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BWW Interview: Jim David of GAY JOKES FOR STRAIGHT CRUISERS

Hi-Ho-Larious Jim David has been at the comedy game for 34 years, and this month his new CD went to number one in one day - a first for the jokester.

BWW Interview: Jim David of GAY JOKES FOR STRAIGHT CRUISERS

Jim David sure made the most of his pandemic time. He got the break he wanted, and when he was done resting, he took some incidental recordings of his final show before lockdown and discovered a wealth of material that had never been publicly released, edited it together and made a brand new comedy album, his fifth, appropriately (and accurately) titled GAY JOKES FOR STRAIGHT CRUISERS. Surprise of surprises, the album went to number one in sales on iTunes overnight, and the thirty-four year veteran of the comedy industry was feeling the love from the fans.

One of those fans is this guy right here, who first saw Jim on Broadway in a much-maligned musical about hookers in Las Vegas, but who has also seen Jim perform his stand-up comedy many times, especially when we were both working a cruise ship together. During that trip, I caught his act as often as I could and even spent a few nights at the bar with him, drinking in the natural wit that the audiences don't get to see. So, how could I not look this comedy treasure up for an interview where we could talk about his influence over high school drama students, political correctness in comedy clubs, and really expensive outfit by Bob Mackie.

This interview has been edited for space and content.

Jim David, welcome to Broadway World! Congrats on the new album.

Thank you!

I've been listening to Gay Jokes for Straight Cruisers on a loop for about a week. I can't stop listening. Today I was cleaning my teapots and I was listening to the album on my headset, and Pat came and said, "What are you listening to? You're laughing so loud." I said, "Jim David." He said, "You've been listening to that for a week." It's so hilarious, and I guess I want to start with this: what were you doing on a cruise ship in the middle of a global pandemic?

I was booked for it. When I worked for (The Cruise Line), they gave me a bunch of dates for the year. I knew that, come March the first, I was going to do a nine day cruise to Spain; the cruise lines had not been halted and there were about 4,100 passengers on that ship... so we went on it. Here's the funny part: March 11th was when Trump pulled that European travel ban out of his ass without telling Europe, so all of these people on the ship had extended cruise vacations, after they got to Spain, but they were worried that they weren't going to get back home. They had to cancel all their vacations, right? The last night that I was there, this man came up to me in the bar and he said, "You're the comedian, aren't ya?" And I said yeah. And he said, "Why don't you do a routine about that stupid M*****F*****who paid $5,000 to go home early?" And said, "Who was that?" He said "Me" (Laughing) . So that was my last cruise last year.

So it was before everything got really dark,

I flew home on the 13th and the shit hit the fan at the airport the next day. And then on the 15th or 16th, Broadway and New York and everything was closed down. My neighborhood immediately became the walking dead.

Did you guys handle it ok?

We've been through it fine. To tell the truth - after doing comedy for 34 years and after traveling almost every other week, I was glad for the break. It was like, "Oh good" and we spent four months in Fire Island

And that was enough vacation for you.

In fact, before the whole thing happened, I said, "I'd love to take a couple of months off. I didn't mean a year." (Laughing)

So had you planned to record the CD when you went on the cruise?

BWW Interview: Jim David of GAY JOKES FOR STRAIGHT CRUISERS I had not planned to record a CD, but I do record all my shows, and what happened was, when I got home from that cruise, I was kind of in shock because of the sudden unemployment and the lockdown and everything. So I totally forgot about those recordings... then I got an Atlantis gig the week after Thanksgiving, and they went ahead with it. It was a COVID safe thing in Club Med and they asked me to do it, and I said okay. The first thing was - I hadn't done my act in seven months, so I started listening to all those recordings. There was a ton of material on those recordings that I had not released on my previous four CDs, as well as cruise ship material I've never released. I thought, "Wouldn't it be fun to release an album that was clearly recorded on a cruise ship, with cruise material?" so the audience knows what they're getting. And I think it's the only one like it on the marketplace, to tell you the truth. I don't know of anybody that's released a comedy album recorded on a ship.

You just mentioned doing an Atlantis gig - but this album was not recorded on one of the gay cruise lines, it was made on a cruise line for an audience that is not gay.

Correct.

Is that a gig you book yourself often?

