Listen to Episode #25 here
Stuck In The Middle with Jonathan Giles
Our guest is Jonathan Giles. Jonathan is a writer and stand-up comedian. He’s performed at clubs all over the United States. He’s an alum of the NBC’s Late Night Writers Program and part of The Second City NBC Universal Breakout Festival. Welcome, Jonathan.
How is it going?
Good. Thanks for doing this.
It’s my pleasure.
If you weren’t a writer or a comedian, what would you be doing with your life?
I’d probably be a youth pastor or something. Working overseas, doing something, helping people realize that there’s more to life than the everyday thing.
You do some comedy about religion. One of my favorite beats that you have is about making rap songs.
3:16 Mafia joke. It’s my favorite joke to do.
What are the beats of the joke?
[bctt tweet=”It’s fun to watch me paint myself into a corner and find my way out of it.” username=””]
The beats of the joke, I did grow up in a Christian home and I was not allowed to listen to rap music growing up, so me and my friends decided we were going to start our own Christian rap group. We named the 3:16 Mafia. The idea, from an audience perspective, they love the idea of Christian rap. It’s ironic. The name of the group being 3:16 Mafia is fun on top of that. The joke goes on to say that we essentially parody regular rap songs, but replace all the bad things about rap songs with things from the Bible but the Bible is pretty misogynistic and violent within itself. It’s a fun joke to do. I like it.
It’s a funny joke and you do some rapping.
People question me on this all the time like it’s true. I won’t say that the joke within itself is 100% true, but there is truth to it. Me and my friends, Shane and Russell in high school, we had an R&B group. We would parody R&B songs. For the sake of the joke, it’s funny that it’s rap. I’m giving it all away right now. I don’t care. There are some songs that I’ve pulled from what we used to do and I’ve written some new ones with current rap because I had a couple of shows where people would be like, “That’s not true.” It was nice to have something in my back pocket, which from a performance standpoint, the audience loves the fact that you’re ready with that and they appreciate the art that goes into it as well as it being a funny thing.
I read this story about some CEO who was preparing a shareholders’ call or something like that. The thing was that he prepped the answer to 50 questions, knowing that maybe only three of those questions get asked. This happens in your world too. You have all these contingencies, “If X happens, I can do this. If Y happens, I can do that.” Audiences can appreciate it, but they don’t appreciate it even enough to know how much goes on behind the scenes to create something.
We’re always in our heads, always talking and having personal conversations with ourselves. I did the Nerd Melt, which was the last show at the Nerdist Theater. The show that I was doing, they wanted to do a bit at the end of the show. The host or the producer of the show said, “Do you mind if I heckle you towards the end of your set?” That’s part of the practice too that you were talking about us always coming up with things or lines that we would say in certain instances. Part of that is if you see a good comedian who can come back to a heckle quick, chances are he’s heard that heckle a bunch of times before and he’s finally perfected the right comeback.
We went over and I gave him the idea that some of the jokes I thought I was going to do. I was like, “Have fun.” I probably will have something ready to go. His heckle was not what we talked about. I was doing a bunch of story-based jokes and I was killing it. I don’t normally say, “I kill, I had a great set.” Everyone’s on board. It was so much fun. The things that he was supposed to come in, the parts where I knew I got the light and I was expecting him to come in, he didn’t come in. In the end, he was like, “You’re crushing it.” I didn’t want to interrupt it. In the end, he’s like, “Is all that true?” He gave me one of those all that true. I was like, “Yes. What if it wasn’t true? What? Do you want your laughs back?” Now I have that forever.
I want to revisit your 3:16 Mafia joke. What is great about that joke is it’s artistic. Art makes you think about the world, it’s perspective-bending, and the idea of this connection. At first blush, it’s a regular fun joke. I remove the bad things and it’s funny but then pointing out the flip that all those things are in the Bible and we’re not taking them out of there is that’s what makes that joke artistic.
The thing that I find most interesting because I did grow up in a conservative religious home in the south. I can do that joke in front of a conservative group and I can do that in front of a very liberal group and both groups appreciate the joke. I haven’t had anyone, “Don’t make fun of Jesus.”
