Summer Doldrums

Today’s blog is one that will hopefully adequately lower expectations of my content for the rest of the Summer.  The podcast will continue to come out every Tuesday and I plan to maintain the “at least 1 video per month” schedule as well, but thanks to the nature of comedy I am working a fairly time intensive job for the next few months to help fund my respected-in-every-way-but-monetarily comedy career.   All this could be cured with a manager’s phone call to Lorne Michaels that he has to check out my reel of sketches and impressions, but assuming that guardian angel does not exist this is the way of the world.  So movie reviews will be sporadic and almost definitely not on Fridays and blogs will be all over the board as well, most likely.  Consider this just a friendly update to my 18 loyal readers that I am not dead (yet) or quitting comedy (yet) or moving to Cleveland (yet), but simply working to fund this terminally ill dream of a career in comedy.

In other positive news I have lost 17 pounds in the month of July bringing me down once again from morbidly obese to “football player who let himself go a little bit” level.

This Wednesday a new sketch will be unveiled on my YouTube page, which I hope you all watch, laugh at and share with no one to maintain my career’s current trajectory of a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine, and of course, tomorrow there will be a new episode of my podcast.

OK. Bye.

For more opinions, comedy and bridge burning check out the Righteous Prick Podcast on iTunes and/or STITCHER. New Every Tuesday so subscribe for free! 


The Silent Majority of Comedy (I hope)

There is a saying in stand-up comedy, “it takes ten years to find your voice.” I don’t know who invented this saying. Perhaps it was a club owner running bringer shows wanting to postpone frustrations of the semi-slave labor being manipulated with tapes and compliments. Perhaps it was a well-meaning veteran comedian trying to encourage a frustrated, younger comedian. Or maybe it is just true.  After all I feel like around 5 years in is when my comedy started to shift to the more personal and opinionated and around 8 years in when it merged with my sense of frustration and injustice with the way the comedy business worked, both as a business and as an art.  After all, it may take 10 years to find your voice, but from half of the casting and showcase lists you see from major comedy players, it can sometimes appear that you find your manager and your opportunity after your first pubic or facial hair sprouts, “voice” development be damned.  But in my 10th year is when all the things I had been writing, performing and producing hit a new stride and grew my audience.   So now I have, for better or worse, carved out a niche in the business through my videos, podcasts, blogs and stand up as sort of a guy who at best, offers funny and unflinching shots at anything I see wrong, even if it is with the business that I am trying to succeed in, or, at worst, is committing career suicide for his peers’ enjoyment.

What has perplexed me is that on a weekly basis I get messages, e-mails and texts from fellow comedians, many of who are friends or at least people with whom I am friendly, pointing me in the direction of some comedy news/blog/practice/etc or something they at least think will anger me into producing new content making their argument for them.  I don’t mind it, and am certainly not calling out any friend or acquaintance in particular.  But I have gotten suggestions for podcasts, blogs and videos from numerous people over the last few months and the question I want to ask is “You are a comedian, why don’t you do something with it?”

Some of the examples that come to mind include a blog last year, made as humorous and as complimentary as I could about an experience I had at a club (fun club, great staff) where the condo was infested with roaches in a pretty shitty building.  And the blog may have gotten me banned at that club.   But since then I have had private communications with several comedians about those accommodations and how terrible it was and other comedians cancelling gigs there.  But I am on the hook as the person who made a public stink of conditions that the department of health would take issue with, let alone hard working entertainers.  When the comedy business (or just a comedy business) treats performers poorly they should be ashamed and crawl into hiding, not the comedian who has a legitimate gripe about maltreatment.  And my post was only meant to be my personal humorous experience, until I heard at least a dozen comedians describe a similar experience.

There was Comedy Academy, my web series, which has passed 26,000 views total in a month and the most private messages of congratulations I have received in the last year but, per video, the fewest public shares on social media of all my videos, in the last year.  The people who were most likely to share the videos were people at the lower rung of comedy or people located in the untouchable upper rung of comedy, like Adam Carolla and Sebastian Maniscalco.  And while I deeply appreciate every share and post, I was disappointed by the fact that more of the videos were not shared.  It reminds me of how so many lower class and middle class Republicans in America vote against their interest.  They believe the American Dream so hard they ignore things right in front of their face.  Similarly, in comedy whether it be manipulation, poor payment (forget $5 spots at UCB when features on the road are getting paid the same (or less when you factor in the disappearance of paid-for lodging on the road at many places) as comedians 25 years ago, or just calling out bullshit professionally or artistically, so many up and comers are about “playing the game,” which most of them cannot win.  Just like the economic ladder in America, the comedic ladder, towards a career in comedy, especially stand-up is more difficult than ever.

