DJ Hazard is a comedian who's lived a wild life. He was a part of the wild Boston comedy scene of the 80's that spawned the likes of Stephen Wright and Bobcat Goldthwait, he's talked people out of killing themselves, and he's lived out of his car for three years as he traveled the country doing stand up. Someone get this guy a book deal!
What are your earliest memories of comedy, of seeing or hearing things that made you laugh?
I will assume tickling doesn't count. However, my grandfather would rub his unshaven face against mine and that was very ticklish and fun, so I do have to throw that in, okay?
I remember not laughing at things I enjoyed watching, such as cartoons and such. I would love cartoons and funny shows, but I would actually be analytical, I guess. That was part of my enjoyment process. I recall several times actually being mildly, more inquisitively, cited for not laughing at them by any of the stray uncles, aunts and neighbors that passed through my childhood home.
I remember, when I was around three and a half, waking up laughing hysterically from a dream I was having. It was the first hardy belly laugh I can recall. In the dream, I was in the kitchen with my cousin Patsy. I was attempting to straddle the kitchen table like a horse. For some reason, it just seemed very funny.
Are you able to pinpoint the first time that you were consciously aware that you were able to make people laugh.
I would overhear the grownups telling jokes. Sometimes I'd retell them to some other grownups in my family. Sometimes I'd get in trouble for inadvertently telling a very dirty joke.
What were you like in school?
Elementary school was St. John Chrysostom in the Bronx. I was physically and psychologically tortured by Dominican nuns. I'm serious. If I had documentation, I would be a very rich ex-Catholic.
Horace Greeley Junior High, Astoria, Queens was a very creative time for me. I wrote and directed plays. I loved English class. I turned in tomes for writing projects.
High School of Art and Design in Manhattan- I was plunged into one of the most creative and influential environments of my life. My home life, however, was horrible at the time. I was not getting along with my parents for some really serious reasons. I spent a lot of time sleeping on the subway and in Central Park.
I volunteered to work at a suicide/drug hotline up in East Harlem... and I always offered to do the overnight shift. I'd do my homework, answer the phone, talk somebody out of killing themselves, get some sleep, answer the phone, talk somebody down from an acid trip, get some sleep, rinse, repeat and then go to school around 7:30 in the morning.
I also had several garage bands and folk duets with my buddy John in Queens. We were underage but looked older, I guess. We regularly played gigs in bars and coffee houses in Manhattan.
I was actually very shy and quiet for most of High School. I finally came out of my shell in senior year and actually kissed girls and stuff. I pursued that and I thank the NYC Board of Ed for that skill in particular.
What sort of creative outlets did you have?
I had been drawing since I was, like, one year old. I also read books before I could read. Science books. I knew about the solar system and human reproduction by the time I was four. I wrote songs. Not songs about the solar or reproductive system. That would come later.
What did you do after high school?
Do you mean (a) at 3 o'clock or (b) when I graduated?
(a) I had some after school jobs in Manhattan. I worked at a hardware store in Sutton Place (delivered hinges to Broadway stars) and at a very high-end pet store (Le Dog Store) on East 50-something.
(b) A year after graduating (I was kind of floundering anyway) my family moved to Boston and I came along for the ride. I met a lot of interesting types in Harvard Square and quickly moved in with them. I worked morning kitchen prep in a restaurant.
Six months later, I moved to Chicago to be a folk singer, coffee house waiter and professional blood donor for two years. Then back to the West Village for a brief thrift shop career. Then back to Boston, etc etc etc...
What are some of the interesting jobs that you've held at one point or another?
I was a Recreation Director at the Fernald State School in Waltham, Massachusetts for several years (there's a screenplay in there that I HAVE to finish) and a night shift orderly in the maximum security/intensive care unit at McLean (psychiatric) Hospital, just down the road from Fernald. I was second in command of Security at Tiffany (yes, that Tiffany) in Boston. I had several radio gigs. Some on-air, some production/writing.
When I lived in Los Angeles (94-95) I had a temporary Christmas job running the E.T. ride at Universal. Some of these were before comedy, some were during. I've pretty much been making a living at comedy since November, 1979, so there's not a lot of room for real jobs in the mix.
You worked the infamous Ding Ho in Boston. To those who are unfamiliar, what was that room like and what was a typical night there like?
The Ding Ho was a crappy, moldy, dark and dank Western motif cowboy saloon/restaurant that was bought by Chinese restaurant guys. They didn't bother changing the decor. It was also the setting for one of the wildest periods in the history of comedy anywhere. Barry Crimmins, now one of the leading political satirists/activists in the country, talked the owner into turning the front room into a comedy club. A few weeks later, I had been doing some open mikes and Barry and I hit it off. He took me on as his assistant manager and as one of the house emcees.
A typical night? There was no lineup, other than who wanted to go where. Everybody was a headliner. Half the people on the show might be Bobcat Goldthwait, Paula Poundstone, Denis Leary and/or Steven Wright. The other half were people who were headliners at the time but never got famous or quit or whatever.
The show went forever. This was before we decided to have two or three shows a night, turning over the room. We would take an intermission and play this crappy transistor radio into the mike. Prior to that, we had a jukebox and fired that up at intermission. Then ASCAP or EMI or BMI or whoever shows up wanting royalties showed up wanting royalties. So, we got rid of the jukebox. It took up too much space anyway. I mean, people where hanging from the rafters every night.