This has come up before in the podcast about the performance aspects of standup and your youth pastor quip made me think about it. You’re a relatively new comic. How long?
I hit four years. I’m at the beginning of my fifth year.
[bctt tweet=”It’s hard to find a new thing that no one else is talking about.” username=””]
I think about Chris Rock. His dad was a pastor and he stole a lot from that, pacing the stage, repeating things, building tension and creating importance. Where are you at with your stage presence at this point? How would you describe that?
It’s something I think about all the time, even with the 3:16 Mafia joke, there are a lot more performance-type things I do in that like I sing the rap song.
What song is it?
It’s a Biggie Smalls line. My joke is, “Tonight is a night that Mary had the baby. I see a lot of women in here could be my babe, who could have my baby.” Once again, from an artistic point, you don’t hear a lot of comic scenes and I don’t look like a comic that would sing. It is another sudden change in that specific joke. To answer your question, I try to find jarring moments like that, which is something that pastors do in the sense of whether it’s a shocking thing.
That’s a James Brown model.
I don’t phase that much. I don’t do a lot of act outs. I don’t have an act out body. I was talking to a comic friend the other night and she was saying that she was trying to lose some weight for that very reason because she is active on stage and you need a slimmer body. It shows better. It’s like Dave Chappelle when he first started it was very slim lanky and Chris Rock, very lanky. Those movements were more accentuated. Once Dave Chappelle got buff, he didn’t feel the same on stage. Now you’re looking at this built, strong guy that didn’t move around as much as he would have.
I’ve never thought about it in terms of accentuating. Steve Martin, when he was at the top of his game, he was doing arenas and he started wearing a white suit in order to pop because it’s a big arena. You’re looking at this little stick figure if you’re in the 300 level.
I’m starting to think about that a little bit, the first four years I’ve been doing is try to be funny and now it’s like, “How can I add the other things from a performance standpoint?” I was watching someone’s special last night and I was like, “All these jokes are great.” I want to hear someone else tell them because the person who was telling the jokes was very flat. That’s his style and whatnot. I was like, “He needs an extra voice thing there or some movement that would make the jokes and the stories come alive.” About that all the time when I’m trying to write new stuff.
You have a look on stage. You have your ball cap, the brim 45. You’ve been wearing that hat ever since I’ve met you.
The reason I start wearing the hat was I started doing standup in Chicago. There’s another comic, a dear friend of mine, Dave Helem, who also has a similar look to me. We’re the same shape, wears glasses, a little bit of facial hair, black guy. What if he wasn’t? What if he was from Malaysia? We were both doing a show together. It was a bar show dive room at the back of the bar. There was a girl in front who was drawing a bad caricature of all the comics. After the show, I went up to her and I said, “I want to see my caricature.” She moved her hand and pointed to it and I was like, “No, that’s Dave Helem. Where’s mine?” She had covered something she had written. She moved her hand and it said, “Another mild-mannered looking black guy.” That is exactly what she wrote. People come up to me and get ready to give me a hug and realized I wasn’t Dave. That would happen a lot, so I was like, “I need something very specific. I am from Georgia, I used to only wear Atlanta hat but after I got in the scene in Chicago, people knew who I was.” I was like, “I’’ switch it up. I can wear whatever hat I want to know.”
I like having guests who I know them and I know their work, but then I do this a lot. You have this joke about, “Sometimes we do look alike.” Did that come out of the Dave Helem thing?
No, that came out of a show at a Catholic school I did. Some of the students came up to me afterwards and said, “You look like our friend Terrence.” It is part of the joke. It came out of a true thing. I remember during the show they’re sitting in front, they were laughing at everything. I’m like, “These kids love these jokes.” Afterwards they came up to me and they were like, “You look like our friend Terrence.” As a black guy, I’m like, “Whatever. Sure, I do. Prove it.” They showed it to me and I looked exactly like that guy. I’m like, “Yes, sometimes we do look like each other.” Also, I am a little different. I think a lot of things that try to make a big deal racially in some cases aren’t as big as the deals we try to make them. For example, did you read the article or hearing in the people, Twitter, talking about Bruno Mars and appropriation and whatnot?
That sounds vaguely familiar. It’s hard to keep up with all this outrage.