That's the main way I make my living

The audience on this album are screaming with laughter - is that the response you get on every straight cruise you do?

Most of the time, yeah

You play with them a lot - how do gauge the audience so you know how far you can go?

You can tell by the look on their faces, or the way that some of them are responding - if some of them yell some stuff out, then you go, "Okay. I think I'll go with that." And they know that you're not trying to hurt them, they know that you're playing with them, and a lot of them get off on interaction with the comic, they like that. I have 34 years of experience that tells you what you can and can't get away with.

What was it like when you first started? Did you get yourself in trouble before you got your spidey senses?

Oh god, I didn't know what the hell I was doing when I first started doing comedy! It was all I could do to get through 10 minutes! It takes a good 10 years for you to find what your voice is on the stage, and to get the confidence where you can walk out on stage and go, "Okay, I've got this." When I walk on stage, I pretty much have it under control... but when I first started out, I did not have it under control. I remember one night at Dangerfield's Comedy Club - may it rest in peace, it's a COVID casualty - I'd been doing comedy for about a year and a half and somebody yelled out, "Don't quit your day job!" I was just paralyzed by that. I didn't know to say, "At least I've got a job, what are you doing besides sitting there and drinking?"

How long into your career before you could do that?

I'm still working on that. It's a never ending process. I'm much better at it, but it's a never ending process - a live performance is a very organic moment to moment thing. For example, political comedy was very difficult during the Trump years because his supporters; if you made jokes about him, they'd yell at you. So I had to come up with a series of comebacks that would keep the evening going and maybe put them in their place a little bit, not be completely insulted That takes time and it's all trial and error - it's like any skill

Is it scary?

Oh god, yes! I think anybody who tells you that it's not scary is lying because... you don't know! When I first came out of the closet on stage, I'd been doing comedy for 12 years, and some clubs, the minute I started talking about being gay... one guy threw a shot glass at me and it shattered on the back wall. You never know when the next shot glass is going to fly. Fortunately, I've always had a really good rapport with the audience because I respect the audience, and doing cruises, especially, has taught me to respect the audience because there are anywhere from 18 years old to 90, so you have to know what you're doing. Anyway, to backtrack to your question: I listened to all the tapes and I said, "Maybe I could release an album like this - so I edited it together and sent it to my record producer and he said, "Great, let's release it". And did you see the cover?

I love the cover.

Robert Montenegro did the cover.

Our mutual friend, Robert Montenegro?

Our mutual friend, Robert Montenegro.

His well of talent never ends.

He and Guy (Smith) came over for dinner one night and I told him about the cover and he said, "Why don't I do the cover?" and he based the cover on a classic cruise poster.

BWW Interview: Jim David of GAY JOKES FOR STRAIGHT CRUISERS

Remember the guy told you not to quit your day job?

Yes.

But you did. You quit being a high school drama teacher. How long were you teaching drama and wanting to go into comedy before you decided to chuck it?

I was the head of the summer theater at a prep school for eight summers, and I directed plays at a high school on Long Island for about three years. I also had a few things in New York that I did: I sold office supplies over the telephone, I did singing telegrams dressed as a chicken or a pink gorilla. And I'll tell you what exactly got me started in standup was Roseanne. I didn't know what to be up on stage, I thought I had to be a character:. I thought I had to be Woody Allen or Jackie Mason or Phyllis Diller. I didn't know what to do.

Then I saw Roseanne on Johnny Carson, it was her first set in 1986, and she was so hilarious, just talking about her husband and her children. I thought, "Oh, I can be Jim on stage. I don't have to be this character." So I started writing a bunch of material about myself, my life and my family, and it worked. I started doing open mics around the city and then I did all the clubs - Catch A Rising Star, The Comic Strip, Dangerfield's, and I started making my living at it within about eight or nine months.

You do talk about your family a lot: do you seek out their permission beforehand?

I just do it because if I had to get their permission, I would never get their permission.
I did this one joke on my Comedy Central special that my mother still, to this day, has forbidden me from telling about her.

The comedy special can be seen online

You can get it on iTunes. I did a benefit in North Carolina for Equality North Carolina, when they were dealing with that anti-trans bathroom bill. I raised thousands of dollars for them and my parents came, of course, but my father said, "Don't do that joke because it'll humiliate your mother." (Laughing) I didn't do it. (Laughing)

How is a comedy club audience like a room full of high schoolers?

