10 Questions with Justy Dodge

shapeimage 1 - 10 Questions with Justy Dodge

by Ryan Meehan

Justy Dodge is a New York City based comedian who hails from the land of meth labs and wolf T-shirts also known as northern Minnesota. At age 20 she hopped a train to New York City to follow her dreams of blah blah blah…yeah, one of those stories. Justy draws her material from her past that most people would describe as “colorful”. Her ability to find the humor in the darkest of topics is what has made Justy a fast rising name in the New York comedy scene, and it’s landed her a spot as my guest today in 10 questions.

RM:  What was the most depressing part of living in Duluth?  What made you decide to choose New York as a landing spot for you to do comedy as opposed to either Chicago or Los Angeles?

JD:  Well, I am actually from a very tiny town about an hour from Duluth called Mt. Iron, Minnesota.  THAT WAS THE DEPRESSING PLACE. I had a lot of depression issues and whatnot growing up and spent a large chunk of my adolescence — in and out of psych wards, rehabs, foster home — and in a small town everyone loves to gossip so I didn’t have a great reputation.

I actually didn’t move to New York with the intention of making comedy a career, but because I have a cousin that lives here and had visited twice before. At the time I wanted to be an actor at the time and I just thought comedy would help. Looking back it was the best thing I ever did. There are a lot of good comedy cities, but New York is the best place to get good.

RM:  In what ways has living in New York City changed the way that you look at the business of doing comedy?  Is that something that you expected to happen when you first settled in, or did it surprise you at all in any way?

JD: I really didn’t know anything about the business of comedy before I moved to New York.  I envisioned coming here and being a star in a couple months, like everyone does. Now I see this business is extremely cut throat and hard.  Even with talent and hard work it doesn’t mean you are going to make it – You may never make it.  I also think “making it” means something very different to everyone and your idea of “making it” changes throughout your career.  So it completely surprised me, still does and probably always will.

RM:  How do you decipher between material that will fit perfectly with the edgier subject matter in your act and a joke that might be too dark to tell in a comedy club setting?  Are there any topics that you generally tend to avoid when writing new jokes?

JD: I never write with the intention of a joke being dark or light; just try to make my personal situations, thoughts and feelings funny.  Typically it happens to be described and viewed as “dark” which I think makes sense given my personal situations and thoughts. So I don’t think I’m “edgy” I just think most people are just too fucking sensitive haha. I do try and respect the audience though.  A good strategy is start my set a little lighter and win them over before jumping into some heavier “darker” shit. The key is learning how to do that without compromising my material.  Almost every subject matter has been touched upon in comedy, so I don’t try and avoid anything as much as just try to make whatever I’m writing about as personal and original as possible.

RM:  Speaking of which, you have a suicide bit in your act…Do you ever drop that bit or similar material from your set after feeling a room out for three or four minutes and realizing that it might not work in the context of that particular show?  If so, how often do you do that; and what factors do you look for when it comes to gauging the mood of the room?

JD: Sometimes I will. Especially if it’s a short set. However, I have let my anger and mood get the best of me and just been like “fuck it you aren’t going to like this but I don’t give a shit! If I bomb you are all coming with me” haha.  That’s usually not the best way to handle things.  It’s just always different depending on where I am, how many people are there, has the audience been tight for the whole show, what’s at stake, is there something I’m really working on and want to try…Etc etc etc. The good thing about comedy is you get an instant response to your work, so you can see in real time what the people are on board with.

RM:  When it comes to finding your voice on stage, is that something that happened for you over the course of several years or was there a specific moment in which you came to the realization that you knew exactly what kind of comic you had become?

JD: That’s a hard one.  I think finding your voice is one of those things that constantly changes, the same way a persona changes over the course of their life.  I’d like to think my material and how I perform is distinct, original and unique; but honestly, half the time I don’t have a fucking clue what I’m doing haha. I try to challenge myself and expand what I’m doing by adding different layers to my material, and showing a wide range of emotions so it doesn’t become one noted.  Talking to the late Mike Distefano, who was a huge influence on me, really helped. He made me realize that if I was being honest with myself nothing is too dark or off limits. Don’t be edgy just for the sake of being edgy, but if you are keeping it honest the laughs will come.

