By Ryan Meehan
Jimmy Failla (work with me here) is a New York City Cab Driver turned professional Stand Up Comedian. He was named Best Male Comic at the 2014 New York City Nightlife Awards and has been seen on Gotham Comedy Live, BBC America, TMZ Live, The Today Show, Good Day New York, America’s Got Talent, Fox Business, Arise TV, Kelly and Michael and CNN. In April of 2014, Big Top Press published his first book, Follow That Car! “A Cabbie’s Guide To Conquering Fears, Achieving Dreams, And Finding A Public Restroom.” And if you like reading at a third grade level, you’re gonna LOVE this book. In addition to stand up and author-hood (is that a real term) Jimmy is also the head writer and creative director for A-List Comedy, a national comedy service that provides topical humor to over 200 radio stations every day. His “Off The Meter Podcast” has been downloaded over 1 million times worldwide and he is currently serving as the national spokesperson / mascot for Flipps Mobile. He’s clearly not the biggest name in show biz but he’s doing alright for a guy with a community college education, and that’s good enough to make him my guest today in 10 questions.
RM: How did you get your start doing stand-up; and what were some of the topics you discussed on stage when you first got started? Did you choose those premises mostly based on the fact that you thought a majority of the crowd would be able to relate to them; or because they were simple to write bits about at the time?
JF: It’s funny you should ask that. I had an audience last night who would argue that I haven’t started doing comedy yet. But I started out doing open mics for a legit year before I moved onto produced shows, and eventually low level road gigs. I didn’t learn much about comedy in that span but I did meet a ton of fun people at open mics who were only there because it was cheaper than therapy. My very first set followed a woman who did no comedy, she simply discussed the anniversary of her cat’s death. As she cried her way off stage I ran up and did a bunch of jokes about me looking like Lance Bass from N’Sync. It seems like a stretch now but I was dating a hair dresser who dyed my hair platinum blonde and spiked it within an inch of my life. Sure, the hair was embarrassing. But it was nothing compared to my act at the time. I came up with my first topics by keeping a diary and writing jokes about the life experiences that resonated with me. So it was basically a bunch of jokes about dating and the anniversary of someone’s cat dying.
RM: As one of the big shots at A-List Comedy, what exactly is your daily role when it comes to producing content? When you hear a story on the radio, read it on your Facebook or Twitter feed, or see it on television, how long on average does it usually take you to come up with an angle by which to construct a joke?
JF: First off, let me just say that being called a big shot at A-List Comedy is like being called the smartest Kardashian. I’ll accept it, but I won’t do a ton of bragging. (Take that, co-workers who are reading this.) Just to give everyone some background, A-List Comedy supplies topical jokes and sketches to 200 radio and TV stations a day. The affiliates pay a subscription that gives them access to whatever content we produce so they can use it on the air if they choose. My daily responsibilities consist of writing 50-60 monologue style jokes that will skewer the news without getting anybody fired. The honest answer to how long that takes is whatever amount of time it takes me to find an original angle that I think is truly funny. On the very best days, you write your favorite joke the second you read a headline because you’ve got a million ideas flying around in your head and one of them lines up perfectly with the story. I guess those are the days where you have your “muse,” but I don’t like to speak in such enlightened terms because I went to community college. What I will say is that I love topical humor for the same reason I hate it: It’s a torturous microsurgery where every syllable affects the outcome of the joke. The reason I hate that is because no matter how well the surgery goes, the patient is going to die in 3 days because the news cycle is so short.
RM: You were on the first episode of Red Eye after the departure of Greg Gutfeld, and you pulled double duty that night as you were on Fox Business Channel with Kennedy as well…Even though you hadn’t appeared on Red Eye while Greg was the host, did you feel like there was more pressure to be funny on that show given the individual who had been hosting it for the past eight years wasn’t present?
JF: Here’s the thing about that Redeye episode…The only thing I really felt was regret that I never got to work with Greg. Everybody had so many amazing things to say about him and they all sounded sincere, which isn’t an everyday thing in the biz. Pound for pound, I’d say that he and Kennedy lead the league in sincere, third party compliments. And she’s GREAT to work with because she’s super smart and crazy funny so you never know where things are heading. But as far as pressure goes, I didn’t feel any because I don’t think the people at Fox have any serious expectations of me. I’m fairly confident that they’re booking me because I’m a pretty upbeat dude who’s available on short notice and will probably keep his pants on during the broadcast.
