UTG INTERVIEW: Jay Mohr On Stand-Up, George Carlin, And His “Hotel California”

Jay Mohr

“If anyone thinks my show was ‘pretty good,’ then I’ve completely failed.”

It’s hard to edit down an interview when the person you’re talking to is an incredible interviewer himself. Not only did Jay Mohr devote time to our conversation, but he often turned the table, asking me my opinion on various issues.

Furthermore, it is impossible to define Mohr in a succinct way, given that he’s done so many different things so well. You may recognize him as a stand-up comedian or an actor. You may have seen him on Saturday Night Live or listen to his podcast Mohr Stories, which has risen to the top of the ranks.

Regardless of what medium you’ve used to experience the charisma that Jay has to offer, it is undeniable that he is wholehearted and honest in all of his approaches. On April 5, after his stand-up performance at The Space in Westbury, NY, we talked to Jay about his ever-growing approach to success in an over-saturated world of comedy and media. Check out below the jump for a UTG exclusive interview, photos from Mohr’s set, and to see his upcoming tour dates.

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UTG: Currently, you host your radio show Jay Mohr Sports, your podcast Mohr Stories, you’re on the road doing stand-up and you have two children. How hectic has life been?

Jay: It’s not really that crazy, it schedules out pretty good. You know my baby will get up around five and I’m usually up anyway because I start preparing for my radio show that’s nine to noon on the West Coast. Then I take him to school and go right to radio. I pick him at pre-school at 12:30, he takes a nap, I take a nap, I do the podcast after he goes to bed. When you’re on the road, it gets a bit crazy. I’ve been on the road for about two weeks, and squeezed about 11 shows into 14 days. It’s funny, traveling cross country isn’t what kills ya–it’s driving the two hours to the one-nighters and back. That’s what gets exhausting, it gets to the point where seeing your kids is the relief.

UTG: You said on stage that the last two weeks have been the biggest bit of relaxation you’ve had in a while…is the road sometimes relaxing?

Jay: Actually, there’s a weight off my back because it’s done. This has been the last date on the East Coast swing, it’s tiring. When I’m home I’m in much more of a routine like I said, which I like. On the road everything gets flip-flopped. It’s been a nutty two weeks and I keep going longer and longer on stage. Three of the places I did two hours just because we were having a great time and I still had them. You can vibe out when people are getting tired or they’re too drunk to keep going along with you but the crowds have been fantastic, so I figure if they get an hourly wage they probably have to work two hours to afford a ticket, so the least I could do is pay them back by doing two hours.

UTG: You said on the radio last week that you were a little nervous about this particular show because it wasn’t sold out and you’ve never been here before. How did it end up going for you?

Jay: It was full, but I get ticket updates twice a week from my agents. Long Island always seems to be the hardest place for some reason. There are always excuses. People will say, “Well, there’s a lot to do in Long Island…” but you know what, if Jim Gaffigan was here, tickets would be gone a month ago, if Chelsea Handler was at the Barclays Center, gone. Yogi Berra put it best, “If people don’t want to come, we can’t stop them.” All I can do when I’m on stage is do a show where when I come back into town they cannot possibly afford to miss the show because they remember how fun it was.

I think that’s why it’s so tiring. My act now is completely different. I took two years off when I first got with my wife and it was because my old act was all about “Where’s the party after this?” I was humping the stool and it’s all so disgusting and I was miserable, miserable in a lifeless angry marriage. Then I met my wife and I was completely happy. Like a snake that sheds its skin. I just got rid of all of that negativity. But, to make a living I had to go get that skin and put it on to go do stand-up and I was a phony. It wasn’t good, it wasn’t honest. It was a “bit.” Everything was a joke. I started to have panic attacks on stage and my wife just asked, “Why don’t you just stop?” I was doing Ghost Whisperer at the time so I was making enough money where I could put it away and she said, “Then, when you go back, you just go up and tell the truth.” And it’s a lot more tiring.

George Carlin put it best. He said, “My old act was so easy to do because there was so little of me in it.”

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Jay Mohr with Cyrus Hakakian, owner of The Space.

