Minnesota Fats, Gary Matter and a Reverse Soul Bounce…

Last week I travelled to Minnesota for an old-fashioned fun week of road work (I call it old-fashioned because road work has become something of ancient lore for my calendar and bank account).  I was going back to the club that was first to give me a headlining weekend, the Joke Joint in St Paul, Minnesota.  It is a great little club with a friendly owner/manager.  In fact, unlike many comedy condos, the comedy condo at the Joke Joint is a welcome sight.  It is the second floor of the club owner’s house and is stocked with lots of homey amenities like a DVD player, bowls of candies and snacks and very clean (it is on his property so there is a major incentive to have it be more than just adequate).  But as it turned out, the owner had family in town so I ended up staying at the downtown St Paul Embassy Suites.  But I am racing ahead of myself.  This was days 2-4 of the trip. The first part was getting to Minnesota and going to the Black Bear Casino.


Part One: Cauvin’s 11

The first gig of the week was at the Black Bear Casino in Carlton, MN. I have done the casino before and it was solid the first time.  Rather than write out how the flight went, I will just provide you a few minutes form one of my sets at the Joke Joint to recap the flight.

When I arrived early afternoon I was picked up at the airport by Wayne, a local comedian who sort of resembles Drew Carey, if Drew Carey had served in the military and had some ink.  We drove north to Carlton and the Black Bear Casino made the mistake of giving me a $10 comp card to play on their machines.  I stuck it into a slot machine like a woman who had no idea she was about to be shamed.  I turned that $10 into just over $50 in winnings.  I kept looking over my shoulder for casino security to escort me out for taking them for all they could handle, but perhaps because I was “the talent” they let it pass.

I then went to the buffet (which was comp’d, once again, “the talent”) which was an incredible display of Middle America gluttony.  I saw so many obese people with 3 and 4 plates of food (and kept wanting to say “do you often bring 4 plates for yourself at home?  Then why are you doing it now? Have some shame!”) that it forced me to only have one dessert.  Then I went to entertain.  The show went great and I managed to sell a few CDs.  In summary – the house does not always win.

Days Two and Three – St Paul Laughs at an “Oaf”

The people of Minnesota have a well-earned reputation as being nice.  And after the first three shows the manager/owner of the Joke Joint only received one complaining e-mail where I was referred to as an unfunny “oaf.”  As someone who has a wealth of YouTube comments wishing death, AIDS and death cause by AIDS, I must say that being called an oaf is practically a compliment.  The shows did go really well all week, I sold almost all of my albums that I brought (Guns N Roses CDs were particularly popular) and was well-rested and relaxed.  So here are some random complaints I have about the area surrounding my Embassy Suites:

  • Jimmy Johns – I have seen many, never ate at one until now, out of necessity.  Great cookies.  Bad sandwiches – they sort of pretend to be a real deli, but that is just a front to pile on extras and condiments on to sandwiches which contain less and almost as slimy deli meats as Subway.
  • Dear Nice deli/diner/restaurant near the hotel (and the rest of America) – some people like Russian dressing for sandwiches.  Ranch Dressing is not a cure-all condiment and it is one of the many reasons we are a fat nation.

(See, not that many complaints)

Day Four: Gary Matter

If you are not a Breaking Bad fan, this is a play on Grey Matter – the company Walter White helped found and has regrets about because it took off after he left. In season one he is subjected to seeing their happiness and almost unlimited wealth as a reminder of what he felt close to achieving and is now very far from.  Similarly, on this day of my trip I ventured to the Mall of America where one of my favorite comedians (currently the #1 ranked tall comedian in America) Gary Gulman was headlining the House of Comedy.  We decided to meet up for lunch, and were instantly on par with Supreme Court Justices Warren Burger and Harry Blackmun as one of the most powerful partnerships ever forged in Minnesota (sorry Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer).