RM: Speaking of politics, how do you tend to classify yourself with regards to the political spectrum? Do you think that your political views would be shaped differently had you never been a cab driver in the Big Apple?
JF: As far as political affiliations go, I’m loyal first and foremost to comedy. I’d be lying if I said I cared more about an ideology more than I do about landing the joke. And I feel like if you only make fun of one side, you’re more of an activist than a comic, which isn’t my thing. Activists have energy and passion. I’m married with a six year old kid. Energy and passion left town a LONG time ago. Comedy aside, I still consider myself an independent because when I drove a cab I had thousands of political conversations and I found myself agreeing with certain positions by both parties. If I DIDN’T drive a cab, I’d be a dyed in the wool Republican because I grew up in a Republican family and I generally didn’t put that much thought into things, a fact that is reflected by my credit score.
RM: Your book came out last year, and it tackles the many troubles associated with being a cab driver in the city that never sleeps…What is your favorite passage from that whole project; and how long did it take you to complete that piece of work?
JF: For those of you who didn’t read my book, and Lord knows there’s A TON of you, it’s a collection of the best advice people gave me in the time I spent driving a Taxi in New York City. It’s not a “win the promotion” and “get the girl” type of book though. If anything, it’s a guide to enjoying your life even if you blow the promotion and the girl winds up blowing your best friend. Can I even say that? The book took a year to write and it should’ve taken longer but I had a phenomenal editor who helped me pound it into shape. My favorite passenger was a one legged New Zealand man who challenged me to a fistfight because I offered him a free ride. I’m talking about a full on, get out of the car, we’re doing this, type of challenge. The reason I liked it so much was because while he was in the process of threatening my life he gave me a great nugget that I live by to this day: He wanted me to understand that I shouldn’t feel bad for him because although he didn’t have his leg anymore, he had a good attitude. And his belief was that your attitude defines your experience in life. If you have a good attitude you generally have a good life. Bad attitude and there’s no saving you. Was he the most colorful fare? No. But he definitely smelled better than Clay Henry the Beer Drinking Goat, who comes in second. And as mad as he was, I found him easier to deal with than a woman I drove to Park Slope who communicated exclusively through the sock puppets on her hands.
RM: You got a lot of heat for the “Snakes in a Cab” video that you put together with award-winning playwright Dean Imperial, most notably from animal rights group PETA…What did that organization and other hate mailers suggest was so inappropriate about that stunt; and why do you think the age we are living in prompts people to whine incessantly about things that are inherently beyond their control?
JF: I’m insanely proud of Snakes In A Cab because it’s the only prank we’ve ever shot and in the end, the overwhelming response was that it was brilliant. That has everything to do with the vision of Dean Imperial and our kick ass camera man, Matt Cady, who showed us how to shoot the prank without endangering the snake or the passengers.
There were definitely headaches, but from a publicity standpoint, it was unreal. I did 51 TV and radio interviews in the week it came out and was actually getting recognized on the street for the first time in my career.
I can’t get too mad about the people who hated it because it was all of their bitching that wound up getting it the attention in the first place. It started with a smaller site called Gothamist, who assassinated my character from the word go. But their beatdown eventually led to the big boy sites picking it up and the next thing you know I’m staring at my fat face on TMZ, Time, People, even a full page 2 on the New York Post. And then it was raining TV interviews for like 3 days. It blew our minds because Dean and I aren’t really fluent in the current media landscape so we had no idea anyone could even do that, let alone two guys with a shooting budget of $500, most of which was spent on catering.
As far as the haters go, the majority were mad because they had ideas of how we shot it that weren’t based in any type of reality. In my experience, most people get mad at stuff online because that’s become a lifestyle in the age of social media. Every week, there’s one bad guy in the news that needs to lose his job and get banished to the island of Crete because it allows all the self righteous people to feel better about themselves. Watch. Whoever screws up in the news tomorrow will have a million people call them a jerk because people can’t resist a quick 50 “likes” on Facebook. And 6 months from now, he’ll be back, with no progress made on the issue in question. What can I say? Fake outrage is the new black.