UTG: Was there a significant turn in Carlin’s act? I was fortunate enough to see him a few years ago at another venue here in Westbury. He was old but sharp as a tack.

Jay: He was never not fantastic. There was never a moment in George Carlin’s career where he dipped below an A+. When he came out with the “Hippie Dippie Weatherman” on The Tonight Show, I mean, it seems so mundane now, but it was in black and white TV and the whole bit was that this guy smoked tons of grass and was a terrible weather man. “Forecast for tonight? Dark.”

UTG: That’s all it took.

Jay: And the jokes were perfect! Then he started talking about the seven dirty words you can’t say on television, then it evolved into social commentary. If you were an actor, anybody could go on Broadway and take a George Carlin hour and do it on stage as a one man show. They’re all stand alone essays.

His essays about the planet, “The planet is fine, the people are fucked. The planet is gonna be here; it’s a self-regenerating system, when it’s done with us it’ll shake us off like a case of fleas. Surface nuisance.” The planet has been through ba-ba-ba-ba-ba, and all of a sudden it’s gonna get shut down because of plastic bags? That’s brilliant stuff.

You could teach Carlin in college. It’s the construction of the word and the order of things and how they go. How all those sentences are timed perfectly. He was obsessive about time; he was obsessive compulsive about his material and making things shorter and more perfect. He did an HBO hour every other year. It’s live; you have to be off-stage at 55 minutes. It’s a network; you’ve got to be off. And it’s perfect.

UTG: I was thinking about Carlin when you were talking about Bono. When he rips on Seal, “get a fucking last name!”

Jay: I love when he says, “Fuck Tucker, Tucker sucks.”

UTG: Fuck anyone that looks like Tucker.

Jay: “Fuck Todd, and anyone that looks like Todd.” That’s the greatest sentence in comedy, “Fuck Tucker, Tucker sucks.” There are only three words in that sentence: fuck, Tucker and sucks. But here’s what’s great, he’s talking about names.

I’m telling you, I could teach at a university, Carlin, a whole semester. The construction and deconstruction of the words, the language, the order. He says to you, “You know what I’m sick of? Guys named Todd.” And he goes off on “Soft names make soft people.” Todd, Taylor, Tucker. “Hi Tucker, I’m Todd.”

UTG: “Hi Todd, I’m Tucker!”

Jay: He asks, “What happened to real names? Eddie.” He goes, “Whatever happened to Eddie?”

UTG: “He was here a minute ago.”

Jay: Right, but now he’s completely jumped from the name, and now he’s created a human being that doesn’t exist. He, not the name. Does that make any sense? It’s way out there, but that’s how fucking out there he was.

UTG: You can see him assembling things right in front of you.

Jay: But the leap is, we’re talking about the name. The whole bit is about names, then in one sentence he goes, “Eddie, where is Eddie?” “I don’t know, he was here a minute ago.” Now as an audience member, you’re picturing an Eddie and that leads him into, “Fuck Tucker, Tucker sucks.” There is no Tucker. As an audience member, you have to create your own Tucker on the fly and go, “Yeah fuck him. And fuck Todd and guys who look like Todd.” You’re doing the work.

UTG: Is that something that you strive to do with your show? Do you leave things open for interpretation to encourage more interaction?

Jay No, I don’t want it open to interpretation because it’s like when a fighter doesn’t want to leave it in the judges’ hands. I’ve got to get the knockout, but when I write, whether it be either of my books or if I’m writing a blog or something else, I always think, to myself, “If Carlin looked at this, what would he take out and where would he put things in?”

UTG: So he’s your go-to guy?

Jay: He’s the guy. He’s the best.

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UTG: I’m going to shift gears completely here. Your podcast, Mohr Stories, has been immensely successful. Have you been working against the “Patent Troll” at all?

Jay: Of course, if it goes away we’ll all go away. But we’ll win.

UTG: Give us a synopsis.

