August 12, 2014

Interview with Joe Kilgallon

Joe Kilgallon, one of the founding members of Comedians You Should Know, is a Chicago-born comedian who now lives in Los Angeles. Not only is Joe incredibly funny, but his intelligence, ambition, and hard work have earned Joe the opportunity to perform all over the country. In this interview Joe talks about his experience in Los Angeles, advice on how to handle getting bumped, the importance of building an audience, leaving your comfort zone and much more.

In regards to the science of stand-up comedy, Joe could not have been a better person to talk shop with. After a busy night of performing at the Laugh Factory and then at Comedians You Should Know, plus staying late after the show to hang with fans, Joe STILL made the time to talk comedy, lending his many years of insight and practical advice, all in the name of helping out fellow comics.

LOS ANGELES

COMEDY OF CHICAGO: When is it time to move to L.A. for comedy?
JOE KILGALLON: People have different philosophies with this. When I started, there was a group of guys that said it should be like high school and college: Do four years and then move to L.A. or New York. But then I kinda didn’t really agree with it ‘cause I feel like you KNOW when it’s time to go. You KNOW when you’re ready. Experience levels are all different.

COC: For you, how did you KNOW it was time to go?

JK: I knew it was time to go when I reached a point where I was doing all the best shows, and getting laughs at all of them. And it was like, there really wasn’t too much more to accomplish. I was closing out the Laugh Factory, I was headlining at The Comedy Bar, featuring at Zanies, featuring at the Improv and also at Up Comedy Club.

COC: How do you become a headliner at these clubs?

JK: The only way to headline at these places is to be a headliner...and in order to be a headliner, you gotta get TV credits.

COC: How has your experience in L.A. been so far?

JK: The first couple months were kinda figuring out the lay of the land, ya know? It’s kinda like that with any scene. And with any new city, you do start over. It’s like I went from batting third, to sitting on the bench. So it was humbling in that sense. But you go through the ranks quickly because you have the Chicago background of going on stage every night. So yes, it is starting over, but not really because you have over an hour of material in your back pocket.

COC: How does the stage time in L.A. compare to Chicago or New York?

JK: There’s way more stage time in Chicago and New York, but in L.A. the stage time is almost more meaningful in the sense that, you can have a great set and then the next day you hear from some casting director saying they wanna see you. I mean I love Chicago—it’s my fuckin’ home—and I wish that happens here, but it doesn’t. And as far as quality of stage time, Chicago and New York are better than L.A.. But, L.A. has more opportunity though. Like, SHIT HAPPENS in L.A.

COC: And how are the L.A. open mics?
JK: The open mic scene sucks...in the sense that it’s a lottery. So you don’t even know if you’re goin’ up. You gotta wait around while they pick names out of a hat. That blows. And there’s a lot of downtime that will really frustrate you as a comic. You could wait around for FOUR HOURS, for fucking nothing! I can’t even talk about it without getting a little bit like, “What the fuck?!?” [laughs]

COC: How do you feel about comics who use TV and movies to sell more tickets?

JK: Ya know, alotta comics are like, “Fuck that! I just wanna do straight stand up!” And yeah, alotta people do. But then they realize “Ohh if I do this part in a movie, my audience will grow by THIS much, and then I can sell more tickets in this town when I go there!” And that’s not a bad thing. As long as stand up is your #1. You ask any stand up who’s on a sitcom, “At the end of the day, gun to your head, what do you choose?” They’ll go, “Stand up all day long. This is a day job for me.”
JK: ‘Cause I always hear people be like, “Ohh he’s a fuckin’ TV star now! Fuck that! I just wanna do stand up!” And yeah, you just wanna do stand up...but you also have a day job at a bank! [laughs]

COC: [laughs] If you can get a day job in entertainment, why not?

JK: Why do we respect the comedian that works 40 hours a week at CVS and does stand up at night...but we don’t respect the comedian who works at Warner Bros on a TV show and still does stand up at night? What’s the difference? I just never understood the comedians that were like, “Fuck TV! Fuck movies!” And if you don’t wanna do that, that’s fine. But you hafta know that it’s gonna be a harder route for you, and you’re gonna hafta work really hard at building your audience.
WORD OF ADVICE

COC: Advice for comics starting out?

