Age, occupation, where are you from, where are you now?
29 years old and I'm a standup comedian. I'm from Long Island, and I live on the Upper West Side.
A few for you:
How did you go from struggling comic to running the Comedy Company?
To go from struggling to really struggling is a really long process. The standup scene in New York, and pretty much everywhere, because of reality TV especially -- there are no outlets for comedians to get onto. So there's really a glass ceiling where guys that are at the Comedy Cellar – which is really the only premiere club in the city – there are guys that have been there for ten years because they can't get out, because there's nowhere to go anymore. There's nowhere to go on television, and it's creating this glut. First off, 90% of the comedians should stop doing comedy – probably 90% of the people doing anything should stop doing what they do and find something else, but I definitely think that's true of standup. Unfortunately, what's happening at the clubs is, the clubs are all doing bringer shows. If you bring a certain amount of people, they'll put you up. Basically anyone can perform at any club in the city any night if they bring enough people, and that has watered down comedy, and not only has it watered down comedy but people don't come back because they see bad shows. It creates a situation where, unless you're Seinfeld or Chris Rock, very few people have drawing power. Dave Chappelle, he's got drawing power now, but the middle guy, the guy who's a real comic, a funny comic, he's been doing it five years, ten years, the clubs don't have much use for you. The way the system operates – because the clubs don't care about the art, they care about the money, like any other business. So the bringer show screwed up the way whole industry works. And then when you factor on top of that reality television, everything going on in TV, there are no hosting jobs, there are no sitcoms. In 1985, I probably would've had three sitcoms already that would've failed, and then the fourth one would've hit. Everybody got one. And now it's a whole different ballgame.
But I think the good part of that is, with what we've done here [at the Comedy Company], where we're run by comics, there's the atmosphere to make each other better. It's not competitive. We help each other get better. I get two 40 minute spots every night, which, at other clubs, you're getting ten, twelve minutes or something. So the ability to improve and work on what you're doing when you're doing it on your own terms is great.
What changes would you suggest to bring the comedy industry back to where it was in the 80s?
I don't think you can. The internet's changed things, people's attention spans have changed. Clearly what people watch on television has changed. The saving grace is that some of the guys I know that I consider great comedians are not standard club comics. They're guys that are doing it by performing in all kinds of alternative rooms, doing stuff downtown. Basically empowering yourself to get good, because it takes years and years, like anything else, to get good. I don't mind the struggle -- as long as I can pretty much live on what I'm doing, I don't mind the struggle. It bothers everyone at year two, year three, when you're just thinking "When am I going to get a show already?" But now I just want to get better. It's a dying breed of real comics that want to get better. I think it's a dying breed of all entertainers. After American Idol, everyone wants immediate satisfaction, and that's sad. But there are some comedy purists who really want to find their voices and grow.
Is the barking on the street the hardest part of the job?
I don't fine it hard. Because we can make money doing what we're doing, it doesn't bother me that much anymore. Especially on a nice night. If you're smart, if you use time wisely, learn how to connect with people better. It's annoying -- I'd rather not do it, but I don't really mind it.
What's the secret to drawing passersby in?
Lie. Mostly lie. Because if you say The Tonight Show or David Letterman -- if you say "Bob Jeurgens from The Tonight Show," they will say, "Oh, I saw Bob Jeurgens last week." And you go, "Wasn't he great?" And they'll say, "Yeah, he was great!" It's just the name. Nobody gives a flying fuck about The Tonight Show. No one in the industry. No comic in his right mind respects Jay Leno. But you just say The Tonight Show, and it has some worth. Versus, I could go out there and say the truth. We got Dave Rubin, Mike Singer, Bob Jeurgens, and they're all incredibly funny, you're catching them right before they break through to the next level, and they're going to do truer, more real stuff than anything you've seen on television in the last ten years." But that doesn’t translate well to someone walking right by. So instead you say "Tonight Show."
How did The Anti-Show get started?
