Jim Norton’s Keynote Address at Montreal’s Just For Laughs 2014: “I Insincerely Apologize”

Always outspoken but perhaps never quite as sincerely forthright without needing a hard laugh until now, Jim Norton provided the timeliest keynote address yet at Montreal’s Just For Laughs on Thursday.

The festival began adding a keynote address from a stand-up comedian five years ago to jumpstart its JFL ComedyPro conference for industry, comedians and people who aspire to be either. Previous keynotes came from Lewis Black, Marc Maron, Patton Oswalt and Colin Quinn. Choosing Norton this year seemed natural, at first — the stand-up comedian never has shirked before from speaking truth to power, whether onstage, in his best-selling books or as the third mic on radio’s Opie & Anthony show. After Anthony Cumia got himself fired from SiriusXM this month, Norton suddenly found his own role on the radio changed, as well as an even more personal and professional reason to respond to America’s “social” media culture of demanding apologies from our performers.

Tom Papa, who sat in with Opie & Jim as the third mic on Thursday morning’s SiriusXM show — which guest Gabriel Iglesias hilariously suggested they rename “Opie & Agony” — introduced Norton onstage.

Here is the full audio, as rebroadcast this morning on SiriusXM.

Transcript coming…

My transcript starts a few minutes into the audio above, past Tom Papa’s introduction to Norton’s remarks.

Jim Norton’s Keynote Address at Montreal’s Just For Laughs 2014, “I Insincerely Apologize” 

I appreciate you coming. I really do, because I was more nervous about this than a sold show. There’s nothing more humiliating than when nobody wants to come and see you for free.

So I guess, you know, to get down to it. That was a nice intro, Tom. Thank you very much. Jim is nice. Jim works hard. Jim is good person. That’s really great — Jim once helped an old woman across the street, and he’s never sodomized an infant. Please welcome — but I appreciate you being here. And now, onto my speech.


No, I’m kidding. I don’t have — I just wanted to be really dramatic. “What IS laughter?!?”

No. I don’t know how to do this. I’m a little nervous because about it, but it’s not the idea of talking in front of people. This is just foreign to what it is we do. Because. I don’t have it memorized. You know what I mean? I probably have the first 45-50 minutes down. I’m kidding. It’s going to be a 20-minute talk and then you can all do whatever it is you want to do or just stay for Brooklyn Nine– I think most of you are just here for fucking Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which starts in an hour, and I happen to be talking first. I guess.

I will say I’m honored to do be doing this, and you sound like such a cheesedick for saying that, but it really is. And you don’t want to say that. You want to blow it off like it’s not a big deal. Like, when I was first asked, and my first thought was, well, this means that you asked Louis and Amy and Aziz and Kevin Hart who all said no. I would love to know who said no before they were like, well, Jim Norton’s available on a moment’s notice. But it does feel good to be asked to do it. And immediately — Oh, I’m not gonna do it! Fuck that. You know, your mind says, ‘Fuck the industry!’ Very childish. You know those thoughts you have that you thought made you look really cool like your first three years in the business? You know, you’d say, like, ‘Fuck the industry,’ and they’d go he’s a rebel, this guy. But I find that most comics are typically — we’re filled with a lot of self-hatred or delusions of grandeur, and we tend to go back and forth in between those two things with nothing else. It’s one or the other. So if they didn’t ask me to give this speech, I’d be very resentful that I didn’t get the respect I deserve. But when they do ask me, my first thought is like, ‘Uh, I don’t know, guys. I don’t think I can do it.’ And so it’s nice to be asked to do it. Then I look back and like, well, I don’t know, man, can you do this? Because Marc Maron has done it, and Colin and Patton and Lewis Black. So my low self-esteem says no. And then my megalomania kicks in and says fuck Colin and Lewis and Patton and Marc. If these hacks can do it, of course you can do it! You know. And I’ve watched enough comedians self-destruct and fall on their face, to think, fuck it. I’d rather come up and not do a good job, than just give myself an excuse to not do it. So I do thank you guys at the festival for asking me.

