Comedian Ted Alexandro has been kicking comedy in the face for close to two decades now. He’s been seen on Letterman, Conan, and Comedy Central. He’s a true champion, which is why we’ve decided to interview him. (That, and we inadvertently found his personal email address.) Enjoy.
HT: When/where did you start doing standup comedy?
TA: I started in New York as part of a duo in about 1992 or 93. I went to Queens College and met a guy, Hollis James, who wrote and performed sketch comedy. We hit it off immediately and he’s still one of my best friends. He and I started going to open mics when we graduated. I think our first open mic was at the Comic Strip. We did that sporadically for a couple of years but not with enough consistency or focus. Then around the summer of ’94 I decided to do standup by myself. I liked the autonomy of writing my own stuff and going out to do it, it suited my temperament more than the duo, although that was fun and a great way to enter the standup world.
HT: Was there a moment where you decided that comedy would be your career? Was there any particular event that sealed the deal for you?
TA: I do remember in the summer of ’94 I made it a goal to book a show every night of the week. I filled my calendar with shows for seven straight nights and that made it seem tangible to me. That was the starting point of approaching it with more focus and like it was my job.
TA: I don’t have a very good memory for bad experiences. I’ve had plenty of bad shows in a lot of places. I’m from NY and I’ve had bad shows in NY, as well as in cities throughout the U.S.A. I think any comedian who has been a comedian for more than ten years has performed in a lot of sad environments. Casinos don’t agree with me. I hated Reno and I don’t much like Vegas, in general. Putting a comedy club in the middle of that kind of desperation is absurd. Comedy as a distraction from what you’re really there for is always a bad idea.
HT: I’ve watched you live at least twenty-plus times and you really have a low tolerance for rude audience members. In fact, I’d consider you a huge advocate for comedy club etiquette. Where a lot of comics try to tame the shitty crowd member and make sure they keep drinking, you’ll address them quickly and shut them down. Is that just an intense pet peeve of yours?
TA: That’s funny; you’re right. I have a very low tolerance for rude behavior in general. Maybe it’s the former teacher in me but I have no tolerance for rudeness or obnoxious behavior at a comedy club. I don’t mind engaging someone if it’s done in a spirit of fun but when someone is being rude and inconsiderate, which at a comedy club usually means they’re drunk, I’ll try to shut it down before it spirals out of control. With those situations I tend to do a few things; first I ignore, then I engage peacefully and then I move in and try to stop it, being as blunt as possible. I’m not looking to make it cutesy and funny, I’m trying to be clear in order to stop it because it can ruin a show.
I work hard at what I do and people who come to clubs have paid money to see a show. I have tremendous respect for the arts and for shared communal experience, whether it’s the ballet, a concert, theater or comedy. If someone is disrespecting the experience- and I don’t even necessarily mean me, specifically, it applies to whoever is on stage- if someone is disrespecting “the whole” I will make it clear that it’s not okay.
I also realize that comedy is also a back room of a bar type of art form, and the only art form where alcohol is being ordered and consumed throughout the performance, so occasionally I have to remind myself of that.
HT: On your last Letterman appearance, you brag about being in your forties, single, never married and kid-free. I almost got married by accident once, I kind of thought that’s how it happens for everyone. What’s your secret? It can be a truly difficult goal to obtain.
TA: It wasn’t really a goal of mine to stay single into my forties. I think the goal for me has been to pursue the life that feels authentic and rewarding. So far that hasn’t included a wife. I would like to get married if I meet a woman who I can share my life with. I also realize of the weight of that commitment and I don’t take it lightly. If I have a “secret” it’s that I haven’t made decisions out of a sense of some deadline, like I have to be married by a certain age or a parent by a certain age. I also trust my instincts. For the most part they’ve treated me well, thus far.
HT: Are you genuinely happy about it? Or do you lay your head on a tear-stained pillow every night, pretending the balled up blanket pushed up against your back is a loving woman?
TA: You know what, I think it’s a mix no matter where your life goes. I don’t like oversimplifications on either side. By no means am I saying “Being single is a non-stop party!” nor am I saying “Marriage sucks! Don’t do it!” I know that married life and/or being a parent can have incredible rewards and I hope I experience them someday.
But I’m also very happy being single and having the freedom to base my decisions solely on how I feel and how it impacts me. There are times when I feel very lonely but other times when I am overjoyed beyond words.
HT: You think your monk-like stance on marriage and kids draws women to you? Or does it push them away? I could see some women seeing it as a challenge. Like they’ll be the one to capture the elusive Ted Alexandro.
TA: I haven’t really given any thought to that. It’s not like my master plan was to stay single into my forties in order to get laid. I think in years past I was so consumed by pursuing my standup career that I didn’t even pick up my head. I don’t know how I come off to the ladies. I don’t really even refer to them as “the ladies”. I just know when I like one and take it from there.
HT: You’re one of our favorite comics on twitter. Some comics are great on it, and some just don’t translate. Would you say the whole twitter boom has helped you in any way?
TA: Thanks. Twitter has helped me to get my thoughts out to more people, faster. I used to resist tweeting until my brother-in-law encouraged me to be more consistent with it. He said “If you’re willing to play to comedy club audiences of 100 people then why wouldn’t you access an audience of thousands from your phone any place, any time?” I said “It’s usually a couple hundred at the clubs, but you’re right.”
HT: Has it hurt you in any way?
TA: I don’t think twitter has hurt me. I think it’s only helped. After Bin Laden was killed I fired off a bunch of tweets and that seemed to get me a lot of followers. So it’s a good way to get your thoughts directly to people who can decide if they want to follow you or not.
HT: Do you remember that time we ate at that Stake N’ Shake in Michigan?
TA: I do remember it. I remember it being a nice experience. Was that Dr. Grins?
HT: So you’ve accomplished a ton of really cool things in comedy, and you’ve still got a few good years before a wife and kid come trick you into having them, so what’s the next move? Anything specific you’d like to accomplish that you haven’t yet?
TA: I like the organic growth of things. Like twitter, if you put funny shit on there people find you. So I like to grow my career in that way. I like the approach of doing good work with good people and trusting that the next project will appear. I just recorded a jingoistic anthem about the Bin Laden killing called “Kiss Our American Ass”. I co-wrote it with my friend Hollis James, who I started in standup with, so it’s come full circle. We’re shooting the video this weekend so it should be out before June. And standup is always the foundation, so I intend to keep doing that. It’s fun to do a mix of acting, writing, music but standup is always home.