Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Q&A: Comedian Jon Fisch, Coming to Boca May 21

Comedy on the Green, the live standup series in Mizner Park launched by Boca Raton residents Dave and Stephanie Siegel, is going indoors this season with a series of one-night-only “Comedy Off the Green” performances from some of the talented funnymen (and women) in the founders’ deep Rolodex.

On May 21 at Mizner Park Cultural Center, the series kicks off with Jon Fisch, an observational comic in the Seinfeld mold but with a voice and delivery that recalls David Cross. An award-winning audience favorite of Season 4 of “Last Comic Standing,” Fisch has appeared on “The Late Show” (under both Letterman and Colbert), recorded three seasons of his podcast “Spiraling Up” (in which he interviews comedians who have pulled themselves out of life’s crises), and in 2021 released his heralded comedy album Hinged. He discusses a few of these career highlights, and more, in this interview with Boca magazine.

I’m glad I’m interviewing a comic this month, because I’m sure you know about Dave Chappelle being attacked onstage, not long after Chris Rock was assaulted for telling a joke. How are you and you colleagues taking this new reality?

I have heard people talking about it onstage; of course, everybody was talking about it online. I saw Amy Schumer posted something on Instagram, looking tranquil and pleasant on a park bench, saying, “please don’t attack me.” The worry is very real, because people are saying, two of the top five comics of this generation are getting attacked; what does it mean for the rest of us? I think it puts ideas in people’s heads. People are genuinely nervous, but also doing what we do, and making jokes about it. Let’s just say we miss the days when we were just worried about people heckling.

But one thing these two comedians have in common is that they’re multimillionaires. Maybe nightclub comics are safer at this point.

Yes, I would hope so, but I also don’t have security, like Dave Chappelle does.

I wonder if people feel like because there’s an interactive relationship between the performer and the audience that they feel they have some sort of leeway. Compared to the other art forms, there’s no crowd work in ballet or opera.

There’s always been that fine line with comedy that makes it feel like we’re just up there saying this stuff for the first time, and sure, there’s improv moments, but a majority of this stuff, if not all sometimes, is scripted. And so we’re creating this illusion that we want you to talk to us, but really we just want you to answer us, and not talk at will. We’re also the only art form where there’s a two-drink minimum.

Which encourages rowdy behavior.

Yeah. And there’s an entitlement in the world; I’ve heard customers saying, “I paid for this, I get to do this.” People still don’t know what to expect at a comedy show. Some people just think it’s what they’re allowed to do. I know nobody really thinks they’re allowed to go onstage and hit somebody, but they think they’re allowed to talk. So it’s definitely making it more interesting—like we needed “more interesting”! 

Everyone has an origin story. What was the first time you realized you were funny?

I would say in school. I always liked being silly and funny with my friends, but since they were all funny, I just thought everyone was funny. But then as I got older, sometime in high school I started really appreciating standup comedy, and watching “Seinfeld” and “Roseanne” and this guy Dennis Wolfberg. And then I started noticing that I liked getting a laugh, and not just from the other kids at school, but I liked it when the teacher would laugh too. I felt like I was making a smart enough joke that even the teacher was like, OK, I don’t mind that you just did that in my class.

What came easier to you as you were developing your style—the writing of comedy or the performance of comedy?

Definitely the writing. I don’t know if it says more about your writing or your performing, but I remember that when I was starting out, I got more than one compliment on my writing. And I’ve definitely become more loose onstage, but I had another comic tell me when I first started that I had the stage presence of a rock. I was so nervous, and it was all I could do to just get up there and get the words out of my mouth—which, at the time, worked for me. It added to my stage presence. The shyness, the nervousness, worked for me at the time.

What’s it been like getting back onstage again after a year and a half to two years of shuttered comedy clubs?

It’s been really amazing. In New York, we did outdoor shows, drive-in theater style in the back of a flatbed truck, apple orchards, Central Park, roof decks and, of course, Zoom, but it was much more limited. I’m coming from 20 years of doing it five or six nights a week, multiple shows, down to maybe one, two or three shows per week—whereas as I was doing one, two or three shows per night before that.

So I think it added to the appreciation of it, and I actually wrote a lot more during that time, and had more to write about; we had a baby. And so, I think we all came back with a sense of appreciation, and the audiences did too. And somewhere along the line, it became more common. You could tell when it stopped being the majority of the audience’s first or second time back out again. But until then, there was this extra, added jubilation from the audiences and performers.

