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!


10 Years In Comedy – The Worst and Best…

The celebration of my ten years in comedy continues this week with another retrospective post.  Admittedly, Monday’s post had the celebratory feel of a 9/11 memorial service so with today’s post I hope to offer something a little more instructive and even-handed.  My ten years in comedy have taught me many things, both good and bad and I thought I would share what I believe my worst and best decisions were in those ten years and how they impacted my career.

As is my nature let’s start with the worst decision.  For many comedians, both delusional (majority) and realistic, the goal is to get management.  Having someone reputable and connected guiding you, but more importantly for tangible benefits, getting you in front of people with power in entertainment, has become the holy grail to most comedians.  A lot of comedians talk that rap of  “I just want to get better,” but getting better, especially early on, when the highs from compliments and laughs are super high, is really just a means to the end of money and recognition, if not fame.  I once had management.  I had sent out a mass mailing to a bunch of agencies and even though I was only 4 years in to comedy, I believed (correctly) that my volume and quality of material was at least moving beyond my peers so I thought – “it’s time for me to take the next step!”  I sent a DVD/headshot/resume (which included every club I had done an open mic at) to dozens of managers and crossed my fingers.

To my surprise, several months after doing the initial mailing I received an email from someone at a very well known management company.  It surprised me that they would contact me over some smaller outfits that I had reached out to, but so be it.  I ended up having some very good conversations with Jamie, the manager who contacted me and then a very inspiring call with the head of the entire company.  After that I was submitted for The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson and before you could say “Who the fu*k is J-L Cauvin?” I was booked for the show.  I ended up getting one other regional television booking a couple of months later, all while higher-ups at the agency kept telling me to move to California.  However, my name was not signed to any paper, signifying an official relationship and although confident that I was funny, I was not confident enough to leave NYC on the encouragement of people working in the most dishonest business in the world.  But Jamie continued to call me once a week to chat and to tell me about things he wanted to submit me for.  On a personal front he also made a few correct predictions about my ex-fiancee.

But then just as I felt like I was building momentum Jamie was let go (as it was presented to me) by the management company.  And I had a very abrupt decision to make – do I stick with the individual who has helped me or do I stick with the big name company with more connections?  I chose the company – or the road more frequently travelled – and that made all the difference unfortunately.  My ex-fiancee and I broke up and I had a subsequent pair of mediocre showcases (though one was a NACA college showcase and last time I checked – student body presidents from small colleges in the Dakotas are not power players in Hollywood) in the wake of that personal annoyance.  The management company quickly lost interest, but did not tell me to look elsewhere for representation for another 6 months.  Meanwhile, Jamie now represents several writers in Hollywood and appears as loyal as ever to his talent.

Since my decision to stick with the name instead of the person I have not been back on television and have had to hustle and fight for every small piece of the comedy pie that I have had over the last 5+ years.  Who knows what would have happened if I had stuck with Jamie.  Perhaps nothing, but having someone who believes in you in your corner is something that, I have learned the hard way, is invaluable in entertainment.   So if there are any young comics struggling or comics just starting to see a rise in their fortunes, choose the person who believes in you over the person who impresses you the most (assuming, of course some base level of competency in management for both parties – needless to say the woman in my building that I chat with in the laundry room believes in my comedy 100%, but I would not have her manage my career).  It is a mistake I have made and will not make again.  It is the same logic that showed why Boof was such a better choice than Pamela in Teen Wolf.  Someone who believes in you will give effort that cannot be intellectually manufactured.  They will fight as hard as you because they share your belief in yourself.

