Welcome to the final episode of I’M NOT JOKING. Comedian JD Lopez returns from Episode 1 to debrief and reflect on Peter’s experience building a podcast and using it to seed his 2020 book, Shtick to Business: What the Master’s of Comedy Can Teach You about Breaking Rules, Being Fearless, and Building a Serious Career. Please tune in to Peter McGraw’s other podcast, Solo-The Single Person’s Guide to a Remarkable Life.
Listen to Episode #101 here:
Welcome to the final episode of the show. The show that looks at the lives of funny people. Our return guest is JD Lopez. For over 6 but less than 10 years, he has been writing and performing comedy. An early adopter of podcasting, he launched Left Hand Right Brain in July 2014, where he has unique conversations exploring creativity with iconic personalities. In 2019, he founded Colorado’s premier podcast network Left Hand Right Brain Productions, which has produced podcasts such as Let’s get Drunk and Talk about Your Wedding and Los Chupacabros, which translates roughly into the sucky board. Most importantly, he was my first guest on the show. Welcome back, JD.
Thank you for having me.
You were quite kind in helping me get started as a podcaster. I don’t know how much you remember how helpful you were.
I remember it well. A lot of emails at work. I had a job I wasn’t happy with, so I was happy to be doing something else.
You helped me in terms of figuring out gear. You gave me a lot of advice about production, about interviewing and so on. We had the inaugural, the beginning, the initial episode was the two of us talking. I thought I’m winding this down. I haven’t had a guest on the show in several months. In many ways, I think the podcast served its purpose. As I like to say, “TV goes on too long. We don’t need seven seasons of the average television show. Let’s wrap it up after 2 or 3 seasons.” I’m wrapping this up and putting a bow on this. I believe in closing chapters and opening new ones. I thought it would be fun to get together with you to see how you’re doing and reflect back on the podcast. As a result, I’ve asked you to listen to all 100 episodes in preparation for this.
I thought you said pick three.
I did ask JD to listen to three of his favorite episodes. First of all, I don’t even know if I have an average listener.
You didn’t keep track of your Libsyn. I don’t know where you hosted, but I like going to Libsyn and seeing where they’re downloads and all that jazz.
I don’t do too much of that stuff. I do know my download numbers and they’ve always been modest. I’ve never promoted the show, so you expect them to be modest. As you know, there are a ton of comedy podcasts out there. For some reason, there’s been a huge number of downloads like 40,000 downloads in one month. I have zero idea why it happened. If someone can email me and tell me why this has happened. I don’t know if maybe it got picked up in an algorithm on Spotify, Pandora, or something like that, but suddenly I had a ton of downloads that came out of nowhere.
I’m glad I put it out there. It’s out there forever, so it’s quite good. If you may recall, my goal for this show was twofold. One was I wanted to develop a new skill, and that is as an interviewer rather than the guest, the person on the other side of the mic. The other one is to seed my then secret project, which then became my latest book Shtick to Business, and to look for stories, anecdotes, lessons, and so on that otherwise I would have not known about. What I thought we would do is talk a little bit about what are the challenges and benefits of doing a podcast? In your case, doing more than one podcast and producing podcasts. I talk a little bit about Shtick to Business. We’ll take a little walk down memory lane about highlighting some of the episodes that are good. If someone’s reading, they might say, “That would be worth it to go back and look at that.” Let’s talk about you and your experience. You’ve been podcasting for years. I think 2014 was still early to podcasting.
Not if you were in the podcast game. Ricky Gervais was doing it in 2007. Kevin Smith and Adam Carolla were the godfathers of podcasting. When I started, I was like, “Everyone’s got a podcast already,” but now it’s boomed and you wonder if that’s going to burst at any point.
You move on to something else. That’s the natural evolution of product adoption. Something else will come along or it will pivot and change.
That’s something you talk about on Shtick to Business, it’s taking a bigger stage. I always thought that podcasting might not have been for me. If anyone goes back and reads to that first episode, I was having some difficulties with my own comedy journey, and feeling a little frustrated with stage stuff. I thought podcasting was going to be that bigger stage because I have way more room to discuss. To ebb and flow in between is not just joke and joke. You have to mow down the audience with jokes. It was starting around a lot when I started comedy.
I had Chuck Roy on the show. He’s a Denver based comic and quite an interesting fellow. One of his buddies has this saying about boom, shake the room. When you got to laugh, then you get another laugh, and so on. The next thing you know, the entire room is fully immersed in that experience. To be able to do that, you hit a home run, and so on. That requires a level of audience attention and participation that clubs can have but podcasts don’t require that, which is neat. You could be driving, walking, ironing or doing other things. You don’t have to be completely tuned in and you can still get value from the conversation. You strike me as this is an element that you are quite comfortable in.
I’ve been talking on the microphone like this for a long time. I do enjoy it because I trust it more like a good improviser, you trust your partner, you have an ebb and flow, you give energy, you get energy. I trust it like we’ll find something and we can always cut out. If a conversation doesn’t go anywhere, we can cut out any long pauses. What I enjoy about producing stuff is I can control that. I can cut out any long pauses. If I sound not the most eloquent, trying to read something off a monitor or something like that, I get rid of it and do it again. I do enjoy that element of control that you don’t have on stage doing live stand-up some of the time.
