I wrote about "So You Think You Can Dance" last night. It was a good episode!
This is sorta Friday for a lot of people in the good old US of A so I'm putting up this week's interview today! Today I chat with a writer, comedian and producer living in New York City who currently writes and blogs for LateNightWithJimmyFallon.com. He is the creator/producer and host of the New York City cult hit show, The Rejection Show and many other popular live events. Jon's first book, "Rejected: Tales of the Failed Dumped & Canceled", a humor anthology of rejected works was released this year. His humor writings have been featured in McSweeney's, The Huffington Post, Pindeldyboz, Paper Magazine, and and many other places. As an actor Jon has appeared on Law and Order SVU (crossing the street). In addition to appearing on NPR many times, Jon's works have been featured in the LA Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Onion, and many others.
What's your average day like at your day job?
The job is still somewhat new (about 6 months) working for a brand new show (Late Night with Jimmy Fallon) so there's not really an average day yet, especially because we as a staff are putting on a brand new show every single day, so there are new surprises almost every day. We're all also getting used to each other as a new staff and working towards getting in to routines. It's a great group of people that work there. A typical day for the blog (what I primarily work on) consists of three bloggers posting 12 - 15 times per day balancing out pop culture, funny videos, news, pictures, clips/highlights from the previous night's show, sneak peeks for what's coming up and some behind the scenes footage and pictures.
Are you strictly a blogger for Fallon's show or have you been able to write bits that make it on-air?
My primary job here is as a blogger and when I am working for someone else (as opposed to my own projects where I am the "boss") I want to focus on delivering what they want in the best way possible, but I also occasionally contribute to the monologue, work with the segment producers in researching guests and help to brainstorm "activities" for Jimmy to do with guests (ie. activities like beer pong with Betty White) and I occasionally have popped up on the show here and there, usually is an extra or a tiny, tiny part in a sketch. It's a well-rounded job that I'm enjoying and for the most part, everyone is open to helping each other out and listening to each other's ideas.
For The Rejection Show what's the difference between a piece that's got humor/interest in its being rejected, and it just being rejected because it wasn't good enough?
Basically, the pieces (or segments) on The Rejection Show are really good, entertaining and funny and leave us wondering, "How could that have been rejected?" or is material that is so bad it's good presented by the writer/creator in a "what was I thinking?" sort of way. It's all of the material that is in between (not quite good enough and not quite bad enough) that is usually left off of the show.
I know that sometimes the show deals with personal, romantic rejection. Do you know whether the Rejection Show has brought two previously rejected people together?
I can't say for sure that the show itself is responsible for bringing two rejected people together in the long term, but people have told me many times that they have come to the show on a date and most often on a first date. It's a great activity to do on a first date because you're with a crowd of people and it's usually funny, fun, insightful, unique and live and can lead to discussion after the show. I also put on The Rejection Show Valentine's Day Heartbreak Haven every Valentine's Day which is designed for people who are single, feeling alone, rejected, don't have a date or don't like traditional Valentine's Day routines. I've seen people making out at it so I guess that's a perfect example of bringing previously rejected people together.
How do you reject people who apply to be in the show (or who applied to be in the book?)
If someone has put in a real effort to be on the show (coming to see the show first, mapping out their ideas, providing me with footage and examples, etc.) I usually will not reject them from being on the show. However, sometimes people do put in the full effort to be on the show and what they have still is not right for it. In that case I will work with the person directly to find creative ways to help shape their segment to be a better fit for the show. When I do have to reject people (from being on a show of rejected material) I explain to them that it is a monthly showcase with various specific slots to fill on each show (ie. film, literary, romance, animation, sketch comedy, etc.) and I may be getting too much of one specific category. For the most part, I do keep everyone in mind because I am always trying to expand my rejection projects, most recently with my first book Rejected Tales of the Failed Dumped and Canceled and very soon at rejectionshow.com where I will display people's rejected material on the web. The live version of The Rejection Show is not a reading series (it is sometimes listed that way) and I rarely allow people to come on the show and just stand there and read. However, because of the amount of rejected literary pieces I was getting it allowed me to put together the proposal for the book, so I like to think that when it comes to displaying rejected material, eventually it will all get "put on display" in some way, whether it be on the show, in a book (in future volumes of books), or on the web.