I don’t even know why I have any hesitation to do this. Because this is kind of what every comedian wants. You get to stand up here. There’s no pressure to be funny whatsoever. You give your opinions on the business, and other comedians just have to fucking sit there and take it. This is a wet dream for a comic. Just to stand here and give your opinion and not have to get one laugh. My fear, I think, if I have any fear about it, is that you’re going to be standing up here, and people are going to go, wow, that guy is a fraud. Because that’s always my greatest fear as a comedian. Is that someday I’m going to look back at myself and realize, wow, I’m not genuine. Up here, I know that I can’t bullshit. Because you can’t lie to a room full of comedians. People in the business, no disrespect to you, but you can be. Lied to. And I think of that every time I hear of a 16-year-old getting a development deal because he’s got eight great minutes of material. Like, whenever someone in the business says, ‘This guy is the next ___,” whenever someone says they’re the next, you know that that person saying that’s an asshole and that guy is going to flop. I remember the first interview I ever did in the newspaper, I was very young, it was like 1990. And I remember the guy said, ‘Do you mind if I call you the next Robin Williams?’ I thought that was such a cool thing to be called. And then he asked me what I liked to talk about, and I said, ‘Uh, game shows.’ I just threw that in there. But I think what I’m going to talk about, mostly, is this obsession that our culture kind of has with apologies. And this perpetual state of being victimized by ‘comedy-gone-too-far’ and this pathetic and dishonest obsession people have with being constantly offended.

Like, I don’t know why all of a sudden, comedians are expected to respect the boundaries and comfort levels of the public. Richard Pryor didn’t respect them. Lenny Bruce didn’t respect them. George Carlin didn’t respect them. And when society draws a line in the sand, it’s a comic’s instinct to not only step over the line but kind of rub it out with your foot and be belligerent about it. It’s impossible, for me at least, to respect the moral lines that people draw for their comfort levels, simply because any morality that says subjects shouldn’t be joked about — I find that really hard to get in line with. The public scoldings and punishments that are kneaded out are inconsistent and they vary from performer to performer, so how do you line up and say, ‘I respect that morality,’ when one day this is gonna get you and the next day that’s gonna get you? Am I making myself clear? I don’t think as a result, we should go up onstage and be purposely malicious and pointlessly antagonistic. I just don’t think that we should shy away from subjects because we’re afraid of getting in trouble. Again, I don’t mean be untrue to who you are as a comic. Like, I don’t want to see Brian Regan go up and do Michael Richards’ Laugh Factory set. Let me correct — I want nothing more than to see Brian Regan go up and — ‘Oh, oh! You’re a bunch of…’ — but it just seems like right now we’re in a place where people are being witch-hunted for expressing an opinion. Even if it’s a lousy opinion or a shitty opinion. And comics, I don’t think, can ever fall into the trap of lining up with groups that for any reason want to censor what a person says or thinks, or punish a person for expressing what they think. Because anything you say about a social issue is going to offend half the country. I don’t care how nicely you say it, I don’t care how well you construct the joke; simply by stating the opinion you are for something and anti-something else. So half the people are going to love what you said and think it was brilliant or intuitive, and the other half are going to say you’re an offensive pig.

If comedians have boundaries about what subjects that we cover, I don’t think we’ve progressed much since the 1950s when you got in trouble for talking about sex and Catholicism. I understand the legal difference between being arrested onstage by the state and the network threatening to drop you if you don’t apologize for calling paparazzi a cocksucker. I just don’t think that when most of us think of freedom of expression or freedom of thought, that we think as harshly as ‘arrested or not arrested.’ I think it means a little bit more than that. So, when people say, ‘Well, yeah, but you’re not being arrested for saying what you’re saying,’ like, I get that. But I don’t think that just ’cause you’re not being arrested that your ability to say what you say isn’t being kind of stepped on.

