I was disappointed to learn earlier this Summer that the Joke Joint clubs in St Paul, MN and Houston, TX had closed. They were two of three venues to book me as a headliner so I just lost 67% of the rooms that headline me (though I say with no humility, but total honesty that I can probably torch 67% of the comedians headlining A-list rooms today). They were venues that gave some comedians who were strong features, but not well known or well-represented comics a chance to headline, which almost always means more money and better merchandise sales (in St Paul – the policy for years had been if you buy a comedian’s merch he would give you a free pass to a future show – obviously a big help to road comedians). And it allowed real experience in headlining (which requires not just material quantity, but reps doing that length of time). The Houston location came under fire from some comedians for headlining porn star Stormy Daniels, who obviously is not a stand up comedian and drew this response from most comedians:
Now I have made many jokes about A-list comedy clubs booking YouTube stars, actors, Instagram celebs and WWE wrestlers to headline their clubs, but the Daniels booking did not make me feel the same way. Perhaps it was some personal bias, but the Joke Joints were basically C-list clubs. They were not owned by a chain. They were owned by one guy who was giving opportunities to comedians who otherwise would not get that opportunity. So with that goes a need to boost attendance in other ways. If the JJs were booking A-list acts they wouldn’t need to stunt book, but they were giving working/struggling/up and coming/down on their luck comedians opportunities that other clubs couldn’t (and can’t) bother to provide. That should be understood and celebrated. That is why I defended JJ’s specific booking of Daniels.
I emailed the owner of the JJs recently to thank him for his years of bookings and to wish him luck and say that I was sorry the clubs had to close. He thanked me, but then said something that made me sad, but also confirmed a lot of my cynicism of the “comedy community.” He told me that he was sort of surprised at how few people had reached out after the closings. I was sad because this was not a business owned by a some faceless conglomerate – the owner was on site most of the time. He did the bookings for the clubs. In St Paul, before he moved to Houston, the comedy condo was the top floor of his own family’s house (kept very nice with a separate entrance for comedians). You could not have an owner with a more personal connection to the comedians. And the response to the clubs’ closings was mostly silent ingratitude.
For years I have hoped for a groundswell of comedians to push for a guild (Hassan Minhaj’s Netflix show recently highlighted a push by video game developers to unionize – so now gamers are ahead of comedians on labor rights), but said many years ago that you probably cannot organize a work force that already acts with the self-centered desperation of a scab. But this demonstrated to me that comedians are just as big a problem to the comedy bubble that has already burst for the working class. It is an industry littered with a workforce with Boiler Room ethics. I have consistently blamed the management and business classes of stand up for its problems, but it takes two to tango and a stand up community filled with equal parts opportunistic social media and podcast stars and actual comedians is not going to be the place to look for moral or ethical behavior.
I know it’s a small sample size, but there are top tier comedians and nobodies who have made their way through the Joke Joints and the club has been opened for many years. That’s hundreds of comedians who have walked through their doors, many for their first or only headlining opportunities (hopefully local comedians were more thoughtful and appreciative than the headliners). But as my comedy career winds down, to my deep disappointment (though a new doorman at my building found out I did comedy and binge watched my YouTube channel last night with his wife and loved it! #HopeSpringsEternal), I can take a perverse comfort in knowing that, although there are good people at all levels of the stand up comedy world, perhaps it is a community that I will be better off without. I hope the JJ owner is better without it as well if he chooses to be done with the business.
This weekend I was in St. Paul, Minnesota at the Joke Joint Comedy Club headlining (one of three headlining engagements I have this month, so apparently Hell has frozen over). It was a great weekend, but emblematic of the struggles of being a (supremely talented) struggling comedian trying to make it to the next level. For instance, I did not draw particularly well because… the weather was really nice. To be fair I did have a fan from The Adam Carolla Show show up as well as a fan from The Black Guy Who Tips, but the crowds were the smallest I have had in my 4 headlining appearances at the Joke Joint (and this after adding more credits and picking up more fans from around the country). It is always a sad measure of your stature as a comedian when “seasonably warm weather” is a deterrent to coming to your comedy show. Admittedly the weather was great and the feature (whose name is Dan Mogal – #ComedyMogul meeting #ComedyMogal – we could not shake hands because it might have ripped the fabric of space) informed me that it was also some big fishing weekend in the Twin Cities. So I guess I lost to sunshine and Nemo this weekend, which didn’t really soothe my wounded pride. Since I am in an hurry to get to my day job (#ComedyMogul) I will give you the highlights and three very instructive videos from the weekend. Enjoy!
