When 9/11 hit, Jonah Ray was attending community college, but the catastrophe of that one September day made him drop out, move to LA, and pursue a career in comedy. Since then, he's become a fixture of the Los Angeles's alt comedy scene, appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live and Comedy Central's Live at Gotham, written for the Andy Milonakis Show, played the role of Clancy Mole Man on Adult Swim's Saul of the Molemen, and had a successful series on Turner Broadcasting's Superdeluxe.com . His off beat sensibility and personality is leading him down the path to comedy success and to Pianos on October 30th , opening for Man Man at Webster Hall on October 2nd , and the UCB Theater's Crash Test on October 1st.
When I interviewed you a few months ago for Austin's That Other Paper , you mentioned that you were going to be in a movie where you would get murdered. How did that turn out?
The budget for the movie went up, and with that there was more control given to the moviemaker, but the people who were giving more money wanted to have control too, and in the end, I was required to audition for a role I was told I already had . One of the producers just didn't like me that much, so when it came down to it he just said, "I don't know about him," and the director agreed, saying, "You're right. He's out." So I grew a beard, and I basically did it for nothing.
When you started saying that you grew a beard, I thought you were going to say that you auditioned again but with a beard.
That was my plan. I was going to go under Jonah Gray, and I was going to audition with a beard this time. But both times I didn't get it.
I know you were really looking forward to being murdered on screen.
I still want to do that. On a few different episodes of Freeloader's Guide , I requested it. "Hey, how about right after that happens, I kill myself?" They're like, "No, let's do everything up to that point." And I'd say, "All right." But just recently, I had an animator make a video for one of my songs and he had my character shoot himself in the head at the very end.
Should this somewhat morbid fixation be raising any red flags for any people?
No, I don't think so. I think a guy who talks about suicide the most is the least likely to do it. People who commit suicide usually get responses like, "Oh my God! Oh! I had no idea! Oh, this is horrible!" But if I did it, people would be saying, "Well, he talked about it all the time. It was an obvious move."
Even though you're a young guy, have you given any thoughts to what you'd like your final words to be?
Sometimes I think about last words. Do you want to say something funny, or do you want to say something worthwhile? I'd probably just say something disappointing, but I'd like my last words to be, "I'm getting too old for this shit." And that would be hopefully right before I die of old age.
When it comes to having to decide between being serious and funny, how are you able to tell if you're at a business meeting for example, whether it's apropos to be serious or funny? Is that something you have to deal with a lot?
Yeah. Also being in a relationship, or just having to deal with adults. There's always those times where you just have to buckle down and be serious. And it sucks because those situations make me a little nervous, and when I'm nervous, my knee-jerk reaction is to make jokes about what's going on. So I do sometimes have a hard time being serious. I can get stuff done, but I do have this weird knee-jerk reaction where I'll start making jokes.
So in that sort of situation, humor is just your natural defense mechanism?
Yeah. I appreciate sincerity, but I just can't help but make a Mystery Science Theater reference or something.
Some think that humor is tragedy plus time. What do you think of that?
It can be, but some of my favorite comedians' lives aren't remotely tragic. A joke is a joke. Tragedy can be hilarious, it just depends on who's telling it. People are always saying, "Comedians have a dark side," but who doesn't? It's just a matter of how you handle it.
Is there anything that's off limits in your comedy?
No. I think anything goes. I can't think of one thing that would be like, "Ah, jeez, I don't know," because everything has the potential to eventually be funny. And if something is, as they say, "too soon," in a year people are going to be like, "Remember when you said that thing and it was way too early?" And you'll go, "Yeah," and they'll say, "That was hilarious." But at the time, it wasn't.
How do you determine whether it's too soon about something?
I don't think anything's ever too soon. It's just a matter of preference. Some people need more time to handle certain events and it's usually their own problem, a sort of nervousness or politeness. No one's really sure how comfortable some else could be, so someone might think, "It's funny, but maybe I'll just stay quiet, because it's rude or inappropriate." I don't understand why things can be funny after time has passed.
Were you at all surprised that despite people usually giving some amount of time after a tragic even, that after Anna Nicole Smith died people immediately started making jokes, seemingly without any hesitation?
Well, that's the thing, because they were making so many jokes in the last years of her life that it was really hard to stop the momentum. What were you going to do, just stop and say it was tragic? Her life was a joke, and her death was just a great tag on it.
Would you say that she was having just a series of Jonah Day ?
Yeah, she just had one Jonah day after the next, which is probably my case as well, but I can't help it. She had a chance.
Had you ever heard someone use the phrase "Jonah day" prior to learning its meaning?
