Jonesy: Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Professional Comedian
YOU write, the AUDIENCE edits. — Bring whatever ideas, points of view, opinions, and stories you think are funny right to the stage. The audience is going to tell you if, in fact, they are funny to the general population (non-comedians). They will tell you what PARTS are funny, if anything. They do this by — of course — laughing. I say this so that a newer comic can simplify the process and not make definitive declarations about material until it is tried and tested. You will find at times on stage that parts of a joke you didn’t think were very funny do in fact get a laugh. And more often, jokes you believe are very funny get no response at all. Edit the bit as you go. It will evolve as you get more feedback rom live audienes. A joke is sort of like a moving target and, on could argue, is never done — only abandoned.
I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Jonesy.
Jonesy is an East Coast comedian currently living in Los Angeles. Jonesy has been performing standup comedy for 18 years. His credits include Letterman, Drunk History, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Gotham. He urrently produce and host the podcast, Weird AF News and Comedians React (with Dwayne Perkins).
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I grew up in Boston and spent my days sucking down Dunkin Donuts iced coffee and playing wiffleball. Boston is a great place to grow up if you think you might not need sensitivy later in life.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path as a comedian?
I once accompanied my college friend to a standup comedy open mic. I promise you, anyone that sits through a comedy open mic will get the impression, “Shit, I can do better than this.”
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I played David Letterman’s son in a sketch. After the show, I wasn’t allowed to meet Dave. Apparently he’s too busy to take greet and take pics with his guests AND his son.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
After being escorted off an island for offending a group of college kids with my joke about lesbians, I learned A — get as much information about your audience prior to the show. And B — some jokes don’t work while the sun is still out.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Before Boston Legend Kevin Knox passed away I was fortunate enough to work and spend time with him. When I had the opportunity to exit Boston for New York City, Kevin urged me to do so, despite my being only a year into comedy. Kevin was very supportive of the newer comics and Boston, at that time, was a wonderful starting comedy city.
You have been blessed with great success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?
If you’re afraid of failure, then tackling any sort of challenging career or endeavor is going to be impossible. Failure is something that you, not only have to embrace, but have to actually seek out. Anything worth achieving takes many failures to do so. I tell people that are attempting something challenging to, “Get to failing”. With every fail you are closer to success.
You have such impressive work. What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? Where do you see yourself heading from here?
We just published a new series called, Comedians React. It’s a Youtube series and podcast I created with comedian Dwayne Perkins. Between the two of us, we have 40 plus years of standup experience. We break down our favorite jokes from comics that have inspired us. It can get very technical so I recommend only for those comedy nerds out there.
I have no vision for where I will be. I take life day by day, creating things that I want to see in the world. I can only hope that my creations get more and more acceptance. My podcast, Weird AF News, recently surpassed 1,300 episodes and 2.5 million downloands. I hope to make more content like this, which seems to be working.
What do you do to get material to write your jokes? What is that creative process like?
I don’t seek out material, I let it come to me. Initial ideas anyway. They seem to come from — who knows where? Most often the idea comes OUT OF a conversation I am having with someone in real time. Either from the person’s reaction or from my own awareness in the moment, I may think, “Hey, that idea (or phrase, opinion) is kinda funny.” That is how I get the core idea.
I then bring it to stage with a written beginning only. My main goal is to get a laugh AT LEAST at the introduction of the bit. I will then improvise some previously thought of ideas and see where it leads me. All of these performances are recorded on audio so that i can listen and re-write.
Super. Here is our main question. What are your “Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Professional Comedian” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
The five things I would tell someone who is just starting out or thinking of beginning a career in standup would be.
