For reasons I can’t explain, when I was a child I began doing something most adults don’t even do: reading the credits during (and after) a movie. I found it fascinating one could be set in Detroit, yet say “Filmed in Los Angeles” at the end.
Within the span of a few short years, I noticed the movies I enjoyed the most had one thing in common: Harold Ramis. His name would pop up all over the place.
It started innocently enough, when I saw Animal House. “Written by” was something I liked taking note of; who was behind the hilarity I was seeing? Then he directed Caddyshack… wrote and starred in Stripes…
(Side Note: I remember seeing Stripes and being enthralled when John Winger’s girlfriend entered her scene while topless. I had the thought, “Is that what a relationship is like? Full of awesomely casual nudity?” It looked like the best thing ever… until she dumped him one minute later.)
Harold Ramis was the complete package: he could write, act, direct, and produce. And not only could he do each of those things, he could do them well. It wasn’t like a movie star saying, “I want to direct” and creating some haphazard mess; Ramis was a master across the board.
For a while, it seemed like he could only get better. He followed movies like Vacation and Stripes with Ghostbusters, and then followed that with Groundhog Day, which may have been his plateau.
(I’m fully aware he didn’t direct all of those films; I’m discussing anything he had a hand in.)
I enjoyed his later work—Analyze This! and even Multiplicity—but he will always be remembered for his classic work of the late 1970s and the decade known as the 80s.
Sadly, I didn’t even know he had fallen ill. To find that at one point he had to learn to walk again was tough to read.
It is a sad day for the planet when Justin Bieber, Chris Brown, and Lindsay Lohan are still alive, and Harold Ramis is not.
If you looked closely, you saw Jason Downs while you were watching the Seattle Seahawks manhandle the Denver Broncos.
No, he wasn’t on the field, Jason was starring in one of the coveted Super Bowl commercials.
A comedian by trade, Jason is dipping his toes into the acting world in Los Angeles. But that doesn’t mean he’s straying away from comedy; no, that’s Jason’s first love.
Rooftop had Nathan Timmel chat Jason up regarding his new CD, Excessive Talking.
NT: Let’s start awkwardly: when I listened to your disc, I popped it in without reviewing any of the promo material. When you started speaking, I created a picture in my head of what you might look like, and given your lovely almost-baritone, my immediate thought was “African-American.” Then I looked you up, and… nope! Watching your YouTube videos, I began to question why I ever thought it in the first place. You make reference to your weight on the new disc; do you believe weight gain and the addition of a beard has changed the tenor of your voice?
JD: Yeah, I’ve heard I kinda sound black, which is why when I apply for college scholarships I do so over the phone. But seriously, I guess I’m just a product of where I was raised. My schools we’re mostly black and Hispanic with some white sprinkled in there too.
NT: You have quite a bit of hilarious, self-depreciating jokes. Is that something done consciously, or do you write a joke, then look back and say, “Well, kinda busted on myself there…”
JD: I don’t go out of the way intentionally to be self-depreciating. Things just kind of happen to me and I report back. When I first started stand up I would rant about bigger social issues. Then one day I posted a super intimate blog post about my inner most thoughts and fears. W. Kamau Bell was like, “that’s what you need to talk about on stage.” So I did and things just started to click. It wasn’t intentional. It’s just kind of what happened.
NT: Did you have a specific emotional arc you wanted the disc to take when you were lining up the bits, or did you free form it? Basically, describe the artistic process involved in creating a set for a CD recording.
JD: Well, I’ve been on the road for a few years now featuring for Michael McDonald from MadTV and the Heat. I’ve been able to develop my act opening for him. He gives me complete freedom and he aways pushes me to try new stuff. I don’t have to get off at a set time. I can end on different bits. I can rearrange my act. I could bomb and then get the crowd back; total freedom. So he gave me complete freedom and this is the act that I developed while on the road featuring for McDonald; along with performing in San Francisco which is where I started.
NT: How much of your material is invented, and how much is real-life experience? Meaning: did you spend time testing racist Google auto-fills, and/or visit a marijuana expo?
JD: All of it is absolutely true. I’m sure I’ve exaggerated something in there for comedic effect, but not much, if anything. Yep, that Google auto fill bit is legit. I really went to a bong trade show in Vegas. I really saw a pilot lie about turbulence to get everybody to sit down on a plane. I really saw a woman with no hands drop a coke. At times I’ve tried to make things up, but the audience can smell it and it just doesn’t work. After a show an audience member might come up and talk to me about a joke and I’ll be like,”That really happened”. They will be like,”Yeah, I know. You can tell it’s true.” I’m glad my material rings true.