Not to pull back the curtain too much, although I might call this episode curtain call. What we are doing right now will sound better for the audience. That is good editing is both stylistic and structural. Cutting out some of the ums, ah, you knows, rights, awkward pauses, and stumbling of words. Some of it is, “Let’s trim that branch.” There was something that went off and it didn’t quite work and you can you pull it out. I have moved on to another podcast. I have this podcast called Solo: The Single Person’s Guide to a Remarkable Life.
I’ve been listening to that and I have some questions.
I’m happy to talk about it and I’m happy to cross-promote it on my own show.
We can do that.
This show has always been very lightly edited. I had always wanted it to be conversational. It didn’t have to be super tight. I feel much more pressure with Solo to make it sound good and have a little cleaner and a little more tightly edited, although it’s still very conversational. It is hard to know where podcasting is going to go. I’ve seen a tiny glimpse and it looks like this. You have an idea for a TV show. Normally, what happens if you have an idea for a TV show is you create a pitch deck. You find a way to get into a room or a Zoom call with some executives. You have to attach some talent to it. It helps if you have an agent.
There are a lot of gatekeepers in the world of TV. In the same way that there used to be a lot of gatekeepers in the world of publishing. If you wanted to write a book, you need a lit agent, write a proposal, get it in front of editors, get an advance and so on. Now you can produce your own book. You can do it as a one-man or one-woman band. You can even outsource some of the stuff. There are companies that will help you produce your book, even develop the idea, edit it and so on. One of the cool things about podcasting is it can be a minimum viable product.
When I first started this show, I had a little tiny microphone that I would put on my iPhone and a stand. It was a $35 startup cost to this. Under good sound quality in a good room, it was passable. Now I’ve got mics, headphones, and all that thing. Now you can put out a podcast and if it catches on, that is a proof of concept for a television show perhaps. Suddenly someone is like, “I have 400,000 listeners.” People say, “We know that the world cares about that. The marketplace has spoken.” Podcasting can be quite expensive or you can bootstrap it, do it yourself and so on. It’s an easy way and rather a fun way if you’re a talker like the two of us to try something out. Let’s talk about your evolution moving from being a host to also having a podcast network. What’s been happening? Where have your pain points been? What have you been bad at and got good at? What’s going on?
Let’s get Drunk and Talk about Your Wedding podcast, which is my wife and our friend, Jen. The shticking point with that is everyone thinks, “Let’s get drunk and talk about this thing.” I know these other comments that there’s a podcast that was all about getting wasted. They didn’t last maybe 30 episodes. The hosts are wrecked at the end. They’re like, “We’ve got to take a break. Going hard every week if you’re doing a podcast, and getting ridiculously drunk every week is hard. Not that my wife and our cohost Jen are going that hard every week but dealing with slightly tipsy hosts all the time, and you’re not as a producer. It can be a little grinding every now and then.
You overpromise a little. It’s Let’s Get Drunk and Talk about Your Wedding, but it should be Let’s have a Drink and Talk about your Wedding. I was leaning on you a few years ago to help get me up to speed. I saw you as you’re the master, I’m the student. You’re always going to be four years ahead of me. Where am I going to be in four years as a podcast host, assuming I’m still alive and still podcasting?
You’ll be frustrated when people don’t want to do your podcasts that seem nervous about it. You’re like, “Come on, we’ll just get on a talk. It’s easy.” I’ve been running into that especially with the pandemic stuff. I’m like, “Come on, let’s talk.” People tighten up right away and they’re like, “I don’t want to.” They get nervous talking about themselves. I’m like, “We’re going to talk about something you love and you’re passionate about. That should be easy, but people get uptight about it. My friend Jim who runs Mutiny Information Cafe used to be a sponsor of the podcast. He was like, “It’s all hat to you. Most people don’t have a platform to talk.” That’s what you’ve got to keep in mind.
We are talkers. We don’t need a mic. I go out to dinner and I’m going to talk. I’ve put in my dating profile, “Professional talker.” We might be teaching, podcasting, talks, doing media and so on. It comes naturally to me. I’m a much better talker than a writer. I was eager to do podcasting for that reason. I agree with you that some people are a little intimidated and nervous. I had a lot of people on the show that this was their first-ever podcast. I was looking for funny people, not professional comedians. For example, I had my funniest student from my MBA class that I interviewed. That was her first-ever podcast that she did. We had a rapport, they knew me, they trusted me and so on. Those episodes are quite nice and quite different than some of the other ones. They are lovely people, witty and fun, but they are not pros. Sometimes challenges, wrangling guests, and getting people to be comfortable and shine. What else?
Once you know how good a conversation can go, I find myself getting frustrated when I can’t get a guest open up or reluctant to open up and say, “I don’t want to talk about that. Can you cut that out later?” It’s like, “We had such a good conversation.” The ones that I consider free-flowing conversation, so they could go longer than an hour, and they want me to cut something out from the beginning twenty minutes. We then reference it down the road 1.5 hours. It’s like, “This isn’t going to make any sense if we don’t have this in.” That’s a frustrating thing to have to deal with too.
They are concerned about their public and front stage persona in an ideal world where you can get canceled for something being misinterpreted. I’m appreciative of those concerns. What people don’t know is you are creating a shit ton of work for me when you do this, and this is going to be a less good experience for the listener. I have one that I’m curious about because this is something that’s still a struggle for me. It’s even more of a problem with my new podcast. That is I feel like there’s a sweet spot and I’m already exceeding it. There are different styles of podcasts. There’s the interview-style podcast where I ask you questions and I sit quietly. There’s this more of a back and forth ones.
