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Road Comedy Recap: The Devil’s Transportation Triangle to the…

This weekend I performed in St Paul, MN at the Joke Joint Comedy Club, which recently had to relocate to a new space in downtown St Paul inside of Camp Bar. It was part of the 1 city, 3 show tour I managed to put together to promote next week’s release of my new double stand-up album Thots & Prayers.  Although I will obviously get into the humorous and sad details of the trip, the most notable thing about it was the fact that I travelled a total of 62 hours for two nights of shows in Minnesota.  That is because I decided to take Amtrak both ways.  As I explained to the crowds in St Paul, to be still doing comedy after 15 years despite it being detrimental to my physical, emotional and spiritual health when it clearly is not going to lead to any financial stability, let alone something approaching success, requires a core of delusional optimism that only historical figures and the mentally ill possess. And because I believe with Dr. Ford certainty and Brett Kavanaugh intensity that the album is a masterpiece I felt a heightened fear of flying this week.  I already hate flying and like the train, but about 10% of my brain was saying “If you comedy career has been consistent it is in the tragic irony department – whether it is Patrice O’Neal demonstrating some affinity for working with me only a few months before his eventually fatal stroke or developing the best Trump impression in comedy while seeing everyone but me get paid for it, it is clear that comedy has turned me from Mozart to Salieri.  And the icing on the cake would be dying right before the album comes out.  Yes, I am aware that this sounds Trump-Kanye levels of insane, but if you have wasted 15 years of your life pursuing a career that God and country seemed destined to impede then how nuts is it to take it one more level to comedy martyrdom?  Well, as I write this recap I am halfway through Pennsylvania in a rush to make it home, shower, walk my dog who will no doubt greet me with the apathy that makes me think I should have named her Industry instead of Cookie and rush to Newark, New Jersey to see Bruno Mars.  So here is the recap:

Long Train Runnin’ – NYC to St Paul

I got on the Lake Shore Limited from NYC to Chicago on Wednesday afternoon.  I had a roomette, which after finishing Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff, felt like a moderately spacious space pod – two chairs that come together to form a 6’3″ bed (I am 6’7″), a panel of light and climate controls and a toilet right next to your chair/bed (like be careful to not splatter close or else you might be a turn on for Trump).  As cramped as it may appear, a space like this goes for $1350/month in Manhattan.

My Amtrak War Room

The train was 2.5 hours late getting into Chicago, which I did not mind because it allowed me to read half of Bob Woodward’s Trump book (I would finish it two days later and found it fairly underwhelming in its prose – fuller review on my podcast tomorrow). I also watched quite a bit of Senate hearings about Brett Kavanaugh thanks to surprisingly improved Amtrak WiFi service.  I then had a 2 hour wait before getting on the Empire Builder train, which is the Amtrak from Chicago to Seattle. I arrived at 10pm Thursday night in St Paul (my portion of the Empire Builder was a manageable 8 hours) and headed to the downtown Doubletree where I got my cookie and took 4 showers to get the smell of cross country obese feet out of my skin (like a coal mine or a Subway restaurant, long distance Amtrak’s signature scent seeps into your skin).

Friday

The club manager picked me up at 1pm Friday to take me to the club hotel (I used my free night via hotels.com for the early arrival hotel – always helps when you have subsidies for your paranoia about flying).  Now the Doubletree was downtown – a 10 minute walk from the train station and about an equal distance from the club.  Well, the Best Western Plus (which was the old hotel the club used when it was located in the burbs) was now about 30 miles from the club and train station.  Fortunately my schedule of reading in the corner of a Starbucks can be done from any location, which is all I did until showtime.

The emcee, Andy, picked me up and we got to the club about 10 minutes before showtime.  The audience was fairly light, but I assured the manager that my fan would arrive on Saturday (if you think I am joking – my one fan in St Paul did show up, but with his wife so I will count that as two fans – like the French language I consider the man determinative).  I sold one album Friday after what I thought was a pretty good set (and thanks to my Milli Vanilli bit, the floor manager closed the show with Baby Don’t Forget My Number), which I promptly spent on Wendy’s after the show.

