Picker Spotlights are an opportunity to learn more about NewsPicks users and go beyond the day-to-day commentary on the app. Today we are featuring comedian and writer John Poveromo.
John Poveromo is a comedian and writer who has performed in comedy clubs from New York to Chicago and beyond. The Brooklyn-born, New Jersey-raised comedian has written for everything from ESPN Sportscenter to VH1 to CNN Newsroom.
NewsPicks: You left a great comment last week about regret in comedy. Do you believe that comedians shouldn't have regret about their jokes period, or just that the way the story talked about regret was wrong?
John Poveromo: When the audience doesn't laugh at a joke the comedian stops telling it. So it seems silly to me that a comic would have to look through their own history and talk about regretful they are for a joke the audience technically selected. There seems to be a trend right now where every article, or tweet, or interview I see seems to want to get the comedian to apologize for something.
NP: That's why Snapchat became so popular initially right? It's that fear that everything you say online is somehow forever, and you could be somehow punished for it much later.
JP: For years companies were combing through potential employees Facebook pages to see what they were like in their downtime. Like are you fucking kidding me? Are they good at their jobs? Qualified? Smart? Then who gives a fuck if they swing on weekends?
NP: So that’s online, but how about on stage. How difficult is it to "work clean" in Today's comedy scene?
JP: Working clean isn't a problem. Comedy clubs have been extremely comic-friendly in spite of whatever you see on sites like Vulture and Slate, Jezebel, etc. If a private show wants us to work clean we work clean. It'll cost them more, but that's up to them.
Here's the thing though, traditionally there's "blue" material which means anything goes - cursing, sex religion, whatever. So in that case, clean just means family friendly.
However, I've come to find that now clean usually means, shit we don’t agree with. I've worked rooms where you can curse all you want, but when they say clean they mean don't say anything bad about their god or their vote.
NP: So does that latter group, the ones who want you to work clean by not offending them, include some college campuses these days?
JP: My thought on this is: Free college for everyone but students who can't take a joke. People have asked if I feel pressure when writing jokes in this sort of PC era, and while colleges are fun I don't think they're the right fit for me. I really have no filter when I’m on stage so it’s not something I find myself drawn to doing anymore. If the audience is laughing that’s great and I’m more than willing to have a discussion after the show, but I’m not interested in agenda-driven comedy. There are no ‘victims’ of jokes, just people who don’t get them.
If you go down the list of shit they find “problematic” it’s laughable. Bill Maher, Jerry Seinfeld, Amy Schumer, Tina Fey, Friends. The TV show Friends was labeled problematic by this generation. If it’s not specifically designed to coddle, and further whatever agenda they identify with it has to be removed from the public eye.
NP: One of your skills is leveraging social media and the web to help spread awareness about yourself -- can you talk about your strategies and how that's changed the comedy business?
JP: Personally I think it's changed the comedy business for the better. It’s so spread out now thanks to streaming, social media apps, podcasts, etc. There are just as many ways for it to implode, though as there are for comedy to succeed and expand into new territories. So I guess I lean more towards the positive and say it's really helped comedians develop a different set of skills and become far more self-sufficient as far as marketing ourselves.
NP: Where do you draw your inspiration from?
JP: When I was starting out I'm not exactly sure who I tried to emulate on stage. Comics try very hard to strip away everything that isn't true to themselves when they're onstage. That's the difference between comics and actors. Actors want to become other people and comics want to be themselves.
I'm very conversational onstage. Like, I always have a jacket on, I'm basically like that family friend who pops into the house for a visit during a party, stands in the kitchen while eating, tells a few jokes thanks everyone for having me over and leaves early.
NP: Wait, what's the significance of having a jacket on?
JP: Have you ever been in a comedy club? They're freezing! Honestly, It's just something I have become accustomed to while on stage. Have you ever seen someone wearing a coat who's got everyone’s attention? It seems like, "This guy's not sticking around so I better listen to what he has to say now."
NP: There seems to be a boom in the stand-up special thanks to Netflix and, to a slightly lesser degree, HBO. What has been the impact on the clubs?
JP: I think what's different between this boom and the last is, more people are actually coming out to see comedy now than ever before. I think it has to do with Instagram and Facebook, and comedians being able to grow their own fanbase.
NP: So what's the next step you want to take in your career?
JP: I would love to be the host of my own show. Acting is fun, and of course, no one is going to turn down a sitcom. But I love telling jokes and making people laugh and talking to strangers so some form of talk show would be amazing. I have been in pitch meetings at all the major networks as well as cable networks brainstorming ideas for a show for me to helm on my own. I wouldn't mind taking over someone else's if it came up but right now I'm constantly working on developing something new for myself.
For more about John Poveromo including information about live events, visit www.johnpoveromo.net