If you would have asked me 10 or 15 years ago who I was, the first thing out of my mouth might have been, “I'm a pothead who likes to tell jokes.” Weed was my identity for so long. People are shocked to find out that I hardly ever smoke now because it was such a prominent part of my life.
I smoked for the first time when I was 13. Growing up, my parents would have been mortified if they caught me smoking cigarettes. But weed was kind of okay. This was years before it became legal, but Denver was always very much a weed-friendly place. It was a part of Colorado culture. I was an all day, everyday smoker in high school. We used to have to go up to Boulder to get good weed. Denver had the schwag with the seeds and the sticks.
I was an absolute pothead in high school and an absolute pothead in college. I grew and sold weed for years. But around the time I turned 30, I got into a little bit of legal trouble and my relationship with weed changed.
I was in New York ... submitting piss tests once a month to this parole officer in Tennessee.
I got pulled over in Tennessee on the way to a gig and I had an eighth of weed in my car. The cop wrote me a ticket and I had a trial date. I thought it was going to be fine. I assumed I would go to this trial and just pay a fine. But I ended up getting put on probation for a year where I had to submit to drug tests. For an eighth of weed in my car.
They gave me a parole officer in Tennessee who once a month could call me at any time. From that minute, no matter what I was doing, no matter where in the world I was, when I got that call, I had 24 hours to submit a drug test from one of their approved nationwide labs. So I was in New York at the time submitting piss tests once a month to this parole officer in Tennessee.
In my legally enforced time off from smoking, the weed itself got better. So when I came back, it affected me differently. I used to always be able to do anything I wanted while high. I could play basketball, I could go on stage, I could drive—it didn't affect me at all. I never got nervous, I never got anxious, it was nothing but fun. But as soon as I started smoking weed again, I would get anxious and nervous and it was no longer fun. Because weed was such a strong part of my identity, I didn't want to let it go. Even though I wasn’t enjoying getting high, I felt like I almost had to because that's who I was and I was like, maybe if I just keep on smoking I'll get used to it.
But a few years ago I was like, you know what, I love weed, I support weed, I love weed smokers, and I think it's great that it's become as mainstream as it has in terms of the legal repercussions going away to a large extent and the medicinal properties being celebrated. However it's no longer something that serves me. If I'm at a party or an outdoor backyard gathering and the vibe is right and someone's like, “I've got some good weed,” I'll hit the joint every now and again. But it’s not a consistent part of my life the way it was. Shrooms and acid always agreed with me, but with psychedelics, I just don't really have the time or the need for them right now. I'm too busy and I have a one-year-old. That said, I would never tell you that I'll never do mushrooms or acid again in my life. I never had anything but the best experiences on psychedelics.
I go up there truly just trying to get people to laugh. I'm much more interested in making them feel good and bringing them together than I am in trying to create divisions.
If you asked me now who I am, I would describe myself as a Jewish man, a comedian, a father, a husband. I love sports, I love gambling, I'm interested in the stock market and art. I'm a man who likes to wear many hats. I’m a multifaceted individual who tries to be a good human being. But I guess at this point in my life, as a maturing father who focuses more and more on being a good example, I would like to say I'm trying my best.
“Trying to be a good human being” makes it seem like I’ve got these demons I’m fighting every day, which is not the case at all. But in general, I do try to be conscious of my words and behavior. As a straight white man growing up in the '90s, there were a lot of times I would act like an idiot, or do or say stupid things and not really be held accountable. As I've grown as a person, I'm starting to be more conscientious about the way I behave in the world. I was raised right, but now I go out of my way to make sure that I'm setting a good example.
I’d never really considered this, but my wife, who is also a comedian, pointed out that I actually do have a pretty positive comedy act. It’s not about arguing something and proving that I'm right. I'm not one of those comedians who's trying to tell it like it is and this is what you need to do and this is what you need to believe in and here's why you're wrong about that stupid fucking thing. At the end of the day, I go up there truly just trying to get people to laugh. I'm much more interested in making them feel good and bringing them together than I am in trying to create divisions. That's kind of how I try to be as a person, in general.
I don't shy away from topics. I'm happy to talk about race, gender, sexuality—any hot button issues on stage. But the people that I'm talking about, they're not the butt of the joke. I'm usually the butt of the joke, or society is the butt of the joke. I guess my comedy is reflective of me in terms of being open-minded, accepting, and looking for joy more than anger.
I grew up in a funny Jewish household where we were allowed to kind of say whatever. My parents, my sisters—everyone had a great sense of humor. And we would watch comedy. It wasn't like I was raised on stand up, but I certainly grew up as a fan of it. But never in a million years did I think I would become a stand up comedian.
I started writing jokes when I was in college. Not for any real purpose, but just to see if I had anything funny to say to myself. Then once I thought I had decent jokes, I was interested in seeing if other people would find them funny and started doing open mics. I wasn't like, okay, today's the day I try to become a comedian. I just wanted to see if I wrote funny jokes, and it went well enough that I kept doing it. I started loving it and organically fell into it.
There are a lot of different kinds of comedians, and some of them will have an idea and then try to find the joke on stage. I've never been brave enough to do that. For me, I need to have a fully fleshed out joke to go up there and say it to an audience. Now, 15 years in and much more comfortable on stage, sometimes I can do that, but early on I went up with a word-for-word set.