As a bonus the feature, David, brought gigantic cookies from a local bakery to the show:

Snickerdoodle

Saturday

When I woke up Saturday it was under 40 degrees so rather than exercise I went and read at Starbucks. Also, had it been 80 and sunny I would have just read at Starbucks.  There were two shows Saturday night. The first had a nice crowd and I sold one album. So basically 38 CDs of mine simply went on a vacation from my apartment and will be back home in a few hours.  Below is one of the non-album, timely bits I did for the early crowd about the upcoming film  A Star is Born:

 

The late show had about 16 people.  And I thought to myself, “This deserves to be my final show.”  They were nice people and decent laughers for such a small crowd, but when the goal is a career and you are 15 years operating at hobby level of success it is important not to forget that if divided into 2 teams, your audience would not have sufficient numbers to play a baseball game.

Long Train Runnin’ pt 2 – St Paul to NYC

After a refreshing 4 hours of sleep Saturday night I got a Lyft to the train station (the aforementioned Andy (emcee) was nice enough to set his alarm and see if I was able to get a cab) and got on the Empire Builder back to Chicago. I had some pancakes in the dining car and did some lounging in the lounge car (as you can see there was a very Earthy looking guy in the car (turns out he was a poet – how has that profession survived?).

The man on the left is typical of long distance Amtrak riders: Unabomber or crunchy granola liberal?

We got to Chicago 20 minutes early so I had 2 hours to kill so I walked around downtown Chicago looking for something to eat, but all I was able to get was Subway (most things were closed) and the apathetic young sandwich artist didn’t even heat the chicken enough.  Clearly a Modern Sandwich Artist.

Who’s taller?

I then got on the Capitol Limited, which goes from Chicago to DC.  That train was 5 minutes early and was a great ride (I got another sleeper roomette where I began ripping through The Dirt, the biography by Motely Crue – unquestionably a brilliant (since it works) structure for a biography (each band member writing different chapters as their story progresses through an unthinkable amount of drugs, sex and violence).  However, quite uncomfortable when the band’s bass player basically admits to rape (letting other people have sex in a dark closet with a woman who believes she is having sex with him).  I feel like the entire music industry could be shut down by #MeToo, except we seem to have grandfathered rock music to be exempt from it.  Now hip hop, which has never been as bad as Motley Crue somehow seemed more problematic to America (thinking emoji). Anyway more on that on tomorrow’s podcast as well.  If the train is good for anything it is great reading time.

I got off the Capitol Limited in Pittsburgh at 5am to transfer to the Pennsylvanian which runs from Pittsburgh to NYC. I tried to get on an express greyhound at 630 am (the Pennsylvanian did not leave til 7:30 and takes longer), but the Greyhound was sold out – which is richly symbolic: the only thing that sold out for me this weekend was a Greyhound bus – if my career were to continue it is good that I can set a new goal of trying to be as successful at comedy as Greyhound is at bus operation.

So now I’m 2.5 hours from NYC and then I will have to hurry up and get ready for the Bruno Mars concert.  Amtrak Funk gonna give it to ya!

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Road Comedy Recap: A Tale of One Twin City

This weekend I was in St. Paul, Minnesota at the Joke Joint Comedy Club headlining (one of three headlining engagements I have this month, so apparently Hell has frozen over).  It was a great weekend, but emblematic of the struggles of being a (supremely talented) struggling comedian trying to make it to the next level.  For instance, I did not draw particularly well because… the weather was really nice.  To be fair I did have a fan from The Adam Carolla Show show up as well as a fan from The Black Guy Who Tips, but the crowds were the smallest I have had in my 4 headlining appearances at the Joke Joint (and this after adding more credits and picking up more fans from around the country).  It is always a sad measure of your stature as a comedian when “seasonably warm weather” is a deterrent to coming to your comedy show.  Admittedly the weather was great and the feature (whose name is Dan Mogal – #ComedyMogul meeting #ComedyMogal – we could not shake hands because it might have ripped the fabric of space) informed me that it was also some big fishing weekend in the Twin Cities.  So I guess I lost to sunshine and Nemo this weekend, which didn’t really soothe my wounded pride.  Since I am in an hurry to get to my day job (#ComedyMogul) I will give you the highlights and three very instructive videos from the weekend. Enjoy!