Vince Gilligan's rendering of my meeting with GaryGulman

Gulman selected a restaurant called Firelake Grill House, which appeared to be a restaurant from the future.  I felt like a person in a futuristic movie like Elysium, seeing how the privileged class lives.  Outside the restaurant was a series of oddly shaped pieces of furntiture that no one could sit on. That is how you know it was fancy.  I met Gulman and a local comedian he was buddies with and we have a fun lunch.  It was full of television talk and some words on comedy.   I never got to pitch my idea to Gulman for an HBO-sponsored tour called PremaTour Ejaculation (which would be a prequel sort of tour to Tourgasm), where Gulman would headline with a series of less accomplished comedians on the bill.  It was good to hear Gulman’s thoughts on comedy and simultaneously inspiring and disheartening to know that ten years in Gulman was struggling too.  Sadly I may not have Gulman’s Gus Fring-like patience to build an empire over decades.  My Walter White bank account (meaning it has stage 3 Cancer, not piles of money from overseas drug dealing) necessitates me finding sources of hope and revenue sooner, rather than later.  Gulman then picked up the check, which was the Grey Matter-picking-up-the-health-costs-for-Walter moment.  Very generous of him, but also I now expect to see Gulman completely disavowing me on a Charlie Rose interview in to the future.

The shows went really great that night. Made some new fans, sold a bunch of CDs and got a whole 3 1/2 hours sleep before my “You can’t afford conveniently timed flights” 645 am flight out of Minneapolis.

Epilogue – Silent White People

So I arrived back in NYC exhausted, but with no time to waste.  I had a guest set at Gotham Comedy Club Sunday night that I was hoping would make a clean tape to submit to a few things.  Of course I was nervous – I assume people out for a show during the final two episodes of Breaking Bad do not share my values or sensibilities and I may have been right.  I went on stage and the first joke did well, second joke was OK, but a reference to the movie Mask fell flat (even if you have not seen the movie I thought Eric Stoltz’ face was pretty much a cultural reference point for ugliness). Mind you it did not fall flat for sympathy (like a series of “awwwww”s or some other reaction, but just did not register.  The third joke was the one that really bothered me.  In it I reference the proliferation of movies about rich, white superheroes. If comic books are supposed to be fantasies, why are half the dudes rich white guys?  That is how the world works anyway.  So the punch line is as follows (the bit is on my 2nd album Diamond Maker):

So why doesn’t DC Comics just go all the way and have their next superhero be Todd The Hedge Fund Douchebag. (silence).  He gets his superpowers from high fives and bottle service at clubs (a couple of awww’s and “hey!”s in mild disapproval).  Instead of a bat signal, when you need him you just flash a signal in the sky of a high priced escort being choked to death – “Hey bro, the city needs me!” (a few scattered laughs).

The final bit got several laughs with a call back to an earlier bit, but I could not shake the anger I felt to the crowd’s reaction (or lack thereof) to a joke that consistently does well for me.  And then I realized – the vast majority of the crowd, which was pretty sizeable for a Sunday night, was white (like 96% +).  It felt like a tony Connecticut crowd. And this is one of those things I have realized in my comedy travel. On the road you see a lot of white suburban crowds – including my shows in Minnesota.  And I have seen mediocre black comics get what I call the “soul bounce” – which is many all-white crowds tendency to give mediocre black emcees a sort of bonus for being unfamiliar and so “gosh darn entertaining,” solely(soully) because they are black.  But at the same time, lack of exposure does not always mean you harbor prejudices or ignorance and I felt that from many of the crowds in St Paul.  The flipside is just because you live in a diverse melting pot like NYC does not mean you get a pass on being a sheltered, ignorant ass.  And to me, living in Lilydale, MN (the actual location of the Joke Joint and the whitest name of a town in America) and not having a diverse show or group of friends is a lot less weird than living in NYC and self-selecting a group of like-minded, like-looking, like-everything group of friends, because implied in the latter scenario is not a lack off opportunity for diversity in your life, but more likely an outright rejection of diversity in your life.  And that is what went through my mind as the crowd offered more sympathy for the poor hedge fund workers I was poking fun at.  Half of the bros in the audience probably work in finance and half the women probably are or want to be married into finance so I guess I was reverse soul bounced – when a white looking guy bashes bastions of white privilege in front of a Wonder Bread audience it gets silence. Of course this might be over analysis by me, but I doubt it.