NT: You mention a two-night stand at the comedy club, Wed/Thursday. Was the CD recorded over those two nights, or is it more a one-and-done disc?
JD: Yeah it was done over two nights. The actual recording is almost exclusively from the Wednesday night show. It went pretty much perfectly. There were a couple of jokes I forgot to do, so we just slide those in from the Thursday night show.
NT: Did you move to LA to pursue comedy, acting, or both? Are you leaning toward preferring one over the other, now that you’ve got some national acting spots on your résumé?
JD: I moved to LA for comedy. But you can’t get any stage time in LA unless you’re on TV. So I started taking some acting classes, I’ve landed a couple of things, and apparently I have this big white guy look that is pretty rare in LA. It’s like me, Seth Rogan and Kathy Bates.
NT: I am neither smart nor Christian, but isn’t St. Peter the gatekeeper to heaven, not Michael the Archangel?
NT: Were you at all tempted to name the CD “Monkey Pussy?” (which readers will understand when they hear the disc)
JD: I wanted to name this album so many different things. Monkey Pussy was up there, so was Food Boner, and Allergic to Pussy. I really like the way Food Boner sounds. I went with Excessive Talking, because when I was a kid I was a horrible student, just goofing off too much. Every report card I came home with had the term “excessive talking” written in the teachers notes section. I just love the way those two words sound together; Excessive Talking. As soon as I started comedy, I always knew that if I had a chance to get an album out, Excessive Talking would be the name.
NT: With bitcoins all the rage, have you considered trying to implement your taco-economy idea to the world? They’re tangible, which has to make them more valuable right off the bat.
JD: Bitcoins! I keep hearing about these things. I don’t even know what they are. They sound like the name of the coins you get in Super Mario Brothers when you jump and hit your head on the bricks with the question marks.
I guess bitcoins is some type of digital currency. Which I always thought Internet porn was digital currency, but now that Internet porn is basically free they had to come up with bitcoins.
When you hear Toledo, many things cross your mind: Corporal Klinger and his devotion to the Mud Hens. Ohio. The decades-long run by the now-departed Connxtions Comedy Club, or maybe the current reign of The Funny Bone. It would, however, be hard pressed to find someone hear “Toledo” and respond, “Do you mean the one in Iowa?”
The founders of the Green Gravel Comedy Festival hope to put a change to that. With three members having strong ties to the Hawkeye state, a miniature town in the middle of Iowa was chosen to play host to a new type of comedy festival.
Rooftop’s Nathan Timmel—a fella participating in the Bomb Shelter Showcase that weekend—fired off an email full of questions, and the kindly Lee Keeler (Festival President) sent back answers.
NT: I apologize for the first question, because I’m sure it’s the one you’re getting the most, but: Why Toledo? I mean, I see all the Iowa connections in the organizers biographies, but those are for Iowa City (college town) and Des Moines (capital; largest city). So… Toledo?
LK: That’s a great question! We’ve been getting that from day one. I am from Sioux City originally, and growing up there was always this belief that a person usually had go into a city to experience a comedy show. We’d like to turn that on its head. This is our opportunity to curate a completely fantastic experience in a charming little town and have something we can completely call our own. Those cities that we’re from have built comedy scenes that are amazing, but we aim to add on to that culture and bring some attention back to small-town Iowa. Geographically, it’s smack-dab in the middle of the greatest populations of young adults in Iowa: Ames, Iowa City, Des Moines and more. Our greatest inspiration has been the Nelsonville Music Festival in Ohio, which has been happening for a few years at a rural opera house and has brought in acts like Wilco, John Prine, Cat Power, etc.
NT: Over the course of the 3-days, how many shows do you plan on producing? Will there be multiple shows at any given time, giving people the option to see Improv, stand-up comedy, or the recording (or broadcasting) of a Podcast?
LK: At this point, we’re looking at something between 15-20 shows throughout the weekend. We are modelling much of scheduling around that of the Limestone Comedy Fest in Indiana (they’ve been amazing mentors, by the way), which usually staggers the appearances of their headliners and the type of comedy to see so everybody has a chance to see a little bit of everything. So if you can’t see Jackie Kashian at the big opera house on Friday night, she’ll be doing a five dollar podcast taping the next afternoon in the Legion Hall.
NT: Define “Alternative Comedy Festival” for people who may not know exactly what you’re presenting.
LK: We want the “alternative” to be in the DNA of every aspect of Green Gravel. Staff/performers will be staying in heated cabins at this great camp on the edge of town with crazy fire pits that’s next to a casino. In that sense, just coming to Green Gravel is meant to be kind of a retreat from the usual “club and motel” rut that performers deal with all the time. As I mentioned before, we want the audience to leave their cities and re-examine what it means to have fun in a small town. In terms of content, we are going to be giving priority to oddball/unique performers that might not have the political know-how to break into some of the existing comedic institutions in the region. We also want tickets to be affordable; our festival is bringing in top talent and will be charging low prices to see them.