Then there was my Facebook post about the Laughing Devil in Long Island City being booked by the people at The Stand.  People were nervous about what that post implicated because it looked like a shot at The Stand, which is the rising challenger in the NYC club scene with great buzz.  But what I was actually questioning, which was missed by most people who were afraid I was taking a shot at The Stand, was why did a cozy club in Long Island City, which was providing paid spots to comics like me, that are not getting them elsewhere in the city (it was nice to have a club not directly tied to talent management in the way some of the bigger clubs in NYC are) and free spots to comics that were not getting many elsewhere in NYC, switch booking practices… and not tell their roster of comics?  I know this because I was fortunate to at least be on the list for avails that The Stand sent out, but I know several people who were only on the Laughing Devil roster who knew nothing about a change and just assumed they needed to submit more avails for spots.  I don’t know why the change was made to different bookings on weekends because the last three weekend shows I did at the Laughing Devil were all packed, but that was a business deal/transaction to which I am not privy.  I feel like it is going to eventually become The Stand East (I don’t actually know that, but as an up and coming neighborhood with a built in audience it would make sense to get a foothold in it, especially since it was close to being sold last year) and can now be a workout room for spillover from The Stand’s roster.  Why am I saying all this?  Because clubs and comics like to speak of “community””, but unless I am completely off base this flies in the face of that.  And yes, having recorded an album and my biggest YouTube video at that club I feel particularly annoyed by the change, but that is business.  But individual comedy club ownership is a small business and should treat their comedians like part of a small business, not like a cog at Wal-Mart.

My point with a few of these examples is that if comedians are only speaking up or being bold about the business or art of stand up when they have the cover of industry or fame or are taking generally accepted “bold stance”” topics within the comedy world (like scoring tried and true points attacking conservative politics as an example), then how can it actually stand for anything anymore?  If everyone in stand up spoke out on bullsh*t, demanded more equitable treatment on the road (why does $200-$300 have to come out of the feature worker, when you can afford to pay a headliner anywhere from $2-$20K per week?  It is the same “job creator” argument we hear in politics, except in this case it is the “seat fillers.”  Will your audience stop coming if every food item is raised 25-50 cents to pay a decent week’s wage and accommodation to a hard working middle class (literally) comedian?

These are just some of the things I try to attack with serious writing, but also with humorous personal stories (self-deprecating to depressing) and funny sketches.  I guess I should be thankful that not many people, if any, take this sort of approach to the comedy business because it has allowed my name and reputation to rise slightly higher than where my actual career is right now financially.  But it also makes me wonder what happened that comedy because so full of cowards or at least people too afraid of repercussions for doing or saying the right thing (honesty is the right thing and what I believed was the hallmark of comedy versus other arts with more sullied reputations in the popular culture).  This is what confuses me above all: if comedians don’t treat stand up as a profession and an art on its own (and not just a pit stop on their way to television deals) then how can the industry possibly do better.  As philosopher Katt Williams once said (and he could have been making a decent defense for the comedy industry), “How can I ruin your self-esteem? It’s esteem of yo muthafuckin self!”  I think there is a lot of shabbiness by the industry, but there seems to be little push back or standing up for oneself in the comedy world (UCB “controversy” aside, which still led to no pay).  I want to believe that there could be a strike or a union or improved work for comedians, especially on the road, but comedians are almost conditioned at this point to think and act like desperate scabs – so how do unionize workers when the work force already consists of scab mentality?

Just under a year ago, when I made my Louis CK Tells The Classics video I remember one of the very first YouTube comments I got was “This would have been funny if you were making fun of Dane Cook, but not Louis.”  And I feel like that all the time in comedy now.  Like there is an acceptable way to question or challenge things in comedy.  I don’t think there is, as long as it is either valid or funny.  Or ideally, both.

For more opinions, comedy and bridge burning check out the Righteous Prick Podcast on PodomaticiTunes and NOW on STITCHER. New Every Tuesday so subscribe on one or more platforms today – all for free!


What Mandela Meant to Me… by A Typical Comedian

When I heard of Nelson Mandela’s death last week it hit me on a profound level, most likely deeper than anyone outside of Mr. Mandela’s immediate family.  Most people would rank Mr. Mandela on a level somewhere in the Gandhi-Martin Luther King-Abraham Lincoln section of History, reserved for the greatest citizens of the human race, but to me he was so much more.  He was an inspiration, a role model and a mentor.

