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The Things New Comics Should Be Doing

As I get set to celebrate/mourn a full decade performing stand up comedy it dawned on me that a majority of the posts I write concerning comedy have a somewhat negative or cynical spin.  Sure there are problems and issues with the art, as well as the business of stand up comedy, but I have certainly learned and experienced some very positive things.  Comedy has allowed me to see so many parts of America (and they are all obese).  I have heard racist comments in the deep south as well as the shallow northeast.  In other words, a career in comedy has allowed me to have a rich and fulfilling experience learning about the human condition in America.  It has also given me great insights into how, instead of just being mean and cynical to newer comics, my experience and observations of how comedy has changed in the last decade could provide guidance to those new comics.  So that they can become more successful and avoid the bitterness and cynicism that has sometimes stifled me, here are some of my suggestions for people just starting out in comedy or thinking about trying stand up (or maybe even some veterans), because after all: ANYONE CAN DO IT!

1.  Put “Comedian” in front of your name and as your occupation on all social media.  In other professions you have to earn your title, or at least exhibit some shame in calling yourself something you have not quite earned (like that look on a podiatrist’s face when he demands that you to call him or her “doctor.”  Well, comedy doesn’t work like that.  Simply claim the title after that first open mic and never let it go.  You don’t even need to earn laughs, let alone money, to call yourself a comedian.  And by putting it in your Facebook name you announce to the world that you are in fact a comedian.  Like they did not know already!

2.  Refer to your schedule of shows as a “Tour.”  A tour used to mean a sponsored series of events or at least a series of events similar in their significance or theme that calling them a tour seemed to mean something.  I might be inclined to refer to my mish mash of performances as a schedule or at least call the section of my website “live calendar,” but in this day and age a schedule is something you put on Microsoft Outlook.  You are a comedian! It says so on your Facebook name – so act like a rock star performer and call your list of shows a tour.  People will respect you more.  Even if that tour takes you to the basement of a taco restaurant.

3.  Tweet and Facebook “Up”.  Try to re-tweet and #FF as many people above you as possible.  And be sure to like the statuses of anyone significantly higher than you in the social media realm.  These more successful and/or famous people like being treated well and will recognize you for it.  And remember, every set that someone with more momentum than you does should result in either a  “you killed”, “you crushed” or “fu*king brilliant!” compliment from you.

4.  Refer to the right comics. A corollary to number 3 is to make sure you know who to praise, who not to praise. Easy examples to start you on your way: Louis CK – the best and  Dane Cook – the worst.  You will look like an asshole who has no idea what is going on in comedy if you veer to sharply from the boundaries that have been set by the comedy community.

5.  Do long sets as soon as possible.  I had a comedian (said so on his Facebook name) tell me he had been doing comedy for a very short time but was already doing 30 and 40 minute sets.  YES!  This is what it takes people.  Having 30 minutes is easy – if you can speak confidently for thirty minutes, can find a space anywhere in America with a microphone and someone willing to let you do it, then voila! You have thirty minutes of material!  Why wait – you may already be ready!

6. Start a web series.  Things may not be completely blowing up in stand up in your first 5 months (and you already have a podcast and a blog) so it is probably time to diversify your funny portfolio. Start doing a web series.  Nothing will make you a better comedian than by producing non-stand up comedy content.

7.  After one year, begin lecturing other performers and sharing what you have learned.  Once you have been doing stand up for one year, it is time to start sharing your knowledge with other comics.  Snort and chuckle when newer comedians say things that seem arrogant and remind them that you have been on the road and know what this business is really like (even one road gig qualifies you as an expert).  However, if you are talking to a comedian with significantly more experience, be sure to show them deference by saying “you know how it is” after complaining to a 12 year veteran how upset you are that your career is stalled after 19 days.  And speaking of the road…

8.  Never do the road.  Not only is the road not a really viable career path at this point except for the independently wealthy or established headliners, but it is not really what you should be about.  Working the road will help you get a good 30-45 minutes over time, whereas staying where you are will be good for networking and creating a ten minute set that your favorite neighborhood hangout will enjoy.

