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!
This weekend I was booked almost last minute to headline McGuire’s Comedy Club in Bohemia ON Long Island (I was told after the show not to say I am “in” Long Island). Now whereas Long Island’s politics range from Trump to Don Jr in the towns I have played, the closer you get to the Atlantic Ocean the more those Trump politics become more Ginni Thomas and Marjorie Taylor Greene. But with the re-shoot of my special a little over a month away, a decent check for a one show gig and nothing else on my schedule I said I would take it (my first time at this club). It ended up being a great show for reasons I will detail and the great show was merely the opening act for other great news Saturday would bring. So without further adieu!
My day actually began with a trip to Riverdale in the Bronx to pick up a bookshelf from my Mom’s apartment. (TheBookshelf also sounds like an awful A24 film that would be nominated for 4 Oscars). I have exceeded my bookshelf capacity in my apartment (NERD) so I asked if I could I could take one of my Mom’s which would fit my needs and match with my dog Cookie’s color scheme. So I took a 9:55am bus from Bloomfield to Port Authority Bus Terminal to the A train to 168th street, transferred to the 1 train, got off at 231st street greeted by a 3 minute rain/hail storm (seriously the 3 minutes couldn’t have happened during the preceding 100 minutes I was inside transportation?) and then the Bx10 bus to my Mom’s apartment (a/k/a my childhood home).
I hung out with my Mom for a couple of hours, during which she asked why I did not shave if I had a show, at which point I told her 4 days of Islamic teen stubble on my face (the closest I can really get to a beard) would be the least of my worries performing for the OAN fan club. Then the guy with a truck I hired to move the book shelf arrived. We put it in his truck, which he delivered to Bloomfield, NJ and I made my way back to the A train to catch a 4:24 train to Oakdale, Long Island.
Long Island Dominance
Both legs of my Long Island RR trip were not very crowded, but on each train I managed to have mask-less MAGA dudes sitting next to me, one of whom apparently though that even covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze was too much of a concession to the woke mob. When I arrived in Oakdale I ventured into a Dunkin Donuts to kill time before ordering my Lyft to the club, which was approximately 4 miles away.
When I went into the Dunkin Donuts a woman was talking to the clerk as if she knew him (like the mother of a friend type dynamic, which is also how a lot of porn starts) and she said “How’s school going?” to which he replied, “Well I am actually not enrolled this semester because of the booster requirement.” Now before I became fully aroused with erotic patriotism for this American hero, I thought “if the choice was between a degree and donuts, maybe you should have gotten the shot? And if it was the booster you had a problem with, does that mean you already got the first 1 or 2 shots?” Well, after drinking my coffee and saluting this icon I hopped into a Lyft to the club.
When I arrived at the club I saw that it was pretty packed (Free Ticket Energy) and I gave my intro to the manager. I decided Howard Stern and Billions would be well known and helpful credits when performing in front of Newsmax Plus and the manager immediately deflated me when he came back to me and said “Now Howard Stern is a radio show? And – ohh Billions is a TV show!” And yes, my name was wrecked at the top of the show as well giving me the triple crown of “Who gives a sh*t who the headliner is” vibes. Everyone was very nice though so I sort of didn’t give a sh*t either.
After the emcee and feature both got the crowd going I went up and had one of the best sets of my life. I don’t mean it was the funniest I’d ever been or it was the tightest set I’d ever had. But over the course of an hour, while never ceding any ground or trying to run from the fact that I am a Biden-voting Democrat that thinks the Trump family is a huge pile of excrement, I won them over big time. Like Johnny Lawrence handing Daniel the trophy at the end of Karate Kid level respect. I got big laughs, a few harmless heckles, zero slaps and fairly robust merch sales after the show. I also had a discussion that probably turned into a podcast with a group of hard core MAGA dudes that loved my set. And one of the keys to my success, which I loathe to give away, is that I have come up with the perfect way to untighten right wing crowds when they hear stuff they don’t like (which was like 4 times during my set). By the end of the show I felt like I had gone into an opposing team’s stadium and dropped 45 on them (points, not Trump hats). Even better analogy, I felt like Rocky in Rocky IV in Russia (and not just because half of the crowd probably supports Putin) as the crowd realizes that what they are watching from the Italian (looking) guy is undeniable.
UpLyft for the Soul
So after a show that went great and the fact that my next possible train out of Oakdale was in an hour, I decided to check the Lyft app and saw that a car from the Atlantic Ocean back to Bloomfield, NJ was only $108. It would also get me home before the beginning of SNL. So I said – “fu*k it – I am treating myself after this perfect day of book shelf moving and comedy crushing.” My driver arrived, a young, eager to please Indian (I believe) fellow. He accepted the ride, but seemed sort of nervous about going what would be a very long drive. I assured him I would give him a big tip. At that point he pulled over to a rest stop and I had to tell him I meant money.
So as he drove at a fast, but still controlled speed I could see that he was on pace to get me home in 70 minutes instead of the estimated 90. So with 30 minutes left in the ride I asked my Twitter followers to Venmo me money for the driver and I would add their money to my $50 tip. Well when we got to my building at 11:08pm I gave him $50 tip on the app (the max it would allow which seems stupid) and $141 in cash representing the donations from fans. He was very grateful and I thought, what a great end to the night. Little did I know it would get even better
From Bookshelf to Booker
When I got upstairs to my apartment, I looked on my phone and saw that a video I had posted earlier of me impersonating NJ Senator Cory Booker had been retweeted… by Senator Cory Booker! So the video has been blowing up for the last day (I just added an Eric Adams video to Twitter and YouTube). And as the cherry on top of an absolutely perfect 14 hour run, I did not think SNL sucked!
I am writing this last installment from a 4 hour delayed Amtrak to Pittsburgh. I was supposed to be off of this train 3 hours ago, but engine troubles in Chicago and freight traffic derailed that plan. Because of the extensive delay, my connecting train from Pittsburgh to Newark has already left the station so a bus in Pittsburgh will take me to my final destination of New Jersey. I have often compared my comedy career to a horror movie – when you think victory has been secured, THAT is when the villain arises from behind and slits your throat. The final leg of my “Paid Vacation Tour” (as I joked with the crowd in Utah – better for your mental health to say “I got paid for comedy while on vacation” than “my comedy gigs keep losing me money.” So here is the Utah/journey home finale of the early 2022 road recap series.
Wednesday: Road Warrior to See the Jazz Beat the Warriors
The girlfriend (Laura) and I left Vegas early on Wednesday morning to make our way to Salt Lake City for the Jazz-Warriors game. Since I have been behind the wheel twice in the last 21 years all the driving would be the responsibility of Laura. Averaging 90mph for 6 hours we arrived in Salt Lake City shortly after 4pm. But not before stopping for gas and a nature photo in Provo
The game that night started poorly with a 13-0 Golden State run, but for most of the game after that the Jazz kicked their ass. That made my career record 2-0 when attending Jazz games in person in Utah. Might be time for a key to the city. As a bonus, I was invited on for an hour with the local ESPN radio affiliate to talk comedy and the Utah Jazz on Friday’s show. Of course, in classic J-L form – that appearance would be a day after my Thursday show in Jordan, Utah so it only counted as promotion for Utah people with time machines.
