• Ted Alexandro stresses the importance of owning your own comedy special in 2018 (Interview)

    Ted Alexandro is a beloved comic’s comic who continues to add to his prolific career. During his 25+ years in the industry, he has had two half-hour specials on Comedy Central, appeared on a variety of late night shows, and performed at iconic venues like Madison Square Garden and Carnegie Hall. If you’re a fan of stand-up, you should be a fan of the New York-native currently touring with Jim Gaffigan. Earlier this month he released his third comedy special Senior Class of Earth.

    Alexandro spoke to Laughspin’s Rosa Escandon about his new special, his viral Louis C.K. set., world tours, and the changing face of comedy.

    Your new special Senior Class of Earth just came out on the All Things Comedy network. Why did you choose to partner with them to release this special?

    I had shot this special independently. I self-produced it. So that kind of ruled out Netflix because they weren’t doing specials that had been pre-produced. So I was looking for a home for my special and I had a conversation with Al Madrigal, who is a comedian, but also one of the co-founders of All Things Comedy along with Bill Burr and it was just kind of serendipity. He said that they were looking to start distributing specials. It was really just perfect timing. My special was the first one that they’re distributing on their network. Everything kind of fell in place and it resonated with me because it’s comedian-owned and it’s more direct from the artist, which I jived with.

    Why would you say it’s important for comedians to be able to own or produce their own work?

    To me, it just makes sense that you own what you create instead of signing it away to some corporate behemoths that write you a check and then it’s no longer yours and they can do with it what they please. You know, sometimes when they write you that check if it’s big enough, it feels good and it’s worth the money, but sometimes I think on a base level it never feels good to give over ownership of something you’ve worked to create. That’s the bargain that I think anyone who’s in the arts struggles with. But this is my third special and I self-produced all three of them. I put my own money into it. It’s also important to me for the aesthetic of how it’s shot. I wanted something that captured the look of what it’s like to see a set in a club. We shot at the Village Underground, which is the Comedy Cellar’s second [room] on West Fourth [Street]. I wanted something that captured the unique aesthetic of that club rather than a lot of the cookie cutter specials where it could just be any theater with a crowd giving a standing ovation. Specials, to me, are often like comedy on steroids. I wanted something that felt a little more organic to what I do every night.

    Your newest special is about 50% personal and 50% political. You are also very politically active with social justice movements. Was it important for you to be able to talk about politics?

    I tend to just gravitate towards what moves me and it’s not really calculated. I don’t give it a whole lot of forethought so when those movements came to the forefront, I was just intrigued by them and believed in them. So I participated, and in ways that made it into my act. I always kind of start from the place of what’s funny. I have no interest in trying to convert anyone or trying to preach because I don’t find it funny or interesting. If it is funny, I keep it in the act it, but if it’s not funny, it doesn’t stay in the act.

    You recently made some news for another performance, also at the Cellar where you called out Louis C.K. for his sexual misconduct and recent return to comedy. Was that something that you felt like you had to do as a comedian or as a male comedian specifically?

    It was interesting because it was stuff that I had been thinking about and, obviously being a comedian who works at the Cellar, it was even more at the forefront of my mind. So I was doing material about it and, although it was kind of framed as being like, ‘comedian slams Louis C.K.,’ it was really more of a macro discussion on #MeToo against the backdrop of Kavanaugh and the Trump presidency. Bill Cosby was, I think, sentenced around that same time. So it was really more of a macro discussion and, unfortunately, Louis is part of that. To me, it was more nuanced than me slamming a colleague. It was more of the macro discussion of the ways that the patriarchy disbelieves women.

    Do you think that you have a responsibility as a man to speak up about #MeToo era politics?

    For any comedian, you really just have a responsibility to do onstage what you feel equipped to do. For me, these are the types of things that I explore on stage. So that’s why I chose to put that clip out. I deliberated whether or not I should, but ultimately I felt as though, again, it was part of that macro discussion of all of the things that are at the forefront right now. I felt as though there was some value in it. It was also something I was proud of just comedically. I thought it was funny, first and foremost, because that’s why I’m up there. But also thought-provoking. I don’t think you have any responsibility on stage to do anything other than what you are equipped to do and that’s different for everyone.

    Are you worried about speaking out like this negatively effecting your career?

    No. I mean, that doesn’t enter into it for me. Like I said, if I have something to say, I’m going to explore it. The clip that I put out, that’s something that I had been doing all week. That was one set, but it was material that I had been working through. The fact that it was at the Cellar, I guess it lent a little more gravity to it. As long as I’m putting proper thought into this stuff and I feel as though I’m doing it for the right reasons, I don’t worry about anything beyond that.

