Married To Comedy with Alonzo Bodden

INJ 44 | Big Comedy Break

 

The winner of Season 3 of NBC’s Last Comic Standing, Alonzo Bodden, is a regular on NPR’s “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!” and “Comedy Congress.” He is also a panelist on the Game Show Network’s “Mind of a Man.” Alonzo has also hosted Speed Channel’s “101 Cars You Must Drive” and “America’s Worst Driver” on Travel Channel. Alonzo’s first big comedy break came when he was on the “New Faces of Comedy” showcase at industry festival, Just For Laughs, in Montreal.

Listen to Episode #44 here:

Married To Comedy with Alonzo Bodden

Our guest is Alonzo Bodden. The winner of season three of NBC’s Last Comic Standing, Alonzo is a regular on NPR’s, Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! and Comedy Congress. He’s also a panelist on the Game Show Network’s Mind of a Man. Alonzo was among my favorite people in comedy in part because he’s quick to say yes, such as when I asked him to critique one of my academic papers on humor, when I asked him to appear on my comedy game show, Funny or True, or his willingness to tape a podcast in the green room of a Comedy Club as we’re doing. Welcome, Alonzo.

Thank you. This is probably the best place to do a podcast, a green room. This is probably the most like home for me. Of those credits you read, Mind of a Man is the most disappointing thing that I’ve done because that was a great show and it didn’t get picked up. I am the king of one season, Peter. I’ve done one season of a lot of shows. They never make season two. That one I thought I was going to get a season two.

Why do you think that didn’t happen?

I don’t know. It might be ratings, but Game Show Network isn’t a ratings network like NBC, CBS or even FX or something like that. I don’t know how it didn’t get picked up because they rerun it for a long time and a lot of people would come up to me, “We love Mind of a Man. Where are the more shows?”

We’re backstage at Flappers. Why is it called Flappers?

They have this theme of the women from the twenties with those flapper dresses. I don’t bother the owner. I don’t know why she chose that as her theme. Flappers, Jokers, Chuckle Hut, Laughs, it’s all the same.

It’s a shame you weren’t born British.

They call them panel shows, that’s what they call them in the UK. I’m great on a panel show. My talent is unscripted. There are scripted sitcom actors, movies, stuff like that and I’m not good at that because that’s where all the money is. God forbid I made millions doing that shit. I make tens. Panel shows, I’m good at. It’s funny you mentioned the UK because of Jimmy Carr. He’s internationally one of the great comics not so well known in the US.

He appeared on this podcast.

He’s a phenomenal guy and he was trying to get me on a show he did on Netflix. Netflix didn’t want me because I wasn’t a big enough name. He said, “You are the best value in comedy. You’re the greatest comic for the lowest price.” I’m like, “Jimmy, I’m not sure if that’s a compliment. I don’t know if I feel good about being a great value.” I know what he meant and it is what it is.

I have a note here that I feel you’re funnier off the cuff than your jokes.

I can write great material, but people are more impressed when you do it in the moment than if you did it before. My favorite jokes, I won’t lie to you, it’s something that I say that’s funny in that moment that will never be funny again because it was the right line for that moment, that situation and it killed but you can’t duplicate that situation. That’s the tough part about doing it that way. Todd Barry did a whole tour of crowd work. I was like, “You could do that? I could do that easily.” No disrespect to Todd Barry. I love Todd. Todd’s great but I was like, “I could do that.”

One of the greatest times in comedy and you know all about this. We all talk about Dublin’s back in the day when we were all coming up. That was my thing. Dublin’s was this bar that was like a workout room for pro comics. It was at the time when Dane Cook was becoming super famous. We had a bunch of people there who’ve gone on to be famous, Ken Jeong, Bobby Lee, Craig Robinson, Sebastian and so on. I would be there every week and I would make up shit. I would ask waitresses like, “What can I make funny?” I love that challenge.

It’s interesting you’re talking about this crowd work thing. I didn’t know that Todd Barry had done that. A long time ago, it might have even before I got serious about studying humor, I went to the Comedy Magic Club in Hermosa Beach. There was this older gentleman. He must have been in his ‘60s. He’s very slow methodical.

