Comedian Jay Mohr appears to have no issue keeping his career fresh. Whether it be through his widely popular podcast Mohr Stories or the fact that he's taken to writing new material with his wife, Nikki Cox, it seems that 29 years of doing the same thing hasn't put an end to his enjoyment of the stage.
With his latest album, Happy. And A Lot¸ Mohr chose to do something a little different to keep it exciting: he had his wife write all of the material. And as it seems, just like he predicted, the material was spot on.
Or, as he tells us, it was "Carlin-esque."
Mohr recently spoke with MStars News about the new album, how his onstage self has grown over the years and why comedy is incredibly unfair to newcomers.
MStars News: You've been performing stand-up since the age of 16. How would you say the onstage version of you today differs from the version back then?
Jay Mohr: You have no idea what you're doing when you start. Now, I'm definitely very relaxed on stage. There's no haste and I really like the pauses. When you're first starting out, the pauses terrify you.
Starting out in stand-up is a lot like walking into the woods. Walking into the woods is scary but what's scarier is getting out. With stand-up, when you're on stage you want to get out quickly and not go too far in. But the more you do it the deeper you go, and that becomes the joy – figuring out how to get out.
MS: Is there anymore fear?
JM: I'm comatose. I could take a nap before I go onstage. I think my brain and my body innately preserve what could be good. If I go on relaxed, I can enjoy the pauses and tell stories and have the callbacks come to me.
It's very uncharacteristic of me to be afraid before stand-up. Of course, when I go on auditions I'm terrified because it's the strangest [setting] in the world.
MS: Your wife Nikki Cox wrote everything on the new album, correct?
JM: Yeah! She started writing with me, and for me, when I was doing my book, No Wonder My Parents Drank. I woke up on an airplane and she wrote the first chapter. It was so tender and so kind and a great way to ease into the book and almost shock the reader because of how gentle it was. They wouldn't expect it from me, and it was exactly how I felt.
MS: How much input did you have with this album?
JM: At home, zero. I'll go onstage and do it the way it's written and then flip flop some things but, at the end of the day, it winds up being what she wrote. But even if I do add something, I never would have been in that neighborhood had she not written it.
MS: Someone like you, who has attained a certain level of fame and notoriety in comedy, how do you work out material?
JM: I don't really work out material ever. If I think of it, or if it excites me, I just know I have to get on stage and do it. After 29 years, if you don't know whether it's going to work then something's off.
MS: With that thought, does going on stage as a known name make it easier or tougher?
JM: It's incredibly easier, exponentially easier! You are the reason they have assembled in the first place. When you're doing comedy, maybe headlining, you're just a "guy." You go on stage, have to do 45 minutes contractually and hope everything goes well. When you have a certain level of recognition, you're the reason they came. It's like tilting the pool table towards the pocket. It's incredible unfair how comedy is set up.
When you first start, it's the absolute worst-case scenario; no one is there to see you and you're not good at all. It's terrifying. It's an open mic night at a laundromat, you know? Then, when you get famous, you play a theater and it becomes an event for people. They can't wait to see you talk. It's very strange.
MS: So how do you keep it exciting?
JM: With new material. Even if I'm doing a story that I've told before, the fun thing for me is every show I do, there's about 11 minutes of the hour and a half where I have no idea what the hell is happening.
I also like to get paid; I'm not going to be a liar. I read so many interviews with comics talking about the passion for the spoken word and this artform. You know what- you've got a mortgage. Why don't you tell the truth?
Plus, it's fun. You only work an hour! I say that on stage. I say, "You guys have jobs you don't even like. I'm at work now!" I'm out in an hour and ten minutes.
MS: You talk about your kids on the album. How did having kids change your comedy?
JM: Suddenly there's this new universe that you didn't know existed – and that is a life and all the stories that happen to you from that moment on. There's a lot of fastballs that come down the middle with having a child. I used to say we just had a baby and I think we're going to name it "20 minutes of new material."
MS: The proceeds for this album go to WriteGirl LA. Why there?
JM: We definitely wanted to not receive money for an album. It seemed odd when you're in a position where you can get a lot of people and drive Internet traffic to different places so we decided that Write Girl Los Angeles was a great place for the money to go because: my wife wrote the album, I'm a feminist, we all come from a woman, everybody knows a woman, there's a lot of gals out there that could use a little nudge and a little help in their creative writing.
Since my wife is the most brilliant creative writer I've ever met in my life I thought, with my wife, why not invest all of this back into helping young women write and get them more opportunities to do so?