I created this show, a studio show for me and two other comedians at a desk, and we needed a studio to do it. Through a roundabout way, we had access to NBC, at Rockefeller Center. We used an unused studio there to tape six episodes. People always ask how we did it, how did we use a studio at NBC? But these are television people, they're all idiots. We found some NBC letterhead, wrote up a list that said let these people in, and they let us in. We taped our show and we aired on Manhattan Cable Access. Even though it didn't get picked up, it really was way ahead of its time in many ways. We did something called the sixty-second debate, and now everybody is doing that. There are entire shows based on that. Real news, every ESPN show -- Around the Horn, Pardon the Interruption. Now they're doing it on CNN, they've got a show on Saturday mornings. Tucker Carlson's new show, they're doing that. We always joked that we were so ahead of the curve that we were behind it. The Anti-Show was what I think all shows will be in about five years. Because it was a hybrid – we were sort of reality, sort of sitcom, sort of talk show. Basically, it was just fun, stupid stuff.
Any plans for The Anti-Show to come back?
I would like to do it again. Not necessarily with all of the same guys, but I would do it again. I don't think NBC is going to welcome me though. But I think whatever I wind up doing, whatever becomes my vehicle, will be born out of that.
What advice would you give to a young comic just starting out?
The best place to get prescription medicine, a lot of people will say it's Mexico, but it's Canada. The only advice is Just do what you do, and keep doing it. there's no rational explanation to it. I can't rationally tell anyone to do what I'm doing. I'm really in debt and I don't even have anything. I have PlayStation. And some socks, I guess. It's not advice – it's just do what you do because you can't do anything else. I can't do anything else. I have no other skills. I know this is what I'm supposed to do, and if you know what you're supposed to do, you figure out a way to do it. That's my advice: Get good. Figure out what you want to do, and take the time to get good.
What other job would you have if you couldn't be a comedian?
The truth is, I wanted to be a professional basketball player. I kept telling people that, and they kept laughing.
How do you save a bit that's tanking, or turn around an audience that's not responsive?
It's never a good crowd or a bad crowd -- it's always you. A good comic will take a shitty crowd and make them good, and a bad comic will wreck a good crowd. However, there are differences in crowds. Tonight, the crowd was sort of young, there were a lot of girls.
They weren't really laughers, they were all looking at me, smiling. So that's what I was addressing. If you give me a little feedback, I can turn it into something. I try to be as real as I can up there, I try to tell the truth. The real challenge of a comedian, and I imagine most artists, is that you want to tell the truth. That's the challenge. It's not easy to do in real life, much less in front of a group of strangers. When you can really tap into that, that's when the greatness comes out. I have moments like that. I want to work to have more moments like that.
Which comedians are your inspirations? Whom do you admire?
Cosby was my first inspiration, by far. I actually never laughed as a child – my parents wanted to take me to a therapist. And then one day, I saw Cosby: Himself on HBO. To this day, I think it's the best standup I've ever seen. It just caught something in me, to make people laugh. Now, Larry David is a big influence. He's doing something else, something different. And Seinfeld, he's a pure comic. He just cares about comedy. And Andy Kaufman -- I used to a lot more of that bizarre stuff than I do now. Probably George Burns and maybe Johnny Carson, even though I don't remember watching him that much. A lot of people tell me that I remind them of Johnny Carson in some ways, and I think that's just in trying to be decent up there. And I should say Jon Stewart. I interned at The Daily Show, and any time I could talk to him, I did. The best words of advice that anyone ever gave me were from Jon. He said, "Don't stop." And that sort of sums up what I said about finding yourself and what you want to do. Because if you stop, you'll basically end up a writer for one of these shows, and hating the host. And watching Jon warm up the crowd, I think I learned a lot.
What famous comedian is least deserving of his success?