Now that you’re performing less, do you look back to the pre-pandemic days, and feel that it was too much—too draining on your lifestyle?

I’m almost back to full force, but yes, I definitely noticed, talking to friends during that time when we were doing fewer shows, that we were enjoying it more. Whether it’s financial or just when you start, everyone tells you, say yes to everything, get onstage as much as you can, at a certain point, you’re perhaps onstage too much—so that you’re not living a life, so that you can’t infuse your act with new material. So I think that break helped me. Like in anything, you need a work-life balance. Even though this is a passion job, it’s still work. We went to the extreme when were doing almost nothing. Now we’re easing back, and hopefully that can be in the back of our mind as a positive to take away from COVID and the quarantine.

Have you drawn from COVID in your material?

I have, but much like anything in standup in New York, I found that a lot of times, dwelling too long on the subject can be repetitive. I’ll be onstage with four, five, six comics a night. So unless I can somehow tie it to me personally and have my own individual take on it, I won’t stay there too long. But yes, I have material about it; it’s hard to not. Somehow it became political, and I was never a political comic. When I tend to talk about anything politically, it’s hard for me, because I sway one way more than the other, so I’m either preaching to the choir or I’m turning people off. That’s not how I wanted to set out to do comedy.

But these days everything is political. It must be like dancing around landmines; sports, TV habits, food. Has it been challenging to find a middle ground where everybody can find something funny?

Yeah. Some people, that’s what they like; I found more self-deprecating and talking about my life, and so hopefully it’s something the audience can relate to. But they can’t get mad at me, because I’m mostly talking about me.

Do you tailor your performance, maybe even the persona you represent onstage, based on where you are—is your Boca show different from your New York show or your Little Rock show?

My persona is always the same. That’s not going to change. And I have an outline of material—the newest stuff I’m working on, what I’m most proud of—I may or may not, depending on the audience, do this bit or that bit. But in general I’m pretty much the same. I have a framework that I like to go in with, that I’ll craft before I walk into the room. And then I’ll see the room and see if I need to adjust that. And then there’s always onstage; that’s what’s fun about it—you don’t know what you’re going to get. You might have to call an audible and switch gears onstage. But for the most part, it’s me up there, talking about my life.

I like the title of your last comedy special, “Hinged.” Are you drawing a contrast between yourself and the Bill Burrs of the world—the unhinged, macho comics?

I think that’s an underlying message, but it’s really based on me now being in a relationship, and the way I got in it was through the dating app Hinge.

You had a podcast last year called “Spiraling Up,” about how your fellow comedians found themselves in down-and-out positions in life, and how they got themselves out of them. I think there’s been an irony for a long time about people who make people laugh for a living, but their own emotional or physical lives are kind of in tatters. Is there something inherent in this profession that leads to a disproportionate level of depression, anxiety, addiction, etc.?

It’s funny you say that, because I always said, I was a very happy person until I started doing comedy! It’s more of the lifestyle. A lot of people, myself included, it’s hard to not have your structure laid out to you like when you were growing up in school, and if you went to college or if you went to the military or you went into the workforce. You have a schedule, you have a structure, whereas in the creative arts, you make your own structure. It’s not like anybody is hiring me to do a new hour. I have to put that pressure on myself to come up with the material and write it. Along with that, it’s a lot of alone time that isn’t great for depression; you’re on the road by yourself, in planes, in hotels; sometimes the first person you talk to is the person at the door of the comedy club that day.

You mentioned a new hour—is the full hour still the sweet spot for comedy, or has the internet changed that?

It’s totally changed. That’s what’s happening now; people want to watch a minute, they want to watch 51 minutes. Hopefully those are all little advertisements for your special, but for better or worse, that’s how people are consuming it right now. But the ultimate goal for any of this stuff, for me and many of my peers, is whatever we’re doing online or on TV is to get you to come see us live, because that’s where the real fun is.

Catch Jon Fisch at 7 and 9:30 p.m. May 21 at Mizner Park Cultural Center, 201 W. Plaza Real, Boca Raton. Tickets cost $30-$45. Call 610/659-8583 or visit comedyonthegreen.org.

For more of Boca magazine’s arts and entertainment coverage, click here.

John Thomason
As the A&E editor of bocamag.com, I offer reviews, previews, interviews, news reports and musings on all things arty and entertainment-y in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

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