You'd like to think that you can just harness the power of the Internet and become a success story, and that's certainly the case for most comedians today. You know, the ol' short-hand of Dane Cook getting 2 million MySpace friends and turning that into millions of dollars, movies and more.
But what if that's not true?
Meet young comedian Brandon Mendelson. This guy has upward of 878,000 Twitter followers at @bjmendelson. And you probably have never ever heard of him. You certainly haven't seen him perform stand-up at a comedy club or TV show near you. Because he doesn't tour. Not at all. Not as a comedian.
Wait. What? What is going on here? He emailed me claiming to be "a comedian without a stage" in Glens Falls, NY. And he also claims to be writing a book called "Social Media is Bullshit." Well, is it?
I asked Mendelson to explain himself. He did so. Sort of.
First things first. What are you doing up in Glens Falls?
Truthfully? I want to be ‚ÄúHacksaw‚Äù Jim Duggan‚Äôs hetero lifemate. He‚Äôs allegedly from Glens Falls.
I‚Äôm also here because of my wife. Her family is from South Glens Falls, and being close to them is important to her. Where my family lives in Monroe, New York? The place is overrun with honkys. Honkys as far as the eye can see. You can‚Äôt even go to the convenience store by my parent‚Äôs house now without some miscreant in their SUV riding your ass because they‚Äôre late for their assholes meeting. Glens Falls doesn‚Äôt have that problem. Yet. We have America‚Äôs largest construction project going on a few exits away, so some day it will, but not now. Faced with those options? I‚Äôm happy to be here. Also: In the odd event George Carlin smiles upon me, I plan on being on the road a lot doing stand-up. I‚Äôm tired of sitting in front of a computer. Even if the stand-up thing goes south in the end, I just can‚Äôt sit here and write this shit anymore. I gotta get on the road. In the unlikely event I do get out there, I didn‚Äôt want to uproot my wife to some strange city where she needs to watch QVC for human interaction.
What is your comedy background? What credits do you have?
I started out doing stand-up at my high school and at SUNY Alfred and SUNY Potsdam. I liked stand-up so much that I developed my own plan to become a famous comic that didn‚Äôt involve any actual effort on my part. The plan was to book rock concerts and do a set before each show. Booking a concert is easy, especially when you get the bands to do all the grunt work for you. The club does the rest. Ultimately, the goal was to do a national college tour with me opening for whatever band we hooked up with. We came pretty close, or as close as a William Morris agent will tell you, to having the Red Hot Chili Peppers headline the tour. But. I couldn‚Äôt get my act together when it came to getting sponsors. I was asking them for millions of dollars. The dude who used to manage Britney Spears, who was helping us out, was like, ‚ÄúUh, Brandon. ‚ÄòN Sync only got $250,000 from Pepsi for their entire tour, so … think smaller buddy.‚Äù So, I only got to enact part of my plan. I dropped out of college (temporarily) and did about 55 of those rock / comedy shows across the East coast in 2001 and 2002 before returning to school. After that I got caught up doing college radio, and later, a very shitty public access television show.
In terms of credits? I can list a bunch of dive bars and clubs, but no actual comedy clubs. It‚Äôs my secret shame. Or. Not so secret, but I was an idiot and thought that if I did my own shows I wouldn‚Äôt need to perform at a comedy club. I thought someone would notice what I was doing and put me on television. As I‚Äôve come to learn, this is stereotypical of my generation. Now I‚Äôve been on television for really stupid things like selling bags of air, but not on a Comedy Central doing my stand-up routine. The joke is on me. I don‚Äôt have any of the connections a comedian would if they had not done that bullshit and networked like you‚Äôre supposed to with other comics. Could you imagine how much better off I would be if I had started to do that in 1999? I try not to, I like having a full head of hair. It‚Äôs not a total loss though. I got an email at 4am this morning from some guy who wants me to do stand-up for his 86 year-old grandmother‚Äôs birthday. So … there‚Äôs that.
