10,000 hours is a pretty standard number for comedians. It takes 10,000 hours to not just get comfortable onstage, but also to find out who you are as a comedian, what you want to say, why you are the person to say those things, and why now. It is a process that is time consuming, not for the weak or impatient. Stand-up comedy will challenge those with even the thickest of skin. But if you want and deserve to be there, you will be there. And no matter who you ask at The Comedy Store, they will all say the same thing. Jesus Trejo both wants and deserves to be there.
“I think people have been so kind. I’m just so flattered and really taken back,” Trejo says over a recent Zoom call about all of the nice things that were said about him in the documentary Care To Laugh, which chronicled Trejo and came out in 2018. “People have been very kind and said some sweet things. I think they’re being nice and we’re all just part of this journey finding our voice, our jokes, and then trying to make people laugh. It’s such a beautiful journey that I’ve embarked on.”
“It’s something that bonds every comedian,” he continues. “Like when you go to another town and see comics there, the automatic love comes from that. We’ve been in the trenches together. We have the same shared experience. My journey isn’t very different from the next guy and the new one and the veteran comic. But we have the same experience from that guy to this guy to this comic. We all have the same experience. It’s heartbreaking to see that, but at the same time, it’s really cool.”
In the documentary, you see how Trejo mapped out how he planned to get to an hour special. He planned to write 5 minutes a week until he got to the hour mark. That may seem easy, but we’re talking about 5 solid minutes a week for a stand-up comic. These are 5 minutes that need to be workshopped, honed in, and perfected in a 7 day span. It seems overly ambitious, and would be even difficult for someone as seasoned as Jerry Seinfeld if done routinely.
And while the 5 minutes a week plan may not have worked, the goal was still met in just a couple of years. Last Friday, Jesus Trejo debuted his first special, Stay At Home Son, on Showtime. And as you watch the special, it becomes clear just how damn hard Trejo had to work to get here. And luckily, it all paid off in a big way.
“I gave myself that sort of ambitious task of like writing 5 minutes a week, which I never even got close to doing because it’s so hard. But I set the goal so high and I constantly was writing and honing in material. Closer to the special, I got one of these co-working spaces. And four months out, I just went in there and used a white board and I shaped it in such a way. Like the idea was I wanted to go in there and break it down in thirds. Every 20 minutes I kind of set something up. For the first 20 minutes, I just talk about my upbringing. You know ‘I’m from Long Beach, California. Let me introduce myself.’ And then the next 20 minutes I talk about my parents. And then the last 20 minutes, it capitalizes on every variable that I had to find earlier. So at the end of the day, when I walked onstage to record that special, I had three bullet points in my head.”
What you see in a finished special isn’t as effortless or as spur of the moment as it may appear to be, though. Everything has been meticulously gone over with a fine-tooth comb. If a joke doesn’t land, the simple adding or subtracting of a single word, or even the emphasis on a certain syllable, can make all the difference. What wasn’t as funny the first night might be ten times funnier the second night all because of a slight tweak that you didn’t notice. It’s that sort of thought and mentality that goes into every single joke before you ever get to see it.
“I get pretty obsessive over the little words. I think that’s kind of like a fun thing where some people are like ‘Oh okay, cool.’ They see the joke. It’s funny or it’s not funny or whatever it was. But to me, I know the word and the kind of logic that I try to put into a joke and the one-liners, the beats of three, and the misdirect that I want to place. All those things I think are cool because I know how I positioned them to present. And hopefully people resonate and they like it. And if not, it’s all good, too.”
He walks onto the stage, dressed in all black, sort of like a comedy ninja. You certainly wouldn’t see the first joke coming as it sneaks up on you. The opening to his special is actually one of the last jokes that he wrote. It’s about how he feels like he was shorted because his hour glass didn’t actually last an hour, and he called up the company looking for more sand. It is the sort of thing where you sit there and you wish you had come up with something as funny and irreverent as that. And you wouldn’t be wrong for thinking he had been onstage all his life. But in reality, the first time he ever headlined a theater is what you’re seeing in the special. Before that, he had been working in clubs for the last decade. But after you see the special, you’ll agree that he will be selling out theaters within the next 2 years. No doubt about it.
A lot of the humor in the special actually stems from his relationship with his parents. Anyone who saw the documentary would know that family is something that’s very important to him, as he spends all the time that he’s not onstage or touring looking after his mom and dad. There’s a total sweetness to it, but he definitely finds a way to bring out the true humor of his parents when he’s onstage. Whether he’s talking about his father hiding food on top of the fridge or how he responded to Jesus running a marathon, his family is a major part of the show.
“My dad knows the jokes that I told. My mom knows the jokes. And they know it’s very autobiographical and stuff like that. We ran through the jokes and they’re like ‘Alright.’ It all stems from a real place. But to become a joke, I kind of shape it and mold it into what I need it to be. But everything stems from something that happened and then it becomes this thing. And my parents are like ‘This is what you do.’ So it was nice for my parents to see me in that setting because they kind of see everything come full circle. ‘This is what he does. He writes, he performs it, he presents it in this way.’”
“My parents were at the taping,” he continues. “They got to sit there and they watched the whole special. And then they came backstage. It was just cool to have my parents see that process and what that was like because for years, they’ve seen me go to work. And they don’t quite understand what I do for a living. They saw me do The Late Late Show, so they saw that kind of go down. But to see me perform for an hour, go backstage, it was a different experience and I’m so grateful that they got to see me in that setting. I’ll never forget that.”
