By Ryan Meehan
Josh Gondelman is a writer and comedian who incubated in Boston before moving to New York City. With years of experience as a preschool teacher and a pretty good guy, Josh charms audiences using his good-natured storytelling and cracks them up with his sharp, pointy wit. His talent for smushing words together earned him work writing for Fuse TV’s Funny Or Die Presents: Billy On The Street, as well as his current position as Web Producer for Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, where he writes and manages digital content for the Daily Show alum’s new HBO show. Josh is also the co-author of the forthcoming book You Blew It: The Guide To The Many Ways In Which You’ve Probably Already Ruined Your Life, out late summer 2015 from Plume. Onstage, Josh’s first break came when he traveled to Atlanta for the inaugural Laughing Skull Comedy Festival, where he turned heads and captured first prize! He has also performed at the Rooftop Comedy Festival in Aspen, CO, and headlined at the Laugh Your Asheville Off Festival in Asheville, NC. More recently he has appeared in the Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival, the Bridgetown Comedy Festival, and SF Sketchfest. Outside of standup, Josh’s writing has appeared in prestigious publications such as McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, New York Magazine’s The Cut blog, and Thought Catalog. He is the co-creator and co-author of the popular Modern Seinfeld Twitter account, and his own Twitter feed was named one of 2012’s best by Paste Magazine. The Ellen Degeneres Show took notice of Josh’s joke writing skill and featured him as part of their “Tweetly Roundup.” Josh’s work has appeared on television other times as well, much to the delight of his grandmothers. They were thrilled to see him on television on G4’s “Attack of the Show” and MavTV’s “Rooftop on the Road.” Josh’s debut standup comedy CD, “Everything’s The Best” was released in November of 2011 by Rooftop Comedy Productions, and he’s my guest today in 7 questions.
RM: What was the first joke that you can remember writing? What was it about that joke that made you want to write more of them and eventually get to the point where you were pursuing a career in stand-up comedy?
JG: When I was a real little kid, like third grade, I wrote the joke: “Which of King Arthur’s knights designed the round table? Sir Cumference! I was a little math nerd. My dad helped me with the wording. I loved then, and I still do now, how a joke is like an equation you have to balance out. It’s as close to science as creative writing gets, because there are certain things that need to happen (laughter) and all these variables that you play with to get there.
RM: How does the pressure of writing material for your own act differ than the pressure of working on a television show where other people in the writers’ room can shoot down an idea in an instant?
JG: The great thing about standup is you’re succeeding and failing on your own merit. The thing about working collaboratively that makes me nervous isn’t that other people will shoot down my ideas, it’s that something I write won’t be as strong as it should be. The idea of writing a bit that bombs in standup is fine. You have to do it. I get anxious about the idea of a bit bombing for someone/something else.
RM: You wrote an article back in August of last year entitled “Keep Arkansas Safe: Arm The Children” which I interpreted as being kind of a sarcastic piece that joked about how various individuals owning more guns would decrease violence in schools. Obviously you were kidding, but as a former educator what do you think is the solution to the problem of firearms making their way into the classroom? Is there a real solution that’s attainable in the near future?
JG: Gosh, I don’t know. I’m just a comedian, you know, so I kind of shoot off at the mouth/fingers without the idea of being accountable for real solutions sometimes. I certainly don’t think more guns is the answer. We keep trying that, and it keeps not working. Background checks seems like a very sensible step in the right direction. RM: Has your experience in working with toddlers given you any leg up in the difficult world of handling hecklers at comedy shows? Have you ever referenced that profession when dealing with any of those douchebags; and have you ever used a bit of a patronizing tone in order to get them to shut up?
JG: That’s maybe the first time anyone has ever asked me that dead-on. I talk about preschool onstage sometimes. Less than I used to. But sometimes I’ll still say: “Okay, you guys in the front being loud. 1, 2, 3…all eyes on me. That’s preschool for shut up. It’s my turn to talk.” It’s usually not mean hecklers, that’s pretty rare. It’s just people who are talking amongst themselves or responding to jokes. I’ll definitely employ that strategy. It lets me be a direct without getting too mean.
RM: You are a pretty avid user of Twitter, and your feed is nothing short of hilarious. What is it about the format of Twitter that makes it so perfect outlet for your writing style? Do you think that it may be doing a little bit of damage to the nation’s attention span given that it’s shortened many of the best thoughts we have down to 140 characters; or do you see it as a plus because it’s forced us all to edit better and get right to the point?
JG: Thank you for the kind words! My Twitter and my standup are very different, structurally, but I think the idea of editing to 140 characters is really helpful for me. It’s just a way for me to pump more jokes out into the world and then sometimes cull them into a thing that’ll work for my act. Other times it’s great for something topical that I’d never get the chance to say out loud. The attention span thing, I don’t know. I think it plays to the short attention spans of people, but doesn’t ruin them for standup because it’s such a different way to ingest comedy.
RM: What does the future of stand-up comedy look like? We seem to be a society that is becoming more and more dependent on things that are visually stimulating, so will comedy adjust to those demands? In other words, can you see a lot of comedians using visual aids fifty years from now; or will it always just be somebody standing in front of a brick wall?
JG: Visual or audio or…I don’t know…smell, I guess…people are now trained to think they deserve exactly the entertainment experience they want. So people who work hard and create a lot of things in a distinctive voice will really flourish. There’s less demand for really broad comedy that can make 99 out of 100 people laugh. If you can make 50 of 100 really lose their mind, you can engage those fans and keep them with you. Not every comedian has to try to be the Justin Bieber of comedy. By that I mean someone with huge mass appeal. Whatever people want to do, however they express their comedy, if it’s good, they can find an audience. But I don’t think guy in front of a brick wall comedy is going away. It’s such an easy to set up, visceral way to perform.
RM: What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2014 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
JG: I’m working on a book with my friend Joe Berkowitz called You Blew It. That’s going to come out next year, august or September. Doing lots of standup in New York, but also out on the road a little with the Brooklyn Brewery Mash Tour which has been amazing. Plus Last Week Tonight has 14 more episodes this season, so I’m delighted to be along for that ride too!
Official Website: http://www.joshgondelman.com/
Josh on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/josh.gondelman
Josh on Twitter: https://twitter.com/joshgondelman
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