Stand Up Comedy

Patrice O’Neal – A Big Man. A Huge Loss.

The news started the way news seems to start these days – with a Tweet or two.  The initial hope was that it was a false rumor or something, because those things do happen in the era of Twitter and Facebook and the 24 Hour News Cycle.  But as the tweets started to roll in it seemed that they were true: Patrice O’Neal was dead.

Patrice suffered a stroke not too long ago, which sent justifiable shocks through the comedy world.  He had just had his best and most high profile year yet.  His Elephant In The Room special was an instant classic in February on Comedy Central and then his off the cuff performance on the Roast of Charlie Sheen, which was a welcome change from the neatly polished and predictably mean-spirited jokes that litter those roasts now, elevated him to another, more mainstream audience.  And then he had a stroke.

And now he has died.


Until a few years ago my favorite comedian in the world was Greg Giraldo.  A brilliant, but accessible comedian, Giraldo was exactly what I aspired to – a lawyer-turned-comedian who was in the top class of comedians – popular and respected.  But then he died too early, at 44 years old, in a hotel in New Jersey.  He, like Patrice, had finally achieved a step into the mainstream with his appearances on Last Comic Standing and his undisputed closing status on Comedy Central Roasts – he was like the Mariano Rivera of comedy.

And then he died.

As if filling a void for comedy hero in the wake of Giraldo’s parting, I was lucky enough to work with Patrice O’Neal at the DC Improv.  The first time I worked with him was a true gift.  It really felt like being a fan again.  All the cynicism and jealousy that goes with being a comedian went away because I was watching someone practice comedy at such a high level that all you could do was admire and clutch your stomach in pain from laughing too much.

But the single greatest honor I have received was when Patrice asked to have me emcee his shows in DC the next time he was in DC.  And I remember him telling me that the emcee is important and that I should not demean it.  See to a lot of comics they would consider emceeing beneath them at the 7-8 year mark of their career, but this was one of the titans of the art form telling me that what I did was important and important to his show.   This was because he was a true comedian.  It was not about status or fame – it was about the show.  And no one currently in my opinion, other than maybe Bill Burr, put on a show like Patrice O’Neal.

And the fact that my shows opening for Patrice earned me some of my most engaged Facebook fans tells me that not only did he enhance comedy as an art, but he attracted true fans of the art.

But the death of Patrice O’Neal reminds me of something quite ominous for comedy.  Comedy is not producing any new Patrice O’Neals.  Or at least is not promoting any.  What disgusts me about comedy is when I see greats like Greg Giraldo and Patrice O’Neal taking 20 years to become household names.  The advantage of that is that their skill set and world view are so damn developed that they are practically forces of nature by the time they break.  But does that mean it is right?  Didn’t Patrice deserve to be bigger (only 1 hour long special on comedy central?) than that?

But beyond the personal tragedy of Patrice O’Neal’s death is what it means for the art of comedy.  Greg Giraldo and Patrice O’Neal are not being replaced by similar younger talent.  For me there is a generation that includes Bill Burr and Jim Norton that still represent the truest form of stand up (their careers were not built through savvy social media campaigns and sitcom roles, but on stage night after night).  But like manufacturing jobs that disappeared in America or rock stars more concerned with pilates and yoga than with partying and making great rock songs, the “comedy soldiers,” as Patrice once referred to himself and Burr, seem to be a dying breed.  Telegenic and marketable seem to be more important than true comedy genius in today’s comedy market.  That is not to say there are not great young comedians with real points of views and insightful thinking in their material.  There are.  But at some point places like Comedy Central need to take some responsibility.  They have monopolized  the comedy business, in some schools of thought have ruined live comedy (imagine Broadway had a basic cable channel called “Broadway Central” where you could watch Broadway plays – it would diminish ticket sales as well as the allure of live performance), but do not necessarily keep the art in the highest esteem.

I do not know the solution, but it reminds me of cable news.  Instead of doing longer, in-depth stories, cable news tries to meet the consumer half way (more like 80% of the way) and give them what they want to hear.  But at some point the news station has to give us our vegetables.  Stop serving up what people want or the lowest common denominator (Lindsey Lohan’s name should never appear on CNN except on their entertainment show).  Same for comedy – all due respect to my young friends (and to my own sputtering career) but when I turn on comedy central I should be seeing Pryor, Carlin, Giraldo, Hicks, O’Neal, Burr, Wright, Rock, Seinfeld, etc. a lot more than I do.  These are among the Shakespeares of our art and people should be schooled and respect the classics.

