I am sitting in my old midtown Starbucks writing this in between another day at the law firm and before getting a haircut at my old barber shop before heading downtown to do a show at a restaurant for no money before returning to NJ for the night. So if you thought anything in my career or life had changed, it seems it has: I have a much longer commute home.
This blog is delayed by about 3 days because I was sick on Sunday, the Lord’s blogging day, and could not hammer this out. And then I had a busy week of podcasting and day jobbing and insomnia-ing. So this brief moment in between work, chores and unpaid comedy is when I can recount for you the absolute comedic destruction I delivered on Friday and Saturday. At this point, my comedy career feels like Neon in Blue Chips if Nick Nolte (and no one else) had ever discovered him in a small gym in “ALGIERS?!” He’d still be giving people work, but spending the rest of his days in business casual attire looming over a bunch of co-workers. So let’s get to it before this Starbucks closes…
Friday in York – Jean Betterman
I was picked up by friend and comedian Chris Lamberth from my apartment Friday afternoon for our journey to York, PA. We discusses movies and comedy for three hours and then got to our hotel. It was not a Hampton Inn so I cannot mention it as I try to preserve my potential future as a Hampton Inn spokesman (they get a solid shout out on my seemingly never to be released special Half Blackface, for which there will be a live memorial service on Sunday with my Patreon – if you want a ton of exclusive sketch videos, podcasts and more from me for very cheap you can join – just kidding! If you are a #fan of mine reading this, the last thing you want is to pay me for comedy). We then went to the Appell Center for the Arts in downtown York, and to my surprise the show was a sell out (I think lots of people just go to whatever is in town, but I did have plenty of fans there as well).
Daphne London led off the show with some funny musical comedy and then Chris did his thing from the middle spot. And then I killed it. There’s really nothing left to share. I had a set that was so strong with 80% new material since the two tapings of Half Blackface that I wish I had recorded it on high quality video and then thrown it out just to replicate the feeling from my greatest set ever in October 2021. I felt great after, sold a bunch of albums and then went to Iron Horse York for a post show meal celebrating my triumph. I ate a delicious piece of cake and went to sleep.
Saturday – Raising Money for Democrats in Nyack
Chris and I left York at 730 the next morning (or thereabouts) and made it an hour or so before stopping at an IHOP. After crushing that we went all the way back to NJ. But it was a quick turnaround for me because I had to go to Nyack to headline a small fundraiser for Democrats in Clarkstown, NY. Because NJ transit is dumb, here was how I had to go:
5:05 train to NY Penn Station
Walk to Grand Central
Get the 6:45 express Metro North to Tarrytown
Take a Lyft across the Mario Cuomo (birth name Tappan Zee before it wanted to play boys’ sports) Bridge to the venue in Nyack
But J-L, why don’t you get a car? BECAUSE I AM NOT AN ENVIRONMENT DESTROYING LAZY PIECE OF SHIT. I LIVE NEAR THE TRAIN AND BUS AND FOR THE 2-3 DAYS A MONTH WHERE A CAR WOULD MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN MY LIFE IT IS NOT WORTH THE INSURANCE, PARKING AND COSTS OF MANUFACTURING! PERHAPS IF MORE AMERICANS WOULD STOP LIVING IN NAVEL GAZING BUBBLES WHERE THEY BELIEVE THEIR ACTIONS HAVE NO CONSEQUENCES AND THEIR CONVENIENCE IS NOT ALWAYS WHAT IS BEST FOR THE WORLD THEY MIGHT STOP BITCHING ABOUT GAS PRICES AND TAKE PUBLIC TRANSIT OR WALK INSTEAD OF BEING A BUNCH OF FAT FUCKS ASKING ME WHY I DONT JOINT THE CARBON PARADE!
When I got there I finished mapping out my set in the green room and then proceeded to do an entire set of political material and impressions, about 2/3 of which I had written that day. It went over very well. Here is a clip:
I then mingled with people after, ate a brownie (an actual brownie, not a mini girl scout – I only respect Armie Hammer, I am not actually him) and then Pete Dominick, the comedian who organized the event, drove me to the Tarrytown Metro North at barely safe speeds allowing me to make the train back to the city by a minute. I then walked from Grand Central back to Penn Station in time to get a 12:20am to Newark, from where I procured a Lyft to take me home. When I arrived I ate a pint of ice cream while watching SNL. I fell asleep and when I woke 5 hours later I had such a bad sore throat that I was gagging on my phlegm and thought for about 10 minutes I might die (when my life flashed before my needlessly paranoid eyes – my two thoughts were that my special really was going to come out after I was dead and that my girlfriend and dog would be upset discovering my body, primarily because of how difficult it would be to move). For more on that fun experience – check out my podcast this week – just kidding, if you are a #fan I know you won’t!
Next road gigs? PRINCETON, NJ the end of the month!
Callbacks in stand up comedy are a common trick. The comedian will mention something in an early joke and then later, or at the end of the set, the comedian will re-introduce or allude to the earlier mentioned thing in a way that wraps up the set. It can often be funny, but sometimes it is simply a trick to make the audience feel smart. They get to say to themselves, or the person next to them, “I remember that from earlier!” And the joy that comes from that is not always because the callback is funny, but because it allows the audience member to pat themselves on the back.
Or as I once said to someone, “people are mostly stupid and callbacks give them the momentary feeling of being smart.”
Now, I have been a bitter curmudgeon for a majority of my career. As long time readers of this blog will know, up until 2020, I spent over a decade as a road comedian, performing as a middle act at comedy clubs around the country. Middle acts have not seen a raise in pay in at least 30 years and as you know, bus, train and plane fares are not operating at 1987 rates. In addition to that, some comedy clubs have stopped providing rooms for middle acts so a typical weekend may end up netting a middle act zero profit unless he has albums to sell (which I do) or t-shirts to sell (I would rather work in a Spencer’s Gifts than use my stand up career to hock t-shirts, though I sympathize with those that do it because of the awful economics of stand up comedy). I spent years writing about the shameful economics of stand up comedy and once I realized that middle acts were too scared to jeopardize their meager opportunities and headliners were too far removed from struggles to care or help that I came to the conclusion that I was simply a tree falling in an empty forest.
So realizing that trying to change the business of stand up comedy was futile I became sort of depressed with the life I had chosen – attempting a career in a profession with horrible business practices and a workforce with a factory-installed scab mindset is a tough place to try and change things. But as time has gone on, from things like Soundcloud rap to Twitter “front facing comedy” to Tik Tok dances I see that what once felt like an industry problem has become a much bigger societal and cultural problem: commerce and virality are not just driving business decisions, but are now the driving force of art itself.
The De-evolution of Dance
I am not a dancer. Even at my most athletic I was not much of a dancer, but certainly not now, as I am practically an inanimate object, but for my expanding waistline. But we all know great dancers – from Fred Astaire to Michael Jackson to Chris Brown, etc. we know a great dancer when we see one. Great dancing was once something we could gawk at or would make you really cool at a Bar Mitzvah, but as Tik Tok demonstrates, it seems that dancing is no longer about doing something that no one else can do – it is about doing something that everyone can do.
Years before I reluctantly joined Tik Tok I would see people posting “Tik Tok challenges” and wondered “what is the challenge?” They often appeared just to be 15 seconds of easily replicated choreography. But like the callback in stand up, the point was not to make a great dance move; the point was to get engagement. And by calling it a “challenge” instead of “anyone can do this you uncreative sack of shit” you incentivized engagement and might even go “viral,” the holy grail of 21st century creation. And as Tik Tok goes, not only to the original inventors go viral, but copycats can go viral as well!
Art nowadays feels like the meeting point of “inclusivity” and “the death of expertise.” Like if anti-maskers got together with the San Francisco school board and decided on the worst ways to ruin real creativity. But Tik Tok is the current king of social media, so it seems “imitate” is the new “create.” My only question would be did Tik Tok create this world or simply accelerate where we were headed? Seems safe to bet that it is the latter, since the genius of Tik Tok’s algorithm is delivering what we already want.
Making Art for the Algorithm
As I write this blog on Word Press, there is a running tracker on the side bar, indicating this blog’s “readability.” Through algorithms, the site is telling me how “readable” my sentence structure and paragraph breakdowns are. I started at “good,” but am now at “needs improvement” (the last time I got “needs improvement” on something was my 1st grade report card where my math and reading were 100, but my “listening skills” needed improvement. My answer to my parents at the time was “I must be listening if my other grades are 100” – that is how a condescending monster is born). In other words, Word Press is helping the writer curate their writing to an algorithm-based audience. I am ignoring the advice because this is not 2001: A Blog Odyssey, but it is instructive. More and more the goal is to modify one’s work to meet the audience, rather than produce work and hope that your truest, best effort gets an audience.
I referenced Soundcloud rap earlier because of this point. A few years ago I read about how Soundcloud rappers were making shorter songs, often with a hook that seemed indistinguishable from so many others and only one verse because that combination would often lead to maximizing the number of plays of a song. So as we all laughed at the record executive in Bohemian Rhapsody questioning Freddy Mercury on the lunacy of a 6 minute pop song, in real life “artists” (quotes because I cannot really consider someone an artist who doesn’t prioritize the art in the creation of said art) were basically trying to serve up songs under 3 minutes!
In stand up comedy I see the same thing happening. Because of horrible economics, Sirius XM is one of the greatest sources of income to (trying to be) working comedians. Because I never shared the rights to my work with any large labels for “exposure” (something I have told comedians for a decade to little avail) I have made almost $200K since 2014, largely through satellite radio royalties. But, like Soundcloud rap, shorter has become better and I have seen comedians making albums with 30 tracks, all under 2 minutes to help rotation. Once again, I understand due to the economics of stand up comedy why someone would do this, but would we have a comedian like Gary Gulman if when he started the economics of comedy were basically making him choose between a 10 minute bit on cookies and a 90 second bit on Hydrox? Is that in any way good for stand up comedy? To favor only quick hits and to have that favoritism shaping newer comedians? I would say no. Sure a Dave Attell would not have to change a thing with his great comedy, but not everyone is or should be a Dave Attell.
Something that seemed to begin with Jon Stewart but really accelerated under Trump has been people getting their news from comedians. John Oliver has rode this trend to multiple Emmys for what is a very good show, though not necessarily the funniest. While I don’t think Stewart or Oliver are particularly at fault here as they do provide a lot of laughs, it seems that the growing trend is that if comedy is “important,” whether it be Hannah Gadbsy’s Nanette, John Oliver’s shows or Dave Chappelle’s recent foray into spoken word then it is “good comedy” (when did comedians stop trying to make their points through comedy, at least while on a stage, and just decide “this will be the serious part of my comedy show”? I always thought the extra genius of Stephen Colbert on Comedy Central was that he made all his points sharply and brilliantly with, and through, comedy). When we reward “importance” over laughs in the comedy space it seems to incentivize comedy on both sides of the political aisle that is merely hammering one’s ideological opponents (there are plenty of funny people I know right of center who seem to have become redundant bashers of what they view as P.C. culture so it is not just the left that does this). It also has probably let many people off the hook in terms of being engaged and serious citizens. When The Daily Show was at its Jon Stewart-peak it was often said, perhaps apocryphally, that more young people were getting their news from Jon Stewart than mainstream media. As fun as that might sound, it is not actually a good thing. Reading the paper every morning is about 90 minutes of my day. I know not everyone has that much time or desire, but 22 minutes of comedy at 11pm is also not the answer (to say nothing of the garbage being called “news” on right wing stations).
Even in a year when I put out a disproportionate amount of political comedy relative to my normal amount, I am proud that at least 90% of my content whether stand up, impressions or comments, have been comedy. If I had remained one note for the whole year perhaps my following would have continued to grow but I am a comedian. Though I have lots to say about lots of things (as this “needs improvement” blog shows) I feel like if people follow me for comedy, then it is my job as a comedian to provide… comedy. However, social media seems to want people to be Mariano Rivera and not David Cone. Let me explain non sports folks. Rivera is the hall of fame pitcher who threw one devastating pitch for his entire career. David Cone was a master craftsman who could throw (if I remember correctly) 4 different pitches, threw them from different angles and was also a workhorse. I prefer to be a David Cone (if not an outright Bo Jackson hehe) of comedy, but it seems that Twitter often rewards people for staying in one, predictable lane. And the way it works on our brains is that once we are rewarded for certain content, the motivation becomes to provide that content or opinion all the time, like a Mariano Rivera cut fastball, except more annoying and less interesting.
So social media, at least on Twitter (I quit Facebook over 2 years ago because I felt like destroying democracy in this country was not worth getting birthday messages from people I did not know in real life), it has devolved into people hammering home the exact same points over and over again, including the rise of “front facing character comedy,” but which seems to exponentially grow, like a the mob of zombies in World War Z (see below). Along with this what has bothered me is a sort of rise in cowardice in comedy. I did a series of parodies as Dave Chappelle recently and was told by someone that I shouldn’t do it because Dave is doing some cool philosophical stuff. Huh? Almost 8 years ago I went viral for impersonating Louis CK. It was done with some venom, not because I had anything personal against the man (none of his scandals were public), but because I do comedy with some bite. I got a lot of hate and a lot of love for that video, but now there seems to be even more caution. Because the powerful in comedy seem to have so much power people seem to only want to mock those who do not threaten their fiefdom. If you are on the right you will dunk on The Nation and late night hosts because those avenues are not open to you, but you probably won’t do too much critiquing of Joe Rogan. On the left, you will continue to mock the GOP, but will tip toe carefully about “punching down” or making jokes about Joe Biden. I have said this for 8 years, but in comedy it used to be “nothing is sacred,” but not it appears to be “as long as I don’t align with it, it is not sacred.” This is in part because of algorithm-driven content but also in a selective form of bravery among today’s comedians.
Are Fans Getting Dumber and More Entitled or Did We Make Them that Way?
I have often written that many of the people who complain about “PC Culture” and “Cancel Culture” do not seem to recognize that their increase in wealth and exposure did not occur in a vacuum. It happened on the Internet. The cost of greater exposure is greater exposure. People watching comedy are no longer just stand up comedy or sketch fans – they are bored people who may have never entered a club or said a funny thing in their lives but want a diversion. If their eyeballs helped fuel your rise then their opinions are going to be part of tearing you down as well. I have not griped about being cancelled, but I do wonder if the business of comedy and the Internet, combined with what feels like an increasingly dumb population is what will really destroy art and comedy in particular.