RM: Although it’s not uncommon for two men to share the name Jimmy, your first and last name together bears a strong audible resemblance to that of current Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon…Is that something that has ended up working in your favor, to your disadvantage, or have you found that it really has no effect on the amount of work you get or how people respond to your spoken name?
JF: Having a name that sounds like Jimmy Fallon actually works in my favor for several reasons. The biggest being whenever I make a reservation at a restaurant. I have gotten POWER tables, in power joints, that were definitely not awarded with an ex-cabbie in mind. And it still works out for the staff because being in the service industry my whole life I tip pretty well, and I’ll never challenge them to a lip-sync battle. In comedy, it often becomes an easy first joke when the MC mispronounces my name. I can always tell it happened because the crowd claps way too much on my way to the stage and then it falls off a cliff when they see me. That might actually hurt my feelings if I honestly thought I worked hard enough to be where Fallon is. But to be fair, I’ve been mailing it in since day one.
RM: For those who aren’t familiar with the incident, what transpired during your audition for season eight of America’s Got Talent? Why did you ask the producers to cut that segment from the broadcast; and did you have any advanced knowledge that Lisa Lampanelli was going to defend you on The Howard Stern Show? Who were some of the other comedians that reached out to you after that transpired?
JF: America’s Got Talent really blew it by not airing my first set because it had everything. Race riots. Crowd chanting. Howard Stern sticking up for me. Mel B calling me the anti-Christ. To quote the great Dave Attell, “You should have hung out, man!”
The way it went down was this: I was performing at the Hammerstein Ballroom for a first round audition in which they determined who went to Vegas for round 2. There’s probably 800-1000 people in the audience and they’re told to jack up their emotions before the show. If you love an act, really love it and if you hate it, burn it to hell. It’s a straight up, Roman Coliseum situation where emotions are flying everywhere. But absolutely no emotions for me because I’m backstage with Nick Cannon and once you see how rich he is as it relates to his lack of talent, it kind of deadens you on the inside. And it’s no knock on the guy because he was all kinds of nice. And if anything, you have to give him credit for doing that much with that little. He is NOT to be condemned. So I go onstage and the crowd is all fired up because here’s this New York Cabbie everyman, wearing Old Navy everything, and as ramshackle as it sounds, I have a few decent jokes. Am I curing cancer up there? No. But it’s a TV taping, the crowd is jacked, and I’m honestly putting a pretty good hurt on the joint. And then the fun starts. My fourth joke begins with the following statement: “Black people are the best people to pick up in a cab.” As I’m finishing THAT sentence a buzzer goes off that rattles my organs. The crowd starts booing like they’re getting paid by the hiss. I finish the joke under a chorus of boos. Nobody even hears the end, including me. At first I think the crowd is booing me but then Howard waves them silent and says something to the effect of, “Mel you’re a disgrace to comedy, you shouldn’t be judging it, because comedy is the hardest thing to do on our show and you just interrupted a guy that was pulling it off.” Crowd goes bananas. Chants for Howard. Chants for me. The whole thing. Mel jumps in with, “I just don’t see why you’ve gotta bring race into this.” To which I respond with, “I think everybody in the room is past race but you.”
Home run. Touch em all. The crowd is now chanting, Vegas-Vegas. There were two more of these exchanges between Mel and I before Howard restored order and then Howie Mandel dove in to make fun of my looks, deservedly so. Howie then solicits the opinion of two black girls who are sitting in the crowd. He asks if they were offended and they say no. Crowd cheers. He asks if I was funny and one girl says, “he was alright” and the other girl says “nah, he was funny, yo.” Crowd cheers. Let the voting begin. Howard gives me some lackluster praise but passes me to Vegas. Everyone cheers. Mel tells me to stick to cab driving but it not as nice of a way. HUGE boos. Howie calls me a cartoon character with potential and says yes. Thanks, Howie. And then Heidi Klum, the deciding vote, tells me she didn’t like me but she believes in second chances. I’m going to Vegas. Crowd goes bananas. It’s like Jeter’s walk off homer in the 2001 World Series if he was 50 pounds heavier and $200 million poorer. But screw it because I just filmed some Must See TV, right?
