One of the more interesting aspects of life – at least mine, when I take a moment to consider it – is how many people I’ve been blessed to call friends. I love having parties and gatherings because I get to sit in the corner and watch how people from different seasons interact. It’s akin to watching Nigel Tufnel, Ash Campbell, Rick Blaine, and both film versions of The Joker (sorry, Leto, you don’t count) in a movie together … or the way I felt during the War on Drugs era when I first saw Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue. (Watch it. It’s radical. Also, just say no.)
This is the first entry in a long-gestating and ongoing project called, simply, Bryan interviews people he knows. I’m fortunate enough to call myself a friend of some amazing people – you’ll meet one of them in each entry – and I’m eager to share their insight and wisdom. These guests don’t have any agenda or anything to plug other than what I’m interested in and consider worthwhile conversation topics – and while I often get frustrated with the styles and tactics of some highly-regarded interviewers (though calling them out by name would be a little gross), I have to be honest and warn that insofar as this project is a reflection of my own personal affections, there’s … to use a phrase that tests my gag reflex … “a little bit of me in” them.
I’ve got a big mouth, but I’ve been told (and even reprimanded) that it’s better to have big ears. I hope your ears are just as big – and I hope that this blog strengthens your bonds with the incredible people who have crossed your path, too.
Who is he?
Jeremy Long is a Los Angeles-based stand-up comedian who Andy Dick describes as “a cross between Mitch Hedberg and Jerry Seinfeld, but not as good as either.” He graduated from Penn State University (my alma mater) where he studied film, and works full-time on the television series The Carbonaro Effect, a hidden camera comedy program on truTV.
More importantly, I first met Jeremy through a close mutual friend, and always leave conversations with him impressed by the depth and scope of his comic acumen. He’s a student of comedy as much as he is a purveyor of it, and his quiet tone and well-mannered, even shy demeanor bely his wit. You can catch him performing all across L.A. – and when you do, please tell him to charge his phone. When he texted me this afternoon, his battery was flat at 29 percent.
Bryan interviews stand-up comic Jeremy Long
Note: This interview is transcribed verbatim, but with grammatical and punctuation edits according to my own personal style guidelines. This interview contains some material best suited to adult ears.
Comedy – perhaps more than acting, more than music, more than writing the Great American Novel – is a pretty tall task to make a career of. In fact, maybe a handful of working comedians are household names. Why pursue it?
I know for a lot of people – really performers in general; however, specifically comedians – it is used to fill a void of some sort. They, I, need to get up there and perform on stage or I don’t feel complete. So, it comes from a place of need, not desire or want. The desire to do it is usually there too, of course.
I don’t believe there are very many comedians that feel they need to perform but also hate doing it. For almost all of us, it is something of a passion – which is important, because to make any kind of career out of comedy (fame aside), you need to be passionate about it. So, while I would like to give the short answer of “I like to make people laugh,” I will instead tell you that it come from some deep-seated, subconscious need to perform.
As the great Norm Macdonald once said, “Once you become a celebrity, the people coming to see you kind of forget to pay attention to whether you’re funny or not.”
Maybe this is the same question parsed differently, but unless you’re a Louie C.K. or a Chris Rock, it strikes me as a difficult thing to earn a living wage as a comic. What does your day-to-day life look like, what do you do, how do you support yourself other than gigs?
This is partially true. A young startup comic, such as myself, could not make a living as a comic currently. And I use the term startup comic loosely, seeing as I have been at it for eight years, but only two years in L.A., that’s the difference. So, yes, being a Louie C.K. or a David Spade or, essentially, a celebrity certainly helps a lot.
However, it’s almost the easy way out. And I mean that in no disrespect to any of them. Not in the least. Those people are all very hardworking people. For example, I have mutual friends with Louie and I happen to know he’s one of the hardest-working people in Hollywood, currently. I mean it only to say that, if you are a celebrity, boom, you’re guaranteed a spot at pretty much any comedy club. You can drop by whenever, book a weekend, and get paid out the ass for it.