When I was beginning my career in stand up comedy, while moonlighting as an administrative assistant for 45 hours a week, I began reading the back of Mr. Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom.  I did not have the patience to read the book, nor the money to purchase it, but I read the back cover as I camped out in a Barnes & Noble for two hours, impeding people trying to walk around the store, all while making a fort out of all the copies of the book as I ate a Starbucks scone.  It was really inspiring and I decided that I would make my comedy career a tribute to Mr. Mandela’s legacy.  I was so motivated that just a day after reading those first few pages I rented the movie Invictus and once again felt like Mr. Mandela was telling me personally to have patience and forgiveness to succeed in the tough world of stand up comedy.

Now this would already permanently link Mr. Mandela and I when our histories are written, but the greatest moment of my stand up career was definitely when Mr. Mandela came to one of my shows.  Obviously I was a little nervous.  After all this was a guy who was, according to the LA Times Book Review, a “page turner” (that’s what the back cover said at least).  But I did my guest spot and was amazed when after the show, Mr. Mandela asked to speak with me.  He shook my hand and said, “Robben Island was tough, but I don’t think even I could have the courage to do stand up comedy.” I laughed, but he looked me in the eye without a trace of humor said, “I am not making a joke.  You have true courage and you are one of my heroes.”  He then embraced me in a strong hug for a man of his age.  It is a moment I will never forget and truly gave me the strength to fight on to try and make it in comedy.

Next week I celebrate my 7th month in comedy and as difficult as it has been and as slow as my progress in the business has been I swear that I will honor my hero and my friend Mr. Nelson Mandela and pursue comedy until I make it or until three years in the business, whichever comes first.

For more opinions, comedy and bridge burning check out the Righteous Prick Podcast on PodomaticiTunes and NOW on STICHER. New Every Tuesday so subscribe on one or more platforms today – all for free!

Essential J-L Reader

Stand Up Comedy – The Quintessential American Business

No other business in my opinion represents America like stand up comedy. I do not know where or how it exactly originated, but it is clear that America has the lion’s share of the top tier talent.  Comedy has been at the forefront of the 1st Amendment in entertainment.  It has produced cultural icons.  It has opened doors, pushed boundaries and offered Americans of all varieties windows into the worlds of people different than them in ways that social interaction may not have always allowed.  And like the American Dream – comedy was an art form where if you had a dream, a spark of talent and motivation you could become successful, albeit, moderately in many cases, if you just stuck with it and worked hard. People could make careers in stand-up comedy.

But just like the American Dream, which has basically died except for hard core Americans who believe more in the sanctity of platitudes than the reality of life, comedy has undergone a profound shift in recent history.  Just like an America where the rich have rigged the rules so that if you start ahead, you will most likely finish further ahead (while simultaneously lecturing the have-nots on the virtue of hard work and fair play), the comedy business has become an increasingly rigged business where the haves continue to grow in wealth and opportunity while instructing the have-nots (at least those rich in talent, lacking in most other things) of all the new ways they must work hard and build their brand – because their effort and skills are the only things holding them back.


The truth is America is rigged and you need to be an exception to make it by with hard work – the social contract of work hard, contribute to society and stay out of trouble is no longer enough for many people to have a successful life.  We are not all equal and we will not all live equally, but somehow a notion that permeated our country and thrived for decades, the idea that if you “work hard and play by the rules,” to quote Bill Clinton, is now not virtuous anymore.  You are either some wealthy kick ass person worthy of our admiration or someone who has fu*ked up or is not working hard enough – a janitor may not be a glamorous job, but if a guy puts in 40 hours a week cleaning toilets shouldn’t he be OK at least?  Now comedy is an art and by no means as important as basic life necessities.  And talent is necessary (and subjective).  But hard work, talent and staying out of trouble are no longer enough in comedy.  Because the game is increasingly rigged.

The “rich” in comedy have consolidated power by creating a near monopolistic control of the A comedy clubs in America, making it easier for their headlining clients to earn commissions for them.  So if you manage the talent and manage the venues that book the talent to perform, it seems fairly obvious who will perform there.  Now this monopolistic, incestuous booking/management/ownership practice may doom the comedy club business in the long run, but this apocalyptic future is of little consolation to comedians who have spent 10-20 years building a career only to see the equivalent of their factory close down or outsource or downsize in the last couple of years.

