There aren’t many endeavors more discouraging than trying to make people laugh — and be paid for it.
It’s tough. Sure, anyone after a couple of beers can generate a few yuks, but you never see them trying to collect money for being funny.
And as a career, it’s like football: For every Tom Brady, there are a thousand guys beating their brains out for nothing except the right to put elbows on the bar and say, “Yeah, I played a little ball.”
Jeff Bilodeau can do more than mutter a brag. He’s a stand-up comic who actually gets paid for it; granted, not a lot, but enough to separate him from the guys milling around out front of the comedy joint waiting for their next open-mic shot.
Bilodeau is from Maine, a geographic refrigerator where occupants can spend entire winters concentrating on what’s not funny. Even now, with those genes, he shows trace evidence of being a gripe. In 30 years, if he keeps practicing, he might make a stage-four grump.
He’s a tall, short-haired, granny-glasses guy who by looks, demeanor and dress could go to a statistician’s convention and walk right by the registration desk. They would not see the devilish mind that’s looking for the next ridiculous human foible.
Right off, I put him to the test: Jeff, what joke would you use to amuse St. Peter to squeeze past the gate?
“I don’t know, but I’m sure it’d be a clean one.”
Bilodeau, 31, has a college degree in media studies, a major that does not disqualify the recipient from driving a cab. Thus, his search for riches has taken him down many roads he did not wish to travel.
He lives in the College Area and is single, “with ladies on the side.” He currently has part-time producer jobs at KCBQ-AM and KPRZ-AM and ESPN radio. In those jobs, you have to know your alphabet.
Before that, he worked at Home Depot “for three awful years” — an experience that was for him as grim as it probably was for Home Depot. When it came time for him to quit, I’m sure they didn’t beg him to stay.
I’ve never met a comedian who thought this world and those in it are just fine. If something really vexes Bilodeau, a scorpion would stand aside in awe.
“At Home Depot, people would come up to me and say, ‘You guys are out of Mexicans in the parking lot.’ Like, thinking we stock Mexicans in the parking lot. That was always strange.
“In the plumbing aisle, people would ask what kind of toilets we have and wanted me to describe the ones we offer. It’s like, we got this one for $100. You can (respond to nature) in it. If you’d like to move up to the deluxe model, it’s $200. You can do the same thing. It’s a toilet. There’s nothing else you can do with it.
“People would come up to me, like, ‘Oh, do you have this particular tile? … No? Well, looks like I’m going to Lowe’s.’ I’m getting $9.55 an hour. Go to Lowe’s.
“One time, someone called in a bomb threat and the manager wanted us to walk around and try to find the bomb. What would I do if I saw the bomb? I’m making $9.55 an hour, and I’m thinking, ‘Why don’t you find your bomb?’”
When he was shopping that media studies degree, he discovered it was a buyer’s market.
He got a job at a Kearny Mesa gun store and says he shared a rare marijuana joint to help a friend celebrate his own new job. Wouldn’t you know it? He then failed his own drug test.
“That was weird. They escorted me out. It was interesting.”
“They didn’t have to, but that was another thing. I didn’t know anything about guns. I shot one in the Air Force, but I was terrible at that, too.”
In the Air Force, he was not exactly one of the guys who went on a nighttime drop deep behind enemy lines. He was a cook.
His specialty was, “Cucumbers. I cut a lot of cucumbers. If you need cucumbers sliced or diced, I’m your guy. I did the salad bar. Ready to serve my country with as many cucumbers as you need.
“I quit a lot of jobs. There (have) been jobs I quit the first day, like one I got on Craigslist. They told me I was selling paper products to businesses, door to door. Just Xerox paper. Like, this is a new thing … ‘Have you ever heard of this? It’s paper. Do you need paper at your place? Because I have some.’ People would look at me, like, what are you talking about?”
One of the things he became pretty good at was professional poker. He says he won a lot of money but now only plays on occasion in his neighborhood card room.
Why aren’t you playing more poker?
“Because I never would get happy when I won, but when I lost I wanted to die.”
Why wouldn’t you get happy when you won?
“Because I’m never happy, anyway. That’s why comedy’s an interesting thing, because to really be good at it, you really can’t ever be happy or satisfied.”
As comedians are wont to do, he would study folks who shared the poker table.
“People at a card room are not the top-of-the-line kind of people. When I went to Vegas, it was fun because those people were happy. The poker people in San Diego are not happy people. They are miserable people.
“There was this guy: He was saying that he never won. He never, ever won. One day, he built (his $300) all the way up to $2,600. He ended up losing all of that and then another $600 on top of it.
“The most I’ve lost in a day was $3,000. The most I’ve won was $12,000. I don’t have a gambling addiction, just because I never really enjoyed it. Same thing with comedy. I don’t have an addiction to doing comedy. I think if I stopped doing comedy, my life wouldn’t really change at all.”
He’s most often seen at the Comedy Store in La Jolla and other comedy venues in San Diego.
In your routines, what’s a subject you won’t touch?
“Rape. You can tell a joke about murder and there’s no one in the crowd that’s been murdered. But, there’s a chance that you tell a joke about rape, and there’s someone in the crowd who got raped. That would be a terrible thing to do to someone.”
What is an indicator of a bad comedian?
“Not realizing they’re not funny. They will continuously tell the same joke that’s not funny over and over again, not realizing it’s not funny.”
That means they’re not in tune with the audience.
“To them, they are the audience. They’re lunatics.”
Of those weaker comics, the ones who keep going, what does that say about their psychological makeup?
“They don’t have anything else. They don’t have any other ways to connect with people, to make friendships. These comedians go to these open-mics so they feel like, hey, I have friends.”
You go to a place like Winston’s (in Ocean Beach), and you see all of these guys hanging out front. Are you also out there?
“I used to be. At this point, a lot of the comics I started with have either moved to L.A., stopped doing comedy or have gotten over doing Winston’s. Winston’s can be a struggle. It’s a bar show. People are there to drink, and some of them are there to see the show.”
The subject requires that I ask about groupies.
“I have gotten girls from shows. If I would try more, I would probably get more.”
Well, why don’t you try harder?
“Because I normally already have a girl. I’m not one of those people that can handle multiple women, because it’s too expensive.”
You’ve got one right now?
“Yeah, I always have one. I’ve picked up girls, but I’m also normal. If you talk to a lot of comedians, they’re crazy. You just can’t have a normal conversation with them. How do you talk to women if you can’t talk to another guy?”
Are women as funny as men?
“In general, I would say there is no difference. For the most part, their routines are more about relationships. If you’re a funny woman, you have a much better chance of making it because there aren’t as many of you trying.”
What do you think of gimmick comedians? I’m thinking of Larry the Cable Guy. Do you think he’s funny?
Well then, why is he wealthy?
“Because people are stupid. He’s got a schtick. Just get a pair of bib overalls and be a jackass. People can sit there and not have to think, just laugh.”
Why do some comedians persist in thinking potty humor is funny?
“Because it gets laughs.”
On that lofty note, let’s head for the exit:
Bilodeau can get a lot of laughs at the Comedy Store. He didn’t get many at Home Depot. He’s better off, and so are toilet sales. Laughter seeks its own level.
Fred Dickey’s home page is freddickey.net
His email is firstname.lastname@example.org