Joe List is having a great year. After over a decade doing comedy in Boston and New York, he’s hit on a string of awesome, high profile opportunities to show the world what everyone in New York already knows – he’s a fantastic comedian. In 2014 he made his first appearance on
Letterman and six months later was almost unanimously voted as “Next Big Thing” by fellow comedians here on the IBang. He’ll be appearing on this season of Last Comic Standing, and while no one involved will even give a hint at where he places, the sheer amount of Joe in the trailer makes you think he’s got to be sticking around for more than a couple rounds. The podcast he co-hosts with Mark Normand, Tuesdays with Stories, is more popular than ever, recently recording live episodes at the NYC Podcast Festival and the Stress Factory. And he was just announced as one of the stellar crop for Comedy Central’s 2015 Half Hour specials. We caught up with Joe on a typical weeknight of multiple spots around New York to talk about
starting out, getting sober and reaching goals.
The IBang: Was it intimidating starting out in Boston, since the city had given rise to so many giants?
Joe List: I don’t think I was aware of it until later. Like, I think my whole generation didn’t realize Jay Leno is like the best comic ever. I was also just so young and dumb, I was nineteen. This is all I ever wanted to do, so I thought “As soon as I finish high school, I’ll start doing stand-up” I waited a couple of months because I was a pussy, but like three months out of high school I was doing stand-up. Looking back, I could have started in school, which I wish I did. I always tell people to start as soon as they can because you’ll always regret not starting sooner, no matter when you start. My girlfriend was a year behind me, so I’d just stay up til 6 am, drinking and watching Seinfeld, then sleep until she got out of school. So I was just a loser and I thought, “I gotta do something with my life” and started going to open mics in Boston. I remained a loser, but at least I was pursuing comedy.
The IBang: When did you decide to make the leap to New York?
Joe List: I was seven years in and I’d always wanted to live in New York, even before I did stand-up because I thought that’s Where Life Happened. My whole life is just attempting to do a Springsteen song. And then my buddy Dan Boulger, who is a hilarious comedian, he was young and had just won the Boston Comedy Festival and wanted to move to New York. In my mind, it was almost competitive, I had been wanting to move to New York, how can this kid move before me? So, I’m such a pussy, I just needed one other person to say “I’ll go.” And I had been working with Nick DiPaolo a little bit and he was saying I had to move to New York, so I was like “Great, let’s go.” It was almost a whim, like fuck it.
The IBang: So you’re a little competitive. When I talked to Mark about Tuesdays with Stories, he said it came about because “I was always the guy at my table telling great stories and Joe was always the guy at the other table telling great stories” is there ever any competition between the two of you about who has the best stories?
Joe List: I think there’s some level of friendly competition that pushes us. Mark was just the first person I met who seemed funnier than me to people. Offstage, I mean, Brian Regan is obviously much funnier than him onstage. Offstage, I was always killing, yukking it up. A lot of times comics aren’t trying to be funny offstage, but we were both those guys and there was a moment where I was like, “This guy is beating me to the punchlines while we’re hanging out!” He was so fast and so funny. So when it came time to do the podcast, I was like “I want him because he’s funnier than I am!” Now, it’s like thank god I have him.
Me, Mark, Sam Morril, Phil Hanley and Gary Vider are all a pretty close-knit group and we are
competitive. Not about getting things like The Tonight Show, but it’s competitive in the sense of “Man, he’s got a killer new bit, I’ve got to keep up.” That is so much of our success, I think.
The IBang: Do you guys ever fight over a joke when something happens to you guys collectively?
Joe List: We don’t hang out like that too much, we’re mostly just sitting at comedy clubs. We don’t really have the luxury of going, like, rock climbing together, so we’re not doing anything that’s generating premises together. And as everyone gets more successful, they’re harder to track down. Except for Sam, that guy stinks.
[Editors note: if it isn’t incredibly clear from context, Joe of course, was joking, and busting balls and has nothing but respect for Sam.]
The IBang: That’s one of the things I love about New York, people show love by shitting on each other.
Joe List: It’s just always been that way. My friends in high school, we were all shitting all over each other, so it’s not like I got to the Cellar and was like “Ok, now let’s all make fun!”
The IBang: What’s the best burn you ever got or gave?
Joe List: Oh, man, there were so many. I mean, there have just been like a million of them on Robert Kelly’s podcast alone, but I have such a bad memory for regular jokes. Like street jokes, I’ll forget within a day.
The IBang: Speaking of YKWD and rivalry, you and Luis Gomez had quite a funny rivalry going last summer.
Joe List: Yeah, the Listamaniacs vs the Gomites and we even had an online vote of who would guest host. And it was funny because there were people in my life that thought it was like a real deal and took it very seriously. I had to tell people it was just a joke. Luis and I have always kind of had that because it was really Bobby and Soder’s show and then Luis and I came in.
[In a weird coincidence, Joe’s last spot of the night was at the Comedy Cellar. Cipha Sounds
was hosting and in between comics he sort of rhetorically asked if anyone had ever heard of
another Puerto Rican comic and one table yelled out “Luis Gomez!” Joe took full advantage and
addressed them as he started off with “If you’re familiar with Luis, I’m sure you’re familiar with my body of work, too” which got a loud cheer.]
The IBang: Everything is going so great for you now, so let’s bring up some bad things. Everyone has road horror stories, what’s the worst thing that happened to you on the road?
Joe List: Well, the lowest point, where I actually broke down crying was this time when Sam [Morril] and I were doing these gigs. We were co-headlining and Sam had been doing comedy half the time I had, but he set up the gigs, so we got to the gig at this casino in Milwaukee and it was just in this open room. Like, you could hear and see the slot machines and people were just walking by yelling “Fuck you! You suck!” and then there was the poster with a HUGE picture of Sam and a full bio and underneath in little tiny letters “And Joe List.” I was drinking at the time and I was drunk and they had even left the Brewers game playing during our show and I just went back to my room and wondered “What am I doing?” and started crying. Sam knocked on my door, I opened it and all red faced and everything and Sam asks, “Are you all right?” and I was just like “Oh, yeah, I’m fine what’s up?” But I was broken, and I just realized “I have got to get my life and my act together” Now, I would be thrilled to go co-headline with Sam, it would be the best show ever. But back then I also had a big chip on my shoulder and thought I deserved a lot of things that I really didn’t.
The IBang: How did you get rid of that chip on your shoulder? I’ve only known you to be nice and pretty humble.
Joe List: Definitely sobriety, and I started to figure out it was me the whole time. I was wrong, nobody else had wronged me. I got into Buddhism as well and I started to actually work hard at stand-up. And another thing learned from Tommy Johnagin was to set goals. I had only had the goal really of coming to New York and “being a comedian” and I’d done that, I was making money doing comedy. So I started doing it more, like I set a goal to get on Letterman and I did it.
The IBang: What was the first time after you decided to work harder that you achieved something that made you feel good about the direction things were headed?
Joe List: Well, like right after I quit drinking, about a month later, I went back to the Cellar and re-auditioned there and got passed and started working there. It’s hard to not feel this way, it’s not the truth and some great comics have never worked there, but you always feel like “If I’m in New York, I’ve gotta be working at the Cellar.” Just mentally, it felt good. Then The Stand opened and that club is amazing and they started putting me on. And I’m just getting bigger laughs and I’m being more personal and I feel like I’m doing good work.