9.  Record an album as soon as you can and sell it for $5.  I defer to comedian Andy Sandford’s Facebook advice to young comedians, which sort of inspired me to give my advice column to young comedians:

hey, if you’ve been doin comedy for 6 months and have 45 minutes of untrimmed quasi-material that no one wants to hear…you need to record and release your own album on itunes ASAP, before you progress and hate the material. In the past, record labels kept artists like yerself down by having standards. Well the future is now, and you can sell direct to fans just like Louis CK, who you are most likely imitating

10. Create a Character.  Your voice and opinions, God willing, will never fully develop because within a few years you should be in development for television projects and never have to do stand up again.  However, in case you are not quite on that track, develop a character – make your voice sound different, be different, even if the thoughts expressed through your material are not.  Greg Giraldo is dead.  Pee Wee Herman is alive – which one would you rather be?

Good luck on your comedy adventure young comedian!

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

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“The Joy of Abuse” – Tickets Now on Sale

My 4th album, and what surely will be my best, is being recorded at The Stand on April 25th and tickets are now available here – http://thestand.laughstub.com/show.cfm?id=237534&cart.  Use the code “JLCOMEDY” (all caps) for a discounted ticket (only $10 and the club has no drink minimum) if you buy this month (March).  The Stand was just picked by New York Magazine as the best comedy club in NYC for 2013.  And my Mom reads that magazine so I trust it.  Without spoiling any of the bits of the CD – it will continue where my last album Too Big To Fail left off – me complaining about the direction of our society and how we constantly pat ourselves on the back for what we believe in progress.  Racism, gay rights, pornography, charity and white chicks will be some of the major topics on the album.  These may not seem like revolutionary topics for comedy, but I think you will find my take on the subjects to be original and relatively unexplored.  Unless someone starts stealing my sh*t in the next month.

I plan on this being my last album for a while at least, if not ever (at least self-produced).  So don’t miss it.  Or at least if you do miss it, mail a copy of it to someone in South Africa so when I am 60 years old I can be like the dude in Searching For Sugarman.  I hope to have it out sometime during the Summer.

And to clear up the title I was never abused so the title does not allude to any trauma in my life, unless you consider my comedy career.   So please spread the word, buy tickets now and laugh and drink your asses off on the 25th of April (preferably at my show and not somewhere else).  Thanks.

#JoyOfAbuse

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11 Best Righteous Prick Episodes of 2012

Why would I conform to a top 10 list, when the whole point of my podcast’s first year was to be defiant and contrary to popular trends?  My first year of podcasting I received just over 10,000 downloads and listens and angered dozens of people.  The idea behind the podcast was not to be another comedian interviewing comedians on their own terms or about themselves, but to debate, challenge and attack things people enjoy.  I wanted it to be funny, but also an extension of my comedy, which I try to make thoughtful and at times combative.   One person told me this year that I treat comedy like a bloodsport and perhaps this is too extreme, but the participation trophy culture both in comedy and in America is the pendulum swinging too far in the opposite direction in my opinion. So I thank you for supporting my own weekly culture war. I hope you enjoyed and I hope you can help the podcast gain a bigger following (more likes, comments and followers on Podomatic, more subscribers and reviewers on iTunes).  This list should be a good place to start and share with friends.  Happy New Year.

TOP 11 RIGHTEOUS PRICK EPISODES OF 2012

1. The  Louis CK Episode with Josh Homer – The most downloaded episode of my podcast by a mile for good reason – for all the claims of me being a CK hater, Josh and I engage in a very deep discussion of comedy and whether CK is as great in product (and not just work ethic) as people think. (the intro audio is bad, but the main audio is perfect)

2. The Lebron James Episode with Eric-I, Brian McGuinness & Rachel Arbeit – I flipped the script and actually defended LeBron James from an onslaught of irrational haters.  A few weeks later, James’Finals MVP validated plenty of what I said.  And you can hear me actually lose my cool for once on the podcast.

3. The Fantasy Football Episode wth Andrew Schwartztol & Luke Younger – I trash fantasy football and it is fun for haters and lovers of the “sport.”

4. The Walking Dead Episode with Dan Soder – I sit and debate with one of NYC’s rising talents (I am categorized as one of NYC’s sinking talents) about a zombie show that is wildly popular, takes place in Atlanta and manages to have about 8% black people.

