Interviewed Stand Up Comedian Jimmy Failla at Comic Strip Live

jimmy failla
jimmy failla

We sat down with stand up comedian Jimmy Failla at Comic Strip Live in New York City. We discuss show business, handling hecklers, fatherhood and much more.

What do you wish someone had told you about show business before you entered it?

That hanging out in green rooms isn’t nearly as badass as I thought it was. Growing up you read all of these amazing stories about Rodney D or Kinison doing coke with all kinds of fast women. Nowadays you walk into a green room and people are swapping smoothie recipes and Instagram tricks. And of course, bitching about out Trump. Sad!

How long have you been doing stand-up comedy?

I technically started in 2002 but you’re not officially doing comedy until you’re completely dead on the inside, so I’d say I started at a Firehouse Gig in 2008.

Do you have some favorite comedy venues you perform at?

The Comic Strip is a sentimental favorite because I used to go there as a civilian prior to getting into the game. I think Gotham is the best run room in the country – bar none – so that has to be up top.  Non-club I would say the Hammerstein Ballroom or the Tribeca 360. Big theaters have this weird delay where you tell a joke, you think it got NOTHING, and then a laugh rolls in like a wave. It’s equal parts cool and terrifying.

Where do you get your material?

I write a journal every morning. It starts off serious and within a few sentences, I’ll usually make an observation that pulls my head into joke land. Of course, some days joke land is more populated than others. Yesterday it was like Black Friday in there. Huge crowds, tons of excitement. Today it was like the Black Album by Jay Z. Lots of potential, but most of the material ended up being forgettable.

What happens if they don’t laugh

Beer. Although I will say when you’re doing comedy long enough, you develop “bomb lines” that acknowledge how poorly it’s going and if they’re strong enough, they’ll win back the crowd. Until of course, you’re next bit tanks and then it’s back to plan A. And possibly a trip to the diner to reassess every critical life decision you’ve ever made, depending on the length of the beatdown you wind up taking.

Who would you say are your influences in the comedy world?

As a kid, I LOVED Eddie Murphy, Kevin Meaney, and Rodney D. My brother Mike and my Uncle Sonny were impossibly funny to me. Mike did these insane voices and sound effects. Sonny told street jokes at family parties and I always admired how he could take over a room.

What is one of your more embarrassing memories from childhood?

When I was 5 I attempted to jump off the high diving board at the Public Pool in Levittown. But when I climbed the ladder to the top I got scared and couldn’t jump. I yelled down to my brother for help but he called me a pussy and the entire pool began chanting “jump, jump, jump.” I refused and sat down on the board – crying –  as I was called every name you can think of and a few that you can’t. And the crazy part was it was the 80’s so the parents heckled you WAY worse than the kids. In any event, after a 15-minute standoff, they sent a female lifeguard up to get me, at which point I jumped. To be honest, I didn’t really mind it. Unlike the next time I “took the plunge” at age 30. That was a shot at my wife. Not sure if you caught it.

What have you learned about yourself from being a father? 

This is all kinds of schmaltzy but what I’ve learned is that I’d rather hang with my son Lincoln than do ANYTHING. Whatever I’m into on a particular day, be it standup, tv, or radio, the highlight is always the race home to hang with my main man. I’m sure this will all change when he becomes a douche bag teenager and I want to beat him with a rake. But right now, at the age of 8, he is a GREAT hang.

What are the most important rules you live by?

Three rules, in order of importance.

1. Always split aces and eights at the blackjack table.

2. Never lay points on the road when betting football.

3. Never ask an audience to hate something until they like you first. It’s hard to articulate why this is important but long story short, they’re far more likely to follow your lead if you’ve established some currency than if you open in a negative place and they haven’t gotten to know you.

What was your favorite book as a kid, and what does that say about you?

The New York City Cab Driver’s Joke Book by Jim Pietsch. It was a collection of street jokes that a guy heard while driving a Yellow Cab. Seeing as I wound up driving a cab and getting into comedy, I think what this book says about me is that I make poor life choices.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?

An old Jamaican woman in my cab once told me that your attitude defines your experience in life. If you have a good attitude, you generally have a pretty ok life regardless of circumstance. If you have a bad attitude, 9 times out of 10 you miss the fun train.

Given your feelings about the state of our culture, how do you avoid despair?

One of the biggest problems with our culture, in my opinion, is that everyone is now running their own 1 man news network. People feel the need to react to every news story on Social Media as if ANYONE cares. And on top of that, there are so many people who insist on updating us with the most trivial developments in their lives. It’s as if we’re spending our entire lives online trying to prove that we exist off of it. One of my guiltiest pleasures – Me and my buddy Dean Imperial like to send each other pictures of people’s absurd FB posts and then assassinate their character. It’s way more efficient than getting into a Facebook fight and the joker is a lot darker because it’s a private conversation. (Cut to my phone getting hacked and me getting gunned down with a minute of people reading the horrible things we’ve said about them)

What three things would you take with you to a deserted island?

Nobody plans to end up on a deserted island so I need to call bullshit on this one. Seriously, this sounds like a question on that show “Blind Date.” “Bachelor number 2, if we were stuck on a deserted island, what 3 items would you bring?” And then he throws in some low-level dick joke and they’re on their way. (Which is also how people describe most of my sets)

Do you have any quotes that you live your life by or think of often?”