So what is possibly the good decision here of this ten year journey?  Well, recently I had a couple of meetings with managers, based largely off of the success of the Louis CK video (their lack of subsequent contact has given me comfort knowing I may not need to make a tough decision on picking representation).  I also got an opportunity to do a web series shortly after leaving a comedy group that I had been part of.  These are small things, but they are the result of a simple decision I made –  to stop trying to be successful.  This was more a mental choice.  I still work as hard as I have been, but I now have removed expectations on myself.  The only demands I place on myself are to make good comedy and good comedy products.   Anything after that is not really in my hands.  So when a young comedian says they only want to get good I don’t believe them.  You have to have that natural inclination to egotistical attitude humbled out of you (I don’t even mean bragging or talking sh*t – I just mean that intoxicating feeling that takes hold of you early in your career when a good looking woman tells you you were funny or when a crowd pumps you up – it is too strong early on not to have your ego, even if quietly, take some control of your expectations). Some guys keep rising and then believe they can pontificate on what it means to be a comedian, but their experience is the exception, not the rule.  I now just want to be great because that is all that is left for me to aim for.  When no other validation seems available or possible that is when being great at comedy for comedy’s sake can really and finally take hold.

So I guess this whole post could summarized by saying the worst decision I made in comedy was putting my faith in the wrong people and the best decision I made was letting go of the mental state that got me to have misplaced faith in the first place.

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


The High and Low of My Comedy… in the…

Today has been a day that has been circled on my calendar (yes a physical desk calendar) for quite some time.  I am headed to Boston in a few hours to do a very 2012 (or at least 2010) style comedy show.  I, along with two other members of Comedians at Law, are performing a live stand up show and podcast at Harvard Law School, which for comedy aimed at the legal community is like having an alternative comedy show inside the beards of the guys on Duck Dynasty – a dream location and marketing opportunity.

In addition to performing the show and recording a podcast live (our first time trying this so get ready for a nightmare) we are live streaming the show on the web.  High tech? Yes.  Free to the public? Yes.  Following all the do’s of the cottage industry growing around telling comedians to do cool interactive things with fans in the hopes of some sort of long term monetary growth? Reluctantly, yes.  This is a small monetary risk to the group, but the big risk is that after hyping this event at America’s most revered academic institution to our niche market we still may not expand our reach significantly (in part because as I have learned over the last year of hauling ass to make this entity grow, a lot of our fan base is a bunch of meme-loving tools who only enjoy the novelty of Comedians at Law, but do not actually give a flying fart about stand up comedy (e.g. mediocre meme – 50 likes on Facebook, video clip of us on television promoting a live show – 2 likes).

Sadly, this is actually the positive part of this blog – I am hopeful that the live streaming of the show can expand our fan base and show people our product – and if you are reading this blog – you can watch live from 7pm to 9pm at the home page of Comedians at Law or go to the LiveStream page.

Of course about 10 different faculty, students and administrators have said no to being guests for the podcast, so it could be a horrific and awkward live podcast tonight.   Either way it should be entertaining web viewing tonight.

But comedy has usually found a way to not allow me to savor or feel too much happiness.  Whether it is a friend telling me things like that she “likes the most recent episode of my podcast…much better than the last one, which sucked,” or another friend saying that he cannot make a show where I am headlining at Gotham Comedy club because he is going to a pub trivia night, it always seems that comedy cannot let well enough alone.   A more relevant example is that in 5 days Comedians at Law are performing at Gotham Comedy Club.  Tonight at Gotham Comedy Club? “America’s Funniest Lawyer” competition.  At least we are being given five days for NYC to cleanse its palette from lawyer-based comedy for our show.  What did Rodney Dangerfield say… Oh yeah “put a fu*king bullet in my head.”

But logistical problems/conflicts are par for the course in this business.  But my least favorite scourge du jour is the “everyone is funny” phenomenon in our culture.  As I always gripe, thanks to YouTube, Twitter and our general “everyone is special” aspect to our culture, comedy has become so cheapened that unless you are famous, many people assume that they can do what comedians do.  I do not need to re-hash all the ways people do this (though my favorite was after a particularly good show at some Funny Bone a guy told me that I should meet his buddy from work because he would make me laugh), but the reason I bring this up is that joining/forming Comedians at Law has actually exposed me to a new form of hubris in the “I am funny also” culture.

