Not all Advice is Good Advice

The Unexpected Impact of Louis CK's Advice

During your early career as a comedian, you're going to have a lot of people giving you advice. Some of the advice is golden, but other pieces of advice wouldn't keep the shit off your shoes in a dog park.

Take this advice that came from the great Louis CK. Now Louis is a great comedian--not so great in a hotel room--but a great comedian. One night, it is rumored that Jeff Foxworthy came off stage and CK said, "Jeff, you really need to lose that accent, nobody's going to understand you."

Of course Jeff Foxworthy--because of his accent--went on to become famous with his "You-know-you're-a-redneck-if" schtick, not to mention the fact that he also became one of the wealthiest comedians in show business.

So that advice from CK... not so great.

Encounters with Legends: George Carlin's Influence

But then, one Spring, I met George Carlin. I was doing a corporate gig in NYC and I got to meet Carlin. During our conversation, we found out we had some things in common. We were both born in Manhattan.
He was born on the same day as my Mother, June 12.
His middle name was my middle name "Patrick," and he shared the same agent as my father. (My father was a character actor who played Phil the Bartender on a long running series called "Murphy Brown.")

We were sharing a car from the Marriott Marquis Hotel on Broadway and 46th Street to JFK. Despite the fact that it was only about 15 miles, the ride took over an hour.

When we were getting closer to the airport I had to ask him what his best piece of advice was for a young up and coming comic. I'll never forget what he said... He said, "There's a line, cross it."

I wanted clarification so I asked him “what do you mean?”
He said, "Have you ever watched the news or read the newspaper and called bullshit?"
I said, "All the time."
Carlin said, "Take that and make that your comedy. 

That's right "Take the shit that drives you crazy and make it funny."

That's what changed me. It was like, I knew I wanted to do that stuff, but George Carlin gave me the green light.

So that's what I did. I was going up on stage 12-14 times a week and started doing socio-political comedy. I talked about hypocrisy in politics, immigration, sexual preference, religion, love and relationships. It was so cathartic! It took me to new heights emotionally, and, most importantly, the audience was loving it.

Fast forward and I'm back at that A-club in Northern California. I got up on stage and performed. The show was going well and I transitioned into a segment on religion and right when I said, "Any Mormons in the room…? Good, let's talk about THESE PEOPLE!, I heard a loud, but whiney complaint, "Oh, Really?!" I said, "What? Are you Mormon?"

Nothing...

Then I said, "Wow, you had balls a second ago! This guy's like, Turtle, back in shell."
And I mimed a turtle tucking his head back into his shell. And I continued with my act.

The show wound up going great. When I finished, the audience whooped and applauded and about half the room stood up. It was probably less than that, but when it's your first time experiencing an ovation like that, it feels like it's the whole room.

The Turning Point: Embracing Socio-Political Comedy

That's what changed me. It was like, I knew I wanted to do that stuff, but George Carlin gave me the green light.

So that's what I did. I was going up on stage 12-14 times a week and started doing socio-political comedy. I talked about hypocrisy in politics, immigration, sexual preference and religion. It was cathartic and took me to new heights emotionally. And, most importantly, the audience was loving it.

Fast forward and I'm back at that A-club in Northern California. I got up on stage and performed. The show was going well and I transitioned into a segment on religion and right when I said, "Any Mormons in the room…? Good, let's talk about THESE PEOPLE!, I heard a loud, but whiney complaint, "Oh, Really?!" I said, "What are you Mormon?"

Nothing...

Then I said, "Wow, you had balls a second ago! This guy's like, Turtle, back in shell."
And I mimed a turtle tucking his head back into his shell. And I continued with my act.

The show wound up going great. When I finished, the audience whooped and applauded and about half the room stood up. It was probably less than that, but when it's your first time experiencing an ovation like that, it feels like it's the whole room.

A Clash of Perspectives: Club Owner vs Comedian

After I got off the stage, the club owner said, "I'm the one who said, "Oh really?!" Then he said, "I like the quirky-weird Jerry better. I don't like this political Jerry."

I was thinking, didn't he see that half the audience was on their feet?!

I said, "Well, man. Sorry you feel that way but this is the direction that I'm exploring right now as a comedian."

He said, "I like the quirky, weird Jerry better." And this time he said it with more conviction, like he was Marlon Brando in The Godfather and he was looking for me to like, kiss his ring or something.

At first, I paused. I kinda like to make people happy and I usually don't like confrontation... especially when it’s the person who's in charge of paying me.

But then I said, "I'm sorry man. This is how I'm exploring my comedy."

I figured that being a club owner he would respect the "artist's journey," and accept my position.

But then he kinda got frustrated and said, "Well, if you keep doing this political shit I can't work you anymore..."

In the time it takes a fast ball to go from the hand of a major league pitcher to home plate, I thought of a dozen ways to respond. One of those thoughts was the ‘golden rule,’ He who has the gold, makes the rules, and I said, "Okay. you're the boss."

Staying True to Your Artistic Voice

The next night I took the stage and started to do my 'Seinfeldian' material; quirky observations, wordplay and one liners.

Then, this guy in the middle of the crowd goes, "Dude! Do that shit you did last night! I brought my friends to see you!" And a whole table of people with him, loudly agreed.

I thought about just ignoring it and continue to be the quirky, weird Jerry. But in my head I heard George Carlin's voice, “Take the shit that drives you crazy and make it funny."


Then I looked toward the dude who brought the friends and I said, “Any Mormons here tonight? Good, let's talk about these people, shall we?"

That was the only time I was ever fired from a comedy club.

That club owner didn't like my comedy because he personally didn't agree with my politics, but the audience loved the show. My argument was are you running a political campaign or a comedy club?

Despite the fact that the audience was digging the show enough to the point where a single audience member brought a dozen new people to see my show the following night, the club owner was pissed off and took it as a personal affront because I didn't just do what he wanted me to do.

What he didn’t understand was I was not his dishwasher, I’m a comedian.

But here's the thing, about six months later, that club shut down. It went out of business. Not because of me, but because the owner was a bad businessman. So if I would've just gone back to being the quirky-weird Jerry, not only would I not have grown as a comedian, I still would've ended up losing work in that club.

The moral of the story is, not all advice is good advice. If you feel strongly about your voice, stick with it, because changing it just because one guy says you should change it, might please that person's ego, but it might also leave you without anywhere to work.

In other words, not all advice is good advice.


Jerry Corley
Jerry Corley

Jerry Corley is a professional comedian of nearly 30 years, working nearly every venue imaginable.