That’s the thing, a lot of it feels like it’s fake outrage. Someone wrote a thing about Bruno Mars and appropriation and I’m like, “Was it worth the time for you to write that article? Now I’ve got to read it. Now I’ve got to listen to my friends’ opinions on this.” It’s not that big of a deal. Bruno Mars, he is a great performance.
What did he steal?
They said he stole black culture and I’m like, “No. There are probably artists who do that but a lot of my humor comes from the fact that we try to make things bigger than they are.
[bctt tweet=”Everybody wants a piece of you when you’re doing well, but when you’re not, you become this thing they can make fun of.” username=””]
When are you doing a bit about white dreadlocks?
I don’t have a bit about white dreadlocks. Those guys, if you’re white in dreadlocks, that’s pretty brave. Good for you.
I don’t know if you know you do this, like if you do this on purpose, but one thing that I notice is that you flip things around a lot. For instance, a guy with white dreadlocks is brave. He’s to be elevated, not diminished. You have a joke about feeling bad for white men. Do you cultivate this? How do you do this?
It is a natural thing. It’s because of how I was raised. I grew up in a Christian home, and because of my parents’ beliefs, they sent me and my brother to a Christian private school. Most of the kids in that school were white. I was a weird kid anyway. When I wasn’t in school around white people, I was at the church around black people, I didn’t fit in either one of those.
You are like a modern-day Chris Rock.
I’ve read that. I found that very interesting because he went to an all-white school.
He went to a poor white school. According to Chris Rock, rich white would be better.
I would be depressed when I went to a poor white school. What are you guys doing?
He never fit in, in his neighborhood. He was too much of a nerd in his neighborhood. He wasn’t tough enough. You can do the Chris rock thing and you’d be fine.
Get famous, make some movies with Woody Allen, cheat on my wife. I’ll be set. Get a Netflix special. That’s the blueprint. Where did that come from?
To some degree, I’m always challenging the social norms. Just because I feel like I’m the outsider on all of that. Also Standing Up Alliance they comment, they’re all saying the same thing. You’re talking about white guys with dreadlocks. It’s easy to make fun of them but it’s okay. It’s okay they have dreadlocks. If they want to do that, they’re not taking anything from me, I don’t think. Someone said the same thing you said to me a couple of weeks ago. He said, “It’s fun to watch me paint myself in a corner and try to find my way back out of it.” Unintentionally, that’s the idea that it’s tough to be white. A lot of people aren’t on board with that premise anyway, but what’s the game and the fondness of trying to prove the point that I made that I don’t necessarily believe in myself.
Let’s talk more deeply about it because I’m fascinated by this idea. First of all, you are absolutely correct that when everybody is saying the same thing in the same way, it’s not hack comedy, but it’s predictable.
There are not too many new premises. It’s hard to find a new thing that no one else is talking about. Even with Twitter. Laymen, there are funny people out there who will never be on stage, but they’re killing it on Twitter.
What I like to do sometimes is if something happens and I come up with something that’s funny, instead of tweeting it, I search for it. I often find five other people that have already said it and not all of them are comics, some of them are regular people. That’s the classic, “A lot of jokes aren’t stolen, they’re invented independently. They’re predictable enough that that would have happened.” That’s a nice next level thing, which is you go, “What can I do to prove the opposite?” I’m sure it ends up not working a lot but when it does, it’s probably satisfying because now the audiences, they’re laughing and they’re getting a different look. It’s that, are you beating someone up or are you elevating them? If you can elevate them and make the audience laugh, that’s an interesting thing.
I’ve done that, “It’s tough to be white” thing and I’ve seen the older white guy lean in and nod. I have that sense of finally someone gets me. When I sense that from people, I love it because then that gives me some freedom to interact with that guy and the audience. There may be some tension, but you can release the tension, “See, this guy knows what I’m talking about.” The audience gets to have fun with that joke as well. An example of a joke that didn’t work is with the #MeToo Movement. I like bringing up topics that automatically people are like, “Where’s this going?” You’ve got to prove you’re funny, but people will be like, “What’s he going to do with us?” I had written a joke that I was saying, “We all agree that men shouldn’t be pulling out their penis.” We all agree that but if we’re being honest, that is how some of our grandparents met our grandmother, that’s some people’s love story. That doesn’t work all the time.