When I was working on I’m Not Joking, I found that when the ratio of my guests talking to me talking was 90/10, it felt interview style. That didn’t feel like a good episode. The other way where I was 60/40, I was out-talking my guest, it also felt that. There’s this sweet spot between 80/20, 50/50, where it’s about equal or my guest is talking more. Those felt like the best episodes. I had to pull these levers and be aware of that. With Solo, I find that sometimes I do a lot more talking than my guests. I have a reason and rationale for that because sometimes I know more about the topic than my guest does.
There are times when I’ve done three days of research prepping, and then my guest is just a sounding board. Other times, I’m leaning on my guest as the expert. Sometimes people say, “I wish you’d let your guests talk more.” I’m like, “I could have but they didn’t have shit to say.” I have an agenda with Solo, which is I have a bunch of information and stuff I want to get out. With I’m Not Joking, I just wanted to take it in. I wanted stories. I wanted to hear, teach me, and help me learn because I was feeding a book project. I’m curious about your experience with that. Is there something that you’ve noticed? If you were to say what’s your ratio in that way, what does it look like?
I do take more of the journeymen approach to most of my interviews. If I have someone that I feel I can get comedy from, that I want to be more of a sponge, it ebbs and flows. It’s more of a 50/50 on most of the podcasts. Especially now, I’m like, “I just want to have a good time with my buddies.” The Los Chupacabros podcast is me having a silly goose time, not try and interview anyone. Left Hand Right Brain is an exploration of creativity. That’s the tagline. I’m not trying to get any information out of them, it’s just having a good time. I’m not trying to find some nuggets of wisdom or anything. I’m not mining in that way. I’ve never gotten any feedback about I talk too much because I’m like, “This is my podcast. I’m the one doing that.” What I’ve heard of Solo, you’re the master and you have the information you’re trying to impart to people. It makes sense to me that you’d be the one talking more.
It’s a struggle. I want my audience to be happy. I want them to get information. I have to get to the point where you need to like me if you’re going to like the podcast. If you don’t like me, then you’re going to get weary quickly. I also realize it’s precious moments. The best podcasts have banter back and forth, and have a conversational quality to it, rather than you were in the audience, hearing a lecture, and responding with questions, comments and so on. I’m at 150 episodes into podcasting and I feel like I’m good enough, but I feel like I still have a lot to do to get great.
Some of the greatness comes from what we’ve been alluding to. If I ever learn to edit, that would be a place that you could see the improvement. If I could ever find someone who I could allow to edit and trust their judgment without me being hands-on, that might be something that would improve. One of the interesting things, you’ve alluded to this, is sometimes you have guests who are bigger names, experts, and you want to get something from them. While having big-name people is fun and exciting, and you can learn from them, I have been pleasantly surprised by the number of novice comedians, regular, every day funny people, and people who aren’t necessarily media stars or personalities. Because we have an individual bond and comfort, we can have a warm and enjoyable conversation. If I was a journalist, I wouldn’t talk to a lot of the people that I talked to, but because it’s a conversation, some of those conversations can shine.
There’s time to get to it. We’re going on this journey together. That’s also a frustrating thing sometimes if the podcasts go a little long. I remember a Denver critic said something about separating the art from the artist. This was right when Bill Cosby stuff was hitting. A friend of mine tweeted at them, “You should listen. They had a good conversation about this on Left Hand Right Brain.” She was like, “I’ve been hearing about that. I’ll look into it.” That discussion is 45 minutes into the show. Right at the beginning, we were talking about sex. If they can’t get past these two guys talking about sex, then they won’t get to the better conversation or the jam here towards the end.
That’s always a frustrating thing like, am I alienating my audience too much? That’s a point you brought up in Shtick to Business is don’t serve warm tea. That’s something you talked about in the Anthony Jeselnik episode, which is one of the ones I chose for my three to review. People are going to be either onboard or not. You can win over some people. They’re going to tune in for certain guests and then tune out for a while. I come back and forth to Joe Rogan if there’s a good guest. I listened to the Elon Musk one. I listen to the Kanye one, but I don’t listen to all of them.
Did you listen to mine?
I did. I’ve listened to them multiple times.
It’s not my best work but it’s fun to be on there.
I got your book. I listened to the Shtick to Business on audio, which I love. I was like, “You’ve got to get this on audio or I’m not going to get to it.”
JD, I appreciate the support. I do appreciate you helping me get up to speed. You were incredibly generous. I hope I will pay it forward at some point. I’ve had a lot of conversations with people who consider podcasts. I’m either talking them into it or talking them out of it.
Depending on the amount of work they want to do.
I always say, “Have a plan. Why do it?” I want to turn our attention to these favorite moments and these episodes. I’m Not Joking was designed for me to deep dive and trick people into talking to me for more than an hour. People who might not have otherwise done that. Solo is designed to be an inspiration and a resource for people. While I’m Not Joking was more selfish, Solo is more selfless but each of them has been valuable in their own right. I asked JD, “What are the three episodes that stood out to you that you enjoyed?” I didn’t let him choose episode number one which he was on. Why don’t we start with the Anthony Jeselnik one, which is episode number 100? It’s called Dropping Babies with Anthony Jeselnik, that’s an inside joke. You have to have seen his stand-up special fire in the maternity ward to understand he has a whole bit about dropping babies, which you would not think is funny but is a real crowd-pleaser. What stood out to you?
It depends on who you ask.
For people who don’t know Anthony Jeselnik, he plays with the taboo. A lot of one-liners and a setup punchline of jokes.