Thursday Crowd – The Soul Crushers
The first show of the weekend was lightly attended. But they had the energy of zero people so they definitely had their apathy working overtime. I was happy with my set, but the crowd, which was full of smiling mutes did not produce the usual amount of laughter indicating pleasure with jokes. However, the feature’s Dad was at the show (#FatherMogal) and after a bit on social media he let out the loudest noise of the night, not coming from the microphone, when he sighed “Jesus Christ.” Needless to say I sold zero CDs after the show and just went back to my Best Western Plus and cried into a glass of milk while emotionally devouring a pack of Hostess donuts (very underrated donuts). But then I stared into my mirror and recited my mantra, borrowed from Antwone Fisher, a film about a man finding inner strength dealing with childhood traumas of sexual abuse. Since that felt about the same as what I had received from Thursday’s crowd I stood there saying “I’m still standing… I’m still strong!” I then made a 7 minute montage of Thursday’s crowd silently rejecting every popular culture reference I made during my set. It was very popular on Facebook and now you can see it on YouTube. Enjoy!
Friday – J-L’s Revenge
The Friday crowds were great. Sold some CDs, picked up some social media followers, and I developed a technique that I am patenting for comedy called “Divide and Conquer” (TM). I basically trashed Thursday’s crowd repeatedly at the end of well received jokes and the Friday (and eventually Saturday) crowds luxuriated in their feeling of superiority over their fellow town folk. I felt so good that the Friday crowds had redeemed me that I put together a compilation video of the same jokes killing (mostly) on Friday, that had failed Thursday. It was only 25% as viewed and likes on Facebook as the one of me crashing and burning because people are terrible and only like to see me in pain. If you are a decent person (Divide and Conquer (TM)) then maybe you will enjoy this YouTube clip of the jokes working:
Saturday: Praise the Lord and Pass the Comedic Ammunition
Saturday was the best day of the weekend. The weather was beautiful (again) so I decided to walk to Church (Saturday evening Vigil Mass) , which was 1.8 miles away according to GPS. The priest was a visiting priest who has been doing missionary work, which, as he described, started on a trip to Haiti, which got me a little teary given the recent burial of my father in Haiti (but all the white people were like “This Italian dude is soft AF!”), but don’t worry – most of my thoughts during Church were still comedy-centered. Rather than bore you with more words (Church rock band, 1 black guy in the whole Church…) – here is my summary of Midwest Catholic Mass from the Joke Joint stage that night:
That night the shows were outstanding – and just so the late show Saturday people know I meant it – you were the best crowd (but all the Friday and Saturday crowds were really good). Sold more CDs and ended the night with an ice cream because I was a good boy who had done a good job. And my favorite compliment of the week that showed what a hypocritical laugh whore I am came after the early show Saturday. A Trump voter came up to me and said “I voted for Trump, but unlike some comedians, everyone could laugh at your Trump impression and material (GOAT).” Instead of lying down in front of his car screaming “Free the nipple” while wearing a Black Lives Matter t-shirt, I just shook his hand and with a goofy grin said “Thanks so much!” The only difference between a comedian and a politician is that a politician only sells his soul and integrity for money and power, while a comedian will give it away for a handshake and a kind word. Oh well, anything was better than those Thursday people.
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Last week I travelled to Minnesota for an old-fashioned fun week of road work (I call it old-fashioned because road work has become something of ancient lore for my calendar and bank account). I was going back to the club that was first to give me a headlining weekend, the Joke Joint in St Paul, Minnesota. It is a great little club with a friendly owner/manager. In fact, unlike many comedy condos, the comedy condo at the Joke Joint is a welcome sight. It is the second floor of the club owner’s house and is stocked with lots of homey amenities like a DVD player, bowls of candies and snacks and very clean (it is on his property so there is a major incentive to have it be more than just adequate). But as it turned out, the owner had family in town so I ended up staying at the downtown St Paul Embassy Suites. But I am racing ahead of myself. This was days 2-4 of the trip. The first part was getting to Minnesota and going to the Black Bear Casino.
Part One: Cauvin’s 11
The first gig of the week was at the Black Bear Casino in Carlton, MN. I have done the casino before and it was solid the first time. Rather than write out how the flight went, I will just provide you a few minutes form one of my sets at the Joke Joint to recap the flight.
When I arrived early afternoon I was picked up at the airport by Wayne, a local comedian who sort of resembles Drew Carey, if Drew Carey had served in the military and had some ink. We drove north to Carlton and the Black Bear Casino made the mistake of giving me a $10 comp card to play on their machines. I stuck it into a slot machine like a woman who had no idea she was about to be shamed. I turned that $10 into just over $50 in winnings. I kept looking over my shoulder for casino security to escort me out for taking them for all they could handle, but perhaps because I was “the talent” they let it pass.
I then went to the buffet (which was comp’d, once again, “the talent”) which was an incredible display of Middle America gluttony. I saw so many obese people with 3 and 4 plates of food (and kept wanting to say “do you often bring 4 plates for yourself at home? Then why are you doing it now? Have some shame!”) that it forced me to only have one dessert. Then I went to entertain. The show went great and I managed to sell a few CDs. In summary – the house does not always win.