For some reason, having a law degree from a prestigious university, nearly ten years performing and a national television credit is not enough to discourage people from equating a musical performance at an office party to what my mates and I do.  We have received several inquiries from people who, by their own admission, have been performing for “a few weeks” to join Comedians at Law.  (Not to mention we have been duped by an entire State Bar group into comping 100 people with an implied promise of a private show – post-show emails not getting answered).  But an email one of our members received last night is literally the grossest piece of self-aggrandizing, self-involved, piece of fu*king sh*t e-mails I have ever read.  It almost reads like a parody it is so ridiculous:

        I got an e-mail from the head of my NYC Bar Committee about your group’s upcoming show at Gotham Comedy Club. I’ve been suffering from a super crazy schedule lately & generally don’t do anything without significant notice (I’ve been doing extra work where I got about 3 hours of sleep for 2 days in the past week & will likely have to do it again on Friday; there was also 4 days of Comic Con) but did want to see about networking. I have also performed in City Bar’s Talent Night (mostly singing but I did an original monologue 2 years ago; last year I read the female lead in a radio play). Oh, and I have red hair + most people think I’m an actress when I go to creative networking events. I’ve also been deemed “attractive” by Central Casting while in high school, I was considered an ugly girl & look exactly the same as I do now.
         We may have mutual contacts. I do know some people in that scene, such as——– (he’s done a lot of emceeing at———-, where hubby & I prefer to go). ——- was in one of my film company’s features; that feature was sold to a major distributor though it was a no name, no budget production. I also have the distinction of doing about 3 different things & having credibility in my realm for both creative ability and legal skill (more recently, I’ve been getting writing opportunities & had an essay published on’s XX Factor blog a few months back). No one sticks me in a “lawyer” box or really any type of box.

         At my company, my title is Production Exec/In-House Counsel. I’m also on IMDB & have my own rant blog that people tell me is funny. A bland, dry, boring legal blog it’s not since I happen to be an anti-lawyer (someone who’s not the legal stereotypes & has no desire to be).
I’d love to get your general take on bar associations & lawyer networking. Personally, I have a love/hate relationship with the whole thing. I’m actually only involved in City Bar because of my singing voice. I also seem to have finally gotten acceptance for being me & some measure of respect in that community. I’ve been licensed almost 5 years in NY & CT but started at my film company as the CEO’s Exec Asst before getting admitted. I’ve also gotten much more respect in the creative community for being a lawyer & in general than I have from most other lawyers so it’s probably no wonder I’ll do more for the creatives than the lawyers.
         If I get a response, I’ll send a link to the blog. Otherwise, money is tight & husband works until 7 now so I probably can’t go on the 23rd. If you wish to know about my events, let me know. In the meantime, feel free to look all this up.

Needless to say I have not stopped wishing ill on this woman since I read the e-mail at 545 this morning.  This is our status update/Twitter/comedy disrespect culture on steroids.  E-mails like this, which come with alarming frequency (to be honest even 1 of these emails would count as alarming to me, but it has been many more), but this is a new low.  Thanks to a culture which increasingly values the  pathetic and intrusive sharing of inner feelings on Facebook, (when previously prayer and therapy kept those things private), we get to be sounding boards for people’s misplaced sharing of thoughts, feelings and accomplishments.  The only thing that makes this insulting is that it is a roundabout way of dismissing our product because we should really be impressed with her.  I hope her husband is cheating on her.

But this is what our culture is doing in general and to comedy, specifically.  Fame is the respected quantity, not comedy or hard work.  Just out of respect for what we are trying to do and the site and content that we have worked tirelessly to produce you would think people, especially people who are educated and work in business might have the social skills to show a modicum of respect.  But we are no longer that society. Everyone is special, everyone is cool and everyone is funny if they think they are.

So forget my comedy, Comedians at Law or anything else I produce – if you want to meet a red-headed, arrogant, ugly fu*kling who cannot stop talking about herself (first off get rid of that erection if you are a man after this description) then I can get you her info.  Or you can just walk down the street, bumping into people busy tweeting, texting and posting status updates whose heads are buried in their phones because after all, you are not as important as them.