(Disclaimer – I know Stugotz will not read this due to length, someone please give him a cheat sheet… I get the show)
By way of introduction I have been performing stand up comedy for a few months over 15 years when I started midway through law school in Washington, D.C. as a much needed stress release. I have been making sketch videos on YouTube since 2009 and have been podcasting for just under 7 years. I have been doing impressions since 6th grade when my Jean-Claude Van Damme impression became a favorite among my friends. My stand up career was largely started on impressions, both hacky (Schwarzenegger, DeNiro) and not so hacky (Owen Wilson, Jack Bauer, to name a couple), but as life experiences, good, bad and ugly accumulated, my stand up became a place for me to explore my thoughts about my life and the world. As a reuslt I began to steer my impressions to my YouTube channel. It was from that YouTube channel that I would find a way into The Dan Lebatard Show, ESPN’s most downloaded radio show/podcast, first in 2014 and then in a much more substantial way starting in 2016.
The Dan Lebatard Show is my favorite podcast. It prides itself on its anti-sports show sports show, much to the humorous chagrin of co-host Stugotz. They speak intelligently and nuanced on sports and culture, they get great guests and have a great roster of regulars (the great Bomani Jones, Greg Cote and Stan Van Gundy to name a few that are not Pablo Torre or Marty Smith – I may “get the show” but I still don’t get the appeal of “Marty Party”). And then there is the crew inside the show, the “Shipping Container of Frightened Refugees.” Chris Cote (the most underrated member of the whole show IMO), Billy Gil (if sports radio were Moneyball ESPN might view him as a better value Stugotz), Roy Bellamy (the quietest member of the crew, which makes his contributions, even “Roy’s Realm” which grew on me quickly, admittedly because of Chris Cote’s background, pleasant surprises) and of course, Mike Ryan, the undisputed leader of the SCoFR and almost their representative in the triumvirate of Dan, Stugotz and Mike – sort of the Westbrook of the Shipping Container and the Bosh of the Big Three. The most appealing thing of all about the show when it came to me, a comedian who loves sports, was the fact that humor is almost on equal footing, if not above sports, in terms of the qualities the show most valued. They also incorporate fan content to a very large degree, creating loyalty and interaction, if not attribution, integral in building a great brand in 2018. I was one of those fans who contributed and was given attribution, likely because I do this for a living (or did) and because it was wildly popular with the show and its audience. But it was shut down (twice) without warning, explanation or merit and that is what this will be about.
My name is J-L Cauvin and if you have not heard of me that is understandable and one more reason why I have to write this. It is my relative anonymity that made my dismissal so easy, even though my work was much more well known than me.
I became aware of The Dan Lebatard Show, much like many non-Floridians, when Lebron James signed with the Miami Heat in 2010. A few days after Lebron’s Decision, a friend sent me a photo montage on YouTube set to the Lebatard rant. I must have watched it 20 times at least. It was hilarious. Shortly thereafter I began listening to the show and by 2011 I was a regular listener. 5 days a week downloading the podcast.
In 2014 I created a web series called Louis CK’s Comedy Academy, where I impersonated various comedians teaching assorted comedy disciplines at a fictional school. If you count the 30K views the preview video got, the series generated around 70K total views – certainly not viral, but also not nothing. One of the videos in the series was George Lopez teaching Latino Comedy. When Dan went off on how he didn’t like George Lopez’ comedy later that year I figured this was my opening to contribute to the show and get a little bit of shine myself. And Dan did play it on the air and for my work I received a Dan Lebatard Show t-shirt. Other than my Late Late Show t-shirt, which I foolishly gave to a woman I was dating, incorrectly assuming I would get many more late night TV spots and the associated swag that accompanies said spots, the Lebatard shirt was the only shirt I had received marking a comedy accomplishment (distinguishing it from the Salvation Army store room worth of comedy festival t-shirts I have accumulated in my apartment throughout my years performing).
I continued devouring the show through 2015 when a certain orange man announced his candidacy for the presidency by calling Mexicans rapists. I had already been working hard on my impression of Donald Trump, and getting some work with it, when in 2016 Stugotz said something that made me think “who does that remind me of?”
The Birth and (First) Death of Trumpgotz
Trumpgotz was born on September 23, 2016. I sent it to the show after hearing Stugotz go off on Chris Bosh’s health issues with the Miami Heat. The certainty and inconsistency of Stugotz talking about medicine and pro sports felt so Trump-ish that I decided to record the quotes, word-for-word, as Trump. The result was a lot of Twitter praise and followers and a video that now sits at just under 15K views. I made several more for the show that Fall to the same effect.