I like to feel I can joke about any subject, no matter how awful or how painful the subject, because like a lot of you, that’s what made me funny. It was always taking the things that hurt me or made me sad or insecure, I would make fun of them. And that was kind of what made me who I am as a comic. I’m not trying to be overly dramatic, when I say, like, McCarthyism! But the difference between that thinking in McCarthyism and now is it’s not the government doing it anymore. The government doesn’t come after you anymore. We’re doing it to each other. It used to be you’d go before a committee and some asshole would sit you down and go, ‘What are your neighbors talking about?’ And you’d have to go, ‘I think they’re Communists.’ And now, it’s each other. Releasing each other’s private emails and people are having to apologize for jokes and things they’ve said in private. The government doesn’t need to do that. We’re snitching on each other. It’s like we’ve turned into a culture of 10-year-old kid sisters who just like to wait for the older sibling to fuck up, so we can point and go ‘Oooooohhhh. Did you hear what he said?’

I hate when people will say manipulative things like, ‘So what are you saying, that, like, rape and murder are funny?’ Like, they really think they have you when they say something like that. Because that’s automatically put you in a place where, ‘No, of course I don’t think rape is funny.’ And then they think they’ve won the argument. Because rape is not funny. Murder is not funny. However, jokes about rape or murder or any other horrible subject can be funny. I don’t think that any subject should be off limits. I kind of think that it’s all the way you come to the joke and I kind of think of the idea of being able to make fun of anything in the human experience — that sentiment has been lost on a great part of our culture because people keep finding their own sacred cow and saying, ‘Well, this is the one thing you shouldn’t talk about.’ Like, you can make fun of that, you can make of that, but whoa, stay away from race or whoa, stay away from sexual identity or gender or whatever it is. I don’t think that we should avoid unpleasant subjects simply because they’re unpleasant.

There was a rumor about — actually I know it’s true — about a very well-known comic who was doing some panel talk show. And they had the topics in advance. And there was one of the topics that he didn’t want to talk about. He’s like, ‘I don’t want to catch any flack.’ I’m like, is that where we are as a business? Being afraid to address a subject because you don’t want to get in trouble? How shitty is that?

And I’m not saying that you have to be untrue to you and go up and blast a subject that you feel personally connected to or be harsh. But what kind of comedian won’t address a subject just because they don’t want to get in trouble?

Does anybody look back on the days when Lenny Bruce got in trouble, or when you couldn’t make of sex publicly, as a good time in comedy? Does anybody look back on the fact when Joan Rivers couldn’t say pregnant on The Ed Sullivan Show, does anybody look back and go, ‘That was a great time in comedy, because she had to say it a certain way that made it palatable for everybody. And I’m really glad that Lenny got in trouble, because he was using trigger words that were hurtful for people!’

Another manipulative thing that people will say when they bring this stuff up is, ‘Well then, why is it important for you to make fun of these things? Why do you feel like you have to make fun of it?’ It’s another way of kind of putting you in the corner, like you’re the asshole for bringing it up, and they’re not in any way, shape, or form flawed for being bothered by it. And I’ll tell you why it’s important to make fun of these things, why I want to make fun of these things: because every other artist has the right to address things. An actor or an author or a songwriter can address any subject they want without repercussions. And why? Because they don’t make fun of it? That somehow makes them more artistic than a comedian?

Look at Michael Fassbender in 12 Years A Slave. Or Kevin Bacon in The Woodsman or any other film that I’ve jerked off to. But look at these guys! They’re addressing this dark side of humanity — this terrible side. Or DiCaprio in Django playing this horrible slavemaster. And they’re addressing — because they know the role before they accept it, but as performers and artist, they want to get in that headspace and they want to address that part of the human experience. But as a comedian, if you address it, you’re insensitive and you’re an asshole. Well, look. Unfortunately, the only way for us to address that stuff is to do it in humor. Like, I’m talking not really humorously now, but you can’t go onstage in front of a paid audience and just stand up there and fucking give a speech about something. You have to address it in humor. So I don’t know how we’re supposed to do that without offending or bothering somebody. People are like, ‘Well, that’s not a funny subject, so you shouldn’t talk about it.’ But I think any asshole can address something that is inherently funny. Like, if that’s the only thing we’re supposed to talk about, you don’t need comedians. Anybody can just point at something that’s already funny and go, look at that. Has anybody ever watched a video of a dog sliding on linoleum and thought, ‘Ah, whoever filmed that would be a great comedian? Because that’s fucking hilarious!’