5. The Adam Carolla Debate Episode with Justin Williams & Katrin Heir – I defend the “Podfather” concerning comments he made about the relative humor of women.  Second most downloaded episode and me at my lawyerly/Carolla-y best.

6. The Porn Episode with Kevin Bartini & Justin Williams – One of the funniest discussions of the year on the podcast concerning the merits of porn.  Highlight: Organic Porn.

7. The Golf Episode with Ray Field – I have never been a golf fan, but I am a huge fan of this fun and light conversation with golf writer Ray Field.

8. The Key and Peele Episode with Josh Homer – a probing discussion of race and comedy about a hit show that should embarrass us all.

9. The Wine Episode with Janelle Carter – I drink wine when socially necessary, but the snobbery surrounding wine culture just comes off as sexual frustration, and i tell that to wine lover/blogger and law school classmate Janelle Carter.

10. The Marathon Episode with Deanna Culbreath – 2012 brought Sandy, which brought disdain for marathoners who wanted to still run the NYC marathon. Well I was 6 months ahead of the curve with this debate versus super-marathon runner Deanna Culbreath.

11. The Chicken Wing Episode with “The Ultimate Wingman” – I almost felt bad about destroying the chicken wing and its number one fan because he was such a nice guest.

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Some New Clips

Hello readers, fans, and haters!  No profound thoughts on life, culture or comedy this week, so I thought I would share some new stand up bits/clips from recent shows.  Hopefully you enjoy one, some or all of them and will share one you like. Thanks, and don’t forget to check out my weekly podcast Righteous Prick on iTunes or Podomatic.

A Bronx DA Tale

From Riches to Rags

Back to Haiti

2012 Racism in NYC

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Pub Pummelling – When Comedy Goes Very Wrong

Last night I went three blocks from my house to go watch the consistently solid weekly show that Phoebe Robinson runs at Manchester Pub at 48th and 2nd.  I had no intention of performing.  Just wanted to watch and relax with some of the free nachos that Phoebe gets for the comics from the bar.  The show was set for 7pm but when I arrived at 6:59pm I saw no other comedians.  As it turned out, because of the UN doing UN things this week, and Obama doing Obama things, midtown east side was and is a mess.  So Phoebe was unable to make it past Park Avenue and the other comedians were coming late.

Rather than let the show be cancelled I figured, I will host the show and do some comedy community service.  Granted the crowd did not seem at all inclined to hear comedy, but all comedians have worked reluctant audiences.  That audience had an interesting cast of characters worth noting:

THE GOOD

  • 3 regulars sitting close to the stage, fairly tough guys and good supporters of the show.  If Manchester Pub is Altamont and the Comedians are the Rolling Stones, these guys would be our Hells Angels
  • A pair of women who did not seem to want comedy, but importantly were open to comedy. These are the swing audience members who will join in to whatever vibe the room adopts.
  • The comedians: Harriet Hallway, Ryan Johnson, Andrew Schwartztol  and Alex Carbano

THE BAD

  • Group of three men talking loudly near the stage – European
  • Group of three men talking loudly in a foreign language in the back – Asian

THE UGLY

  • Ginger dude and his chubby friend with sunglasses on the crown of his head in the back of the bar

I did 8 difficult minutes where half of the time I could barely hear myself and the other half getting individual laughs that were drowned out by all the talking.  I brought Harriet up first and she tried valiantly, but like all efforts last night, failed to shift the room’s attention fully to the stage (with the exception of when she mentioned porn, which apparently is the universal language to men, both domestic and foreign).  Ryan went up next and cut his time about two minutes short.  Then Andrew went up and a show that was a shaky ride at best turned into this:

Before Andrew went up I asked the crowd to settle down and that the show was going to be very short.  All we needed was 15 minutes of their attention and they might even end up enjoying the remainder of the show.  Andrew got up and the crowd was as quiet as they had been all show.  But then the European table started chatting loudly again and Andrew broke off what little momentum the show had built and did a touch of crowd work with that table.  They ignored him, as they had everything else that was not a comment about porn from a female comedian.  And then the chubby dude from “THE UGLY” group interrupted.

