7 Questions with Jeff Maurer

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By Ryan Meehan

Jeff Maurer is one of the fastest-rising comedians on the East Coast. His quick wit and affable personality have made him a hit with audiences of all ages.  Jeff split his childhood between Oregon, Kentucky, Washington State, and Virginia, and his diverse experiences in those places shaped my unique perspective on the world. After college and a brief stint in the Peace Corps, Jeff began performing comedy, and his sharp insights and friendly demeanor quickly earned him a reputation as one of the most promising comics of his generation. Jeff currently resides in the New York area, though this bio may not have been updated in a while. He is available for parties and events, where his sharp wit and affable demeanor, as well as his quick insights and friendly personality, plus his affable insights, quick personality, sharp friendly, and other variations thereof, are sure to be a hit.  We are pleased to have him as our guest today in 7 Questions.

RM:  First off, how did you cope with the United States being eliminated from this year’s World Cup?  How did you get involved with being a contributor for The Washington Post; and what is your overall assessment of where America is as far as accepting soccer as a major sport in this country?

JM: I took the US elimination from the World Cup better than I thought I ever could. First of all: Belgium were clearly the better team in that game. While I really wanted Wondolowki to finish that chance at the end of the game, it would have been a tragic miscarriage of justice if he had. Belgium brought an excellent team to the World Cup and they showed it on that day. Second: The US had a very good World Cup. I would argue that, on paper, this is the weakest team we’ve brought to the World Cup since 1998, especially when you factor in Landon Donovan’s exclusion (still really not a fan of that decision). I don’t think there’s any reason for the down cycle; just sometimes things come together and sometimes things don’t. Then, when you subtract Jozy Altidore and add a very tough group, I think just getting out of the first round was a huge accomplishment. But we did what England, Italy, and Spain couldn’t do by escaping the first round, we finally slayed the Ghanian dragon, and we played some good soccer along the way. The team showed well; it was a good World Cup.

I got my gig at the Washington Post the same way I get virtually every gig: through a blind application process. The Post started a new blog called Box Seats, which was an attempt to get free content for the web site, or, ahem, I mean, give fans a forum in which to express the views (for the record: you can’t blame the Post for looking for fan-sourced content. Until we accept the idea that we have to pay for content, news organizations need to be creative). Box Seats eventually withered out, but the Post asked to keep me on as someone to balance out beat writer Steve Goff’s knowledge and professionalism with wild speculation and immature jokes about the players’ hair.

Soccer is growing in the US and will continue to grow for a long time. If you look at how the 1994 World Cup was presented, it was very much: “Here’s a thing called soccer. No hands. Goofy, right?” In 2014, every American knows what the World Cup is and it’s a big event. We have an established pro league in the US. I can watch any Premiership game I want any time I want. If I DVR a game, I now actually have to actively avoid hearing the score. Being into soccer is no longer like being into S&M; there’s no more sneaking around to random bars and limiting your conversations to a small group of likeminded n’er-do-wells. People sometimes ask “will soccer ever become the biggest sport in the US?” and my answer is “no, probably not,” but also “who cares?” I don’t care if soccer is ever bigger than football, baseball, or basketball; it’s not a zero-sum game. I just want the US to be competitive in the World Cup (I hope that by the time I’m old we’re a contender to win the World Cup) and it’d be great if the world’s best players played in MLS. We’re on the way to that happening.

RM:  What’s the most noticeable difference between living in Jersey City as opposed to Chesapeake, Virginia; the town that you call home?

JM: There are endless differences between the two – it’s a small southern town versus an urban northern town, so everything from racial mix to population density is different – but probably the biggest difference is prevailing attitudes. I don’t want to suggest that all or most people in Chesapeake hold backwards or regressive views – they most certainly don’t – but in Chesapeake it’s more common for people to hold views on things like homosexuality, religion, race, sex, and immigration that personally I find pretty regressive. That’s also not to suggest that everyone in Jersey City is enlightened – far from it. I think every metropolitan area contains essentially the same kinds of people, just in different percentages. We all have good ol’ boys, hipsters, intellectuals, blue-collar people, artsy weirdos, and a very small but committed band of goth kids. But some attitudes are more prevalent in some places than in others, and if I were gay I’d rather be in Jersey City than in Chesapeake.

RM:  When you’re at home writing jokes, what is your drink of choice and how much do you allow yourself to have?

JM: Coke Zero. I need the caffeine. Plus it’s less rat-kill-y than Diet Coke (slightly). And if I’m not immediately sent a case of Coke Zero, then this whole Q&A was a waste of time.

RM:  In the about me section of one of your blogs entitled “I read Sean Hannity’s Goddamned book”, you say that you “know that performance art is bullshit.”  Does this mean you think that what you do in the world of stand-up comedy is also bullshit; or are you primarily talking about street performers urinating on canvases to attract attention to their “art”?

JM: Standup comedy is not performance art. How dare you. Comparing standup comedy to performance art is like comparing a piano concerto to the Rape of Nanking. Standup comedy – when done well – is fun and makes people feel good. Performance art makes people feel annoyed and sometimes blocks off a street. My least favorite kind of performance art is political performance art, when people cover themselves in fake blood (always with the fake blood!) and chain themselves to a Long John Silvers to protest the Energy Policy Act, or some such bullshit. I don’t think that any positive social change has ever been achieved that way. If Martin Luther King had stripped down to a g-string and ridden a unicycle across the bridge in Selma, Alabama, we all would have sided with Bull Connor.