It’s Jimmy Brogan.

He did his whole set.

INJ 44 | Big Comedy Break
Big Comedy Break: The reason crowd work works is because most people don’t listen. They’re just waiting for their turn to talk.

 

That’s what he did. That’s Brogan’s thing. He was Jay’s head writer for a long time. Brogan asks the crowd and he’s very nice about it. It’s funny you mentioned the old man because at times it is like your grandfather joking with you. Your grandfather’s asking you what’s going on and making fun of your stupid answers to his questions.

I remember it because he was so unusual. He was like, “It’s very interesting.” He made you feel okay about saying whatever you said and then he would make jokes about it.

The thing with crowd work is the reason it works is most people don’t listen. In a conversation, most people are just waiting for their turn to talk. When you’re a comic, you listen and all you’re doing is saying what they said. Then they realize how ridiculous it sounds coming from another person.

The first step in crowd work is being able to repeat back more or less exactly what they said.

You repeat what they say and then you add to it. You add a twist to it or you do a what-if. It’s like the old joke when you ask somebody, “What did they do?” “Nothing.” “How do you know when you’re done?” They’re like, “I never thought of that.” It’s like, “I know you didn’t because you’re an idiot.”

Alonzo, if you weren’t working as a comedian, what would you be doing?

I would probably still be in the aerospace business. That was the business I left to do standup. At that time, I was training new mechanics. I would probably be doing something in the aerospace business, mechanic or engineer. I fooled them into thinking I was an engineer. I never went to college. I didn’t get an engineering degree, but they started calling me an engineer and I was like, “I’m not going to argue with you.” That’s probably what I would be doing.

Do you miss that at all?

Not a bit. I have a lot of friends who are still in it. One of my friends was very successful. He ended up at one point being the highest ranked black employee at Lockheed, a high-level executive. He went to school, continued in school from our start. I would add a friend with a lot of juice so I would have had a good job. It’s my boy. My boy was running the plant. It was like, “I had something.”

You don’t miss it but what did you like about it? When you did Funny or True, I asked a similar question of the panel, “If you were going to be an academic, what type of academic?” You said a physicist.

I like how things work. That’s probably part of it. The thing I loved in aerospace was the technology. The technology is very cool. A therapist told me that I like machines better than people because I know how they’re supposed to work. If they don’t work, I can fix it and make it work again. The mechanical world is very definite. Humans are a real problem. They’re great in a group. I call them the crowd but one-on-one, not so much.

You’re big into motorcycles.

I love bikes.

How did you get over here?

When you switch time zones too much, your body doesn't know when to wake up. Click To Tweet

I rode a motorcycle.

How is that in LA?

It’s like a giant game of Frogger. If you remember that video game, Frogger, young kids and Millennials reading this, google it. You’ll find out what it is. That is exactly what LA is. It’s like a game of Frogger. It is me versus them. It’s street fighting. You have to have your head on a swivel. You have to be alert. I can get from point A to point B much faster. It’s also fun. Riding is an escape. I think of some of the best bits when I’m on my bike. It’s meditative. When I do the rides, when I get in the canyons and get away from town. LA, I can ride twenty minutes from my house and not know LA exists. Those are the rides that clear my head. Even battling traffic, I was told I’m not allowed to kick car mirrors. I want to kick their mirrors because they don’t use them. I’m like, “If you’re not using it, why is it sticking out of the side of your car?”

Who told you that you can’t do that?

An interested party, shall we say. “You’re not using it, why can’t I kick it?” I’ve had people change lanes into my leg like they’re right next to you. If somebody hits the bike, that could knock it down. If they push against it, it’s pressure. I’ve had him changing and I hit the car. If you’re changing lanes, look next to you. I know it’s a different concept.

Do you work on your own bikes?