My first few years of comedy were in Atlanta. Then I actually took two years off to try other jobs. I didn’t have that one thing that I knew for sure I wanted to devote a lifelong career to and I figured, I'm young, I'm single, now is the time where I can experiment and there's not a lot to lose.
But after being away from the stage, I realized how much I missed it. Once I decided to come back, I was like, now I'm going to really go for it. After about four or five more years, I felt like I had reached my ceiling in Atlanta and wanted to go to New York to pursue bigger opportunities.
When you get to New York, no matter who you were in the city you're coming from, you're nobody.
I lived in New York for eight years. When you move from your feeder city, there are only two cities to choose between: L.A. or New York. If you're a stand up comedian who's using stand up as an opportunity to become a TV star, go to L.A. But if you're just passionate about becoming the best stand up you can be, go to New York. And that was my focus. I wanted to be as good at stand up as I could be, and do as many shows as I could.
Because I was a local headliner in Atlanta or would go feature on the road for headliners, I came to New York with an hour of material ready to go, as opposed to a lot of people who start by doing bringer shows or flyers. So I came in at a slightly more advanced level. But when you get to New York, no matter who you were in the city you're coming from, you're nobody. The best stand up comedians in the world all live there. No one gives a shit.
I spent the first six months sitting on the bench. I could barely get up at open mics. You go put in face time and try to network and meet the people that will hopefully give you a set six months from now at their bar show. And it’s such an adjustment to live there. I also spent the first six months just learning how to be a New Yorker.
I eventually got an opportunity to do the Just for Laughs comedy festival as one of the new faces. From there, I got a manager and got seen by Comedy Central. It sounds like everything happened really quickly, but at this point I was 9 or 10 years in. I had been grinding, doing road work, making next to nothing. Even once I got a manager and some opportunities, it still took a long time. There were a lot of nos and a lot of disappointments.
All of that ultimately led to recording an album and doing a half hour special with Comedy Central. From there I got an agent, which helped with everything. It got me an interview for Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which became a writing job, and it all built from there.
With the specific Judaism portrayed on the show, some of the references or the words we use in Yiddish—they’re timeless.
I've been on the show since season one. It's pretty hard to top when that's your first job. Since I grew up in a real Jewish home, I didn’t have to get in touch with my Jewish roots so much as tap into the roots that were very firmly planted from the day I was born. But I didn't spend a lot of time worrying about how I was portraying 1950s, 1960s American Jewery as much as making sure I was portraying Jewish ritual correctly. Because with the specific Judaism portrayed on the show, some of the references or the words we use in Yiddish—they’re timeless. It’s like, that's just the way Jews speak. And with Yom Kippur or Tisha B'Av, what you do in a synagogue was the same in 1950 as it is now. So I approach it in terms of making sure it’s authentically Jewish as opposed to authentically 1950s Jewish.
It's been a great experience. I've learned so much about television writing. And it’s obviously helped my career. It's given me stability in my life. It made it possible for me to get married and have a kid and feel like I could support my family, which is something I don't know that I would have been able to do if I was just relying on roadwork.
During the pandemic, I was incredibly fortunate in that we still wrote on Maisel so I still had that job. But I actually did a lot of Jewish corporate gigs and federation shows over Zoom, which helped pay the bills. When I first got to New York, one of my revenue streams was the Jewish circuit. I wrote a whole separate hour specifically for Jewish audiences. It wasn’t like the standard comedians who happen to be Jewish—I wasn't doing the cheap jokes about money or nervous in-laws. I have jokes about Jewish holidays, and the Torah, and specific religious jokes I do for specifically religious Jewish audiences.
For a lot of the Zoom shows, I was typically dealing with 60- or 70-year-old Jews who don't really know how technology works. So many people didn’t realize they weren’t muted and would talk in the background that we had to start asking people to mute themselves at the very beginning. So I would do these 45-minute sets where I couldn't hear anything and I would have to gauge how I was doing based on the hopefully smiling faces staring back at me. It was a trip. But it certainly made me appreciate live performance much more once I was able to get out in front of crowds.
Half the thrill of stand up is having a live audience and feeling the energy in the room. Stand up was not meant to be done on a laptop. The rush and the connection with people all goes out the window. What I will say, though, is it does allow you to do stand up from the comfort of your own home in sweatpants. And it allows you to perform for people in different cities without having to travel on a plane and stay in a shitty hotel. It also helped me realize that I didn't need to be out doing shows every single night. It reminded me of the value of slowing things down, of self care, of being with my wife and being with my child.
As a comedian moving to New York in my late 20s, I would have hated the life I'm living now.
We moved to L.A. for good in May. To Encino. It is the best. It really is. After having a kid in Brooklyn and basically living indoors in a New York apartment for an entire year of COVID, to actually have consistent sunshine and space is amazing. In New York, because of the pandemic, we couldn’t get a lactation consultant, we couldn’t get a nanny, we couldn’t get anything. We were first-time parents and it was all on us, all day, every day. So four months in, we were like, we need some help and some space. So we moved down to Tampa, where my wife is from, and that was a precursor to L.A. A little slower lifestyle, a little more room and sun. There was no going back.
As a comedian moving to New York in my late 20s, I would have hated the life I'm living now. But where I'm at in my life, a 37-year-old father with a good job, I am totally down to slow it down, live in the suburbs, have some more space, some more peace, and just live that life.