When Patrice’s special aired I told everyone to watch it with the same vigor that I tell people to watch Breaking Bad – nonstop with a 100% guarantee of enjoyment.  Afterwards I had friends saying “I never heard of him, but man that was great!”  This is not a failing of Patrice O’Neal, this is the failing of the comedy business.  Comedians suffer and struggle and hustle to be worthy of the platform that late night television and Comedy Central provide, but once they have earned it, as Patrice did many times over they deserve at least as much air time as Dane Cook or Larry The Cable Guy.  Comedy programmers are not supposed to just be a reflection of people’s taste – they should be enriching it.

The loss of Patrice O’Neal is huge, but what makes it annoying to a super fan like myself is that it is not actually bigger.

There will be no more working with Patrice, watching Patrice or looking forward to new opportunities for Patrice.  And I am sad for the loss to comedy and his family and friends and angry at the injustice that that symbolizes.

So Patrice died one week before his birthday fits the comedy business perfectly – he almost got to be celebrated the way he deserved.  But it is nice to see all the comedians and hard core comedy fans celebrating him.  The best way to honor him going forward, at least in comedy I think, is to not settle for anything less than what he brought to the table.  And that was a whole lot.

Stand Up Comedy

Greg Giraldo: An Appreciation

Yesterday my favorite comedian, Greg Giraldo, died from a drug overdose.   The first time I saw Giraldo perform was at the Columbus Funny Bone.  I was in law school at the time and was visiting my then-girlfriend in Ohio.  It was only my second time to a comedy club and he delivered the goods.  The guy clearly had a great mind, but also the talent to convey his strong opinions on subjects without alienating audience members (though at this point he was big enough in comedy to bring some of his own audience).  I would start doing comedy shortly thereafter and Giraldo has been the standard I have measured myself against ever since.


He was an attorney before pursuing comedy, but it was not just personal parallels that I felt connected to.  It was the sharp way he took down people and institutions without once seeming like one of the lefty zealot Carlin-wannabe hacks that dominate the political discourse in comedy these days.  To borrow from politics, he thought like a liberal, but seemed to deliver from the center.

What bothers me most about the loss of Giraldo is that I wonder if the comedy climate will allow or develop another comic in the same mold as Giraldo.  More than ever I feel like comedy is about niche markets.  The more people I see getting breaks these days, the more I feel like producers are simply trying to re-create The Hangover – if you look half crazy (Alans), nerdy (Stus) or are very telegenic (Phils) you are even money.  And if you are a social critic, “truth” is acceptable as long as it is is delivered by some far left, “daring and brave” comic who preaches consistently to his own choir, but beyond that – good luck.

But Giraldo was the comic who achieved success while not fitting any mold or focus group.  He could mock the Church in one joke and then mock gay marriage in the next and never feel preachy about either.  He was just a comedian who could look on the handsome side of normal (when not disheveled), speak intelligently without being consistently left or right, and could just write the best fu*king jokes.  He was just so good as a comedian that he did not need a niche.  I hate when I read about him being pigeon-holed as an “insult comic.”  He was so much more than that.  But even Giraldo, a comedian who while alive did not need a niche to make it big, is now being shelved into a niche so he can be neatly categorized in death.

But I wonder if the direction of modern culture will restrict or constrain the next Giraldo (or the next great comedian to be inspired by Giraldo’s voice) from reaching his or her potential.  Much like I never think another Michael Jordan can be fostered because nowadays anyone with Jordan’s talent would be exalted as a superhero from the age of 14 (see LeBron James) and would thereby lack the insecurity, drive, and chip-on-shoulder syndrome that drove Jordan.  Similarly, Giraldo came up in a pre-Twitter, pre-Facebook age in comedy, where a comedian’s mind was his chat room, complete with insecurities and fears, which, for anyone who read the Psychology Today article featuring Giraldo, knows helped drive him, even if he never felt as focused as he should have been.

Now, more than ever, comedy, especially for up and comers, is a big circle jerk of artificial support and well wishing and just generally a cyber world of sycophants.  Anyone who has been to an open mic in NYC knows that there is such a cliquish and tribal nature that is utterly nauseating.    Giraldo was so deep in his own head, at least from what I read about him, that he fell into addiction.  But sometimes I feel like great comedy can only be borne from minds that go into places that most people don’t like venture into.  Instead the comedy world I live in is full of young comics with lots of friends, lots of “likes”, and lots of meaningless drivel.