You’re trying to make that violation benign.
It’s a tough thing because like a lot of people are thinking rape and I don’t want it to be that. This is a new phrase someone gave me, “Sometimes some jokes are a long plank to get to the joke.” I have sensed people’s interest when I say, “But if we’re being honest,” people are like “What is he going to say that I haven’t heard yet?” It doesn’t always work.
The good thing about that premise is that it creates tension and obviously comedy plays on tension. I’m going to go back to your own personal Chris rock story. You credit your comedic influence to realizing that you were the most popular black kid in an all-white school.
[bctt tweet=”One thing about doing improv while being a critical person is that you know how you could be doing it better.” username=””]
I transferred to this school, Mount Vernon in sixth grade in Georgia. I remember on the first day, this kid Kevin Piggy, we’re at PE, we had shorts on, I had a scab on my knee and Kevin Piggy came up to me and looked at my scab and asked me if I also had black blood. At twelve years old, I realized, “Some of these people have never been around a black person before.” I made a conscious decision then. As a twelve-year-old, not necessarily I feel like I was carrying a torch for black people or anything, I can either choose to be like, “You don’t understand me,” or I can be like, “We have a lot in common.”
There are a lot of stories like that that carry a theme through my life, which I’ve been consciously thinking about and trying to write about that some, too. I remember in middle school and high school, crying and telling my parents I didn’t want to go to the school anymore. I played football and I remember getting called the N word by my own teammates. I remember one guy named Troy, came off the field one time and told me, “We don’t have anywhere to sit around here, so we need you to get on all fours so some of the players have a place to sit.” I remember that in ninth grade. In eleventh grade, I was the county player of the year. Some of those same guys were coming back and watching games are like, “You’re great. You’re going to go to University of Georgia.” I’m sitting there and like, “Okay.” Once again, I feel like a fish outside of the fishbowl. I’m like, “I see how this works.” Everybody wants a piece of you when you’re doing well, but when you’re not necessarily at the top, you’re this thing that they can make fun of. I don’t even think a lot of those people were racist. That’s their culture that they grew up in.
One of my best friends, I was at his wedding. In college, he asked me to be in his wedding. I remember him starting to cry because his family was part of the KKK. When I came to that school and started playing football, he was raised not to like black people. Over the course of our lives, he was like, “I learned to love you as a brother.” There was no real conversation. There was no Remember the Titans moment where we both had to run up hills forever. It was life. That’s part of it too. It’s also interesting to think about that the other way too, how I interact with other cultures and other groups and try to be me and not necessarily assimilate to whoever I’m hanging around with. Be the truest form of myself as possible.
Is it tiring?
It can be. Now, I don’t have to do it as much. Growing up in college, the college I went to was liberal arts. I remember the first day in college, this young lady, Mary, came up to me. She was nice and she was like, “Are you new? Are you here to play basketball?” “Nope. Sure, I’m not.” The president of that college at the time offered me a scholarship to try out for the baseball team. I had no real interest in that. It can be tiring because there are times where you want to snap. There are moments where you have to filter, “Is this person just ignorant, never grew up around people outside of their bubble?” or “This person is just a jackass?” To determine how do you want to interact with that person. I’m working on a project, it might end up being a feature film talking about all that.
Did your family have an influence on this? You said you were crying to your parents, what did those conversations go like?
I remember one instance, it was after that football incident where I got asked to get on all fours. Looking back at it you are like, “How did I not flip out?”
I was one of only a few white kids on an all-black team.
My parents, my mom, I love her. She won’t ever listen to this. My mom’s very passive and I get that from my mom. I can be passive and that’s where the humor comes from. I won’t come back at you right away, but I’ll think of a funny thought. My dad was driving me home from that game is when I broke down and cried. I don’t remember if my dad was like, “Do you want to go to a different school?” I don’t remember if he was like, “This is the world that we live in.” I don’t remember much. I was probably four or five. We had a neighbor that lived up the street from us. When I say I’m from Atlanta, I grew up in Henry County, which at the time was pretty country.