Thursdays Were The Best Days
Thursday started with a nice breakfast at the Homewood Suites we were staying in and then it was time for my (now legendary) visit to the Utah Jazz team store. I ended up spending $666 on merch (the mark of the hype beast?), but more importantly I made my first real goofy tik tok that people seemed to enjoy. Since the store was empty at 1130 am except for employees (who, like everyone we encountered from Utah, were incredibly nice) I had free reign to film various video clips, which I stitched together into a Pretty Woman parody.
After the shopping spree we toured some of the LDS sights downtown and then met a longtime Twitter friend (Spencer Hall – a big Jazz blogger I began following like 12 years ago who looks like a boy band Tim Tebow and also, as I would learn, is some kind of connected dude in Salt Lake City) for dinner. Here is a pic of us in front of a giant Jazz mural that he and his lady brought us to.
Then we headed to Jordan Landing for the show at Wiseguys. I will be putting out a 21 minute video on my YouTube later this week called The Utah Jazz Mini Special. About 15 minutes of the set is Utah Jazz material and a new bit about Mormon history that I learned on our tour of the LDS sights referenced above. The show was a home run and thanks to the crowds in Chicago, LA and Utah I sold out of the merch I brought with me. A truly great night until I got back to our hotel and Laura asked “Where is your jacket?” See, when you are so hot on stage you can literally heat yourself and not realized you don’t have a coat until an hour later, despite Utah temperatures. But the next morning, on his way to his day job, the Wiseguys manager that night, Jose, brought me my coat to the Homewood Suites. Like I said, super nice people.
Friday – The Streak Continues
On Friday, after a poor night of sleep because I was coming to grips with the fact that I would have to re-shoot my comedy special (listen to this week’s Righteous Pk podcast for some laughs and despair), I made my way to the local ESPN radio affiliate for an hour on air. It was a great time talking comedy and some hoops with Spencer Checketts before heading to the Toyota Club of the Vivnt Arena at 530 for the complimentary buffet/banquet before the game (when you buy 8th row center court seats you get some perks… like sitting next to 10 year olds with rich parents). The Jazz won the game, running my streak to 3 wins while attending Jazz home games (definitely deserve key to the city).
We then went back to the hotel to sleep because I had a 3:30 am train out of Salt Lake City Saturday.
Planes, Trains and What the fu*k is Happening?
I got my train at 3:30 and settled in for an additional 2 hours of sleep. Laura, who was flying home, would end up having a 10 hour delay in her departure, turning a noon flight into a red eye. During her trials and tribulations I would end up having the most beautiful train ride of my life in the Colorado portion of the trip (just like Kansas was the state to sleep through on the way to LA, Nebraska earned that designation on the California Zephyr route to Chicago.
When I arrived in Chicago is when everything went to shit. No need to bore you with the details, but I am still not in Pittsburgh and my dog Cookie puked this morning, which means one thing: it is time for me to be home already. Thanks for reading – I hope you enjoyed this three week odyssey (remember to subscribe to my YouTube and Instagram for all of my travel photos and sketches- and lastly – tune into Billions on Sunday the 20th for my cable drama debut.
I am sitting in the living room of my buddy Nick’s apartment in Pasadena as my laundry finishes drying and I gear up for the final leg of the J-L “Who The Fu*k Books Your Gigs?” 2022 Tour. I leave tomorrow on Greyhound for Las Vegas where I will attempt to quickly gamble away all the money I have made on this run of shows so far and then will go see David Copperfield to see if he can make an agent appear for me (I hear he is great, but I don’t think he’s that great). Then on Thursday it is off to Salt Lake City for Jazz vs Warriors on Wednesday, J-L Vs Audiences (Thursday at WiseGuys) and Jazz vs Magic on Friday. But this blog is not about where I am going, but where I have been so lets run through the Los Angeles adventures now!
On Thursday I made my way back to Los Angeles from a successful and fun night in San Jose at the Improv. I arrived at the bus/train station to get my Amtrak bus (yes, you read the correctly) to San Luis Obispo to catch the Pacific Surfliner back to LA. A friend had said I could get on his show at the Hollywood Improv if I got there by 11 and my train was scheduled to arrive at Union Station in LA at 955pm. But first I would have to survive the bus ride portion to San Luis Obispo.
Apparently three guys, just released from prison, were dropped off in San Jose to make their way down to LA. As I would learn on the bus ride down, one had done 6.5 years for meth and assault, one had done 15 months for something and one guy, who just wanted to be left alone from the hyper rants of meth/assault guy simply said at one point, “I don’t steal; I kill” (the philosophy behind my stand up comedy, and also made me feel safe leaving my belongings on the bus during a rest stop). Halfway through the bus ride, 15 months came up to me and said, “Hello sir, we have a bet back there – are you a cop?” I said no, because it is true, but I also would have said no if I was until backup arrived.
I got to SLO safe and then hopped on the Pacific Surfliner. I was the only one in business class… which was two of the train cars. I felt like a real VIP. It is an absolutely gorgeous trip, especially since at this time of year, the train runs along the Pacific for about 90 minutes right at sundown.
Warm Up Shows and Magic
Nick picked me up at Union Station and we made our way to the Hollywood Improv. When we arrived there happened to be a parking spot right in front and as we emerged from the car I could feel that collective “who are they? Should we know them?” turns from the crowd waiting to get in. I saw a large crowd outside and thought, “Wow, my name really carries some weight” until I was told that Kevin Hart, star of credit card commercials, was in the main room. I would be performing in the lab, the nice side room of the Improv. Eventually I went on in front of a small, but nice audience and got some good jokes in, though I felt that mocking Joe Rogan made them a little uncomfortable (“what if one day he wants to make me a star???”).
During the days I hit the gym just to let these L.A. types know that just because I am smarter and more talented than them, doesn’t mean I am willing to cede the ground of superficial bullsh*t either bro!
On Friday night I went to see Nick perform magic at the renowned Magic Castle. I felt a lot of pride watching Nick do his thing because for a long time he had mentioned the Comedy Castle, but I did not know what it was and simply kept saying “next trip.” But my last time in LA he explained that it was an exclusive, well known club where great magicians work and I said, “well next time I will come!” That was in 2016, so a little longer than expected to make my Magic Castle debut, but I did and saw him work his skills and crack people up. I think I felt pride, but it might have been the strong, complimentary drinks Nick was serving. Either way, good times!
Later that night we went to a place on Melrose for a stand up show run by comedian Matt Taylor, someone I knew from way back in NYC in my early days as a comedian before Matt moved to LA (second NY comedy transplant named Matt to put me up – another Matt friend (Ritter) ran the the Thursday show. I went up last on the show and murdered the fu*k out of that room. Great crowd, greater comedian (working memoir title).
On Saturday I had my first L.A. power lunch with a columnist from The Hollywood Reporter at the SoHo House (He could not attend Sunday’s show so unlike my usual fans who do nothing to make up for their neglect, he took me to a swanky ass restaurant to talk about the most baffling thing in all of comedy: my career.). After another night at the Magic Castle on Saturday night, I woke up and made my way to the closest English-speaking Catholic Church near Nick. When I went up to receive the Eucharist I did something I have never done in my 35 years as a Body of Christ receiver: I dropped it. As a giant stranger in a Church full of diminutive Latino people and few white holdovers I felt looks of people that said “what demon-monster has entered our sanctuary?” I got another wafer and then made my way out of Church. To make up for my violation of the Body of Christ I went back to the South Pas gym to work on the Body of Cauvin.