Jay: There is a person that says they invented the podcast and they are suing Adam Carolla, because he is the top of the hill, for patent infringement. If this person wins, Adam Carolla, Marc Maron, Joe Rogan, Jay Mohr, Chris Hardwick, it will all go away. So, it’s kind of like when someone takes your name so you can’t get it on Twitter, magnified times a billion.

UTG: Do you think this guy has any ground to stand on when it comes down to it?

Jay: Um, I don’t know how you can patent people recording their voices. But, they had to do a FundAnything campaign to raise like a million dollars for a defense fund, it’s huge. So it’s gotten this far, there’s enough validity to it that it isn’t like “Forget this guy, don’t even answer him.” It had to be addressed.

UTG: Do you see this being a long, dragged out court process?

Jay: I have no idea, I can’t hypothesize on it but I hope not. If it goes away I don’t think the guy would live very long, someone will have him whacked.

UTG: I don’t see that happening.

Jay: It’s unthinkable, but stranger things have happened. How come I can’t see your screen? Ahhh, you’ve got that weird, cool filter on it.

UTG: Actually, I just turned the brightness down, I take notes during the show for when I write later but don’t want to be a distraction to the comic.

Jay: That’s nice of you, but I don’t care. Whenever they go “No flash photography!” I always go onstage and tell them to film anything they want. My career isn’t gonna screetch to a halt because some guy in Westbury filmed ten minutes of the show. “Well, we were gonna give you the sitcom but saw that bit you did about the Mormons in Westbury, so get outta here.”

UTG: You’re a frequent guest on The Opie and Anthony Show. Is that something that you always try to do when you’re in New York?

Jay: Yes, I have to do it. They’re my friends and they’ve been very good to me. I first did their show in 1998, I think. Their fans are rabid and so loyal. They’ve helped me sell a lot of tickets, man. I know they have my back so I always go on there. It’s fun, it’s loose. Jim is easy, Opie is easy, Anthony. It’s a group of guys–and the comics like Bill Burr, Patrice O’Neal (rest in peace) and Joe DeRosa, Bobby Kelly, Colin Quinn–it’s a group of guys that when it’s flying it’s flying. You know when the coyote runs off the cliff and he doesn’t fall until he looks down? We all just don’t look down. We just keep going.

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UTG: I was dying when you had Jim Norton on your podcast. What is it like hanging around those guys? Do the impressions just fly around?

Jay: I’ll request Chip Chipperson. I’ve got to know if I’m on the air that there are many people listening in many different states, with Walken, with Tracy, with Pacino. But if I’m talking to Jim and we’re goofing off and I started doing impressions it would be very out of character and awkward. I’d be doing my act to my friend.

So what did you like about the show? What parts did you like?

UTG: The whole thing was pretty damn funny. I loved the Vedder stuff and the Bono stuff. I can’t stand that sometimes. I go to a lot of concerts, do a lot of interviews and photography. It’s a shame when a band kicks ass and then they ruin it for me by talking too much.

Jay: YOU KNOW THE GOVERNMENT WANTS YOU TO THINK! You know what? I want you to think about the songs that should be coming out of your mouth right now…

UTG: I can deal with it within reason, but when it gets extreme or when they start preaching religion, I think to myself, “Ugh, not now.”

Jay: Yeah. Every time you talk about politics or religion, know that the moment you open your mouth you’re isolating 50% of your audience, in any medium. You’re taking 50% of people that’ll buy tickets to come see you and you’re removing them from the equation.

UTG: Is that because they’re disinterested or because they don’t agree with you?

Jay: Because they don’t agree with you. “That guy is a liberal Hollywood douchebag.”

UTG: See but one of George Carlin’s biggest lines ever was that “More people have been killed in the name of God than anyone else.” He did a lot of religious stuff.

Jay: Carlin is a little different from me as far as stature. I’ve had Kelly, his daughter on my podcast a couple of times and I’ve been on hers. My wife and I have long discussions about Carlin, and we refuse to accept that he died an atheist. It’s just, confounding. When I talked to Kelly about it, she said that George Carlin once took her at about 12 years old and said, “I’ve figured it out.” And he says it in one of his specials sort of–he goes, “We’re all energy and we’re all connected. That goldfish you have, you, me, that boot laying in the street, we’re all pieces of light to a giant electron. When we die, we just go back to the electron and it gets bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger.” And Kelly Carlin at 12 years old went, “Cool.”