Our neighborhood up the street, I went up there to play with the other kid who was up there. My dad tells me the story that the neighbor brought me back. The adult brought me back home and said that his son could come to play at our house, but I wasn’t allowed to play at his house. After that conversation between adults, my dad tried to have a teaching moment with me and asked me if I knew why that was. As a child I was like, “Probably because I’m black,” and shrugged it off and kept it moving. I don’t know where that personality developed at such a young age, but it’s how things go. I shrug it off and then it translates outside of race, too. It translates for me and life when things go wrong, got to keep it moving.
It’s a little bit Buddhist of you. This is the observation because I did not have this as a kid. Some families have a philosophy and the more sophisticated parents have, they are more likely to have a philosophy about the world and to have those teachable moments and so on. That’s why I asked that question.
My family, right, wrong or indifferent, they go along to get along. Not necessarily Uncle Tom, that wasn’t the mentality, but it was like, “Do your work, be a good person. The rest of the stuff doesn’t matter.”
That stuff clearly influences your stand-up. This melding of your perspective, your personality, your experience and so on, but you’re doing a lot of writing nowadays, which makes me happy to hear. How’s that going? What’s that like? Last time I saw you, you were doing a sketch class or you were doing something new?
I moved out here to LA about a year ago because I felt I hit my ceiling in Chicago. I wasn’t going to grow anymore as a performer. I got out here, we went to the UCB show and I was like, “Let’s try new things.” I went through the improv program at UCB. I’ve graduated from 401. I did all of them. I definitely didn’t feel like I was a top of my class, but I remember my teacher, Will, after our last final show, we’d go out and have some drinks at Birds. The bar right next to Franklin. Will’s like, “We’ll see you in Advanced Study.” I remember thinking like “Really?” Also, they probably paid him to say that to everybody, but that’s also the self-deprecating comedian in me is like, “I’m not good enough.”
The other thing about it is that when you’re doing improv and you’re a critical person, you know how you could be doing it better. You have all this access to stuff that’s happening in your head and then an access to what you’re doing on the stage, so it always feels incomplete.
“This scene sucks. I can be making it better, but they told us not to do that.” I did improv and in the middle of improv, I met a good friend, Aisha Alfa, who was a comedian out of Canada and we decided to start writing a sketch together. I found that improv was leading me and helping me figure out sketch a lot quicker, the games in sketches. I fell in love with sketch in terms of as a writing format. I did take a class at Nerdist School, which has changed its name to the Ruby LA. Now I am on a sketch thing.
For the audience, they may not be aware of this, but there’s this methodology. You’ve got improv, which is completely unrehearsed and spontaneous and then you have sketch, which is written. Is there ever an improvisational element to executing a sketch?
There are probably times. You have lines, but there are times at the moment whether you forget a line and you have to improv and get it back on track on stage. Also, there’s a fun element to writing where you and I may be writing a sketch together but we improv the flow of it and we’re like, “That’s funny.” You might say something and then by the time we’ve audibly written it and then go back to, l put the beats on paper.
There are two things. One is I’ve heard about people seeding sketch ideas from improv performances. UCB in 201 teaches you game, which is the funny thing and how to create and replicate the funny thing. The idea is that a good game can become the basis for a good sketch. That’s one thing that happens a lot. Sketch writers will do improv for that reason. The other one that’s interesting is this partner writing process you do. You were going back and forth like we’re chatting right now. Where are you? What are you doing? How long do you do this? Do you have computers in front of you? Are you taking notes? What is this like?
[bctt tweet=”A good game can become the basis for a good sketch.” username=””]
It varies. A lot of times, we’re face-to-face. I’m pitching an idea. I’m like, “I want to write this thing about this and this is what I’m thinking.” One thing I love about Aisha is that not only she gives me good notes, but she’s female and she’s Canadian. She also has a broad worldview beyond my own and so she can be like, “Yes, I wouldn’t say that or, as a woman, this is a decision that I would truly make.” We’re able to do that a lot.
Where are you doing this?
