Comedian Big Jay Oakerson is currently out on the road warming up crowds and interacting with fans on this year’s Rockstar Energy Mayhem Festival. The comedian, who appears on the IFC show Z-Rock recently released the album An American Storyteller (Comedy Central Records).
Bram Teitelman, Editor of our sister site Metal Insider recently caught up with Big Jay and and discussed his taste in heavy music, how he wound up the go-to comedian for these festivals, future plans for Z-Rock and his thoughts on fellow “metal comedian” Brian Posehn.
How did you come about being the de facto comedian on metal tours this Spring and Summer?
Essentially, my stuff is pretty raw. I don’t know if I would dub myself solely as a dirty comic, but it’s definitely very honest and pretty harsh. I found that when I would go to the Mayhem fest for the past two years and any kind of rock concerts or metal shows, it seemed to be my highest face recognition. Like, ‘I loved you on Z-Rock or on Comedy Central.’ I just kind of figured that it’s kind of my crowd, and to a degree my demographic. And so, when Z-Rock was done filming Season 2, I went to the Agency Group who handles the band ZO2. I talked to them about booking and maybe how I could get some gigs through them, and they suggested [Shadows Fall manager] The Rev. So I met with him, and he suggested the Jager Tour give us a shot. I wholeheartedly accepted on the pure excitement of the idea. As we got closer, I went through severe anxiety. I’m trying to think myself as like being at a metal show and then all of a sudden a comedian wanders out, how I would react to that. But I went on the Jager tour, and from day one it worked. It clicked, somehow. It was great. I had no complaints at all. It worked out really well.
Was it just leading up to the start that you were intimidated?
It was never intimidation because one of the coolest things that happens in comedy as you do it, is you get to a point where you’re not afraid to bomb with the crowd. I can just talk to the crowd and shit on people and do whatever. It was that I didn’t want to fail at the job. I didn’t want them to go like four shows in and be like “Man, this really is not working.” Like I remember the story of Crazy Town being on Ozzfest, and how they were just bombing every night, but they had already signed the contract so they had to keep them on the tour. But they were just notably doing miserably on the shows. So I didn’t want to be like that. I didn’t want to be like the classic “the” story of like “oh this is why comedy doesn’t work in this atmosphere.” Because then I’d be setting the precedent. So it was more of being concern that I would fail at the job, but it went great.
Were there some shows that went better than others?
Absolutely. I’d say of the twenty eight shows I think we did there were ten that were stellar, where it was just like I felt where as a comedian, it was a great show. And then I’d say the rest of them were all like good. It became a flow. I realized the first time I’d go out there, I was able to capture the audience. The second time would always be great, sometimes be good but generally great. And the third time, which was right before Korn, that’s when they would get antsy for Korn. So that would be the least amount of time I would do and tweak it down to like the quicker punch lines just to get it over with because as I’m telling my jokes you’d hear a lot more kind of like stirring in the room.
Did you mix up material or did you do kind of the same set?
I had a template set of what I would do each day because I knew the jokes that would work. I’d go for some pretty harsh stuff right up front. Plus I’d bring out the Jagerettes and do a shot with them. That kind of gave me a chance to do improv while I’d go back and forth with them a bit. I’d always do the same two bits up front just because I knew it would hit the audience. A minute and forty seconds into my set I did a joke about how women should shave their assholes in the Summer. Even if you didn’t want to listen to that, you kind of have to see where that’s going. In the second set I would always mix it up. I would do a pool of like five or six different bits. In the last set, I’d always do the same thing because I have very few very quick hitter jokes. So I would do like two or three really quick ones. I’d get out a harsh punch line and then just say “Stay tuned for Korn!” Once I won the confidence of the crew and bands, that kind of fuels you.
Which leads me to my next question. How did you hit it off with the bands? Were they familiar with who you were?
I got there and it was very, kind of scary and surreal. I had some emotional moments onstage with the guys of 2 Cents because when I got there, it wasn’t like being in a band. Those guys travel and they have their buddies with them. These guys have been like road dogs for God knows how many years. And as I get out there, I didn’t have a manager with me, or anything. I showed up by myself with a couple of suitcases. I’d say by a week or two into the tour, it was great. It kind of quelled all of my fears because the guys from 2 Cents were excellent to me. I hung out with those guys constantly.
And I remember it was in Minneapolis, MN where it was the first time where Korn actually came out and watched my set, and they were way into it and at that moment they became really cool too. So one of my landmarks of the whole thing was when I’d be sitting outside smoking a cigarette and out of the bus Jonathan Davis would come walking over to me to bullshit. Now I’m at home in between the tours right now and I’m missing it. I almost like chomping at the bit, like ‘let’s get out there and do Mayhem and see what happens!’
What kind of metal do you like?