Days Two and Three – St Paul Laughs at an “Oaf”
The people of Minnesota have a well-earned reputation as being nice. And after the first three shows the manager/owner of the Joke Joint only received one complaining e-mail where I was referred to as an unfunny “oaf.” As someone who has a wealth of YouTube comments wishing death, AIDS and death cause by AIDS, I must say that being called an oaf is practically a compliment. The shows did go really well all week, I sold almost all of my albums that I brought (Guns N Roses CDs were particularly popular) and was well-rested and relaxed. So here are some random complaints I have about the area surrounding my Embassy Suites:
Jimmy Johns – I have seen many, never ate at one until now, out of necessity. Great cookies. Bad sandwiches – they sort of pretend to be a real deli, but that is just a front to pile on extras and condiments on to sandwiches which contain less and almost as slimy deli meats as Subway.
Dear Nice deli/diner/restaurant near the hotel (and the rest of America) – some people like Russian dressing for sandwiches. Ranch Dressing is not a cure-all condiment and it is one of the many reasons we are a fat nation.
(See, not that many complaints)
Day Four: Gary Matter
If you are not a Breaking Bad fan, this is a play on Grey Matter – the company Walter White helped found and has regrets about because it took off after he left. In season one he is subjected to seeing their happiness and almost unlimited wealth as a reminder of what he felt close to achieving and is now very far from. Similarly, on this day of my trip I ventured to the Mall of America where one of my favorite comedians (currently the #1 ranked tall comedian in America) Gary Gulman was headlining the House of Comedy. We decided to meet up for lunch, and were instantly on par with Supreme Court Justices Warren Burger and Harry Blackmun as one of the most powerful partnerships ever forged in Minnesota (sorry Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer).
Gulman selected a restaurant called Firelake Grill House, which appeared to be a restaurant from the future. I felt like a person in a futuristic movie like Elysium, seeing how the privileged class lives. Outside the restaurant was a series of oddly shaped pieces of furntiture that no one could sit on. That is how you know it was fancy. I met Gulman and a local comedian he was buddies with and we have a fun lunch. It was full of television talk and some words on comedy. I never got to pitch my idea to Gulman for an HBO-sponsored tour called PremaTour Ejaculation (which would be a prequel sort of tour to Tourgasm), where Gulman would headline with a series of less accomplished comedians on the bill. It was good to hear Gulman’s thoughts on comedy and simultaneously inspiring and disheartening to know that ten years in Gulman was struggling too. Sadly I may not have Gulman’s Gus Fring-like patience to build an empire over decades. My Walter White bank account (meaning it has stage 3 Cancer, not piles of money from overseas drug dealing) necessitates me finding sources of hope and revenue sooner, rather than later. Gulman then picked up the check, which was the Grey Matter-picking-up-the-health-costs-for-Walter moment. Very generous of him, but also I now expect to see Gulman completely disavowing me on a Charlie Rose interview in to the future.
The shows went really great that night. Made some new fans, sold a bunch of CDs and got a whole 3 1/2 hours sleep before my “You can’t afford conveniently timed flights” 645 am flight out of Minneapolis.
Epilogue – Silent White People
So I arrived back in NYC exhausted, but with no time to waste. I had a guest set at Gotham Comedy Club Sunday night that I was hoping would make a clean tape to submit to a few things. Of course I was nervous – I assume people out for a show during the final two episodes of Breaking Bad do not share my values or sensibilities and I may have been right. I went on stage and the first joke did well, second joke was OK, but a reference to the movie Mask fell flat (even if you have not seen the movie I thought Eric Stoltz’ face was pretty much a cultural reference point for ugliness). Mind you it did not fall flat for sympathy (like a series of “awwwww”s or some other reaction, but just did not register. The third joke was the one that really bothered me. In it I reference the proliferation of movies about rich, white superheroes. If comic books are supposed to be fantasies, why are half the dudes rich white guys? That is how the world works anyway. So the punch line is as follows (the bit is on my 2nd album Diamond Maker):
So why doesn’t DC Comics just go all the way and have their next superhero be Todd The Hedge Fund Douchebag. (silence). He gets his superpowers from high fives and bottle service at clubs (a couple of awww’s and “hey!”s in mild disapproval). Instead of a bat signal, when you need him you just flash a signal in the sky of a high priced escort being choked to death – “Hey bro, the city needs me!” (a few scattered laughs).