RM:  I watched two similar sets you did recently…The first one was at Gotham and the second one was at Caroline’s…I couldn’t help but notice that you seemed to have a much more comfortable delivery in front of the diamond backdrop…Was there any particular reason your level of comfort in those two clips seemed so different other than the fact that the Gotham set was being taped for AXS-TV?  Do you tend to feel like you are more comfortable in certain clubs throughout the five boroughs as opposed to others; and if so, which stages in New York are your favorite to hit and could you tell us a little bit about the energy level of each venue?

JD: Well, the reason I got to do the Gotham Comedy Live show was because that Caroline’s tape was what I submitted to get on it, and the producer wanted me to do that same material (for the most part) from the Caroline’s clip.  I was so comfortable in the Caroline’s video because I was in the middle of a 45 minute set which makes it easy to be loose and play around with the audience a bit more. I was having so much fun and the crowd was super on board with everything. The Gotham show was my first time doing stand up on TV, AND it was live, not taped, so, yeah I was so unbelievably beyond nervous and trying not to shit myself haha.  At this point, I’m pretty comfortable on whatever stage I’m going on, but sure the places I perform at frequently I feel a bit more comfortable and like better because I know how the layout of the room and how it feels.  I like performing anywhere because I’m a stage whore who needs constant validation like every comic haha, but a couple of my favorite places are Stand Up NY and Caroline’s.

RM:  How would you best describe your own comedic writing process?  Do you set aside a certain time of the day for brainstorming new joke concepts, or do you find that most of your best ideas come to you as you’re going about your daily tasks?

JD: I try to sit down and write everyday for at least an hour, even if I don’t generate anything from it.  It’s important to consistently keep the mind muscle sharp and active.  If something funny happens or I get an idea during the day I’ll write it down in either my phone or notebook and go back to it whenever I sit down to write.  From there I bring it to the stage to find the exact wording, whether it’s at an open mic or I’m throwing a new joke in during a set at a show. I record the audio on every set and listen back to it afterwards.  Which isn’t always fun because I hate the sound of my voice, but personally I think it’s one of the most important things to do.  You don’t always remember exactly every way you said or did something in the moment while on stage.  Just like an athlete goes over tape, you need review your set to see why things worked, and why other things bombed.

RM:  What would you say are your three most valuable qualities when it comes to connecting with comedy audiences?

JD: 1) Being present and in the moment, so I’m talking TO the audience and not AT them.

2) Being very open and honest.  I’m very truthful with my material but I also feel like I respond and react (I fucking hate using this word, but) organically to the audience as well as myself.

3) Not letting your mood dictate your performance. Just like any other job, you need to be able to perform on a daily basis regardless of what is going on in your life.

RM: How often do you envision yourself watching yourself as a comedian off stage while you’re on stage?  Would you say you think about that aspect of the art form more or less than other comics?

JD: I don’t really envision myself watching myself, but when I go over the recording after the show I try to put myself in the audience’s shoes. What questions would I have? What would I want to hear more off? When I’m on stage I’m only thinking about performing, which I think is the same as most comics. There’s a lot going through your head on stage — Are they laughing?, What joke should I do next?, Did someone just fart? — it’s not easy to think of anything else.

RM:  If you were a superhero and one of your powers gave you the ability to change one thing about the industry of comedy, what would it be and why?  For the most part, are you generally satisfied with the way the funny business is sold to the entertainment consumer?

JD: First of all, that’s the worst superpower ever. Having said that, I think the industry focuses more on ticket sales and less on talent. A reality star could decide to do stand up and headline a club the next week, but a comic who has been honing their act for years will have trouble getting booked without a TV credit. Also, with social media, a young comic with little stage experience can sky rocket to the top very fast, which ultimately will usually hurt them in the long run. For the most part, someone going to a comedy club isn’t buying a ticket because they know the performer, but is trusting the club to put up a professional comedian who knows what they are doing on stage.

RM: What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2015 and beyond?  Anything big in the works that we should know about?

JD: Taking over the world! That’s really a 2016 thing, but put that in. Really just continuing getting better on stage and generating new material. Hopefully a Late Night set, maybe an album isn’t too far off. I want to be sure I’m completely confident in what I’m saying when I take those steps, not just looking to do something because I can. Also I’m working on a cool project for TV that I’m really excited about. Can’t give away too many details now, but keep your eyes open!

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