As the great Norm Macdonald once said, “Once you become a celebrity, the people coming to see you kind of forget to pay attention to whether you’re funny or not.” I am paraphrasing, but this a is sad-but-true fact. Again, please don’t misunderstand, these people have all worked very hard to get to where they’ve gotten. But now, they’re on easy street.
On the flip side, there are many comics who make a living doing comedy who are most likely not household names and have to earn it the hard way, without celebrity status. People like a friend of mine, the great Bobby Slayton – who is kind of a comic’s comic; all the other comedians know him (famous or not) and think he is a riot – I’m not sure he’s a household name in the way that George Carlin is, even though Bobby has been doing it just as long.
Another friend of mine, Rick Shapiro, same thing. He’s been at for years and is hilarious, so funny, but I wouldn’t say he is a household name either. Then there are people like my friend Mary Lynn Rajskub who is a celebrity, but most people have no idea she does comedy. It’s kind of the flip-flop of what we were just talking about: almost everyone who knows her as a household name thinks of her as her role of Chloe from the hot show 24, which was certainly not a comedy. So, a lot of people don’t really know that she got her start doing comedy and still does it to this day. Almost any night of the week here in L.A., you can see her at a club around town, and she travels too, very hard working woman.
Same with Kate Walsh. Big star on Grey’s Anatomy and other drama stuff, and I don’t think people are aware she does stand-up comedy.
What was the question again? Just kidding. The point is, fame doesn’t always have everything to do with it, and it is possible to make a living just as a working comic and not be in movies, or TV, or be a household name. Just look at Brain Regan.
Oh shit, I just realized I didn’t answer the second half of the question. Yes, I of course have a day job, since I cannot make a living currently being just a comedian. I work on a television show called The Carbonaro Effect on truTV and do some freelance writing and acting as well to pay the bills. But that doesn’t mean I am not out there every night after the day job grinding away at the comedy. So, in a sense, it’s almost twice as hard. But, it’s what you gotta do.
What are some misconceptions people have about stand-up work?
Some misconceptions are that it’s easy! (Laughs.) I think that is the biggest misconception. Some people think that anyone can do it, and that we’re all just a bunch of monkeys who thought of a couple funny things and are here just to amuse them.
Not everybody. I have a lot of people who tell me they respect me as soon as they find out that I am a stand-up comic. And that is refreshing. However, other people don’t know the hours of work that goes into it. Perfecting the jokes, getting stage time, out there every night finding an open mic if you can’t get a booked show. I have heard many people say that it is “taking the easy way out” – the old “get a real job” stereotype. It is a real job, and a hard one at that. I dedicate at least an hour a day writing … and then I usually throw 95 percent of that out.
Comedy is a real catharsis. It is, oftentimes, a very selfish act.
Robin Williams is far from the first comic who ended his own life prematurely; in fact, comedy often seems to mirror the Pagliacci joke, wherein the person who receives the most laughs is beset by personal turmoil and conflict. How is comedy used as catharsis, and if that’s not its sole function, is it its ultimate goal?
Sorry, I just died. I can’t answer that.
Fun fact about Robin, I heard by one of Robin’s best friends, Bobcat Goldthwait (another extremely hardworking and underrated man in show business), that Robin did not end his life prematurely. When the coroner’s report came back, it showed that Robin had Lewy Body Dementia, a form of dementia that is very rarely discovered when someone is actually alive. It’s usually discovered after they pass. According to Bobcat, he witnessed this disease on Robin, and it was misdiagnosed as Parkinson’s.
Bobcat witnessed this disease consume Robin and make him process reality different than he should. His brain was giving him misinformation. Bobcat stresses that people die from depression all the time, and his heart goes out to them, but that is not what killed Robin. He really was getting misinformation from his own brain. Because people often asked him [Goldthwait], “Oh, did he ever talk about suicide?” and Bobcat’s response was, “We’re comics, we talked about suicide for 33 years.”
So, everyone is drawing their own conclusions about him and taking shots, and I believe that comes from the fact that the public only sees a man who reached what they believe to be “the American Dream,” and still “took his life”.
I just ranted about that because I think attention needs to be brought to the disease that actually killed the beloved man.
