Talking Standup, Alone Time, and Why Comedy Is Bullshit with Jo Firestone

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Jo Firestone spent the day before her Comedy Central Stand-Up Presents (her episode premieres tonight at 12:30) taping sitting by the pool doing Sudoku. “I like to be alone. I have some people here, so I might push them away. That’s my style, to push people away.” Alone time is important since the behind-the-scenes at these kind of productions can be intense. The comics are rapidly shuffled around for photo shoots, interviews, and walkthroughs. This year each comic had to film a motion sequence for the show’s intro. Firestone and I had watched as comic after comic was instructed by the crew to do their best runway walk. When I asked her what she was going to do she replied, “I think I might just sit down.” Firestone’s smart and awkward sense of humor has landed her a staff writing job on The Tonight Show, a spot on our Top Up-and-Coming Comedians list, and an appearance in the indie hit Don’t Think Twice. We talked further about the therapeutic value of comedy, theme shows, and how comedy is bullshit.

What are you going to do tomorrow before you tape your set?

I like to be alone. I have some people here, so I might push them away. That’s my style, to push people away. I might smoke a few cigarettes. Not that I smoke cigarettes. I’ll smoke a cigarette for the first and only time.

I’ve heard your name come up a lot in certain circles of comics. I’ve watched your clips, but have never seen you perform live so I’m looking forward…

This interview is over. If you’ve never seen me perform live…

Okay, fair. Thanks for your time.

No, it’s okay. Sometimes people just miss like ships in the night. There are so many comics I’ve never seen live and I assume I know all of their jokes just based on their personality. I heard a rumor that there are 60,000 comedians in New York City. I’m gonna say that I’ve seen probably 10,000 comedians.

And you remember them all by name.

If you asked me to list them I couldn’t, but if we were in a room of 50,000 comedians and you said, “Do you know 10,000 of them?” I’d be like, “Yeah, I know that person, that person, that person…” It’s a community. The only way to do anything in comedy is by knowing people.

I was watching your TedX talk

Oh, God.

What?

Don’t watch that.

I liked it. You didn’t like it?

No. I don’t think it’s my format. The PowerPoint…there were too many things going on.

Speaking of which, how many shows do you run?

I used to have 12, but now I do maybe four. There are two regular and two semi-regular.

And these all have very conceptual themes. You’ve done dating shows, pun shows, etc. I was reading an interview with you where you were asked what kind of advice you would give comics and you said, “Make all of your dumb ideas.”

I stand by that.

Standup can be very judgmental. Some comics hate the idea of theme shows. I know because I run two of them. There are people who think that theme shows are a lesser form of comedy. Do you ever get any pushback on your shows?

I think it’s self-selecting. Typically I know the people who would be interested in doing them. There is such a large amount of experimental comedians in New York City that I don’t have to pull from people who would only perform in clubs and wouldn’t like it. If it’s a pig-themed comedy show I don’t want to make you dress up like a pig if you hate that kind of thing. People who like that kind of comedy will go to it and the people who like to do that kind of comedy will get booked.

I guess I’m projecting with my line of questioning because I like a theme show if it’s done well, but some dudes are like, “Gimmick shows are bullshit.”

All comedy, I think, is bullshit. It’s bullshit to say the same words 40,000 times. That’s insane. All of it is so stupid. If you have a funny idea, deliver it in some way. For the audience, this is a very small fraction of their life. They’re gonna go home and deal with their weird husband. All of it doesn’t really matter, so if you made people laugh that’s kind of the only objective. I don’t even mind birthday party clowns. If they make someone laugh, that’s the whole point. It doesn’t matter what the highest form of comedy is. Is it improv? Maybe, because it’s the freshest idea. Or maybe it’s standup because you’ve sharpened it. Or maybe it’s sketch because of the interplay of the people. It’s insane to say that one is better than the other, because it’s all just to distract people from their pain.

Is that why you do it?

I think that’s why I started. I don’t know if I have such a clear objective now. When I first started I was going through a rough time and I would spend all of my time watching Ellen videos from when she did standup. It made me feel so good. It was so therapeutic for someone to talk and you to just listen. You don’t have to have a conversation and you can still relate.

Outside of comedy, what do you find therapeutic? What’s your favorite thing to do?

I think the ideal afternoon would be to sit on the floor, get some dogs in there, maybe order a pizza.

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