Now in many professions, a union used to be the way to even the score between undervalued workers and powerful owners and employers, but many decades removed from some of the worst worker abuses that made unions necessary in the first place, we now live in a society where more and more people belittle and denigrate the purpose of unions.  And a comedy union, which was tried a decade or so ago, has even less likely a chance of coming to fruition today than it did before.  Here is a comment I wrote about comedy unions on Facebook last week:

 It won’t work because only a small minority of comedians would actually benefit from a union. Assuming things like standard rates for showcase sets, emcee, feature and headlining gigs would be what a union would seek it would not work because headliners and stars would have little incentive to join, rising stars (MTV 2 and Comedy Central stables) would not want to harm their ascent, and local comedians around the country would not like it because they might and probably would suffer if more top flight features were sought out and guaranteed room and a decent week’s pay (since clubs abiding by union regulations would be paying more for talent they would be incentivized to guarantee customer satisfaction with the show). So the only people who would benefit would be the top tier feature level talent who would be able to stay afloat to possibly reach headline status and would have more opportunities if clubs no longer had a financial incentive to get emcees and features on the cheap.

In other words, just like in America – the rich workers have no incentive to support unions, employers have incentives NOT to support unions and the poorest and least skilled have little to benefit from joining them (local comedians in many cases being almost the equivalent of government assistance recipients) so the people who get squeezed and lose out on the would-be benefits of a comedy union are the middle class of comedy – hard working people who have the skills, but are no longer offered social mobility in the business.


Also, like in America, where the media has become a slave to the whims of the public and web traffic statistics instead of being solely concerned with valuable information (Lindsey Lohan “news” coverage ring a bell), the most popular sites for comedy news appear to be those dedicated to promoting the established stars and rare do-it-yourself tales of people making it from outside the industry – the kind of stories that are not as likely to enlighten or add weight to comedy criticism or information, but will boost Google Analytics for the provider of the story.  Stories of Bo Burnham are well known, as are Louis CK’s bucking the industry.  But these are exceptions – a kid becoming a star from his bedroom or a performer who spent decades within the industry finally accruing enough power to then buck the system.  However, just like reality television, which provides us with dozens of shows about “real Americans” to make us believe industry and working class people are still thriving and full of entertaining life, these comedic anecdotes are like opiates – making comedians believe that the business is more accessible than ever and not more rigged than ever.  The notion being f you just work hard and come up with something creative you will be rewarded. It was always a tough business, but every time you read a story of do-it-yourself successes in comedy, there are two more clubs being swallowed up into a monopoly that will not hire you unless you have made yourself a star already.  Then they will want your piece of your slice of the pie that you earned.  And the comedy sites will then be there to tell your story.


The brilliance of this new comedy business model is that comedy has never been as accessible and widespread as it is today.  Just as the general public is flooded with more information than ever before, breeding a level of apathy and cynicism in the general public (stories get bigger faster and become irrelevant faster from news fatigue), so too are people inundated with comedy all over their computers, phones and social media.  So it has never been easier to reach an audience, but simultaneously an audience has never had less monetary value.  As soon as YouTube fully grasped the success of YouTube they began promoting certain people and creating their own original content.  Comedy Clubs of the established variety are the last sort of seal of industry approval that audiences recognize.  But they are becoming more and more closed off to a lot of comedians.  And I am not just speaking of people in my position – there are a lot of experienced people beyond me who are feeling this pinch.

I wish I had a solution for this.  And maybe ten or twenty years from now the model will have exploded and things will reverse or get back to a little less Gilded Age approach to the comedy business.  But that won’t help people now – being historical footnotes during a Comedy Club oligarchy as the powers that be decided which headliners would survive and which up and coming acts they would try to make stars out of.

Instead of insuring the life blood of comedy, the powers that be seem like they want to suck it dry so it no longer exists when they leave.  That might explain why there is now Laughstub which is a Ticketmaster for comedy.  Because everyone loves Ticketmaster, right?  Just a few years ago, this did not exist at most clubs, but now people looking for a moderately priced evening of entertainment can tack on service charges that go to who – the employees of the clubs? I doubt it.

But the message sent to comedians – the working class soldiers in the comedy business?  Work harder – that is what is holding you back.  So while the haves keep increasing their share of the pie and inventing new slices to carve up, the blame is placed at the feet of the comedians just trying to work and earn a buck. The stand up comedy business is now so American that Ken Burns should make a documentary about it and Paul Krugman should write a column about how corrosive it is.

For more opinions, comedy and bridge burning check out the Righteous Prick Podcast on Podomatic or iTunes. New Every Tuesday!