NT: Your website says you’ll be offering workshops; are you looking for people interested in getting into comedy/Improv, performers looking to brush up their skills, or both?
LK: The festival will feature classes for both novices and experience performers. They will have an opportunity to learn from some of the best instructors in comedy, including a sketch workshop being taught by Kids in the Hall alum Kevin McDonald! We’re going to be hosting a free Q&A with Kevin so anybody who is curious about the process of comedy can be inspired. There’s also going to be a free class on the history/evolution of stand-up via Mat Alano-Martin. We want Iowa performers and kids to be given the chance to empower themselves with this information so they can go back home and strengthen the comedy scenes within their communities. I’m pretty tired of running into kids from the midwest that have moved out to LA and are taking classes at UCB among a zillion other kids. We need to keep those people in Iowa and grow something there.
NT: You just added your third venue; how many venues do you think you’d like to have running for the festival?
LK: The Wieting Theater will feature some of the larger crowds, we will also have a venue for smaller performances, and a venue for podcasts and classes. We have some overflow venues in mind depending on the amount of submissions.
NT: Your promotional video has some pretty heavy hitters in it—Marc Maron, Jimmy Pardo; any of them making the trek into the heartland?
LK: We’re still a new thing, so it’s hard to get performers of that magnitude right out of the gate. The fest is going to have multiple headliners that will be very well-known to those that follow alternative comedy and sketch comedy. We have already announced that Jackie Kashian, who hosts The Dork Forest podcast, will be making the trip from LA. We will also have some of Chicago’s very finest up-and-comers: Junior Stopka, Mike Lebovitz and Martin Morrow. Also Mat Alano-Martin is coming in from Indiana, he’s amazing. We’re also proud to take this opportunity to announce that Kevin McDonald from The Kids in the Hall will also be a headliner!
Very psyched to be heading back to San Francisco this month, my favorite city with the first name “San.” Sorry Diego. I am headlining at the Punchline Jan 15-18th. I love San Francisco, the variety of foods, the varied cultures, the Bay, but you need more bridges … and bigger ones! The crowds are always great comedy audiences – I can’t wait to come back and I always have a blast in the city. In fact, I wish it would stay open later. 2:30am? Come on! By the time I’m done with my shows that leaves me barely an hour to visit some local watering holes, have a few cocktails and engage in illegal cockfighting. Hope to see you at the Punchline Jan 15-18th. And check out my podcast “The Paul Mecurio Show” on iTunes (http://bit.ly/paulmecurio). I’ve interviewed, Sir Paul McCartney, Stephen Colbert, Rob Corddry, Jay Leno, and The Host of Mythbusters, to name a few.
Paul has won an Emmy & Peabody Award for his work on “The Daily Show w/Jon Stewart.” He is a regular on “Red Eye w/Greg Gutfeld” on Fox News, CNN, MSNBC and has been seen on “The Late Late Show” on CBS, “Conan” and has had his own special on Comedy Central.
Stand-up veteran, Tom Simmons approached Rooftop about making his titles available for purchase with bitcoin, as you can see, on bitlaughs.com. How will Bitcoin change the way we buy things? Should comedians be exploring this currency more? Let Tom get you up to speed.
RC(Rooftop Comey): How long have you been a stand-up and how have you seen technology change the landscape of professional comedy?
I have been doing comedy since before jokes. You kids today with your punchlines and premises… we had to tickle the audience. I used pens and notebooks instead of computers. I remember many bookers and industry not wanting to book via email. It was all phone calls (land lines) and mailing people video tapes and 8×10’s from ABC photos. So technology has changed a lot. But it is still about writing jokes and telling them to crowds, all the rest is promotions.
RC: Why is now a great time to be a comedian?
Hmm, is now a great time to be a comedian? Who told you that bullshit? It is always a great time to be a comedian, the hard part is remembering that.
RC: What is the hardest thing about being a comedian now?
I don’t know how to answer that, so right now answering this question is the hardest part. The hardest thing about being a comedian is the times when the business of it feels hard or hopeless and when the shows are not flowing naturally. Everything feels stale and flat and I think I am never going to be funny again… then I write a few new jokes and the world is wonderful again.
RC: Where did your interest in Bitcoin come from and how do you think it will impact how we buy things?