My favorite compliments I have ever received as a comedian were the few times when people have told me that my comedy reminded them of Greg Giraldo.  It meant that I was funny and what I was saying actually had meaning.  One time a club manager asked me who my favorite comedians were and the first answer I had was Giraldo.  He dismissed my choice and replied that Giraldo was not making nearly the money that some other comedians were making.  And I replied that that spoke poorly of clubs and the business, not of Giraldo.

I abhor people’s inability to have feelings anymore without posting a Tweet or status update.  I felt no need to express what I felt about Giraldo yesterday because anyone who is worth anything intellectually or comedically would mourn the loss of Giraldo and his immense talent and originality.  But since I am a comedian and I had not written anything in a while I figured readers or fans of this blog would not know me as a comedian without knowing how I felt about Giraldo.

I remember when I lived on the Upper West Side a few years ago I was working out at Equinox on 92nd st and Broadway and I saw Greg Giraldo on an elliptical machine.  I had never actually met him and I was very excited.   I smiled at him and pointed as if to say “Hey – I’m a big fan.” He removed his headphones and sort of nodded a thanks and that was the only exchange.  I guess if I had known all his internal struggles I would have told him he was worth more than a drug addiction and that he meant a lot to me and to a lot of people.   He may have just written a joke about some weird, preachy douchebag at the gym.   But maybe he just didn’t hear that enough.


First Comic Sitting

Well, today I had an audition for Last Comic Standing.  I did two minutes in front of three big time pros: Andy Kindler (very respected comedian), Natasha Leggero (who sort of reminded me of the lead singer of The Bangles – niiiiice) and one of my two favorite comedians, Greg Giraldo (Chris Rock the other).

From the title you can tell that I did not advance and sadly I completely agreed with the judges.  However, there is something profoundly crippling when one of your idols in your business tells you, as nicely as possible, that it wasn’t good enough.  Sort of like how Michael Jordan ruined Kwame Brown’s career by continually berating him and calling him a “faggot” in practice when he was an 18 year old rookie with the Wizards.  Kwame was never a good player after that, though he did his best to dispel the epithet by fathering a starting five and two subs with numerous women (at last check).  None of the judges were mean at all – they were quite nice and refreshingly constructive, but I hope that was not because I am almost the size of Kwame Brown and they are not Michael Jordan’s size.  I must admit though, that when Giraldo went to speak and I could see from his expression that it was going to be a very lukewarm appraisal it was one of the most painful moments of my career.

I guess I came prepared with a sort of a generic set that may have worked with producers in the past, but with real, genuine comedians of a high order judging, that was a big mistake.  It seems whenever I audition for something I play it safe, probably because auditions terrify me.

What is so bitter to take is that this season could be great and come with an extra stamp of legitimacy because of who is judging and selecting.  Of course there are funny people who will not make it, but if Greg Giraldo says you are a good comedian, it carries with it some real street cred that Bobby Baccala from The Sopranos (previous celebrity judge) just does not have.

On a plus, they thought my Obama impression was really good.  But Giraldo thought the premise surrounding the impression was too convoluted (which as soon as he said it I thought – “of course it is – FU-K!”).  As I left Gotham Comedy Club – my brain began to re-work jokes, but not to make a show, but because their advice, even on the two minutes of material, could actually make me a better comedian.  I guess if their feedback can help me make my material better then there is a silver lining.  It might have been helpful if one of them told me to give up also.  Time will tell on that one.

Good luck to Nick Cobb, David Cope, Luke Cunningham, Myq Kaplan and any other friends who have moved on.


Weekend Recommendations

Taking a break from what one comic has deemed my “Erin Brockovitch” phase of comedy (the movement to boycott open calls and bringer shows has not gained any traction, but I am sure a Facebook group would gain thousands of apathetic members) I have decided to offer some recommendations to people that waste their time reading this  .

1) Go see This Is It.  if you like great music, concert films, Michael Jackson and/or molesting children all of you can find something enjoyable in this movie.  It really is outstanding and fun.

2) Root for the Yankees.  The Phillies represent a city that could not even medal at the “Best Cities in the Northeast” Olympics.  I can’t wait for the Yankees to buy Cliff Lee.