I remember watching a season of a singing show (I think it was the X Factor, but it might have been American Idol) where Nicole Scherzinger of the Pussycat Dolls was challenged by an angry contestant to sing and sing she did. The songs of the Pussycat Dolls songs did not exactly require the range of Mozart’s Queen of the Night aria so I assumed Scherzinger would be mediocre. But she was not. Her voice was excellent and powerful. And I had a thought those many years ago that I am guessing very few people have had, other than the Pussycat Dolls – were the Pussycat Dolls dumbing down their talent to make it more accessible? And that seems to be the perfect storm we have arrived at of late. Business models that cater to short attention spans, art that inspires and encourages imitation rather than awe and fans that are conditioned to need art curated to their tastes, opinions and capacities as they are.
We elected George W. Bush because people wanted to have a beer with him. We have a Covid outbreak because your angry neighbor’s opinion on masks was as valid as Dr. Facui’s and we have an art landscape that seems to be increasingly driven by algorithms rather than artistry. If they redid The Matrix today, Neo would just be a Tik Tok star producing 15 second hooks because that is all that would be needed to thrive on the app (while his comatose body lay hooked up to machines in a comedy club). I see political pundits driving conversation about comedy, comedians being praised for offering self-serving, punchline-free “analysis” and fans treating comedy like it’s Uber Comedy Eats (do zero impressions and you’ll be treated like an unknowable genius; do 30 impressions and fans will treat you like a jukebox). And this does not even touch the loss of the concept of “selling out” (a friend once told me about a survey many years ago where the impact of Kim Kardashian (who might as well be Patient Zero of the plague known as “influencing” – I think of her as the George Washington of Only Fans), had basically eliminated the concept of “selling out” in young people’s minds. Being a brand or an influencer was as good or better than being an artist or creator and you can certainly do both now with almost no one questioning your integrity. We can save that for another “needs improvement” blog).
I will (finally) leave you with this. A few weeks ago I took a selfie of my hair and said “a week away from being able to do my Malcolm Gladwell impression.” The following exchange then took place (paraphrasing):
Fan: More like another year
Me: Oh you need to update your Gladwell afro reference point.
Fan: shares a picture of Gladwell with the date 2008 on the picture. In it, Gladwell has a very large afro
Me: sharing a 2020 picture of Gladwell with significantly shorter hair saying “yes your pic is from 12 years ago.”
Fan: Hey dude – it is your joke – if I have to know what Gladwell’s hair is like now it sort of ruins the joke. Sorry you can’t take some friendly Twitter sparring.
I then blocked him for being a nuisance, but I felt the exchange illustrated so much of what this blog encompasses. So I suppose, even though the Twitter algorithm has not been friendly to me over the last 4+ months (but still I am way ahead of the game compared to my social media worth a year ago) I am falling prey to the deal I warned others about: the Internet giveth happiness but it can taketh away. However, this has not changed my fundamental desire as a comedian: to headline comedy clubs. I still have faith in the people that spend their moneys to go to live comedy that they truly understand the art and what it is about (not 100% but a lot more than the social media world for sure). In a comedy club they are not there just to be distracted from their office job or Covid; they are there for stand up comedy. On-line content, and especially comedy, feels ever more disposable and as platforms cater to the whims of their shareholders, it becomes harder and harder to get a critical mass of fans to provide meaningful support. As business, social media & clout chasing mediocrities posing as creators combine forces they will strengthen their collective grip on determining what we want and like. And at some point, even a callback will not be enough to penetrate the stupidity we will have fostered.
This weekend I performed in St Paul, MN at the Joke Joint Comedy Club, which recently had to relocate to a new space in downtown St Paul inside of Camp Bar. It was part of the 1 city, 3 show tour I managed to put together to promote next week’s release of my new double stand-up album Thots & Prayers. Although I will obviously get into the humorous and sad details of the trip, the most notable thing about it was the fact that I travelled a total of 62 hours for two nights of shows in Minnesota. That is because I decided to take Amtrak both ways. As I explained to the crowds in St Paul, to be still doing comedy after 15 years despite it being detrimental to my physical, emotional and spiritual health when it clearly is not going to lead to any financial stability, let alone something approaching success, requires a core of delusional optimism that only historical figures and the mentally ill possess. And because I believe with Dr. Ford certainty and Brett Kavanaugh intensity that the album is a masterpiece I felt a heightened fear of flying this week. I already hate flying and like the train, but about 10% of my brain was saying “If you comedy career has been consistent it is in the tragic irony department – whether it is Patrice O’Neal demonstrating some affinity for working with me only a few months before his eventually fatal stroke or developing the best Trump impression in comedy while seeing everyone but me get paid for it, it is clear that comedy has turned me from Mozart to Salieri. And the icing on the cake would be dying right before the album comes out. Yes, I am aware that this sounds Trump-Kanye levels of insane, but if you have wasted 15 years of your life pursuing a career that God and country seemed destined to impede then how nuts is it to take it one more level to comedy martyrdom? Well, as I write this recap I am halfway through Pennsylvania in a rush to make it home, shower, walk my dog who will no doubt greet me with the apathy that makes me think I should have named her Industry instead of Cookie and rush to Newark, New Jersey to see Bruno Mars. So here is the recap:
Long Train Runnin’ – NYC to St Paul
I got on the Lake Shore Limited from NYC to Chicago on Wednesday afternoon. I had a roomette, which after finishing Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff, felt like a moderately spacious space pod – two chairs that come together to form a 6’3″ bed (I am 6’7″), a panel of light and climate controls and a toilet right next to your chair/bed (like be careful to not splatter close or else you might be a turn on for Trump). As cramped as it may appear, a space like this goes for $1350/month in Manhattan.
The train was 2.5 hours late getting into Chicago, which I did not mind because it allowed me to read half of Bob Woodward’s Trump book (I would finish it two days later and found it fairly underwhelming in its prose – fuller review on my podcast tomorrow). I also watched quite a bit of Senate hearings about Brett Kavanaugh thanks to surprisingly improved Amtrak WiFi service. I then had a 2 hour wait before getting on the Empire Builder train, which is the Amtrak from Chicago to Seattle. I arrived at 10pm Thursday night in St Paul (my portion of the Empire Builder was a manageable 8 hours) and headed to the downtown Doubletree where I got my cookie and took 4 showers to get the smell of cross country obese feet out of my skin (like a coal mine or a Subway restaurant, long distance Amtrak’s signature scent seeps into your skin).
The club manager picked me up at 1pm Friday to take me to the club hotel (I used my free night via hotels.com for the early arrival hotel – always helps when you have subsidies for your paranoia about flying). Now the Doubletree was downtown – a 10 minute walk from the train station and about an equal distance from the club. Well, the Best Western Plus (which was the old hotel the club used when it was located in the burbs) was now about 30 miles from the club and train station. Fortunately my schedule of reading in the corner of a Starbucks can be done from any location, which is all I did until showtime.
The emcee, Andy, picked me up and we got to the club about 10 minutes before showtime. The audience was fairly light, but I assured the manager that my fan would arrive on Saturday (if you think I am joking – my one fan in St Paul did show up, but with his wife so I will count that as two fans – like the French language I consider the man determinative). I sold one album Friday after what I thought was a pretty good set (and thanks to my Milli Vanilli bit, the floor manager closed the show with Baby Don’t Forget My Number), which I promptly spent on Wendy’s after the show.