The easy answer would be Carrot Top. Everyone will say Carrot Top. You ask nine out of ten comedians, "Who's the biggest hack in the world?," they'll say Carrot Top. I don't think that's the true answer. In some respects, Leno is the answer. Leno took a great television institution that was hosted by legends -- Jack Parr and Steve Allen and Carson --and Leno made it an embarrassment. All it is is part of the Hollywood machine. Leno has twenty writers to be that funny? I've got one writer to be this funny. Comedy has something to do with integrity. A real standup comic has integrity, and Leno has none. Bill Hicks did a great bit 15 years ago about Leno and how he's just owned by NBC: One day he'll be interviewing Joey from Blossom -- this a while back -- and Joey's going to say something and Leno's going to take out a gun and shoot himself in the head, and when his brains explode, it's going to form the NBC peacock because he's a company man to the end. Leno is everything that's wrong with entertainment. And I know Leno can crush me if he reads this, but you've got to have some sort of integrity. Being a comedian is not about promoting bullshit. But the Tonight Show has now become just a platform to promote movies. There's no truth to it. And that's fine if that's what the show is, but it wasn't always that. Carson nurtured great young comics. Leno's nurtured nobody. They're too insecure now to bring on anyone talented. And this is probably ensuring that I'll never be on Leno.
Is it true that all comedians hate themselves?
I don't think so. The idea of someone funny not always being funny, people are uneasy with that idea. When a comedian has other emotions, besides humor, people don't know what to do. One of the marks of a comedian is you see the world in a certain way. Maybe people who see the world a certain way come from a certain dysfunction. I know that, for me, I'm working very hard to escape myself, escape my issues -- I could have my therapist fax you something -- and when I'm on stage, I bring the best of myself up there. And if I could bring some of that, the ease I have doing standup, into reality, into my regular life, I'd be in really good shape. So I don't think most comedians hate themselves; I think most comedians are still in the fight, and they exorcize their issues through humor. Most people just don't even bother to fight. Most people give up at some point. I think comedians, so that they don't shoot people, do comedy.
What are your comedic goals? Where would you like to be years from now?
I really want to get on The Tonight Show. I'd love to sit down with Jay and talk about life. I feel like we'd get along well.
I love standup. It's the truest form of whatever this art is, and I'd really love to become a truly great standup, a transcendent comedian. And to do that, I think I've got plough right through my own personal stuff. Right now I do some social stuff, some political stuff. But I want to really take everything that's in my head and get it out there and figure out what to do with it. To become a great comedian, that includes the HBO specials, that type of thing. I would like to host some kind of show, maybe similar to The Anti-Show. But the show wouldn't be about promoting Hollywood and it wouldn't be about Tom Cruise coming on to pretend he's in love. The industry is sucking its own dick, basically, and because it is, no one else can get in to some dick. It's really a sick thing. Paris Hilton is a star? For what? Everything's become so warped. I think post 9/11, everyone's afraid to tell the truth. We can only make movies about superheroes now, because there's a weird lack of truth. I want to get to something where it may not always be funny. I think there's a way to have a good, cool discussion. I don't think Charlie Rose is the only person who can do that.
What place or thing would you declare a landmark?
The bench on the northernmost corner of the Great Lawn. That's where I do most of my writing. I take my laptop or my notebook out there. It just became my bench. Usually I go out there about one o'clock, you can get some good sun. n get some good writing
I can just turn around watch people play basketball on one side. People playing softball on the other side. The women pushing the strollers, the old people on the walkers. I find a lot of inspiration there.
Favorite bar or restaurant?
This is probably tacky, but my favorite restaurant is Houston's. They make a great spinach dip, and the steak is good. It's not crazy expensive. It's nice and dark, I like things that are downstairs. That may be the mark of a comedian -- I like places underground. If there's ever a nuclear war, I'm going to feel very at home in a bunker.
What advice would you give Mayor Bloomberg?
People that walk their dogs, if they don't pick up their dog's shit in five seconds, I would put snipers on the roofs of the buildings and have people shot dead, no questions asked. If you do that, obviously, you have to shoot the dogs dead also, because you can't have dead people everywhere and dogs running around. That's ridiculous. I know the city would be a bloodbath, dead people and dead dogs all over the place, but I'd rather be dealing with that than stepping in shit every day.