1. YOU write, the AUDIENCE edits.
Bring whatever ideas, points of view, opinions, and stories you think are funny right to the stage. The audience is going to tell you if, in fact, they are funny to the general population (non-comedians). They will tell you what PARTS are funny, if anything. They do this by — of course — laughing. I say this so that a newer comic can simplify the process and not make definitive declarations about material until it is tried and tested. You will find at times on stage that parts of a joke you didn’t think were very funny do in fact get a laugh. And more often, jokes you believe are very funny get no response at all. Edit the bit as you go. It will evolve as you get more feedback rom live audienes. A joke is sort of like a moving target and, on could argue, is never done — only abandoned.
2. Perform in difficult rooms. Perform in ALL types of rooms.
When we say, “rooms”, what comics are referring to are a TYPE of audience. There are alternative rooms, urban rooms, latino rooms, gay rooms, intellectual rooms, college age rooms, etc. These are just a few examples of the pantheon of crowds you can get in front of. It’s easy to get comfortable within one of these niche rooms. You may find that you do well in the alt comedy rooms only and, out of comfort, stick to those sorts of crowds. It’s natural. You feel good when you do well. But you’re not growing as an artist or comedian. It’s to your benefit to attempt to do well in front of as many various crowds as you possibly can. You’ll be a stronger comic and you’ll work more. My advice is get on those stages that you’re scared to be on and work to make that unfamiliar crowd laugh as well. Otherwise you are limiting yourself and your artistic development.
3. Be grateful for everything that comes your way. SAY THANK YOU OFTEN.
It’s a very competitive business, this comedy stuff. Especially in major comedy hubs such as NYC, Los Angeles, or Chicago. There are too many comics vying for stagetime, money, favors and love. If someone gives you any of these, thank them. I produce a show in Los Angeles where we pay the comics and give them free cannabis. I’m often surprised at how few of them reach out to me afterward to say, “Thanks for booking me, dude.” It’s so rare in fact that, those that do, really move me and they are the very first comics that I look to re-book on that show or any future shows I may produce. So be thankful for everything that is bequethed you my child!
4. Your first 6 months of comedy? JUST SURVIVE.
I literally mean that. Just SURVIVE. I’m asked now and again from friends who are considering trying standup. “Any advice?”. And I don’t have anything for them at this stage of the game except to survive as many sets as you can. By survive, I mean: get on stage in front of strangers, say your lines, and get off. At this point you need not even be concerned about the laughs. The laughs could come immediately, they may not come until a year from now. That’s not as important as experiencing the feeling of trying to move a room full of strangers while you’re heart is pounding and your thoughts are scattered as you attempt to right the ship of chaos that is a comedy set. I tell them, “Just get through it.” And then see how you handle it. Because a new comic is pushed to the edge of stress, vulnerability, shame and embarrassment. Some say it’s the scariest activity in the world — doing standup. So just SURVIVE. And then let’s talk about strategy.
5. Don’t feel the pressure to be controversial.
I see a good deal of new comics trying to be controversial with their material BEFORE they’ve proven they can sustain audience laughter for even a short set. Like all artforms, there are trends. With the immense popularity of comics like Dave Chappelle and Ricky Gervais, there’s a trend to be edgy and controversial in your act. My advice is to learn how to tell jokes first — to simply get laughs. Next, get laughs with a range of various audiences. You’re going to need these vital skills to tackle complex controversial material down the road, if you so desire. But please, for the sake us all, get laughs first.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Here’s a quote I love: “Leap and the net will appear”.
The idea behind this is this — if you commit to something fully, with your time, your headspace, your entire being… The Universe knows it. And along the way, seemingly impossible barriers will fall away for you.
You are a person of huge influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I would like to start the DON’T WORRY movement. I am witnessing too many of my fellow humans living in a constant state of anxiety, fear and worry. This makes me want to tell each and every one of them NOT TO WORRY. It’s preposterous to worry because it implies that you know what the future will bring. We do not know the future. But we often experience tremendous oportunities that come out of failure or what looks like failure at first sight.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
I wish to have some beers with Pedro Martinez, former Boston Red Sox ace. Could you please make that happen?
Are you on social media? How can our readers follow you online?
This was so informative, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!
Jonesy: Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Professional Comedian was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.