I would love to parade off of intuition for a long time.

Jason Lord

I have the pleasure of working alongside Jason at my full time job. Jason is, to many people, quite a pleasant surprise. He is always very professional at work, but when you witness his hilarious and often times outrageous comedic performances and projects, you can’t help but wonder if he is living a double life. Jason is one of the brightest, wisest and most articulate individuals I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and I am very grateful to him for sitting down with me for a few minutes inside a conference room to discuss life and comedy.

How and why did you enter the world of comedy?
Well, like a lot of comedians, I came from a dysfunctional background and comedy was a way of dealing with that. When I was five or so, there was a predecessor to Comedy Central, called the “HA!” Network, and I used to sit in front of it like an autistic child—like an autistic child would watch Thomas the Tank Engine, I would watch the comedians. I had no idea what they were talking about, I had no context to it whatsoever, but I was fascinated by the control they had over the audience and that there was this shared understanding among the audience of politics and culture. As soon as the comedian alluded to something, everyone would pick up on it and respond to it. I felt that comedy was my key to understanding the adult world.

I never thought I would go into comedy because I was always way too serious. I was going to be an astrophysicist when I was a child. As nerdy as I am, I was nerdier when I was a kid. I was going to be an astrophysicist and then when I was 18 or so, I decided I was going to be a sociology professor. So I studied sociology in college…and that’s what I was going to do. But the thing that disappointed me about everything I studied was that the paths were already very well worn. You could make small discoveries on the fringes of the subject, but you were just using a pair of tweezers at that point. Everything was already established. Also, there was a sort of disingenuousness, whether it was about politics or academia or business or anything. Everyone had developed their own scorecard. They have a vested interest in feeling like what they’re doing is important and meaningful, both on an individual and broad level. So it’s just layer upon layer of bullshit; you ask yourself, “Was what I did today meaningful?” and the answer is yes, according to the scorecard I created myself.

I know this is a little abstract, but I found that there were three areas where bullshit wasn’t possible, and that was music, comedy and literature. Either you’re good at it or you’re not good at it. That’s what I responded to, the notion that there’s no bullshit in this. So as I was passing through the academic world, I didn’t know if I could go the rest of my life developing eye strain over dusty old books and my rebellious reaction was just to do comedy on the side and fuck everything else and it felt good and I responded well to that.

Did you have a clear intention when entering comedy? Any intention at all?
Everyone goes through that period where they’re like, “I’m going to be on Saturday Night Live,” right? They say it in the same way as people say, “I’m going to marry a super model” or ” I’m going to have a nice sports car.” Once I got past the idea that I was going to be famous – and I never really thought I was going to be famous – it became more like as a hobbyist musician would go home and play on his piano because it feels good. It just felt good—that’s why I did it.

How many shows have you been in and/or where have you performed?
I’m sure I’ve done over 50. It started in high school. I had this drama teacher who was mentally unstable and clearly unhappy with this life. He was there just for a year before he got fired or left on his own accord—not really sure which. He actually had a mental breakdown in the middle of the year. He and I sort of identified each other the way that I imagine gay people did in the 70’s, where we just sort of saw each other across the room and were both just like “Ok, we are both clearly not in the right place right here.” He did improv comedy in a former life and would reminisce to me about the Groundlings and Second City. Just because I identified with him, I started to identify with improv and then I auditioned in college and the improv shows started from there. Then I just moved to Chicago, the improv capital of the world, and since then I’ve been in the Chicago Improv Festival, written a number of shows and have performed in a number of shows. There have been lot of shows.

You’ve recently had success with the Jersey Shore Musical. Could you explain a little bit about how this idea came to be and your role in it?
So, I was improvising in a three-person group called “Jake” with a woman named Erin Lane. Erin had previously formed a sketch group called Four Days Late. To build up comedy show karma, I went to her sketch comedy show, which included a sketch called “Jersey Shore: the Musical,” a short medley of Broadway parodies with lyrics relating to the reality TV show. Afterwards we were throwing back tequila and I said to her, “This would actually be a really good show, if someone wrote a full-length musical.” She kinda laughed off the idea and I said, “No, I’m serious. If you don’t write this show, I’m going to write this show.” My idea for it at the time was that it would be an Into the Woods-type structure, where the first half established the characters and the reality show and the second half was after the show went off the air and the cast loses their fame and popularity, because these things are very tenuous. So how do they exist in a world where everything they’ve been handed and everything they’ve understood is no longer there? In the end Snooki sacrifices herself in a Faustian bargain to make them famous again, so it’s a very cynical message, which is that the worth of human life is equivalent to them being famous. Erin said, “That sounds awful. I will never do that show” So, I got her drunker and presented it again and she slurred, “That’s fantastic!” So, she brought me into 4 Days Late, and the group started writing it.