I have been reading about money and trying to understand it for a few years now. I don’t want to. It is boring. But since money is important and the world revolves around it, I became interested in it. I am sorta into the concepts of human beings live in illusions of our own creations and mass perceptions. Money is an example of this and that fascinated me. It is not backed by anything, it is just made up basically out of nothing. Those were striking enough facts to me, but then I became aware that the Federal Reserve is a private corporation that makes up the money out of nothing and then sells it to the nation at interest. Most of the people who are on the money were against the Federal Reserve system. Franklin, Jefferson, Lincoln, Jackson… they were all against it. That is an insult to the their legacies. Like putting Mother Theresa’s picture on condoms and passing them out at Planned Parenthood.
So, the long answer to where did my interest in Bitcoin come from is that I was at an impasse on what the answer was. There is this entire monetary system that is made up and based on nothing but faith and ignorance in and of the system. It is owned by a small group of people and basically runs the entire country. But what choice do we have? Bitcoin caught my attention in that it reminds me of an old school local currency. Benjamin Franklin once commented when asked what led to the rise of the colonies success. He said some version of, “The ability of the people to create their own money without the built in debt.” I just jacked that quote up, but you get the gist.
I am not saying that Bitcoin is the answer, I haven’t done enough of the research, but my hope is that if we are just making up a system anyway- why not support the one that is fair and seems more genuinely free market. I think more and more people as they learn about the monetary system will begin to lose faith in it. I believe Bitcoin is here to stay and all it needs is more and more people to accept it and use it in commerce. I want to support that and be a part of it.
RC: Alan Greenspan says that bitcoin is a bubble and has no intrinsic value. How would you respond to that and why do you think there’s a need for it?
I don’t know how to respond to that. I actually think it’s a bubble too. The problem is people are holding it like stock instead of using it for day to day bill paying. When that really starts happening on a grander scale the price will settle to somewhere that makes perfect sense. What Greenspan doesn’t seem to get is that a growing number of people see his money as having no intrinsic value.
There is a need for Bitcoin because a small group of people who own the federal reserve bank hold a monopoly on the product of money. They have slowly taken more and more control of the country through debt and dictating economic policy…. that is too much power for a group of people who we don’t even know the names of and who can’t be audited.
This is what the Federal Reserve says about BitCoin. “Although some of the enthusiasm for bitcoin is driven by a distrust of state-issued currency, it is hard to imagine a world where the main currency is based on an extremely complex code understood by only a few and controlled by even fewer, without accountability, arbitration, or recourse.” (Senior economist François R. Velde of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago)
Haha. You just described the Federal Reserve System.
RC: Do you think the government is threatened more by comedy or Bitcoin?
HaHa. The government isn’t threatened by either. They control the media outlets, the overall message, and the military machine. I don’t think Raytheon accepts bitcoin.
Plus, if they ever want to end bitcoin all they have to do is shut off the internet. By the way. I have used the word ‘they’ way more times than I am comfortable with in this interview.
RC: Do you think it’s important for people to know about bitcoin? Why?
I do think it is important for people to know about Bitcoin and to use it. The only way to make real change in this country is with our dollars. When people come together and the money shifts, so does the power structure and the voices that we listen to and follow.
We sat down with Tabari McCoy to talk about the Cincinnati comedy scene and his sophomore release on Rooftop Comedy Productions, “Laughing With a Panther.” Check out the preview and enjoy the cover art!
Rooftop Comedy(RC):How has Cincinnati’s comedy scene influenced your comedy?
Cincinnati’s comedy scene has influenced me in one very specific fashion: It’s allowed me to get better by inspiring me to get better. Sure, we’re not New York. No, we’re not Los Angeles. OK, we’re not Chicago, San Francisco or even (insert your city here so that you will like me and feel better about me by thinking I gave a shout out to your city’s scene). But I will say this: We have had and still have a lot of talented comedians who have come through the Cincinnati scene: Greg Warren, Josh Sneed, Ryan Singer, Geoff Tate, Dave Waite, my best friend in comedy/Rooftop label mate Mike Cody … Even Katt Williams has Cincinnati/Dayton area connections – my point being the scene here has influenced me simply because it’s made me get better.
RC: What is the best thing about the Cincinnati comedy scene and why do you feel it’s unique?
OK, here comes my long-winded response, edited for those with short attention spans/ADHD/better things to do than read along as I babble on. If you’re going to perform in Cincinnati and you’re serious about becoming a good comic, you’re going to get better because there are more opportunities to get on stage here than one might think, the majority of the comedy outlets here CARE about developing good comedians and the audiences here know a good, original comedian from someone just going up on stage and spewing nonsense. Likewise, the comedians here are not all the same – you have urban comics, alternative comics, storytelling comics, one-liner comics, gay, disabled, single, married, younger, older – we are like the IKEA of comedy: People drive from miles around to come visit us, find at least one thing they like even if they act like they’re just browsing and then come back again to eat the food they all talk about like they don’t like it to outsiders. And yes, that was a chili reference.
