by Ryan Meehan
Comedian Casey Jost is also an actor and writer based out of New York City. You may have seen him most recently on GSN’s Lie Detectors, or Comedy Central’s branded-content series “Comedy Central Central”. He’s a writer and a producer for TruTV’s smash hit “Impractical Jokers”, and he is also well-known for his stand-up, characters, and improv. Make sure to check him out at the NYC Upright Citizens Brigade Theater with his team HIGGINS on UCB’s Harold Night every Tuesday. Additionally, Casey has written for NBC’s Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, TruTV’s Impractical Jokers, E!’s The Fabulist and contributed to Fuse’s Billy On The Street. He’s created several other live and internet based shows, and I am delighted to have him as my guest today in 10 questions.
RM: Before we get started, I have to know this for the sake of my own personal curiosity…Have you ever been mistaken for N*SYNC vocalist Lance Bass? You guys look a lot alike…
CJ: Funny. Not until recently. I got it a few times this month. Is that dude back in the atmosphere again? Ok, I just Google’d him. We have a very similar shaped face, and we both advocate the space program.
RM: What is the earliest memory you have of making a group of people laugh who were not in your immediate family? What was so invigorating about the feeling you received from their response that made you want to learn more about the practice of humor?
CJ: I think (like most comedians) I remember making my classmates laugh. I was absolutely fueled by that feeling and school became a stage for me. I had perfect attendance in elementary school and NEAR perfect in high school but my grades were horrible! C student, and the C stood for comedian. I remember when the first time I did improv, THAT was a great feeling. I was allowed to be myself and say whatever I wanted in front of a real audience. I would do school plays and musicals but always try to make up my own lines.
RM: What’s the most important thing you learned about the art and/or science of comedy during your time training and performing at the UCB? As someone who’s been fortunate enough to have had that learning experience, what was the most unexpected thing you discovered about comedy in your first couple of years with the institution?
CJ: As I said, I’ve always been a terrible student, but at UCB I was on my best behavior. I learned to serve the scene and give more to my fellow improvisers. I went in thinking it was going to make me a funnier performer, but I was pleasantly surprised that it helped me be a better coworker. Collaboration is so important in all forms of comedy. Interestingly enough, UCB’s improv program taught me how to write. I learned about specificity and how to clarify a comedic idea. I just started teaching a character class at UCB and that is such a honor.
RM: You’re one of the brains behind the hit show “Impractical Jokers”…What are the three most vital elements necessary in the execution of a really good prank that will not only go off without a hitch, but also look great on television?
CJ: Our show is a reverse prank show; so traditional pranks don’t really work. It’s more about creating embarrassing situations for the cast members. So… 1) Is this embarrassing to the average person? 2) Is this specifically embarrassing to the Joker? 3) Is it fun to watch? For instance, we have a challenge where the guys adorn blackout sunglasses. For one, they CANNOT look like the kind of sunglasses that blind people wear. They must look like normal sunglasses so people assume the Joker is just a normal dude. The stuff they say to people must seem normal for the Joker to say while blinded but weird in the context of reality so when they remove the glasses they are faced with embarrassment. And lastly, the convention of the other guys controlling where the Joker walks in addition to what they say, is just plain silly and fun. I hope that illustrates the process somewhat.
RM: Speaking of TV, back in April you had the chance to appear on the GSN show “Lie Detectors” with fellow awesome comedians Liza Treyger (interview link) and Nick Turner…What is the most fun part of getting to do that show; and given that you’ve done your fair share of acting, how would you rate your deceptive abilities on a scale of one to ten where one is Abraham Lincoln and ten is Pinocchio?
CJ: That show is so fun. I love pitching these weird ideas and products — whether they’re real or fake. With the writers of the show, we come up with short jokes based on the material they provide. The writers on that show are great. Working with Liza and Nick is a dream. They always have something funny to add, so I felt like I always have a safety net… but with comedy? As for the lying, this happened a lot: For whatever reason, the audience almost always believed me on the first question. Then they never believed me again. Haha. I think I have a trustworthy face but since I deceived them once, they never wanted to trust me again. And I love that. So on your scale, I’m like a Bill Clinton. I lied — and now no one trusts me –but I’m still well liked — and somehow not divorced.
RM: Do you ever feel as if your brother’s success on Saturday Night Live has placed an unfair amount of pressure on you with regards to moving up in the world of comedy writing; or do you view it as more of a motivational thing and a challenge to see how far you can take your own career?