Other than that the set went well and I was greeted by the very funny Mike Vecchione off stage who said “Nice set and really funny shit on-line.”  That made me feel good and like a comic’s comic, which Richard Belzer once said meant “that comics like me and I have no money.”  I then went home and watched Walter White’s second to last episode and realized that there are worse things than having a so-so set, but then got jealous because those worse things have been made into the best drama on television.

For more opinions, comedy and bridge burning check out the Righteous Prick Podcast on Podomatic, iTunes and NOW on STICHER. New Every Tuesday! This week’s episode is a discussion of Breaking Bad, Mariano Rivera and my new album.


Hipster Pancakes, Testicle Jokes & Jared from Subway –…

Last week I toured some of the South with members of Comedians at Law.  We never officially decided on a name for our Southern tour stops, but since we were visiting clubs in Nashville and Atlanta and Vanderbilt Law School I had thought that perhaps “Southern Places with Teeth Tour” would have been a solid choice.  I was closing the show at Zanies in Nashville on Wednesday, going up first after the emcee in Atlanta on Thursday and middling at Vanderbilt Law School on Friday.

Wednesday, after the smoothest flight I have ever been on, the three of us went to see Mama.  There were four of us in the theater.  Three comedians and a random guy who came into the theater and sat 4 seats away from me.  I know this pet peeve has been beaten into the ground, but seriously, why in a theater of 500+ seats would you have to sit within the top .5% seats away from me?  The movie had a good premise, was scary for about an hour and twenty minutes and then fell apart in the last twenty.  This is also known as JJ Abrams-ing something.

The show at Zanies was solid.  The green room was stocked with lots of delicious candies, at least before I arrived.  I ate so much candy my set list got diabetes.  The crowd was medium sized, both in quantity of people and waist-line measurements.  I had a very good set and sold a couple of CDs and a couple of “LiveANGRY” wristbands.  And the night ended with me getting a bed to myself in a two bed-three comedian situation (this was the case for two of the three nights, but when traveling with two Jews who have a combined weight of less than one massive gentile, getting the bed to yourself is a perk).

It should be noted that with two Jews and a man of (some) color driving around the South I thought “Mississippi Burning” would have been a decent name for our Southern Tour, but the other guys thought it too offensive.

The next day we headed to Atlanta for our gig at The Punchline.  We stopped in Chattanooga, TN for a late (1pm) breakfast and it was delicious.  Chattanooga, TN, as we would surmise from our two trips through the town, is basically the Williamsburg, Brooklyn of the South (they hate black people ironically).  In all seriousness it seems to be a growing town with a mix of Williamsburg and a generic college town.  The only disappointing thing about the place where we stopped, the Bluegrass Grill, was that they were out of biscuits.  We felt it was our obligation to eat some biscuits in the south and were denied.  That is like walking into a NYC steakhouse and being told they are out of rich, fat white men.

The Show at the Punchline went well, as far as I could tell.  But that is because I did my set, left to laughter and then went to IHOP on an immediate solo mission.  I was starving and the other two guys had already made their IHOP hatred known, so I knew a post-show trip was unlikely. I sat down in IHOP and ordered my usual (milkshake, sausages, pancakes and an extra large casket).  The food came and I ate happily until, towards the end of my meal, the waitress asked me something that only one other human had ever asked me:

“One of the guys wants to know if you are the guy from Subway?”

You know it is a bad comparison when someone asks if you are the guy from Subway and you hope he or she means a homeless guy from NY.