For dinner I met a friend/associate who had worked on a few things with me over the pandemic. We ate some BBQ down the block from Flappers and then I walked the fateful 2 blocks to Flappers where I would perform. My heart was racing and I had the chills. It is probably not good for me that I always make shows into life and death events, but the silver lining is that usually helps me deliver good performances. And on that note…
The show was an absolute masterpiece (seriously – I know it’s douchey to say that I guess, but it really was). The fans coming out were phenomenal and as a special treat I was finally able to consummate my pandemic Twitter friendship with Richard Marx with a hug and profuse thanks for his generous support of my Internet nonsense the last couple of years. For those of you who are fans and still reading this, if you listen to the last 2 (short) episodes of Righteous Pk Podcast you will hear that there were some unforeseen technical issues with Half Blackface (my special filmed in October in one miracle take) so delivering an A+ show was necessary for my ego and mindset, if for no other reason.
So now that my laundry is done it is time to pack up for my bus to Vegas tomorrow. Thank you everyone who came out to see me. You are the best part of this business! As proof, for everyone who said I never smiled in my LA photos (hard with this Sun in my face!) here’s a pic of me and Batman after Sunday’s show
I sit in my hotel writing this latest road recap from Hotel de Anza, a hotel in the shadow of Zoom’s headquarters (I think – or just a large building with Zoom all over it – if you do a live corporate gig at Zoom, is it still a Zoom show?) after a mostly fun night in San Jose and a 21 hour day. I hung out with some friends, met some of my most die hard fans, had some merch stolen at the show and accidentally fooled my Mom about the stains on my Greyhound bus seats. So without further adieu, and before I have to check out of my hotel let’s do this!
On Wednesday I woke up at 4am to get my 515am bus. Fortunately I had not yet modified my sleep schedule to the west coast so it was not as difficult to wake up at that hour (went to be at 10pm), but my buddy Nick, who is letting me crash with him in LA, apparently just pulled an all-nighter to take me to the bus. As my home away from home for almost a decade, Nick has been the unsung hero of all of my west coast trips. He got me to the station which at 445am was an interesting mix of exhausted immigrant families and Black dudes talking about YouTube fight videos. I hopped on my bus (silver lining to taking the early Greyhound – you don’t get shot on a Greyhound later that day in California) and grabbed the handicapped seat which provided more leg room than any first class flight accommodations. The bus never got too crowded – I had my own seat the entire 9 hour trip and the ride was absolutely beautiful. California really is a beautiful state, even when travelling on seats that looked like they are covered in semen.
Now as the bus got more crowded, a few people started coming on without masks. And in a weird move, the guy next to me had a KN95 mask that he wore on his chin for most of the ride. As I joked on stage in San Jose, “so you upgraded your mask, to protect your chin?” But I opted to fume silently at the selfish, rule breaking and I think I made the prudent decision (see article about deadly fight on bus above).
I arrived in San Jose, which was beautiful and sunny and windy AF. Northern California always seems super sneaky with the weather: “Oh look it’s beautiful… and 62 degrees and… holy shit that wind is making me cold AF!” My hotel was a quick 10 minute walk from the train/bus station. After checking in and mapping out my set I met up with my friend Hank from law school who made the drive from San Francisco and Brandon (no, not Joe Biden – a man actually named Brandon), a friend through my bff who went to college with him. We had dinner at a local food hall and then made out way to the Improv.
The club was great – it is sort of an old theater type space and thanks to some good fans (and good efforts by the club to fill seats) I ended with up with a pretty good crowd. In addition to bits from my (cursed) special – please go to the podcast tab and listen to the new bonus episode of Righteous Pk if you don’t know – I dropped some brand new, off the dome bits on Clarence Thomas, masks on Greyhound, how me and my Uncle looked like a Law & Order casting in the Bronx (this was just something I said to someone who worked at the Improv and then he said “do you do that on stage?” – WELL I WILL NOW!), the single best Trump impression I’ve ever done and some other shit I have already forgotten (but thankfully have on tape) that did well.
After the show I met some fans who are almost as well known to me as I am to them because of their strong engagement with me. It always feels good to meet fans like that (so that your comedy feels less like a distraction and more like *pretentious voice* appreciated art). But there was a blemish on an otherwise socially and comedically enjoyable night. A fan walked up to buy one of my USB cards (the $40 cards have all 6 of my stand up albums so it is a good deal). He asked if I took credit cards. I said that I did and I pulled out the square addition for my phone to swipe his credit card, but then realized I had left my phone in the showroom. I asked him to wait and ran, got my phone and made it back to the table within 15 seconds. When I returned he was gone and so was one of my album cards. Now the crazy thing about this is based on the interaction (he was ready to pay and could not have known I did not have my phone on me) he made the spur of the moment decision to steal from me. I hope he enjoys the albums.
Hank, Brandon and I went to a local pub for a beer with a fan who was effusive in his praise for my comedy and even more effusive in his praise for his Ivy League PhD and claim of having a large penis. After that was done, we made a run to the local Insomnia Cookies, which claimed to be open until midnight, but was already closed when we arrived at 1135pm. Instead we went to an ice cream shoppe and then said our goodbyes (PhDick had already made his way back home).
So today’s agenda is: do a Mike Lindell pillow review from my hotel before checkout, record a cameo for someone and then get on an Amtrak bus/train trip back to LA (9.5 hours for reading and watching some movies), and, if on time, perform around 1030pm at the Hollywood Improv. Every day in my comedy career is basically like an awful season of 24.
Thank you San Jose! You were great, except for the theft!
I am sitting in Chicago’s Union Station (the Amtrak Metropolitan Lounge to be more specific) racing to write this before my train gets called. This first leg of my whistle-please-stop doing comedy tour in Chicago is complete and now it is on to leg two – the Southwest Chief, which is Amtrak’s daily train from Chicago to Los Angeles, with stops at many cities, including Las Vegas,… New Mexico? I did not know there was a Las Vegas, New Mexico, but I hope it is known as Virtue City. I am taking Amtrak and Greyhound this entire trip because after 2 years of largely working 2 jobs in my apartment, I wanted built-in relaxation where I could not do anything besides look out a window, read or watch a show, even if I wanted to. So let’s see if I can type the Chicago portion quickly before getting on the train!
On Tuesday I made my way to Washington, DC to catch the Capitol Limited – their DC to Chicago train. I had been upgraded to a full bedroom (from a “roomette,” which is French for “too small for a giant” – spoiler I am taking a roomette to LA) and settled in. I watched the entire season of Hawkeye on Disney+ (solid) and made it halfway through the first of four books I packed, David Frum’s Trumpocracy (an autographed gift from the author) and ate some decent meals courtesy of my my excellent train car attendant , who looked like an extra from Dances with Wolves, but sounded like Hank Azaria in The Birdcage. The train was actually running ahead of time (I slept about 4.5 hours during the night) when we left Toledo but due to train traffic and mechanical difficulties on other trains we got to Chicago 2 hours late. THANKS BIDEN!