The final bit got several laughs with a call back to an earlier bit, but I could not shake the anger I felt to the crowd’s reaction (or lack thereof) to a joke that consistently does well for me. And then I realized – the vast majority of the crowd, which was pretty sizeable for a Sunday night, was white (like 96% +). It felt like a tony Connecticut crowd. And this is one of those things I have realized in my comedy travel. On the road you see a lot of white suburban crowds – including my shows in Minnesota. And I have seen mediocre black comics get what I call the “soul bounce” – which is many all-white crowds tendency to give mediocre black emcees a sort of bonus for being unfamiliar and so “gosh darn entertaining,” solely(soully) because they are black. But at the same time, lack of exposure does not always mean you harbor prejudices or ignorance and I felt that from many of the crowds in St Paul. The flipside is just because you live in a diverse melting pot like NYC does not mean you get a pass on being a sheltered, ignorant ass. And to me, living in Lilydale, MN (the actual location of the Joke Joint and the whitest name of a town in America) and not having a diverse show or group of friends is a lot less weird than living in NYC and self-selecting a group of like-minded, like-looking, like-everything group of friends, because implied in the latter scenario is not a lack off opportunity for diversity in your life, but more likely an outright rejection of diversity in your life. And that is what went through my mind as the crowd offered more sympathy for the poor hedge fund workers I was poking fun at. Half of the bros in the audience probably work in finance and half the women probably are or want to be married into finance so I guess I was reverse soul bounced – when a white looking guy bashes bastions of white privilege in front of a Wonder Bread audience it gets silence. Of course this might be over analysis by me, but I doubt it.
Other than that the set went well and I was greeted by the very funny Mike Vecchione off stage who said “Nice set and really funny shit on-line.” That made me feel good and like a comic’s comic, which Richard Belzer once said meant “that comics like me and I have no money.” I then went home and watched Walter White’s second to last episode and realized that there are worse things than having a so-so set, but then got jealous because those worse things have been made into the best drama on television.
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My headlining stint was a rousing success at Joke Joint in Lilydale, MN (a few miles from St Paul – one of the twin cities, so Lilydale is like the chick that St Paul has sex with when Lilydale thinks it is actually having sex with Indianapolis). Of course on this blog, the phrase “rousing success” is a relative term. It means I had three really excellent shows, one decent one and one that was eh.
Joke Joint is a comedy condo club, meaning that you live in an apartment that the club owns or rents, versus a hotel. But unlike most condos, the Joke Joint one was pretty damn cozy. It features a full kitchen stocked with snacks (and tons of bottles of 5 Hour Energy – in case the headliner is a raging douchebag), a television and DVD player and two bedrooms – one for me and one for soon-to-be dead hookers.
Being a big walker and non-owner of a car I like when accommodations are near eating and shopping areas. Well, the condo was a mere 1.7 miles from a Walmart/Panera Bread/etc. and considering that I once walked 4.1 miles each way in a suburb of Denver to see a movie each day, this was no problem. Except that was Denver in springtime. This was Minnesota in Winter (think Game of Thrones and how terrified those dues are of Winter). Each walk would start with me having a penis and by the time I arrived at Panera Bread I was using the women’s bathroom and removing a finger dead from frost.
I managed to see one movie while in Minnesota. The feature – a woman named Wendy – was given the unenviable task of chauffeuring me to and from the shows each night agreed to bring me along to the movie she was seeing with the two teenage daughters of a friend. Of course this felt like some sort of set up. I thought I was getting Silvio Berlusconi’d. But something far more offensive was to happen. We went to see Hugo.
I was lukewarm on Hugo. On the plus side it was directed by Mr. Eyebrows Martin Scorsese and has been receiving rave reviews. On the downside I had no real fu*king interest in it. But the critical mass was so good that I decided I wanted to see it. Whoops. Here in as concise a fashion as possible is my summary of Hugo:
Fell asleep boring (literally)
Nice looking movie
Takes place in Paris, every actor (both English and American so it was intentional) using British accents
Never cared very much about the characters
Every revelation of past events that have led our characters to be the way they are fails to deliver as much significance – it is as if JJ Abrams decided to direct a boring family movie (and critics – please stop calling this a family film – no kid, let alone a kid from the ADD 21st century will enjoy this or have the patience for your ode to cinema)
But the point of this whole trip was not to see movies or experience shrinkage on an unprecedented level – it was to do comedy, or as I described it to the crowd to run a Ponzi scheme on myself. And the crowds were really good. The Thursday crowd and the two early Friday/Saturday crowds were great. Enthusiastic, smart and great laughers. The late show Friday was tough and featured a lot of Usain Bolts (this is what I call a person who sprints out of the showroom, for fear that even looking at me may force them to acknowledge my existence or buy a CD). The Saturday late show was tough, but still a net positive. Here is one of my favorite newer bits I dropped on the crowds:
So I managed to sell a few CDs, got a lot of laughs, avoided junk food at the airports (Midway one of the underrated airports in America – can’t beat Potbelly for airport food!), did not get arrested, did not die in a plane crash and immediately sent every penny I made to the credit card, phone and cable companies! Comedy! Thank you to the fellow comics, staff and audiences at Joke Joint.