But, to answer your question, comedy is a real catharsis. It is, oftentimes, a very selfish act. As a comic, we pretty much feel that things don’t add up, or something doesn’t seem right, and we go on stage and rant about it or try to make sense of it. We vent, and we feel a littler better.
On an episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Steve Harvey tells Jerry Seinfeld that “comedy is the one profession that’s non-transferable;” that is, one can make a transition from comedy to acting, to music, to writing – but never the other way around (for example, you don’t see Johnny Depp or Johnny Greenwood or John Green at The Comedy Store). Have you found that to be accurate?
Well, I have seen Johnny Depp at The Comedy Store. So he’s already wrong. (I’m just kidding – I mean I did see Johnny Depp at The Comedy Store, but he wasn’t performing – he’s good friends with a great comedian named Doug Stanhope, and Johnny was there to see him.)
Anyways, yeah, I would see that statement as true, I think. Very rarely have I found anyone entering the world of comedy who didn’t get their start there first.
Also, screw that show. How about Comedians in Cars Getting Blow Jobs? I’d watch that.
Do I believe that all topics are fair play? Yes. Are there topics I refuse to broach? Oh, hell, yes.
Are all topics fair play for the sake of comedy, or are there ideas and subject matter that you refuse to broach?
Those are really two different questions. Do I believe that all topics are fair play? Yes.
Are there topics I refuse to broach? Oh, hell, yes. I am a very “safe” comedian, as far as “edginess” is concerned. Because edgy doesn’t always mean funny, and vice versa. But, I do believe that all topics are fair game, because the point of comedy is to put people at ease. A tragedy just happened, or someone just passed, and we all feel bad about it – so instead of sitting around feeling bad about it, let’s laugh about it.
When a comedian makes a “too soon” joke, it is never meant to be disrespectful, or whatever, it’s meant to lighten up the tension we’re all feeling and spread a little joy. Some people seem to forget that that’s a comedian’s job. A joke is just a joke. Gilbert Gottfried is just a comedian telling a 9/11 joke at a Comedy Central roast – he’s not the one who actually bombed the twin towers.
You once told me that comic Andy Dick, one of your best friends, told you that you remind him of “Mitch Hedberg, but not as smart … or as funny.” What about that rings true?
(Laughs.) The correct quote is “a cross between Mitch Hedberg and Jerry Seinfeld, but not as good as either.”
The second part is clearly true, and I don’t pretend to be as good as either, especially Mitch Hedberg – who is one of my all-time favorites. I know Andy meant it as a joke, but he also said it as truth, too, because he has no filter.
The other part that is true about that, and why I like the quote, and why I believe he said it in the first place, is because I have the observational humor of Jerry Seinfeld, but the dry one-liners of Mitch Hedberg. I have found it to be a good mix for me.
There are really only five original jokes in the history of comedy.
Some musicians argue that there are only four or five chords that “work” – that the history of music is the history of the cover song, from the three-chord riff to “Wild Thing” to “Canon and Gigue in D” by Pachelbel. Are the same rules true in comedy, and how difficult is it to be a stand-up comic and not emulate those you grew up admiring?
Oh, of course. The same is very true in comedy.
There are really only five original jokes in the history of comedy. (I would be hard-pressed to tell you them off the top of my head, but you can look them up on your internet.) It is very difficult to not emulate those you grew up admiring. And not even them, but moreso working comedians today.
It’s hard [not] to accidentally emulate them. There are so many working comics across the country in today’s comedy world, that for someone to not have the exact same thought for a joke or routine would be an insane notion.
I remember in the past doing a routine about being fat, and, after a show, someone showed me a clip of another (slightly more well-known comic) performing a very similar routine. Based on the timestamp of the YouTube video, he “had it” before me, so I dropped it from my set. It wasn’t exactly the same, but it was close enough that I had to get rid of it, because I didn’t want to get accused of stealing. However, I never heard of that other comedian before that night.
It just goes to show you, you can most certainly unknowingly emulate those you idolize – or even those you don’t even know. The comedy world is just too large.
Please be sure to check out Jeremy Long on Facebook for stand-up dates and information.