As Interviewed By Brian McGuinness
Conducted Late March, 2008 - Published May 6, 2008
From school teacher to stand-up comic, Queens native Ted Alexandro is one of the most respected and talented comedians in New York City. He's one of the few people with two 'Comedy Central Presents' specials on the network and it's no wonder why: he's funny. Jack and I caught up with him in a pizza shop a few weeks back to pick his brain.
Brian: So how do you feel that your comedy has changed over the years since you started?
Ted: I think the biggest difference is what I'm willing to talk about. When I started, I think I was a little bit more raw and not too personal in terms of my opinions or anything political or social. I would do more stories or observations. But as I've gotten more comfortable, I do more social commentary and political stuff. I mean I still do the older stuff too, observational and things of that nature, but yeah the biggest difference is just bringing more of a personal slant to things.
Brian: Is any topic off limits for you?
Ted: Uh, I don't think so. I think if you can make anything funny, you should do it. It's not a case of certain topics not being funny. The best comics can make anything funny, it's just a matter of how you approach it.
Brian: What makes you laugh?
Ted: I guess any good joke, the element of surprise. You know maybe a little irreverent. I tend to like stuff that's a little bit off base or a catches you by surprise and you can't see it coming. My family is pretty funny. I'm one of five; I have two brothers and two sisters. And my parents. I kind of grew up around funny people. As I got into comedy, I'd say guys like [Dave] Attell, [Greg] Geraldo, [Dave] Chappelle, Chris Rock, Todd Barry. Those are the guys when I was coming up that I kept an eye on.
Brian: I've been hearing a lot that if you have a funny upbringing you have a better gauge of what's funny.
Ted: Yeah, I think when you are in a big family, meals are kind of performances. You're competing for attention. I know people that are smart and funny, I was lucky to be around that.
Brian: What makes you roll your eyes?
Ted: I don't really roll my eyes at newer comics. When we're new, we're all trying to find our way. But more experienced guys I roll my eyes if they're doing something easy or trite. Just something that really doesn't take much thought. Something that's a little easy, anything where you see they're taking short cuts instead of really working.
Brian: How do you feel the state of New York comedy is?
Ted: Maybe the natives are immune to it, but tourist don't come here to go to a comedy show. They come here because it's New York. If they end up at a comedy show, it's just one of the things they're doing that day. It's not that important to them. Whereas on the road, or a native New Yorker that comes out to a comedy club, they made plans. That's their night. That's what they're doing. It's not part of a vacation. They value it more. Tourists, I don't even think it's important that they had a great time. Just something they go home and tell their friends we did this and that. Once you're in front of an audience, I don't think it matters who's sitting there anyway. You're job just in that moment is to make them laugh regardless of where they're from or why they're there. I don't try not to over think all that stuff from city to city. Once you're in front of them, make them laugh.
Jack: You've been huge in terms of the comedy coalition and what you've done for trying to get comics fair pay in New York. What's going on with that now and in the future?
Ted: The situation is decent. We got the pay up from like $50-60 in the late 90's, to an average of $75-80 on the weekends, so there was some progress, which was good. But it's still not really what it should be. I did that twice now. Once in the late 90's and then in '03-'04, so I've done it twice and to be honest I don't know if I'd do it again. It's a lot of work and organization. And it takes you away from your comedy too. It's a job. Having done it twice, I think I've done my part. I would support anyone else.
Jack: Do you think because comics are so independent in general that it's more difficult to get them to organize as opposed to a more traditional labor union?
Ted: Yeah, comics are used to working as freelancers. Night to night we're working in different venues all the time. There's not a uniformity to what we do in terms of venues. And guys are so desperate for work especially when you're starting. It's hard to get people to think big picture. But we were able to do it.
Brian: What was your first time like on stage?
Ted: Ever? I did it as part of a two man team when I first got out of college. It helped to have that experience. But solo, I was scared, trying to remember everything. It was almost like giving a speech than performing. It was a feeling of terror. And I didn't tell anyone, friends or family. I went down to the Duplex. It went pretty well, but I was terrified.
Brian: Was there a moment in your career when you knew you could do stand-up for a living?
Ted: I think it comes in stages. I knew early on that I can do the job. Even from when I first started doing it, I knew I was capable of getting laughs and holding an audiences attention. But then when you quit your day job it's another affirmation that you can make a living. When you get a TV credit, whatever it is, Letterman or Conan or comedy central, those things are kind of stamps of approval. It's almost like graduation day that you're a comic.
Brian: Any worst gig story?
Ted: A lot of times bombing. I think the worst time ever I called a woman a fat cunt in Atlantic City. I lost it. She interrupted my first 5 jokes.
Brian: I know her.
Ted: Yeah, she was so drunk and so disruptive. And I was pretty new. I was like 4 years in. I dropped the C-bomb on her. It was funny, the typical scenario. After I ended the show she was telling me how she was helping me out and wanted to be my best friend.
Brian: Like, didn't you hear what I just called you? And you want to be my friend?
Ted: It was pretty brutal. You kind of lose the entire room, just feel the air go out of it. But, we've all been there.
Brian: I can't wait to drop that on someone.
Ted: I advise not doing it if you can avoid it.
Brian: Comics have a lot of ways of writing material. How do you decide what's going to be an actual joke for you on stage?
Ted: Something that makes me laugh when I'm writing it. I write in a notebook freehand. When I'm writing something that makes me smile. OK, this is going to work and it usually does.
Brian: Great feeling, making yourself laugh. It's weird, but it's funny.
Ted: Yeah, you kind of trust that it's gonna be a good one.
Brian: Are you a stand-up for life or what's in the future?
Ted: I hope I'm a stand-up for life 'cause I love doing it. And it's a necessary part of my life. It's not just my job. It's what I do. I need that form of expression. And hopefully there will be other forms of expression, whether it's acting or writing. I'd like to do some films. I've written screen plays. I think with comedy you never know what's going to come of it. But I think it's also important to remember that's the center, for me, where I'm coming from.
Jack: Any new episodes of your YouTube show ElecTED coming out?
Ted: I hope to do a series of those leading up to the election. I don't have a time table as far as every month. I've done two so far. I'm guessing I'll do 5-7 more leading up to the election.
Jack: Anything new in the works?
Ted: Nothing doing right now. Just focusing on the ElecTED videos and this short film I'm working on a friend of mine that we're hopefully submitting to HBO.
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