When I got to Chicago I hopped in a Lyft to Schaumburg, IL where the Chicago Improv is located. It was my first time back at the Chicago Improv since 2010. That year, one year into my “I don’t need another job after being laid off because I am going to make it in comedy,” I went to audition for feature work at the club. The pay for the spot was $50, which slightly exceeded my $100 hotel and $405 Jet Blue round trip flight. I was passed that night to feature at the club… as I joked once “I will end up headlining clubs before they ever feature me.” Prescient and pessimistic. Prescimistic! (trademarking that since it is basically my brand).
I arrived at my Hampton Inn at 1145am, but as people who have seen my stand up recently, the Hampton Inn has really been the hospitality hero of my comedy career. They let me check in at 1145am, which was a nice help since the Chicago temperature was a balmy 0 when I arrived. If I ever get big enough to sign with a hotel chain it will be Hampton Inn.
Now my show was not until Thursday night so I had time to do my favorite road activity: legal work in my hotel room. I got to town early by a day for a few reasons – so I had a day to feel acclimated and fresh and also because a social media friend that I made during the pandemic was a local TV personality and had told me to let him know if I got a gig in Chicago. This was no BS offer – the guy had me on via zoom twice in 2020 and was just very kind and supportive – he looked LA, but clearly had solid midwestern values. Well, as the JL Jinx would have it, after 10 years on air the show had been canceled.
Now the night before I left for Chicago I received an email that my tickets sales in LA for February 6th were not good, so as often happens to me when alone, negativity snowballs and I began to ask myself “what the fu*k am I doing?” And with that joyous thought I fell asleep.
A common complaint I have had throughout my travels in America is, “why aren’t there more sidewalks?” No wonder we are a fat country! Well, Schaumburg has sidewalks… but they were all buried under a mound of snow. So to walk for lunch or a coffee on Thursday I found myself walking on the edge of quasi-highways, looking like a drifter. I never got hit by a car, but one person yelled at me “Run Forrest Run” as I trotted past traffic, which did not make me feel optimistic for the comedy sensibilities of the people of Chicago suburbs. Really? Run Forrest Run is the best you’ve got?
After a meal at PF Chang’s (I like to lean on my eastern philosophy and training before a stressful show) I made my way into the Chicago Improv. An absolute beauty of a club. Seriously, if you live in Chicago and did not go to my show (like the woman (Fan?) who had a lengthy conversation with me on IG about where I should have eaten lunch and then wished me luck on my show… maybe I can just seat 50 Zagat’s guides at my next show, in lieu of humans) you should go to the Improv.
The emcee and feature both did well and then I got on stage in front of a respectable crowd and proceeded to do a very self-indulgent 80 minutes. To be honest I have never gone quasi-hoarse on stage and that is when I knew I had done too much. That said, most of the set was pretty damn killer and already have developed some new bits that make me want to plan for another album at the end of the year. The audience was really great and after the show meeting the fans was really great. I know a lot of people have said things like “you got me through the pandemic” and other such nice statements, but after being so stressed and bummed about so many things related to my career, including in the last 48 hours, meeting the fans after the show was maybe the first time ever (no offense to all other great fans in other cities) that it really lifted my spirits. Not sure if it was because there were many people who I had many interactions with on social media, or if they were at the right show at the right time to pick me up or if it was nice that so many people had specific comments about bits they liked, but whatever the reason (the real reason may have been that they bought more merch than any other crowd in the last year) it made me feel damn good! So to the fans and friends who came out in Chicago – thank you! Be warned though, once this all turns south in 6 days or 6 months I will probably blame you for making me want to keep at it.
Bam! Finished – time to get on this 40 hour train (2nd David Frum book and season 1 of Raised By Wolves on HBO Max is this leg of the trip’s content). Follow my YouTube and Instagram for more train adventures. See you in California!
The first comedy club I ever attended was the DC Improv on a trip with my brother. The first comedy club to ever pay me was the DC Improv for a week of emceeing. So 18 years into my comedy career, which started at a jazz club open mic in Washington, D.C., it would not be an exaggeration to say that I achieved a real and personal milestone by headlining a weekend at the DC Improv. It was a great weekend during which I connected with fans and old friends. had a genuine DC power lunch and had a few new bits achieve near-instant legend status. I also sat next to a weeping pre-teen at the new Spider Man and experienced a momentary, but deep crisis of faith in my comedy career (duh). In other words, a uniquely typical road comedy experience for me, so without further adieu let’s get into it!
After working from 7am at the day job I made my way to Newark Penn Station to catch the 315pm Accela to DC (with first class coupon upgrade). It was an uneventful, but as I joked on stage all weekend – why is the first class car the first car on the train? If a tragedy were to occur, shouldn’t the successful people in first class have a 4-5 car buffer of less worthy people in front of them? We should not be the tip of the spear in an accident!
Got to DC and made my way to the Farragut North station, which sounds like a drunk Dave Chappelle telling people where Dupont Circle is, to go to the AC Hotel, where the club was putting me up. I loved the hotel, though it did have a weird shower and a square toilet (I will never understand hotels that in the name of style and ambiance tinker with basic things that have been perfected). I then had about 10 minutes to relax before heading out to the club for the first show of the week.
The show went really well, the crowd was great and to celebrate I went and did 90 more minutes of legal work in my hotel room to meet some billing requirements.
On Friday I had to wake up early to (drumroll please) do day job work because I was having my first real DC power lunch with David Frum. He had been at the Thursday show with his family and though the show went really well, my sole concern, knowing we would be having lunch the next day, was if the show would go well for DF. He did enjoy it so I knew our lunch would not be a 2 hour conversation dancing around the previous night’s comedic failure. We had a tasty lunch (I had Rigatoni Bolognese) at Et Voila and discussed comedy, politics and more.
After lunch, as I waited outside for my Lyft, a man started approaching me with a look of recognition. As he got close I realized it was a man named Mark and he had been a year below me at Williams College. I processed quickly like the Terminator and he said “do you remember me?” and I was like “Mark from Williams!” His wife followed once it was clear that we were both the people we thought we were from 20 years ago. They told me they had been big fans of my stuff during the pandemic and then it came up that he was an assistant GM for the Nationals. This is a more than common occurrence when interacting with Williams alums. I have a cool YouTube page… you have a World Series ring!
After the Frum power lunch and the Washington Nationals power chat I powered my way back to doing more powerful day job work at the hotel. Then it was time to crush 2 Friday shows. But when a comedian makes plans to crush, God laughs. But not in a good way.
Frist show was actually really good. It was a full crowd, thanks in no small part to the quasi army of my girlfriend’s friends and family that came through. An older, unpublished bit I dusted off on gummi vitamins tore the roof off (as it would for every subsequent show as it continued to rapidly get better as I began adding more tags in real time). The star bit of the weekend, however, was definitely my multi part story about Georgetown Law professor Neal Katyal (who wrote a reference letter for me in law school) outpacing my entertainment career. It is so good that it, along with gummi vitamins, may have extended the lease on my comedy career.