Thursday Crowd – The Soul Crushers

The first show of the weekend was lightly attended.  But they had the energy of zero people so they definitely had their apathy working overtime.  I was happy with my set, but the crowd, which was full of smiling mutes did not produce the usual amount of laughter indicating pleasure with jokes.  However, the feature’s Dad was at the show (#FatherMogal) and after a bit on social media he let out the loudest noise of the night, not coming from the microphone, when he sighed “Jesus Christ.”  Needless to say I sold zero CDs after the show and just went back to my Best Western Plus and cried into a glass of milk while emotionally devouring a pack of Hostess donuts (very underrated donuts).  But then I stared into my mirror and recited my mantra, borrowed from Antwone Fisher, a film about a man finding inner strength dealing with childhood traumas of sexual abuse.  Since that felt about the same as what I had received from Thursday’s crowd I stood there saying “I’m still standing… I’m still strong!”  I then made a 7 minute montage of Thursday’s crowd silently rejecting every popular culture reference I made during my set.  It was very popular on Facebook and now you can see it on YouTube. Enjoy!

Friday – J-L’s Revenge

The Friday crowds were great.  Sold some CDs, picked up some social media followers, and I developed a technique that I am patenting for comedy called “Divide and Conquer” (TM).  I basically trashed Thursday’s crowd repeatedly at the end of well received jokes and the Friday (and eventually Saturday) crowds luxuriated in their feeling of superiority over their fellow town folk. I felt so good that the Friday crowds had redeemed me that I put together a compilation video of the same jokes killing (mostly) on Friday, that had failed Thursday.  It was only 25% as viewed and likes on Facebook as the one of me crashing and burning because people are terrible and only like to see me in pain. If you are a decent person (Divide and Conquer (TM)) then maybe you will enjoy this YouTube clip of the jokes working:

Saturday: Praise the Lord and Pass the Comedic Ammunition

I was the only one not smiling about the great weather in St Paul. This is one of the 10,000 lakes I assume.

Saturday was the best day of the weekend. The weather was beautiful (again) so I decided to walk to Church (Saturday evening Vigil Mass) , which was 1.8 miles away according to GPS.  The priest was a visiting priest who has been doing missionary work, which, as he described, started on a trip to Haiti, which got me a little teary given the recent burial of my father in Haiti (but all the white people were like “This Italian dude is soft AF!”), but don’t worry – most of my thoughts during Church were still comedy-centered.  Rather than bore you with more words (Church rock band, 1 black guy in the whole Church…) – here is my summary of Midwest Catholic Mass from the Joke Joint stage that night:

That night the shows were outstanding – and just so the late show Saturday people know I meant it – you were the best crowd (but all the Friday and Saturday crowds were really good).  Sold more CDs and ended the night with an ice cream because I was a good boy who had done a good job. And my favorite compliment of the week that showed what a hypocritical laugh whore I am came after the early show Saturday.  A Trump voter came up to me and said “I voted for Trump, but unlike some comedians, everyone could laugh at your Trump impression and material (GOAT).”  Instead of lying down in front of his car screaming “Free the nipple” while wearing a Black Lives Matter t-shirt, I just shook his hand and with a goofy grin said “Thanks so much!”  The only difference between a comedian and a politician is that a politician only sells his soul and integrity for money and power, while a comedian will give it away for a handshake and a kind word.  Oh well, anything was better than those Thursday people.

Get J-L’s new stand up albums KEEP MY ENEMIES CLOSER &  ISRAELI TORTOISE on iTunes, Amazon & Google.

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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.