I think the gift of what we do as comics—I would only say this to a room full of comedians—I think the gift of it is we take things that aren’t funny and we allow people to look at them in a way that makes them laugh. And I’m not using that as a justification to address harsh subjects. That’s honestly how I feel about it. You know, and again, an extreme example, but when cops were pulling bodies out of John Wayne Gacy’s house, they were making fun of it and they were joking about it. Because the honesty and the reality of what they were doing was so horrible. And most of us obviously are not doing that. But that to me is where that type of gallows humor comes from. So it’s not this unjustified desire to be a frat boy jerkoff. I mean, it really is based in what has always kind of made me, or a lot of us, who we are as funny people.

And they tell these weird lies, wanting to justify and dictate what our content is. Like, ‘What you guys say is heard by a lot of people.’ I love that one. There’s why you shouldn’t make fun of things, because a lot of people will hear it. The arrogance of that. I’m not out to convert people, or change people’s opinions about anything, any more than watching a comedian will change my opinion or convert me on anything. I don’t agree with a lot of what Paul Mooney says. You know, if you’re white, you really can’t. But I still love watching Paul Mooney. I loved watching Paul Mooney. There’s nothing I enjoy more. ‘Those motherfucking white people.’ You can’t not enjoy that. But I’m not offended by that. I’m not, ‘How could he say that about white people?’ I just enjoy watching it. So I think you can watch somebody you disagree with or don’t click with and still remain who you are.

I saw Joan Rivers — it’s one of the greatest stand-up sets I’ve ever seen was Joan Rivers — probably about five years at the Cutting Room in New York City, and she went up and did probably the harshest set I’ve ever seen a stand-up do. There was about 100 people in the room. It was on purpose though, she didn’t have like 600 possible seats. And it was really, really, she just stood there for an hour. She was probably 75 years old at the time. Eighty years old. And I wanted to cry when she was finished, it was so — because what she did was so pure. She didn’t hold anything back. She was fucking brutal. 9/11 jokes, AIDS jokes, jokes that I would never make. She just, ‘Oh, oh, blood on my fur coat! Oh!’ Like, fucking holy shit! Without one ounce of worrying about offending somebody’s personal line. I’m not saying that’s what you have to do to be a good comic. But that’s what struck me, that’s what we should be doing. Taking whatever it is that makes us who we are, whatever it is that we wanna make fun of, and bringing it onstage without worrying about getting in any kind of trouble for it or any type of penalty for it. And everyone in the room did not enjoy what she did. My girlfriend and I loved it because we were both comics, but there were a few people that had just seen her do some celebrity interviews on the carpet and went, ‘Oh, let’s watch her, she’s kind of cute. I saw her on Carol Burnett in 1975.’ And they were horrified. She said ‘cunt’ in like the first three minutes, and they were fucking mortified. I happened to enjoy it. You know, but I walked out of that room, I didn’t feel that AIDS was any less serious. I didn’t feel that 9/11 was any less serious because I had laughed. Laughing at jokes about those subjects didn’t make me have less respect for the seriousness of those subjects. It didn’t make me feel any less love or empathy for victims of that stuff. So that’s a lie that people use just to try to get you not talk about subjects that they find personally uncomfortable or upsetting.