No, technology in cars and motorcycles has gone way beyond the work on it in your garage. You can change oil but unless you’re an asshole, you’ve got to take the oil to an oil recycling place. If you’re an asshole, you pour it down the sewer, which we did back when we didn’t know any better. The effort of doing that, you’ve got five quarts of oil in this thing that you hope doesn’t leak when you put it in your car to take it to it. It’s like, “No.” I’ll pay the guy to do it. Technology-wise, everything now runs off an ECU microprocessor. First notices on a BMW, I opened the hood and there’s a cover over the engine and I said, “On the top of it, they should write, ‘None of your business. This is not your grandfather’s car. There’s no carburetor here for your screwdriver, bring it to us,’” which I’m fine with because the trade-off with that is cars are so much more reliable. You were in the same age group. Remember tune-ups when we used to have to get a tune-up every 30,000 miles and you had to change the oil? They were great, but it was a pain in the ass. Now you just drive the shit and it tells you, “I need service.”

You’re working a lot these days.

This goes back a few months. In September a guy named Brian Volk-Weiss, who’s a great producer approached me about doing a one-hour special. I had recorded a CD in February and I didn’t have a new hour in September. In retrospect, I could have done material from the CD and the special, but I always like to do something new. I had about 30 minutes. I had to create another 30 and I said, “Do I want this challenge? Can I write 30 new minutes by December 1st when we record?” I knew I could do it. My question to myself was, “Do I want to work this hard?” I did and I had to get up. I was on the road every weekend from the last week of September to December 2nd. In between, I was doing spots in town. I was on stage all the time.

This is old school for.

Writing, testing it, changing the order, and writing it again. Is this joke going to work? I did a couple of jokes from the CD because it was like, “I can make that new and more relevant.” I did it and then I looked up and I thought, “It’s done. I can exhale.” What I didn’t realize because I usually book stuff way in advance, I had booked all of December. I only had four days off the whole month of December. I was exhausted. By New Year’s, I was gone, I was sick and I’ve never been that way. I was like, “I’m making money. The money’s good but I’m too tired.” This happens a lot as a comic, you switch time zones too much. Your body doesn’t know when to wake up. I’m wide awake at 5:00, 6:00 in the morning. I went to the gym. I had some errands and did some crap during the day and then I looked up, it’s like 4:00. I was like, “I’ll catch a nap before the show.” I woke up ten minutes before we were supposed to meet.

I want to ask you about your days. Are you not naturally an early riser?

I am but not that early. I usually wake up between 8:00 and 9:00.

Which is for a comic, that’s early.

I don’t drink. I’m not chasing women anymore. They’re fast, you can’t chase him. Early in my career, I would catch them. Now I’m like, “What am I going to do with it if I do catch it? I’ll let it go.”

INJ 44 | Big Comedy Break
Big Comedy Break: Write it, test it, change the order, write it again to see if the joke is going to work.

 

You’re up 8:00, 9:00. You’ve got two sets, one at 8:30 and another at 9:30.

No, 10:00. Shows were 8:00 and 10:00. I should be done by about midnight.

That’s a different type of day than I have. I’m up early and I’m doing my hardest work usually in the morning. If I’m teaching, I might be doing it in the morning and in the afternoon but usually, I’m not doing much work after 9:00 at night. I’m not at my best. If I’ve taken care of business, there’s no reason for me to be doing that and I can wind down. You in 30 minutes and in an hour are going to be full on.

I usually crash sometime during the day. Usually, somewhere between 2:00 and 4:00, I’m going to shut it down for maybe a half hour, an hour something like that. As a comic, I can turn it on. Most of us can turn it on when we have to.

Even if you’re wiped out.

No matter how tired you are when you hit the stage, you’re on and you’ve got the energy to do that 45, an hour or whatever like when you’re sick. I did a show in Pakistan. Pakistan was coming out of both ends of me. They had buckets on both ends of the stage in case I had to throw up during my set. I was sick. The promoter said that I still hold the record for the sickest guy to go onstage. In the 45, I did not get sick. I joked about it, but I did not get sick. As a comic, you train yourself when you’ve got to work. I used to watch the old guys. You watched Don Rickles toward the end. Rickles was in a wheelchair and they wheeled him out on stage but when the lights went on, the brain went on. He was able to do his thing. I’m not that old yet but that’s how it works. My day breaks up. You do all your daytime crap, your errands. Sometimes you’re writing, doing radio shows, interviews, whatever it might be during the day. Then you downshift for a minute and then at night, you go to work.

