This year the local comedy scene has been beefing up the shows, to where there's now an open mic almost every night of the week and multi-comedian showcases for at least two nights in a week. Which means if you're an absolute fan of the medium or you just need a laugh, there's a fairly good chance you'll be able to find something in the city to make you laugh most of the year. One of the rising names from 2014 has been Jonathan Falconer, who we'll talk to
today about his career and his thoughts on the standup
scene as a whole. (All pictures courtesy of Falconer.
Jonathan Falconer on Twitter
Gavin: Hey Jonathan, first off, tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m Jonathan and my name means God’s gift in Hebrew. My last name is Falconer which some people have told me is the coolest last name ever. I’m not positive, but I think that’s why I have an undue sense of entitlement and definitely why I have an inability to claim personal responsibility for my shortcomings. If you want your kids to be humble and caring, give them a name like Kennedy, which means ugly head. It will also be really accurate for your child’s first two years of life because baby heads are gross. I like adrenaline and I go to graduate school to study pharmaceutical chemistry. My greatest fear is being boring. I’m ambitious, emotionally supportive, and I’m open to long-term relationships. Wait, that was for a dating site. None of those last three things are true.
Gavin: What first got you interested in standup comedy, and who were some of your favorite comedians growing up?
I first got interested in standup
as a kid at home watching Comedy Central Presents
being prepared to change the channel to ESPN quickly whenever my parents would approach the room. ESPN was the only channel that never had anything on that my parents would find sinful. My favorite comedians growing up were Mitch Hedberg, Greg Giraldo, David Feldman, Nick Swardson and Dave Chappelle. Now, my favorites are Bill Burr, Dave Attell, Doug Stanhope, Joe Derosa, Louis C.K., George Carlin, Patrice O’Neil and a lot more.
Gavin: What officially brought on the decision for you to attempt it as a career?
The decision was brought on mostly by delusion and ignorance. It turns out making a career out of standup
comedy is a lot more difficult than it looked like in the movie Sleepwalk with Me. I started doing comedy because I was terrified of public speaking and also awful at it. I always liked doing challenges and overcoming things that scared me and doing standup seemed terrifying. After going to an open mic and being too afraid to go up, a month later I finally went on stage and some kind people laughed at my really embarrassingly terrible jokes. After that, I kind of kept going while trying to accomplish more personal challenges like being comfortable on
stage, improvisation, and eventually I realized I loved doing it enough to take it more seriously. At the risk of sounding pretentious I really believe standup is an important social commentary. I think if you can get someone to laugh at an idea that is contrary to their typical way of thinking you force them to accept an idea they may normally be against. As an example, I used to be against the use of antidepressants and as a person who doesn’t suffer from depression I thought that everybody had the ability to create their own happiness and people who relied on medication were weak. I watched Maria Bamford’s Special Special Special and she has an amazing bit on
depression that made me reevaluate my views and more empathetically understand what depression really is and how it often isn’t something easily fixed by a way of thinking.
Gavin: How was it for you breaking into the local lineups and getting gigs?
It took a while for me to start getting gigs. For the first several months, I did comedy I just went to the local club Wiseguys about every other week. I started to get more serious and then I started going to Wiseguys and Comedy Road Kill at The Complex every week. I got on my first show about six months later and then started getting put on a lot more shows. The bar scene is fairly easy to break into if you consistently go to the open mics and progress.
Gavin: When you first started out, what were some of the lessons you learned about performing?
I learned that different material works for different crowds. I would do jokes at Wiseguys that would do really well that would result in total silence at The Complex. When failing at The Complex only made me want to keep going there until I could get laughs I knew that standup was something worth pursuing for
me. I also learned that comedy is a great coping mechanism whenever I’m depressed. Comedy is like a life hedge. The worse your life is, the better material you write, so comedy has made me a lot happier whenever things don’t go my way. It also makes me kind of irritated if my life is going too well which fortunately rarely happens.
Gavin: What's it like for you personally coming up with material and deciding what works and doesn't?
About 95% of my material mysteriously appears in my brain when I’m doing unrelated non-comedic activities. I then hold audiences (other comics) hostage at open mics and try variations of it until they either let me know it’s funny or not funny through laughter or the absence thereof. Andy Gold gave me some advice one time that I think is useful. Being a Bill Hicks/Carlin/Stanhope fan my initial priorities in comedy were to write about ideas that I wanted people to think about first and make them funny second. I had a lot of material that I thought was interesting but wasn’t very funny. Andy told me that your job as a comedian is to make people laugh. Poignant material is awesome, but it also has to be funny. Bill Hicks is great, but not necessarily someone new comics should try to emulate. Before Bill Hicks would do five minute rants on philosophy or religion with no punchlines he had proven himself to be one of the funniest comics around. He had the ability to dig himself out of a hole and he could afford to lose some of the audience at points during his act. This isn’t something most new comics have the ability to do.
Gavin: How is it for you interacting with other local comedians, both as friends and competitors?