The idea of naming your podcast is also like an inside joke. You have to listen to the whole thing. That’s also a fun thing as only other podcasters get if you title your own podcast episodes.
There is a tension around titles. On one hand, you want to title it in terms of helping search like SEO type of stuff. On the other hand, it’s best if it has a little bit of zing that draws you in and teasers. If you say, “Dropping babies with Anthony Jeselnik,” I’ve got to find out what’s going on with this.
This idea of what is cool is always something I’ve battled with my whole life. It’s something you talked about with Anthony Jeselnik.
That has come up in Solo also which is, what makes a single person cooler than a married person?
Anthony is one of the cooler comics out there.
He presents himself in a way that’s cool. People identify him as cool. Someone you know wrote a college essay about what makes something cool. It was something more about timeless and the other guy had more of a Benign Violation Theory type about it where you have to overlap a little bit being dangerous but also acceptable.
It’s close to that. This is Caleb Warren who’s my co-creator of the Benign Violation Theory. He has done work on coolness. He’s interested in transgressiveness in general. What he finds is that people or things that are cool have this element of breaking rules but doing it in a way that’s not too deviant. There’s this notion of autonomy that you are the decision-maker. You are the person who is making these choices, and you’re optimally deviant in a sense. The mainstream is not cool but neither are criminals. There is this idea that being deviant enough explains why things that are cool don’t stay cool. For example, at one point having a tattoo was completely deviant and then it became cool. At some point, it becomes mass. It’s no longer a niche. That’s a fun conversation. People know coolness when they see it, but they don’t know why. What makes a single person cool is a person who is single by choice.
It’s because of a lack of options.
Incels are not cool. No offense. Keep working on it, it will turn for you eventually.
Something I latched on now as I’m older is authenticity being cool or not trying to put on something. You’re talking about things being a choice and being cool. We mentioned Neil Strauss in the podcast that we did. I’ve read his book, The Game, The Truth, and Emergency. I was into that social dynamic and pickup artist stuff when I was younger. He talks about shaving your head as a choice, being bald is not. When Michael Jordan shaves his head, that’s a choice. That’s a statement that’s cool, but a guy who’s losing his hair and he’s bald is not cool.
Neil Strauss has shaved his head.
That was a big thing in the book, he didn’t want to shave his head. He was holding onto a little wisp of hair. He talks about having tumbleweeds on his head.
I read The Game because the pickup artist stuff is a fascinating phenomenon. It’s one that I’ve pushed back on especially with Solo. This is a bunch of autistic dudes reverse engineering dating in order to have some short-term success with women. I’ve always been bothered by that idea because it feels like cheating. You’re presenting someone who you aren’t truly in order to hook up. The other one is, I always felt that it was a hollow endeavor. Most of these men wanted sex, but they were interested in sex as part of a more consistent, intimate, and romantic relationship. They didn’t just want to get laid, they also liked women and liked the company of women but didn’t happen to be good at it. It didn’t happen to be appealing enough to attract women naturally. What they did was they played the game and it’s nice. I always felt that these women that they managed to hook up with were going to spend enough time with them and realize, “This guy is a loser.” I always felt like the real work was not to learn these little tricks to beat to trick someone into being attracted to you but to be an attractive person.
That’s what Neil Strauss talks about at the end of the book. It’s developing yourself to be someone who people want to be around as opposed to putting on a mask for a while.
That’s not something you can do overnight. That’s something that takes some time whether it’d be you launch a podcast, you learned to play a guitar, or you become an improviser. At least stand-up comics or getting out there in the world versus playing video games or watching sports.
I know plenty of comics that only come out at 11:00 at night to do their 2:00 AM set, and then they go right back in.
They’re not fully developing their range of expertise, attributes, and interestingness. They’re not as interested in the world as they ought to be in order to become a good stand-up. Anything else from the Anthony Jeselnik one that stands out to you?
I’m talking about this comic aren’t healthy. It’s something that you talked about, not being a healthy lifestyle, late hours, and not keeping things. Anthony apparently does not workout a lot, but it doesn’t lend itself to the healthiest lifestyle even before COVID and everything. They were traveling, eating not well, and not taking care of their bodies. That was something I identified with. You’re having to go away from that a little bit to take control of some other aspects of my life before I could bring those things back to the stage. Being a fully well-developed and more well-rounded person.
That makes it into the book, Shtick to Business. The whole book is about how to think funny and how you can learn from the masters of comedy. I do a little epilogue about what not to do. The average person doesn’t want to emulate a comic in all ways. One of those things is most comics eat poorly, drink too much, don’t sleep enough. Yet all of your work as a comic is built on this grind, day in and day out pushing on stuff. You can’t let yourself break down if you need a year-long grind in order to create a stand-up special.
That’s for the pros. Only a few select people are doing yearly specials, but it takes ten years for someone to become even proficient. It’s what most comics say, “If you want to be a comic, talk to me in ten years.” Taking a bigger stage and having a bigger perspective is something I enjoyed at the end of the book. I do think that’s where I’m going towards in my life. I got married and stepping away from, “I need to be thought of in a certain way by these comics or have a certain status in the community.” You’re letting go of those things and I’m a lot happier.
If you decided to pursue interests that made the Denver Comedy Community happy, you’re not going to be happy and that’s not the launching point for bigger things. No offense to the Denver Comedy Community. As far as comedy communities go, it’s one of the better ones, but they’re not the gatekeepers or the tastemakers. It’s going to stifle your creativity if you’re trying to make that group of people happy.
