I started in comedy in Boston. I actually transitioned from music to comedy. I was a singer in a band and used to do a little crowdwork on the mic and sometimes I was actually funny.I started going to open mics with a friend of mine, and overall the talent was mediocre and I thought, “Well I could at least do as good as these guys!” So I wrote five minutes of stand-up and tried it out.
What made you keep coming back to stage?
It became something I got addicted to. It was so thrilling. Music lost its thrill, but this was exciting. I kept failing! It made my heart race – it’s the adrenaline, it’s why people ride roller coasters. I got addicted, and eventually I got some laughs and thought “I can do this,” and I haven’t stopped in ten years.
You mentioned failing in the beginning, what’s it like when a joke flops? Have you ever gotten booed?
Oh, of course. It’s like asking a football player if they’ve ever got tackled. It’s part of the art. When a joke doesn’t do well – well first of all, you should never try new jokes where there’s paying customers, or where you’re not comfortable. Do it somewhere you know they’ll still love you, even if you don’t do well. So, if a joke goes bad, you need to acknowledge it, or it’s like a big elephant in the room. It builds tension – like a balloon. And it keeps getting filled, and you need to pop the balloon to release the tension. Just burst it and move on.
Do you ever feel like your audience doesn’t “get” your jokes?
Absolutely. It comes down to “Do we share the same dictionary?” Do the words and topics I’m talking about make sense in your world? Robert Anton had this idea of a “reality tunnel,” and if two people don’t share the same reality tunnel, if there’s a disconnect, then there won’t be understanding. It’s all about the crowd. You need to practice with different crowds. I’ve performed everywhere from cancer hospitals, to bars, to homes for the elderly – everywhere. Different crowds will have different reality tunnels.
Do you find you always have to be the funny guy of the group?
I’m quite serious a lot. I’m not “on” all the time. I’m constantly reading and studying, and I’m curious about life and what it is to be human – I’m always searching for the answers to that. It’s taking me to more serious spaces as I get older, and I’m having more conversations about the big questions in life. I don’t feel the need to be silly and wild all the time. I think the most interesting thing in life is what is life, and how do we figure that out.
In light of the recent death of Robin Williams, do you find that people can use comedy to cover up sadness?
I think people are always looking for “love me.” I do comedy because I want love. I want to feel that love from others in a large room of people. I think we all have this fundamental issue of a hole blown through us – something’s missing. It’s a combination of socialization, genetics, and how we were raised. Some people fill it with food, and some with sex, and some with a room of people laughing at you. George Carlin used to talk about it as “please approve me, please love me.” I think any type of performer, comedians especially, are looking for that approval, and that love.
You’ve also done some acting – do you think it’s easy to seamlessly transition between the two?
For me, absolutely. I think comedy is more frightening than acting. Acting to me is easier because there are so many people involved that if I mess up a little, hardly anyone notices. With stand up, if I get up there and totally bomb, it’s just me. All the pressure is on me. For some comedians, it’s a lot harder.
Where have you acted, and do you have any roles coming up?
There’s a new Fox series called Gotham, and I’m going to be playing a small time criminal in episode 3! It’ll air the first week of October, but the series starts at the end of September. I’ve also done Nurse Jackie, Law and Order, and David Letterman. I’d prefer to do comedic acting, but there are fewer and fewer comedy films and comedy television. Television seems to be all crime oriented these days.
Do you have any favorite jokes you’ve performed?
Right now I have a favorite about buying marijuana! It’s basically the idea that as long as it’s criminalized, you have to buy it from a criminal. It’s a good one.
Check out Jonesy performing at COFFEEED LIC: