JD Lopez knows that first impressions are important – and first impressions in comedy are often physical. He learned this from his training as an actor. Put your best foot forward because people immediately interpret subtle cues and body language. Thus, JD opens his show with energy. As he says, you have to tackle the stage because wrangling the audience can be like a fight.
Our guest on the first episode of I’m Not Joking is Denver comedian, JD Lopez. He’s the creator and host of Comedy Saved The Video Star, a monthly music video/comedy mash-up show. He’s the host of Left Hand Right Brain, which is where I met him. You can find his podcast on the Denver Podcast Network.
Listen to Episode #1 here:
Taking The Stage: Your Best Foot Forward with JD Lopez
Thanks for having me.
If you weren’t doing comedy, what would you be doing?
Probably something with martial arts. Karate, I was into that when I was a kid. I wanted to be Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee. I like Bruce Lee, but Jackie Chan was the funnier one. He brought that clown climbing thing to it. That always appealed to me and I was training martial arts since I was eleven to eighteen.
I watched The Foreigner, Jackie Chan’s movie. It’s fun seeing him evolve.
You have to. He can’t be doing the same things he was as a young man.
There’s a YouTube video about Jackie Chan’s comedy. It’s really good. It’s about how he’s more than just a martial artist, but how he’s a comedian also. Maybe he’ll be my second guest. You are the first guest on I’m Not Joking. I’m going to use you to test this idea and to figure out how to do a podcast, so thank you. You’re not a martial artist, you’re a comedian. Why?
It’s a lot easier on the body, maybe not the brain and emotion.
Do you think that’s true? Being a comedian is hard on the body.
You’re not getting punched in the face as often depending on what you’re doing. For some people, it takes an emotional toll, for sure. Bombing at an open mic still hurts. Trying new things, taking risks in that way. Usually, it’s not with your body, but some people are pretty physical onstage.
It is hard to pull the physical and the emotional part.
There’s the whole yin and yang thing in there. The great comedians, the ones that have stood the test of time, do both. They’re linked, like for Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton. Jim Carry is such a physical guy.
There is a physical element to improv and even to stand-up. It is theater. Do you find yourself working through the actual mechanics of how you stand, how you gesture? I think about like Chris Rock pacing the stage, and then stopping to make points. That’s rehearsed. That’s like preacher behavior.
I’m sure he picked it up from maybe something like that. I know a lot of comedians like Sam Kinison, I think his dad was a preacher. You pick up those, which is a theatrical performance in a way. You’re preaching.
You might be saying the same sermon three times. What about you? Do you practice your physicality? Are you aware of it when you’re performing? Are you aware of it when you watch video of you?
Young comedians are starting to do that more, but it’s so overwhelming at first to just get the words out and figure out what you’re going to say, and then adding this physical element to it does kick it up a notch. I come from more of a theater background. I was studying theater at Metro State here in Denver and that’s when I first started getting into comedy. One of the things I remember learning the most was presentation, taking the stage. It’s something I learned over and over again. It was hammered in in one of my acting classes. It was just a cold read or, introducing yourself, “Hello, I’m JD Lopez and I’ll be reading for…”There’s coming across with confidence. We practice that over and over again because people thin slice you right away, so you want to put your best foot forward as soon as you can, looking confident but not tight. A group of people reads those subtle cues, the body language, quickly. It would be in any performer’s best interest to hone those skills as well.
[Tweet “People thin slice you right away, so you want to put your best foot forward as soon as you can, looking confident but not tight.”]
Recognizing if you have any ticks or distracting aspects. I have a tendency to play with a rubber band when I’m sitting talking to someone and that can be distracting. How do you open your show? Do you have a favorite opener? How do you approach that because you’re saying the first impressions are so important?
I took this from another comedian. Just I’m coming out winth energy, I almost run at the stage now, like, “Here we go. Welcome to Comedy Saved The Video Star.”You want to bring the energy. You’re letting the audience know we’re starting this thing, we’re ready to go. I’m upbeat about it. I wet through it with my podcast. I went through a whole thing of singing my intro just to get the energy, but that went away. Listening back to it, I’m like, “This is nuts.” The first thing they want to hear they want to hear is my dulcet tones. I thought it was hurting the actual interview part. I was like, “If someone new comes in the podcast and this is the first thing they hear, they might not get to the need of it.”
Bringing the physical energy. You said you almost run.
You want to attack stage in a way because some people view it as a battle. I know it’s like a Denver-specific thing. You have to wrangle the audience, especially in a bar where no one’s listening. It’s a fight in a way. Even just coming up with that aggression, not towards the audience, but the, “I’m in charge,” that’s a way of doing it, commanding some authority.
If that doesn’t go well?
Then you start grasping for straws. You can start doing your physical bits. I went through a phase in college where I was doing the clowning thing. We did had a whole miming section. I started doing this whole bit where I just mimed out a whole dance number, like my emotions. I’m trying to describe how I feel and then I would puke out some emotion. “I woke up this morning and I feel…”then I have this ball of energy and then it becomes a woman and I dance with it. It’s very like a college boy like, “This is so artistic.”It didn’t work on stage. It does not translate because you’re being quiet, moving around on the stage and all the drunk people at the bar are like. “I’ll just talk to my friend now.”
You took a clowning class? How’d you learn about clowning?
In college, you take Gen Eds and there’s a section for each different type of theater. I’ve been out of school for a while, so I can’t give you the right names. There’s a clowning section. There’s the commedia dell’arte. You go through your little sections throughout the semester and there was a clowning one specifically in stage movement miming.
How was clowning different from mining clown?
A clown has a persona in a way. With the clowning, you have a prop, or you have a hat or you have some persona that you’re taking on.
The nose is the big one. You’re the clown now.
That was something you explored in your book.
It doesn’t have to be a nose, is what you’re saying.
We had a hat that we did in our class.
What kind of hat?
I have the paper boy hat. I was simulating this scrappy and trying to prove myself, ready to fight all the time mentality with my fists up like an old Irish boxer. I was ready to go. You get the statuses of the character. It felt like it was a lower status character insulted by higher status character, trying to add stuff to make up for. That was lacking in some way and I was trying to overcompensate. That’s where humor comes from with that character and I thought that was very true to me, always trying to prove myself in a way. With the miming, it’s all about physical space and being more fluid in motion. It was something I’m trying to do more of, almost like a dancer. You can’t convey things with words, so you have to do it all with emotion.
Did you have a mime character or no?
I’m sure they do. Marcel Marceau, we watched a lot of his stuff. He was him. We didn’t delve that deep into it.
This idea of the clown character, that’s designed to speed your decision making. Why don’t you have five clown characters? Why the one?
For the individual, it’s like a character. You’re trying to find the character in you that’s the most funny or the thing that you can use for humor, distilling it down to an emotion or a tactic. I’m trying to overcompensate my tactic because I feel less than or something.
In the behavioral sciences, you’d say that this gives you a heuristic, a mental shortcut. It saves you time and energy because it gives you a script. You’re in a scene and someone behaves in a particular way, your clown without a persona, you have an infinite number of choices, but with the persona, you’re like, “I have five choices.” It speeds your decision making.
There’s all the characters and wants the clown. You have your character and you can make your decisions from that space. You have your goal, your objective of what are you trying to get. You’re always coming from that point of view. “I want you to love me,” so that’s where I’m always coming from. Every decision I make in that scene comes from that desire. Every character has something they’re trying to accomplish in the scene. That doesn’t really work on stage. You have, “I want people to understand where I’m coming from this point of view with this bit or this joke,” but comedians start that away. That was this joke I always joke about when I was single. I have a lot of sad, jerk-off material when I was single. Now, I’ve been in a relationship for a while and that doesn’t seem to fit anymore. I can’t do a joke about my girlfriend’s sister and then revert back to the, “I’m single on Tinder” thing. They don’t match anymore.
This notion of characters and having objectives is interesting not for stand-up, per se, but for other forms of comedy, comedy writing. You have like the classic Abbott and Costello or the odd couple. They have different objectives and it’s the conflict between those objectives that helps create comedy. Stage movement, I don’t know what stage movement means. Do you take an entire section on stage movement?
It’s a whole semester and that encompassed a little bit of stage combat, but you did the clowning thing and we did like how to fall and rolling. A lot of the martial arts stuff came in handy with that because you already know how to break fall, fall without hurting yourself and making it more theatrical. In Chinese opera, they move differently versus commedia dell’arte or old English stuff. Oscar Wilde, the way you have to sit up straight. You have a corset on, how you would move there and how the physical parts of the body influence the character. That’s more of a European type of way of approaching acting versus the American-type of acting what’s your inside motivation, what’s your objective and everything spawns from that.
You’ve experimented with some of these things in your stand-up. What do you think stuck? What’s your biggest takeaway from all those credit hours?
Presenting yourself and saying your name without making it sound like you don’t like it. It’s something I got from one of my acting classes when I was like, “Hello, I’m JD Lopez.” You’re just presenting that. We are getting notes and the teacher was like, “You don’t sound like you even like your name.” Presenting yourself right off the bat with looking at somebody or looking over the audience, so that people can see your facial expressions. You do want to have a physical presence on stage. You talked about Chris Rock moving back and forth and I’ve heard other people describe it as like you’re prowling the stage. You have some animalistic thing that is mesmerizing. People are watching you and you’re using that to your advantage. There are some physical things that I still use unconsciously, but you notice they work. People are laughing and they’re responding. It’s a physical muscle memory almost.
Have you done your warm ups? Your diction exercises?
The tongue twisters and clearing your vocal pathways. We always did popping, projection or something like that, “But, duck, gut.” You’re working all the muscles in your throat and getting the tongue working, the dexterity in your mouth, which I haven’t done in awhile.
I never even think to do that stuff. Teaching and doing comedy or not that much different in the sense that you’re performing. I try to put my mindset into, “I’m walking into a party that I’m really excited about. I’m going to tell some good stories.” Mine is more of a mental thing. Sometimes I play music in my office beforehand, some hip-hop, some Whoomp! (There it is). This is about the lives of funny people. What’s a typical day in your life? How does this start?
There’s not a lot of consistency with my life at the moment of trying to find more of a pattern. I’ve read that creativity thrives under some pattern, knowing you’re going to write for so long in the morning or whatever the artist’s mentality. I’ll get up usually about an hour before I have to get to work, rush to get everything done, try and get some food. I’ve been doing this low-carb diet, so I’m trying to get some eggs in the morning. It’s well-balanced. I’m trying to do that and not just grabbing some fast food on the way to work. I’ll be there for eight hours and trying and get some emails or something done in between. When I get out then it’s like, “Do I go the gym? Do I go to mic? Do I have a show?”Every now and then, that’ll be the case. Do I need to record a podcast? There’s some different options depending on what needs to get done.
If it’s the day before my podcast comes out, which is supposed to come out on Saturday, Friday night, I’ll be editing all night. That’s sitting down, or I’ve been trying to stand more at my computer and listening, editing, making sure the audio stuff is good, and that takes at least double the amount of time that it took to record the podcast. If it’s an hour podcast, it takes two hours to edit it because I put that pressure on myself to make it a good quality thing. If I go to a mic that night, then it could be writing for 45 minutes or just sitting there trying to write. I’m trying to stick to just making space to write.
What do you write on?
I have a notebook, just a little pad. It’s either trying to write a on a thought that I had at work or I’m rewriting other bits. I’m just writing it out long form is something I like to do, and I don’t quite stick to that. That’s what I got from my theater thing. It has to be scripted out. That’s what my default writing style is, like a monologue, but then I’ll have some bullet points I want to hit right before I go on stage. Sometimes I’ll go up with my books, sometimes I won’t. I’ll write for a little bit until 10 PM or 8:30 PM, depending on what mic it is. When it starts, you go, and you sit around for a good hour or three at a bar. There’s lot of pressure to drink, although I try not to try. I try to keep my body clean. That’s more important to me right now is trying to have a clean body, clean mind. Hopefully that excel some creative process. I experiment with something sometimes, trying to smoke some weed here and there. A lot of people talk about that it helps their creative process. I’ve had these2.5 milligram THC little gummies that’ll try every now and then because it’s supposed to be the micro dose. You’re getting all the benefits without you getting too gone.
