What do they say about New York City: There are eight million stories, and sometimes it seems as though eight million of the people telling them think they’re comedians? No, that’s not it. It is a fact, though, that America’s biggest city is also its biggest comedy mecca. Hollywood may be Hollywood, but New York City is where comedians are born funny, become funny or arrive to thrust their funny upon us. I think we should meet some of these people. This is a recurring feature, a mini-profile of newcomers, up-and-comers and overcomers of New York’s vibrant comedy scene. It’s called Meet Me In New York.
There’s always been something refreshingly honest in Jacqueline Novak that makes me want to hear her out, no matter what she’s talking about. That’s as true from the first time I saw her perform stand-up (at the late, great Rififi in the East Village) to party conversations at The Creek and The Cave, to her upcoming funny book about depression — “HOW TO WEEP IN PUBLIC” — coming to a bookstore near you this fall. Novak is a Georgetown grad, and there have been quite a few comedy delights to emerge from that university in recent years (see: Gaffigan, Jim; Birbiglia, Mike; Kroll, Nick; Mulaney, John). Novak performed at her alma mater opening for Birbigs just a couple of years after graduating.
I never considered anywhere but New York City as a place to launch a life of arts and letters. Stand-up comedy just feels like it’s meant for NY. I mean, other cities have comedy scenes, but New York just has comedy. That statement is technically meaningless, but I know you’re impressed.
One of our chats at The Creek explored our individual life/career dreams and aspirations. Curious to know how Novak’s own pursuits are going now? Let’s see where she has come from and where she is headed…
Name: Jacqueline Novak
Arrival date: Summer of 2004.
Arrived from: Graduated college, moved home to my parents in Westchester, commuted in for shows, eventually moved in.
When and where did you start performing comedy? In college, I was in an improv troupe. I did my first open mic at a comedy club called WISEACRES in a Best Western in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia. I brought a drink and a cigarette and a stack of papers on stage with me. I threw up before.
What was your best credit before moving here? I won the The DC IMPROV’s District’s Funniest College Student…well, I won second place. The first place winner won a week of paid spots at the club. I won a tee-shirt. The tee-shirt did not say “winner.” It just said “The DC IMPROV.”
Why did you pick NYC over LA or anywhere else?
I never considered anywhere but New York City as a place to launch a life of arts and letters. Stand-up comedy just feels like it’s meant for NY. I mean, other cities have comedy scenes, but New York just has comedy. That statement is technically meaningless, but I know you’re impressed. You can use that as a pull quote, thanks.
How long did it take to get your first paid gig in NYC after moving here?
I have never made real cash doing spots in this city. My first paying gigs were road and college gigs. One NYC show used to give you a goodie bag of treats, I always liked that. Candy and other surprises. When people give you candy, you act casual like, “oh that’s a cute gesture,” but then when you leave, you ingest it. You fully eat it at home later. It becomes a big part of your night.
How is this scene better/same/worse than the scene you moved from?
In DC I don’t remember there even being any other clubs other than the DC IMPROV so it took on mythic proportions to me and I was obsessed with it. When I did guest spots there, it felt like performing in the Olympics. In New York, there are more clubs, so you can see them for what they are: Individual businesses.
Can you describe an “only in New York City” moment from your experience here?
I saw a guy in the subway carrying a new DYNEX flat-screen TV still in its box. That is Best Buy’s own brand of technology. I had just recently learned of Dynex, when an employee convinced of its quality and I bought one. I was so excited when I saw the guy with carrying one, that I leaned toward him as we passed each other, waved my hand, and said, “you’re gonna love your Dynex!”
I know I’m the weirdo in that story, but it epitomizes how sometimes in New York, for a moment, you suddenly feel you completely understand a stranger, and have a special message just for them. Usually about deals.
What tip would you give to any comedian who moves here?
Just email me your specific issues and I’ll assess what advice you need by the looks of you.
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
HOUSEHOLD NAME, SONNY. Putting out stand-up albums still. Maybe another book. Writing, starring, directing film and/or TV projects. Can you tell I like to be at the helm of things? I do fantasize about being in a position to call upon the specific talents of all the comics and artists I’ve known. I want everyone I know to get what they want. Because there’ve been times when I’ve felt so far away from everything I want to do, and if I am ever in a good position it would be immensely satisfying to call people up and be like “I thought you were brilliant five years ago when we were on a show together for three people in that hallway and I’d like you to play Gorgonzola in a dream sequence, please.” This fantasy pretends to be about helping others, but it’s delighting me so much that surely it’s really about something much more sinister.
Also, I always imagine myself five years in the future with a strong, flat stomach with just a touch of fat to make me approachable.
Above: Jacqueline Novak, photographed outside The Creek and The Cave, by Mindy Tucker.
You can follow Novak @jacquelinenovak on Twitter. Or buy her new CD.
For your listening and viewing pleasure, here’s an insightful trailer about Jacqueline Novak’s new stand-up comedy album, “Quality Notions.”
Which NYC comedian would you like to see me style and profile next for Meet Me In New York? Send your nominations to: thecomicscomic AT gmail DOT com