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.
You’ve heard a lot of Jesse Joyce‘s jokes without knowing it. Joyce not only toured with the late Greg Giraldo, but also helped Giraldo craft many of the outrageously witty cracks he told at several Comedy Central Roasts. This past year, Joyce also wrote barbs for Comedy Central’s The Burn with Jeffrey Ross. But he also can stand up on his own merits, as he proved with his 2011 CD, “Pro Joyce.” Let’s find out more about Jesse Joyce’s comedy journey.
Name: Jesse Joyce
Arrival date: Aug. 1, 2001
Arrived from: Pittsburgh, Penn.
When and where did you start performing comedy? I started in Pittsburgh at my college, Duquesne University and the (now defunct) Pittsburgh Funny Bone in 1998.
What was your best credit before moving here? Basically nothing… I’d been out of college for a year, but doing stand-up for about four. I used to get to open for the touring comics who came and performed at my college, so my only real credits were having opened for Jimmy Fallon and Mark Curry (from Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper – which was only slightly more relevant 11 years ago). Oh, also, after college I spent a year as a writer and a designer at an ad agency in Pittsburgh to save money to move to New York and won two American Advertising awards for a campaign I wrote and designed, but that’s more a writing credit than a stand up credit.
Why did you pick NYC over LA or anywhere else? Because I wanted to be a great stand-up. You move to LA if you wanna fast-track your TV credits… you move to New York because NYC is grad school for stand-up. It’s a far better atmosphere for getting great at stand-up. You might get your face on some dumb talking head show out in LA and start doing the road sooner, but when people come out to see you, you’re not gonna have the chops in the first couple years to bring it. But in NYC you have the opportunity to do 400% more stand-up every night and you’re on shows with the best comics in the world, so it forces you to up your game or die. When new comics ask, I’ll always use the analogy that if you wanted to be great at the clarinet, would you move to a place where you could practice once or twice a night or somewhere where you could practice four or five times a night?
How long did it take to get your first paid gig in NYC after moving here? When I moved to NYC I was already doing road work as a feature act, and since I moved with four years of some experience I actually had a few dumb little things on the books when I got here.
How is this scene better/same/worse than the scene you moved from? There isn’t a better scene than New York City… for stand up specifically. As I mentioned before LA is good for show business, but NYC is the Vatican of stand-up. Pittsburgh was as good a city as any to start out in, there was a club where national headliners would come through every week and there were some locally booked one-nighter and bar shows around, but the most you could do is maybe four spots a week…I started working as a barback at The Funny Bone when I was 18 – the only club in town, so I could be in the environment as much as possible — which led to m.c. spots, but was about as dedicated as you could be to it and the most I could get up was three or four times a week. So it’s kinda like comparing apples with really tiny, infrequently available and undesirable apples.
Also, I started out in the ashes of the crash of comedy in the mid 90’s. When I started comedy was like the Book of Eli or Detroit. Older comics were constantly saying that the business was dead, and the only club in town was not very supportive of any of the younger guys because it was no longer the boom days of paying comics in piles of cocaine. It seemed like people were “over it” so it was equal parts a symptom of the timing of my generation of comics and the fact that Pittsburgh is a vastly smaller place than NYC.
Do you already have an “only in New York City” moment yet? I remember when I did my first big TV taping – the first season of Live at Gotham on Comedy Central in 2006, I had to take the subway to get to it. I remember being surprised at how broke I was at the time…I couldn’t afford to take a cab, so I took the subway and put my “TV shirt” in a garbage bag so no one on the train would ejaculate on it. It was the realization that when I started out, I used to dream about my first TV gig, but here I was riding a dirty subway car clutching my wardrobe in a garbage bag in the hopes that an unsavory hobo passenger wouldn’t force me to make my television debut with bum jizz on my garments.
What tip would you give to any comedian who moves here? Just grind it out. There’s no way to cheat time with comedy. You have to be here because its grad school for comedy, but you gotta remember, the scene is supportive if you’re funny, but no one gives a fuck about you. Treat it like grad school. Do the work, put in the time, learn from others who have more experience and respect that it takes about four years before you start making any real discernible progress. That four-year mark was something a lot of comics told me and I brushed it off because I am very special… but it turns out they’re right… that seemed to be some kind of magic number… that’s around the time you start getting spots at the clubs and earning the respect of some of the more established guys in town. Also, don’t focus on the clubs when you get into town. I didn’t even bother auditioning at The Cellar until I had been here for like eight years. Cause I knew it was the best club in comedy and I wanted to make sure that when I did it, I had a reputation to back it up and I could nail it. And when I did that, I got passed and have been getting spots there since. Comedy is a strategic long game. The greats who have sustainable permanent success have all put in at least 20 years. So don’t be in a hurry. If you don’t get something this year, it’s a good thing because you’re going to be substantially better at it next year. So get up as much as you can and regularly working the clubs will come when you’re ready… not when you think you’re ready.
Where do you see yourself five years from now? I would really love to have a couple of the Comedy Central Roasts under my belt. I’ve been working as a writer on those and have established myself as a veteran in that world over the last six or seven years, so I’m in the farm club, but being on them as opposed to writing on them can really boost your drawing power and open a lot of doors. Other than that and whatever other opportunities come my way, just keep playing the long game, because another five years after that I think I’ll be pretty damn good at comedy.
In the meantime, you can see Jesse Joyce at clubs around New York City when he’s not on the road. He also stars in a new Official Comedy webseries called “Next Week in History” (youtube.com/nextweekinhistory) and appears on History Channel’s I Love the 1880’s. He wrote jokes for tonight’s The Roast of Anthony Bourdain in NYC’s Food and Wine Festival, and will be part of the team this winter writing for the Oscars.
Here’s a clip of Jesse Joyce taking it to a slew of comedians at the Roast of Jim Florentine. Roll the clip!
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