One bit that did not go over as well I hoped (it was the most inconsistent bit of the weekend, but when it hit it did hit big) was basically me offering vulgar and emotional sympathy for Adele’s ex. During the Friday early show it was the only bit that earned any heckles… and they were from my girlfriend’s family. Here is a pic of me and my girlfriend after the show when I found out:
After the show I took Alex, a devoted member of the Making Podcasts Great Again fan community, and his wife out for a promised drink. Alex came to NYC solo for the taping of Half Blackface so I thought it was the least I could do. In the course of just a half hour before the 2nd show I learned that Alex was infinitely more successful and accomplished than me. I won’t discuss his career since it is not my place to do so, but I think my own insecurity about my comedy career made me presume/project a lack of success on to my fans (“well, they love my comedy so they must be at the end of the line!” – to be fair, since it did take an apocalyptic event for my career to finally take off, that is a more rational response than it would be for a comedian who did not require a Biblical plague level event to gain success). But mostly it was just nice to be able to show a little appreciated to a fan. And then I asked him if I could borrow money.
The second show would be the one that would leave me sad. The crowd was not big, but that was not the problem. I felt like I was having a very good set, but instead of a full house where the energy feeds off of itself it was small enough that big laughs were borderline impossible, both because it was 1/3 full and because when crowds are small they seem uncomfortable laughing loudly because there is a much bigger chance of shifting the focus onto yourself. So during the course of the set I made about 6 allusions to suicide (all jokes), but otherwise gave a strong effort. When I left the stage I didn’t feel great. I felt like by not being able to pack every show I had put fans in an awkward position. That feeling was only augmented by the kind words from the fans who were there. They did enjoy the set and one quartet said they came down from Baltimore that night specifically for me on their friend’s birthday. Instead of making me feel good, it actually made me feel bad. If you come to see me from another city I feel like I owe you a great experience and it is almost impossible to have a great comedy show at 1/3 capacity. Not that it can’t be good, but when there is too much silence or too low energy that responsibility falls to the headliner for not getting more people.
When I got to the hotel at 1 am I woke up the girlfriend to tell her that I think I needed to quit comedy. It is one thing to fail myself, but I felt like I had failed fans, even though they said they loved the show. My girlfriend’s response, reflecting both her fatigue and familiarity with this subject was “uhhhh zzzzzzzzzz.”
When I woke up Saturday I still felt a little bummed, but the feeling started to subside as I realized I really had had two strong performances the night before. I went for a long walk through DC with the gf before she had to leave for home. I then went and saw Spider Man: No End in Sight, or whatever it is called. I know it is setting records and people love it, but I am kind of done seeing Marvel stuff in theaters. I think Disney+ is the right venue for me from now. I actually really liked the first Tom Holland Spider Man movie, but the new one and the one preceding it I thought were just fine. Considering the entire Spider Man film universe spans only 20 years, it seems now that anything 5 years or older counts as nostalgia for the Marvel fan base that is America. I don’t think the movie was bad, but hammering me with memories of the last decade of movies seems to be enough for people to categorize something as “great.”
To make matters worse, the very chatty 11 year old next to me in the theater began weeping halfway through the film during an “emotional” part. When I was his age I cried at Dead Poets’ Society and Glory, not Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Saturday’s shows were absolutely great. Both were sold out and I would like to say good things about the early show, but the problem is I am so proud of what I pulled off on the late show. As I watched the emcee and feature on the late show I could see that the crowd was very chatty and quite possibly very drunk. There was one woman in the back that I referred to as Max Cady (think 1991 Cape Fear movie theater scene) because her laugh appeared designed to only distract and not register enjoyment of comedy. I told Jon, the emcee, “well I won’t be going over my time with this crowd.” And then I had my best set of the week. Every bit worked and I don’t know if I presented an intimidation or an “I don’t care” attitude on stage based on my low expectations for them, but whatever algorithm I unlocked, it was the key to the crowd. When I finally got to sleep that night I felt like I had redeemed myself and was especially happy at referring to the Spider Man weeper as a “future adult gummi vitamin consumer if I’ve ever seen one.”
I woke up Sunday and went right to 9 am Mass at the Cathedral of St Matthew, like I always do when in town (very beautiful Church). Then I had some time to kill at Panera Bread before heading to a noon show of West Side Story. A mask-less, mustachioed man saw me pouring a cup of “medium roast” coffee and looked at me and said “Medium Roast guy, huh?” And I wondered, “is that MAGA for “you suck di*k huh?” or closeted code for “you suck di*k, huh?” Just happy he didn’t see my digital ticket to West Side Story.
The movie was solid (reviews of both will be on this week’s Righteous Pk Podcast and for patreon members of Making Podcasts Great Again, Trump will review Spider Man and Mike Pence will review West Side Story) and afterwards I went for a walk with my friend/law school classmate/guy who taught me that people with southern accents could still be extremely smart, Hank. Hank (and his brother) were actually the first two people at my first open mic in DC. So when he emailed me to let me know that he would be in town visiting his siblings the same weekend I was performing I thought it was good fortune that he would be there to see my final show (kidding).
But then a flood of messages started pouring in. Fans and Hank messaged me that they would not be able to come due to Covid exposure and/or Covid fear. Totally understandable, but still deflating when expecting a lighter crowd on Sunday evening. As I said on stage, “I hope (those missing) only get long Covid, nothing worse. AM I NOT MERCIFUL?” (I know it’s 21 years old, but Gladiator still seems to be a movie I quote a lot regarding my comedy career).
As soon as my set was done I grabbed my check, my suitcase and made for the train. Got on my Amtrak with plenty of time and watched Mr. Smith Goes to Washington because I am a rebel and felt like watching it as I left DC was a real middle finger to convention. I then began crafting this blog, which is being finished now, in my kitchen, before a long day of legal work.
Thank you to everyone who came out to the shows. Hopefully you all enjoyed it. And if you are reading this and are not in the DMV area, get your tickets to see me in Chicago, San Jose, LA and Utah (please). And here is a picture of Cookie this weekend, looking very unsure without me in the house.
This week I was in Pittsburgh for a headlining gig at the Pittsburgh Improv. When I got the gig a couple of months ago I was thrilled to get a Thursday night (as opposed to a Monday 1pm show, which seems to be closer to my reality with many clubs), which is traditionally a good night to work a club (if you cannot get a Friday or Saturday). But as soon as I got the booking my J-L Jinx Spidey Sense kicked in and I thought “I bet the Steelers have a game that night.” Do I even have to tell you that my assumption was correct? So in a nod to self-preservation and local culture I made my show a 7pm show instead of 8pm, hoping that if the show ended by game time some people who were inclined to both support a twice-accused-of-rape quarterback and an Internet savior to millions in 2020 could have the best of both worlds. However, Pittsburgh chose decidedly in one direction (spoiler – not me). So let’s do an epic recap of my Pittsburgh trip – my first time back since 2009, when a white guy called a Black player on the Cleveland Browns a ni**er. Good to be back!
I departed for my gig on Wednesday because I was taking Amtrak. Since I have a busy day job that I refuse to leave as long as comedy continues to be the dumbest business on the planet, I decided to work on the train Wednesday. Hotels were cheap so two nights were doable and I could be available Thursday morning for press if any were available (LOL – I would think a stand up comedian with a decently large following who can do lots of impressions would be a slam dunk for local radio, but apparently Jack Off and the Cum Dump on FM 101.69 could not be bothered). So I busted out the WiFi hotspot in the café car on the 9 hour train ride to Pittsburgh and got to doing legal work while eating my sandwich. And then 10 minutes in the café lady said I had to leave because the car closed in Philly when the train switched engines from the 20th century electric on the east coast to the coal powered 19th century train system the interior of the country runs on.