UTG: Do you think she shares that belief or she didn’t know what the hell he was talking about?

Jay: She knew, she’s real smart. George Carlin isn’t gonna raise a dummy.

UTG: So are you more spiritual or religious? Or are those one in the same?

Jay: Well, I think, here’s what I’ve realized from interviewing people, and I’ve been very open about my Catholicism and my love of Christ and I don’t care who knows it but I don’t do it on stage. People that disagree with me that are listening to my podcast that are not Christian, I’m not trying to sell them Christianity and I make it very clear. I had a calling, this is what happened, I’ve explained the story many times. I’ve had my priest on, I’ve had atheists on. When I explain my conversion to atheists, my personal series of events, they go, “Oh, alright.”

UTG: They get it.

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Jay: I’ve always been very open about it. I’ve been very open about my addiction, about my panic disorder. But I think that transparency is what can separate you from others because I think that is where comedy is going. People that do “bits” and “jokes” or “one-liners” are going by the wayside.

People are more interested in someone who goes on stage and tells the truth. You don’t have to be Willy Loman about it. But, “Airline food is crazy. Hey, what’s with these rent-a-cars?” or you go up and talk about how Christopher Walken wanted to know where my dog’s tail went. That really happened to me.

What I’ve realized in the last year, 80% of my act has already happened to me, and it’s not until you retell the story at a party or to a friend or it comes up on the podcast that you, [snaps fingers], I don’t know why I’m not doing that onstage! That’s ten minutes of material that I’ve never told onstage before. You remember from watching the show, there are no “jokes.” That’s why if you see people on Twitter accusing me of being a “joke thief,” I just tell them to come to one of my shows. First of all, my wife writes half my act. I don’t know how I could “steal” from my wife.

Anybody that has any question about stand-up, go see the show. Don’t sit on your keyboard and talk shit. People give Dane Cook so much shit. He probably has nine hours of material. I was there 15 years ago in the back of The Laugh Factory in Hollywood and Dane Cook inspired me. I realized I was lazy. This happens to me every couple of years. I’ll look at someone I respect and I’ll realize that he’s outworking me. It changes the way I behave for the next half decade. My radio show, I’d show up, I’d read the data, and I would have sound bites and stuff like that. The first time I watched [Keith] Olbermann, his opening monologue, I completely changed the way I approached my radio show.

UTG: A little kick in the ass.

Jay: Yeah, man. I remember I used to go to The Laugh Factory and just goof off onstage, and then I’d see Dane Cook. He did a bit about his Mom making the bed in the summertime when he was a kid. He just said “Vroom!” and threw the sheet up in the air and the sheet would just stay over the bed for like a minute and a half. All he had were his arms out, but I could see the sheet. And he didn’t do anything. He just kept it there. And I went, “I have to write more.” It’s very good to know when you’re being lapped on the racetrack, ’cause you’ve got to put your foot down on the pedal and get going.

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UTG: You had said on your podcast that you became a comedian because you didn’t want to go out and work a “nine to five job.” The goal here is to enjoy your job and be happy with what you’re doing. At some point does being a comic become work? What keeps the allure there?

Jay: It’s always a job when you’re the reason they’re assembling. If you’re just doing shows and you’re on a lineup with eight other guys, it’s fun, it’s great. If there are 1,500 people in a theater and they’re all there to see you, there are no other guys. You’re the guy. So it is a monastic life, it is very lonely, if I was prone to loneliness. It’s a lot like wrestling, no one can throw a block for you, no one can give you a pass. Nobody can hand the ball off to you, it’s you only for an hour and a half every night.

The allure becomes, “Can I make these rooms bigger?” Can I fill these 1,500-seat rooms? Then the allure is, how much, if we’re being honest, how much can I squeeze out of it financially? Comedians are always going to be in the showbiz middle class, you’re not Brad Pitt; you’re never going to be Sam Rockwell or Shia LaBeouf or Leo DiCaprio. You’re a comic.