You were in a sprint to get this special. There you’re doing a lot more writing?

Yes.

What does that look like? Where are you doing? How are you doing?

I do it on my phone. I write a lot in a Notes app because I can pull things out of that and switch them around and move them, it’s easy. I still write in a notebook sometimes because writing in the notebook imprints it in my brain. Physically writing it down so it looks like, “There’s an idea. That idea is a joke. That joke connects to this joke. That joke doesn’t work. How am I going to do the whole thing?” I develop a theme in the whole thing between shifting, between heavyweight material like news, topical stuff and then lightweight material like yoga pants or iPhones. I would joke about it like heavyweight lightweight and then the crowds would pick up on it. They would laugh when I switch. It became a thing of I would say the topic and they knew I was switching, which was fun. I developed that in a couple of months leading up to the special.

Was that a new technique?

Yes.

How did you feel about it?

I feel better about this one. I shouldn’t say this publicly but it’s true than the one I did before this. The reason being I had more prep time on stage. The other one, I had been on tour in Canada and it was some of the material I knew wouldn’t work in Canada. I came home and I recorded without getting a run. I’d love to run a set at least five times before I record it. That’s if I know the set just to be comfortable saying it. There’s something about doing it. The repetition, the comfort and new things come out. Whenever comic leaves the stage it’s always, “I should have said that.”

When you do an hour of material, how do you memorize it?

As a comic, you train yourself when you’ve got to work. Click To Tweet

Over the years, I’ve learned to do that. I memorized stuff pretty quick. It’s repetition. I’m trained to do that. My brain knows how to do that.

You don’t have a special technique.

No, I used to repeat it over and over. Sometimes I’ll do that but generally, my brain picks up on it. The difficult thing is to say it the same way twice, which I usually don’t but that’s good. I don’t want to give a recital.

INJ 44 | Big Comedy Break
The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny

When we were working on the Humor Code, I remember the two of us talking. You were talking about how the way that you want to do a joke is that it feels to the audience like you came up with it at the moment. You’re onstage, it feels like it popped into your head at the moment. My guess is that the fact that it doesn’t always come out the same way probably helps a little with that.

Robin Williams was the greatest ever at that. People thought, “Robin didn’t think up that whole hour right there,” but he was so good at making it appear that he did because of his manic energy and stuff. Some of it he did think up in the moment, some of it he stole from other comics. He was the best at it. Roy Wood Jr, who’s a great comic and a friend of mine from the Daily Show. We were talking about this and Roy said his thing, he’s been asking the employees, the staff at comedy clubs, “How often does this person change their material? How often does that person change their material?” A lot of comics don’t change your material. It blows our mind when you could see a guy and you see them again five years later and he’s doing the same hour and you’re like, “What?” My thing is, “How does a new joke crack the rotation? You’ve been doing this for nine years. How do two new minutes get in?” I don’t know how they do that. It works for some of them.

It only works to a certain degree.

What it does is it kills the business. Roy’s thing is if I’m a paying customer and I come to see you and then I come to see you again the next year and you’re doing the same hour, I’m not coming to see you again. That hurts the business because the consumer thinks, “Every comic does that.” They’re like, “Why would I go see him again? They do the same act.” There are those of us who don’t do the same act and hopefully, people learn that.

In marketing, we call this customer lifetime value.

That’s what I meant to say.

You can’t create customer lifetime value. You can do that if it’s Starbucks and you’re selling people pumpkin spice lattes over and over again. They’ll drink those every day, but no one wants to hear the same joke twice.

Unless you’ve written Hamilton where people are like, “I’ll go see that again.”

Music is different than jokes. Music is better with repetition at least until some point and then you’re sick of it. You’re super busy. What are you saying no to? Are you saying no to anything?