As a bonus the feature, David, brought gigantic cookies from a local bakery to the show:
When I woke up Saturday it was under 40 degrees so rather than exercise I went and read at Starbucks. Also, had it been 80 and sunny I would have just read at Starbucks. There were two shows Saturday night. The first had a nice crowd and I sold one album. So basically 38 CDs of mine simply went on a vacation from my apartment and will be back home in a few hours. Below is one of the non-album, timely bits I did for the early crowd about the upcoming film A Star is Born:
The late show had about 16 people. And I thought to myself, “This deserves to be my final show.” They were nice people and decent laughers for such a small crowd, but when the goal is a career and you are 15 years operating at hobby level of success it is important not to forget that if divided into 2 teams, your audience would not have sufficient numbers to play a baseball game.
Long Train Runnin’ pt 2 – St Paul to NYC
After a refreshing 4 hours of sleep Saturday night I got a Lyft to the train station (the aforementioned Andy (emcee) was nice enough to set his alarm and see if I was able to get a cab) and got on the Empire Builder back to Chicago. I had some pancakes in the dining car and did some lounging in the lounge car (as you can see there was a very Earthy looking guy in the car (turns out he was a poet – how has that profession survived?).
We got to Chicago 20 minutes early so I had 2 hours to kill so I walked around downtown Chicago looking for something to eat, but all I was able to get was Subway (most things were closed) and the apathetic young sandwich artist didn’t even heat the chicken enough. Clearly a Modern Sandwich Artist.
I then got on the Capitol Limited, which goes from Chicago to DC. That train was 5 minutes early and was a great ride (I got another sleeper roomette where I began ripping through The Dirt, the biography by Motely Crue – unquestionably a brilliant (since it works) structure for a biography (each band member writing different chapters as their story progresses through an unthinkable amount of drugs, sex and violence). However, quite uncomfortable when the band’s bass player basically admits to rape (letting other people have sex in a dark closet with a woman who believes she is having sex with him). I feel like the entire music industry could be shut down by #MeToo, except we seem to have grandfathered rock music to be exempt from it. Now hip hop, which has never been as bad as Motley Crue somehow seemed more problematic to America (thinking emoji). Anyway more on that on tomorrow’s podcast as well. If the train is good for anything it is great reading time.
I got off the Capitol Limited in Pittsburgh at 5am to transfer to the Pennsylvanian which runs from Pittsburgh to NYC. I tried to get on an express greyhound at 630 am (the Pennsylvanian did not leave til 7:30 and takes longer), but the Greyhound was sold out – which is richly symbolic: the only thing that sold out for me this weekend was a Greyhound bus – if my career were to continue it is good that I can set a new goal of trying to be as successful at comedy as Greyhound is at bus operation.
So now I’m 2.5 hours from NYC and then I will have to hurry up and get ready for the Bruno Mars concert. Amtrak Funk gonna give it to ya!
A couple of months ago Netflix launched, The Punisher starring Jon Bernthal. It was the 744th Marvel property to make it to either the big or small screen in the last eight years and was very popular. Well, for fans of the show and its star Bernthal, there is a good news. A new web series focused on The Punisher a/k/a Frank Castle when he is at home has launched and the 5 episode collection is worth fifteen minutes of your time. Enjoy!
This weekend continued by July of No Bookings Tour (#JNBT), so it was time to make my way to Martha’s Vineyard for my sister-in-law’s 50th birthday party that my brother put together. Given the peak season, I was still pretty happy to secure a solid rate of sodomy from hotels.com for a bed & breakfast for two nights. I also booked the Seastreak Ferry for my girlfriend and me, which conveniently leaves midtown Manhattan and arrives in Martha’s Vineyard 5 The Perfect Storm hours later. The cost was $240 round trip per person, which is reasonable except for the word “ferry.” The word ferry makes me think $22.50 round trip and kids travel free – not Amtrak Accela to Boston prices. And on an ironic note, there is no better symbol for my comedy career that there was a comedy festival a short ride away from Martha’s Vineyard in Nantucket, where many comics were being paid to perform while I was spending a small fortune to feel like I was an unwitting guest on a hidden camera show. And with that intro, here we go!
The Perfect Ferry Storm
When my girlfriend and I boarded the Ferry it was cloudy with on-again, off-again rain. We got two seats together on the lower deck with books, podcasts and sandwiches ready for our ocean adventure. The Ferry was full of men in pastel colored pants and shorts and women and men trying to hog 4 seat tables to themselves. The boat left on time and despite the heavy clouds and moderate rain the ride was nice and smooth for about two hours. And then at the halfway point we entered the Atlantic. Here is an accurate photograph of how my girlfriend and I felt for the next two hours:
As someone who is almost never on boats and hates flying I was still surprised at how anxious the up and downs made me. I never wanted to puke but the physical and mental tension I had as a constant for 2 hours made me very tired. But we arrived in Martha’s Vineyard safely just after 9pm and made our way to the 1720 House, the bed & breakfast I had booked.
Indiana J-L and the Temple of Bugs
The door was open when we arrived (I believe this is a vacation town’s self fulfilling prophecy – if we leave everything open then we cannot have crime!) and our key to the “Yellow Room” was sitting there waiting for us. Interesting fact: the place is called the 1720 House because it was built in 1720 when it was illegal to make a house for people taller than 5’10”. I have dealt with short doorways and stairwells my whole life, but the additional Fear Factor addition here was that from every low hanging lamp from the entrance to the stairwell to the hallways to our room has spiders and bugs hanging so I quickly had to turn into Rocky Balboa bobbing and weaving to avoid spider/bug essence in my mouth. When we entered my room I assumed the rooms would be bug free, but I proceeded to kill a spider in the room and in our bathroom. I actually almost asked some of the bugs to chip in to offset some of the costs of the financial gang bang hotels.com perpetrated on me.
Sidebar – if you are one of those “I don’t kill spiders because they actually kill the other bugs” stop it. Congrats, you would leave Saddam Hussein in power to suppress the good and bad elements, but I believe in the unfettered freedom to live without Daddy Long Legs walking over my face for $300 a night! I will allow the next Yellow Room (named for the quantity of urine you emit when seeing the bugs) administration to handle the Mosquito ISIS that emerges in the absence of strongmen spiders.
To date my most popular Instagram photos are now the photos of me in the tiny house so if you don’t follow me on Instagram (@jlcomedy) then here is a glimpse of me and various spots in and around the house.
My brother rented a (very nice) house in Martha’s Vineyard for his wife for 2 weeks. She is working on a new book so the house gives her 2 kid-free weeks to relax, sleep and work unencumbered. When I walked in the house I immediately offered money to be able to sleep on the floor for the night. And I could be mistaken but I think as I was wiping away the remaining Tarantula anal leakage on my forehead from the 1720 House I could see a look in my girlfriend’s eye that asked “Why did I get the Eric Roberts of the family?”
The party was really nice, the food delicious and I then got an ice cream sundae from a local shoppppppe afterwards (Martha’s Vineyard has 44,076 ice cream shopppppppes) so it was a nice night. I was in such a good mood I actually high-fived two of the spiders when I arrived back at the 1720 House.
The ferry ride back was a little better than the ride out and we got back to my place where my dog Cookie went nuts when she saw my girlfriend and gave me a head nod when she saw me (#Family #Respect #Blessed). We then watched Game of Thrones as I scanned my bags and clothing for any trace of stowaways from the 1720 House. None. This house is clear.
