Cleveland, Houston (Harden), Spurs, Jazz.  So basically if the Spurs cannot get Paul I think it would be beneficial to the league, to CP3, the Jazz and my mental health for the Jazz to make a deal for CP3. The pitch the Jazz make is simple – “Right now Chris, you are in the Stockton, Payton, Nash category and unless you get a title you will never break into the Isaiah Thomas category.  We are your best (non-Spurs) shot at that. So what if Utah is boring – it is beautiful and we only want you for 3 years.”

JaVale McGee accidentally injures all the Warriors. Perhaps an athletic move gone awry (known henceforth as a “JaVale”) in practice leads JaVale to land on Curry and Draymond, ending their seasons (note – I have always been a McGee fan – athletic, plays hard, goofy -pure entertainment, and oddly admirable).

Prayer – It cannot be denied that the Golden State Warriors are an unholy creation.

LaVar Ball gets his son traded to the Warriors on Draft Night and all Hell breaks loose.  Now that would be awesome.

LaVar Ball may be our last, best hope to stop the Warriors.

Get J-L’s new stand up albums KEEP MY ENEMIES CLOSER &  ISRAELI TORTOISE on iTunes, Amazon & Google.

Donald Trump: America’s Participation Trophy

Today the electors vote, presumably, but disappointingly for Donald Trump.  And just over a month Donald Trump will become the 45th President of the United States.  And one of the running things I have heard and read from conservative pundits and Long Island comedians is that one of the driving forces behind Trump’s election (ahead of bigotry and stupidity, of course) is the safe spaces of liberals.  The idea that liberals are too easily offended and politically correct and require too much sensitivity. This is considered the progression from a participation trophy culture – if we give every 8 year old a trophy for their 5th place soccer team, then eventually those children will require safe spaces on their college campuses and rescind invitations from speakers with whom they don’t agree.  The election of Trump (in addition to being a potential disaster for women, people of color and immigrants) was really a comeuppance for those faggy liberals and their weakening of what makes America strong.  And yet, the group that abhors participation trophies (or at least wants to blame said trophies, metaphorical and literal, for America’s problems) has just elected the biggest participation trophy in American history.

Adam Carolla, the podcaster/entertainer, often says we need to work “big to small” when lambasting priorities of the left. Now I am a big fan of Carolla as a comedian and a person, but I disagree with a lot of his politics, especially because he, like many conservatives, often apply lessons and principles against their enemies with rigid discipline, but not to their own side.  Carolla’s show has featured some alt-righters like Milo Yogurtanapopolis (hey if I am too respectful to his foreign sounding name wouldn’t that make me a pussy liberal?), and one of their things about speech (as well as race, etc.) is that the left is playing games with identity and speech, while the conservatives are simply about solutions and not catering to useless things like feelings and identity.  As if conservatives treat life like math, while liberals treat it like poetry. Shitty poetry.  In fact Carolla has called the Democrats the party of feelings (to be fair he sort of characterizes most people today as to concerned with the self and their feelings, not just liberals all the time). It plays well and makes sense with the narrative that liberals are too sensitive and are into participation trophies.  And yet, I feel like people like Carolla have missed the forest for the trees.  No president, in my lifetime at least, has played and prayed upon a victim mentality and identity politics more than President-Elect Donald Trump.

“The economy is a disaster” – unemployment cut from almost 10% to under 5%

“Our military is a disaster” – the strongest in the world by a wide margin

“I will bring back coal” – not happening

These are a few examples of Donald Trump’s comments to appeal to men and women who, admittedly, may have fallen behind in an increasingly global, technologically advanced, eco-conscious world  and I do sympathize.  But wouldn’t the conservative approach be “don’t blame someone – get new training, more education, etc.” (even if unrealistic)?  After all, Hillary Clinton said she wanted to replace coal jobs with new training and jobs in those communities for a clean energy 21st Century.  Wouldn’t that be the conservative approach?  Not handouts and identity politics, but education and employment?  But instead, leaving aside the repudiation of President Obama’s legacy and skin color for now, the Trump voters opted for someone who demonized immigrants and promised jobs that cannot come back. Hillary Clinton promised help with pulling up their bootstraps, Trump blamed the boot maker and promised everyone a new pair of their favorite boots that the manufacturer stopped making.

So just as conservatives have hijacked patriotism, faith and other ideals that plenty on the left share as well, at least let them take ownership of being the participation trophy party as well. Trump voters have elected a man who has promised impossibilities and appointed a cabinet that will not only not “win” for their interests, but actually make you even bigger losers in the end.  So while libtard parents are giving their 8 year olds participation trophies for soccer, Trump voters have elected a participation trophy as president. And like Adam Carolla says, shouldn’t we be worrying big to small instead of the other way around?

Get J-L’s new stand up albums KEEP MY ENEMIES CLOSER &  ISRAELI TORTOISE on iTunes, Amazon & Google.

The No-Name Comedian Manifesto for 2017

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.