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.
Some comedians do all of the cocaine. They’re mostly dead now. Rare is the comedian who gives cocaine to mice to study the effect it has on their tiny brains and whether they can be weaned off the drug. Such is, or was the life of Jono Zalay, who had a Ph.d in neuroscience before ditching that career cold turkey in exchange for nights and weekends in comedy clubs as a stand-up comedian. He made the semifinals of last year’s March Comedy Madness at Caroline’s on Broadway and this year’s Laughing Skull Festival in Atlanta, and has just produced his debut comedy album, “Snake Oil,” via Comedy Dynamics. Spoiler alert: Zalay’s still interested in science, and his comedy/science podcast with Joe Zimmerman and Raj Sivaraman, Universe City, celebrates its first anniversary this weekend. He also headlines Caroline’s tonight to celebrate his CD release.
Let’s get inside Jono’s head and see what makes him tick!
Name: Jono Zalay
Arrival date: July 2, 2012
Arrived from: Boston
When and where did you start performing comedy? “Early 2005, at the La Jolla Comedy Store, which was the only club in San Diego at the time.”
What was your best credit before moving here? “Probably Bridgetown Festival. And just the total amount of festivals I’d done by then: around 15 between 2010-2012. I googled “comedy festivals” and just applied to all of them. Must have had a good tape in 2010.”
Why did you pick NYC over LA or anywhere else? “I actually had a postdoctoral fellowship lined up in LA. But by the time I got my Ph.D I didn’t want to waste anymore time with comedy being a secondary career. Plus I have no ambition for acting, so I wanted to go where the best stand-ups are, which is New York.”
How long did it take to get your first paid gig in NYC after moving here? “Just checked my spreadsheet: Month and a half. And occasionally I would even get paid in future months.”
How is this scene better/same/worse than the scene you moved from? “Everything is bigger and more amplified. So the best shows and clubs in New York are the best in the world, and the bad shows will drag your soul onto the subway tracks like so many pizza rats. The camaraderie is probably about the same. You have your people and you say “good set” to each other a lot.”
Can you describe an “only in New York City” moment from your experience here? “Right after Hurricane Sandy, when the power was still out in lower Manhattan, a group of comics put on a show at a hotel in Washington Square Park. We took the train until about Midtown and had to hoof it the rest of the way between pitch-black skyscrapers. Some comics brought food, I brought flashlights to help light the room. Most of the crowd were tourists that had come for the NYC Marathon. After the show we were walking back through Chelsea and saw Lucy Liu abandon her building and hop into a black SUV.”
What tip would you give to any comedian who moves here? “Come here with twice the amount of money you thought you’d need. And get a flexible side job quickly. The comedy stuff can be figured out. There are many paths in comedy. But the quickest path out of town comes from running out of money and friends’ couches.”
Where do you see yourself five years from now? “I’ll probably cave and move to LA. I’m from Southern California so I figure I’ll end up there. And by then I will hopefully eeked my way onto the writing staff of a low budget web series about skateboarders working in a cupcake factory.”
See Jono Zalay headline Caroline’s on Broadway tonight as part of the club’s “Breakout Artist Series,” then on Friday celebrate the anniversary of his Universe City podcast at The Creek and The Cave in Long Island City.
His first comedy album, “Snake Oil,” was released last week via iTunes, Amazon and other venues:
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