The process of writing the show, if possible, became more dysfunctional than the actual show we were parodying. Unfortunately, in the course of it, I ended up quitting because of the dysfunction. Sometime after it went live, I learned that Erin was no longer in the show when the group asked if I’d come back to direct it. So I came back, and it ended up a very harmonious and successful show. It was extended three times and we won’t do it again. It’s done.

What other projects are you currently working on?
I’m member of Four Days Late, and we just finished writing a show called It’s A Wonderful Pro-Life. It’s a holiday show and it’s going to be coming out in November. It’s a clever little show.

You seem to live a bit of a double life, meaning that you work full time in technology and then you have a nights and weekend life of a comedian, so how do you balance the two?
First of all, I think everyone balances everything. Just because I work in a corporate office doesn’t mean I balance anything differently than a person who is a waiter at Bennigan’s. They still have to figure out their schedule and work around it and so do I. Comedy is not a 9-5 gig, but this [career] is a good balance for me. The thing that is helpful about the comedy world is that it can be whatever you want it to be. There are many times that I’ll run out of work and immediately go and open a show. It’s exhilarating, frankly. I think it works in reverse, as well. I wouldn’t be in my current job if it weren’t for improv. There’s nothing about my past that leads me to this place. I remember the first time I walked into Sears headquarters to talk to the SVP of Sales, about six years ago, and I had no business being there at all—I was just some under-qualified punk kid and was sure they’d see through me. I decided then and there that  it was all just improvising, and that I was just going to play the part of a business person.  And it worked. And that’s all that I’ve been doing ever since, just improvising my way through the business and technology world. I’d say that the business world and comedy, if viewed correctly, can very much live in harmony.

 Is there anything you wish you could be doing right now that you just simply don’t have time for?
I wish I was improvising a lot more. I don’t get the chance to improvise nearly as much as I’d like to.

Do you have any hope to pursue comedy full-time in the future?
Yeah…I also hope to be an astronaut and a lot of other things. It would be fantastic, but I’m not holding my breath. Like I suggested before, it’s just something I do because I love it. I could either go home and have a fantasy sports team or play piano, but this is what I do, I do comedy.

What has been the most difficult time that you’ve gone through or the most difficult obstacle you’ve had to overcome and how did you do that?
There are a lot of people in comedy who have lived in a depressed state. It’s tough when you’re highly depressed and you’re trying to do comedy because, at best, it is an exhaust pipe, in some ways, to work through those things. The spiral of depression feeds into the worst instincts in comedy, which are the self-doubting and questioning everything you’re doing and hating yourself the moment you step off-stage. The most difficult times have been finding a way for comedy to be productive during those periods instead of doing the equivalent of hiding under an afghan and turning on MacGyver and not leaving your apartment. I’m not naturally a very social person, but I found it essential in those depressed moments to surround yourself with supportive people, and improv has been great for that.

Any personal goals, reasons or influences that made you want to enter comedy?
I mentioned that one high school teacher… his name was Mr. Dammel, I don’t know what his first name was, but he was definitely an important influence. I will say this: comedy and music share something that short-circuits the intellectual constructions we put up that keep us from really hearing messages that maybe we don’t want to hear, whether they be social or political. We’re laughing then oops, a message slides through. There is still a very idealistic part of me, that thinks if you can get everyone on the same page with a funny line, you can sneak a lot of message in there. That’s something I try to do with everything that I write. I think that’s important. I think making people laugh is a noble goal in and of itself, but it can potentially do a lot more and I think it’s a shame if we waste the opportunity.

Do you ever find, for you personally, that music and comedy play off each other?
Yes, absolutely. I wrote a show called Sing, Dammit, a musical sketch comedy show. Coming out of Second City Conservatory, one of the things you do is to try and determine your persona. I felt really comfortable with writing the funny songs; it just came very natural. I wrote a song for our graduate show called “Nobody Thinks You’re Funny if You Have Tits.” Which I wrote for the women of the group, because they were having a lot of trouble just getting their ideas out there, despite outnumbering the guys in the group. I knew writing funny songs was something I could do, so I moved forward on that premise.

Where else have you studied outside of Second City Conservatory?
iO and Annoyance.

In a perfect dream world, what would you spend your days doing?
I would actually love to work for a non-governmental organization and I still probably will someday, just because I would love to know that what I’m doing is leaving a positive legacy. So, being rich enough that I could work for a NGO and then spending the remainder of my days creating. I will get very, very depressed and not fun to be around if I don’t have a project. I’m always trying to tick off my “need-to-do” bucket list. I recently had the opportunity to create and direct a music video, which is something I’ve always wanted to do. I also need to form a band at some point. I’m not, by nature, an organized or responsible person—it’s something I force myself to do—and I would love to parade off of intuition for a long time.

