Jesse Joyce saw his first live stand-up comedy show in Nags Head, North Carolina when he was 10 years old.
Even then, Joyce loved not only the jokes and the laughter that followed them, but he was also interested in the mechanics of the art form and discovering “how it works” firsthand.
He figured it out, and in addition to being an in-demand writer for Comedy Central and numerous awards shows and roasts, Joyce, now a veteran stand-up who has played shows all over the world, is set to headline his first festival this week in Wilmington.
The Dead Crow Comedy Room is the central hub of this week’s Cape Fear Comedy Festival, but if you’re downtown Thursday, Friday or Saturday night, you won’t have to walk or drive very far to find a show. In addition to Dead Crow, the Reel Cafe, Bombers Beverage Company, Rooftop at City Stage, Bourgie Nights and Hell’s Kitchen also are hosting festival events that range from 90-minute stand-up showcases featuring comedians each knocking out 8-to-10 minute sets to Joyce’s headline act to unique shows like co-headliners the Air Sex World Championships to homegrown shows like Stone Cold Sober.
Joyce took a brief break from his full-time gig writing for Comedy Central’s @midnight to talk about coming back to NC, what he likes about Wilmington crowds, why he had to start working out and more.
For tickets to see Joyce and other Cape Fear Comedy Festival shows, click here or call Dead Crow at 910-399-1492.
Tony Castleberry: Have you ever headlined a festival before?
Jesse Joyce: Not that I can recall. I did one-time headline the state of Pennsylvania’s prison guards company picnic. It was awful. It was on the back of a flatbed truck in a field in Altoona, Pennsylvania, for like 400 drunk prison guards in the middle of the afternoon. They were annoyed that they had to stop playing horseshoes. I stood on the back of a flatbed truck and shouted jokes through a megaphone. I didn't even have a microphone. It was a megaphone, like I was running for office in 1950. Yeah, it was terrible.
TC: I can't imagine a worse place for comedy than the one you just described.
JJ: It remains, to this day, the worst show I ever did.
I’ve done a lot of festivals, but I don't think I've technically headlined a festival.
TC: We talked about your childhood experiences in Nags Head the last time I interviewed you so you know the NC coast at least a little bit. I'm guessing you're excited about coming back, aren't you?
JJ: Yeah, man. Everybody there gets and knows comedy, especially in Wilmington. Timmy (Sherrill, owner of Dead Crow Comedy Room) really knows what he's doing and Dead Crow is a real hip spot to do stand-up. It's a fun vibe. I really like it and I'm glad I'm coming back and the fact that all these other comics are going to be there, it'll be a fun weekend.
TC: We talked about getting sober in 2015 and my one-year sober birthday is coming up on June 4. It’s right around the corner and...
JJ: Oh wow. Congratulations, man. Mine is June 5, the day after yours. It’ll be 12 years for me.
TC: Thanks, and congrats on the 12 years. That’s awesome. Something you said in that interview sticks with me to this day. You said when you were first thinking about giving up booze, people would ask, “Why don’t you try quitting drinking and see if your life gets better?” I’m living that, and that question has helped me in weak moments. I just wanted to thank you for saying that because it really helped me.
JJ: That's wonderful. I'm really glad to hear that.
Honestly, my life got better to the point where I couldn't fit booze back into my lifestyle if I wanted to. I've got too much stuff going on. The thought (of drinking) occurs to me every now and again, but I don't have the time in my day to drink the way I want to, so I just better not. I can't sacrifice three weeks of being on the lam.
TC: Are you able to hang out with drinkers? I can, but only for an hour or so and I gotta go home.
JJ: Yeah, you kind of wind up being able to see through the matrix after a while. I remember being a drunk and I used to think when I was hanging out with drunk people that, “This is really important. We're getting to the bottom of life's questions.”
Then you realize after about an hour and a half that you are operating on a different level than they are. It's just like, everybody's being stupid. They're not going to remember this debate about Russia tomorrow anyway so I'm going to get the (expletive) out of here.
TC: I think you’re unique and deserve credit for this unless something has changed recently. You’re a working comedian and you don’t have your own podcast, do you?
JJ: I don't, no. Once again, I don't have the time to do it. Alcoholism and podcasting are two things I don't have time for.
TC: [laughs] Has anybody ever told you to start one?
JJ: People do, but I don't have the consistency in my day to be able to do it. I know that one of the real keys to doing a podcast is consistency. You have to be able to guarantee that you're going to put one out every Thursday or whatever. I don't have the time in my life to do that. I have carved out this niche where I do everybody else's podcast, ya know?
It's come up before, but I just don't think I'd have time for it. I've got three gigs at the moment and I have a pregnant wife.
TC: Congratulations, man, and there's no way you could fit a podcast in with all that.
JJ: Thanks. Yeah, she's due in July.
At the moment, I'm writing for Kevin Spacey for the Tonys when I'm not here at @midnight and Comedy Central has this big festival called Clusterfest and I'm helping to write all that stuff. As soon as I leave here, I take an hour break and I have to go meet a trainer who teaches me how to lift weights because I've never done it in my life. I realized that I don't have the strength to sustainably lift a baby for any length of time. [Joyce, interviewer laugh] So I have to start doing that, ya know?
I have no time in my day. Yes, I'd love to have a podcast. Yes, I'd love to have a bottle of Jack Daniels, but those things don't fit into my life anymore.
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