That helps sometimes. Sometimes I’ll link certain ideas that I wouldn’t have before. Then you go to the mic and then you wait around for a while, a get up, and you get your five minutes of stage time. Sometimes people are listening, sometimes they’re not. When you can, you try and fit in other personal relationships. You’re going to see my girlfriend, watch a movie, hangout, and spend time with her. That’s a hard balance right now and I’m trying to strike a balance between. I don’t know if that’s ever possible. You choose to do one thing or the other is what I’ve been faced with. If I’m not spending time with her, I’m going to know mic, sitting around for three hours will be super frustrating that I’m not in a space to tell jokes or I’m frustrated with the whole process because I resent not being able to spend time with my loved one. If I do spend time with her, then there’s always part of me that’s like, “I’m not going to this mic.” There’s this fear of missing out or, “I’m not getting better. Someone else’s getting better.”
Do you feel competitive?
Yeah. There’s a lot of competition out there, especially in the comedy realm right now. There’s so much going on, so many people trying to do it.
Do you have a nemesis?
Not one person. It’s mostly everybody.
Do you think it’s good to have an enemy?
Spite is a big motivator for me. Spite and wanting to prove something. For me, I do acknowledge that it’s maybe not the best motivation, but it’s something that I’ve used my whole life and that’s something I lean on maybe too much. I do have a tendency to want to show people something. That has served me in some aspects, and hurt me in others. I hope one way is the other.
How does it help? How does it hurt?
It hurts in the sense that you’re making “enemies”, but you’re putting yourself up against a bunch of people that you don’t necessarily need to. I’m maybe burning some bridges that I didn’t even get to walk across yet because I’m like, “This person’s made fun of me after I went up and bombed.”They used my bomb to propel their set. “I don’t like that guy. I have something against him. He’s hurt me, but next time I’m going to work even harder to show them and the next time, I’m going to try and burn him on stage.”
To what degree is that personal? You get up and you don’t have a great set or something. There’s something about you and the next comic who comes up and then makes a joke about you or makes a joke about whoever it was who preceded them. How much would that be interpreted as that comic doesn’t like me versus that comic will do anything they can for a laugh? It’s not personal. How should that be interpreted? I heard this a few times and I never thought about it. As an audience member, I never thought, “So and so must hate so and so.”Is this being opportunistic?
I know a lot of comedians hide behind, “It’s all for a laugh. It’s all for a joke.” I don’t think it’s 100%.
[Tweet “Number one thing, don’t take anything personally.”]
Because they wouldn’t do it to everybody.
It’s not 100% personal either. I am taking it personally because I do put a lot of myself in my comedy and so, I feel like I’m bearing my soul up there being, slitting my wrists in a way and then, it’s not being appreciated, or it’s not being received well. I wasn’t able to communicate my message properly. A lot of it is on me or taking it personally and there’s a lot of self-help books that are like, “Number one thing, don’t take anything personally,” but that’s so hard to do.
I do think a lot of comics hide behind the scenes. “It’s all for the laugh.”That takes away any personal responsibility that you have for what you say and I don’t like that. Everyone should be held responsible for what they say. That rubs me the wrong way when people are like, “It’s just a joke. It doesn’t mean anything,” but you have a stage, people are listening to you, so you do have some responsibility for what you are saying because people are taking it in.
You have these folks, enemies, frenemies. Do you have people who are your mentors or aspirational? People who inspire you, who think, “I want to benchmark your career, where you’re at, where you want to be.”
The biggest part here in Denver is The Grawlix guys were the kings of the hill; Ben Roy, Andrew Orvedahl, and Adam Cayton-Holland. I still get a little nervous fanboy when I see them even though I’ve had Ben Roy on my podcast, and I’ve done a show with Adam Cayton-Holland at this point. Andrew’s the mysterious guy. I get nervous around those guys and you want to do well around them. You have to have the seniors in the scene that you want to do well on. You want them to see you do well, so they’ll be like, “You can do my show.” There’s this unsaid knighting of people like, “You are now worthy to be on my show.”Deacon Gray is the new Talent Coordinator at Comedy Works. He is the person who chooses whether newbies get a two-minute set and then you get what they call C-set is three minutes. It’s where I’m at the club right now, which is its own hierarchy in itself.
Once you’ve proven yourself to him in whatever way, shape, or form, he’ll give you your B-set, which is four minutes. Once you’ve been around the club enough and they trust you to not bomb, because it’s a business, they want you to perform well. They don’t care about creativity or what you’re doing on stage. They want it to be consistently good, so that you don’t run away any business. That’s how they’re framing it. Sam Tallent was another big guy on the scene that everybody looks up to. He’s friendly, he kills on stage, he still has that approachability.