I always try to get a little more time home. When I say we, I mean me and my agent. One weekend a month, I’m taking off. I told him we’re not booking July unless it’s something good. It’s hard because I love working. It’s what I do. It’s my whole life. I’m not married. I don’t have any kids. I’m married to this crap, this is it. It’s hard to say no. Everyone finished the holidays. They’re not going out. If you’re a big name and you draw, it’s great. I’m not that. I wish I was better at marketing what you talk about. That’s always been my weak spot. No disrespect to the club but I’ve been better off taking this weekend off to rejuvenate. Go to the Laugh Factory, do a twenty-minute spot that I have no pressure. I’m not selling the ticket. That would have been easier.

Do you consider yourself a bachelor? You said you’re not married.

If you want to use the old term. I’m a single guy. I didn’t commit to being single. I committed to being a comic. In my 30s, which is when most people get married, I started doing this at 30.

It’s a late start.

Is a very late start. It is okay, it is what it is but you’re making $50 a spot, marriage isn’t a high priority. When it starts happening, I’m traveling so much. When I did Last Comic Standing, things got ridiculously busy. My girl at the time was a fantastic woman, tall, striking, beautiful and smart. She was like, “Can I get a surrogate boyfriend so I can go out on weekends?” You can’t ask her to do that. Some women could. It is what it is. On the whole, I have no regrets. Although I’m an old guy, young comics always asking me advice this or that. One of the things I tell them, “If you can get some real relationship, do it. This crap isn’t real right. This crap doesn’t last in the same way. I love it, don’t get me wrong but it’s not like having a wife, a kid or whatever.”

The interesting thing about comedy is that it’s not like music. The Rolling Stones can still go out and play Sympathy for the Devil. They can still go out and have the magic and the excitement of being on stage. They can also go back home and have families. The comedy thing is more of a grind because for the reason we were talking about. You could choose to be that person who’s doing the same set for five straight years but they’re not going anywhere. I can’t imagine that they find the work meaningful. That’s like factory work. What you’re doing is like you’re an artist. You’re constantly challenging yourself.

The creativity is the joy. That’s what the work is. For me, my favorite part is the creativity. It’s a matter of finding somebody who gets that. If you’re lucky enough to find a woman or a man or whatever, nowadays you’ve got to go through fifteen categories of what. If you find a sympathetic donkey who understands what you’re going through, God bless. It takes that person to understand that. When I first started, this girl turned out she was prophetic. She said, “Any woman in your life’s going to be a mistress. Comedy’s your wife.” This was in my first two years. She saw that. She was like, “This is it.” She’s right, that’s the way it is. Some women get that and then others don’t. It’s a weird life but it is what it is.

I’m a bachelor also and I like the term. It’s descriptive but also, it provokes. People react to it. The fact is that everywhere else in the world, there’s variety. Some people like to go to the mountains for a vacation and some like to go to the beach. Some people like Indian food and some people like Italian food. Some people do blue-collar work and some people do white-collar work. The idea that everybody’s supposed to get married and give parenthood a try, that can’t be one-size-fits-all.

Women don’t like the term bachelor. I’m in my 50s and never been married. If a woman isn’t married by 35, she’s a failure. There’s no positive term for a woman who never got married.

The term is a spinster. It’s a terrible term.

“What’s wrong with you, what didn’t you do?” Women are so mean to women anyway. It’s almost funny to watch but they get attacked by other women for not having kids. “You don’t know what motherhood is. You’re so selfish.” It’s like the Handmaid’s Tale. “You have a womb and you didn’t use it. How dare you live your life.” The other thing is how many people get married because they’re supposed to get married? They’re cheating on their spouse. Athletes are always a funny one. Athletes get married younger than society does and it’s the most ridiculous thing. You’re a single male, you’re a man in your twenties with millions of dollars. You’re famous and you’re going to pretend you’re going to be faithful to one woman, where women are literally throwing themselves at you. It’s like Eddie Murphy’s old joke, “Pussy for you. You’re a power forward in the NBA, here’s a pussy for you.” “No, thanks.” You have the worst ones who are abusive because they don’t know how to relate to people outside. There was never a negative consequence in their life.