But as the Podcast Lord giveth, He taketh away. Around February 2017 Stugotz began ignoring my tweets and the show stopped playing the sound on air, despite the consistent hits and praise for the subsequent submissions that did make it to the air. I just assumed the show no longer wanted them and was moving on. I was disappointed, but after over a decade in stand up I was used to things going up and down and usually ending down. I kept listening to the show and just hoped I could find another angle or break to keep my career mildly relevant.
Dan Resurrects Trumpgotz
To my surprise in June 2017, after many months of not being on the show, Dan asked on air (slight paraphrase), “Whatever happened to Trumpgotz? Those were funny, right? Put it on the poll, ‘Was Trumpgotz one of the funniest things on the show?'” Over 11k responded to the Twitter poll (not an exact science I know) and almost 9K said yes. On air Stugotz offered a reluctant finger point at Mike Ryan, who it seemed clear had unilaterally decided Trumpgotz was no longer funny.
Mike Ryan is the glue guy of The Dan Lebatard Show – he can have moments of virtuosity (if his Mel Kiper as Beyoncé scouting reporter was truly off the cuff it was genius) and he is generally well versed in pop culture, sports and (sigh) music that he can have starring moments on the show, as well as all the excellent production off air he does. But, as a stand up comedian who has worked with many funny people who are comedians as well as not, there is always a slightly thirsty aspect to his humor. His impressions, praised by Dan, tend to either be remixes of Frank Caliendo (the Mel Kiper technically just sounds like someone who studied Caliendo as a cheat sheet) and his others tend to be some version of Vincent D’Onofrio in Men In Black (which did get Mike a little hot under the collar on an episode) – Andrew Luck-D’Onofrio, Demon of D’Onofrio Debate – gee I wonder if Mike has an impression yet of Wilson Fisk on Daredevil! He enjoys a sort of fiefdom on the show as the resident comic genius, that is not really a threat from celebrities, whose level he does not compete at, nor is he threatened by the hundreds of one-off contributions from fans. But a regular contribution from someone at least in the talent and stature zip code (though not number of Twitter followers) might pose more of a threat to his ego. And when it comes to comedy bona fides it isn’t a contest.
But with the rest of the show and the audience providing overwhelming contrary opinion Trumpgotz was back! I began cranking out almost weekly videos and was getting direct messages from Stugotz when he thought a particular rant during the day (knowing I was an out of town podcast listener) might be a good one for Trumpgotz. Hank Azaria, voice over artist extraordinaire called my Trump impression “astounding. Ten out of ten.” on the show. That probably represented the high water mark for Trumpgotz. Hank Azaria – Queens born, went to Tufts University, worth $75 million was someone I could identify with. I am Bronx born (both outer borough), went to Williams College (fellow member of the NESCAC) and I have $750 dollars in the bank. For him to give me that type of praise only solidified, even if only for one impression in my comedic arsenal, my hope that there was still hope for me in comedy. By mid 2018 I thought, with my new stand up album, Thots & Prayers, recording later that year I might have a chance to make a move with the show. What if, based on two years of popular and unpaid contributions, the show would grant me one hour, in studio, in character as Trumpgotz to offer hot takes, etc. in exchange for a couple of plugs for the new album. Sort of a junior version of Azaria’s 3 hours to promote Brockmire? Sure it was a long shot, but it also was not absurd to think it a possibility. With the loyalty and size of the show’s audience and their enjoyment of Trumpgotz I really thought 1000 sales might not be outrageous, which could yield me $15K. Not Taylor Swift numbers, but when you have atrophied your Georgetown Law degree and poured everything you have into a career, that kind of money can give you a respite from living month to month. Already an unlikelihood though, July 4, 2018 made it an impossibility.
Dead on the 4th of July
In June 2018 (I think) Donald Trump was ridiculed for mumbling/not knowing the words to America The Beautiful or the National Anthem. I was contacted by a fan of The Lebatard Show who got my information from Mike Ryan (sidenote – as of this typing the only two people affiliated with the show that do not follow me on Twitter are Mike Ryan and the show account, which I believe Ryan has access to or control over). The fan wanted to know if I would record a Trump-inspired version of America The Beautiful for his podcast. Disclaimer – the song referred to Hillary Clinton as a c*nt and to President Obama as a monkey. As someone who believes Trump is a clear cut racist I viewed these as words simply in keeping with a character. Dan always says he wants to have Quentin Tarantino on the show and presumably he has heard the language that Tarantino has written and does not ascribe it to Tarantino the person. Similarly, Alec Baldwin (and his vastly inferior Trump impression) had become chummy with the show as of my last listening and yet he has a history (and present) of real life action that is less than positive. But at the time I thought nothing of it – sure the language is offensive and wrong, but it is in keeping with the racist person I am portraying. I sang the song and was actually quite proud, considering I am not a singer, of being able to sing and maintain the impression. The podcaster/fan was very pleased and thankful (I did it for free) and he posted it to YouTube on July 4th.