JK: Two pieces of advice for young comics starting out: If you’re still in school, try to major in graphic design. Because every comedian needs one. You need someone to develop your website, you need someone to know how to film and edit and direct your videos, any of that kinda stuff is very important. The other piece of advice is that you hafta be comfortable in situations. Like, every headliner I’ve met, I treat them like I meet anyone else. I mean, you still have respect, but you can’t be star-struck. You can’t kiss their ass. Because then, they’re not gonna view you as a peer. They’ll look at you as some other fan that’s kissin’ their ass. So instead, pick their brain. After all, they have the experience! Come at them from a level of respect, but also be cool about it.

COC: What advice do you have for comics who only perform in certain places?

JK: You hafta get outta your comfort zone. And the Chicago comedy scene is GREAT, but one of the things that bothered me is that there were factions of the comedy scene that would ONLY do comedy in THIS neighborhood. Like, there were suburban comics that would ONLY do comedy in the suburbs. And it’s like, “NO!” You hafta do comedy EVERYWHERE!

JK: If you just wanna make people like YOU laugh, then you’re not really a comedian! You gotta test yourself. I feel like people get their little niche and they’re just like, “Oh yeah! I’m doin’ really well in front of THIS crowd with THIS type of material in THIS scene...and I’m just gonna stay here because I’m comfortable here.”

COC: Are there any mics that you wish you did more often while you were here in Chicago?

JK: One of my biggest regrets about my time in Chicago was that I didn’t go to Jokes & Notes on the south side enough. I didn’t go to those far south side rooms as much as I should have. ‘Cause you need EVERY fuckin’ crowd. This guy Mikey-O runs a great show with a big hispanic audience—go there! They’re GREAT audiences! See how your material works there. Go to the hipster crowd. Go to the touristy crowd. Go to the jock crowd. Go to whatever fuckin’ bullshit labels we come up for people nowadays. And go there and figure it out.

COC: What advice do you have for the comics who always get bumped?

JK: Be polite about it. There was this open mic I would go to and I would get bumped every week! No matter what my spot was, the guy hosting it would go, “Hey...So-n-So is poppin’ in, is it okay if I bump you back a couple?” And in my head I’d be like, “FUCK YOU!” [laughs] But, what am I gonna say to “Hey, Kyle Kinane’s in town, I’ve gotta bump you...” What am I gonna be like? “NO!” [laughs] No, I would always be real cool about it. And because of that, he started to put me up earlier.

COC: What advice do you have for comics who don’t like to host?

JK: Don’t be afraid to MC! I meet alotta comics that don’t even wanna host the show, they don’t wanna MC. And I’m like, “NO! You gotta do that! That’s how you get good!” You gotta know how to build that show up! A host makes or breaks the show!

COC: What advice do you have for comics who are afraid to bomb?

JK: Make your mistakes. I cannot emphasize that enough. MAKE YOUR MISTAKES! Don’t be afraid to fuckin’ fail! Alotta comics get too comfortable and they get into very lazy patterns. I’ve seen a lotta comics in their first year, where I’m like, “This comic is gonna be AWESOME!” And then three years later, they’re EXACTLY where they were a year ago. They did not get any better.

COC: That scares the shit outta me...

JK: GOOD! Let it scare the shit outta you!! It’s good to be scared a little bit. That’s a motivator.

COC: What advice do you have for comics who only play to the back of the room?

JK: Never make the comics in the back of the room laugh at an open mic. I mean, if they laugh because you’re being funny, that’s great! But there are some comedians who I’ve seen who PLAY to the back of the room. They’re like, “Hey ya know what, I’m just gonna make my comedian friends in the back of the room laugh!” You’re NOT getting better! What the FUCK is the point of that?! You wanna make your comedian friends laugh? Go to a fuckin’ diner grill at 3AM, have a bacon double cheeseburger, and smoke weed in the alley. That’s fun! Do that! But don’t waste peoples’ time by signing up at an open mic if you’re NOT gonna put in some effort!

COC: After all, the back of the room won’t be buying tickets for your show...

JK: No! They’re not! They’re ABSOLUTELY NOT gonna be buying tickets to your show! I NEVER understood that need for approval. It’s like, “Are you even TRYING to get better?! Or did you just come here to make friends? Is this fuckin’ summer camp for you?! Did your parents say to go sign up for open mic because you really need to make friends?!?” [laughs] Know what I mean? And look, we all want to be loved by our peers, but don’t waste peoples’ time. Time is precious. Don’t waste peoples’ time.

