Laughter is one of the greatest gifts given to human kind. It has the ability to diffuse stressful situation, and it literally can turn a frown upside-down. What’s that all about? Laughter is pretty much magic. This week I was lucky enough to interview someone who gets paid to do comedy this week. Actually paid. Which is a huge feat considering how many funny comedians I know that do it for free.
Comedian Tom Cotter has just come out with his first book Bad Dad: A Guide to Pitiful Parenting (Willow Street Press – Feb. 8th, 2016). Tom Cotter was the first comedian to ever to reach the finals of NBC’s America’s Got Talent. Placing 2nd catapulted him to the comedic stratosphere that all comedians dream of. Having been featured on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The Today Show, CBS’s The Late Late Show, Comedy Central’s Premium Blend, Comics Unleashed, Barbara Walters Prime-Time Special and Two Funny, his own series with his wife, comic Kerri Louis, on The Women’s Entertainment Network, Tom is someone to keep an eye on, go see live, watch his show and read his book – because he’s hilarious and that’s the only reason you could ever need.
Here is a clip of Tom from AGT –
A little from his book:
BAD DAD A Guide to Pitiful Parenting
Teach your child that words can hurt, by beating him with a dictionary.
Introduce your child to the wonders of chemistry by starting a meth lab.
If you think there is good in every child, you haven’t met every child.
When you reprimand your child, do not raise your voice. Use more of a creepy whisper.
JTTM: Ok Tom! First of all I’d like to say nice to meet you. Comedians are my favourite kind of people because of how they are able to articulate insights and observations in a way that makes you have an involuntary reaction ie. Laughter, ie. Offended. Really, the ability to incite a reaction from the audience is what interests me the most about comedians. What do you find to be the most unique thing about being a comedian as well as being constantly surrounded by other comedians?
TC: Lovely to make your acquaintance Jen. The most unique thing about being a comedian is having the ability to make a room full of complete strangers come together to laugh, and few things are more rewarding. They say that Jazz and stand-up comedy are two uniquely American art forms, and the difference between stand-up and other performing arts is that we are armed only with our wit, and if it goes well, we get all of the glory, but if it goes poorly, we get all of the blame. In today’s politically correct environment, the challenge of providing levity and mirth, without offending anyone is increasingly challenging.
JTTM: I read your book Bad Dad: A Guide to Pitiful Parenting. I love the concept of it. Ridiculous parenting sound bites that will either make you laugh or be offended or laugh while offended. I thought it was brilliant. What inspired you to write the book from a Bad Dad perspective?
TC: Thanks for the kind words. You have impeccable taste in literature. The inspiration for the book was “Deeper Thoughts” by Jack Handy. His extremely humorous words of inspiration going into and out of commercial breaks on Saturday Night Live used to make me laugh until I fired beverages out of my nostrils. When you become a parent, everyone offers you advice, and if they don’t offer advice, they give you books filled with parenting clichés. I felt that someone needed to mock this practice and all of the cheesy parenting “words of wisdom”, and as a parent and comedian, I felt that I was uniquely qualified to do it. I was also inspired by my three boys who are hysterical, and my father to whom the book is dedicated.
JTTM: I am The Non-Mom (I dish out humourus/offensive/inexperienced parenting advice) and you are the Bad Dad. What advice do you have for me and other non-parents for when they are conversing with actual parents?
TC: When you are chatting with actual parents about their “gifted” offspring, try to conceal your utter contempt. Understand that it’s not their fault. They are genetically predisposed to be completely self-absorbed and annoying. Blame instinct, and take joy in the knowledge that you are getting way more sleep than they are.
JTTM: When you came in second on America’s Got Talent. Were you happy for the dog that you lost to?
TC: OK, first of all it was 22 dogs. I don’t wish to sound bitter, but they got their puppy treats from Lance Armstrong, so I will let your readers draw their own conclusions. The truth is that I fell in love with the dog act early on during the Las Vegas round. All of the other acts were nervous, and intense, and you got the feeling that they would stab you in the back if given the opportunity. The dogs, on the other paw, were always happy to see you, and unlike the dancers, they welcomed your attempts to rub their bellies.
JTTM: The ability to do comedy on demand is not only an interesting way to experience a comedy show, but also very challenging. When did you develop this concept? How do you rehearse for it?
TC: Every time you moved on in the competition, Howie Mandel, or Howard Stern would say, “You performers really have to step it up in the next round”, or “The acts must distinguish themselves, or they will be eliminated”. Those dire warnings get inside of your head, and you feel like you really have to set your self apart by doing something unique. That was the inspiration of Comedy On Demand, which, BTW is the name of my company. I prepared 8 different stand-up routines, on 8 different topics, and I went to multiple comedy clubs in NYC for weeks on end practicing the sets. My goal was to set myself apart from the one other comedian that remained in the competition past the quarter final round. Also, the venue is huge, and the stage is enormous, so I felt that I needed some “bells and whistles”, or I risked getting lost in the crowd.
JTTM: Are you going on a book tour and will you be in Toronto to promote your book?
TC: I would love to come back to Toronto, but that pesky restraining order…
I’m not doing a book tour per se, but I am doing some book signings along my comedy tour. It’s more of a comedy tour with a book than a book tour with stand-up.
