by Ryan Meehan
J-L Cauvin began his stand-up career in Washington DC in 2003 as a law student at Georgetown University Law Center. Upon graduating law school in 2004, without any honors, he went to work as an Assistant DA in the Bronx, all the while working on his stand-up at nights in NYC. Impressing fellow open micers with his powerful suits and health insurance he quickly rose through the ranks of the NY Comedy scene. In 2007 he made his television debut on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. J-L began hitting the road once he left the law in 2009 and has toured all over the country performing at most of America’s finest comedy clubs and pubs. He has made a name for himself in the comedy industry with both his insider’s perspective blogs as well as his videos skewering the comedy business, most notably the Louis CK Tells The Classics video, which went viral in 2013. He is also the co-host of Investigation Discovery’s “Dumb In the First Degree” web series and is currently promoting his 4th stand-up album, Keep My Enemies Closer and a new web series called Louis CK’s Comedy Academy, where he plays numerous personalities in the comedy business running a stand-up school. He has been profiled on Salon.com, writes about stand-up for Huffington Post and has a weekly podcast, The Righteous Prick Podcast, where he argues against popular or trendy things. He also been featured on The Adam Carolla Show and will be featured on the 2014-15 season of Comics Unleashed. We are proud to have JL Cauvin as our guest today in 7 questions.
RM: How would you best describe the exact moment in which you realized you didn’t like the practice of law? What was your main reason for wanting to get out of that line of work?
JLC: Halfway through law school I realized it was not for me. But something inside told me that enduring pain would be critical to a career in comedy so I finished law school, practiced for five years and now, thanks to the ups and down of stand-up comedy, am back doing part time legal work to keep steady money coming in. In all honesty though, I would say though that law school, despite meeting a lot of solid people, was worse than being a lawyer.
RM: What were the best and worst aspects of doing college radio?
JLC: Worst aspect was learning during college that people actually went out on Thursdays because my radio show was at 8 or 9 am on Fridays. So as my Thursday late nights became more frequent, so did my hungover Friday broadcasts. The best aspect was being able to reach more people than my dorm mates with my comedy and impressions. So instead of the 10-15 people I lived with laughing, it became like 25-30 people.
RM: Recently you had the opportunity to again work with Dave Attell, who is one of the best in the game at keeping the audience rolling the whole time. Even after all of these years, what can a comic such as yourself learn from watching a guy like that and seeing the total control he has over the audience?
JLC: The main thing I have learned from any of the really great comedians I have been lucky to work with is that you need to be sure of yourself on stage. The greats, like Attell, can interact with the energy of the crowd, but never seem to be pushed off course by the audience. You have the mic and if wielded correctly is a tool of power and crowd control. Earlier on in my career I noticed that material would rarely lose crowds, rather, it would be my lack of confidence in material. It is as if some crowds can sense weakness and pounce on it with silence or disapproval. I don’t mean to drop c-bombs on stage and act like a swaggering douchebag, but security in what you are saying is critical and can really only come with experience. The really good comics bring you with them or leave you behind, but they don’t allow an unwilling or non-receptive crowd or crowd member to alter their mental strength at all (or at least it doesn’t show). That maintaining of control is both a gift and a skill acquired through experience. It is why some successful comedians without great written material can own a crowd better than some of the best writers. The true greats, like Attell, have all of the above.
RM: What are the key elements necessary when developing a great impression? For example, how did you go about doing the impression of Louis CK where you impersonated him doing some classic jokes?
JLC: I have always been pretty good at doing impressions. My voice can adapt to a lot, but one of the keys is also picking up on a few ticks and making the impression not just sound like the person, but also remind listeners/watchers of the subject of the impression. The CK one began with me just goofing around with a friend and then realizing I had sort of captured it a decent amount in terms of voice, but also in gestures. Then I just watched some more YouTube clips of him to make sure it was at least decent.
RM: Has there ever been an impression in particular that for some reason or another you weren’t able to nail down to the point where you actually did it in public? If so, could you tell us a little bit about why that one gave you so much trouble?
JLC: Oh there are plenty. I think doing impressions is something you are just sort of born with. And then it just depends on how great a range you can do. My range is solid, but I could never be some Las Vegas “Night of 100 Impressions” type guy. Even if I have that many impressions, when you start getting into my 24th impression and its Robert Loggia, most people would be like “who the fu*k is he impersonating?” As far as a specific if I am not doing an impression of them it is either because I cannot, or because I end up just doing an impression of someone’s impression (George Bush as a good example).
RM: You do pretty thorough updates on your website with regards to how certain shows or weekends went in a specific city…Is that done for the purpose of being a writing exercise, or to help you reflect on certain situations that you encountered and determine how you will handle similar instances differently in the future?
JLC: A few reasons I write those. One is I want to keep my website updated with content. Two they are usually funny. But the third reason is because there is way too much self-congratulating humble bragging (or just outright bragging) among comedians that is so dishonest or just trying to be a self-PR machine. I understand the importance of selling yourself in comedy, but comedians are also supposed to be a look at things honestly. It feels like everyone always “crushes” every gig they do. I would rather be honest about my career. It can be funny, but also lets people know that when I do crush you can trust it because I just told you about a woman throwing a piece of fruit at me while booing in Chicago (true story). And if I do make it big one day it will be nice to look back at killing several roaches in a comedy condo in San Antonio via my blog and be thankful that that is in the past.
RM: What do you plan to do differently on your fourth album compared to the material that appears on the first three? When do you think you’ll record that set?
JLC: [I recorded my 4th album last year so next one would be #5] My last two albums (Too Big To Fail and Keep My Enemies Closer) I will put up against anything by anyone in comedy over the last few years. As for a 5th album I would like to record in April or May of 2015. I am probably halfway towards having an album together, but writing for me is an inconsistent process – my material does not grow in a linear fashion – so if I am not ready with the material in April or May then I won’t record then. As far as where I will go with it – a possible title to give you a hint would “35 is the new 60” in terms of how I feel morally and culturally in America.
RM: If you could do one thing in the entertainment industry that you have not yet had the opportunity to do, what would it be and why? In five years, do you think you’ll be able to say you’ve done it?
JLC: I would like to write for a television show. Either a drama, comedy or a sketch show. As my career has grown I have really enjoyed writing stuff for funny people as much as I like being the one on camera. Do I think I will have done it in 5 years? I would say I hope so, but most optimism has been beaten out of me by this business. All the optimism I have left when it comes to comedy is just enough to keep producing content each week and submitting for bookings every month.
RM: What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2014 and into 2015? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
JLC: Other than (hopefully) a new album I am not sure. As someone without management I have created and been gifted some opportunities this year I did not expect. I was on The Adam Carolla Show three times in 2014 and filmed an episode of Comics Unleashed, all things I would not have predicted a year ago. So hopefully hard work and some luck get me more stuff in 2015, but I could easily be sitting in an office doing legal work as well. Which is what I will be doing Monday since my next gig is a restaurant in Connecticut (50% off food though, so who is laughing now?).
Official Website: http://jlcauvin.com/
JL on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jlcauvin
JL on Twitter: https://twitter.com/JLCauvin
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