So while muttering expletives (you saw me bust out both the computer and the sandwich at noon, but did not think to warn me that the car would close? One of the great things on some Amtraks is when the café is not selling food it becomes impossible to continue sitting at the tables near the café. Because as you know, tables do not work if food is not available) I went back to the business car, which was only about 15% full for most of the trip, which was lovely. I decided to watch a movie I downloaded from HBO Max on my new tablet called Never Rarely Sometimes Always. It is about a Pennsylvania teenager who goes to NYC with her cousin to get an abortion. I figured, “when in Rome!” It was dark, powerful, excellent and a perfect way to get me in the right frame of mind for one of my comedy shows. Because my career often feels like a burden I am carrying to term even though the humane thing would be to end it.
I eventually returned to the café car for several hours of work until we entered the part of Pennsylvania where the telephone signals no longer exist. At that point I began reading Gommorah, a book I have had for years but was never motivated to read until friends started hyping up the show. That way, after I read it I can watch the show and be morally superior to my friends because “I actually also read the book.” But back to the dead zone of communication known as central and western Pennsylvania. To be fair, I think the world would be better off if these Trump loving, mask burning, gun toting turds had no cell service or Internet, but in 2021 it is pretty startling that you can travel for 100 miles in a US state and not have a signal. That reminds me of a joke I just wrote – “How many central Pennsylvanians does it take to put up a cell tower? 10 – One to climb the ladder and 9 to call him a communist fa**ot for wearing a safety harness.”
I arrived in Pittsburgh at 8pm, got in a cab and headed to my Hampton Inn near the club. I walked in wearing a mask but noticed no one else was. Not staff. Not patrons. Freedom! I went to my room, dumped my stuff down and made my way to get some PF Chang’s. When I walked in not one staff member was wearing a mask, but the restaurant was almost entirely empty except for a meeting of the 3 Percenters at the PF Chang’s bar and a few families. I sat down and almost on cue, my brother, Pro Publica’s Henri Cauvin, sent me an article from the Philadelphia Inquirer that stated that Pennsylvania was leading the nation in daily Covid hospitalizations (and that was with Philadelphia doing things like being run by Democrats and not being stupid with vaccines and masks). That meant central and western PA were doing the lion’s share of owning the libs and the ventilators. And as I kept noticing, no one wearing masks over the next few days I kept thinking “1/3 of you are obese, 1/3 of you are ugly and 1/3 of you are obese and ugly – all of you have plausible reasons to be masked up!”
The next day I woke up at 645am, my version of sleeping in. I went downstairs for breakfast, mapped out my set for that night and then went for a 4 mile walk around the malls near my hotel. I then sat down for an 8 hour workday at my computer in my hotel room. When that was done I went to Burgatory, a brilliantly named hamburger restaurant near my hotel. When I walked in I was wearing a mask so the host brought me to the quasi-outdoor area filled with nice torches that made me feel like I would watch a virgin get sacrificed while I ate my meal. I sat there by myself until some other lib cucks were seated in my area. I ordered a burger and fries and my God – it was great! I felt like it was an omen for the show. (spoiler – it wasn’t). I then saw they had a chocolate chip cookie sundae dessert. I made a note that if my set were really great or really awful I would come there after for the dessert. I then left and went to the club.
When I entered the club I noticed a crowd that, in terms of size, resembled the audience of an art house foreign film in its 7th week in the theater. Ok, maybe not that bad, but when every show you do starts to feel like watching the dying breaths of Christ on the Cross you tend to see things as worse than they are. More people filled in and it ended up being a mildly respectable crowd for a comedian that people seem to prefer watching in two minute increments on their phones, who was also performing while the Steelers were warming up for Thursday Night Football.
The energy of the crowd for the emcee and feature was not quite blackout, but definitely at least a brownout. My set went fairly well (a strong ad libbed clip of me describing the battle for Pittsburgh’s soul that night is on my Instagram) and I met several kind and effusive fans after. Now in a weird bookend to the night the emcee had to leave for something else after her set so I literally walked my own emcee and then two die hard fans of Making Podcasts Great Again asked if I wanted to get a drink after. I said that I would hang out but had to get my money from the office. I ended up talking to the assistant manager for about 15 minutes (turns out I broke my streak of only making the minimum amount of money per the contract) and when I went outside it appeared I had been ghosted by my own fans!
Feeling abandoned I made my way back to Burgatory for that sundae only to find out that they closed at 9pm. Perhaps there was an angel looking out for me and my waistline or perhaps I was in a Greek Mythology Hell where you are never able to both do comedy and eat delicious chocolate chip cookie sundaes.
I woke up early the next morning to eat breakfast at 6am so I would be in no danger of missing my 730am train home. I got a Lyft from a guy who informed me that he had a lot of darkness inside of him, which either meant he liked Black guys or was troubled. To be fair he was discussing how he writes poetry, which at this point I am considering as a more lucrative career than stand up comedy. I got on the train and watched Moonstruck, another HBO Max movie expiring this month. Other than Olympia Dukakis I thought the movie sort of stunk. I then went to the café car to continue my legal work. Hard to pick out what the highlight of the week was: working on a train, working in a hotel, seeing my dream die another day, or working on the train, but it was all a wonderful and fulfilling experience.
The bittersweet thing about some of these underperforming road gigs is that the people who are fans enough to see me live are as bewildered as I am that my crowds are not packed. After all, I am hilarious, diverse in my skills, and more famous than the average comedian (though to be fair the median comedian is a progressive incel with an annual salary of 17 drink tickets). I think the answer is that my comedy was viewed as a distraction for most people, not as a mere sample of a robust catalogue of humorous work, which it was and is. Throw in Twitter’s algorithms treating me like an unclaimed Trump son he had with Omarosa and voila! – you have a recipe for failure gumbo! That is why it is always weird when I see comments on social media like “he got me through the pandemic” as if my existence died once you got vaccinated. Covid is still here and so is Cauvin!
I made it home around 530pm and – you guessed it! – went back to work until about 11pm on legal work. If there is one lesson I have learned from doing comedy, making a lot of money at it, becoming quasi famous, recording a killer new special and appearing twice this weekend in the preview for the upcoming season of a major cable drama it is this: apparently I should not quit my day job.
Thank you to everyone who came out to see me in Pittsburgh. The irony of constantly disappointing myself is that it really does make me appreciate the people who pay money to see me and to become fans beyond when you need a worktime distraction or a giggle on a group text. The flip side to the bitter spirit that engulfs a lot of what I do is a deep and genuine gratitude for those of you who do care and have comedy pallets beyond mere distraction.
See you in Washington DC next week folks! DC Improv Dec 16-19. I am crushing it – come see for yourselves!
As I write this I am sitting in the café car of the Carolinian, the Amtrak route from Charlotte to NYC. I performed in Raleigh, NC yesterday as part of my “Introduction/Farewell to America” Tour and the trip was well worth it, but not in the traditional sense of worth (e.g. profit, using train bathrooms that do not have The Shining-esque rivers of urine, etc.). If the train home does not experience any more delays my totals for the last 36 hours will be: 20 hours on Amtrak, $50 profit, 2 college friends caught up with, 1 set that yielded some great things for the special taping in 15 days and a partridge in a pear tree. With that, let’s break down the details.