There never was a boundary.

We could go into it, but marriage isn’t for everybody. Some people do it. I have a friend who did that and he said, “Never marry someone because you’re supposed to. That shit cost me a house.”

It’s a tough road to walk if you don’t have a good partner.

I’ve got a comic friend and he’s going through a crappy divorce. He found out his wife been having affairs for years because he’s working. He’s on the road, he’s traveling. She has traveled some too, but he found out she was screwing around on him all the time. She’s telling him about this to twist the knife.

Thank you for all the extra jokes that you’ve been able to write as a bachelor, I appreciate it. I’ve never asked anyone this question before. I couldn’t tell you where I’ve heard this but from talking to comics about this idea of, “Don’t pander to the audience.” This idea of you can’t be too concerned about what the audience is going to do. Tell me about that.

It’s worse than ever because the audience has become so sensitive. I’m going to talk about it in my set, but audiences have become so sensitive to what comics say. Coming up, when you start out you want to make them laugh. You’ll do whatever to be funny. Me and Kathleen joke about it, “You muck it up.” You jump around on stage. To me, you go through stages. You go through your bodily function stage. You go through your fat girl. For guys, it’s, “I dated a fat girl.” For women comics, it’s, “I dated a homeless guy.” You go through that phase of that bullshit. Then you start finding out who you are. You start talking about what you want to talk about. You hopefully develop the confidence to keep doing that and they come to you. I learned that watching guys like Harland Williams who’s totally out there. He’s naturally a character as a person. People wouldn’t laugh because they didn’t understand who he was but then once they did, he’s the funniest one in the world because there’s only one Harland Williams. Maria Bamford, it’s the same way. What are these weird sounds coming out of a skinny person?

I’ve never seen anything quite like that.

The audience have become so sensitive to what comics say. Click To Tweet

Her following is tremendous because there’s only one of her. We have a thing, “You’re not supposed to make fun of this group. You’re not supposed to say that word.” It changes but you can’t pander to that because you never know what that audience is. In other words, I’ve been on stage and you see a bunch of guys that are supposed to be Trump guys. That middle age, slightly overweight factory worker, Midwest mentality and they hate Trump. They’re as liberal as you can imagine and they want to change in the world. They’re not at all prejudice. Sometimes you get this young crowd and they’re so PC, you can’t tell a joke in front of them. They’re thinking, “What about the people that are going to be hurt by that joke?” You’d go nowhere because you’d have to do a poll before every show. You’d have to do the most innocuous comedy that means nothing. It’s like working on cruises all the time.

You’ve done some cruises.

I do a different thing. I do a chartered cruise where I can do my own show. When you’re that cruise comic that they throw you on stage and the audience is from five-year-old kids to grandmothers, you’ve got to find something funny about a doorknob. God bless the people who do it. Some are great at it and for others, it’s just work. I’m saying from a creative standpoint, that’s a whole different thing that I would never want to have to do. The people who are the most controversial quite often get the most recognition. We’re going through that with Louis CK. People are all mad at Louis. Louis was on the list. Louis made $47 million. Somebody is listening. A lot of that was movie and TV money for stuff that never got released. People hated Dice. They hated Dice and then Dice became the biggest comic in the world.

I teach this idea when it comes to brands more generally, which is you either want to serve hot tea or iced tea. If you serve hot tea, some people don’t want hot tea, they want iced tea.

That’s a perfect analogy. I try not to serve warm tea.

You don’t have to name names, but do you have a rival or like a frenemy or an enemy?