Normally my road recaps are about weeks or weekends performing comedy somewhere in America. However, this recap, because of its greatness and volume of information and humor will be my first road recap (that I can remember) that is simply a review of a non-comedy trip. I went to my girlfriend’s 20th high school reunion this weekend in Arlington, Virginia. Before you are done reading you will read about slavery, pornography and something far more depraved – a lying scumbag on Amtrak. You will also learn about a legitimate comedy milestone for me as well as chaperoning my Mom to a Bill Maher stand up comedy performance (well, that will be on this week’s podcast). So get ready to learn, laugh and hate!
The Preamble: The Train, The Porn Star and Mean Girls?
As usual, any trip via Amtrak for me will involved the “future glimpse at a dystopian future” known as Penn Station. My girlfriend and I saw the red caps bringing bags to gate 12 East so we, along with a dozen or so other geniuses, lined up there to beat the eventual crush of thousands. Then, the worst thing happened: the gate was announced as 12 West, which meant we were at the back of the line we thought we were starting. As Jesus and Amtrak said, “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.” Of course there was a guy I remember cutting about 120 people and I wanted to throw him down the escalator, but then I remembered this is not a Trump rally, just Penn Station.
When we got to DC we headed to the Hyatt in Rosslyn, VA which was 2 blocks from the site of the reunion. We then ate at a nearby place called District Taco, which was incredibly delicious (including the rare Boylan soda fountain), so expect a big bump in sales after this endorsement DT. After that it was time to meet up with my girlfriend’s two best friends from high school and their significant others. Here is where things start to get interesting.
There are three main facts learned at the dinner:
One of their classmates is now a porn star!
That class mate is a man 🙁
My girlfriend and her friends may have been the mean girls in high school.
We will cover the first two in the “Boogie Night” section, but the third was interesting because when I asked my girlfriend about being the mean girls in high school, she did not deny it. Instead, she said “I think I was the nicest one!” which is a denial worthy of a Sean Spicer press conference. When I asked one of the two friends later in the weekend, there was not a flat denial, but rather a series of explanations, which confirmed they were the mean girls. So I wondered if I, along with the two other significant others were being set up as human shields for some 20th Reunion school revenge shooting. The rest of the night I just paced around the hotel like Marion Barry yelling “Bitch set me up!”
Too Much Black History!
The next morning, my girlfriend and I went to the National African American Museum of Lit History and Fire Emjoi Culture. The place is stunning, though it requires a full day. We spent four hours there and only got through half of the museum (the lower three levels are the hard core history from slavery through President Obama and it involves a lot of reading, which keeps things to a fairly slow pace, especially when considering how densely packed the large area is with information, displays and artifacts. The top 3 floors cover more culture, sports, etc. and I figured we could see that on our next trip to DC. But at one point, my girlfriend and I were feeling so overwhelmed by the sheet depth and quantity of information that I just yelled out “THERE ARE TOO MANY BLACK… PIECES OF HISTORY!” at which point I got a lot of stares. I quickly pulled out a copy of my Sprint Cell Phone bill to prove my half blackness and everything was forgiven.
And as if there was not enough black history going on, while in the museum I got a message that my album Fireside Craps would be the first of my albums to make it on to the Billboard Comedy Charts (so look for annoying photos on social media from me when that happens this week).
Among my chief complaints about the museum (after they should have gotten twice the amount of space – though if they were limited to this square footage it is a marvel of design fitting everything in in the manner in which they did) is that there was no display dedicated to angry white guys yelling “But my parents didn’t own slaves!” nor was there anything dedicated to white women running amok with black twitter vernacular. But they did a strong job nonetheless. Though sadly, I expected to see a display of Amber Rose next to either Sojourner Truth or Rosa Parks, but I guess sex positive heroes have not found their place in the museum yet! Here is a photo journal of highlights from my first trip:
Now it was time for the reunion, which was located in a beautiful top floor space overlooking the Potomac River and basically every landmark in DC. However, because of the cost of renting that space the reunion was left with beer, wine, an appetizer station and someone’s iPod playing hits of the 90s over the PA system. It felt like someone buying a Park Avenue penthouse, but only being able to afford to furnish it with an air mattress.
So as I said hi to a few people (and was mistaken as someone else, but then had to have a 5 minute conversation wit the guy to ease his embarrassment) and then I spotted someone that might be the porn star. I worked for the DA’s office in the Bronx for 3.5 years so maybe it is unfair of me to use my skills like this, but I have a keen eye for clues:
Dirty handsome. Tan, lean jacked, hair product – like Zac Efron if he had been abandoned as a child.
Poor eye contact, but very friendly.
Sort of a child-like voice
accompanied by a woman under 23 covered in tattoos, with a shapely bum and friendly, but exhausted eyes
said when speaking to my girlfriend “I work out of Vegas, LA, and San Francisco” (something I coined as the BermudAIDS Triangle” later that night)
When I later spoke to my girlfriend’s friend’s husband he said “that’s him, right?” and I said “he had me at Vegas, LA and San Fran.” I am sure that somewhere in Vegas there is a blog being written by the porn star about how he knew who the comedian was in the party:
Too many jokes
The frame of a guy who used to workout, but now has the cream filling of a cupcake
Works in NYC, even though “works” really means has a day job
Dating some Tina Fey-ish chick because that is as close as he will get to SNL
Church and the Devil
On Sunday morning I woke up to head to Mass before catching the train (I upgrade my girlfriend to the Accela so we could take the train home together #ReunionMogul). I had originally needed to leave earlier than her because I was taking my Mom to see Bill Maher in Newark Sunday night as her birthday present (I stored up just enough African-American Museum Wokeness credits to attend the show – that show and experience will be recapped on this week’s Righteous Prick Podcast Tuesday morning). I went to St Michael’s Cathedral near the DC Improv – the Church that Pope Francis And I attend while in Washington. DC. However, Mass was at 830am and as I found out the hard way, the DC Metro does not open until 800am – what kind of major city does not open their local train until 8am?! And then it was a 20 minute wait for the train once it opened (they should start a couple of trains in the middle of the route, but what do I know). So I was late to Mass, but I was sure to pray for the DC Metro system (“love your enemies/haters” – Jesus Chris and Katt Williams).
I then met my girlfriend at Union Station and we got on the Accela to NYC. Once we hit Philadelphia the train started to get crowded. A few people asked the man sitting in front of us if they could sit with him. He said that the bag next to him belonged to someone who had gone to the Cafe car. When we got to Newark (ten minutes from NYC) and the train was even more crowded and he told a woman “This guy has been gone for like an hour so you can probably sit here,” but she declined. Well, as we pulled into NYC this piece of shit stands up and picks up the bag. It was his bag. I almost said something to a conductor when he claimed it had been left there (hey, what if it is a bomb), but I didn’t. I wanted to say something to the guy as we were leaving, but all I really wanted to do was set his bag on fire, so that would not have been constructive. From his affected mannerisms I think he may have been in town to celebrate PRIDE Day/Week/Ethnic Female Guts Spilling Out of Crop Tops Day in NYC, but he should have been… ASHAMED! *drops mic*
This week’s comedy destination was Washington, D.C. for 6 shows at the DC Improv. Because I had to put myself up in a hotel I did what I do with all comedy trips that won’t make me much profit… I asked my girlfriend to join me for a weekend getaway (this is the way that I rationalize my comedy career – rather than being a struggling feature, trying to make a profit I instantly become a guy who gets paid a few bucks to take his girlfriend on vacation). #CheapVacationMogul. I arrived Thursday solo at the Westin City Center. It was a very nice hotel that I was able to swing a good deal on through Hotwire.com. I knew it was a nice hotel because nothing was included. Internet, breakfast and prostitutes were all additional fees. Normally when I go to a hotel it’s a Hampton Inn where they give you Internet, a waffle iron and a townie 7 to warm your bed, all for $62 a night. No such luck with the DC Westin. My favorite thing about hotels like this are the breakfast options. “You can have a thimble of coffee and one scrambled egg for $25.50… or our buffet which features, eggs, pancakes, french toast, pastries, cereal, an omelette station and a therapy dog for $26.00.” Hmmmmmmmm, can you come back and let me consult with Jared Kushner on the pros and cons of both options? So as I write this in a coffee shop (I had to check out of the Westin at noon, which leaves me as a nomad in DC for 5 hours before Mass and comedy tonight before hopping the 1010pm train back to NYC) here is a recap of the week in quips and photos:
With my lady not arriving until Friday morning, Thursday became “Thidepiece Thursday.” Only one fan showed up (thank you The Black Guy Who Tips for having the most engaged and loyal fans anywhere) and she was attractive, but unfortunately she did not get the memo about Thidepiece Thursday because she rolled in with her man. Maybe because he felt guilty about violating Thidepiece Thursday etiquette by showing up or because no one had bought any of my merchandise after the show, but he bought all three albums I had for sale as he and his lady were happy with the show. So I guess I will let it slide.