I did a debate show, Arguments in Grievances, against Sam Tallent. He mostly made a lot of fun of me.
He’s a ball of charisma. Did you take that personally?
Knowing what happened, I would approach that differently. I tried the debate, which was a mistake. These folks have a playbook. Are you following this playbook in some way?
In some way, it’s a popularity contest. You got to be in with the right people. Everything’s a little clicky. That’s been the source of a lot of drama here in the scene. There are always ways to bypass that. They talk about being undeniable. It’s like the catch-all phrase. If you’re good enough, none of the rest matters.
Steve Martin has a saying about, “Be so good, they can’t ignore you.” That’s his advice.
Which is very vague. I went through this whole phase where I was like, “That’s just a recipe to be disappointed because you never know what the goal is. You don’t know what to do.” Ultimately, that’s very Zen. That’s where it all lies, not following anybody, making your path. If you just follow what the Grawlix guys did, they already did that. They’re already there. That path has already been tread. You have to be bold and venture out and do your own thing. Sometimes it hits and sometimes it doesn’t. That’s what’s hard because you don’t have anybody to blame if it doesn’t work. You got to take a lot of personal responsibility there.
Your show, what’s happening there? This is different.
Comedy Saved The Video Star. It’s my music video comedy mash-up show.
What does that mean? What am I going to see?
House of Comics come on. They do some time like five, seven minutes of stand-up. They’ve all picked music videos that they love that are light or have some personal connection to them. I grew up loving music videos, watching, TRL and VH1 before I went to school and after. I still watch a lot of music videos now on YouTube. Something I’ve been coming up against is there’s a lot of sexism in music videos and that’s something that is coming to my attention now that I’ve been doing the show for over a year. A lot of things are through the male gaze, not very flattering to women. That’s something I should be promoting. The show, all the comics will come do their stand-up. It gives the audience a little bit to get to know them. We do a DRYTRL like a half an hour before, so anybody in the audience can pick the music video they want to watch, and I’ll put it on the big screen. We project all the videos on a screen and then we’ll all sit down panel-style and we’ll go down the row, the comedians will introduce the video and why they like it.
It’s a little bit of storytelling, a little bit of multimedia stuff. I enjoy it because you get to hear people’s personal stories. Like comedian Adrian Mesa had picked Black Hole Sun and he was like, “I was a kid in Miami, hip-hop guy, and I watched this video and made me want to be grunge kid.” I totally switched everything the next day, got rid of all my baggy pants, and got flannel. We watched the video and we talk over it. We riff over it, Mystery Science Theater-style as well. It’s a fun time. There’s a little bit nostalgia involved, but we get to bring these new eyes to something that was done in the ‘90s or whenever. I enjoy it. The audience really likes it. They keep coming back and that’s a good sign.
When you think about music videos, where’s the big innovation? How has music video gotten better or worse?
Technology’s a lot better. They can do more things on a smaller budget. You’ve got a lot of independent artists doing things that look good because the technology has gone down in price. You get a lot of incoming rappers. It’s not something I feature on my show a lot, but every now and then, someone will pick a video from a lesser known rapper in the music videos like them in their neighborhood. One of them was straight up cooking crack in his kitchen. He’s got his whole neighborhood behind him during the chorus. It’s interesting to see what people are doing.
I watched this movie called Snow on the Bluffs. It was one of these found footage movies about this gangster who stole these kid’s video camera and then documented what his life was. It started off really realistic. It’s an intense movie. It’s a dark movie, but a glimpse into another world through this found footage style of filmmaking. I thought it’s a surprisingly compelling film.
Ten years ago, someone’s iPhone footage, they would never have used that on the news. They’re like, “This is so low quality. We can never use this,” but now, it’s like the norm. It’s like someone put this on their iPad or captured this footage and then they put it on the news or something. The way we’re consuming media and what we’re used to seeing is changing in such a way that there’s more access points for people to tell their stories that way. It’s not shaky camera footage. I can’t watch that before and now it’s more the norm.
If someone’s getting punched in the footage, people are willing to watch it usually. It sounds like you have a busy life between a relationship, a job that pays the bills.
I do have a full-time job now. I’m a bud tender at a dispensary room.