CJ: Maybe with my parents a little but personally, I don’t sweat it. We’ve always been very different people and we approached comedy from different angles. I always wanted to perform — and he’s started first as writer. Then we naturally got involved in both sides. I remember thinking “If I don’t write for myself, no one else will.” So I started writing for myself and I guess, people wanted me to write for them. I love how successful Colin has become, but really, I feel the same about my successful UCB colleagues and friends. Colin has always been such a hard worker and he deserves everything he has achieved. He’s the funniest person I’ve ever encountered and always has been.
RM: How did you think your most recent “Red Eye” appearance went? Is that show as much fun as it looks on television; or are there moments where you felt like certain discussion topics were getting a little tense for you to provide comic relief?
CJ: Red Eye is interesting. I was so nervous to do it because what do I know about news?? I’m an idiot! However, I was surprised to see how well I stuck to my guns with certain topics. Poking fun at the news was a breeze, but I never thought about having a solid opinion until I did Red Eye. I very much enjoy doing that show for that reason. Also the fans make fun of my hair on Twitter and I get a big kick out of that. One person called my hair a bird’s nest!
RM: For those who might not be familiar with Les Vinyl, how would you best describe that musical outfit; and what can you tell us about the other members of the band? Does that project allow you to completely take your mind off of comedy while you’re working on it, or are there times where you have so many comedic ideas going on in your head while you guys are writing music that you have to take a moment to sort of reset yourself and re-focus on the task at hand?
CJ: My band Les Vinyl is a great side project. I’ve been playing music since high school and I love it so much. It’s a great outlet. I’d rather pick up a guitar than watch TV any day. My mom always told me, “A body in motion stays in motion, a body at rest stays at rest.” So playing music is a great way to keep my mind moving. Therefore, I think it indirectly helps with coming up with comedy ideas. Keeps the gears turning or whatever. Also, I incorporate music in a lot of my character bits that I write, so it’s been a great comedic tool in that way.
RM: What pieces of advice would you offer up to younger comedic writers that are working in a group setting for the very first time? Why do you think those tidbits of guidance are so crucial when developing jokes that are essentially competing with those written by others who are also a part of the same team?
CJ: Humility and confidence! Humility to know that you need to work with people and that you’re not God’s gift to comedy. Confidence to put your material out there and be proud of it. A balance is key. As for competition, envy is not something I do but I hear it will rip you apart. You should be happy for other people. I’m annoyingly positive and I like to imagine that we all will have our time to shine. There are no two people alike and voices are the same. (If, and) When you find your voice, just keep doing your own thing. Someone will notice… but who knows when?! So just be patient and do comedy for your own reasons.
RM: When do you know it’s time to eliminate a bit in your stand-up act that has been successful for a while? Do you have a certain set of criteria for evaluating jokes that could potentially be nearing the end of their life cycle?
CJ: Ugh. I really don’t know. I go back and forth on this. I have some bits I have done for a long time (3+ years) BUT I’m ALWAYS working on new bits too. It would be different if I were a huge comedian. I’d probably have to change my sets a lot. But relatively NO ONE has seen my work. I guess my advice is to keep writing and pushing yourself, but know your audience and sometimes it’s okay to do old stuff.
RM: Which portion of the comedic writing process would you say is your specialty; and why do you think that you excel at that particular facet of your craft? Can you foresee the answer to that question being different ten years from now?
CJ: My favorite thing about comedy is connecting with people. Whether it’s on stage with the audience, fellow improvisers, or in a writers’ room. It’s the best. I think I’m good at fleshing out an idea. Taking something to the next level. Follow-through is so important with comedy and sometimes that means keeping it simple. I have a knack for producing and that means coming up with producible ideas. I think that’s essential to a project. I definitely see that being different in ten years. I learned a lot about producing and writing comedy from the people I worked IN THE LAST 4 YEARS. Figure out who is the asset to the team and learn everything you can from them.
RM: What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2015 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
CJ: No clue, and I sort of like it like that. I’ve been hosting more. I did some Comedy Central hosty things, and some GSN stuff, and people seem to like me for that. I just have a fun time working with strangers on camera and I think it shows. Maybe I’ll host a game show. Who knows? I will continue to write and produce but I prefer to be in front of the camera. Then again, that means I will have to eat less pizza and that could be a deal breaker.
Casey on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/caseyjost
Casey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/caseyjost
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