That leads to the second one with Tony Horton.
I’m going to pause you there because I want to say one thing about Anthony. That was also one of my favorite ones because he’s bright. That became clear quickly. I like his style. I found myself being a tiny bit of a fan in that episode than I normally wouldn’t be. It was uniquely challenging in that sense. The other thing that I liked, and I didn’t even think about it until a friend of mine pointed it out to me, is we have this conversation in the podcast where he refers to himself as the villain. He has this villain persona. I correct him in the episode and I say, “I don’t think you’re a villain. You’re no hero. A hero has a bit about dropping babies. You are the anti-hero.” This is something that Caleb and I have talked about in the coolness world. The cool people on television are anti-heroes. They have some motivation that you can get behind but they’re severely flawed. They don’t have the purest intentions, but they have appealing qualities.
Luke Skywalker is the hero, Darth Vader is the villain, but Han Solo is the anti-hero. You want to hang out with Han. I see Anthony as an anti-hero, flawed, and not always the purest of motives, but desirable qualities, and not looking to do evil in the world. My buddy is like, “I like it when you tell someone what your opinion and your model of what they are and who they are.” You’re not asking their permission to do it, you just volunteer it. I had never thought of it but that was a fun moment to have. He was receptive to the idea. I hope he would be accepting to the idea because it’s a much better descriptor as an anti-hero.
He jumped on that right away. He may have it that would reference like he’s not the best character but there are worse people around. By default, you become more of a likable figure or something like that.
Let’s go to the Tony Horton one. He also made it into the book. He’s in chapter one.
I was excited when I saw that one. It sounds like, “I had the P90X video.” I drank that Kool-Aid when I was younger.
P90X for people who don’t know came out late ‘90s DVDs. These are super intense hit and high-intensity training workouts.
That’s 1.5 hours each.
It’s hardcore. If you wanted to get fit, it would get you fit. It would waste you, but you would get fit. Anthony is a witty, energetic, and enthusiastic guy. You needed his positive energy in order to not hate him and hate the experience because it was challenging.
I didn’t like Billy Blanks Tae Bo karate videos when I was young, before I started getting proper karate lessons. He was such a big departure from that. I remember Billy Blanks and then to have Tony Horton be like, “Come on, guys.” He’s super-enthusiastic like, “Do your best, forget the rest,” and all that jazz. You must have known him on a personal level because you call Tony Horton, Anthony.
I got to meet him, which was great. Tony is a former stand-up actor. He was a bartender. He was living the LA Hollywood lifestyle. He became a celebrity trainer by getting Tom Petty into shape for one of his tours. He got Tom Petty so shredded and Petty was performing his best. He didn’t wear a shirt anymore. The beautiful thing about Tony Horton is he’s an energetic guy.
That’s authenticity coming out. You can’t fake that, I think. It would be off-putting if someone was trying to be that guy and not generally have that behind the truth.
I went to Tony Horton’s house to do this and he hosted a backyard workout. His whole house is built with his own fitness room and outdoor space. He has an obstacle course on his property. He hosted a plier workout in his backyard that I joined afterward. It wrecked me. I was sore for 2, 3 days. He was exactly the way he was on the P90X videos as he was in that backyard workout.
When I heard that, I was like, “Peter, I don’t know if you know what you’re getting into. Have you seen this P90X workout?” That guy is next level. You hear his backstory that humanized him, and then to hear that he has gone through being sick before that. What a shame someone who is at the peak of physical conditioning can get laid low easily.
He was super sick. For someone whose identity is about to have that taken away.
It had to be hard. You’ve got to check right there.
We hear these Hollywood stories, the person who tries to make it and doesn’t. He wasn’t a Chippendales dancer. He was a Chippendales go-go dancer and stuff like that. This is someone who is hustling and trying and trying. It seems like it’s not going to happen for him and then he finds his lane. He’s in his mid-60s and he’s still in that lane. He’s an easy guy to like. There was something about authenticity. We talked about it in comedy. It’s the case in podcasting. It’s something I need to work more and more on. The more I let my backstage self out especially with the Solo podcast, the better it’s going to be.
That’s the double-edged sword. People want you to be authentic and be you but if they don’t like something about your thing, they’ll take a little bit of a podcast, not listen to the whole 1.5 hours, but they’ll take the snippet of you joking around or whatever out of context, and they’ll crucify you for it. I’m not a fanboy. I didn’t think we’re near fanboy with Anthony Jeselnik, but I could tell you had a little more juice behind your enthusiasm.
Nerds are good. It’s all like dating. It’s good to be a little excited and a little nervous.
That’s genuine. That’s the thing that they’re going to latch onto like, “This is charming and I like this guy over trying to be too cool.” That’s something that was a handicap for me. Even with comedy, I try to be too cool, or I wanted to be thought of as cool but also talking about my goofy setup. Self-deprecating is hard when you’re trying to be cool. I was talking right before we started and I want to get this out there that you mentioned that I look good.
I said, “You’re looking lean.”
It’s a form of good. I found myself going back to these things I found more comforting. When I was a kid, I have been going to some more Brazilian jiu-jitsu classes and martial arts stuff. With the COVID stuff, I’ve been going to karate classes. One might think that getting into a physical type of sport might not be the smartest thing to do. I’ve been getting into that lifting and going to the gym more than I have before. I’m getting into this physical fitness stuff I like. You can find a cross-section of comedy and that’s something you talk about in Shtick to Business as well, stepping out. You might be having the comedy base and then finding yourself doing something like physical fitness that might set me above someone else who hasn’t done something like that, and have the experience that I had.