For back story, to give you an idea of how physically intimidating Andrew Schwartzol is – imagine Woody Allen banged Ellen Degeneres and they had a kid.  Pretty easy prey for a heckler, especially in a show that is already fraught with difficulties.  As Andrew worked through a set, with the crowd calmer than they had been all show, a douchebag in the back (sunglasses resting on the crown of his head guy) yelled out, “We are having a drinking game – whenever one of your jokes bombs we have a drink, so we are getting drunk.”

The crowd quickly lost interest as Andrew and Chubby Sunglasses had an awkward heckler-hecklee conversation.  I got back on stage and with only one comedian remaining I thought I could diffuse the situation so I said, “Hey guys we only have one more comedian and don’t worry Andrew, that dude has to leave soon so he can anonymously post hateful YouTube comments at home.”

There are only so many frustrating, "character building" shows a comedian can do before he turns into this guy.

Now, on a scale of 1-10 of cruelty, that insult was a 3 at best.  But apparently it was enough for sunglasses’ ginger friend to start making “you wanna go” faces.  So I asked Ginger was his problem was, since his friend was being a “piece of sh*t.”  Ginger and I had the following exchange (approximation:

Ginger: Why don’t you try sounding out anonymously?

J-L: Why are you guys being assholes?  So the show is not going well and you decide to be jerks?

Ginger: Your show is going terribly and then you start talking sh*t to my friend?

J-L: Your friend interrupted the show you idiot!

Ginger: Just keep trying to say anonymously.

J-L: This has no place here, but I have a law degree from Georgetown so don’t talk down to me like your are smarter than me because you are not.

Ginger: Well my Dad was a DA in New York so your law degree doesn’t impress me.

J-L: Wow – dd you just play the “My Daddy is an important man” card?  What is this fifth grade?

After some more mumblings and curse words I brought up Alex to close the show.  He did his best to interact with the crowd and change the tone, but people had completely given up on the show by then.  So I got back on stage and ended with the following speech, worthy of Henry V:

“Well thanks to everyone for almost listening.  We are here every week and the shows aren’t usually this awkward, but hopefully we don’t have the two fu*king pieces of sh*t sitting in the back next week. (brief interruption by Ginger) You are lucky this is not my show and better yet, not my bar, or else I’d cut your fu*king face open with the broken end of a bottle.”  And on cue the three tough guys who support the show and look like swarthy pirates in modern day clothing yelled in support of me, “We love it – we got your fu*king back!”  Now nothing happened and one of the guys tried to make amends afterwards (I think on seeing me too close for comfort) and I just told him to have a modicum of respect for people trying to entertain.  Of course I was disappointed the evening did not go like this (though verbally I played the role of both DeNiro and Pesci – I guess Andrew would have been Ray Liotta):

I told Andrew after the show I am no fighter, but I am big and a comedian, which means I can cause damage and have nothing to lose.  Comedy, ladies and gentleman.  Comedy.

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The Hangover Effect

If you read this blog you belong to a few select groups of people:

1) You are a comedian that enjoys a well-worded stream of misery.

2) You are a regular person that enjoys a well-worded stream of misery.

3) You are my mom.

One of the things I have taken both pride in and offense to is how fellow comedians have characterized my blog.  A friend repeatedly tells me that my blog makes him feel better about his comedy, basically because I represent the floor of human emotion when it comes to comedy.  Another comedian told me that when he reads my blog, it feels like he is reading the words of a man alone in a cabin on top of a windy, snow-capped mountain.  And then it dawned on me, comedy has so many bad things about it that I may have to be done with it, in spite of my pleasure in writing and telling jokes.    Comedy is like the best sex in the world with the worst person on Earth.  Ladies, it would be like finding out the greatest sex you ever had was with Adolph Hitler.  Men, it would be like the greatest sex in your life being with Kathy Griffin.  I will try to keep this under 5,000 words, but if I don’t, just pretend it is an article from the New Yorker on what it is like being a no-name comedian in NYC.  So here are the things that are crushing my love of comedy.