And I’m sick of people babbling about, ‘Well, you can say what you want, but a lot of responsibility comes with that.’ Oh, fuck you. A comedian’s job — I think that we’re responsible just for being funny and being original, or attempting to be funny and original. That’s where our responsibility begins and ends. What about the responsibility of a fucking audience member? What about their responsibility to comprehend that they’re hearing something that they know is being said in humor, and they have the ability to laugh or not laugh accordingly? Why do bloggers and audience members and special interest groups suddenly have zero responsibility for accurately interpreting the content of what they’re hearing? Why is it only the comedian that has a responsibility? Why is it that the audience members have zero responsibility for willingly walking into a situation where they know they’re going to hear something that could be offensive or upsetting or objectionable and still getting offended? Like, there’s no responsibility by them and their reaction. Like, all of a sudden, a room full of a people who enjoy something are invalidated, and the one person who was bothered by it is suddenly the focal point. Where everybody goes, ‘Oh my God, you’re right. You walked into a situation where you knew something could be made fun of but you are right to have gotten upset. And all of those people are wrong for enjoying that and that person was wrong for saying it.’ When did comedians become people that you were supposed to interpret literally? Word by word. Like, you know, all of a sudden we’re contributing to rape culture and racism and violence in society. What the fuck is going on?

Somebody kills himself after listening to a Judas Priest record, nobody says, ‘Oh, Judas Priest is bad.’ We all know and collectively understand that that person was an asshole who killed himself. But if you’re a comedian and offend somebody, they cart you out and you have to go on the Apology Tour.

It seems like the people who complain the most about not liking labels are the first ones to put a label on a comedian as offensive or misogynistic or racist or homophobic. Look. We do what we do because we want attention. As a comedian, I want attention. Now all you have to do if you want attention is just kind of feign moral indignation, or write a blog about how somebody hurt your feelings in a comedy club.

My co-host on the radio, obviously, recently had an issue. Anthony, from Opie & Anthony. If you don’t know what happened, I’ll sum it up quickly. He was out taking pictures with his big camera. And people thought Anthony was creeping on people — look, he had a big camera in the studio all the time. You know, a lot of times, when you hit 50 and you have no children or love, you photograph things. I’m not even knocking Anthony. I’m 46 now and I’m eyeing up cameras, believe me, I’m fucking right behind him. But he was assaulted. A black woman assaulted him. And he got into, I guess, a yelling match. And he has a gun. Anthony always had a gun. And he didn’t pull his gun or do anything stupid like that. He went on Twitter afterwards. And he kind of went on a Twitter rampage, and he said a lot of shit that I felt like, ‘Yech. He probably should have rephrased that.’ You know what I mean? Because you can say a bunch of things. But on Twitter, when you say a bunch of things in a row, sometimes the water gets a little bit cloudy. And each Tweet — if you send out a Tweet that requires an explanation? You’re fucked.

Every Tweet has to stand on its own as a beginning, middle and an end. Because people who read that Tweet aren’t suddenly going to invite you into their house and go, ‘What did you mean by that?’ And you’d go, ‘Technically I was only saying that people who behave this way are animals.’ And then you go, ‘OK, thank you. I won’t be upset. I’ll ReTweet you.’ You know.

Even when people do understand context — when it was #CancelColbert, the group that was coming after him said, yes, we do understand why he said those racist Asian terms. He was trying to point out how Native Americans are treated, with Redskins. So we do understand the context, and we want him cancelled anyway. So a lot of times, it’s not a misunderstanding. They get it. And they just want to kind of nail you anyway.

So I think some of what Anthony said I wish he would have said differently. But the story for me, the important thing for me was the way the press ran with the story. And the story wasn’t guy was assaulted, doesn’t hit woman back. The story was RADIO HOST SAYS SHITTY THINGS ON TWITTER. That was what the story becomes. So what you do, how you react, how you behave is not important. It’s what you say that’s important. And then somebody pointed out on the radio show, I don’t remember who it was, can you imagine if, that’s how you know that things in America are really good — can you imagine if the big problem in Gaza was if people were sending angry Tweets at each other? And then when they said that, I went ‘Oooh, that’s a good point. I’ll put that in my speech.’ But at the last minute, I had to credit somebody else. I guess. Maybe that’s a sign that we’re doing well. That a comedian says the word ‘tranny’ and it gets more fucking press coverage than the Fatty Arbuckle trial.