Let’s talk about that idea for a moment. There are two lessons from Tony Horton. One is as a comic, you learn the reversal. Chapter one of the book is called Reversal. It’s about producing an opposing perspective and how that’s a useful way to create comedy. Jeselnik has a joke that goes like, “My parents were strict, they caught me smoking, and they forced me to smoke an entire pack of cigarettes to teach me a lesson about brand loyalty.” You take people down a path and then you bring them back the other way. That reversal can be used in other places in life. P90X is a reversal because at the time, everybody was doing the Thighmaster. It’s never been easy to get in shape and then here comes Tony Horton and says, “It is insanely difficult to get in shape, but if you want to get in shape, you’ve got to do insanely difficult workouts.” In many ways, that changed the fitness industry. We have CrossFit, Orangetheory, and Barry’s Bootcamp. We have this style of workout that we take for granted but works.
The other thing is something you’ve been alluding to. It’s I could compete with all the other stand-up comics in the world, but that’s hard. Someone may be a mediocre talent when it comes to stand-up, but you move them into another activity that is not about comedy and suddenly, you’re the funniest person in that industry. Tony Horton is comic, but he’s going to be the funniest fitness instructor that you’re going to have. When people ask me, “Peter, you’re funny.” I’m like, “I’m not professional comedy funny, but compared to the average professor, I’m hysterically funny.” There is a lesson there that maybe you have something that you’re good at but you can’t compete with the elites, well then escape the competition and find a different place to compete.
That’s a hard lesson too because everyone in comedy is like, “It’s this or nothing.” That’s the whole mentality. It’s like, “You’ve got to be out there grinding, if you’re not, don’t even waste my time.” That was a mentality I thought I had to have for a long time.
I would start with the question, if you weren’t doing what you’re doing, what would you be doing? Not a surprising number of comics make the joke, “Dead or in rehab.” They don’t even see there being an alternative to it. This was a lesson that didn’t make the Shtick to Business. I have this idea for a lesson called No Plan B. Some people believe that if you have a backup, that backup is going to handicap you because when things get tough, you can go, “I’m just going to do this other thing.”
The idea is it’s either you succeed or you die trying. The reason I didn’t put that into the book is I don’t think it’s the only strategy, especially in business. I like the idea of hobbies. I like spending 10% of your time on a hobby that might turn into an entrepreneurial venture. You don’t have to quit your day job and give up your health insurance in order to see, will this consulting company work? Does this new app that you think of might work? I cut it from the book. I don’t think there’s one way to do it but there is this romanticized version of that.
You have this idea that you bring up quite a bit in the podcast. It goes into the next podcast I have. When you talked with Wende Curtis about Comedy Works, you’re talking about this idea of going on a sabbatical and finding other things. She’s genuinely enjoying her life because she’s been grinding for many years to make Comedy Works the best club. It can be and arguably one of the best clubs in the world.
For those people who don’t know this, Wende Curtis owns and manages Comedy Works in downtown Denver, and then she opened a second sister one in South Denver. It’s one of the favorite clubs of Chapelle. Joe Rogan filmed a special in there. It is engineered to be a place that creates laughs. She’s super thoughtful about it. What was fun is I interviewed her on the stage of Comedy Works.
Could you feel some energy on the stage?
When you’re on the stage, you recognize immediately that it feels different than a lot of comedy spaces. The ceiling is super low, you’re right on top of the audience. It’s not a big room but it’s a sea of chairs, and it’s tiered perfectly. It has earned that idea of a top stage in the world. We talked about having a sabbatical. As an academic, I get a sabbatical every seven years and I make the argument about the value of a sabbatical in terms of new ideas, refreshing yourself and so on. Was I gentle? I don’t know if I was gentle.
No one could tell that lady what to do. She’s a presence. She’s like the godmother of comedy here in Denver. This idea of taking a sabbatical and doing things that are genuine. I’ve heard TJ Miller talks about like, “I would only go camping to write a bit about camping.” You’re not fully experiencing life. You’re not living something. You’re trying to deconstruct stuff. That’s not genuine. There is lots of value in finding enjoyment, value, and things that aren’t comedy, and then the funny will come from that. If you’re a funny person, you see life through a funny lens. That’s how I’ve always put it. I see life through this lens of comedy. I don’t need to exactly deconstruct or mine everything for comedy. It will come to me. You can do more work on the page if you’re writing it down and extract new things, but someone who is a comic at heart always sees these things come up.
There is this idea about chapters in life. This is both a strength and a weakness for myself which is I’d like to dabble a lot. I’d like to try new things. I want to do it all before I die. On one hand, you’re encouraged to specialize. This is pre-COVID, you can imagine Wende taking Comedy Works and opening a new one in a new city. She has the formula, she knows how it’s done, and she could start building an empire of comedy clubs, and the world would be better off. There are a lot of bad comedy clubs out there and a lot of poorly run ones. She could do that, but there are other things that she wants to do.
She talked about wanting to write a book. What would that book look like? Talk about rich, especially as a female founder of a successful business, and doing it in one of the most male-dominated industries. The value of inspiring other people to create products within comedy, especially inspiring women to do that. The problem is when you have your day-to-day, is your career like a train where you get on and you go through these stops that are already predetermined? Is your life more like a sailboat where you can pick up wind and take it to another place? I stole that sailboat thing from Scott Barry Kaufman who’s a forthcoming guest on Solo. It’s a quite apt analogy. I was gently or not so gently encouraging her. She deserves a sabbatical.