Sadly they did not mean Justin Tuck or Michael Phelps.  This mystery person meant Jared.  Fu*king Jared.  One other person has ever come up with that comparison.  There are certain factors that contribute to these rare instances:

  • I have to be wearing my glasses.
  • I have to have grown out my hair – no buzz cut
  • The person who makes this observation is incredibly stupid.
  • The person who makes this observation has nothing to live for.

So for only the second time in my life all four of these factors must have been satisfied.  So after two good shows in the South (which is now my personal record for most good consecutive shows in the South) I was immediately put in check by IHOP.  It is not enough that they kill me physically with a heart disease-diabetes 1-2 punch, but now they have brought the fight to my emotional doorstep.

But Atlanta was not quite done with their punishment.  I sold a couple of wristbands after the show, no CDs, but got a piece of incredible advice from a patron:

Patron: That was a really great set.  I  mean really great.

Me: Thanks so much. Glad you Enjoyed.

Patron: But if I can suggest one thing…

Me (internally): Fu*k.

Patron: When you do the Lance Armstrong thing, say “He didn’t have the ball…” you know… because he has one testicle.

Me: Ohhh, hahaha, ok ok.

My eyes: I will fu*king end you.

He liked my set a lot, but thought I could have used a little bit more nuance with an original take on Lance Armstrong’s one testicle.  Comedy rules!!!

The next day we left back for Nashville to perform at Vanderbilt Law School.  We stopped back in Chattanooga for lunch and went to another web-recommended spot called Aretha Frankenstein’s.  We were greeted by a short Indian woman in a knit hat and thick black glasses, a red-headed waitress with a short haircut and several neck tattoos and a cashier with a beard big enough to book him two Comedy Central specials.  The food was delicious, the biscuits (we got them!) were large and tasty and the food only took 50 minutes to prepare.    They literally took up our entire time difference in the Atlanta-Nashville time zone change with their hipster pancake tardiness.

She is a wool cap away from serving me pancakes in Chattanooga, TN.

The Vanderbilt Law show was awesome.  I have destroyed in my life, but this may have been a top ten performance by me.  And it was a good thing too, because just before the show I overheard a law student say (not recognizing me from my poster on campus), “This better be funny.” Right, because you are drinking a free beer at a comedy show that you have paid zero dollars for at your law school on a Friday evening, so if anyone is entitled to be demanding of excellence it is you.  I started my set by reminding the students that I went to a higher ranked law school and I now tell jokes and wear $50 New Balance sneakers so they should not feel too hopeful.  The show was really great though and I sold some more CDs afterwards.

And then I went back to the hotel to watch Bill Maher on HBO, to find out that that the La Quinta Inn we were staying at gets only Showtime.  That is like walking into a restaurant to find out they only serve Hunt’s Ketchup.  Other than sharing one hotel room with two other men, including one with IBS, this was the low point.  But like any comedy trip, no matter how good it always ends badly.  Either you are saying goodbye to a nice club, or being called a homely sandwich spokesman or someone is trying to insert hackery into your joke or you just sit on a bed watching Fox News for laughs because Bill Maher is not available.  But we made money, we made people laugh and did not get murdered and that is what I call a successful trip through the South.


5 Days, 2,000 Miles & No Buffalo Wild Wings…

In case you still have Internet in the aftermath of Hurricane/Storm/Bitch Sandy, here is something that will make you wish you had lost your Web access: a blow-for-blow account of life on the road last week.  I have not been chronicling my road life as much in 2012 for a very good reason: I have not been getting booked as much.  But last week my luck turned around and my cholesterol went way up thanks to a week that took me from Gotham Comedy Club to Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin to “The Comedy Room” in Wyandotte, Michigan (pronounced “where the fu*k am I?”, Wyandotte is an old Native American term for “Where all the white people from Detroit ran away from blacks”).  All in all it was over 2,000 miles of driving, over 4,000 grams of trans fats and over $20 in profit!  Just kidding, made triple digit profits this week, which means that if I am a victim of Hurricane Sandy’s aftermath relatives of mine will have to divide $125 amongst themselves.  I just hope that the nastiness of the ensuing litigation does not tear my family apart.  OK – here is the epic tale of comedy domination from NYC through the Midwest.