The Piss-Dodging, Salad Buying Train to Raleigh
Based on my last experience trying to get home from Philadelphia via Amtrak, taking a 10 hour train trip from Newark to Raleigh with only 2.5 hours to spare before showtime might be perceived as a risk. After all it took me 5 hours to get home from Philly due to a 4 hour train delay. One of those delays would ruin the show, if you are doing the math. But the train arrived in Newark on time and 9.75 hours later arrived right on time in Raleigh. I did lots of comedy writing/fine tuning on the trip down so it was a productive trip, but the real success of the train ride down had nothing to do with punctuality.
Taking a piss as a man on public transportation is a tough proposition, if – and this is a critical if – if you care about the condition of the bathroom once you are finished. On Too Big To Fail, my 2012 album, I was going through a Greyhound Bus phase where I was taking the bus line to a lot of gigs. I described trying to responsibly piss while on a moving Greyhound bus as the world’s most challenging core workout. On Amtrak I have perfected a left shoulder lean for balance to get over 95% of the piss in the toilet. But when I entered the bathroom late morning on this train I could see that someone(s) without my core strength, tactics or ethics had used the bathroom and apparently believed that the toilet was something to be avoided at all costs. The toilet area was covered in piss. Not a light drizzle or tasteful spritz, but a sloshy amount. And as I positioned myself for what turned out to be an unexpectedly long piss (hydrate folks!) i noticed that the piss was slowly but steadily moving off the toilet area toward where my New Balance sneaker was positioned. The was as close as a piss has come to an episode of 24. This was Indiana Jones yanking his hat at the last minute except in this case it was a stream of stranger urine attacking my sneaker. Finally my bladder was empty and I pulled my foot back with about 2 seconds to spare. But the adventures were just beginning.
As the train pulled into DC I knew there would be an engine change as there are for all trains departing south or west from DC (when my comedy career finally is declared dead I would like to work for DOT on rail expansion, despite no experience in any related field – consider it payback for SNL allowing Kim Kardashian to host). In an effort to eat healthy I decided to get a salad since I knew there was a Chopt salad in Union Station. When the train pulled in at 10:49 am I knew I had 19 minutes until the train left for parts south. I was also in the business class (BALLER) car, which was the last car on a very long train. But fortune favors the bold so I went in to the station, got myself a kale salad and made it back to the train with 8 minutes to spare. How was I rewarded? With some guy sitting next to me for the rest of the ride once we arrived in Alexandria, the next stop.
On Amtrak they now do assigned seating for business class. That is fine, except some of these Amcucks don’t realize they can change their seat. And on top of that, they cannot see who they are selecting a seat next to when they need to choose a seat that is already partially occupied. So while a bunch of small women got to enjoy their entire trip solo, I had some guy cuddled next to me for the last 5 hours of the trip. Fortunately for both of us I ended up doing a lot of game tape review (watching recent comedy sets where I realized that sets I thought were just decent were in fact outstanding – you are welcome Boston and Philly!) in the café car.
I got to the club at 735pm and noticed that there were not many people in attendance. At 8pm when the host went up I could hear that there weren’t many people, but definitely louder than the few people I had seen when I entered the club. It was a comparable crowd to the one I had in Philly, which was more expected in Raleigh than it had been in Philly. The set went well (just reviewed it) and a few bits were off the charts so at least my primary goal of making the best comedy special of 2022 (presumably when it would air or be released) still feels within reach even though my more immediate goals of happiness and profit seem woefully out of reach. When you subtract my travel costs from my payout I made $50. Now, the special makes economic considerations secondary but this felt like what a climate scientist feels when they see a dead coral reef: the future is bleak.
One of the highlights for me at the show was the fact that flanking the stage, in identical spaces on opposite sides of the stage were two friends from Williams (they knew each other but had no idea that the other was there until mid show). Several fans new and old approached me after the show felt great, but I would be lying if it was not particularly nice to hear a fan say “Not afraid of burning in hell” which has become a bit of a catch phrase from Righteous Pk Podcast (my impression of Ron Reagan Jr’s atheism commercials are basically my co-host at this point). One reason that this new phase of my career feels like the worst is that when featuring you are in a city for a weekend. That allows you to settle in, socialize, etc. These one and dones are sometimes financially and emotionally deflating, but they always force you into a wham bam thank you ma’am, maybe I will see you in a year if we are lucky existence. I did get to have a beer with my Williams friends Matt and Pete after, during which I learned that their kids are big fans of my videos. So that was nice to hear, even if I will be dead by the time their kids can legally enter comedy clubs.
Back to New Jersey
When I got on the 10:13 train (currently we are 25 minutes behind scheduled as I type this) – interrupting this for a random musical comment. I don’t know if any artist simultaneously wows me and annoys me more than Celine Dion. Her version of “I drove all night” just came on my iPod and my God she can sing. As long as I am not watching her in an interview or during some weird performance I am in awe of her. Anyway, back to the blog – I get on the business class car and there are 5 people in the whole car. 5. But guess where one of those 5 people is sitting? Yes – the seat next to mine. I have no idea why someone would either pick or be assigned a seat next to someone (when I picked my seat a month ago the entire car was empty) but I checked on the Amtrak app and saw there were 7 sets of seats that were completely empty for the entirety of the ride. So I picked one of those. Now that I am done recapping time to go back and read. Just 7 more hours on the train to wonder WTF I am doing with my life. #Blessed
This morning, on 3 hours sleep (we will address that later) I finished reading Michael Lewis’ new book The Premonition. It is a book about some select people, much like those featured in his book The Big Short, who had a combination of outside-the-box thinking, instinct and intellect to know something bad was coming. In The Big Short it was the financial crisis underpinning The Great Recession. In The Premonition it was the current pandemic. I know that Lewis will never write a book about me, but I feel like I have some of the same gifts for anticipating doom and gloom, with one caveat: I can only really predict them for myself. And a day after going on an exhausting, infuriating trip to my nephew’s soccer game (this week’s Righteous Pk Podcast is dedicated to that story – go have a listen), the soccer game misadventure would pale in comparison to the Sunday experience I had going to, and coming back from, Philadelphia. So let’s get to it.
Christian Rock Lyft
I was headlining Helium in Philly on Sunday night at 7pm. The good news seemed in abundance. It was one of my 2 favorite clubs in the country, the Eagles were not playing Sunday and the last time I performed at Helium to record my album Thots and Prayers, I sold 100 tickets on a Wednesday. So my cautious optimism was that I would at least meet that number given my exponential boost in fame and the fact that it was at least a weekend day, if not the worst day of the weekend. I sold 150 tickets on a Monday in Boston, so Philly on a Sunday shouldn’t be a problem I thought. Now of course, I slept poorly the night before the show and felt my heart racing all day. See, when I say that comedy is bad for my health I mean that quite literally. When you entire career has been a fight to get your talent recognized and every legit milestone of your career exists as an isolated incident instead of accumulating as momentum building events, every gig that presents an opportunity for money, a relationship with a club chain, etc. takes on extra weight because of the overwhelming feeling of “these opportunities are infrequent at best.”
So I ordered a Lyft to take me to Newark Penn Station, the world’s worst train station. My driver arrived and began blasting Christian pop-rock. I like Church and I like rock, but rarely do I like the combination. First off, how many songs can you just have about Jesus’ love? I mean that with all due respect – all 10 songs I seemed to hear seem to come from the same single idea with little variation. There appears to be almost no daylight between a vaguely Christian pop song and a parody of a Christian pop song. And the radio station said they had pastors on call if people wanted to call in. I found it all sort of humorous, but the driver was not just enjoying the music – he knew the words and was adding percussion on his steering wheel. And then we passed a homeless man in traffic looking for money and Dominican Joel Osteen behind the wheel just gave him the Jordan shoulder shrug.
My driver had 55 minutes to get me to Newark Penn, which according to GPS was a 13 minute trip. Well DJO opted to avoid the highway (which was clear) for a series of side streets all the way to the station, We still got there with 18 minutes to spare, but I sort of felt like I was being taken the long way to see if the music of Imagine Jesus Dragons could work its magic on me.
Back in Philadelphia
When I arrived in Philly, on time at 435pm, I walked by the club to see my face. Two things I noticed. One, the club used The Late Late Show as my credit. Perfectly legit, even though most people know me from other, more recent things. But multiple clubs have insisted on including “with Craig Ferguson.” Would there be a violation of comedy law if we fooled people into thinking my stale late night credit might be from James Corden’s era? Is Corden going to sue in Musical Theater Court if someone doesn’t make it clear that I was not on his iteration of the show? The second thing I noticed was the Sonja Morgan of The Real Housewives of NY would be headlining the club a week after me. I have often told my girlfriend, more anecdotally than with hard data, that when she watches 4 different real housewives’ shows she is supporting the reality show industry which boosted cheap shows starring talentless turds at the expense of more scripted material that before streaming might have been an opportunity for struggling writers and comedians. I am not saying that reducing scripted shows by half in the 2000s would have directly led to me personally having a boost, but you get that in the aggregate, someone like me might have had more bites at the apple. But I never meant it in a literal, direct sense. But thanks to sharing a marquee with Sonja Morgan I see that my journey of 18 years in comedy has been worth all the effort and that I am now in direct competition with Sonja Morgan (as singers must compete with Countess Luann’s bars on “Money Can’t Buy You Class”).
So now my premonition of doom was bordering on full blown panic. I went to a nearby Barnes and Noble to finish mapping my set and then went to Shake Shack for a chicken sandwich. Then I went to the club. With about 15 minutes until showtime my fears were confirmed. I was not going to get close to the crowd I had 3 years ago. I went into the green room and chatted with the emcee and feature (who both did well) and apologized for the less than stellar crowd. That is when in a corner of my mind I entered a dark place – if my crowd is reduced by half, after a period when I exponentially increase my fan base, then what has really been accomplished? Other than a Greek Tragedy-level dose of social media-induced delusion. My goal, of course, is not to be an Internet G-list celeb; it is to be a headlining comedian. But that requires translating Internet money and followers into asses in seats. Somehow I did what felt impossible – I turned a fan base 40x bigger than in 2018 into a crowd 50% smaller.
Now before you worry about whether I should be sharing this in an industry that prides itself on false confidence and ass kissing, my crowds in DC and Boston were great. So it is not like I have been travelling and eating dogshit. But, like many comedians, I can be a prisoner of the moment and because of my several successes in Philadelphia at Helium, it felt particularly depressing to have my smallest crowd in 10 years performing there (including 2 album recordings on Wednesdays when I was obviously the headliner).
The Healing Power of Fans
So I did my set. It went well. My shirt was soaked with sweat, which had less to do with heat and more that I felt like I was fighting off career failure with every joke I told. I greeted fans after the show and they were great. There were social media fans, there was a guy who has first saw me during my first feature week in 2011 and has been a dedicated fan ever since (he told me that when my stuff blew up in 2020 he was indignant on my behalf “you need to check out his stuff! He’s been funny for a long time!”). And then a fan/friend via social media, Doug, postponed his return trip to the Netherlands to come to the show. I bought him a milkshake at Shake Shack after for his troubles (as another fan knows – if you travel on a 6 hour+ flight to see me do a show, I will hang out and buy food/drink after – not a great deal admittedly). So as I walked back to 30th street station, having sold merch and met many kind, generous and effusive fans I felt so much better. One of the silver linings of having a fan base that is not too large is that you get to feel and appreciate their support up close. From a business perspective sure, it would be better to have a fan base of millions, but when the fans you have can make it personal it makes it easier to be appreciative and stop feeling mopey because one show was financially disappointing.
And then all the good feelings were eviscerated.
The Soul Killing Power of Amtrak
I arrived at 30th Street Station at 1010pm for my 10:28pm train – the Palmetto, which travels from Georgia to NY. The train was listed as 20 min delayed. No big deal. But on further examination of the arrival/departure board included trains that were supposed to arrive at 718pm and 802 pm from south of Philly as delayed still. For the next hour, I watched how every ten minutes, ten more minutes was added to the Palmetto departure time. I checked to see what a Lyft would cost from Philadelphia to Bloomfield (the non-Christian rock, local road option) and it was $134 before tip. Had I made a killing at the club it would have been a no brainer, but instead I decided to wait for my train.
At 1145pm an announcement was made that all northbound trains were delayed with no addition information. At that moment a mouse ran around near me, presumably trying to get a Lyft before the surge pricing kicked in. I then checked Lyft and it was $220 before tip.
Interesting J-L Jinx sidebar here – the club offered me a hotel. I turned it down because I wanted to be able to start work on Monday morning. Well, as it turns out I do not currently have an assignment, so staying the night in Philly would have had no negative impact on my day job.
At 1215 there was an announcement that the trains north of DC have begun to move and the first one would arrive in 45 minutes. No word on the Palmetto. After the 718 train arrived at 1245am, the next train was announced (the 802pm would be here at 105 am). The station then announced “if you are on the Palmetto your tickets will be honored on this train.” I considered waiting for my train where I would have a reserved seat to myself to maybe nap for the hour back to Newark, but then the Amtrak employee shouted – “Train 90 can board this train” (that is the number of the Palmetto) so I figured he was emphasizing as a courtesy. So I went down the stairs at 105 am and boarded the 802pm train. And then we waited. Multiple trains pulled into the station after, discharged riders and continued north as we sat idle. An hour later (and as it turns out 35 minutes after the Palmetto had come and gone without me) it was announced that we were waiting for a crew change. My guess is that a train crew cannot continuously operate a train for beyond a set period of time and perhaps the 5+ hour delay necessitated a crew change by union rule. Well at 215am we finally got to leave. I had the all-nighter chills and shakes, so I probably looked right at home as I arrived at Newark Penn station at 320am, a tidy 45 minutes after the Palmetto had swung through.
I caught a cab and arrived home at 345am to be greeted by Cookie. I put on my eye mask (my bedroom is disturbingly bright in the morning, which is not usually a problem since I cannot sleep past 5am), caught 3.5 hours of quality sleep and woke up wondering if I can continue doing comedy. Fans are one thing, but 6 hours for a one hour Amtrak trip in the middle of night might be the most powerful, negative force known to man. The good news for you readers who like miserable comedy writings: I am Amtrak-ing to Raleigh (10 hours each way) in a week and a half to headline Goodnight’s Comedy Club. God help us all (in Christian Rock voice).
P.S. – as soon as I published this by Twitter mentions were blowing up because SNL had announced it hired a new Trump impersonator for the upcoming season. It was not me. Amtrak actually does not feel so bad anymore! Good luck to all the new cast members.