I have a student who emailed me recently about people hating on him.
He’s a little awkward on stage. He’s working on it, but he comes across as the guy next door or maybe the ‘creepy’ guy next door.
I see a lot of promise in him. He reminds me of Comedian George Miller; Miller was awkward, always wore sweaters. Made 56 appearances on Late Night with David Letterman.
My student lives in a small town in Canada, doesn’t have a lot of friends, but works hard on his writing. Problem is, when you live in a small town, it’s hard to get stage time.
But he keeps at it.
He’s got a lot of the locals including the local club owner who constantly berate him. They put him down, they tease, they pick.
He said, “Jerry, you’ve got to help me. I just have these guys totally hating on me all the time. What do I do?”
Stay true. Keep working. Keep practicing. Beat them to the punch.
The Bullies Made me Do It!
I despise bullies. I was bullied as a kid. I remember one of the bullies getting me in a headlock on the school bus in New York and just punching away at my head while other students just sat there watching. (Maybe that explains why I’m so weird!).
That wasn’t the only time I was bullied, but that’s the one that really stands out, because one of the people standing there watching was my older brother.
We were raised in a loving compassionate family. Not a fighting family. We didn’t know how to fight. So I don’t blame my brother. He didn’t have a skill set to know how to deal with that situation.
I can zero back on that moment on the bus with laser beam focus. That’s why I despise bullies.
I often wonder if I would’ve ever become a comedian if it wasn’t for those bullying moments. I often think that’s why learned to joke and to beat the jerks to the punch with humor.
It’s Impossible to Dislike Someone Who Makes You Laugh
There’s an old saying, “It’s impossible to dislike someone who makes you laugh.”
By the 8th grade, I was getting funny. I learned from another kid in my class, Andrew Madejczyk. (pronounced Majezick).
Andy was fast on the draw. He mostly did wordplay stuff but was always getting laughs in class.
I realized that I was usually thinking the same thing he was, but I just didn’t say it out loud.
I always thought it was so funny that a word that was intended to mean one thing could so easily mean another thing.
That’s when I understood the 9th Laughter Trigger; coincidence. We laugh at coincidence. We love it!
I realized that nobody was getting Andy in headlocks and punching him on the bus… well, mostly because he didn’t take the bus, but he wasn’t really ever bullied.
Probably because he was always making them laugh.
I thought, I need to get funnier before someone headlocks me again.
My parents had a lot of comedy albums at home. George Carlin, Richard Pryor, mostly. My neighbors had Bill Cosby. Their parents didn’t let them listen to Carlin and Pryor because they weren’t appropriate and Bill Cosby was.
–Who’s appropriate now, bitches?!
I memorized George Carlin albums. I realized that when Carlin repeated slogans from commercials that people identified with, the audience laughed.
That’s the 3rd laughter trigger; recognition.
I was beginning to understand. Now if I can only use it to get a laugh…
“Hey Jerry! What’s the Story?”
I used to get teased at school just because of my name. There was a commercial that ran on the local TV stations. It was for an appliance club store called JGE Appliances.
The commercial would feature this blue collar type guy standing in front of a wall with a sign that simply said “JGE.” He was wearing a t-shirt, jeans and a hard hat.
Someone from offstage would shout, “Hey Jerry. What’s the story?”
Then in a Brooklyn accent, the hard hat guy would say, “The story is you come to JGE with the right make or model unit number you wanna buy. Show your union or civil service card at the door and you’re in, because JGE is not open to the general public. Only Union members and their families.”
Offstage Voice: “So that’s the story?”
Then he would shout: “That’s the stoooorryyyy!” He’d lean back with his arms wide and his t-shirt would rise up revealing his bare stomach.
That was the commercial.
Nobody Can Make you Feel Inferior Unless You Give Them Permission
The thing is; my name is Jerry.
At least 3 or 4 times a day, people at school would shout out, “Hey Jerry! What’s the story?”
I used to really annoy me. I hated it! It would make me feel stupid and awkward, especially when people would laugh. I felt like they were laughing at me.
My Mother said to me, “Nobody can make you feel inferior unless you give them permission.”
What could I do that wouldn’t make me feel inferior?
I did what Carlin did. I memorized the commercial. I thought if they laugh when Carlin repeats a commercials slogan, maybe they’ll laugh when I repeat the commercial too.
I practiced the commercial at home made sure I had it down. I went back to school the next day and while walking in the hall someone yelled, “Hey Jerry, what’s the story?”
In my best Brooklyn accent, I let it rip. I said, “The story is you come to JGE with the right Make or Model unit number you wanna buy, show your union or civil service card at the door and you’re in! Cuz’ JGE is not open to the general public, only to union members and their families…”
Several people shouted in a sorry demonstration of unison: “So that’s the story?”
I said, ‘Dat’s the stooooorryyyy!!!” I raised up my shirt and showed my belly.
It got huge laughs… and you know what?
It no longer bothered me that people shouted “Hey Jerry, what’s the story?!”
I looked forward to it and I haven’t had my head in a headlock ever since.
There are always going to be haters…
Stay true, keep writing, keep practicing and beat them to the punch.
The Perfect Opportunity
My family moved out of New York when I was 13. Years later I went back to get into stand-up. The first club I auditioned at was East Side Comedy in Huntington, Long Island.
The club owner, Richie Minervini, was also the emcee. He said to me, “What do you want me to say about you?”
I said, “Just say, ‘This next guy is from California and his name is Jerry.'”
He said, “That’s it?”
Minervini brought me up. “This next guy is from California. His name is Jerry.”
I took the mic and said, “My name is Jerry.”
Some guy in the crowd said, “Hey Jerry! What’s the story?”
The crowd laughed.
I did my thing… they laughed again…
… and for the rest of the night.
Thank you, bullies!