As long as you can get them to pay attention to you, they're the same. The worst thing is people on their phones. But a lot of comedy clubs now, like the Comedy Cellar, require the audience members to turn off their phones and put them in a sealed bag, which they will retrieve after the show - when people refuse to do it, they're denied admission. I think that's a great thing. Chris Rock started that, I believe, because he wanted to be able to come to the club and do untried material that he's reading off a piece of paper.

Do you work that way?

Sometimes I'll take a piece of paper with a topic or a bullet point up there and I'll riff on something that I've thought of. It's interesting: most comedians have not written a lot of material during the pandemic because in order to write material, you have to do it in front of an audience, and only then will you know if it works right - the audience has to tell you whether or not it works. Because you can write what you think is the funniest joke imaginable and if it doesn't get a laugh, it doesn't work: there's no amount of screaming and hollering that you can do. The audience either laugh at it or they don't. There's no gray area.

When you go out there, what percentage would you say you are prepared to say, and how much is spur of the moment?

I go out there knowing pretty much what I'm going to say, but it's not necessarily in order - I play it by ear. Joan Rivers described it as taking a deck of cards and throwing the cards up and seeing where it's going to land.

Did you ever see her work?

Oh, I worked with her!

I hear that she did that piece of paper thing too.

A lot of the time she had material written on the stage, on pieces of paper that were taped to the stage, so she could look at it. I generally know what I'm going to begin and end with, and what I do in the middle - I'm just sort of going through my catalog in my head.

Were you like that when you taught? Were you sassy and playful with the high schoolers?

Oh, yes. Do you know Bobby McGuire?

Very well.

Bobby was one of my students.

I can see that.


Yeah. Bobby was one of my students and (I had forgotten about this) but when he was 15, 16 years old, I told him he would really like John Waters' "Female Trouble."

YOU did that.

(Laughing hard) I was educating my students with John Waters.

So while teaching John Waters and being a singing pink gorilla, did you know you wanted to do comedy, or did it develop organically?

I always wanted to try it, but I was afraid, I didn't have the nerve. I did go to an open mic early on at Catch A Rising Star, and I bombed so bad that the audience reacted as if I had bent over and spread my butt cheeks. It was like the reaction of the audience when they play "Springtime For Hitler" in the movie The Producers: they just sat there, looking at me with their mouths open. What is this shit we have just witnessed?

How do you bounce back from that?

You don't, you leave the stage. (Laughing heartily) That's the only way. I didn't bounce back from that. That was a bomb. And I'll never forget it, the emcee - this is my first appearance on the comedy stage - when I got off, he said, "That was Jim David. Remember that name because you'll never hear it again."

How long before you went back on the stage?

I'd say about three or four years. It was a while before I got the nerve.

From the point that you started working, how long did you have to go out and get your audience to come into the clubs before you reached a point where you started getting calls and you started getting bookings without having to do all that?

I never had to do that. They didn't do that at the time.

Really?

You're talking about The Bringer Show?.

My woman friend took a class on how to do stand up comedy - was that a thing when you started?

I took an improv class. Now there's classes for doing stand up comedy, which I've taught.

Jennifer went out and she did this stand up comedy class, and she said that the comics have to go out and get their audience, and when the audience comes in, they say, "Who are you here to see?" and for every person that says your name at the door, you get a minute on stage.

They didn't have that back in the mid eighties, when I started out - you just went and auditioned at the club and they put you on the rotation. I just showed up and did my set with whatever audience was there - I didn't have to worry about it at all, thank god.

So from the eighties to now, has your approach to the work been forced to evolve because of the changing climate in society?

BWW Interview: Jim David of GAY JOKES FOR STRAIGHT CRUISERS I haven't changed at all. You heard the disclaimer at the beginning (of the album) where I say, "If you get offended, I don't give a shit." That's what I do at every show because if you are easily offended, you shouldn't be at a comedy show. And I do that bit where I'm making fun of the political correct-ness.

And no one is off limits.

Nobody. It's gentle fun I'm poking at people, and nobody is off limits.

That's the way it should be.

