Comedian Ted Alexandro's work with the New York Comedians Coalition has earned him the title of Mayor of New York Comedy. In this interview, we discuss mustaches, his Comedy Central Sketch Pilot, and the correlation between advertising executives going to comedy shows.
I don't know how long people have been actively trying to make commercials funny, but what do you think of that whole practice?
If it's done well, my hat's off to them. Advertising is part of the corporate world and they're trying to appeal to as many people as possible and not offend anyone. Humor doesn't really lend itself to that sort of environment. I know that advertisers have been known to hang around comedy clubs and take their notebooks along for inspiration. There's a history of people's jokes showing up in commercials. I do this joke about people saying, "You do the math," when there's not any math involved in what they're talking about and somebody told me that that popped up in an Arby's commercial. It could have been parallel thinking, but you never know.
I read that you have a friend in the porn industry and wanted to know if you've read Eric Spitznagel's Fastforward: Confessions of a Porn Screenwriter? It's about how sometimes people move out to LA they get caught up in the porn writing industry.
That's kind of what happened to my friend. He's a very talented writer. It's just a day job. That's what happens to a lot of people in that industry: they're aspiring writers that find an easy gig where they can turn out this product that doesn't require a lot of energy from them and they can pursue their real writing at night.
The book reminded me of when Patton Oswalt talking about doing punch up work on screen plays. Have you done any punch up work?
I haven't, but I've written a couple of screenplays. I was offered punch up work once, but decided against it. Right now, I'm focusing on writing my own stand up and screenplays. I have a deal with Comedy Central for my own thirty-minute weekly sketch show. We're working on the pilot for that now. I tend to do my own thing as much as I can.
What can you tell me about this sketch pilot?
I'm collaborating on it with a friend of mine that I started in stand up with. His name is Hollis James . He and I graduated from Queens College together and we did a lot of sketch comedy in college. Then we did two-man stand up when we graduated. We've written screenplays together, then he moved out to LA and was writing screenplays out there, and I got this deal for a pilot and he and I are collaborating on it now. The way we envision it is as a bunch of short films. I pitched a short to Comedy Central, which led to our getting a deal. It was about the first interracial ventriloquism team. It was a mock documentary. It was myself and a black dummy and it took place during the Civil Rights Movement. Nobody would book us because we were interracial. It's about how we were pioneers, ahead of our time, and did a lot of protest work. There's going to be stuff along those lines. We do another one about Jordan Timberlake, Justin's older brother who's still trying to make it in the music industry. It's the sibling of an existing star type of deal. We have a bunch of different ideas and hopefully we'll have the pilot shot in the beginning of the year.
You mention Hall and Oates in your act, specifically the track Private Eyes. Is that a song that you enjoy?
I love it. I was probably speaking of it derisively, but I'm secretly a Hall and Oates fan.
When John Oates shaved his mustache, did you feel betrayed?
Initially, I was going to say that betrayed is too strong. But betrayal is what I felt.
Do you find that mustaches are inherently funny?
His specifically was. I'm in the Groucho Marx school. Any time it's bushy or the dominate feature on the face, it's funny. Although a pencil mustache can be funny too, like John Waters.
Have you ever grown your own mustache?
I have. When I'm on vacation, I tend to get experimental with my facial hair. I've had big mustaches, muttonchops, and the Abraham Lincoln beard. There's a picture of me on my Myspace where I have the beginnings of a bad Fu Man Chu. I like to play around because I think it's silly.
Do you find that people treat you differently when you have a mustache?
Yeah, people think you're cooler than you are when you have funky facial hair. They think you're in a band or something.
What are some things that you know about stand up now that you would have liked to have known when you were starting out?
It's a way of life more than just a job. It's not something where you punch the clock, do your writing, and do your show. It's your whole life and part of who you are. I suspected that, but it's definitely become clearer as I've gone along.
Are there any traps that comedians should watch out for?
I think the traps that are easy to fall into when you're starting out is going for an easy laugh. Doing any kind of hackneyed or easy joke that's been done in some form already. You see some comics killing and they have this unfounded confidence. If you're killing with hack material or your goal is to kill without doing it in a genuine way that's coming from you and your artistic expression, that's a trap. Some people would disagree, but I think that you want to start finding your voice early on because that's what stand up is, to me. It's self discovery and finding your voice, your perspective, the way that you phrase things, your cadence, your body language, and telling jokes that no one would have thought of but you. That's what the greats do and that's what inspires me. That's not to dismiss that there's a process and that everybody starts somewhere. You're going to misstep and do things you don't even know you're doing. I don't mean to be too hard on people that are beginning. I just think it's good to be adamant about finding your own voice.
What has the New York Comedians' Coalition been up to lately?
The most recent thing that we were working on was trying to eliminate perpetuity clauses where a company like AOL would own your act in perpetuity and be able to do whatever they want with it. We've been working on a contract that eliminates that and makes it more equitable for comics. Not even that comics would get paid exuberant amounts of money, but that nobody else would own their acts.
What sort of rights does Comedy Central get?
The Comedy Central specials are buyouts, where you're paid X amount of dollars so that they own that performance, but not the material. They can repackage it as part of a DVD or a special where they remix it with three or four other comedians. Some of these web things don't pay you anything and they want to own your act. They say, "You're getting exposure." You have to realize that a lot of the web content portals just want to use you so that they can sell advertising, make a lot of money, and not pay you.
What do you like to do after a performance?
If I'm home in New York, I tend to go straight home. I'm not one for sticking around too much. Occasionally, if my buddies are there or there are other comedians, I'll hang around and have a drink. I learned early on that you can fall into an alcoholic's life pretty easily because there are always free drinks around. Sometimes you catch yourself and say, "I've been drinking eight nights in a row." That's even easier to do on the road where you have even more of an excuse because you don't know anyone and instead of going back to your hotel room you just have a drink. If I'm on the road, I'll have the occasional drink or two and go back to my room. Or sometimes you find another lost soul looking for some company.