What makes our scene unique, though, is the fact that Cincinnati draws comics from Bloomington, IN – which has a GREAT scene of its own – Dayton, Chicago, Cleveland, Columbus, Louisville and Lexington who all WANT to work here. I think that says something about Cincinnati, other than the fact it has several major highways that connect and pass through Cincinnati.
RC: Who do you most admire on your scene right now?
I always joke about it and recently said it to him, but you have to give Geoff Tate credit for the fact that if that dude eats a sandwich, he’ll have 15 new minutes of material. His turnaround time from pen to stage is Louis C.K.-like, save for the TV series, the movie roles, the Conan appearances, the Rolling Stone cover … Well, you get the point.
To get it recorded and sell it! What kind of question is that?! Seriously though, I really wanted to record an album for a couple reasons: One, to prove to all these bookers/managers/talent agents that I should be booked in their clubs as I have the time necessary to go on stage, do a good job and in the words of Eric B. & Rakim, “move the crowd.” Two, I have about 90 minutes of material in my head – I literally forgot 15 minutes of jokes I MEANT to get on the album – and I wanted to get it recorded to retire some of it and force myself to work on newer, better and more tightly written material, using this album as a “jumping off” point. Last but not least, I wanted to get this album recorded because I have no idea how far I’ll go in comedy , but I will always have proof that I did this, I made people laugh and no one can ever take that away from me (cue introspective, Denzel Washington in Malcolm X-style music).
RC: I had to have the reference of the cover art explained to me. Can you do me a favor and tell us about that and why you chose that particular parody?
Here are a few things about me that anyone who really knows me will tell you is true: I love hip-hop. Like, LOVE hip-hop (but not the show “Love & Hip-Hop;” that show is just “ratchet” as the kids say). And I can rap, especially freestyle, very well. I used to emcee battles when I was in college BEFORE the movie 8 Mile came out, son! Thus, it’s safe to say that my love of hip-hop and for groups like A Tribe Called Quest, EPMD, Kid N Play, Digital Underground and The Pharcyde among others runs deep.
Back when I was a kid, though, LL Cool J was pretty much the top dog as far as solo emcees go – and his album Walking With A Panther is still one of the most original, crazy, ‘what in the world inspired THIS?!’ covers of all-time. Wanting to avoid the standard comedy album cover where it’s a guy (or gal, let’s be fair to both genders) making some kind of wacky face and incorporate my love of hip-hop, I started looking through my hundreds of CDs and vinyl and was like ‘What can I parody that will still accomplish both goals and still be funny, almost inside-joke level for those in the know and intriguing enough for people who don’t so that they’ll go ‘What is this?!’ Then, I saw LL Cool J headline a concert this summer with De La Soul, Doug E. Fresh & the Get Fresh Crew (with Slick Rick!) and Public Enemy and I was like, “Yup – I’ve got my title/cover.”
So thank you, James Todd Smith – I may be critical of some of your acting roles, I’ll forever be a fan of you on the M-I-C.
RC: How do you set goals for yourself in comedy and what does your daily comedy work schedule look like?
My goals for comedy are quite simple in terms of how I set them:  Keep working to become a better and better comedian that can perform in front of all different kinds of audiences because  You never know when you might get a call to do a show that could change your fortunes for the better (or worse, if you’re not prepared) and  whenever I think of something funny/have something funny that happens to me, WRITE IT DOWN IMMEDIATELY.
Besides those things, my comedy schedule consists of the following:  Call clubs/email bookers weekly if not daily. When you have no agent and don’t live in L.A. or New York, you have to work 10 times harder MINIMUM to get booked. (Who knew the key to playing Lexington, Kentucky, Kansas City, Baltimore, Denver and/or Milwaukee was living thousands of miles away?);  Read about as much comedy happenings online as possible to stay up on the industry;  Remember to ENJOY comedy.
I started doing stand-up for being a fan of stand-up for years. Comedians are our last, completely honest truth-tellers in society: You can say something in a joke that is very poignant and it’s hard to cry when you’re too busy laughing. The ability to go up on stage, share your thoughts, opinions, experiences and perspective to make a complete stranger laugh and forget about their own troubles is the greatest power of all-time, save for money, athletic ability, revolutionary technology … You know what? I think I’ve just made myself sad, so I’m going to stop here and just tell people to buy the album!