She’s the person who’s not going to take it though because that’s not how she gets to where she is. You’ve got to keep grinding.
Sometimes you have to not work in order to allow yourself a new idea and a new insight. If you’re always creating, maybe a little bit time-consuming is a good break.
There’s something you talk about in the book about there are some businesses that don’t grow to cultivate their product in a way and you mentioned some bakery. That’s what she’s doing. I don’t think she wouldn’t want to open up another Comedy Works somewhere else because she knows the specific hard work that it takes to make something great like Comedy Works, and that you can’t reproduce that somewhere else. The work that would go into that, she might not want to do it again.
Bo Burlingham, he’s an Inc. writer, and he talks about these little giants. He has a book about this. These are products, services, and businesses that purposely stay small. They don’t look to scale and grow. They have this energy and gravitas where people want to be part of them. That goes against the normal scale it, grow it, and sell it model. They’re familiar, comfortable, likable, and very human. If Wende wanted to recreate Comedy Works in another city, she has to move to that city to do it.
Be there day in and day out just like she was at Comedy Works for 40 years.
It’s not a manual that you can hand over and start a new McDonald’s franchise.
That was my takeaway from it.
I want to finish up by talking about a few insights that I had and getting your reactions to them. The subtitle of the book is What the Masters of Comedy can Teach You about Breaking Rules, Being Fearless, and Building a Serious Career. I like this idea of comic as a rule breaker. There’s a norm associated with interviews and podcasts. What I found was that it was the biggest guest’s names that were most likely to break the rules. Even though they were the most familiar with the rules, they were the most likely to deviate from them.
The normal thing is the host asks the questions and sets the topics. I interviewed Jimmy Carr in Melbourne, Australia, backstage before one of his shows. I had experience with Jimmy before he had blurred my first book. He has written a book about humor and he was interested and a fan of the Benign Violation Theory. He likes it as an explanation of humor. As soon as I introduce him, he starts asking me questions. He’s asking about the Benign Violation Theory. I was like a little bit taken aback because I have this whole script and all of these things that I want to get from him, but he sees this as like, “I have this behavioral scientist who’s studying this thing that I’m passionate about, write about, and I produce. Let me use this opportunity to get what I can from this.”
That conversation more than anyone, I was on. I am with someone who I need to be on the edge of my seat, thinking as quickly as possible because he is way smarter than I am. He has thought about this stuff for longer than I am. I’ve thought about it differently. This guy is a comic, he breaks rules for a living in order to create laughs. He’s going to break the rule of the script associated with a podcast episode. There was something to glean from that thing. It made for the first good-spirited episode because he’s not mailing it in where he’s like, “I do this.” He’s answering the question the same way he has 100 times before. If you have any reaction to that in your own experience.
The familiarity with being interviewed and talking is old hat so he can be more present. I say, “Let’s get into it.” I know how good it can be and I want to get there and have a good conversation. I want to get to that as soon as possible. There is a familiarity with us because we’ve talked before, so I think of it more like friends talking. If someone is passionate about this thing, you’re talking about what he’s been doing his whole life so he’s going to be more passionate about it. It’s hard when you have an idea of how it should go. I have my script and do my intro and he’s like, “Let’s do this.” It’s almost taking control and taking the reins. If you’re ready to play the game, then let’s do it. That’s when a good conversation happens. It doesn’t happen all the time. The art of a good conversation does take some cultivation and time to build. That’s something most people don’t get about podcasting. It’s not easy to have a good conversation.
There are times where you finish the conversation and you go, “I don’t know if that went well.” You listen to it later and you go, “It did.” There’s so much going on in your head as it’s happening. No one else has access to all those other thoughts that you’re having. They’re hearing two people having a good time. What was wild about that experience is we did that in the green room, then I went to the audience, and he went to the stage, and he did 1.5 hours show that killed in front of thousands of people. It was in one of these big opera-style theaters that were there doing bits and jokes. It was total control of the entire room, handling people, and yelling out things. It would be no surprise that he could excel on one like that.
You warmed him up and getting him in the mood. Sometimes I’ll call someone to talk before I have a good podcast or if I’m nervous about a podcast to get the train moving.
The other one that I had that I liked and this is someone I had met before was Wil Anderson. He’s an Aussie comic. He’s a total professional. That episode is called From Farm to Stage. What I realized from that episode is that Wil grew up on a farm. His family are farmers, they have dairy cows, and how much working on a farm prepared him for a life as a comic and the grind. I have this chapter in the book called Work Hard or Hardly Work.
You talked about the cows have got to be milked.
There’s like the jokes have to be written. He is such a professional. I left this out of the book, but it came up in the podcast. He was on a panel at the Bridgetown Comedy Festival at Powell’s bookstore in Portland, Oregon. We were doing the science versus comedy panel to promote the book. It’s great to do this panel because the deck is stacked against the comics. We have a moderator who’s a friend of ours. It’s my co-author Joel Warner, and I’m representing the science, and then three comics. The moderator asks these questions about comedy which we’ve written about in the book.
