When the comedy world lost stand-up success Greg Giraldo on September 29th, an ironic tidal wave of laughter began to build as Internet traffic dramatically increased for his stand-up performances on Comedy Central. His friends and fans say that was how Giraldo wanted to be remembered. Determined to continue that wave is one of Giraldo’s comic apprentices, Jesse Joyce.
“I was touring on the road with him for the last four-and-a-half-years,” Joyce says. “He taught me a lot about expressing your opinions onstage. Even though the premise might be something people don’t agree with, the logic is so solid that it’s funny no matter what.”
One example of that controversial wit is Joyce’s latest favorite joke. Aimed at the terrifying images pasted on cigarette packs in Canada, the joke pokes fun at the picture of the dead baby with the phrase “Cigarettes Kills Babies” written underneath.
“I tow the line between pointing out that it’s not fair to use that as an example because, while it’s not something I approve of, you have to admit that babies are pretty easy to kill,” he explains.
That startling line usually emits silence or even a few disapproving sounds from the audience, but that challenge is Joyce’s favorite part of the stand-up game. “When you continue to deconstruct the logic onstage for everyone, everyone loves it! It’s the joke that most people come up and quote to me at the end.”
That fearless attitude has earned the recently-married comedian an impressive public résumé. Joyce knew he wanted to become a comic at the age of 12, admitting that he originally did it to get girls’ attention in lieu of any athletic talent. When his uncle, a stand-up comedian and circus performer, sent Joyce a tape of his act at The Improv in L.A., all other life paths went out the door.
“I thought it was the coolest thing in the world that eventually people could pay you to make them laugh,” he says. “That was pretty much the deciding moment in how my life was gonna play out.”
Now Joyce lives in New York, which he says is like “graduate school for comedians.” The vast talent pool in which other stand-ups are constantly upping the ante forces him to keep his tongue sharp. He has travelled as far as China and Malaysia to perform, but he says his most memorable experiences as a comic have happened in the city that never sleeps. As a writer for the Comedy Central Roast shows, Joyce remembers the year they roasted Hulk Hogan.
“I had been trying to get the wording right on how he shouldn’t be taking his shirt off anymore, and onto the elevator of the hotel walks a shirtless Hulk Hogan,” Joyce explains. “He must have just been at the pool. It was odd because I wanted to introduce myself and let him know that I had just spent the last hour making fun of his saggy tits.”
Awkward moments are never wasted in the hands of a great comic, and Joyce used the opportunity to come up with “you have a show called ‘Hogan Knows Best’; it should have been called ‘Hogan Grows Breasts.’”
Though Joyce admires comics on the left side of the political sphere, like Patton Oswalt, Dave Chapelle and Jon Stewart, he enjoys a comic relief position on the Fox News show “Red Eye with Greg Gutfeld.’ The program has guests like Mike Huckabee who analyzes political topics, but Joyce insists he is mostly there to make “dick jokes.”
“It’s a hilarious show,” he says. “It’s first and foremost a funny, topical, weird news-oriented show, but it’s not really in-your-face with politics. In fact, I’m pretty politically androgynous on the program.”
He also made his foray into the film business earlier in the year with a feature called “Stags,” in which he plays an alcoholic stand-up comedian—something parallel to his life at one point, as Joyce currently is a recovering alcoholic. He says he enjoyed the process because the director allowed him to pen all of the material for his character. Ultimately, though, he wants to maintain his comedy career and won’t be using the film to transition into acting like so many comics tend to do.
“Mainly, I want to do films to make people more aware of me and come out to see me,” he says. “I will always do other things, but [stand-up] is where I feel at home.”
Joyce’s universally appealing comedy earns him laughs in both big cities and smaller towns, which he says is the true mark of a good comic. With 13 years of traveling and performing under his belt, he feels his ability to reach both urban and rural demographics adds to his success.
“It’s one thing to make super comedy fan hipsters laugh in New York or San Francisco,” he says. “But when you can make your act relatable to everyone, that’s when you’re good at comedy. When you can get to the point when you can do what you do without compromising in every tiny town and big city for an hour, that’s when you can really start hitting a new level onstage.”