And here’s the problem with it. I’m going to wrap up soon. I don’t mean to ramble about this — it’s arbitrary what can get you in trouble. It’s hard to respect the boundaries because it’s always changing. Like, well, a black comedian can say this about a white comedian, and a white comedian might be able to say this about an Asian comedian, but an Asian comedian should not say that about a woman or a transgender — it’s almost like there’s so many subheadings and different little land mines to avoid — how are you supposed to respect that line in the sand because it’s constantly moving? You know, Carlin had the seven dirty words. Those are the seven dirty words you can’t say — shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker motherfucker and tits. Nobody can say them. No radio broadcaster can say them. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Latin station or a white station or a black station, if you say them on the radio, you will be fined by the FCC. It’s the other stuff that bothers me.

So I guess a big part of the problem, I think, is that nobody communicates honestly with each other. We don’t tell each other the truth. We’re all saying what we think we need to say to not get in trouble. We could all say something and then go, ‘No, I didn’t mean that! I really meant this,’ and then we give the fake apology, and you know, we pretend we’re outraged when we’re not.

So I guess, by the way, for a male-dominated business, such as stand-up comedy, the people showing real courage are the women. The women in our business are the ones — I’m not saying that for, I promise you, I’m not saying that for a cheap, shitty applause break or because I’ve been single for three years — I really mean it. When you look recently at the people who have kind of stood up in the controversy — Natasha Leggero, Amy Schumer, Chelsea Handler, Joan Rivers, they’re the ones who have been attacked for jokes, and they have not only refused to apologize, they have mocked the idea of the apology. They have kind of been aggressive in combating the idea of the apology. So I think that all of us should kind of follow suit.

And if you’re sorry about something, say you’re sorry. I’m not saying don’t apologize, or it’s wrong. I said something really shitty about Steve Martin in my book and I felt bad about it — I genuinely felt bad about it. Especially when he confronted me about it and I — you’ve never seen, I’m talking all this shit, you’ve never seen somebody fucking worm up and collapse as fast as I did when I was interviewing him on The Tonight Show. It was an Emmys piece or whatever. And he looked at my seat and he goes, ‘Jim Norton. You said some unkind things about me in your book.’ You know, Steve Martin just looks at you like you’re garbage. And I was like, ‘Well, you know I didn’t really mean it! I was having a tough time! I was really a fan! Arghghghahghghh.’ I was fucking, you know what I mean? Oh! ‘I think your remakes are better than the originals!’ Awgghghhghgh. Fuckin-aw. But I genuinely felt bad about that and had kind of apologized on Twitter or whatever it is before that.

But I’ll say in closing, and again I apologize for the rambling nature of this…

Advice to new comedians. A little bit of advice to new comics because I always try to take time and talk to a new comedian, because comedians — there’s a woman named Lynn Vecchio, who I’ll never forget. I met her the first comedy show I ever went to in 1990. I was 21. And I never saw her since that day. And I told her I wanted to do stand-up, and she took me outside and she talked to me for about a half-hour, and she listened to my questions. And she showed me a lot of love. And it was a person I’ve never talked to — it was 25 years ago! So I always try to take time for a new comic. I won’t have time after this. But I do, in general, try. I’m very busy up here for the festival, doing podcasts. Especially after this, now, I’ll sit down with my self-important speech, ‘Jim, what did you mean?’ and I’ll say, believe me, the whole time I’m reading this, there’s people out there who are going to blog about this and fucking hang me with my own words. That’s why I should have just read it verbatim. But when I was reading it, it just felt too rehearsed. Like the fucking grandson in The Godfather when Brando came home. From your grandson, Frank. I knew I shouldn’t have said that one. It wouldn’t get a laugh. I knew that would get nothing, because I’m not talking to a room full of 58-year-old men.