Lenny Clarke might be the host in this quintessential typical night. He always went on stage with a boom box set on record, because he never knew what was going to happen or what he was going to say. In years to come, his 'polished' material...his body of work... was all stuff that he made up on stage at one time or another.
Lotsa booze. Yes, lotsa drugs. What happened when the show was over? More booze and drugs while we figured out who was hooking up with who that night. Since this is an 'every night' scenario... there might even have been be a fight. The owners and kitchen guys would leave. We had keys. We pulled down the shades and partied for most the rest of the night.
What are some of the strangest venues that you've performed at?
When I was a recreation director, working with mentally challenged men, I think I did some of my best work. I put on really bizarre puppet shows. We went camping out in the forest out back and wrote really great songs around the fire. I had an annual budget that I had to 'use or lose', so I often bought several hundred dollars worth of rhythm instruments every six months. There was a rotting, roach infested piano in a back hall of the building where these guys lived. If it rained, I declared it was time for Glee Club. We would crank out horrible, cacophonous half-hour versions of I've Been Working On the Railroad or The Star Spangled Banner. The rest of the building staff wanted to kill me whenever I had Glee Club.
When did you start doing the road and how many weeks a year did you work then and how many do you work now?
I was a late bloomer with the road work. The Boston comedy scene was soooo obscenely lucrative during the entire 1980's... why bother, right? Near the end of that decade, I started branching out towards some cool clubs I heard others comedians mention. Surprisingly, a lot of my first distant gigs were in Canada. Winnipeg, Niagara Falls, Toronto... go figure. I also started signing up for agency tours down South. A couple of weeks doing Georgia, Virginia, the Carolinas, Mississippi and such. Around that same time, I got in touch with several bookers in the Pacific Northwest and did a lot of Oregon, Washington State, Idaho and Montana.
Did some touring when I lived in LA, but- when I came back from LA- I bought another used car that was in great shape ('84 Nissan Stanza) and proceeded to drive around North America for THREE YEARS, gigging and living in the car and motels and such. So, I think I made up for lost time.
Also, I had pretty much been disillusioned by my brush with commercial radio, so I ripped the radio out of the car. I had no other form of input. No CD Player or tape deck, no personal headphone thing. I drove around for three years like that. I wrote a series of essays called No Radio.
Now I'm out of town maybe two weeks, maybe even just two or three weekends a month. Just enough to pay for my apartment and food habit.
Do you have any road stories that you can share?
The ultimate is when my buddy (and co-performer) Rick Jenkins and I were mistaken for two of America's top ten wanted fugitives. We were held by US Marshals for the better part of a day. Then they let us go. And we went to a strip club and got very drunk.
What are some of your favorite tourist traps?
I like wax museums and amusement parks. I frequent theme restaurants. I've already been to the Jekyll and Hyde Club and Mars 2112 in the last few months.
When did you move back to NY?
Well, I've been trying to move back for several years, but several attempts were thwarted. I finally made it back just over a year ago.
What are some money saving tips that you've picked up along your travels?
Hmmm... that’s been an evolving organic Zeitgeist over the years. I used to be uber-extreme, but I’m kind of lazy now. I do know that going to a supermarket is cheaper than eating out. I still travel very light, when I can. I can usually live out of a large laptop/messenger bag for a week.
Since I moved back, I do this thing I call Extreme Beaching (seasonal). I put on some trunks or surf jams, some rubber ‘aqua shoes’ and a cut-off t-shirt. I also have this army belt in which to keep my Metro pass, some sun screen, house keys and some money.
Then I walk around the corner to the subway and go up to Penn Station. Then I take the LIRR to Long Island and get off at one of the Beach stations. Then I walk right down into the ocean and swim for a couple of hours. Then I walk around get some sun and dry off.... maybe buy some water. Then I get back on the LIRR and come home. Bam! No towel, no blanket. No need to have people watch your stuff. How’s that?
What's this sitcom that you're involved in?
It's called American Misfits and it is the #1 show on the Fuel Network. I had never heard of the show nor the network prior to getting the gig. My viewing is pretty much just The Daily Show, Battlestar Galactica, Rome and Venture Brothers. Now that Galactica is on hiatus, maybe I'll watch my own show if I can find it. It (the second season) starts in June. It's a skateboarding show, with all these skateboarding superstars. I'm not one of them.
The hosts, creators and director are Laban Pheidias and Ted Newsome. The show starts, ends and wraps around these segments where they meet with their 'boss' and he tortures them . I'm the new boss for the new season. We just shot 13 episodes in a week out in LA. Well, just the 'boss' parts. Still, it was a breakneck paced shooting schedule. On top of that, I was immersed in this whole vegan, tattooed, pierced, skateboard tribe culture. It was a real trip. There's some special guests, but I don't think I'm allowed to say who they are yet.
What are some other projects that you're currently involved in or contemplating?
I've been actively pursuing and have been recently embraced by the NYC storytelling scene. It's something I always wanted to do. I have several shows coming up, but have not (as of this writing) done any yet (other than an audition type one on one thing). So, I hope my first one doesn't suck, else it might create a ripple in the community and everybody else will bump me before I stink up their show.
What do you like to do after a performance?
Sometimes I like to come out and say hi to people. Sometimes I hide. Sometimes I go watch another show somewhere. If there's a monster theme restaurant nearby, I think you know where I'll be.
Visit DJHazard.com to see where you can check out DJ's schedule, which features performances at The PIT's Here's The Thing on the 10th, The Zebro Show at the PIT on the 12th, and Storytelling at Stage Left Studio on the 14th.