Has your exploration of rejection changed how you handle it yourself?
It absolutely has. Doing The Rejection Show has given me a creative outlet to display my own rejected material every month. I open each show with my own rejected material/stories that I encountered since the last show. Having an outlet like that makes taking risks and not worrying so much about failing or someone else telling you that you're not good enough that much easier. The Rejection Show is my safety net. My hopes for the project overall would be for The Rejection Show to be everyone's safety net. If you're rejected, you have a place to still go and share with others your own work that you are proud of or an outlet to share "where you went wrong" in a fun supportive environment. Don't get me wrong, I still hate being rejected, especially when it comes to the more personal/romance side of it but I've learned that approaching your work and life in a way that allows you to take more risks and not be afraid to fail is the key to finding acceptance.
What are your favorite readings/shows to attend, other than your own?
It's hard to say specifically which my favorites are because the scene changes so quickly (it wasn't like that when I started about 6 years ago), people come and go, venues come and go, new shows appear and disappear. This might sound a little obvious but I like shows that are done well where you can tell that the people behind them care about what they are doing and have taken the time to make sure they are putting together the best show possible. There are still a lot of those out there (and a lot that are not) with amazing talent here in NYC and most of them can be seen for $5 or less.
What's the last thing you were rejected from or had rejected?
I most often feel the sense of rejection when certain opportunities or jobs have passed by before I was even aware of them that I know I am fully capable of doing and doing well. Not having a chance to show what I can do is when I feel that sting of disappointment. I occasionally get asked to go on auditions, for smaller parts in a TV show or a commercial and I am no good in auditions. I am too aware of my surroundings and have trouble showing what I can do. But because of that, I know that I deserve to be rejected. That is something I need to work on. My most recent major rejection was when I was already hired for a job and was let go after the first day. I got hired to do the voice over work for a series of commercials for an entire show's run on VH1. The director of the commercials loved my voice and was the one who hired me but after my first day of recordings, the producers of the show heard my voice and said I sounded too nerdy and too young and I was let go. I thought it was going to be the start of my voice over career but so far it seems to have ended before it began.
Which were some of your personal favorite contributions to the Rejected book?
Again, it is so hard to choose a favorite. As the editor of the book I stand by each and every piece that is in there. They were all carefully specifically chosen for many different reasons. I also wanted to construct a book where people's favorites vary from person to person and where your own favorite can vary with multiple readings. For the most part, from the feedback I have received I have found that to be true. I even have a few favorites that were left out of the book but had to be left out for those same many varied reasons. I was thrilled to have David Wain send me rejected sketches from MTV's The State and to have Kevin McDonald from The Kids in the Hall recount a story of when the early incarnations of the popular sketch group bombed on stage. I was delighted to read about Tom McCaffrey's Pseudo Phone Sex call with a Comedy Central Executive, I loved reading Adrianne Frost's personal encounter and rejection from Kevin Spacey...see I could just keep going on listing everything in the book. I was most surprised by how many quality pieces I received from people I have never met. There are a handful of those in the book as well.
I'd like to learn more about the Delicious Sandwich Social. What was the best part of it? What would you do differently?
The best part of The Delicious Sandwich Social, (an event where people bring a full sandwich and trade one half of their sandwich for someone else's other half) has been the attention and enthusiasm it has received. It went as far as someone in Sydney Australia writing to me and asking my permission to do a Sydney Sandwich Social (I said yes) and a singer/songwriter sent me an .mp3 of a song she wrote inspired by The Delicious Sandwich Social. The past two years I've shared the event with the women from the popular cupcake blog Cupcakes Take the Cake. So not only do the people that come get a new half of a sandwich they also get to have a bunch of amazing cupcakes. I guess what I'd do differently is have more help in putting it all together to provide more entertainment and have the whole thing be more organized overall. This year I'd actually like to get a permit and have it take place in a park with actual picnic tables and maybe even some live music.