Paul Mecurio talks with Rob Corddry from “Children’s Hospital,” “The Daily Show,” “Pain & Gain,” and “Hot Tub Time Machine.” Paul and Rob worked together on “The Daily Show!” In this episode of The Paul Mecurio Show they talk about “Children’s Hospital,” their days on “The Daily Show,” how Rob copied Stephen Colbert’s character, responding to people on twitter, Rob’s fascination with Michael Bay and what it is about his sweat glands that require him to have a giant industrial strength air conditioner!
A few weeks ago my co-worker, Dominic Del Bene, pointed me to a blog post from AdamHammer.com entitled “Where the F*CK have I been???” It’s a good idea to read that first. In it, Adam explains that in 2012, his father went to jail for lewd and lascivious acts with a minor(“some To Catch a Predator type stuff”) where he died. Dealing with the family crisis sent his personal life and career into a tailspin. Depression, alcohol, rage…Not a good combination. I couldn’t believe how raw the story and writing was. It was like getting pounded in a bare knuckle fight and left me feeling like the wind had been knocked out of me. Brutal. It was so crazy that I wanted to know more about the story and how these events have effected Adam’s stand-up and he was gracious enough to answer my questions.
Before the Q/A I wanted to start with something Adam included in an email towards the beginning of our correspondence.
“I should probably mention that I’m so open and honest about this stuff because of Robert Schimmel. I toured with him for a couple of years and the way he got through losing a son to cancer, a messy divorce, his own cancer and all the other shit that happened to him was to talk about it and not seek sympathy, but laughs. It feels better to have people laughing with you than telling you they’re sorry. Unfortunately, that comes with a risk of sounding calloused. The only way to find other people who may have gone through something similar is to talk about it. And just hearing you’re not alone is therapeutic in itself.”
Gotta love Robert Schimmel.
RC(Rooftop Comedy): Did you do jokes about your father before all this happened? What were they like?
Yes. Sort of. Here’s a video:
RC: How did his role in your life shape your comedy?
-I learned what wasn’t funny from him and did the opposite. My uncles taught me how to make people laugh. My dad wasn’t funny. He tried and failed miserably. The over-parenting I got shaped my rebellion. Which in turn shaped my pursuit of comedy. Only because I never had the patience to learn an instrument. I was never destined to have a desk job.
RC: Are you afraid that your new bits about your father are too dark?
-No. I’m afraid they aren’t worked out enough. I need to make sure I’m making jokes, not getting therapy. There’s no such thing as too dark. And my bits aren’t dark, they’re honest. They’re uncomfortable, but the people that get it, get it.
RC: Do you think this will forever color your comedy in a certain way?
-Which color? Blue? My jokes have colored me blue long before this. I’ve always taken a “question the answers” approach in my joke writing. For over a decade I’ve talked about the positives of drug use, how drunk drivers are safer than sober drivers (67% of all fatal car accidents are caused by sober people), how deadbeat dads don’t get enough credit for giving us great men, how my plan if I get cancer is to run up a massive credit card bill then go to jail. I try to challenge conventional thinking. I think this subject matter falls in line. Not a lot of comics can find the funny in molestation accusations. It’s all just a challenge for me.
RC: Why do you think it’s important to talk about this on stage?
-I think comedy is a great way to find people with common experiences. Like, I didn’t know any other kids tried putting leaves on a broken bone until I heard Brian Regan do a bit about it. That was great. I don’t think anything is important to talk about on stage though. We’re entertainers. Not artists. Not politicians. I just can’t come up with anything as funny as Brian Regan’s leaf bit. So I make jokes about my dead gay dad.
RC: You mentioned on your blog that these events put your comedy career into a nose dive. Were you ever close to quitting?
-Not quitting. Just grasping at straws. I was on a pretty steady upward trajectory before this shit went down. Then, my momentum drastically changed. I can’t quit. I may never make it. But I can’t quit. It’s been 13 years since I started. Close to 7 since I’ve had a day job. Not only do I not want to quit, I can’t. Try explaining a 7 year gap on your resume when you’re applying for a square job. I got to the point of applying for jobs last year before I had a project come through. Delivery driver jobs and shit. I have a college degree and that’s the only interview I got. The way that I got in the room is that all my cover letter said was “I have a clean driving record. I’ve never been in jail, and I speak English. I’d love to meet you for an interview.” After sending out at least a hundred letters, that’s the one that got me in the room. Luckily I picked up a writing/producing gig and didn’t have to deliver fish.
RC: What advice do you have for comics coping with a personal struggle?