Her apartment, my apartment, and a coffee shop. Sometimes I’ll write a thing on my own and I’ll send it to her and I’ll be like, “What do you think about this?” It’s fun to be in a Google doc and see someone changing things and loving it. I remember one time she changed something I wrote and I did jump out of my seat, laugh, like running around the room thing because the perspective she found in that was I hadn’t even thought about it. It was great.
As an academic, you do a lot of joint work. Most papers have two or more coauthors on them. There’s correlational research that shows that papers that have more coauthors are better cited. There’s some suggestive evidence that more minds are better at least to a certain point, but I’m starting to work on a paper where I’m writing it. I decided to do that because it’s a new challenge. I can do it at my own pace. I’m not holding anyone up. I’m never anxiously waiting for someone to get something back. I would say it’s creatively just as challenging, maybe more but it’s less fun.
There are different things that I’m working on like my stand-up is me. Sometimes I’ll run beats by friends. I love getting tags. I love giving tags to jokes. My standup, I have full control of what’s on the stage, being in more of a writer’s room situation is difficult. You have to learn to be open. Don’t be afraid of notes. You don’t have to always take the note, but if it makes your sketch better, go for it. You have to think about the space that you’re in and when to work. I’m like you and what’s your process is. I prefer to write alone.
I prefer to write a full sketch or whatnot and then the hand it off to someone because I want my point of view to be seen. I used to do a writer’s room in Chicago and this was mostly for standup. We would get together and bring beats, premises and thoughts to a group and we had different levels of experience in the room. Sometimes people would be pitching you a dick joke on something that wasn’t even maybe a high premise. “I want to talk about the election,” and someone throws a dick joke and I’m like, “You’re not listening.”
That person had that joke ready for whatever you pitched.
This is what helps is when you’re writing with other people that people know who you are. If I would not do a dick joke on stage, why pitch me a dick joke?
Are they trying to improve you as a writer?
Jimmy Fallon, who is the type of a host who won’t go too hard into politics, why pitch them something that’s going to attack Trump when you know it’s not going to get on stage?
Do you like to write something to hand it over and get notes?
[bctt tweet=”People don’t want to hear you say something offensive to get to your point.” username=””]
Going back to that stand-up group, a lot of times I had premises. I remember one premise was about Bill Cosby. I literally was starting the joke by saying Bill Cosby to build that tension, to automatically get people. The joke at the time was, “This is how I know it’s true because 53 women agreed. Women don’t agree on anything.” I was like, “I’ve seen The View.” The joke within itself was funny, but I remember in that group, the moment I said, “Bill Cosby,” and there are some females in the room, they’re like, “Nope, can’t talk about it.” That’s a rough thing because as a comedian, and Chris Rock said this, “Sometimes people don’t want to hear you say something offensive to get to your point.”
I don’t think that there are any topics that are off-limits to comedy. It has everything to do with the execution. It’s the topics that would at first blush seem most off limits, it’s the most difficult road, but if you can get there it can have this huge payoff. Let’s do a quick primer on writing a sketch. This is on my to-do list for my forthcoming sabbaticals to take a sketch class. Is a sketch like a three-act?
First of all, I like to write about real-world situations. Here’s an example of a sketch. I wrote a sketch when the fake Hawaiian missile crisis came. I set it. Someone got a text message alert, they said there’s a missile inbound, find cover. The sketch quickly turned into this husband and wife trying to find their charger because all of a sudden, not being able to charge your phone became the dramatic thing and it continues to get out of control. Fantasy football, you got to fix that real quick. Technology is the monster. In the end, because I like writing these weird endings, in the sketch I did have the world blow up but someone gave me the note. They said, “It will be fun for them to not to have gotten in a fight and the missile never came.” The missile comes blows up and then you see this figure and this dystopian, Mad Max world who has gathered all the chargers that have the power. That’s how I like to write. The core of that sketch is around that couple interact with each other.
I haven’t read it but there was an article in a men’s magazine about those twenty minutes between the announcement and it’s not going to hit. I immediately thought that should be a comedy film. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone’s working on it. You could tell that story. I bet you the author in some way might be doing something very deep where people confessed or whatever, who knows what they did or you could turn it around and make it comedic.