I’m a metalhead across the board. Whatever strikes me, strikes me. Like my favorite performer of all time is definitely Marilyn Manson. Because as a comedian, you want to be as real as possible. That’s at least my theory on it. It’s all about your deficiency or your flaws. You’re kind of being very honest about your fears or such. Most comics have a desire to go out there and put on a show. And I’m always so enamored by Marilyn Manson’s ability to put on a show. Just to go out there and be over the top with it. What he wears, and the stained glass windows and all the crazy imagery of it. So I’m very much into that, and people who put on a show. So he’s been my favorite always. Going out with Korn was like a real dream because I’m a huge Korn fan.
Any fun road stories or groupie situations? Anything like that?
There’s definitely some funny shit. I got a girl in Omaha, Nebraska to let me take a picture of her asshole. That’s not going to happen very often in your life. And it was solely based on the fact that the opening band, there was always a different band opening in every city, telling me that this girl wasn’t like that and wouldn’t let me take a picture of her asshole. And I said “Yes she will.” And then I got to take a picture of her asshole. That was pretty exciting.
Was the Korn show the biggest audience you’ve ever performed for, or have you done larger?
I’ve done a couple of thousand of people opening for Dave Attell before, Artie Lange definitely.
Hope he’s doing well.
Oh yeah, but he’s so private that I have no idea. I just hope for the best for him. I’m not sure exactly if I can wrap my brain around what was going through his mind. I mean the guy fucking shits gold. Everything he does to self destruct completely gets rewarded with more jobs. You know when I went through my anxieties getting ready for these tours, I did realize that you really can’t control the chemicals going through your brain. I mean literally I went through some severe anxiety before this. Three days before I left for tour, I had to move my whole house. So I had to move from one house to another and it had to be done like before I left. So between all that anxiety I literally had to go to the hospital like four times because I felt like I was dying. I thought I was having a heart attack, but I had all these tests done and it was just anxiety. That’s why I was so emotional when I would give those speeches onstage where I was like ‘make some noise for 2 Cents,’ and everyone would clap and then I go ‘You have no idea how they turned around something that I was terrified of to something I was having a blast at.’
Do you think you’re going to undergo the same thing before you go out on Mayhem?
No, I’m fine. I’m actually really looking forward to go on Mayhem, actually. Mayhem might be a harder show to crack because it’s all outdoors and the first few times I go out will be on the parking lot stages. I’m just going to go and figure it out. It’s like what are you going to do? You got to focus on the people in front of you listening, and the people in the back are going to be milling about doing their own thing. And I like a good heckler, it’s one of the skills I possess really well. As soon as somebody I can see says some shit at me, that’s great. I’ll just tear them apart for five minutes.
Are there any bands on Mayhem Fest you are looking particularly looking forward to seeing or hanging out with?
Actually I’m looking forward to seeing Korn again, those guys are really good dudes and good hang. Rob Zombie very much so. Joey Jordison and John5. I mean John5 played with Manson so, that’s exciting. And with Joey Jordison, I’m a big Slipknot fan and I’m a fan of his drumming, so that’s exciting. Shadows Fall I’m definitely looking forward to seeing. Lamb Of God, I think those guys are going to be pretty cool. It’s going to be a good time. I really think it is. I’ve got, not more responsibility, but I go onstage one more time than last time and it’s an all day thing. Having that all access and just running around doing whatever, I think it’s going to be a set of some good stories.
What are your thoughts on Brian Posehn, another “metal” comedian?
Yeah, I think Brian is funny man. He’s really funny. I wouldn’t say that we are acquaintances, but I’m a fan of his work, definitely. But I think we both bring a completely different vibe to what’s going on here. Brian is more low-key. I think my stuff is a lot harsher and I think he is a much better joke writer. He’s good at telling jokes and clever ideas while I’m very much like real and painfully honest. And like I said, my stuff is very harsh. I don’t know what Brian Posehn does like, aside from the face recognition value, to be able to capture the audience with what’s happening here. Like Jim Breuer is probably more lined up for that because he is so high energy. But I do the opposite of like both. I’m very low to medium energy with very deliberately harsh things to say.
Is Z-Rock done or is it going to continue on?
It’s in limbo right now. Starz Network owns it, and they’re shopping for a season three on a different network. It is done on the IFC Channel. However, between the tours and everything between and during I’ve been writing a pilot and teaming with a couple of comedian buddies of mine that we call the Legion Of Skanks, which is a great title. It’s four guys that are the characters, and I think it’s really going to be something that when I come back, we’ll shoot a pilot and start trying to sell it. I think that’s going to really reach out to the metal community also. The show is a dark comedy but like gritty, real comedy. It’s not like a sitcom comedy, it’s more like It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, which I think is a brilliant show and I would guarantee this is funnier. As much as I love that show, I think this is the funniest show written by four comedians, and they’re basically relations of all of our true stories.
What are your thoughts on the differences between stand-up and playing metal festivals?
Funny is funny. The people in the metal crowd are getting shanghaied by comedy, where in the comedy club you come out to see comedy. So the only difference is that the metal crowd doesn’t know what’s coming. A lot of it is, I told a lot of comic friends of mine this the other day, it’s swagger. You got to go up there as if you’re supposed to be there because I do think if I was up there and I was like “Hey guys, c’mon, seriously listen. I got some funny stories,” they’d eat me alive. And I take it very personally.