But after the 1 pity purchase I texted my girlfriend at 12:01 am (First Lady Fridays) and said, “Bring a bag with room; you are going to have to bring some of these CDs back home.” And not to be too down, my buddy Ross and a friend of his also came to the show so obviously I am being modest about my ability to draw audiences nationwide. We sat in Shake Shack in between shows and talked about deceased relatives, just to keep it light. Here is a fun clip from the show:
Food Court Friday
The girlfriend arrived Friday and we promptly went looking for food. Fridays during Lent mean no meat for Catholics so she got some free-trade, goat cheese-quinoa-avocado wrap that was smuggled out of Brooklyn and I got two slices of pizza. I actually walked from my hotel to Union Station to get her and then we walked all over DC. By the count of my new invention FatBit (which keeps track of all your steps and the fact that you are still horrible out of shape) I had done at least 25,000 steps before getting back to the hotel to prep for the evenings shows.
Before the evening entertainment we tried to go to the African-American History Museum (see my instagram – @jlcomedy – for Trump’s opinions on it) and there was a huge line. I ended up talking Utah Jazz basketball with the guy standing behind me, which is actually the least African-American way to have an NBA discussion. We then got about 30 people from the front when they said no more tickets were available #Blessed. We then went to an art museum where some Japanese lady who looks like a Pixar character had a big exhibition. We also failed to get limited tickets for that so we looked at other stuff, including a sculpture of a bald, fat girthy-cocked dude (the pic omits the girthy phallus for any young readers of bitter, anonymous comedian blogs #TargetMarket):
My girlfriend was meeting her high school friend and her husband at the show (THAT’S 6 FANS ALREADY FROM THE FEATURE ACT – #DRAW) and I had a very strong set. The audience was not full so I set my camera up in the back to capture the action. Unfortunately some folks sat near my camera (for no discernible reason) and bumped my camera so I learned quickly after the set that I had a great 18 minutes of the bathroom door killing.
As I steamed after the first show, and sold nothing, I considered quitting that very moment. However, I did something smarter. I decided to counter the JL Comedy Jinx with some self-hate. I decided not to tape my second set. And of course I crushed. So while I don’t have that set on tape, I did sell 12 CDs after the show (including 3 to ANOTHER member of The Black Guy Who Tips fanbase – 7 FANS MOTHERFU*KERS!). I then crawled into bed next to my girlfriend, who was in a wine-induced coma, at 1 am. #SpoonSaturdays
On Saturday we woke up and made our way to her friend’s house in East Falls Church for some brunch (“When in White Women Rome…”), though before that I had the pleasure of running into NYC comedian Anthony DeVito on the street. We had a nice chat and I wished him luck on his Comedy Central taping (for blog readers, you may remember Anthony from my intimate Winery Show/Bed and Breakfast in early 2016). After brunch the gf and I went for a long walk around DC and went to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and the World War II Memorial, which I think is the best thing in all of DC (thank you for your (lobbying) service Tom Hanks. Both are beautiful. The weather was beautiful, but then it was time to bring the lady back to Union Station (you either get 3 days in a Hampton Inn, or 2 in a Westin on the Broke Comedian Getaway Vacation Package). We ate Pizzeria Uno, which obviously put me on a 24-esque timetable to get back to my Westin bathroom and I put her on the train back to NYC. Before getting to the shows that night here are some photos (more on my Instagram):
That night I arrived at the DC Improv for three shows and was greeted by friend, former podcast guest and DMV comedy legend Rob Maher. We chatted and then I went on stage and did the Lord’s work. I then went into the DC Improv Lounge to follow another DMV legend and friend, Randolph Terrance and crushed even harder than in the main room (I feel like my new bit on the “Fluidity of Sexuality” would please most comedians and members of the Nixon White House). I then had my best post show sales of the week (I opted not to give CDs to the gf to bring back – either I would sell them (good) or be furious that I was dragging them back to NYC (justifying my rage at comedy) to the point that I had to run back to the Westin to get the remaining copies for the late show. All joking aside, I do wish I had gotten a job in DC over NYC after law school because the DC comedy scene has always been my favorite.
I had a very good second set and sold a few copies more. Then I received news that Louis CK had started his SNL monologue with a “Why Did the Chicken Cross The Road” joke. So as I kill some more time on this beautiful DC Sunday, enjoy my video from 2013 that proves that I am way ahead of Louis CK. #JLouisC
As I have been forced to come to grips with the fact that Donald Trump is about to become the 45th President of the United States (seriously, forget how awful a person he is – he is also devoid of any intellectual curiosity and offensively simple minded), I have noticed something troublesome, even by the new Trump-related definition of troublesome. Absorbing daily reminders of his intellectual, social and moral failings, I have discovered that the President-Elect bears more than a passing character resemblance to one of the most famous small time roles in any movie from my lifetime: Ellis from Die Hard.
For a recap (or an introduction to the cinema ignorant), Ellis is a co-worker of John McClain’s wife and basically the prototypical finance douche bro of the 1980s. When he enters the film he is finishing off a line of coke and shortly thereafter insisting that McClain’s wife show off the Rolex that he and/or the company gave her as a bonus. The way he says Rolex and looks at our protagonist is basically saying “I banged your wife or am going to soon because I can get her a Rolex.” Once I made the Trump-Ellis connection I felt like I needed to investigate more about Ellis, one of the most despicable characters of the 1980s. So here is what I found, through the words of Ellis:
“Hey babe, I negotiate million dollar deals for breakfast. I think I can handle this Eurotrash.”
Ellis says this when he decides to negotiate with Hans Gruber (is it a coincidence that Alan Rickman dies in the film he shares with Ellis and then dies the year Trump, Ellis’moral doppelganger, wins the White House?). A confident negotiator? Check. Disrespect for Europe? Check.
“It’s a Rolex.”
The line, mentioned above, is basically Ellis’version of “She was married, but I went after her like a bitch” to Billy Bush. Except, at least Ellis confronts McClain semi face to face, even if it is only through scummy eyebrow raises.
“Well, I’ve watched 60 Minutes, and I’m saying to myself, they’re motivated, they’re happening, I.E. they want something. Maybe it’s because you’re pissed off or maybe it’s the camel jockeys, the hebes; northern Ireland; it’s none of my business.”