The surface jokes that I saw when it first came out was about the governor not being able to unlock his Twitter account. Then there were jokes about the guy who accidentally hit the button, but I never saw anything about the people being impacted, those who confessed, who told their wife that they cheated on, who decided to make it like this, “Let’s have sex. This is it.” Nine months later they got this missile baby. They never want it.
A couple of questions, we’re going to do some rapid-fire ones. Is there something you’ve changed your mind about?
I’m trying to figure out how to distill this for you. It’s how we interact with our families who may have different viewpoints than us. I used to think that a lot of people were building things up, but in our current era of Trump, I’m starting to see some of that myself and be like, “Okay.”
Is it not as farfetched a phenomenon?
How many unpopular opinions do you think you have?
All of them. They’re all pretty unpopular.
Do you think you have a lot of unpopular opinions?
Going both ways. I’ll have a conversation with my liberal friends and I’m like, “If you look at it from the other person’s viewpoint,” and my liberal friends are like, “No, that’s wrong.” On the other side of it if I’m talking to someone who’s more conservative I’m like, “Yes.” I’m always stuck in the middle.
An unpopular opinion seems like a good premise for a joke for you. What are you reading, watching, or listening to that is superb?
I finished season three of Angie Tribeca. I love it because it’s all jokes. The Garry Shandling documentary on HBO, it was great. It’s cool speaking and feeling connected to comedians, I felt some similar connections to him early in his life and the way I view things, so I would recommend that. I read a book on John Mack. The title is called Monologue. He used to write for Jay Leno.
Sometimes these things are hard because I don’t prep my guests at all. Including this, our final question, which I ask everyone. What’s the secret to success that everybody knows but can’t seem to do?
A phrase that I am saying a lot to myself is to trust the process. There’s no A to Z thing. Just go with the flow, trust what you’re doing and you’ll know when you get there, what the next move is supposed to be.
Scott Adams, the guy who created Dilbert, has this thing about, “Don’t have goals, have systems,” which is trust the process approach, which is, “Don’t give up, give it time.”
[bctt tweet=”Just keep doing what you’re supposed to be doing because if you’re supposed to get it, then you’ll get it.” username=””]
Which is super tough not only for comedians but especially Millennials where things are handed to us. It’s tough to be like, “Why haven’t I got it?” I hear comedians complain about not getting a JFL audition all the time. They were like, “Why did this person get it? I deserve it.” You don’t deserve anything. Just keep doing what you’re supposed to be doing. If you’re supposed to get it, you’ll get it. If you’re not supposed to get it, you won’t. Just trust the process.
It is interesting how that dissatisfaction is both a blessing and a curse. This is, in general, the cases that when you see successful people, you rarely ever see what they’re doing behind the scenes like that CEO who preps 50 questions so he can nail three.
Jordan Pill worked on Get Out for six or seven years before it gets put on screen.
First of all, you get a false sense of how easy things are. It’s hard to have the patience necessary to work on something for six or seven years without trusting that at the end of those six or seven years you’re going to have something that you think is pretty good, they’re going to be happy with regardless of what the market says.
I know when he finished his first draft and got notes from whoever, it would be easy to be like, “This is crap,” and throw it away. With sketch, I do that a lot of times and I’m like, “That in the way I want it to.” It’s easy to say, “Let’s move on to the next project.” Even if you set it aside for a little while, like to be patient enough, “Let’s go back to it maybe when I have more experienced, life experience or a different point of view.” You’re like, “That’s how you make that work.” A lot of people, especially stand-up comedy, it’s easy for people to be like, “They didn’t laugh at my joke, my one joke that I wrote in my first year, so stand-up is not for me.” There is something to be set it up the people who can keep it going, bury their head, keep working, those are the ones that end up at the top. I know I’m still new in this in terms of the year, so hopefully, I’ll have that stick to sticktuitiveness.
Jonathan, this was fun. I appreciate you doing this.
First of all, I appreciate you. For the readers, Pete’s been a constant support for me and I appreciate everything you’re doing.
I like helping, but only people who deserve it. Thanks so much.
About Jonathan Giles
Jonathan Giles is a writer and stand-up comedian. He is an alum of the NBC’s Late Night Writers Program. He has performed at clubs across the country. And is currently part of the Second City NBC Universal Breakout Festival.