    You’ve been touring with Jim Gaffigan. How has that been?

    It’s great. Jim’s crowds are amazing. First of all, you’re playing these enormous venues. We just played our second or third show at the Milwaukee Bucks NBA arena. It’s like 15,000 people. This opportunity to play for enormous crowds of really good comedy fans—I certainly would not be selling out 15,000-seat arenas [by myself]. I’m playing comedy clubs for my gigs. I feel lucky. It’s a really good opportunity to get in front of more and more people.

    I assume you are still on the US leg of the tour?

    Yeah. Yeah. We’re playing Nashville this weekend. We have dates lined up into 2019. I think we’re going to be in Turkey and Greece some time near Thanksgiving.

    Do you worry about performing in places like Europe where you might have audiences that don’t speak English as a first language?

    Not anymore. You know, I’ve been a comedian for 25 years and I’ve performed now everywhere. I’ve done the Amman Comedy Festival in Jordan. I did comedy in Egypt, in Kuwait. I’ve done it in Paris. So at this point, I’ve kind of come to an understanding that if people are coming to an English-speaking comedy show, they have some fluency, you know, with English. And I found that, honestly, with some of these crowds you really wouldn’t know where you are if you didn’t know that you were outside of the states. You would just think that it was a great crowd. They are really appreciative that you’re there. Now with the internet and this shared cultural experience and how aware the world is of American politics and American pop culture, there aren’t too many things that you can’t talk about other than maybe the nuance of language or a turn of phrase that you might have to explain a little further. They’re very well versed in our culture and our politics and the reverse isn’t always true.

    Back to your new special: you allow customers to pay-what-you-want. Do you think that is at all risky?

    That was kind of more of an ideological decision. I had seen other artists do that. Radiohead famously put out an album where it was pay-what-you-want. That just resonated with me ideologically. You’re kind of trusting the person to, if they like what you do, to reflect that in what they pay for it. If they don’t know who you are and they’re taking a chance, well then you’re just grateful if they pay a couple of bucks for it or whatever. The average wound up being like $5 or $6 anyway because some people who really like you and also appreciate that you put it out that way will give you $20, and then you have some people who have never heard of you that maybe give you $1. But the average ends up being like $5.

    You can tell me if this is a bit of a hacky question, but what got you excited to do comedy at first and is that something that you still feel after 25 years?

    No, that’s a good question. I think what got me excited was the thing that got me excited when I was a kid to do like a school play or to speak in front of the class or to share like a story that I had written or whatever. I’ve always enjoyed performing and when I got into stand-up in my early twenties, it was still that primal connection of just the vulnerability of sharing something that you’ve written or thought of, and then also the kind of unpredictable element of live performance and seeing what happens in the moment. There is a unique dynamic of a group of people listening to someone speak. That hasn’t changed. Cable television impacted comedy and the internet impacted comedy and our phones and laptops and everything else. But really what remains unchanged is just people walking into a room and listening to someone talk. I still find that exciting both as a comedian and as someone in the back of the room watching my colleagues.

    How has the internet or other tech advancements changed the comedy experience?

    I think the biggest change is that people have consumed so much more comedy by the time they reach adulthood. I was dependent upon my parents’ record collection, which luckily included George Carlin, Flip Wilson, Bob Newhart. So luckily I was exposed to some good comedy, but now kids with the internet, everything is on YouTube. So even by mistake, they can find five new people that they hadn’t heard of. By the time people reach adulthood, they’re way more savvy. They’ve consumed a lot more comedy and a lot more points of view. It has opened up comedy in ways that are good. A lot more people think, “I can do that,” or, “I want to try that.” There’s been a comedy boom. I got into comedy after the boom of the ’80s, so it was kind of almost like a downturn when I got into it. You would hear these stories of like the crazy times of the ’80s comedy boom. But now I think with technology and with the internet, we’re back on this boom because people are seeing not only a lot of comedy but a lot of good comedy.

    You can stream Ted Alexandro’s special Senior Class of Earth at www.atcspecials.com and see him on Jim Gaffigan’s Fixer Upper Tour.

    Rosa Escandon

    I am a stand up comic and writer living in Brooklyn, NY. When I'm not on stage, I am Comedy Editor for The Tusk, sit on the board of the Cinder Block Comedy Festival, and writing my next project. I am passionate about writing about feminism and comedy as well as how women, LBGTQ people, and minorities are changing the face of comedy and entertainment. You may have seen me on Buzzfeed Video, Seriously.TV, aplus, or maybe just on twitter.

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