You just don't want to say things that hurt people. I remember when I first started out (in the Eighties), man, I had to follow comedians who would say, "These f**king f*gg*ts - somebody decided to f**k a monkey in Africa, and now we can't have sex." It was really vicious. Fortunately, that kind of stuff is long gone. Those are the people that had to adjust, not me: the racist, and the homophobic, and the misogynistic comedians - they're the ones that had to do the adjustment. I didn't.

So... Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public. Go.

I was called in to audition for it by the casting director, who had seen me for a Neil Simon show called Laughter On The 23rd Floor (that I did not get) because they needed a comedian. The show was a Vegas... you didn't see it, did you?


Two and a half times.

You did?

I saw it once by myself, once with my husband, and I saw the second act of the last performance.

Oh wow. So you were there.

I absolutely loved it.

Yeah, well, good for you.

It was crude. It was tacky. It was tasteless. And I loved every sequin and every song and you were fantastic.

Thank you! Well, they needed somebody to play that part, and they were looking at all these old comedians. I walked into the casting director and I said, "Hello, my name is Jim. My Christian name is James. My Jewish name is Rachmiyel. My Latino name is Jaime Jose Luis Conchito Mendoza [inaudible and very long]. My Indian name is Dances With Difficulty. And my Fire Island name is Gladys. And when I said that, he said, "Stop right there, I want you to come to the theater so Tommy Tune can see you". And I went into the Nederlander Theater and there was Tommy Tune and Carol Hall and Larry L.King and Peter Masterson and Jeff Calhoun and everybody else who's casting people, and I walked on the stage of the Nederlander Theater and did the same thing, then did some more of my routine. They were laughing hysterically all the way through, and then they offered me the part.

That's a great story.

That's it! I got cast in a $10 million musical just by walking in and doing my comedy set.

It would be an even better story if the show had run longer.

Well, it was a real shame. Until the reviews came out, that was the happiest nine months of my life because they let me write my whole part. I'd come out between the scenes and every time I'd have a little segment, I'd say to them, "How about this line?" and they all loved it because they didn't know how to write stand up comedy, and I did. So I wish I'd gotten royalties but I didn't.

A shame - that wouldn't happen now.

No... well maybe it would, I don't know. But a lot of my jokes are on the CD. It was a great experience - it was the highs and lows of Broadway in one installment. You know, we thought we would get mixed reviews, we didn't think we would get reviews that said get the hell out of town.

It never pretended to be anything more than it was.

Correct. People said that it was vulgar and crass and how dare you. And now look at Book of Mormon for god's sake. In many ways Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public was ahead of its time. But you know what? I was proud of my work because I consistently got laughs - every time I walked on the stage, the audience laughed.

Did they let you keep the suit?

I've still got the shoes. They wouldn't let me have the Bob Mackie $8,000 suit. It was a great experience, I have no bad memories of it at all... except after the reviews came out.

BWW Interview: Jim David of GAY JOKES FOR STRAIGHT CRUISERS

Do you have another novel on the way?

BWW Interview: Jim David of GAY JOKES FOR STRAIGHT CRUISERS I'm writing something and we'll see where it goes. Over quarantine, I finished the first draft a screenplay... I would call it Hannah and Her Gay Sisters, it's like a gay Woody Allen movie about four married gay couples who live in New York and Fire Island. I did the first draft, but I think there's more to it. I'm going to have a reading of it and we'll see. I was just really proud of the fact that I got this album out and then it went to number one on iTunes.

That happened really fast too.

It happened the second day. Day two! It felt great.

Have your previous albums performed that well?

I don't even think they charted but they weren't given the rollout that this one was. My previous albums, I'm proud - if you like my work, get them all.

I have all your albums and I have my copy of "You'll Be Swell" on display.

Oh, that's great. Stephen. It's so nice to be interviewed by a fan.

It's nice to do an interview, as a fan, and a fan I am. Sell lots of copies of Gay Jokes For Straight Audiences, it's hilarious... but the truth is you always are hilarious.

Thank you! I'm very happy with my career, I don't have any complaints at all.

GAY JOKES FOR STRAIGHT CRUISERS is a 2021 release on the Stand Up! Records label and is available on all digital platforms.

Visit the Jim David website HERE.

Jim David's headshots by Darius Nichols Photography NYC

BWW Interview: Jim David of GAY JOKES FOR STRAIGHT CRUISERS


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