There is a ceiling to it and there’s a stigma. Billy Crystal as brilliant as he is, he’s never going to be thought of as a contemporary like Alan Arkin. There seems to be a weird ceiling to being a stand-up as far as acting. But I realized early I can manipulate the ceiling in the middle class. The allure becomes how far I can make the ceiling rise.

Most importantly, how impressive can I be to people that bought tickets, where they never feel, “It was pretty good.” If anyone thinks my show was “pretty good,” then I’ve completely failed. I think every comic should think that. If anybody thinks you were pretty good, you suck. This is NOT a pretty good business. You cannot be pretty good and be a national headliner. That becomes the allure.

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Jay poses for a photo with Amy, an employee at the venue.

UTG: At this point in your career you’ve been around the block a few times. Is the anxiety still there? Do you feel you need to meet that standard to be invited back to town or are you in a comfort zone where you can know what to anticipate and manage your expectations?

Jay: I know content-wise I leave nothing to chance. I have no anxiety about what I’m going to do once I’m out on stage. The anxiety is, “Are they going to come?” and when you get there and it’s full you say, “I’m good. I can stop freaking out.” But when it’s four days out and they’re scrambling to find more radio shows and Good Morning Phoenix and all these weird shows, then that gets very tiring.

Going back to what you said first, that I’m a comic because I don’t want to do the nine-to-five, I have to modify that and say I’m a comic because I have an inability to do a nine-to-five. I don’t have a nine-to-five brain. When I watch like The Office I’m fascinated because most of America works in an environment where they see the same eight people every day.

UTG: Yeah, right now I’m working in a cubicle. I know the feeling.

Jay: I don’t know how you do it; I would just get up and walk out. That’s what I did for pretty much every job I’ve ever had. I don’t have the ability to do a nine-to-five nor do I have the desire to. Stand-up is the only thing that’s come completely naturally to me. And what’s great about stand-up unlike athletes and other things when you get old you get old and rusty. I think stand-up’s, the older they get, the better they get. Joan Rivers is 80 and she’s fantastic. She lives in mortal fear of not filling that 1,500-seat room.

UTG: She was just on The Ron and Fez Show and she was hilarious.

Jay: She’s fantastic. AND SHE’S 80! There’s no 80-year-old pitcher. If you’re a running back and you’re 28 they’re like, “Oh, here he goes, turning the corner on his career, he’s on the downswing…”

I’ve been doing stand-up 29 years; there is no other career when you’re finding your stride 30 years into it. There’s not a rocket scientist, not a doctor, not an accountant that 30 years in goes, “Oh, now I’m getting it. Now I can’t wait to get back out there because I’m better than ever.”

UTG: Sorry, if I’m dragging this out too long.

Jay: Dude, fuck these people. It’s you and me.

UTG: When the show was over, one of the first things someone said to you backstage was that he was disappointed you didn’t do your Tracy Morgan and Christopher Walken impressions. How aggravating is that? How hard is it to please everyone?

Jay: I’m surprised that they still need to hear Christopher Walken, I did a stand-up special in 2000 and closed it out with that. This is 14 years later. Every appearance: The Tonight Show, Conan, Letterman, Opie and Anthony, Ron and Fez, Lewis and Floorwax in Denver, Kevin and Bean in L.A., I cannot get through a room without doing Walken or everyone gets pissed.

I have all this new material and I do an hour and a half and I haven’t even done an hour of the other shit that my wife wrote that I know will kill. You get off stage and someone goes, “You didn’t do Walken.” Maybe it’s like you’re in a band and that’s your hit.

UTG: It’s like someone yelling “Play Freebird!”

Jay: I guess so. That’s my “Hotel California,” but I’ve done it so much.

UTG: Are you sick of it? Does it piss you off?

Jay: No, I don’t care. It’s easy to do. It doesn’t hurt my voice or anything because some impressions tear my throat apart. Walken is easy; I can do it in my sleep. They all know it by heart. I did it on The Simpsons. I’m surprised that people still want to hear it.