Comedy Is About Characters, Not Comedy

I have dubbed what I see in comedy as “The Hangover Effect.”  The 4 main comedic elements of the Hangover, were as follows:

  • The crazy man – Alan (Zach Galifianakis – the guy with the beard)
  • The nerd – Stu (Ed Helms)
  • The cover boy/douchebag (Bradley Cooper)
  • Ethnic Goof – Ken Jeong
Alt, Douche, Nerd = Comedy

The Hangover was wildly successful (not to mention very funny), but it either culminated or represented a dangerous trend (at least in my opinion) in comedy: the increasing compartmentalization of comedy into different archetypes.  Every ensemble comedy cast (not to mention each episode of Live At Gotham) appears to have a bearded wild man (spouting non sequiturs or off the wall comments a plus), a nerd, someone telegenic (often a good place to squeeze in a female comic) and some sort of ethnic grab bag that often, but certainly not always, feeds into Middle America’s sensibilities. 

Now I am all for diversity of style and voice in comedy and I believe ethnic (and to a lesser degree, gender) diversity will flow naturally from that desire to hear different voices and styles.  But more and more I get a feeling that movies like The Hangover have ushered in a new development for what people want (and what they will be given) in comedy in general (not just comedy films) – funny will get trumped by type.  This does not fit for the already established acts in comedy, but for up and coming comedians I think it may apply.  As a test – check the upcoming  Summer movie “Bridesmaids.”  I’m sure it was pitched as “The Hangover for women!”  but like the WNBA, women may dig that, but most men will not.  But, if by some minor miracle, it is a success, look for that to become the barometer for female comedians.  There is a fat, overly sexed character featured prominently in the preview.  If the movie is a success and that character is the break out character/actress then I suggest all the female comedians start stuffing their faces with food.

The possible future of and for women in comedy.

Social Media

Being in comedy, means having to dive headfirst into the emotional wasteland of social media.  I use it to post jokes, post info about gigs or comedy videos I have done and occasionally on issues of some social relevance.  But being a comedian immersed in social media is like showering in prison – you have to do it, but you constantly feel violated.

I honestly believe that how many likes and comments you can consistently generate is inversely proportional to how intelligent you and your friends are.  I don’t mean for things like “I’m on The Tonight Show” or “I got married,” but rather for things like “My dick just murdered Lady Gaga.” (LMFAO).

Beyond comedy, my wing of the Social Media Prison, I think the amount of people incapable of keeping feelings to themselves is downright frightening.  I once posted a joke on a woman’s comment to which she responded, “I don’t know what that means, but seriously today is not the day!”  Ok, well here is a suggestion – keep your feelings to yourself – if they are so powerful and important why are you posting them on the same place where you describe “yummy salads” and pop songs you like?  Facebook is like a club where I thought people went to have fun, but half the people are on the dance floor only to feel like someone cares about them. 

And if you are friends with comedians you probably receive 50 invites to shows a week.  When I invite people to my monthly show I do it individually (takes a lot longer), but to ensure that the only people invited (unless I make a mistake) are in the city of the show and either performing on the show or non-comedians who may show up as audience.  But that is the professionally courteous thing to do, which, like basic social graces, is something foreign to many comedians.

And lastly, I know I write a blog and I tweet, but I am a good writer and capable of funny remarks.  Given the sheer volume of bloggers and tweeters I am in the minority in both.  And without fame credentials I am merely lumped in with the rest of the no-name illiterates out there.  As Groucho Marx said, “I would never want to be a member of any club that would have me as a member.”

Comedy – The Most Hypocritical of the Arts

Comedians are the first to bash awards shows for being pretentious, self-congratulatory and useless.  And yet, every time you turn around there is a new awards show for comedy or comedy related matters.  And the pandering for these things is relentless and like the MTV Awards or Wrestlemania, time will simply bestow a legitimacy on the awards that they never deserved.  It reminds me of an “alternative (barf)” comedian who I was recently reminded of that will say “I’m not going to say I look like a combination of blank and blank.”  Now the laughs he receives are not for his meta-approach to comedy, mocking anyone who has ever made a look-a-like joke but rather, are for the resemblance itself.  But the comedian will entertain the fantasy that people “get what he is about.” 