JTTM: You’ve clearly had great success in your comedy career, having been featured on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, NBC’s Last Comic Standing, The Today Show, CBS’s The Late Late Show, Comedy Central’s Premium Blend, Comics Unleashed, and Barbara Walters Prime-Time Special. What was the most exciting experience for you?
TC: I grew up watching the Tonight Show, so that was always the Holy Grail to me. When I was well behaved, which I assure you was a rare occurrence; my parents would let me stay up past my bedtime to watch Johnny Carson’s monologue. I also started my stand-up career in Boston, and Jay Leno was a trailblazer in the Boston comedy scene, so he was a hero of mine from very early on. Winning the Boston Comedy Festival was also a highlight because I was competing against my peers and mentors. The low light of my career was losing to a dog act in front of 40 million viewers.
JTTM: I see that your wife, Kerri Louise, is a funny person as well. Do you have a deal with each other as to what you can and cannot joke about? Also, is her impression of you accurate?
TC: Kerri as extremely funny. She actually went further than I did on Last Comic Standing, and I am reminded of that fact every time we have an argument. We have no “deal” or “understanding” regarding what is off limits, but the silent treatment has helped me to set boundaries. Her impression of me is spot on.
JTTM: Are your kids funny?
TC: My children have made me laugh harder than any comedian, however sometimes I’m laughing AT them rather than WITH them, which I believe is classified as “Bullying” or “Child Abuse”. I find that they are least funny when they are trying to be funny. Their parents are both professional comedians, so it would be sad if they didn’t have the humor gene, because we certainly won’t be fielding any scholarship offers from Harvard.
JTTM: Also, when they do something “wrong” but it’s funny, do you laugh? How do you punish a kid when you think what they did was hilarious?
TC: I should get an Academy award for keeping a strait face when my kids say or do something inappropriate, which is a daily occurrence.
JTTM: How do you deal with people who read your book or watch your shows that do not see the humour in it and are always politically correct at all times? What is your coping mechanism?
TC: Comedy is a dream job if you dream of poverty and rejection. You have to take a utilitarian approach to performing stand-up. You aim to please everyone, but you know that there will always be some douche bag that shows up with a chip on his or her shoulder, and is just waiting to be offended by something you say. It used to be that random born-again Christian, or devout Muslim, but as you so accurately note, more and more people are getting offended these days. Jerry Seinfeld recently stated in an interview, and I’m paraphrasing here, that he won’t perform at colleges anymore because someone always gets offended and demands an apology. If Jerry Seinfeld is offensive, than what chance do I have? Colleges used to be bastions of free speech, where anyone could say anything, and it would lead to a healthy discussion, but alas, those days are gone, and now comedians must be weary of every syllable that we utter, and the shows aren’t any fun when you are constantly walking on egg shells. As for the book, I warn everyone on the first few pages that the book is not for the easily offended. If they continue reading, and their feathers get ruffled, so be it. Obviously I’m not tying to make the reader uncomfortable or upset. My stated goal is to make them laugh. My book may not be your cup of tea. In fact, it may make you hate tea. The feedback and reviews have been overwhelmingly positive, and I am aware of only a few book burnings.
JTTM: I did standup once (I killed it – 20% of the audience were my friends and I paid them) and I loved it. However, I haven’t done it again because I’m a person who likes to be in bed by 10pm. – how do you manage the late nights? Do you sleep ever? Must be hard with children, and a career in standup since both of them are known to minimize important sleeping time.
TC: The reality is that I work, on average, an hour per night. My lack of sleep has much more to do with my meth addiction. Today I was up with my twins at 6:45 getting them breakfast and getting them off to school. Tonight they had religion, and my youngest has basketball practice. My wife teaches a comedy class, so I was basically a single parent today. I sleep much more, and better when I’m on the road. When I’m home, I feel like I am making up for lost time with my wife and kids. My swollen prostate and need to pee (I call it get-up-&-go) has negatively impacted my sleep as well. I try counting sheep, but I’m from West Virginia, so that just gets me aroused.
JTTM: Which comedians inspire you the most? And what inspires you to keep on trucking?
TC: Johnny Carson, George Carlin and Richard Pryor were my comedy heroes when I was a kid, and sadly, they are no longer with us. I think Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert are doing some neat things on late night TV, and there are a many folks that may not be household names, that I draw inspiration from. As for what makes me keep on trucking, that would be my love of the craft and the three college tuitions looming in the distance. I will never retire. I see these fossils at the Friar’s Club in NYC that are in their late hundreds, and they are still performing. They don’t need the money. They just love what they do.
JTTM: Is there anything that you’d like to add for my readers about your book?
TC: Your readers should be warned that most of the material in the book will be on the final exam, which is 90% of their semester grade. It also comes with a 100% laughter guarantee. If the book doesn’t make them howl with laughter, I will personally come to their home and tickle them while they read it. Laughter is the best medicine, but a strong case could be made for the birth control pill, and my book will make that case.
Thanks for your excellent queries. Should you have any follow-up questions, please do not hesitate to contact me at your earliest convenience. Thanks again for your interest, and for helping me get the word out about Bad Dad. TC
Until next time…