KILGALLON WISDOM

COC: What do us younger comics need to know?
JK: All right, here’s what ya gotta know: KNOW that in your first year...you’re gonna SUCK! [laughs] HANNIBAL BURESS was bad in his first year—he has said that. A lot of GREAT comedians were bad in their first year, and they became great because they didn’t give a shit about failure. ALSO...put yourself out there. There are open-mikers who say, “Ehh those people are so cliquey!” and all that kinda stuff. But, no one’s gonna roll out a red carpet for you! Right? Like, if you show up at an open-mic and you wanna be friends with these people, go up to ‘em and say hi! Say what’s up!

COC: What type of comics earn respect amongst their peers?

JK: You wanna be the comic that when your name gets called, other comics AREN’T like, “Eh, time for a bathroom break!” Or, “Ehh let’s go smoke...” You wanna be the comic that’s doing stuff and trying to create somethin’. You gotta show EFFORT. Put yourself out there. Those are the comics that get respect. And as comics, we all know how hard it is. And because of that, we LOVE the people who are putting all the effort into it. What we HATE are the people who only do it every now ‘n then and bitch about how they’re not getting anywhere. If you’re ever thinking, “WHY am I not getting booked??” 90% of the time is because you aren’t working hard enough. You gotta go out EVERY NIGHT! You gotta hustle! That earns you respect.

COC: What makes you successful in the Chicago comedy scene?

JK: Being original! Originality is HUGE in Chicago. There’s no industry here. That’s why Chicago is a great city to start. The top comics in New York and L.A. are the top comics in the WORLD. They’re amazing. But that next rung on the ladder are fucking awful! SO many shitty, shitty comedians. And they’re shitty because they all mimic what they think a comic SHOULD be. There are people pretending to be comics—no original voice. If you wanna get ahead in the Chicago comedy scene, you gotta be original.

COC: A lot of us comics are really shy by nature. What advice do you have for when it comes to making friends in comedy?

JK: I know alotta comics with shy personalities. That’s natural. I’m not saying be someone you’re not. But in the same regard you hafta understand, these are people like you. What’s better for a shy person than to meet people who are like YOU? Find the people you think are great comics and try to be friends with them. And find POSITIVE people. Positive people that are good and inspire you. Don’t let the negative people hold you back.

COC: In what ways has ‘Comedians You Should Know’ made all of you guys better comics?

JK: CYSK is a successful show because every comic who was in it when we started was an awesome comic, and we all inspired each other to get better. We never said this, but I guarantee in the back of our minds we were like, “WOW, he just killed...I wanna kill as hard as he just did!” And that’s a good thing. There’s a camaraderie to that. You support each other. Like, “Yeah, you had a bad set, but as a friend I gotta let you know, here’s why you had a bad set...” Don’t be afraid to do that kinda stuff. Be straight up. Be honest. You’ll meet some of the best friends of your life.

COC: The thing about open mics is that you perform for the same group of comics all the time. How
do you overcome the feeling of, “Ah, they’ve already seen me tell this joke!”?

JK: Play to the audience. Just do the bits you’re working on. Michael Palasack, who’s been on Letterman and has a Comedy Central half hour...that guy would do the SAME jokes for MONTHS straight! To the point where other comics would go, “Oh here comes Palasack, I wonder what he’s gonna talk about...” And they would do these snide bullshit little remarks. And I remember being in the back of the room like, “This guy is fucking good! Who cares if you’ve heard the joke before!” And he didn’t care either! It’s not like he wasn’t friends with those guys, but it was WORK. It’s an open mic, it’s like the open gym for sports. It’s like workin’ on your free throws. Can you imagine if other basketball players came up to you like, “Ohh you doin’ your free throws again? Didn’t you do those yesterday??” It’s fuckin’ dumb. Do what you set out to do.
COC: Final thoughts / words of wisdom?

JK: Ya know, part of the reason I came to L.A. is so I could wake up every day to look out my window and see a palm tree, and to let that palm tree remind me that I’m somewhere different. That I came here for a fucking reason. I didn’t come here to NOT put everything into this. And that’s something that comics need to remember.

JK: If you’re going to take this risk...going into stand up comedy on it’s own takes SO MUCH fucking courage! So, you might as well go all in! Why half ass at something that’s REALLY hard?? You did not leave everything you love to NOT give it 100%.

Official website of Joe Kilgallon!

Contributing Writer: David Gavri
David Gavri is a stand up comic, writer and founder of the online comedy sites Gonzo Fame and Comedy Scene in Houston