No, there’s only one guy in the business I don’t like. I don’t like him. We don’t get along. I’ll tell a story. I don’t give a crap if he’s mad, it’s Orny Adams. We were on a tour, we were doing publicity. This was at the time of Rob, the mayor of Toronto who was on cocaine. When Just for Laughs put together this tour, they have different comics and we each have a style. On that particular tour, I’m the guy who did topical. That’s what I do and we all know it. I’m not saying they can’t do it but it’s my lane. I had joked about Rob Ford doing cocaine. This was in the 2000s of like, “Who does cocaine? Do you have a time machine? Where do you find cocaine? How do you do cocaine and stay fat?” We were doing this publicity, this TV thing and Orny did that. Orny did, “How do you get cocaine in today’s market? How do you stay fat on cocaine?” I’m sitting there and I’ve got nothing to say on this show. I was livid. I wanted to beat the hell out of him. I have never been that angry and everyone knew it. They were like, “Alonzo’s losing it.”

I have never seen you mad.

Don’t mess with what I do. That’s my art. To this day, I won’t talk to him. I don’t want to work with him. We don’t get booked together. He is who he is but that’s the worst thing you could do to me. The worst thing you can do in my world is to steal my art, especially in front of me.

I asked that question because anywhere there’s a competitive world. There’s the potential for this idea of a rival, someone who pushes you or they’re a little ahead.

One of the things you learn over time is it is not competitive. There are other comics you have levels but like me and Bobby Kelly who I love, we do the same. We were talking about this. We’re the solid guys that they know. They got to book somebody they know it like with Just for Laughs. They’re like, “You can call Alonzo or Bobby. They got a gala set in their back pocket at all times.” We’re respected. We’re not super famous. Is he more famous than me? Yes, in the social media world but there might be other worlds where are more known or whatever. We both do well but neither one of us is that super famous millionaire guy. It’s not competitive but we love the fact that we can share stories.

Me and John Heffron, we went up against each other. There was a time of comedy competitions. He reminded me, we went up against each other on Star Search. I beat him on Star Search. On Last Comic, we were going up against each other over and over. He won season two, I won season three and after that, we agreed we will never compete on anything. We laugh about it because it’s what we went through. Comedy competitions, I’m always good at those because I’m a setup punch guy. I can be funny in one minute because my act is something I could pull a minute out.

Whereas if you’re a storyteller, doing a minute is hard or three minutes or whatever. I learned how to do that because that got me on TV. I wouldn’t say, “I’m a better comic than you.” It’s like, “I know how to do this.” I knew I was good. Anyway, it’s a different kind of competitiveness. Frenemy is a great word because it’s friendly competitiveness. We love each other but if me and Bobby are in the same show, he’s going to kill his way. I’m going to kill my way and then we’re going to screw with each other after the show. I got a bunch of Mexican comic friends. We used to go at it. Black first, Mexican coming up and do joke, follow each other. If I follow Johnny Sanchez, I’m making fun of Mexicans. If he follows me, he’s making fun of black people. We love each other and that’s what we do.

This notion of friendly competition can be useful. We know in sports it exists clearly. In science, a lot of times scientists are too often a little too thin-skinned to embrace it. That’s a little too threatening perhaps. I don’t know. It’s something I’ve been puzzling over in terms of thinking about how much does that stuff naturally happen? How much does it actually help elevate your game?

In comedy, it definitely pushes you. If you’re on a show with four or five comics and they were all great, you want to be great too. One of the things in comedy that this happens for me is I’m on a show and I’m the only one not famous. I’m the only one not rich but I’m on that show and I got mine. I remember I did one show, it was five of us and I closed. I said, “I’m closing for millionaires and TV stars. What did I do wrong? Why am I the one?” Dom Irrera told me a story once. Dom is the sweetest guy, he’s a great guy but Dom is a beast. Don’t poke the bear. He was working it with some Hollywood thing and there were two famous comics on the show. One of them was talking crap about Dom, he went up and he buried them. He killed it. He turned it up like we could do that. Sometimes you got to turn it and Dom said, “I was like, you’re going to follow me? Good luck.” Dom went to that place that he has and I’ve done that. I’ve had that happen once with a comic and I was like, “I’m going to destroy this crowd and leave.” I was outside, it happened to the Comedy Magic Club and I won’t say Orny Adam’s name. I waited outside long enough to hear them not laugh and then I rode off.

What are you reading, watching or listening to that’s really good?

INJ 44 | Big Comedy Break
Washington Black: A Novel

It’s funny I mentioned The Handmaid’s Tale. I finally watched that and it was good. What I’m noticing with these stories of the future is there’s nothing good. There’re different ways we go bad, whether it be apocalyptic or society turns or whatever. I enjoyed that. I’m reading a book called Washington Black and it’s about a kid who was born a slave. His slave master’s brother had this idea of building a hot air balloon and he needed a slave boy that help him. He gets this kid washed and black to help him and he takes this kid to freedom. He teaches this kid how to read and some stuff about science. The kid is becoming his own person, a science brain in the northern wilds of Canada, where this guy took him and this guy disappeared. The kid was on his own but he’s still black in the 1800s. He still has to deal with everything about slavery. It’s a good book. I’m enjoying that. I got Michelle Obama’s book next on my reading list. I have to read that. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is one of the best movies I saw.

I don’t follow the Marvel stuff too much. I saw a bunch of stuff on Twitter, people are loving it.

Spiderman’s a black and Puerto Rican kid in Brooklyn. It’s the coolest and they do it real. They make it real and it really works. It’s one of those, you don’t have to be a superhero movie or an animated movie. It’s a good story. It’s a good story. I enjoyed that one. That’s what I’m doing. That’s what I’m reading. That’s what I’m watching. It’s funny you mentioned Marvel. This guy told me to get into Agents of Shield. I’m trying, I can’t. Ray Donovan, I couldn’t finish that season and Bird Box.

The Netflix one.

I watched that.

What did you think?

It was great. It was like the edge of your seat but then when you sit back and think about it’s like, “This didn’t make any sense.” When you’re in the movie, it’s good, then you’re like, “No, that could never happen. It doesn’t make any sense.”

There’s a phenomenon, they called it transportation. It’s how fictional narrative can transport you into another world. One of the things that are striking about it is that we don’t fact check when we’re in the world. What happens sometimes as you go home and you start fact-checking it and you go, “That doesn’t happen.”

Do you enjoy anything because you’re so smart, you can deconstruct everything? I’m told I can do it. I’m like, “You’re even better at it than me.” I’ll watch something in five minutes and I’m like, “No, this is why it’s not good,” but you can deconstruct anything. It’s brilliant.

I can do it in movies pretty well. I mean it has to be a pretty solid story like big holes. I’m like, “Come on.” I’ll try to predict what’s going to happen or something like that. Worse is watching standup comedy.

You can see where a comic is going.

I can appreciate the craft in terms of letting myself be in it, it’s become hard.

If they’re not good or if you see it coming, you get how they fool the crowd. There are famous comics who are super written. Yes, I get it but they’re fooling in the crowd. There’s nothing special about what they’re doing. Sometimes it is personality sells it.

The mechanical world is very definite; you know how they're supposed to work. Humans are a real problem. Click To Tweet

The crowd is laughing. These people are funny. I know it’s not them, it’s not the crowd.

You know how it works.

I’m a little too analytical.

I understand.

Alonzo, thanks so much for doing this.

This was great. You know the other thing I love?

What’s that?

The openers and the middle can’t come into the green room. They have to wait because I’m the headliner and it’s my space. They keep opening it. Screw them, let them earn theirs. They’re rookies. I don’t give a crap.

I appreciate you.

I will tell them, “Do you even have a resume? Don’t worry about that.”

Thanks so much, Alonzo.

Resources mentioned:

 About Alonzo Bodden

INJ 44 | Big Comedy BreakThe winner of Season 3 of NBC’s Last Comic Standing, Alonzo Bodden is a regular on NPR’s “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!” and “Comedy Congress.” He is also a panelist on the Game Show Network’s “Mind of a Man.” Alonzo has also hosted Speed Channel’s “101 Cars You Must Drive” and “America’s Worst Driver” on Travel Channel. Alonzo’s first big comedy break came when he was on the “New Faces of Comedy” showcase an industry festival, Just For Laughs in Montreal.

 

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