Kind of. I used to live in San Pedro, which is a port town, where there's a lot of sailor, guys on barges, and dockworkers. I was talking with this one guy in this longshoreman type of bar. And he's like, "Hey man, what's your name?" And I'm like, "I'm Jonah," and he got really quiet, and said, "You really shouldn't let anyone know your name's Jonah - Jonah's bad luck. Every Jonah I've ever known has been bad luck. You don't ever tell a sailor your name's Jonah." In the biblical story of Jonah, he was bad luck for the ship he was on. He was thrown off his ship and then got swallowed by a whale and tight when they threw him off, the weather got better and they sailed on. So Jonah's just synonymous with bad luck. And I guess the story of Anne of Green Gables turned that more into a parable of sorts, and made it into, "When things aren't going right, you're having a Jonah day," and I didn't even know it was a term that was ever popular outside of maybe Bible buffs on a barge. But I looked and saw that there were like five movies in the twenties with names like Edgar's Jonah Day or Fatty's Jonah Day.
Have you thought at all about what some consider to be the ultimate Jonah Day: a funeral?
I always thought my funeral could be held at a Chuck E. Cheese, just like my nineteenth birthday. Everyone can just go balls out. They serve beer at Chuck E. Cheese, and so you could have a legitimate party there. And I think that would be the best way to go. Have everyone dog pile on the ball pit, remember me, and just have a good time.
Were you surprised that an establishment like Chuck E. Cheese served alcohol?
I'm more surprised by places that don't serve at least beer or wine. Disneyland, no beer or wine. Not even a designated area. There's a movie theater right here that has a full bar. I think any store or, really, just every place should have some kind of liquor being served. Especially in kids' restaurants, like Chuck E. Cheese. The parents need it to numb the pain of having a family.
Like one of those moms at K-mart just losing it on her kid?
Yeah. If all of a sudden there was a guy on roller skates rolling up to her with a shot of Patron and she douses it, she'd totally mellow out, won't hit her kid, and everyone's for the better. A shot's not going to make her drive home dunk; it's just going to relax her nerves.
Have you been in that situation, where you see a parent being abusive to their kid?
I haven't in a while. I think I avoid places where I have to see kids and parents together. I try to avoid places like Target, although I like going to Disneyland, but that's just part of the territory when you go to Disneyland.
What do you like to do at Disneyland?
I like to swear. A lot. I like to kick up the profanity, because it's just kind of silly. And I like going on the rides and experiencing the most magical, happy place on Earth. The fun has never waned for me.
New York can be a magical and happy place too. Do you have any strange, "Only in New York" moments to share?
The first day I went there, I didn't really know the protocols or anything, and I saw some cops helping this fat guy change a tire, which I thought was very nice. That's something I've never seen in L.A., nice cops. But the big thing was that I got in a cab with a little piece of paper with where I had to go scribbled on it, told the drive the address, and then, while looked out the window, thinking, "What does New York have in store for me?" I had the ask, "Brooklyn where?" and when I told him, he didn't know, so I had to get into another cab, and the same thing happened. The guy was going, "I don't know how to get to no Fort Green. I can get you to Manhattan, Queens maybe." So I get out of that cab too. Finally I get in this car and this guy was like, "I don't know where that is, but hold on, I know my brother's online." So he called up his brother, and his brother goes on Map Quest and finds the place and gets the guy directions. I was really wowed by the spectrum of nice driver to worst cab driver ever.
Given the opportunity, how would you change New York?
I don't know if I want it to change. I don't think I could, because I like it for the idea that it is what it is. I don't live there, and I don't get really fed up with anything while I'm visiting. I would just wish I had some kind of bionic legs so I wouldn't get tired from walking around so much. No, wait. You know what I would change? The price of rent. 'Cause I would love to live in New York. But it's just borderline insane to actually live there with the prices.
Which New Yorker do you most admire?
Famous Ray, whoever Famous Ray was. I guess he's my favorite New Yorker because he started a chain, and then many chains were started after his chain. I'm going to have to say that Famous Ray is my favorite New Yorker.
What would you consider a perfect day of entertainment in New York?
I would get up, I would go and grab a bagel sandwich, sit in a park and watch the crazies in the morning -- that's fucking great entertainment -- I would go see a movie, probably at the Loews. Then I'd go in the Virgin Mega Store, not buy anything, just getting ideas of what to download, and checking out a few comedy shows on the lower East side. And then get wasted on some regional beer. After that, that is where a lot of the entertainment will come from.
What projects are you currently involved with?
Well, we just did the final Freeloader's Guide. We felt like we did what we could with the medium provided by Super Deluxe and we're stoked with what we have, so we thought we'd end it while we still felt good about everything. I'm going to continue working with Super Deluxe and have a few ideas to work with right now. I'm collaborating with Steve Agee on one, and I'm doing some work with Eric Appel on some other videos, so it should be a lot of fun. And, of course, I'm still working with Neil Mahoney on everything that I do. Outside of this tour I'm doing, I'm just gearing up to do the next order of Super Deluxe shows, and I'm going to work on putting out another record. I'm actually starting to pitch some shows and stuff to net works So, you know. Just hustlin'. Trying not to be stagnant.
Don't miss Jonah Ray and the (Still) Born in the USA Comedy Tour's kick off at Piano's, 158 Ludlow at Stanton, with Cracked Out, Sean O'Connor, Andrew Wright, and Nick Maritato of Here's The Thing fame. Jonah will also be opening for Man Man at Webster Hall on October 2nd and will be appearing at Crash Test at the UCB Theater on October 1st.