Do you use some of your comedy as a budtender?
I use a lot of the bud tending experiences for comedy.
Do you use your comedy when you’re budtending?
They don’t tend to like it as much. It’s just a retail job when it comes down to it. Some customers get your sense of humor and then the ones that don’t, it can go sideways sometimes.
They just want their weed and get out of there.
Or they’re looking for an experience. Tourists are looking for this experience. The shine isn’t there for me anymore with the marijuana stuff. People come in from out of town and they’re super excited. They want you to tell them all about the terpenes and how it was grown and all this stuff, and you’re like, “Do you want it or not?”
You’re more like a mixologist at a fancy cocktail bar in some ways.
People are looking for a certain type of high, although they want to get out of it. You recommend things and there’s so much product now, weed infused everything.
Besides music videos, in what little free time you have, what are you reading? What are you watching?
I listened to so many podcasts. I love audiobooks. Most of my podcasts on two times the speed because I’m trying to get it in. I don’t want to stop listening to all the comedy podcasts that inspired me back in the day, Kevin Smith’s stuff, Joe Rogan, Pete Holmes, and those are long podcasts. They’re three-hour podcasts for Rogan. I’m also trying to discover new things. I started listening to like a money management one. It can be a little boring sometimes, so that’s why two times the speed is helpful. I’m trying to get information and that’s how I like to get it, through audio-wise. I do listen to a lot of fiction.
What are you excited about? When you look back on the year, what’s the thing that you read, watched, or heard that had an effect? There’s a lot of good stuff out there, but is there anything that you came across and you said, “Whoa,” and you told other people?
Podcast-wise, I love all fantasy everything. That’s something I got really excited about. The idea is that you do a fantasy-style draft of anything, a sandwich, condiments, cereal. That’s a catalyst for conversation. I played that game at work a lot with my co-workers. That’s real fun way to pass the time while being able to get some work done. I love learning about new artists, new podcasts. I’m looking at literature in a different way. I’ve been listening to this guy who has a network called Point North Media and they analyze different literature. He’s doing this whole podcast on The Lord of the Rings. He’s doing in-depth discussions chapter by chapter and that’s like a new way to ingest the media. It’s a story I love and now we’re analyzing it in a different way. He was a college professor for a long time, so he’s taking the college level courses examination and putting it through this audio medium.
What’s that called?
The podcast is called There and Back Again. He does a bunch of different subjects, books, different literature and things like that.
What do you think the average person can learn from what you do? You’re clearly not average. You’re not normal. If someone in the audience is like, “I don’t want to be normal. I’m going to be more like JD.”
Things are doable. You just have to take a risk. Hopefully, that’s something all comedians are doing every night, whether their comedy’s good or not, getting onstage and saying, “I have something worth listening to,” or finding out maybe they don’t have something worth listening to and then improving it. It’s all trial and error. You just have to have the courage to do it. Maybe with the podcast, you will be open to discovery. I’ve been trying to have a more diverse people on my podcast and the big challenge has been listening with an open heart and trying to have an understanding and compassion. It’s probably the biggest thing I’ve been getting from this last year of podcasting.
[Tweet “Things are doable. You just have to take a risk. You just have to have the courage to do it.”]
If people want to go see Comedy Saved The Video Star, they go to the Mutiny Café. When do they do that?
It’s the last Saturdays of every month. TRL starts at 9:30 PM, show starts at 10:00 PM. Mutiny’s one of the best places. It’s at 2 South Broadway in Denver. It’s comic book store, record store. It’s awesome.
JD, you are the first ever guest on I’m Not Joking. I think there might be a second episode. This was a good start.
You only go up from here.
Thank you for your time. I appreciate it.
- Comedy Saved The Video Star
- Left Hand Right Brain
- Denver Podcast Network
- Ben Roy – previous episode
- Comedy Works
- Sam Tallent
- Point North Media
- There and Back Again
- Art vs. Science – Sam Tallent vs. Dr. Peter McGraw – YouTube
- Jackie Chan – How to Do Action Comedy – YouTube
About JD Lopez
JD Lopez is a Denver comedian. He is the creator and host of Comedy Saved The Video Star a monthly music video/comedy mash up show at Mutiny Information Café. JD hosts the Left Hand Right Brain podcast and is the founding member of The Denver Podcast Network.