This is the second time I’ve interviewed Jesse Joyce.
The first time we talked, I wanted to know all about Joyce’s work with Greg Giraldo (rest in peace), Seth MacFarlane and others on the Comedy Central roasts and Joyce, a stand-up veteran who is performing at Raleigh’s Goodnights Comedy Club this week, delivered in a major way. If you want inside information on how those roasts come together, click the link in the first sentence of this paragraph. You won’t be disappointed, just like I wasn’t disappointed with my second Joyce interview.
Two years or so after our original chat, Joyce was just as funny, smart and honest as he was before he, or I, knew what raleighco was. During a Tuesday night phone interview, Joyce discussed his work on @midnight, how sobriety helped him gain a foothold in the show business quagmire, his unusual connection to North Carolina comedy and much more.
TC: How does writing for @midnight differ from some of the other writing jobs you’ve had?
JJ: Well, my favorite thing about the show is they put me on it. That’s worth a lot to me.
The difference is, I’ve never worked on a show where there is more direct, you write a thing, that thing shows up on TV. The writing staff is small and we’re like a real intimate team. (Chris) Hardwick is so great at what he does and we’re sort of good in our lane at what we do that no one really edits or questions. Like, you have to go through legal and they’ll go, “You can’t flat out say that Jose Canseco has chlamydia. You have to imply it or say allegedly.” There’s a legal thing that has to be done, but for the most part, it’s like, you write a thing in the morning and that thing shows up on TV that night.
Most of the stuff I’ve written for are awards shows or a special or, like “The Burn with Jeff Ross” or some show where there are weeks and weeks of preparation time. This is a daily show, so there just isn’t the time to overthink things. We write the show every morning and it tapes at 4 p.m. It’s kind of cool for that reason.
TC: In our first interview, we talked about you writing with Greg for all the roasts and “The Burn” and I remember you saying you didn’t want to have a long-term writing commitment to any show. Is that still true? It seems like you’re enjoying the @midnight gig.
JJ: My big fear always has been disappearing into a writers’ room, which is why I always resisted just staffing up on a show. I see guys who used to be comics, and it wasn’t intentional, but it was like they kind of got sucked up into the writing world and they just don’t have time to do stand-up. A couple of years go by, and they’re not really a stand-up anymore. I have made a line in the sand where that is super important to me so I quit this job for four months earlier this year just to go on the road. Then they hired me back.
The fact that we only tape Monday through Wednesday allows me to still go out to places like Raleigh and do stand-up on the weekends. Plus, the fact that I show up on the show every two months also keeps (the stand-up presence) out there. I know guys who have written for a late-night show for years and people in the comedy scene wonder, “Whatever happened to that guy?” Nobody wonders that (with me) because every two months, I show up on Comedy Central.
TC: One more thing about @midnight and I promise I’ll move on. People think you guys come up with the hashtag war responses on the spot. You write most of those beforehand. It’s interesting to me that some people thought you guys were that good.
JJ: People have no idea how TV works. That’s just what it is, but in fairness, it really is only the day of, ya know? The show is written by 1:30 and it tapes at 4 so in reality, you only have about three hours to come up with stuff. … It’s not like there’s a ton of time, but you do have advanced notice of what is there.
TC: Do you think your writing and joke delivery is better as a sober person?
JJ: Yeah. It’s not even a question. I was doing stand-up for about 7, 7 1/2 years before I got sober and I was just more or less spinning my wheels. I felt like I really wasn’t going anywhere.
It’s been a pretty trackable trajectory since I quit drinking. It’s one of those things they tell you when you are flirting with the idea of quitting drinking. “Why don’t you try quitting drinking and see if your life gets better?” That was concrete evidence for me. Things just started working out.
The other thing I’ve always said is, if you can learn to channel that addictive nature into something positive, it’s kind of like a superpower. Two weekends ago, I had to help Jim Norton write his pilot for IFC and I literally just did that for 12 hours a day Saturday and Sunday and helped bang out the whole script.
(Getting sober) is easily the best decision I’ve ever made.
TC: You’ve made several trips to North Carolina to do shows. Anything about my home state or my people that stands out to you?
JJ: The first stand-up show I ever saw was in North Carolina. I was 10 years old, and my family went on vacation to Nags Head. It was my brother and my parents and I and we each got to pick one activity that the family would do together on vacation. It could be whatever dumb shit my mom or brother wanted to do. We happened to be staying in this hotel that had a comedy night. It was in the 80s so it was in the height of stand-up. I was like, “Oh my god, that’s my thing.” I just loved stand-up, but I’m 10 so I didn’t know what it was like. My parents never would have set foot in a comedy club if their son didn’t do stand-up for a living, so they didn’t know any better either. So we went to this show and it was my parents, me, 10, and my brother was 7. We were sitting in the front and all I wanted to see was the mechanics, how it works. The emcee was some woman and I remember one of her first jokes was about her period or something and my dad was immediately like, “We’re outta here.”
He grabbed us and as we were leaving he was bitching at some old lady in a red dress smoking a cigarette and he was trying to get our money back. She said, “You brought a 10 and a 7-year-old to a comedy club. You’re not getting your money back. You’re a fucking idiot.” Nobody had ever called my dad a fucking idiot in front of me before. It ruined the night. Everyone was pissed at each other and I was mad we left because all I wanted to do was see stand-up.
Years later, I’m like 24. I get booked to perform in Nags Head and I show up at this club and I’m like, there is something so weirdly familiar about this place. I get upstairs and sure enough, it’s the same mean, old lady in a red dress smoking a cigarette. I went up to her and said, “You probably won’t remember this, but when I was 10, my dad brought us here and you wouldn’t give us our money back and you called him a fucking idiot in front of us.” She goes, “Of course I don’t remember that. People bring 10-year-olds to this club all the time, and they’re all fucking idiots.”
Here it is, The Best Tweet I Can Find In Five Minutes:
Sometimes autocorrect nails it. Now I really want to hear whatever "David Bowtie" would sound like.
— Jesse Case (@jessecase) October 8, 2015