I came to find out that they weren’t airing the set because they thought it reflected poorly on Mel and they didn’t want such a divisive element on her first episode of the show. I was surprised because the night of my audition, TMZ and Perez Hilton ran with my story after it leaked out of the taping. In fact, the day after my audition, CBS’ “The Talk,” did a full segment on my set. But my problem wasn’t them cutting it. My problem was that rather than telling me I wouldn’t be on BEFORE the episode aired, the producers sent me all kinds of banners and links to post on Social Media to remind everyone to watch that night’s episode, which I did. Low and behold, everybody turns on AGT and I’m nowhere to be found. While I can respect the genius of their scheme to boost viewership by telling contestants to plug the show, knowing full well that they aren’t on, it’s not really my thing to dupe the few people who find me worth rooting for. So I wrote an open letter to the producers asking to get taken off the show, just to prove to everyone that I was on the first episode in the first place. As far as Lisa Lampanelli bringing it up on the Howard Stern show, I don’t even think SHE knew it was going to happen. Howard was asking her about someone being offended by one of HER jokes and she invoked the Mel B incident because she had just read about it in the New York Post. But I have opened for her a few times and I appreciated the hell out of her calling me a friend because she’s as good a person as you’ll meet in comedy. Super nice and super helpful. She’s no Mel B, but who is?
RM: With all of the comedy podcasts available for our listening pleasure, what sets yours apart from the thousands of other options online today? Do you ever feel in a way that the comedy podcast market has become over-saturated? Why or why not?
JF: Weird that you mention podcasts because I just got done taping my dog-groomer’s podcast. I’m kidding but doesn’t it feel like everybody has one? I guess what makes my podcast different from other shows is that after three years of doing it, and having great sponsorship deals with Audible.Com and later the Flipps Mobile App, I’m getting ready to fold the show! I’m currently engaged in a discussion to jump to full time, terrestrial radio, which may actually happen before the summer. If it does, I’ll definitely continue to put out a podcast version, stations-willing. And if it doesn’t I’m sure I’ll revisit pod-land down the road because I loved doing it. Off The Meter should be remembered for its weapons-grade honesty about everything, including our lack of effort when it came to courting listeners. At our high point, we had about 10,000 daily listeners but I’m honestly not sure how, because we all did was post it on Facebook. There were some academy award winning guests, some pimps and porn-stars, but I think the big thing was the sticktoitiveness to do a podcast 5 days a week for three years. That show is one of the few things I’m proud of, and I’d be the worst person on earth if I didn’t mention the producer, Ken Wood, who was the driving force behind it all.
RM: Which portion of the joke writing process would you say that you struggle with the most; and which aspect of constructing new bits would you consider to be your specialty? Do you think that there’s any possibility ten years from now the answers to those questions will be different?
JF: My specialty in constructing new bits is that I’m not wed to any of my ideas. Joke-writing is a humbling experience and you quickly come to learn that for all the knowledge and know-how you accumulate, you’re still going to be wrong most of the time when you try out new bits. So you’ve gotta be willing to listen to the audience and let them help you evolve your thought. The portion I really struggle with is that a lot of times I’ll quit on a new bit too soon because I’m so quick to dismiss my original idea. I’m hoping ten years from now the answers to those questions will be profoundly different because I’ll have done well enough to have someone write it all for me. I’m telling you man, I may work hard at times, but at heart I am criminally lazy.
RM: What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2015 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
JF: The immediate future calls for more radio discussions, taping a comedy album at the end of the summer, and a couple TV spots. I’m taping more Redeye episodes in April, and I just got done shooting a small, small, small, scene in Jim Gaffigan’s sitcom. I’m pretty sure I had a bigger role on America’s Got Talent.
But shout out to him and his wife, Jeannie because they’re as cool as they are funny. And shout out to anyone who made it through this entire interview. I definitely didn’t make it easy on you so I appreciate you sticking with a dude.
Official Website: http://jimmyfailla.com/
Jimmy on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jimmy.failla
Jimmy on Twitter: https://twitter.com/jimmyfailla
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