“It was cool having my dad backstage and my parents leaving with the big box of craft services,” he adds with a laugh. “My pops loaded up on the thing. And there’s a picture we took, because my parents came to the first show, and there’s a picture of us all standing there. And my dad tried to hide the box from where he took all the craft services behind my mom’s wheelchair. And you could still see the box sticking out with some chips, pringles, that kind of thing. And I’m like ‘Dad. We could see you stealing craft services.’ And we still needed it! So he took all my snacks.”
Once a special is done, it’s typically the closing of a chapter for a comic. The hour of material that you’ve spent the last year of your life fine tuning is at the stage where there’s seemingly little else you have to do with it, if you choose. You could just lock it away and not have to think about it again until you have to go out and do promotion months later. For Trejo, however, there was a whole new perspective he found after he had filmed the special.
“You know, it was a very interesting experience,” he says about what it felt like to have a finished special. “Because the special was said and done and was recorded on a Saturday, it was November 2nd. On that Sunday, I remember waking up and going to my usual coffee shop that I like to sit at and people watching. And the best way I can explain the feeling is not even with words, it’s like with this. (Throws hands up). Just kind of like ‘Alright. It’s done.’”
“But it was fun,” he continues. “It felt good. It was a childhood dream come true. I’m glad I did it. I learned so much and I had two chances at it, so that was like really cool. And I had the rough cuts available to me shortly after. So I think it was Monday or Tuesday I had rough cuts and I could view it. And it was like another aspect of writing that hour. Seeing what it looked like, what the flow was going to be, what pieces need to go, what stays. So that was fun.”
Back in 2012, after years of dreaming of making it as a comedian (talking to Trejo is just as much talking to someone who is a comedy fan as it is someone who is himself a truly funny person), Trejo got accepted into one of the most exclusive clubs a comic could be a part of. This was The Comedy Store.
“I can tell you my first paid regular spot. It was September 7th, 2012. I opened it, so I was at 9 o’clock. It was the last time I saw an early spot. (Laughs). Nah, I’m playing. But it was such a surreal thing because I cut my teeth there. It was doing open mics, the Pot Luck, and just working there. Some weeks you would do your employee’s spot, and some weeks you didn’t get up. It’s like ‘Dammit. That’s why I’m working here and I didn’t get up!’ But it’s such a great clubhouse. And I don’t know how to explain it. Steve Simone, a dear friend and comic, I love how he describes The Comedy Store. He says ‘The Comedy Store is the land of the misfit toys.’ He always says ‘Whenever you show up here, there’s somebody to play with.’ And that, I think, is the most accurate description of the Store ever.”
Being onstage is definitely his admitted first love, although he has been steadily working in other aspects of the entertainment industry as of late as well. He has appeared in episodes of Sullivan & Son, Teachers, and Alone Together. Most recently, he has been on Mr. Iglesias, which he loves because he describes the experience as the “closest thing to stand up,” given the multi-cam setup with an audience. Additionally, he has also gotten his own show on the ever-popular First We Feast YouTube channel, hosting his own show titled Tacos Con Todo. Some of the guests he’s had on there include Tom Segura, Christina P, Gabriel Iglasias, Joey Diaz, and Pauly Shore, Blake Anderson, and Andy Milonakis.
”It’s the most fun,” he says of the series. “And I’m just so grateful to the First We Feast people. It’s such a great opportunity. They had this show idea, and they reached out and they wanted me to host it. I mean, to eat for free, to talk shop as far as comedy, hang out, eat tacos, and get paid for it, sign me up all day. I gained like 9-10 pounds doing 6 episodes. It was gnarly, but I had a great time, man. And the crew was amazing. The food was amazing. Getting to learn the different stories behind all these taco trucks and restaurants. Look, I’m a huge fan of a good narrative, a good story. And I think I was able to share this great story, like this American dream story from all these families who had this family recipe that became a truck that later became an actual brick-and-motor spot where people sit down and eat. I was just so inspired.”
Going back to the thing that he is out promoting at the moment, the title of the special is Jesus Trejo: Stay At Home Son, which actually comes from something he refers to himself as. Although you would be forgiven if you were to read it right now and have it feel a little different. “[It takes on] a whole different meaning, where it’s like ‘Oh man, that is so crazy. I wish I could’ve added like a little comma to it.’ And that’s the way I’ve been reading it, too. And it’s like ‘No, no. There’s no comma. Why am I reading it this way?’”
And speaking of how the title has changed given our current climate, quarantine has also changed the way that comedians work. More have been doing shows from home, via livestream, which Trejo has enjoyed, but it naturally isn’t quite the same feeling. The live audience is a key component to the art of stand-up. But if nothing else, quarantine does give creatives more time to focus on being creative if they choose to do so of course. And he has been making the most of this time.
“I still write in quarantine. It’s one of those things where the mind is already wired that way. So I can’t turn it off. I still write and I’m actively writing. And I constantly have my eyes and ears open to things that I can talk about onstage. Again, I’m very obsessive with writing. So I think I spend most of my time writing, pushing myself to write, but also looking out for things. Like ‘Oh, that’s funny. I should write that down and work on it later.’ Yeah, I can’t wait to hit the stage and be able to kind of unleash and go through all those premises. I think that’s what has gotten me through this quarantine. It’s the writing and the hope of me being able to get up onstage again.”
And hopefully that day is coming soon. Because if Stay At Home Son has proven anything, it’s that Jesus Trejo definitely deserves his spot as one of the fast rising comedians in the game. So we can’t wait to see what he has in store for us next.
Jesus Trejo: Stay At Home Son is available on Showtime on demand now.