3) Go get Greg Giraldo’s CD “Midlife Vices.” In the spirit of the forthcoming A Christmas Carol, it is like a look at the Ghost of J-L’s Christmas Future.  It is a powerhouse of comedy.

4) Go see me if you are in Boston.  I am headlining Tommy’s Comedy Lounge Friday at 830 pm and Saturday (Halloween) at 730 pm.  I will be delivering the best sets of my life, which when I find out I can no longer perform at most NY Comedy Clubs I will release the Boston performances on a special DVD entitled “This Is It,” which fans of great comedy, comedy films, J-L Cauvin and molesting children will appreciate.

Have a nice weekend.


Yankee To Philly

Last night was a perfect storm of comedy, sports and the the thing that those two forms of entertainment have served me steadily over the years, disappointment.

At 7 pm I was on stage at Comix as the warm up comedian for 12 Angry Mascots, a fun show that features stand up, sketch comedy and interviews with comedians and local pro athletes.  Last night featured the New York Jets’ Darrelle Revis and the Duke Alum/NY Knicks’ Chris Duhon.  Of course my Jets fan friends (including one who wears a Revis jersey every Sunday), my Duke alum friends and NY Knicks fan friends did not make the show, which moves them ever  closer to my prognostication  that my friends will one day accept an invitation to be gang raped if the only other option left to them is to attend one of my shows (noted for my Michael Jordan-esque Emmy acceptance speech sometime in the next decade).  Sh*theads.

When I went backstage before the show I saw something that was bizarre at the backstage of a  comedy show, attractive women.  Like attractive flies to athletic sh*t, nice looking women just find out where athletes are, even if it takes them to, yikes, comedy clubs.  It dawned on me that for pro athletes like Revis and Duhon, they probably have to actively decide NOT to get laid when they go out for a night.  You know, the way a comic has to decide whether to buy a chocolate milk and walk home from an open mic or save the money for Metro card money and have a pleasant bus ride home.  Same sort of thing.

So I did my set to warm up the crowd.  I have not emceed a real show in a while and I had forgotten how cold a crowd can be when you get out there.  Material went over well – my targets were LeBron James’ oldness (Morgan Freeman going to play him as a high school senior in a biopic), racism in baseball and President Obama (per usual).  I was pretty happy with it, but there was no time to gloat or see if I could hang with Revis because it was off to Philadelphia for a show at the world famous comedy venue, JD McGillicuddys.

As I got on my Amtrak I saw that AJ Burnett had staked a 4-0 lead to the Angels.  I furiously munched peanut M&Ms and listen to the angriest Jordin Sparks song I could find on my iPod in response.

I arrived at JD McGillicuddys in plenty of time before my set so I enjoyed some ice waters and watched the Yankees make an awesome 7th inning comeback.  Fortunately, before I lost my semi-depressed delivery the Yanks gave the lead back to the Angels.  Showtime.

Did about 25 minutes where almost everything worked (including some new bits about yelling at people in elevators and the first prison rapist), but I have never blindsided a crowd more than with a new bit that is simply called “The Terminator.”  Might need some tweaking, but it sort of veers from Greg Giraldo (my favorite comedian and the type I hope to be some day, minus the stint in rehab) into more Jim Norton (comic I really like, but who is a little to the dirty/blue side of me, but who sort of inspired me to take some darker chances with my material).   Then after the set I watched Nick Swisher pop out with the bases loaded I binge drank two beers.

The night ended with the comics crashing at Luke Cunningham’s mother’s house (because comedy, once again, is not rock and roll or professional athletics, which did not stop me from trashing the guest room).  I thought about sleeping in the train station for the night, just so I could truthfully include a The Pursuit of Happyness moment in my biopic, but opted against it.  We all got a solid 4 hours sleep before catching the 7:07 am SEPTA/NJ Transit train from Philly to NY, also known as the “My fu-king spouse insists we live in Philly, even though I work in New York” express.

All in all a very fun trip.  And it was a reminder that I could turn more of a profit if I were a homeless man who alowed frat guys to kick him in the nuts for $20 a pop.

Next week I will have a big show in NYC Tuesday or Wednesday (unknown yet) and then I am in Boston October 30-31st headlining Tommy’s Comedy Lounge – hope you can make it.