This line is incredibly Trump. Instead of 60 Minutes Trump claimed “Watching the Morning Shows” was his foreign policy expertise. He said to a room full of Jewish people “You all love to negotiate” and I think “Camel Jockeys” cannot be too far from what Trump has said of the people of the Middle East in his efforts to ban all Muslims from the United States.
“Hey, business is business. You use a gun, I use a fountain pen what’s the difference? Let’s put it in my terms: you’re in a hostile takeover, you snatch us up for some green mail, but you’re not expecting some poison pill to be running around the building, am I right? Hans, *bubby*, I’m your white knight.”
This line is the sum of Trump’s appeal. The first part is the claim that his experience in business basically makes him fit for anything that ever requires negotiating. The second part about being a white knight – this was Trump’s literal message to the Alt-Reich (term I heard from comedian Jena Friedman at a show)
“I told ’em we were old friends and you were my guest at the party.”
This is the lie Ellis tells Hans Gruber to get him to take him seriously. The truth is he had never met McClain until that night. Sort of a reverse of Trump claiming to not know Putin, when he really did. The only difference is Ellis’ lie gets him killed. Trump’s lies will likely lead to a lot more deaths during his presidency.
So basically Ellis and Trump are the same – scumbags obsessed with material goods and themselves and willing to lie to make themselves seem better. There are only two differences. Ellis was high on coke and at least trying to free his co-workers from a terrorist. Trump is sober and trying to enrich his portfolio and ego at the expense of the American people. Who knew in 1988 that Ellis was the hero we would need in 2016. #RIPEllis
Get J-L’s new stand up albums KEEP MY ENEMIES CLOSER & ISRAELI TORTOISE on iTunes, Amazon & Google.
As 2016 rapidly approaches its conclusion I am reflecting on a year that has been by far my most successful financially as a comedian and also in some ways the most frustrating. I have made the most money of any year, in part thanks to royalty payments for my albums, in part thanks to President-Elect Donald Trump and in part thanks to 13 years of diligence in trying to get booked as a feature at as many comedy clubs as I am able. I had an album reach #1 on iTunes and have made repeated performances on the top podcasts in the country. All done on my own with no representation. However beneath the veneer of budding success lie harsh truths. I have been unable to build an infrastructure for my career. Unlike a regular job, having a good year does not guarantee anything of the sort next year. There are no linear promotions in stand up comedy, at least not for the unrepresented among us. Having a good year in 2016 simply means I will have to redouble efforts in 2017 just to maintain the level I achieved this year and hope for recognition, notice and/or opportunity in 2017 that may allow me to surpass where I am currently. But the difficulty is that even if you double the money I made in comedy this year I would still need another source of income to continue living the pleasant, but month-to-month existence I have had for the last several years. So what that amounts to is that as I approach my 14th year in comedy (and look up the lyrics to Guns N Roses’14 years for a solid description) in what at times feels more like compulsion than enjoyment, I will have to work at a pace that didn’t fatigue me when I was working as a full time attorney and open mic comedian 10 years ago, but now exhausts me. And unlike the comedian I was in 2006 a lot has changed since then. In 2006 I had to worry about stage time, writing and getting clips to bookers. Today there are a dozen social media platforms, YouTube videos and podcasts all of which help you expand a fan base, but all of which take time and energy (in some cases money) and are not stand up comedy. And without a larger platform, media presence, or gatekeeper, you are only likely to expand linearly (my podcast has grown from 200 to 1000 listeners a week since I started it over 4 years ago, which is nice and from a larger comedy business perspective, completely irrelevant) and in this business exponential growth is needed and is still almost always controlled by powerful players in the business. However, just like state lotteries, the powerful in and around comedy have no qualm feeding the myth that the average guy with some pluck and a $1 can be the next success. So as we approach the conclusion of my most successful year as a comedian I offer some words of how comedians can help themselves and how the business can help comedians. Do I expect any of these to take hold? No. But I need this Starbucks coffee to cool off so might as well write.
Comedians Need a Guild
Having attended law school and practiced as an attorney I wish I were more well versed in labor law, but I am not. But I do know that stand up comedy needs a guild. Now I would not expect it to wield as much power or prestige as the Screen Actors Guild, nor provide certain things like health insurance because the economies of comedy clubs are not what they are for film studios, but certain protections and rights need to be enshrined for comedians at some point. For example – the fact that feature acts continue to be the most squeezed of the three comedian levels (emcees – often locals, entry level, middle acts – who have to do the travelling of headliners and perform more time than emcees for a fraction of the money headliners get). The pay per show of feature comedians has not gone up in 30 years. Half the clubs now do not provide lodging for feature acts. That means a feature act, who presumably is the next decade’s headliner (after he or she waits for the Vine stars, Instagram stars and MTV2 stars to leapfrog him or her) must find a way to travel and lodge themselves and hope that frugality and merchandise sales can help them make a little money. And of course the real reason to do it for net gain of maybe a few hundred dollars is to make contacts, hone your act and possible make some fans. But this is no longer really a viable path for people to earn a living and become great comedians. Therefore a Guild should guarantee lodging and/or increased pay for features. Now clubs can be organized by levels (colloquially we call them A or B (or C) rooms – based on crowds, location, prestige, etc. and those levels can be required to pay features a certain level. For example if no lodging is provided then an A room would have to pay a feature $150 per show instead of the standard $100 per show. These are just figures meant to illustrate my point as several clubs already do pay $100 per show plus room, but obviously there is something wrong with a job that is paying the same or less than the same job in 1986 (in real dollars, not adjusted for inflation). Like America, the Middle Class of comedy has been the one most decimated by cutbacks at clubs. In fact, I would argue that they are the only ones paying.
Another issue I would want a comedy guild to address is an outright ban on clubs managing talent. SAG for many years (I could not find out if the rule was lifted recently) banned talent agencies from producing content because of the obvious conflict of interest. I manage you; I make a movie; I cast you ahead of other talent and then I collect 10% of the salary I pay you for being in the movie. However, there are clubs that manage talent, allow that talent to monopolize spots at their club or clubs and then force feed their talent on showcases for networks under the guise of presenting a cream of the crop of talent for networks to select from. In this age of everyone telling comedians that gatekeepers don’t matter – they still matter a lot. We can keep producing free content while being sold a false dream or we can wake up and realize that for every Bo Burnham there are 10,000 people producing free content, some of it good, with no shot of breaking through without an established entity or gate keeper paving the way.
These are just two ideas I have regarding a comedy guild, and I realize they, along with other ideas, would require a collective action that the comedy community may not be capable of. I have said this with some scorn and also some self-blame, but it is hard to organize a labor force when the majority already act and think of themselves as scabs. New comics are afraid of ruffling feathers, comics with some heat and opportunity are afraid of squandering what feels like a shot at the dream and big time comics are too removed from their struggling days to relate or care about the diminished outlook for comedians today. Of course, nothing is guaranteed, but with the Internet demanding more of comedians than ever, having a business that is increasingly stacked against the middle class of comedy cannot and should not be tolerated by comedians at any level.