UTG: Do you get worried it may seem hacky doing the same impression 14 years later?

Jay: I’ve never thought of it that way. I don’t care about anybody’s perception of me except for the audience. If it’s going to really make them happy for me to do it, I’ll do Walken. I’ve got no problem with it at all. When you do an hour and a half and you destroy, like tonight was great. I had an awesome time. I realized that I’d been up there for about an hour and a half and I realized, “Wow, I’m gonna get out of here without doing Walken.” It is a bit of a moral victory.

UTG: Then when the guy comes downstairs and the first thing he says is “Why didn’t you do Walken?”

Jay: The hour and a half wasn’t enough? It’s incomplete? That was kind of neat what just happened. We all shared this experience. We all had one brain, we were one giant organism working and having joy. “What about Walken?” Sorry, bro…Maybe I should’ve done an hour and 34 minutes.

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UTG: You’ve written two books, you’ve starred in movies and television shows. You’re a stand-up comedian. You’re on the radio and have your own podcast. What’s left for Jay Mohr? Are there any unexplored territories?

Jay: Well, there is a lot of acting that is on the table–precisely, good acting. The best movies of mine are the ones that really nobody saw. The Groomsmen, Playing By Heart and Seeing Other People are by far the work I’m the most proud of. I created a human being from paper and I put it on the screen, a unique individual. I wish every performance, every IMDB credit, I would do it over, because I would do it better, because I would do it less. If that makes any sense.

As far as in my career, I don’t know what other form there is. I would love to do a talk show, when I started the podcast it was “oh, it would be great to eventually do this on like IFC, where I could curse a little, sit across from the drummer from The Police for an hour and just do that.”

UTG: You could bullshit and you wouldn’t have to worry if you drop an “F bomb.”

Jay: Yeah, it seems so hand and glove, I don’t know why no one has said to me, “Hey, would you like to do this on TV?

UTG: I don’t see why you couldn’t do something like that. Maron has his own thing, Jim Jefferies…

Jay: I can’t get a stand-up special on TV.

UTG: Why is it so difficult? Maybe alternative forms of releasing content is the way to go? I was talking to Florentine about how Louie decided to just sell his special for $5 on his website.

Jay: Yeah, but Louie is a multimillionaire, so for Louie to spend $100,000 to shoot his special and sell it for $5 is nothing. Then Todd Barry did one, but Todd Barry’s was paid for exclusively by Louie. We all don’t know a Louie. And I don’t have $150,000, you know what I mean?

UTG: What about Netflix or Amazon?

Jay: I’m going to eventually shoot my own special, because you have to own your own content. My Turn (2003), that’s never been released on DVD. I’ve asked Comedy Central, and they just say, “I don’t know.” It took Showtime two years to put my special on DVD. Owning your own content is the single most important thing in the world.

UTG: So is that the way of the future with comics?

Jay: Well it’s right now. It’s not even the future, it’s right here. The problem is Louie set the bar at $5. The multimillionaire could’ve said $11 and we all could’ve gotten rich [laughs]. $5. He owns a boat!

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Catch Jay on the road in May:

May 1-3: American Comedy Company – San Diego, CA
May 10: Fox Theater – Bakersfield, CA
June 20-22: South Point Casino – Las Vegas, NV
July 18: Taft Theater – Cincinatti, OH
August 22-24: Ontario Improv Ontario, CA

To check out Jay’s podcast, Mohr Stories, click here.
To hear Jay Mohr Sports, click here.

Interview and photography by: Derek Scancarelli
To see more photos, check out D. SKANK PHOTOGRAPHY.

Derek Scancarelli

Derek Scancarelli is a feature writer, interviewer, videographer, photographer, radio-er and more. In 2015, he received his MA in Journalism in New York City. In addition to Under The Gun Review, Derek has worked with Noisey (VICE), Alternative Press, New Noise Magazine and many more. He also pushes some buttons at SiriusXM.

Comedian Jim Norton once called him a serial killer on national radio. Enjoy the internet with him on Twitter.
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