Tuesday Night – Gotham

I went up first on the Comedians at Law show at Gotham because we are experimenting running comedy shows like athletic events at progressive middle schools – everyone gets to close shows like they are participation trophies.  Couple that frustration with some financial arrangements with former group members and I thought it was a bad start to a week (without going into details please watch Michael Corleone in this scene for how I would have chosen to deal with former members):

So I retired for the evening after a surprisingly good set because the next day was the trip to Coldwater, Michigan.  Road work is like a cleansing of the comedy palate – leave and forget everything at home for a week or so at a time.

Road Trip – Day 1 – Joe Pontillo: Road Comedy Warrior

On Wednesday I was picked up by Joe Pontillo.  I have done several road gigs with Joe Pontillo and here is why Pontillo is a great road comedy companion:

  • He has a seemingly unlimited capacity for driving, which is good because I do not drive (I have a license, but consider it a serious danger to be behind the wheel).
  • He is a funny dude.
  • He is a small human being, which always means he has to sleep on fold out couches instead of beds in the event of limited bedding.

We set of for Coldwater, MI which is about 70% of the way from New York to Appleton, WI.  Among the things we learned was that Pennsylvania is the worst city to travel through – it is dark, full of trees and devoid of quality rest stops.  Of course Ohio is the exact opposite – their stops are pristine, contain 24 hour Starbucks and are so safe that the staffs consist entirely of 90 year old women at 2am.  I also began my futile quest to eat at a Buffalo Wild Wings (I always try to eat at places that I see advertised a lot in NYC, but can never find in NYC – I AM TALKING TO YOU SONIC!).

Comedy Warrior Joe Pontillo always multi-tasking on the road.

We arrived at the Red Roof Inn (the GPS led us to a quiet abandoned road about 2/10 of a mile from the Red Roof Inn, which was temporarily terrifying and then a great relief) at about 2:30 am and for $48 it was a pretty solid place.

Red Roof Inn Continental Breakfast of Losers


Road Trip Day 2 – Appleton’s Reckoning

Joe and I set off for Appleton around 9 am the next day and as we were pulling out I realized that there was a Buffalo Wild Wings behind the hotel (the first of about 5 we would miss by a few feet and/or a few hours of being opened).  We stopped at Wendy’s for lunch where I had a burger, fries and milkshake and was served by a woman whose name tag said “Ms. Nique$$..”  We arrived at the Hampton Inn in Appleton around 4pm and I then met up with my law school buddy Pat Blaney.  We continued a law school tradition by eating dinner at Fuddrucker’s (when my Steelers and Pat’s Packers met in the Super Bowl a couple of years ago we dubbed it the Fudd’s Bowl and bet a $50 Fuddruckers gift card) and I had a burger, fries and soda (because only an animal with a death wish would have burgers, fries AND milkshakes two meals in a row).  Then it was time for the show at Lawrence University.

Lawrence University is a pleasant looking liberal arts college of about 1600 students, not unlike where I went to college.  And when I arrived at the location of the show I was not surprised to see I would be performing at the campus snack bar.  There was a sign of me in the bathroom and I took it as a good sign that there were neither  urine stains nor a glory hole cut out of my mouth on the poster.  Then one student came up to me and said:

“Are you J-L?  I saw your poster and watched your videos on YouTube.  You are really funny!.” And then he left ten minutes before the show and never returned.

I met the student liaisons who seemed intimidated both by my size and my 1970s birth date, but were very pleasant.  Also, to the credit of a small school in the middle of Appleton the student body appeared incredibly diverse. Either they were taking photos for the campus brochure at my show or it is a very richly diverse student body.