I thought for the longest time that I had video of an hour performance I did on May 3, 2002, at Alfred State College. It was on a VHS-C, and I never had the converter tape to watch it, so I just assumed that‚Äôs what the tape was. As it turns out, the dude at the Alfred Planning Board who was supposed to tape the show never did, so now I‚Äôve got some cosmic Christmas looking thing where my stand-up set should be. Whether or not that was done intentionally, I couldn‚Äôt tell you, but since I was a pretty big douche when I was at Alfred State, I bet it was. I have almost every single radio and television show episode from SUNY Potsdam, but no stand-up. This has totally dicked me over because that‚Äôs all anyone wants to see these days. But when you‚Äôre a poor college student doing stand-up before it became cheaper to buy a Flip than to buy a Japanese superheroine-in-peril porn, taping performances was difficult. I know. This is one giant excuse, and it‚Äôs something I need to fix like, today.
You say you gained your 878,000 (I notice that's down from 881,000 when you first contacted me) from a cross-country trip to promote breast cancer awareness. When was that? And how are you able to hold onto those followers?
At one point I had 999,999 followers. This was because of my placement on the Twitter Suggested User List back when it was new and controversial. Since coming off that list, I lose about 300 or so followers a day. That 300 appear to be spam accounts and dormant accounts that Twitter deletes, so my following numbers are totally inaccurate. For example: I got featured on CNN in December, and there was a big spike in the number of actual people following me, but that didn‚Äôt stop the official number of followers from coming down by 300 every day.
If I had to guess, I would say maybe 100,000 of those followers are actual people, with the rest of them being junk, spam, dormant, or people I don‚Äôt care about. I‚Äôve been pushing the latter away. When Twitter placed me on that list in February of 2009, I was out doing the tour to promote the early detection and prevention of breast cancer. It was kind of cool at first. There was an increase of 2,000 people following me a day, every day, until they yanked me off the list. I got kicked not long after I went back to using my Twitter feed to write jokes. I did this because I was tired of pulling my punches. To me, there's no point in doing this stuff if you're not enjoying it, and I wasn't enjoying what I was doing with the account. Promoting the early detection and prevention of breast cancer? Awesome. Having that be the only thing I can talk about with my account? Not so much.
If I can get my followers down to about 25,000, I‚Äôll be happy. If I have 25,000 people who are actively following me, retweeting my jokes, and clicking on the links I send them? That‚Äôs all I need to make a publisher happy. From there I want to work backwards. Get the book out, get on TV, then as I‚Äôm touring to promote the book, see if I can weasel my way into comedy clubs to perform. Most people get into stand-up to get some place else, I‚Äôm getting into something else to get into stand-up. That‚Äôs all I want to do with my life. The rest is bullshit.
Couldn't you just parlay those followers into a gig somewhere, anywhere?
I have to be honest: Having only booked my own shows as a stand-up, I‚Äôm totally ignorant of the process on how to get gigs. I don‚Äôt have any video, so without the video, any connections, and a working knowledge of booking gigs for myself I‚Äôm at the same mental level when it comes to comedy booking as the kid eating the edible paste. But who knows? Maybe I should. If anyone knows how I can go about doing that, I‚Äôm all ears. If I‚Äôm being realistic though, it‚Äôs probably best to get the book out, and use any press that comes with it to get some gigs when I come through those cities on the book tour. I‚Äôve also been thinking about going to the homes of the people who legitimately follow me on Twitter and doing stand-up in their house as part of the tour. That‚Äôs one way to get some video … and a restraining order.
Oh, and in the ultimate act of hubris, I emailed Marc Maron about appearing on an episode of WTF. I knew it was a long shot, but aside from blowing club owners, I thought appearing on his show might convince people to give me a shot at their club.
What advice would you give other comedians, or humorists such as yourself, about Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and the like?
Tumblr? Don‚Äôt bother.
Facebook? The only people who benefit from your use of Facebook is Facebook … and their advertisers. Don't trust them. Don't use it.