What advice would you give to those following a comedy and writing path? Any recommended programs or teachers?
My general advice would be to stop having a goal. I think goals are the things that screw people up when it comes to comedy. The only goal you should have is to do great stuff that you really like a lot and then do it as much as possible. If you ultimately want to go out to New York or LA or whatever and try and make a name for yourself, God bless you, I think that’s great. There’s a 99% chance that it won’t happen, but I think it’s fantastic and I applaud the bravery of everyone who does it. But once you start becoming cynical towards comedy, then it’s time to get out of the game; there’s no reason to do it. So just do it to have fun. The only other advice I’d give, is something that iO says, which is to always work to the top of your intelligence. Don’t dumb it down. Push yourself. Experience life. Know that everything you are feeling and experiencing is worth talking about on stage, you don’t have to invent anything. People are so relieved to have somebody talk about things they themselves feel and think, and that’s all it takes. Finally, the point when I became most comfortable in comedy stemmed from my experience being on an iO house team, where I did not do very well. I did not enjoy my time there. Not because of iO, but because of me, and mostly because I couldn’t think of a joke in 15 seconds before I was tagged out. What I found worked for me and what gave me my comfort in comedy, was just being on stage with a person and not trying to make people laugh and just trying to be very real. That’s when everything just clicked into place. If you stop trying to make people laugh and start trying to figure out what is meaningful and important and resonant to you and express that on stage, you’ll be in a better place.

What is the greatest insight you have discovered about life and comedy?
The laugh isn’t the most important thing. It seems self-evident that the laughter is the most important thing, but when you go to a show and what happens is a series of sustained laughs, that’s great and you’ll come out of it feeling elated and you’ll say that was a good show, but you won’t remember it. You will never remember that show. All you’ll remember is that a series of funny things happened, that’s it. The shows that you remember are the shows that have an undercurrent and a structure that reflects a larger truth. Laughter should be a natural extension of an observation of human truth. Sometimes that’s not even a laugh. A great example of that is Louie. Louie is my favorite show on television right now. There are entire episodes where there is’nt a single laugh to be found, but it’s still at its heart a comedy because it’s a wry take on truths. There’s a phenomenon of people who go to funerals and start laughing and can’t help it because their wires are crossed. The response of laughter or crying or getting angry or any of those things are just flips of a switch with the same emotional core. I think we need to stop thinking of comedy as an end and think of it more as a means to deliver something important.

Any final comments?
The thing I find beautiful about improv, more so than anything else, is that I think it’s the truest expression of the best instincts of human beings- which is a big statement. But when you’re on stage with somebody and you’re saying that everything the other person is saying is either as important or more important than anything you’re saying or intending, that’s a huge statement. If everyone could just do that on a basic level every single day, this would be a much better place to live in.

There’s a reason that every improv group, within three months, wants to sleep with each other. The reason is that when you’re on stage with someone and the safety net is gone and you have the “you’re the only person supporting me right now” factor and you add on top of that “you’re also intriguing me with your intelligence and your sense of humor,” it’s a surprise that every improv scene doesn’t end in an orgy.

The point being that you can scoff at some of the more idealistic spectrums of improv, whether that be corporate trainings or improv therapy, but those instincts are all good and I support them fully. I think that the more that we can really listen and really respond and make other people’s intentions not something to judge or weigh against your own, but rather something that you can build upon and make beautiful, that’s a recipe for life right there.

To bring it all back full circle, what I’ve learned from improv in dealing with my most difficult times is that…being in isolation and creating comedy, it’s something. You can be Bill Hicks and be angry and chain smoke and yell for the rest of your life and that’s still something, that’s still meaningful. But you still die and you still die unhappy. I think it’s a much better option to share that with somebody and see what comes out of that, and improv is a method to do that.


Jason Lord, a North Dakota refugee, is closing in on his eighth year as a Chicagoan. He is a graduate of the Second City Conservatory, iO and Annoyance theaters, and formerly performed with the iO house team “Go-Go Manifesto”. Jason co-founded “Jake”, a hyper-slow improv group featured at the 2011 Chicago Improv Festival. Most recently Jason directed Jersey Shore: the Musical, a show he co-wrote/composed with 4 Days Late, and has also written/produced the shows Bathroom Talk; Sing, Dammit! and The Meeting. He smells pretty good.

Interview conducted on September 26, 2012.

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posted on by Kiley Peters posted in Chatter, Interviews

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