But it was not all good news. I was sadly told that there was a campus wide free screening of a small independent film called The Dark Knight Rises at exactly the same time as the show.  So we ended up having 30-40 students at the show and they were a great audience.  Joe did a great job warming them up and then I worked my ass off and had a great set.  And then, like most college gigs it ended in the most anti-climactic way.  You get a hand shake, a few nods from students and then walk out and head back to the Hampton Inn as the students realize that there are more important things than a comedian, such as everything for one example.

Why watch them fight when you can see me fight my inner demons Lawrence University!?

Road Trip Day 3 – White Detroit

The next day we headed out around 830 am and passed at least one more Buffalo Wild Wings nearby.  We had lunch at Panera Bread where I had a salad which confused my body which had been trained to survive on trans fats and sugar alone.   We made it to Wyandotte and went to Portofino’s Restaurant, home of the cleverly named “The Comedy Room.”  The show was packed with people because it was a fundraiser for a high school hockey team.  So just in case a few black people had snuck into the suburb and were going to attend the show, “hockey fundraiser” probably lowered their numbers even more to a manageable zero.

The set went well, except when I mentioned President Obama, which became a clash between a table of older, pro-Obama women and a table of younger, female mullet having anti-Obama women.  Sold a bunch of CDs to top it all off for a very successful evening.

The hotel room had one giant bed and one fold out couch and Pontillo gladly took the fold out couch when I passed out on the large bed.

Road Trip Day 4 – Cloud Atlas and the Olive Garden

I woke up the next day to see Cloud Atlas, but had to call a cab to get to the theater (I decided waking Joe up early after him taking the sofa bed would be too much to ask).  So I called a cab at 915am and the dispatcher told me that she would send a cab. At 950am I called back and said I was hoping to get a cab before 10 and she replied, “Oh, we can’t get you one til after ten.”  So if anyone is calling for a cab in Michigan tell them “Please send me a cab whenever the fu*k you feel like.”

Watched Cloud Atlas later, thanks to a ride from the Stockton to my comedy Eaton (gotcha hoops fans!), Joe Pontillo, and here is the review I posted later that day:

Pre-show Joe and I went to Olive Garden (add another item to Joe Pontillo’s skill set – Olive Garden gift card at the ready).  I ate 9 breadsticks, which left me with garlic breath for the next 14 hours.  As we pulled out of the parking lot to head to the last show we of course saw a Buffalo Wild Wings a few storefronts down.  DAMN YOU WILD WINGS!!!!

Final show was pleasant, lightly attended and I performed in a semi-coma. From there we got in the car and got on the final drive of the week – Detroit to NYC.

Road Trip Day 5 – Truck Stop Sexual Predator?

My bladder picked an interesting time to age +/- 30 years because I could not stop pissing.  Joe continued his monster driving going 7 straight hours until he finally decided he needed to tap out for an hour at a random Pennsylvania rest stop.  I opted to walk inside and charge my phone and give Joe an hour of uninterrupted sleep.  But when I got in the rest stop it was just a small room with two bathrooms, a few plugs, three vending machines and no seats.  I was wearing an LL Bean field coat, a flannel shirt and a sporting a no sleep look in my eyes.  And it was dark outside.  So for the next hour I became the worst nightmare for approximately 17 travellers who at random times would come in and see a giant bi-racial dude sporting Sea Bass’s wardrobe sans trucker hat, standing in the corner of a rest stop doing absolutely nothing.

Why scared? I am just charging my phone!

But much like my time as a youth int he Catholic Church, my look turned out to be unappealing to yet another stereotypical pocket of sexual deviants.  Joe removed his Roger Dorn sleeping eye mask when I came back to the car and we made our final 3 hours back to NYC.

Just in time for the beginning of Hurricane Sandy.  Always a happy ending with comedy.