Comedians love to talk about art and pretending like they are all Bill Hicks disciples that would never sell out.  But if you have ever attended an open mic where a comedian with some heat is doing five minutes the ball-licking laughter is unbearable.  Comedians cannot wait to attach themselves to the “next hot thing,” just like any desperate actress in Hollywood would.  But somehow no one has misconceptions or undue respect for the actress and what she does to get ahead.

Then there are the comedy journalists, who remind me of famous sports journalists.  When a journalist is too close to the subjects or wants to be part of the world they cover (or at least have access to that world) they are no longer a journalist and are now just a cheerleader.  It is sort of like a reporter’s equivalent of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle – once you get too close to a subject you can no longer effectively report on it.  For example, I am a huge fan of Michael Wilbon of ESPN, except when he is discussing certain athletes.  In those cases he becomes a fan and is no longer credible, which had deleterious effects of his coverage of Tiger Woods, Ben Roethlisberger and Michael Vick, to name a few.  But imagine if Wilbon’s access to ESPN events was contingent on him being only positive about everything in sports and only covering the already industry-approved stars and trends.  Then you would have the comedy writers.  When access, and not truth is your main objective then a lot will be left out.  Never a word about bringers, open casting calls or any other myriad of fraudulent practices in comedy.  How about something about how feature acts have been getting paid the same thing for about 20 years now – is there any other business where an employee’s pay has not been adjusted in 20 years?  Or about the fact that one of the major industry showcases is skewed towards searching “character” based comedians (I don’t think The Hangover Theory is that off)?  Off course not, because criticism of these thing might mean fewer free tickets.

"President Nixon, we promise to promote what you think is worth promoting and we definitely won't mention anything about Watergate - just please let us continue to come to events at the White House!"

Good Things Happen To Bad People

I remember in 6th grade seeing some students cheat on a quiz and I was not a snitch (because in wealthy private schools “snitches get… fewer rides in Mercedes Benz cars from their friends’ parents”), but I remember complaining to my mom.  And she told me a terrible lie.  She said “eventually it will catch up to them.”  Anyone who knows someone who works in finance knows that this is a horrible lie.  In America if you are rich and you flaunt the rules, you often times, just get richer.

Several years ago (I think it was about 34 years ago), I had booked Craig Ferguson and told a more established comedian this.  My thinking was not one of arrogance because the other comedian was much further along in their career and accolades, but it was sort of a response to a comment.  Well, a few minutes later this comedian was bashing me to some other comedians (that I knew and respected) behind my back (my girlfriend at the time overheard).  Well that comedian, with his insecurites and ill will is now a pretty big deal.  And I am still touting Ferguson as my only substantial credit.  I feel like Woody Allen could write a movie about it called “Way Too Late With Craig Ferguson.”

Comedy Leaves You Lonely

Of all the highs and lows that I have had from comedy over the last 8 years, the lowest may have occurred last Friday.  I was at the wedding of my oldest friend (known him 26 of my 31 years).  This is a guy who visited me in college,only to see me ride the bench for a basketball game.  This is a guy who visited me in law school down in DC.  This is also a guy who had the guts to voice concerns (and speak to my family) that my engagement of a few years ago was a disaster waiting to happen (it was the relationship equivalent of the financial collapse of 2008 – and he saw it coming a mile away).  But ever since moving back to NYC from law school, more and more nights, that could have been spent socializing were spent in basements writing and telling jokes for a profession that is, in many ways, dying as hard as print journalism.  Eventually I stopped getting asked to do 95% of stuff and my requests for comedy support went largely unanswered until I found myself at the miscellaneous table at the wedding of my oldest friend.  And worst of all, for someone who enjoys complaining and finding the wrong in others, I have to own up to the fact that I have made the choice to pursue comedy ahead of other things that should matter more and the blame lies with me.

So like a degenerate gambler I continue to double down on comedy, but now it is clear that I don’t have much left to gamble with.  So I will keep writing and complaining and performing, but for the first time in 8 years I am genuinely looking for something else to do with my life besides comedy.  Maybe I will start a rock band.  That can’t be too difficult.  All I need is a Mac, an autotune machine and some angry, real musician to bitch about how I am ruining music.