A little advice to new comedians.

Stop thinking you’re interesting by being here at the Montreal festival and going, ‘God, I hate festivals.’ No, you don’t. We all love the festival. I used to say that when I came up here. ‘Don’t you fucking hate these things?’ ‘Fuck yeah!’ ‘How many times you audition to get up here?’ ’14, 14 shots to get in.’

Stop thinking you’re original saying, ‘I hate going to L.A. because the people are fake.’ They are. But we all kind of knew that going in, so stop thinking that you’re being like smart and New York-y by saying that.

And here’s something: Our business is filled with liars. Just understand that. It’s easier for them to lie. It doesn’t mean that they’re bad people or that they’re scumbags. Sometimes they’re really not. My manager is such a good guy, he’s such an optimistic guy. Like he’ll say, ‘Jim, you don’t understand. So-and-so is a big fan!’ And I’m like, ‘John, he’s not a big fan. He’s the head of a network. They haven’t given me anything in 11 years. He told you he’s a big fan because you were at a party and you said, What do you think of Jim? What do you think he’s going to do? Be honest? Well, he’s a hunk of shit and we’ll never use him. It’s just easier for him to lie to you and go, Oh, he’s great. We’re all big fans. You know? So sometimes my manager gets his hopes up. But. You know, a lot of times, it’s just you have to look at what people do. Kind of like in the Anthony situation, I find what people do tells a lot more than what they say in any given moment.

Be careful of bitterness. You know, I find myself — we have to be careful about we can be too bitter. ‘Well, the business only rewards mediocrity!’ Which again, is true in some cases. But then there’s guys who do deserve what they get, like Bill Burr and, fucking Louis CK, and other people who are not creepy Boston redheads. Guys like them, or Amy, they’re really enraging in a way, because they kind of shatter my thought, which is that ‘You can’t break through if you’re smart and edgy!’ Like, these are all smart and edgy comics and a lot of them are smart and edgy. So it’s really easy to sit there and go, ‘Well, the fucking business doesn’t get me!’ The business gets me fine. They’ve just said No. You know, the temptation is to think you’re a dark horse, man, giving everybody a tough pill to swallow! No you’re not.

I would say a bit of advice: Try to avoid certain hacky improvs. I’ve learned that. Like don’t think you can interpret what an audience member is thinking. That’s really awful. Like if you do a joke about, like, a woman being a lesbian, and then you find a girl in the front row and you go, ‘Hey look at her! She’s thinking maybe I’d go that way if this guy hit on me!’ She’s not thinking that. She’s thinking, I wish this fucking guy would get off and the local middle would do 45 more minutes.

Don’t fall into the trap of a young comic. If you want to be clean, be clean. If you’re a dirty person, be dirty. But there’s no valor in cleanliness. There’s no valor in shockingly dirty. There’s only, I think, valor in being original and being yourself. So if you’re a piece of shit, be that. You know, you can’t curse on network television. I’m not thinking, oh, you’re dangerous and drop an N-bomb on Fallon. Just don’t, I mean, don’t be a fucking idiot. But don’t start using cute words. Like, ‘Instead of cock I’m going to say my do-nanner.’ And people are going to think, oh, he’s really clever. As my late friend Otto Petersen would say, ‘Kill yourself.’


No no no. Maybe you’re just clapping because that joke is over. I don’t know why I said that. My late friend. Oh, fuck me. You’re absolutely right. You know how awful it is to get stonefaced — you know hard it is, for anyone who’s not a comedian, do you know how hard you have to work to quote Otto and bomb in front of other comedians? You could literally, Otto could get laughs at another comedian’s wake, and I quote him and people go, No, that’s the one thing Otto said that we did not enjoy in this business.