I’m not religious or involved in any 12 step programs but I was dragged into them when I was a teenager and there is one good thing I picked up: accept the things you cannot change. Change the things you can. Have the wisdom to know the difference. Also, save your money. Always save your money. Even if you’re not going through anything draining, save your money. You’re gonna need it.
Daily Motion is looking for stand-up submissions to the Montreux Comedy Festival and the deadline is Halloween(October 31st). Here’s what you do:
First, go HERE!
Upload your best stand-up comedy video no more than 5 (five) minutes in total running time.
Jury selects 20 semi-finalists subject to public vote.
10 finalists will be selected based on votes.
Five (5) winners will be determined by Jury.
About Montreux Comedy Festival
“Today humour is all over the place : the stage, the web, TV and films.
With internet and the new media, programs cross the borders and go beyond cultural and language boundaries.
These evolutions on varied platforms and emergent markets, notably in Asia and Africa bring in new ways of looking at the occupations in production, broadcasting as well as creation in an international perspective.
Besides presenting quality shows that allow us to discover young talent, measure annual trends and see again established artists, the Montreux Comedy Festival from now on intends to contribute to a more global reflection on the world of humour and comedy and on the way we work.
Therefore the Montreux Comedy Festival proposes together a general public programming and professional meetings. This includes the Awards Ceremony, the Conférences and « Talks » with several leaders, professionals in comedy, and also, meeting spaces.
The Montreux Comedy Festival chooses the emergence of novelty, approaches the new medias and welcomes international comedy to showcase the best of the professional and artistic context of today humour.”
After topping out on San Francisco’s local scene, Jason Downs skipped town to chase bigger dreams. Now he’s touring all over the nation, funnier than ever and he’s taken the time to tell us about his humble beginnings.
If you’re in San Francisco this Wednesday or Thursday, you can be a part of Jason’s debut album recording! Buy your tickets HERE.
RC(Rooftop Comedy):When did you hit the SF comedy scene, how did you hustle and who were the big comics on the local scene at that time?
I started in the early 2000’s. You could get a MUNI bus pass for like $35 bucks.
I lived in Monterey, CA, a small little tourist town two hours south of S.F. My girlfriend and I would drive up on a Saturday for 5 minutes of stage time at a little place called Java N’More on Church Street and the Moch Cafe on Valencia. After a two hour drive, we would exit on Vermont St., drive right to the Moch to sign up for 5 minutes, then drive to the Java N’More, do a set there, and then drive right back to the Moch and do my final set of the night. Then we would drive back down to Monterey that night, wake up the next morning, then we would drive back up to San Francisco on Sunday to hang out at the Punchline for the showcase.
The big local comic at the time was Arj Barker. Al Madrigal was always great to watch. I would just watch and study his stage presences and how at ease he always was with the crowd. Kamau Bell was just starting to become a phenom. Kevin Avery was just a mad man with crazy energy that destroyed every set. To this day, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Avery have a bad set. John Hoogasion was this comic’s comic. Just a really great writer. Those were the local kings.
RC: Do you remember your weekly schedule of open mics? Any memorable shows?
When I finally moved to San Francisco, I became obsessed. Mondays, the Rose Crown in Palo Alto. Tuesday, the Luggage Store. Wednesday was always hanging at Cobb’s or the Punchline. Thursdays, the Brain Wash. Fridays, the Java Source. Saturdays was the Moch. Then you would call every Mon-Wednesday to try and get a set at the original Cobb’s on the wharf. It was just about hustling to get as much stage time as possible.
RC: What do you think was the most important lesson you learned in your early days of stand-up?
I learned where all the good parking spots are in San Francisco. If you’re in the Mission there’s a great parking lot in between 22nd and 23rd st, off of Valencia. If you’re in the business district don’t park on Clay. Tons of car break ins. Park on Washington; tons of parking and very little break ins. If you’re in the Richmond, park on Clemente st. between 6th and 8th Ave.
RC: Did you have a group of cronies? Who was in your “class” of comics?
I started during that whole new wave comedy with Kris Tinkle, Louie Katz, Kevin Shea, Sheng Wang, Jasper Redd, Ryan Stout, Mosha Kasher, the Sirofs. They took this whole stand up thing way more seriously than I did. I took it as more of a party, get to hang out type of thing, don’t bother chasing success, it’ll come when it comes. It took somebody like Louie Katz to break out and actually start achieving success before I realized,”oh, we actually have to pursue this. We are actually trying to accomplish stuff. Oh, okay. I better get on it.”
RC: Do you think SF is a good place to cut your teeth? Why?