“The problem with the internet is you never know what you can believe” by Abraham Lincoln.  We have to admit we are fascinated with certain New York City professions. You use to be

We have to admit we are fascinated with certain New York City professions. You use to be an NYC cab driver tell us about your craziest ride

TOUGH one. I had a woman get in with a sock puppet on each hand and she let them do all the talking from Penn Station to Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn. They criticized my driving. Bitched about the route I was taking. At one point it got so heated that I found myself yelling back at the male sock puppet. It’s a special place to be in life, arguing with a stranger’s hand. Another favorite is I had a gentleman on 111th and Adam Clayton Powell who was fleeing a drug deal gone bad. He jumped into the back of the cab as a woman was getting out and started flinging hundreds over the partition and told me to get the f- out of there. When I looked in my rearview I saw two dudes running out of a brownstone with what looked like guns and I floored it out of there. I was new to cab driving when that happened so my life was filled with optimism. If it took place a few years later, I would’ve thrown it in park in hopes of getting shot.

Do you have any good cab-sex story?

People really DO have sex in cabs but it’s never the people you wanna see. It’s like at a nude beach. You know how if you walked past a nude beach, it’s never hot people, it’s the guy who looks like he works 3 full-time jobs that pay him in Snickers bars. That’s Taxi-sex. You listen to a lot more of it than you actually watch. On a side note, I once had a hooker offer to barter for the fare, but I turned her down INSTANTLY because my wife might be reading this.

How to handle hecklers from the stage?

My strategy is to give them room to talk because here’s the thing. You prepared to speak in front of a group of people that night but your heckler didn’t. So if you give them enough rope, they’ll eventually say something that gives you a huge opening for the takedown. It’s important that you never get malicious though. Because even if the crowd is on your side, once the exchange starts to look more like an angry confrontation than a show, the audience will usually withdraw.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Travel while you have the flexibility to do so. But wherever you wind up, don’t play blackjack if there’s an Asian Dealer. That’s not racist. That’s just fact. For some reason, all Asian blackjack dealers are KILLERS. Nicest people you’ll ever meet in a casino, but once the cards get shuffled it’s shock and awe.

What most important lesson you learned in comedy?

You’re only competing against yourself in this game. A lot of comics spend a ton of time freaking out over who gets what. Sitcoms. Late Night Spots. One Hour Specials. But the reality is, what you “get” has nothing to do with other comics and everything to do with your ability to discipline yourself to write every day, get up as much as possible, and treat people right. Forget everybody else and concentrate on doing the shit out of this job.

Advice to your younger self just starting in comedy career?

Don’t be afraid to ask the veterans ahead of you for guidance / feedback. Comics are pretty generous when it comes to advice and direction. I’m not saying they enjoy it, but somewhere in the back of their heads, they’re picturing the world where you’ll blow up big and get them a gig, so they’ll usually hedge their bets and help you out.

How long do you spend developing new material?

My one-hour special that’s out now on Amazon was developed in 4 months. I wrote every day, got onstage 15-20 times a week, and listened back to every set a zillion times.

What’s your drink of choice?

Whiskey on the rocks. But I drink a lot of black iced coffee when I write.

Greatest cartoon of all time?

The Far Side if we’re talking print cartoons. If we’re talking animation, I’m a big fan of Looney Tunes – specifically Michigan J. Frog in “One Froggy Evening” or Sylvester the cat in “Back Alley Op-roar.” I was also a big fan of the show Heathcliff.  And to be clear, I wasn’t even a big Heathcliff guy – he struck me as a Canal Street knockoff Garfield – but I loved that other cartoon they’d show with the cats who lived in a junkyard. Hector, Wadsworth, and Mongo. Those guys were fucking beasts. Can I curse on here? Probably should’ve asked before the 23rd question.

Let’s say you could live the life of any animal in the wilderness for one day: What would it be?

The Honey Badger. There’s nothing close to it. He kills, eats, and fornicates everything he sees. And not always in that order.

If the forest was a wedding video, the Honey Badger is that dude who winds up in every shot because nobody is having a better time.

So the stereotype of comedians being horribly depressed and neurotic is true?

I’d say 50-50. There are definitely a ton of dudes in this town – successful ones – that we’re all taking odds on them offing themselves. In fact, it’s often the successful comedians that are the less happy, because they’ve gotten the clarity that comes with achieving big things and realizing it didn’t change who they were.

 

So at the end of your day, what’s your ultimate goal?

Either a giant radio show or a sitcom – something where I’d have a big enough platform to seriously elevate other comics that I thought were good. When I was a cab driver, I used to listen to Opie And Anthony and I always thought it was amazing how they were able to build a following for comics through consistent appearances on their show. You really can create a comedy sleeper cell that takes over the country if everybody’s good and they get some shine, as the kids are saying.

What would you say troubles you the most about the world today?

Technology is making us profoundly dumber because we’re using such a small percentage of our brains now. We’re way too reliant on our phones. And it shows in the smallest things. Our memories are way weaker, and our spelling is horibal. The scariest part of that joke is that someone is Googling to see if that was the right way to spell horrible.

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