Facebook is not Your Friend
I have a buddy who is a comedian, but also owns and operates a hugely successful non-comedy Internet company. He has over 2 million fans on his business Facebook page. And over the last couple of years, as Facebook has approached 2 billion users worldwide it has become more and more difficult for him to reach his fans with posts because of the algorithms Facebook has instituted. Facebook has become immensely profitable and their answer to that has been to squeeze the people, business and creators that have helped make it successful. Google pays successful video makers and Twitter does not hide posts – there is still an egalitarian spirit in their business model, unlike Facebook, which basically holds its creators hostage. Facebook, as many of you know, discourages YouTube videos from being seen. As an example, 3 years ago I had a YouTube video link go viral. It had 81 shares and 200,000 views in 3 days. Last year I had a video get 80 shares and it had 5,000 views. There are other factors to explain some disparity, but none to explain that large a disparity other than Facebook’s algorithm. Now Facebook wants its users to directly upload through Facebook and your reward is the ego boost of more views, but nothing else. No compensation, no credits for ads. Nothing.
Facebook is a media giant. Make no mistake about it. They deserve to be treated like CBS, ABC and NBC and I hope the criticism from fake news stories being spread finally gets them to wield the power they cultivated with more responsibility. And as their ads continue to cost more and more money it will reach a point where your feed will be flooded by only the companies and entities that can afford to advertise on radio and television. So like many things in this country, they are driving their success on the backs of content creators, but making it unaffordable for those creators to get exposure (get exposure and make no money or upload a YouTube clip and get no views). Once again, at least Google pays people (there are plenty of issues with Google as well, but trying to keep this under 3000 words). My solution, as unrealistic as it is, would be for comedians to not upload any content directly to Facebook. Once again, this would have to be some sort of hashtaggy moment to draw attention, but we are now addicted to likes and clicks like a digital heroin, so I know it is unlikely. Facebook is just another big, bad company, except they actually don’t make anything. They steal ideas from other apps and they use free content from its users. And comedians should consider themselves one of the main foods on the plate of the social media parasite.
Do Not Use a Label to Produce Your Album(s)
I have self produced 5 albums and self producing has had real financial benefits. This year I will make a little over $15,000 in royalties because I am both the artist AND owner of my material. I have produced good content, but I have never been able to get a label to produce any of my albums. Now this comes with a caveat before I continue. If you are a major artist you can negotiate a deal that works for you. Like most things in comedy (and America) if you come into a deal with power you will leave with power and lots of money. Or if you are an up and coming artist and Comedy Central wants to work with you and produce your album that relationship has immense value for your career because of their reach and their numerous platforms. However, if you don’t fit into these categories I would advise you to take to heart what you half-heatedly tell yourself when trying to justify continuing a rocky career path: do it yourself.
This is one of the few areas where there is an ability to do it yourself (this assumes you are at a level of skill and talent where your material is at a point where it is worth putting down in an album and can find, if not an audience, at least respect, if people hear it). I get the breakdown of my royalties each month and it is roughly 47% to the artist and 53% to the rights owner. Now I probably make a decent amount relative to most no name comedians, but let’s say you are a comedian with one kick ass album. Maybe your label even negotiated a good deal for you, but bottom line is they will make half of your money in perpetuity of your album(s). Why? Because they put up the up front costs for you and got you a nice venue – it may not be a deal with the Devil, but I assure you it is not angelic either. Once again the lure of a top notch production and immediate gratification lures comedians to wager their long term benefits. These labels aggregate albums from big time people and dozens if not hundreds of no-namers like myself. So while you make $500 a month they may make $550 a month x 100 (or more) comedians. Individually, like class action lawsuits, you have no reason to really challenge, but as a collective comedians could change this industry.
If you look at the iTunes comedy charts you will usually see albums from 5 labels dominating and they will also occupy the “New and Noteworthy” spots with high profile placement. My album Israeli Tortoise hit #1 on the comedy charts in August, but it had no backing, no label and never got placement as new and noteworthy, even though one might think reaching #1 in its first week might make it both new and noteworthy. The point is that the only way to change the business is to practice what we preach, or at least pretend to believe. In an era where music labels, television studios and movie studios face increasing competition, comedians continue to be a reliable source of entertainment slave labor where large companies feed the narrative that “gatekeepers are not necessary” to encourage free content, while simultaneously benefiting from their monopoly on real and concrete opportunity as… gatekeepers.
Of course I must admit that I do not know how each of the major labels operate or the nature of the deals they sign with comedians. I can only extrapolate what I know from my payment breakdown, how I see working no name comics treated by the business and the general lessons of history when powerful interests and business operate without restriction or restraint.
And In Conclusion…
America recently elected Donald Trump president. This was the insane result of many things and one of them was working class people willing to buy a lie wrapped in a fairy tale because they were desperate to believe something that catered to their anger and diminished clout. In comedy there is no need for a Trump because it is already run as if Trump is in charge. Contradictory policies, false promises and the middle men and no-namers buy in against their own interests. As my friend Mike Payne said perfectly (and hopefully now famously?) “Comedians talk about the world like Karl Marx and then become Paul Ryan when speaking about comedy.” I am not here to say that I am going to burn myself in front of a comedy club like a monk during Vietnam, either literally or metaphorically (though some might say this blog is doing just that), but there is no better industry more emblematic of income inequality and a rigged system than the broken backs of the middle class of comedy. The question is – will comedians ever band together and do anything about it because it is only getting worse.
Get J-L’s new stand up albums KEEP MY ENEMIES CLOSER & ISRAELI TORTOISE on iTunes, Amazon & Google.
In a week full of controversial statements, even by his standards, Donald Trump has made a desperate, but significant play for black votes by declaring Atlanta, FX’s new comedy starring Donald Glover, “the second best show ever made, after The Apprentice of course.” This week, Donald Trump made headlines for acknowledging President Obama’s American citizenship, but without apology and by falsely claiming Hillary Clinton as the source of the birther movement. When that caused a predictable backlash Trump went to his playbook of “say something worse to distract from earlier bad thing” by suggesting Hillary Clinton’s protective detail abandon their weapons. Well Trump may have finally made his first real play for the African-American vote today when at noon he tweeted out “Atlanta on FX is great. Really great. Probably best show since The Apprentice.”
Trump is a lover of polls, statistics and click bait and he gets all three with his support of Atlanta. Atlanta has had strong ratings for FX, especially if you read titles of articles saying “Best Ratings for an FX comedy premiere since 2011” (which really means it is less successful than Wilfred, but that is not really the point). In a study of Black Twitter, Atlanta recently finished ahead of Barack Obama, Serena Williams and Beyoncé on things black people thought were important and excellent (a metric that combines quantity of shares of content with quantity of superlatives used in those shares). So whether it is genuine or pandering, Trump’s pivot to be pro-Atlanta is the only thing right now in black social media that may have the power to cover up his birther agenda, viewed as one of the low lights of disrespect shown to President Obama during his presidency.
“Hillary keeps hot sauce in her purse? Believe me, I keep Atlanta at the top of my DVR queue. Really great…” gushed Trump outside a white power rally this afternoon.
The response on Black Twitter to Trump’s love of Atlanta has been mixed, but one popular account, going by the name “@ThotsAndPrayers” said “Trump has done a lot of bad and said a lot worse, but he is right – Atlanta is (flame emoji).”
So it seems that it may be too little, too late, but the praise for this amazing show (it is at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, so it is not just black social media that has noticed) as one of the greatest in television history by Mr. Trump is not falling on deaf ears.
Episode 4 of Atlanta‘s first season airs Tuesday.
Get J-L’s new stand up album ISRAELI TORTOISE on iTunes, Amazon & Google.