RM:  You’re now a writer on HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”…how has it been so far working with him; and is he as likable in person as he seems to be on television?  What’s the best part about working on that show?

JM: It is a dream job. I always felt that I’m not the funniest person, nor am I the person who knows the most about politics, so I should try to find a job where you need to be kinda good at both, so it is a goddamned miracle that I’ve managed to do that. John IS as likeable in person as he is on TV, which is really saying something; I think 90% of the write-ups about our show contain the word “charming.” John works hard to make the show as good as we can make it and is sincere in his desire to make the show something people really enjoy. If you get him laughing really hard he’ll slap his knee like a Mississippi Delta blues musician, which is – there’s no other word for it – charming. The best part of working on the show is making something that people like (hopefully…people like, it, right? I don’t look at the ratings. They wouldn’t let us keep making episodes if nobody liked it.). I think of how much I connected with shows like Conan, MST3K, Dr. Katz, The Simpsons, and The Kids In The Hall when I was growing up and I really like the idea that someone might feel that way about our show. RM:  Did being in the Peace Corps change the way you look at whether or not certain jokes can be considered poor taste?  Is it safe to say that people who aren’t offended by material like that have a better understanding that there is no genuine malicious intent to harm others?  Why do you think so many individuals today seem to be offended by a lot of what they see in the world of entertainment?

JM: I don’t think my experience in Peace Corps greatly influenced my opinions about what is and is not in good taste; those opinions were mostly formed after I started doing comedy. When it comes to potentially-offensive jokes, I always ask myself: “Do I stand behind this? Like REALLY; am I prepared to defend it if somebody asks?” I don’t think you should hide behind the “hey, it’s just comedy” defense too much. I also don’t think you should shy away from points you think are worth making. The statement at the core of the joke is the key thing; what are you REALLY saying? For example, the statement at the core of Louis CK’s outstanding “we can’t say ‘faggot’ anymore” joke  (and I really hope Louis CK doesn’t mind me purporting to know the message behind his joke) is that it’s a shame we can’t use that word, but you shouldn’t be hateful towards gay people. That’s a message you can stand behind. It’s very different than a hack comic saying “hey, nice shirt, faggot.”

Part of the reason people are offended by what they see in entertainment is because some of it is offensive. Sometimes offense is legitimate. And, of course, sometimes it’s not – sometimes people actually seem to ENJOY being offended. You need to take it on a case by case basis. I don’t worry too much about what people think about other shows and comedy; I only worry about what people think about my comedy and the show on which I work. And so far I’ve been pretty controversy-free.

RM:  Which Republican candidate would you most like to see Hillary Clinton face in 2016 and why?  Do you think that the voters who support the GOP will select who they feel is the best man for the job; or simply try to create a mismatch to regain control of the White House?

JM: There’s a presumption in your question: I do not agree that Hillary Clinton will definitely be the nominee. On the other hand…yeah, it’s gonna be her.   I’m not going to bullshit: given my political beliefs, there is about a 99 percent chance I will vote for the Democratic candidate in 2016. Sure, I consider myself an independent thinker, and it depends on who is nominated, and I don’t just look for a “D” and pull the lever, and blah blah blah…given my positions on policy and the direction in which I think the country should go, I will almost certainly vote for the Democrat. And I am not one of those people who says “Give us the craziest opponent possible so that he or she will be easy to beat!” That is a dangerous game of chicken that I don’t want to play; we kind of had that in 2000 with Bush and McCain and we all know how that ended up. I would prefer to run against someone who could actually be a decent president if given the job.

I have absolutely no idea who the Republicans will select. A year ago, I thought it might be Marco Rubio, but his star has really fallen. Maybe Scott Walker? They’re in a situation in which a little-known governor could win the nomination the way Bill Clinton did in 1992. I mean, the likely candidates right now are Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Paul Ryan, Bobby Jindal, and a couple of others. I’m not sure I see a president in that group. RM:  What’s the most bizarre interaction you’ve ever had with an audience member at a comedy show?  Looking back on that moment, did you feel it ended well or would you have handled it differently?

JM: The most bizarre interaction I ever had was with a woman who was borderline blackout drunk. I was on stage, and I was talking to her, trying to get her to quiet down so everyone else could hear the show. The conversation started with her telling me it was her birthday and quickly evolved to me just trying to figure out if she was alright. I asked “Seriously…are you okay?” and she wavered for a second and then shut her eyes and slumped down in her seat. Then she suddenly popped back to life, yelled “Art Monk should be in the Hall of Fame!” and then passed out.

Coda: Art Monk is now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame! Her guerrilla marketing campaign worked!

RM:  What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2014 and beyond?  Anything big in the works that we should know about?   JM: Last Week Tonight’s first season ends on November 9, so I’m going to hit the road hard doing standup in November and December. The schedule is still being determined, but you can check my website if that the kind of thing you’re inclined to do. I’m going to use that period to try to develop a lot of new material; between the show and my recent divorce I’ve got a lot going on in my life that hasn’t yet really made its way into my standup, so I’m hoping to change that.

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