If you’re a new comedian, please, don’t go over your time by 10 minutes and then tell the audience, ‘Alright, they’re telling me I have to go.’ Just to hear the crowd go, ‘Awwwwww.’ Fuck you. Because the comedian after you hates your fucking guts.

And stop fake laughing at your own punchlines. That’s annoying. Like going, saying, ‘Hey guys, I can’t believe I’m saying it either!’

Always be nice to other comedians. I’ve found that to be true. Other comedians have been tremendous to me. If it was not for people like Colin Quinn and Louis CK and Amy Schumer, my last television credit would be in 1998. So thank god my friends have put me in things. Sometimes I think the only reason they’ve used me in things is because so they don’t have to see my stupid face at the Comedy Cellar, just kind of looking like, ‘How is the project, guys?’ Sometimes I think that my absolute failure has shamed them into putting me in stuff.

And another bit of advice — again, I’m almost done here — would be to say, I don’t enjoy comedy as much as I used to. I don’t watch a tremendous amount of comedians. Because. I was co-headlining a lot with Attell. Dave Attell and I tour quite a bit. And by co-headlining, I mean we split the money but I always make him go on last. Nobody wants to follow 45 fucking minutes of Attell. Who wants that? Let’s be honest. He’s a psychopath. He’ll walk onstage, carrying a fucking bag from a deli, and just kill. He’s fucking losing his mind. But after we do our sets. I do my 45, he does his, we improv for like 20 minutes and talk to the audience, and that’s always fun. But in my time, when I come back up, before Dave brings me on, I’ll always see like five minutes of his set. And he always says something so fucking funny and brilliant that it just makes me want to get out of the business. So a lot of times, I find watching other comedians can be very damaging. Because I don’t want to pick up their mannerisms and I don’t want to become them. And if you’re doing comedy for under five years, believe me, other comedians recognize when you’re onstage going, ‘Hm-hm-hm! Well! Brrr! OK!’ We know where you got it from. So just be yourself and don’t watch a lot of comedians, because you’re going to pick up their shit. Although I should have probably watched one that had a stronger closing. I only saw Colin’s last year, and Colin just kind of riffed for a fucking half-hour with a microphone. ‘Youknow, huff hfhfhfff.’ And what we understood, we enjoyed.

And I’ll guess I’ll say, none of us are 100 percent honest onstage. And it’s OK. Look, being honest is good, but don’t think you’re going to break the mold. We all bullshit a little bit. Like we’ve all forgotten our act and instead of telling the audience, ‘I don’t know where to go from here,’ you go, ‘You guys are a fucking great crowd.’ Or a bachelorette crowd yells something and you laugh along with them instead of yelling ‘cunt’ so you don’t get a shot glass thrown at you. We’ve all done that.

Now. See. I’ll be 100 percent honest onstage and say I had a little higher hopes for the ending there. But I could have lied and gone, ‘Right?! We’ve all been there!’ But we haven’t.

I do appreciate the festival for asking me. And there’s no way in a room full of comedians that I can try to stretch and close strong. I have to just fucking take that one on the chin. And walk off. That’s the worst part about talking to comics, is every fucking trick in the book. Like, I could look at Jeffrey Gurian. If I’d known you were here, I would have done the whole fucking set — this is why I hate Jeffrey Gurian. You’re a nice guy, but yesterday, we were at fucking — and I’m sure if you know Jeffrey — he fucking looks like he’s in the Maxell cassette commercial. Just unpleasant. ‘Can I interview you??’ It’s like, I’m at a urinal, could you just give me a fuckin’? He just pops up like Zelig, fucking at bad times. When Patrice’s wake was happening, I was talking and Jeffrey popped up from the casket and said, ‘Can I talk to you? When this is over?’ But he told us our flight was cancelled yesterday at LaGuardia Airport. So we stand on line for 45 minutes, and it was only delayed. So, you…

Well, thank you very much to the festival. I appreciate it. You’ve honored me greatly by asking me to do this. And I, again, thank you guys for listening. I appreciate it. Thanks very much.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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