The comics are entertaining. They’re the stars in the sense, but to the degree that you view this as a versus or as a debate, Joel and I win. The one time that hasn’t happened was with Wil Anderson. The moderator asked the question, Will chimes in, and our words start coming out of his mouth in this witty, pithy, and funny way because not only does he has this great Aussie accent, but he’s also a professional comedian. He’s ruined and destroyed us. Afterwards, I walked up to him and said, “That was well done. You were great. You read the book didn’t you?” He says, “I did, mate, on the plane.” He’s doing this panel and every other comic I’ve ever had on the panel just shows up. He read a 210-page book in order to prep for it. Is it any surprise that Wil is as successful as he is?
The last one is a fun one. It was with an aspiring up and coming comedienne named Claire Downs. She’s a writer mostly and she hasn’t made it. She hasn’t had her big break yet. Claire epitomizes the authenticity that we’ve been talking about. She is completely unapologetic, honest, forthright, and authentic in the conversation. This is the idea of how hard it is to do. She talks about these menial and shitty temp jobs that she gets in order to pay for her lifestyle as a comic. She has all these hacks that allow her to get the job done, work on her comedy, and get paid to work on her comedy.
I talk about how people who are entrepreneurial-minded need to not break the rules but bend the rules a little bit in the book. I use the example of Jennifer’s from Rent the Runway and how they’re told by this big-time fashion designer’s assistant that she no longer wants to see them. They’re like, “We’re losing signal. We’re going to be there in a minute. I’m around the corner anyway.” They show up even though they’ve been told not to show up. They ended up having an hour-long meeting with her that’s super helpful and useful. Claire called it her go-bag. She packs a bag with all her comedy work in it, her laptop and notebook, and then she packs another bag that she puts her go-bag into. She gets into work and she quickly and hurries does her temp job work. She sets up her workstation with some half drank mug of coffee, wrappers, and notepads.
The candy wrappers thing is interesting. There is some ecology that goes in the bag. It’s like, “I’m a mess. Leave me alone.”
She puts a jacket on the back of her chair and then she takes her go-bag and finds another place to work on her comedy. Anybody walking by her desk thinks that Claire is in the bathroom. She talked about how she would schedule these phone calls in a private booth. She said she once drove to Beverly Hills and pitched a TV show during this time. We can debate the ethics of any of this, but the point is that I wouldn’t bet against Claire in terms of her being successful in the cutthroat world of comedy. How ingenious she is about finding these hacks was fun.
That is something that comedians all have. Any story you hear of successful comics talking about in podcasts and stuff, they all had this little bit of extra oomph and this courage to do that stuff. Try and bend the rules a little bit, not fully break or always pushing the boundaries, but we know enough to not cross the line most of the time because we’ve already crossed it too many times so we can know where the line is and stuff like that. That is inspiring in a way.
It would be a good scene in a movie. That’s how good it is. It’s a good scene in the movie. Alan Alda, a character in a Woody Allen movie talks about how a good joke bends but doesn’t break. This is a monumental moment because this is officially my last episode of I’m Not Joking. If Jerry Seinfeld talks to me, I’ll bring it back, or Chris Rock and Sara Solomon.
Are you not going to put it on Solo?
Not, Jerry. He is married now.
I could never be on Solo.
We would have to be talking about living a remarkable life thing. I would bring this back out, but I wanted to have a nightcap to bring it back. As I turn my attention fully to Solo, to this other podcast, and this project, is there any advice that you would have for me as I go from 150 episodes to 300 episodes of experience? What’s the next level stuff that you think I should be considering?
The thing that I’ve always butted my head about is advertising. How do you do that? Start making money off of it. I’ve always been jealous but also not motivated enough to go for that advertising. You’re making that step to having podcasting support your lifestyle. I don’t know if that will be Patreon or whatever you’re going to do. That seems to be that you have the people that are going the distance to make that step. To do podcasting authentically, truly, and all that jazz is making it 100% of what you do.
I was not interested in monetizing of I’m Not Joking because it was designed to feed this book.
You might have it in a different way.
The book was going to help with professional speaking. COVID has made that more difficult, but we live long lives and COVID is going to go away. With Solo, I have had some sponsorships, but they have been more mutually beneficial where there are products, people that I care about that I want the world to know about their offering, rather than as a true moneymaker for me. I don’t want to do advertising. I find it distracting, but I am starting to think about it someday. The more time I spend on it, the better the podcast gets, but the more time I spend on it, the more it crowds out other activities.
I don’t want to be greedy, but I also recognize that this is not completely charity work. The idea is if I get to my 300th episode and I’m still doing it exactly the same way, then I’m not growing the way I want to be growing, given this challenging endeavor. That’s a useful one. For now, people, just put a check in the mail and I’ll cash it. I’m teasing. You have to be highly motivated to send me a check. Someday perhaps, but right now, I’m enjoying doing it all. It’s sitting on that happy line. JD, I want to say that I appreciate you. Thank you for helping me getting this show going, and thank you for helping bring it to a cause.
Thanks for letting me be part of it.
- Let’s get Drunk and Talk about Your Wedding
- Los Chupacabros
- Chuck Roy – past episode
- Anthony Jeselnik – past episode
- Caleb Warren – past episode
- The Game
- The Truth
- Tony Horton – past episode
- Wende Curtis – past episode
- Comedy Works
- Jimmy Carr – past episode
- Wil Anderson – past episode
- Claire Downs – past episode
About JD Lopez
JD Lopez writes and performs comedy. He launched Left Hand Right Brain in July 2014 – where he has unique conversations exploring creativity with iconic personalities.
In 2019 JD founded Colorado’s podcast network, Left Hand Right Brain Productions, which has produced podcasts such as, Let’s get Drunk and Talk about Your Wedding and Los Chupacabros.
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