Comics are a really weird group of people, me included. I think it takes a strange blend of narcissism, insecurity, and the absence of social awareness to do standup comedy. Either despite this or because of this I love all of my comedian friends and I don’t really view them as competitors. I can sometimes get upset if I don’t get a spot on show, but I understand it takes a long time to get good at comedy and I try to only compete against my past self. As long as I can see myself getting better than I was six months ago, I think I’m doing okay.
Gavin: How has it been for you building your career in the underground circuit in SLC?
To sidestep the pretentiousness I would need to consider my comedy a career, it has been a lot of fun doing comedy here. The scene here is incredibly supportive and I’ve met some awesome people that I now consider great friends. The bar scene has good open mics at Mo’s Diner and Sandy Station and a lot of local comedians run solid shows around the city. Also, more comics should come to the open mic Jackson Banks, Wallace Fetzer and I host at the Union Theatre, Monday nights at 7 p.m.
Gavin: Being a part of that circuit, how has it been for you performing with both established names and those just starting out all in the same show?
I like performing with established comics and newer comics for different reasons. Newer comics can make me look great by being less funny than me (although this certainly isn’t a guarantee) and established comics can keep the energy in a room high and be a delight to watch.
Gavin: What's your take on the standup scene and the work coming out of it?
I think the standup scene here is good and definitely more supportive than the scenes I’ve had brief exposure to in other cities. There are a ton of hilarious comedians here and hopefully as more and more comics move out to bigger cities for comedy and the festivals here grow SLC will get a reputation as a great place for comedy.
Gavin: Aside from yourself, who are some of your favorites you like to check out around town?
I don’t really have any favorites other than myself. Whenever I watch comedy I usually just put on my recorded sets and watch them over and over again while I touch myself. My therapist says it’s not a healthy habit, but my mom tells me I shouldn’t use my dog as a therapist, so I guess it’s probably fine. In all seriousness, I love this question because it lets me do my favorite thing ever: make a few select people feel good about themselves, but make most people feel disappointed and sad. I really dig Levi Rounds, Jackson Banks, Natasha Mower, Andy Gold, Kimberly Ogden, Andy Farnsworth and Nicholas Don Smith. If I didn’t mention your name, just assume I forgot about you or that I don’t think you’re funny and that I don’t enjoy your company whatsoever.
Gavin: What are your thoughts on the clubs that provide comedians a forum to perform, and the work they do to help bring in audiences?
I think Wiseguys is an amazing club for comedy and it has one of the best open mics I’ve ever performed at. Some comics don’t go there because you only get two minutes, which I understand, but I think doing a two minute set forces you to be concise and punchy with your material and that’s an important step in the joke writing process. I’ve done open mics in San Diego and New York and the mics that have a crowd give you much less time than mics that have mostly comics. Many of the mics in those cities have random drawings and you may show up and not even get to do time. In some respects Utah has an easier scene to break into because the mics we have (U of U, Wiseguys, Moe’s, Sandy Station) are easy to get time on and they all give you a different audience to perform for. Wiseguys also put on a show for our comedy club at the U where we faced off against BYU’s humor U. It ended up being a great show, although the BYU comics got scolded in a BYU newspaper for their “off color” material. That was hilarious. Hopefully, we’ll do that again this spring.
Gavin: What's your opinion of national stand-up comedians coming through town and what that does for the local scene?
I think it’s awesome for the scene. We as comics get to see the best comedians in the country come through town and the bigger name comics draw people out to see comedy which then gets them exposure to the local comics that open.
Gavin: What would you say the impact of having the SLC Comedy Fest and the Comedy Carnivale has had on local performers?
I think these festivals are awesome for the scene because they showcase local talent and bring great comics from other cities to grow the reputation of SLC as a growing place for comedy.
Gavin: What advice do you have for people looking to getting into standup comedy?
I would refer to the following questionnaire:
1. Do you suffer from a mental illness?
2. Would you describe the majority of your past personal relationships as failures?
3. Do you crave attention and also hate yourself?
4. Would you describe yourself as a masochist?
5. Do most of your conversations involve talking at people and not listening to their responses?
6. Have you ever found a terrible personal tragedy funny and are unsure why?
7. If you were to perform for the first time, would you not even consider making a joke about how your first time doing comedy is really similar to your first sexual experience?
If you answered yes to 6 of the 7 above questions, then maybe standup comedy is for you! If you do start doing standup I recommend waiting until you get invited onto a show before asking everyone that puts on a show to get time. I think this is wise when you are starting out because when you are new you are generally not a great judge of your own comedy. This means you run the risk of doing a show you aren’t ready for, being not funny, and then potentially burning bridges or at the very least making a room full of nice people feel really uncomfortable. When I was new I thought my jokes were amazing and I sent some of my friends YouTube videos of my first few sets which were really terrible. Thankfully they were private links and I didn’t post them on Facebook so my embarrassment was limited. I recommend not doing that.
Gavin: What can we expect from you over the rest of the year?
I’m going to keep disappointing my parents by doing comedy and I’ll continue to host weekly open mics at the University of Utah Monday nights at 7 p.m. in the Union Theatre. That’s really how it’s spelled I’m not pretending to be British or pretentious-redundant. Also, I make weird films sometimes.