Do you have any future book projects in the works?
I do yes, but they are as of now unofficially in the works because I am still in the zone of focusing on drawing attention to Rejected: Tales of the Failed Dumped & Canceled. Of course I would love to do more volumes of Rejected. Having done this first one, I know now what it takes to actually put together a book like this (it is a lot of work!) but having done it once I know I can make future volumes even better (much like the progression of The Rejection Show). I already have a ton of material ready and waiting to go and writers, artists and comedians ready to send me more material. I would also like to do a book of my own humor writing, which there really isn't any of in Rejected and I have other unique book ideas that I am formulating that I don't want to reveal at this time. But please, stay tuned.
What's so great about Brooklyn? We people who are not from New York would like to know.
To me, Brooklyn is the best. I have a full-fledged love affair with Brooklyn. As someone who grew up in the suburbs and went to school and works in Manhattan, Brooklyn gives you the best of both of those worlds. It's not quite the major city that Manhattan is (but it is still a "city") and it's not quite the suburbs but has that neighborhood sort of feel that you can find in the suburbs while still having an energy to it. In Brooklyn we have accessible rooftops with great views of Manhattan and backyards and gardens and trees and air. We have full use of the subway and buses and can get in to Manhattan very quickly. It's nice to be in Manhattan but it's also nice to step outside of it when not working and be able to see the sky and hear leaves blowing on a tree. My favorite thing about Brooklyn has to be Prospect Park. While in there I feel like I can be almost anywhere. It's a beautiful place, a very therapeutic and valuable thing to have so close by.
Do you have any delightful stories from your time interning at Comedy Central?
I wouldn't say I have delightful stories from being an intern at Comedy Central but it was a great place to work. I loved interning for them and then working for them. It was always great and exciting to go there everyday at a much younger age. I credit my time interning there with sparking a major portion of the idea for launching The Rejection Show. A big part of my job was to go through all of the unsolicited material that Comedy Central received and send it back with a rejection letter. I had so much fun going through all of that material for so many reasons. It was fun to see what people thought would get on the air, some of it was so bad that it was enormously entertaining and some of it was really good but never had the chance to get in to the right hands. Overall, it was a great environment to be in, to see in a small slice, how things work.
What's the hardest part about being a producer?
Right now I'd say the hardest part (or most stressful part) is making sure people are aware of the shows I am putting on, while at the same time trying not to be too obnoxious in letting people know about them. There's a fine balance in doing the promotion of a show. After that I'd say the parts that stress me out the most are making sure everyone (the performers) are where they need to be and there when they need to be there (because I am also always, for the most part, hosting the shows that I produce) and what makes me pace around the most is making sure people stick to the amount of time that they are allotted for their segment. When that happens it is usually my fault, as the producer I need to make sure everything times out correctly, especially the way the venues are run today where they have one show stacked up on top of the other, as one show ends the next show is practically beginning making it somewhat stressful.
What have been some of your most fulfilling moments as a producer?
The continued support and turn out for The Rejection Show after doing it for nearly 6 years and the continued enthusiasm from the audiences that come out to see it as well as the performers that are on it. Often people take away more than just seeing a comedy show when they come see The Rejection Show, that combined with the show continuing to adapt and use rejected material in new ways has been extremely fulfilling. I've had people tell me that after seeing the show they dug up some of their old material that someone else told them wasn't good enough and gained a new confidence in it by seeing others displaying their turned down material. In some cases they polished and reworked what they had and went on to find acceptance. I can't ask for anything more fulfilling than that.
How does it feel to be the 238th person interviewed for Zulkey.com?
It honestly does feel very cool to be included in an interview for Zulkey.com. I have admired you and your site from afar for some time now so I'm genuinely thrilled to have been asked to be a part of it.