I think San Francisco is the best city start out in. No bringer shows. Although, I think that is just starting to change. That’s sad. I hope S.F. comics put a stop to that bringer show shit that’s starting to creep in from LA. San Francisco has high standards. People who go see comedy in San Francisco are comedy savvy. They know what good comedy is. You can’t get away with doing hack jokes. You have to be original. Yet, they’re forgiving and it’s far enough from LA and NY, that you can make mistakes and the industry won’t hold it against you for the rest of your life. When I am on the road and a newbie asks for advice I just say,” move to San Francisco”.
RC: When did you feel like you “found” your voice? Was there a specific moment?
I think I find it every six months. Every six months I make a break through where I am like,” I found my voice. This is it.” Then six months later, I am like,”now this is it. I think I found something new.” Then it happens again six months later.
A big turning point was in 2010, at this huge club called the Stardome in Birmingham, AL. It’s like a small stadium. I made a rule to force myself to come up with new material. I would open with new material every set, in order to force myself to build material. No matter what, I had to open with new stuff. For a couple of months I was building a ten minute chunk of material on pro Gay/marriage equality stuff. You want to talk about tough, try opening your set with ten minutes of pro gay material in Birmingham, AL. I didn’t bail on the material. I stuck it out. That was what I was working on at the time and I wasn’t going to let the location dictate my material. I bombed horribly. But the audience knew that although they might not agree with what I was saying, they could tell that I knew what I was doing. I wasn’t a fraud. It’s weird, it’s almost like you’re not a good comic until you can bomb with grace. When everything is going wrong, the plane is crashing, but you keep your cool and you’re able to land the plane in the Hudson and everyone lives.
RC: How did you know when you were ready to leave SF? Do you have any advice for other comics on that note?
When MUNI bus passes got to 60 bucks I was like, it’s time to go.
But for real, I knew it was time to go when I did everything I could in San Francisco. I built an act. I pretty much honed my skills. I was a regular at all the major clubs. I had industry people telling me I have to move from San Francisco to Los Angeles. I think most comics should leave when you’ve become at least a feature at all the major clubs in your area and there are people telling you it’s time.
RC: I know you’ve been opening for Michael McDonald for a couple years. How did that relationship come about?
This story is crazy. Michael was performing at the San Jose Improv. I got a call on a Sunday to middle for him, which is weird to just do a Sunday. I have a rule that I never turn down work. I drive down to the club and I see another S. F. comic standing in front of the club. I ask him why. He says I’m replacing him because it wasn’t a good fit. I was like,”I am not going to do the show. I am not going to take money out of my friends wallet.”
That S.F. comic told me to go ahead and do the show. So I did, but I was a total asshole to Michael. I didn’t talk to him. As soon as the show was over I bounced without saying a word. Then I got a call a couple of weeks later from the San Jose Improv. They said Michael was coming back and requested me. I said yes. I was going to do it, but I wasn’t going to be cool to him at all.
So basically, I was a total dick to him for an entire weekend. I had a “total fuck this guy” attitude. At the end of the week, Mike walks up to me before he leaves and says,”Hey, I’ve been doing this for a while and you’re the best feature I’ve had. Would you like to open for me on the road?”
Without a second of hesitation I was like,”Okay!”
That was four years ago. I’ve been opening for him ever since. Now I consider him one of my closest friends. He is one of the nicest, most generous guys I’ve ever met. He’s taught me so much about the business aspect of comedy that I would never even thought of. Moral of the story, don’t turn down work, be a dick, and screw your friends. Actually I found out way later that Mike had nothing to do with the friend getting replaced by me. Basically I was dick for no reason. I have a history of overacting. I’m working on it.
RC: What does the Punchline SF mean to you? What are your favorite things about that particular venue?
I hold the Punchline sacred. The way the farmer looks down at the earth and holds it sacred. The way Christians look at the bible and hold it sacred. The way people hold their marriages sacred….Okay, that was totally a line from Sam Kinison in Back to School. But seriously, it is special. It really does feel like home to me. All the memories, hanging out all night, the NYE parties, going to the Sunday showcases, opening for everybody there, from the late Mitch Hedberg to Dave Chappelle. There is a reason the best comics want to headline that club, because it’s a great club. The standards are high. Most people who run comedy clubs just care about how many baskets of chicken wings they sell. At the Punchline, it’s comedy first. I go on the road and talk to M.C’s. and they’re like,”yeah, I’m the waiter. They needed somebody to open so they just asked me.” At the Punchline, before you M.C. you’re doing comedy for four to five years. Before you even get on the comedy showcase, you’re hanging out watching the Sunday showcase for 9 months to a year. At the Punchline, the comedy is first, which is rare. So when they are allowing me to come back and record my show there, it means a lot to me.
Good luck, Jason! You won’t need it. To follow Jason and stay up on all things Downs please…