Another Sense Of Decency Bites The Dust

Tonight on Bravo, one of the many channels quickly destroying art, taste and the soiled remnants of American culture will debut a show called NYC Prep.  The show is supposed to be the “real” compliment to the popular show Gossip Girl, which shows what a bunch of horny and spoiled teenagers attend New York City private schools, or at least lets high school kids know that if they aren’t spoiled or having sex they are probably doing something wrong.  As Oscar Wilde said (and I often quote): Life imitates art.

I have a theory on the degredation of pop culture over the last 10 years.  Much like how Thomas Friedman has written that the fall of the Berlin Wall and the creation of the Internet were two of the main factors in creating a “flat world”, I proposethat the rise of Britney Spears and the cancellation of Sex and the City have created an irreversible and negative trend in television.  Sort of like the force that keeps getting Kal Penn work in Hollywood.

Britney Spears may idolize Madonna, but I think it was her pimp parents who allowed her to have the far more influential role on pop culture and be a sex object for men worldwide at 16 years old.   I may risk sounding like the Christian Right here, but teenagers are the most susceptible group to peer pressure and cultural influence, from smoking to violence to sex.  The question of whether shows are reflecting current behavior or influencing it is not so important when speaking of soda choices , but is important when it comes to other matters like drug use and sexual activity.  The problem is that these shows create an irreversible trend.  Just like guys of my generation could not go back to watching Charles in Charge once they saw Nicole Eggert get railed by the Coreys in Full Blown, you cannot expect young teens to go back to to the days of Happy Days once the kids on WB are getting happy endings.   Parents still have the big responsibility for sure, but I think that experiment has failed. Parenthood, I mean.  Parenthood is like the Robin to Home Ownership’s Batman in the American delusion that has been propagated.  If you can’t afford a home you should not be brainwashed into trying to buy one; if you don’t have the time or desire to raise kids you should try not to have them.

Then there was the elimination of Sex and the City.  The most popular show not named The Sopranos in cable television history is a landmark.  Regardless of whether you like it or not it is a defining show for modern women.  But then it was off the air and has been followed by Desperate Housewives, Real Housewives, Kardashians, etc.  It is as if Sex and the City was the Saddam Hussein of television – a necessary evil (that I watched) that kept ridiculous show concepts that focused on four to six women, with “really different personalities” on the shelf or in the level of hell they were stored in because there was no market for them.  Now, with Sex and the City leaving a huge void it has been filled by a cornucopia of loud-mouth failed actresses.  Not to mention the fact that Sarah Jessica Parker had to go back to fronting for Twisted Sister.

And somehow born of this perfect storm of voyeuristically-exposed, unrestrained teenage libido and talentless skanks is NYC Prep.  Now I went to a New York City private school and attended the school with many wealthy kids (the kind of school where your friend with a Park Avenue apartment marvels at how rich the other kids are), but I don’t think I had an experience akin to NYC Prep.   For one I think my parents had me because they wanted me, not because they needed an accessory to complete their social profile.  As exhibited by one girl on NYC Prep, she and her brother have free reign of their Manhattan apartment because their parents live in the Hamptons and only come into the city one day a week.  Wow – that is the metaphorical equivalent of having your kid at the prom, but leaving the baby in a Gucci bag instead of a trash bag.

But we can’t sterilize people, poor or rich, no matter how terrible they will be as parents, but do we have to put these kids on television?  If my future/possible sons want to act as kids I will let them do school plays, right after I ask them if they are gay.  But they will not be on shows as kids.  End of story.  I mean when is there going to be legislation criminalizing putting your minor kids on reality television?  (Or the death penalty for all of those kids who were on My Super Sweet 16?)  It’s per se bad parenting.  Like a parent who buys their daughter breast implants because her self esteem is low – how can her self esteem improve if her Dad is buying them?

“What’s wrong honey?”

“Well, Dad, with my small boobs guys just don’t want to fu-k me…”

“Well let’s turn that frown upside down sugar tits!”

But I think my main question is why are we watching this stuff?  Are we really that stupid and shallow as a people?  Or have we just lost our sense of shame?  Greg Giraldo has a great bit about people on shows like Jerry Springer having no sense of shame, in fact being proud of having made objectively terrible decisions in life.  But we are predisposed to laugh when the people are white or black trash, but not when they come from the upper crust of society.  Oh well,  I guess I do not have an answers to theses question, so I will leave them open to comment.  But hopefully this trend stops before we get to Bravo’s eventual reality show: My First Period.  And no, it’s not about early classes at school.