Interview: Comedian and Author John Heffron Stands Up
By A.D. AMOROSI
Stand-up comedian John Heffron will always be known as the winner of the second season of NBC’s Last Comic Standing in 2004, and for a brand of blue-collar humor he calls “middle class funny” (a term that also doubles as the name of his live DVD). Beyond that, however, Heffron is the author of advice book, I COME TO YOU FROM THE FUTURE: Everything You’ll Need to Know Before You Know It, based in part on his time as a psychology major at Eastern Michigan University, studies he still uses in his comedy.
A.D. Amorosi: There are many – OK, there are three or four – comedians who are intelligent and educated, but few, like you, who have degrees in psychology and communications. How did that work out?
John Heffron: I started doing stand-up when I was 18-years-old, just starting college, but never thought that I would or could do it as a career. I assumed that I would become a shrink or get into adverting, so I tried for both.
A.D.: Hence the double major.
John: Exactly, two completely divergent ideas apart from comedy, which could work together. Just being creative, I thought I’d move into, say, the psychology of selling. Advertising seemed a good way of tackling both. Somewhere along the way I think I also wanted to be a pathologist.
A.D.: So you were really restless.
John: Yeah, but what wound up happening was – by the time I was 21 or 22 – when I graduated college, I had already been performing hundreds of stand-up shows, so that was part of my wheelhouse. Nothing was really planned. All I knew was that I made enough money doing comedy to get a nice apartment in town. It was then that I decided ‘let’s see what I can accomplish next year doing comedy.’ That’s still the case with my life 25-years later.
A.D.: Little goals. But wait, in theory, had you spoken to someone in a therapeutic manner and made money off of that early on, we would be here talking about your psychiatric practice as opposed to comedy.
John: That’s true. We’d probably be doing a book author interview about how kids who get picked up by their parents after school by car vs. those who must take the bus home from school have better coping skills.
A.D.: Yes, but, you do have a fantastic and funny advice book under your belt. Did you pull as much from your psychiatric-psychological background for it, as you did comedy?
John: My act has always been that I’m not controversial. Big topics in my act usually focus on what is going on in my mind and my immediate life and those of the people I know and relate – our coping skills. The book focuses on all that too. It’s funny though. You look at advice that you gave someone five, ten years ago and hopefully, you don’t say to yourself, ‘WOW, I would give you totally different advice now.’
A.D.: Is it fair to say that, by this time in your life, being married and having children occupy as much of the social space of your comedy as your college years were filled with weed jokes?
John: That’s very true, which actually has me wondering if I’m weighing too heavily on what’s happening within the four walls of my house. My comedy is about hanging out with my wife and my friends as opposed to the comedy of my youth when it was like ‘what is with all these bars?’ And weed. That seems so weird to me now. I have just made a pledge with myself however to try to go back to the 20-year old me, start getting out and doing stuff more. I got into this routine when I travel: do the show, find where I can get food, get back to the hotel and watching YouTube videos. That is not a great life, by the way.
A.D.: You just need to get out more. By the way – YouTube. It’s become the comedian’s curse. I have interviewed Aziz Ansari and Chris Rock. I have witnessed Dave Chappelle and Louis CK shows. These comics ban cell phones and cameras to benefit the future of their routines, their secrecy. Do you think cell phone filming has made you have to stay ahead of the curve? Do you have to write more new jokes quicker or be more vigilant during your shows?
John: I think you answered part of the question with the scale of comics. They can command that attention. The good thing about being them, as opposed to me, is that they can make things as easy for themselves as possible. For my show, I see the red recording lights under the table. Hell, I get people not even trying to hide it – holding phones up in my face – which is deplorable because it doesn’t allow me to develop at my own pace. Like I am trying something more conversational with my audience now – something I haven’t done before. But if someone is recording that, I lose the moment. It will seem disjointed. I had someone the other day filming a show of mine and streaming into on her Facebook Live page until a bouncer stopped her. The woman’s face dropped. She couldn’t fathom why that was a thing. I like the comedy clubs that have those security pouches that allow you to keep your phone, but you can’t use it. It’s like a woobie so you feel safe, so that you’re never far from your kiddie sippie cup.
A.D.: Do you feel dependent on technology in that fashion?
John: I’m sure I do, which is why my wife and I go on this retreat – a digital detox. You go in the woods, camp and they take away all your devices. No camera or cell phone. You get a new sense of yourself in that you get connected to other people. Sure, you have a lot of fun and want to broadcast that, but instead you learn to savor the moment. Sometimes that moment is just for you and the people you’re with at the time.
A.D.: Maybe you can do that because you’re not 15-years-old.
John: Now that would make a great experiment.
A.D.: That’s the psychologist talking.
John: Well, you figure I have lived life before cell phones and selfies, so I don’t need that. Not to crap on anyone, but I find it funny that Kevin Hart can’t seem to walk through a room without taking a photo of himself there, yet he must be doing something right because he is selling out arenas. If I was a 30-year-old comic, I might look at that option differently. Not that I am old, but I do ask myself at times, you know concerning social media and taking photos, do I really have to do this? I don’t talk about weed and I don’t about my dick, so isn’t that enough to make me stand out? Then again, you can either be the taxi company or Lyft.
A.D.: You get outdated.
John: The universe decides.
A.D.: You also, quite famously, don’t touch on politics. Considering that every social schema has become political, Trump’s reach is ubiquitous and that audiences seem to crave constant commentary, what do you think their expectations are in that regard when they hit a John Heffron show?
John: It depends. If you know me and have seen me, you would know that I am a relationship guy, a childhood guy, in regard to my comedy. I’m very blue collar like that. If you spend your hard earned money with me, I accept the fact that I am a distraction. That’s crucial. My comedy is as important as getting you to see stuff and be political. It’s just as crucial to just step away from that world and laugh as it is to be inside that world.
John Heffron plays Helium Comedy Club in Philadelphia, PA, April 6-8. For additional tour dates, visit JohnHeffron.com
Photo courtesy of Helium Comedy Club
Posted on Thursday, April 6, 2017