Within 3 hours (and less than 200 views) of it going live I got a direct message from the podcaster. He told me that Mike Ryan had said the following (these are second hand quotes from the podcaster that I am copying from my DMs):
- Mike Ryan isn’t happy about the sketch.
- He asked me to take it down.
- Said it’s going to be a major headache for him. That he can’t be associated with it.
- He seems like he is at a point where if we don’t take it down he wont work with you anymore
These were all messages sent to me within one minute of each other. I then told the podcaster to please take it down and he did. Less than 200 views and I am guessing Disney and ESPN brass were not among those viewers to rush to a video making fun of Trump by relatively unknown Miami-based podcasters with no affiliation to ESPN or Disney. But Mike Ryan certainly was one of those less than 200 people to rush to the video. The man whose impressions were Diddy remixes compared to my Trump had placed me in contact with the very podcaster whose offensive song would supply a (questionably) valid reason for him to ban me from the show (versus his arbitrary and solitary decision to stop playing my audio in 2017 – now he had cause, either coincidental or manufactured). I am not a conspiracy hack and don’t even actually think Ryan could be this cunning, but it is worth at least pondering.
I submitted 2 other videos in the next two weeks, believing that my quick action at the behest of Mike Ryan was enough to maintain my relationship with the show. They were ignored by every member of the show I tweeted them to and were never played, despite actual requests every week since July for Trumpgotz on the show. And Trumpgotz was not among the 30+ impressions nominated for best impression during the show’s annual awards in August. But in case you think my content is too toxic for the show, the day Greg Cote leaked Dan’s engagement I tweeted the show, leaving out one person intentionally but sending it to Billy, Roy, Chris, Stugotz and the show. It read “Stat of the Day: Dan’s fiancée was not born when Die Hard came out.”
Without attribution Mike Ryan made the joke a few minutes later on air.
So I sit here in a midtown Manhattan Starbucks (I guess transitioning from my career as failed stand up comedian to future failed screenwriter?) finishing this. My (double) album, Thots & Prayers is better than I had ever hoped and even has a 5 minute bit about the OJ Simpson documentary, partially inspired by Dan Lebatard’s commentary on it (if you were a fan of Trumpgotz you can go get it on iTunes or other platforms if you want to show some support, but I don’t expect many of you to and that is not the purpose of this writing). But it has also sold poorly in relation to my previous releases. I can’t help but be slightly bitter than the 1% chance I had to have it blow up through an ESPN platform was snuffed out, by what must be pettiness. Could I be wrong? Could Mike Ryan’s second snuffing out of Trumpgotz simply be because he was playing it safe and did not want a 150 view video of someone in character to bring down the most popular podcast at ESPN? Sure. But it’s unlikely.
I have dealt with a lot of indiginities and disappointments in my comedy career, but this may have been the most disappointing. I have no management, no agent so almost everything I have accomplished in my comedy career has been talent, work, and a touch of luck in times that tweets have been read. And the idea that someone who doesn’t even have skin in my game could see fit to shut you down simply because he can is gross. And the fact that Dan, Stugotz and the rest of the shipping container has yet to 1) bring up Trumpgotz and 2) respond to a single tweet in 4+ months referencing or requesting Trumpgotz makes me think Mike Ryan has already poisoned the well with regards to me. When he arbitrarily shut me down in 2017 he left it open to Dan remembering on air how good it was. But if he had just cause (I was a toxic comedian using foul language and slurs) then everyone would be on notice to ignore Trumpgotz. Once again – maybe I am wrong, but then what the hell is the alternate explanation for shutting down a popular segment that cost the show exactly nothing?
This may sound like ravings of a crazy fan or a bitter comedian, but my writings have covered injustices and bad practices across entertainment and media for years, obviously with a focus on stand up comedy. But the Lebatard Show meant a lot to me as a listener and as a contributor. The show seemed to have a lot of respect for comedy. In fact, whenever Dan interviewed a comedian in the last few years he always seemed to be concerned that PC culture, etc. might be making it more difficult for comedians to practice their craft. Well Dan, if you read this… the difficulty is coming from inside the house.