If you are a fan of heavy metal, chances are you are familiar with the razor sharp wit of comedian Don Jamieson. Partnered with long time writing partner Jim Florentine and radio icon Eddie Trunk, this trio of metal aficionados are headed into their seventh rockin’ season of VH1 Classic’s ‘That Metal Show’. Even with the growing success of ‘That Metal Show,’ Jamieson is showing no signs of slowing down. He signed a record deal with the legendary Metal Blade Records to release his first comedy album later this year. With a successful television series under his belt, an album on the way and his popularity on the comedy scene growing by the minute, 2011 may become ‘The Year of Don Jamieson’! Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with the comedian to discuss his metal roots, what drove him to pursue comedy as a career and what the future holds for one of comedy’s brightest stars.
Let’s give everyone a little background on you. Where did you grow up?
I grew up in New Jersey. Unlike what ‘Jersey Shore’ tells you about the GTL (Gym, Tan, Laundry) — it’s nothing like that! Jersey is all about the three M’s — Malls, Metal and Mullets! It is kind of a state law, if you grow up there, you have to like metal!
So, as far as legendary musicians from New Jersey go, it is pretty safe to assume that you are more of a Bon Jovi guy than a Bruce Springsteen guy, right?
Neither. [laughs] But if I had to pick a side I would go with Jon because he has the nicer hair. It looked really good when he used to feather it back in the day.
What drew you to comedy initially and made you take a shot at it professionally?
I always just had unbelievable respect for comics, even when I was a kid. I used to listen to George Carlin tapes in my room late at night after my parents went to sleep. When I was in college, I would go into New York City on my own and go to Catch A Rising Star where I would see Seinfeld, Carol Leifer, Colin Quinn and all the great comics who were working at the club. One day I just felt like I couldn’t die peacefully if I didn’t try it at least once. Doing comedy is like crack, once you do a hit, you are hooked forever. Not that I know anything about smoking crack! [laughs]
How did your first outing go?
Pretty terrible. I think I got about four mercy laughs and that was all I needed. When I came off stage, I had this incredible high from standing up there in front of people and doing it for the first time and to get those few laughs. It is so disorienting! You are not prepared. What little material I had written was all terrible in retrospect. When I hit the stage, I froze. I was like, “What do I do? Do I take the mic out of the stand? Do I walk around? What kind of comic am I?” The whole time, the light is right in your face and you can’t see anyone in the crowd and everything that you have written completely goes out of your head. It’s sink or swim time! Luckily, it is a lot more swimming after 15 years than sinking!
Was there a moment where as a comic you said, “OK, now I’ve made it!”?
No, because as a comic you are always humbled. There is always a crowd waiting around the corner to knock you down a few pegs! That goes for everybody! Even the biggest comics in the world. I have seen Seinfeld have bad sets when his show was the biggest thing on television. You are always humbled and as comics we train ourselves that you may have a hundred good shows in a row but that one show that is bad is the one that you obsess on. What I am pretty proud of is the fact that I am going to be doing my first live comedy album for Metal Blade Records. That is a pretty big deal to me.
For you, what are some of the challenges to performing stand-up comedy, either from a performance side or a writing side?
I guess from the performance side it is just trying to be truthful, giving the audience a piece of yourself in a way that is relatable but also with your own point of view on it. Otherwise, why get up there and talk. You have to have a different point of view. Every comic talks about the same things — their growing up, their relationships and things like that. You have to give it your own spin. Obviously, the hardest part of the whole gig is the business side of it — tracking down bookers, calling up club owners and just trying to establish yourself in clubs and venues across the country. That is the toughest part. That is the part that sucks and that nobody sees. They get to see you for 45 minutes and laugh but they don’t know what it takes to get to that point.
A lot of people are going to know you from your work on ‘That Metal Show’. How did you first get into metal?
It has been part of my life since I was 9 years old. I am a KISS fan. I had their posters all over my walls. I got into Aerosmith after that, then Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. Then the whole new wave of British Heavy Metal started happening. So many great bands came out of that like Saxon and Motorhead. Since I have been a comic, I have always wanted to mix the two genres together somehow because there is a lot of humor in metal. I just had to figure out a way to do it. Jim Florentine, who is my co-host on there, is also my comedy partner. We had been trying to fuse those two things together for quite a while. We tried a couple of different comedy concerts in New York that worked really well. ‘That Metal Show’ is the culmination of all those efforts. This is really the greatest job in the whole world. I work with my two best friends, talk about the only music that I have ever loved, bust balls and get paid for it! God bless America!
How did you and Jim hook up with Eddie Trunk initially?
Well, Jim and I were fans of Eddie’s radio show back on the east coast. We are all from New Jersey. Eddie has been doing a metal show from New York City for 20 years. Jim and I would be coming back from these god awful gigs that we used to do out in the middle of the sticks. We would always get a little excited because we could tune in Eddie’s radio show. We were fans of his because we would tune in and he would be talking about Accept for 20 minutes! We were like, “Wow! We’ve got to meet this guy because he talks like us!” Finally, we met him and started guesting on his radio shows and started to develop a really good chemistry between us and decided to take it a step further and put it on TV. It is just three idiots from New Jersey hanging out and talking about metal, just like we would if we were backstage at a show.
The star power on the show has really grown over the past few seasons. Did you guys think that it would take off the way that it did?
Well, we didn’t think that it would get past the pilot, ya know?! In TV, to be on a show that is heading into its seventh season, no matter what channel you are on, is pretty amazing! I thought if the network gave it a chance that we would find some loyal viewers because that is how metal-heads are. We are VERY loyal! We seek out things that we want and the music that we love. We go dig underground for things. ‘That Metal Show’ is on VH1 Classic, so you can get carpal tunnel going that high up on the dial sometimes! [laughs] But I knew that metal-heads would finally find it and hopefully embrace it!
The show is great! How much prep goes into putting a show together?
I think that most of the prep is really for the producers, directors and the staff behind the scenes. For us, we get the information and discuss what we are going to do in regard to the different segments but as far as the interviews go, we don’t prepare too much at all. Really, we want it to be more of a “hang thing.” We don’t want it to feel scripted. We all jot notes down but the best interviews are the ones where you don’t even get to any of your stuff because you are just chilling out and having a great time talking about music!
That is very cool. I catch the show every time that I see it on, even if I have already seen that particular episode. You guys have done a great job giving it that “hang” feel. A lot of times I will even catch myself chiming in here at home. It really sucks you in.
Thanks man! I really appreciate that because that is really what we wanted to do. Even at the cost of maybe offending some artists, we have always said, “We are going to make a pact. Let’s talk truthfully about music.” If every band is good, every album is good and every song is good, then you have no credibility. At least this way we are truthful and if we say something about an artist that is critical, it doesn’t mean that we don’t like them anymore, that is just the way it is. A lot of these bands have been around for 40 years, most of these bands that have been around that long have a clunker or two in their collection and they’ll admit to it. That is just the way we have always wanted to do it and hopefully always will.
You’ve had a ton of great guests. Who has been your favorite interview?
It’s gotta be Alice Copper. I am a Cooper nut! I was just like a giddy school girl that day! I was just so amped up and no matter what type of music or bands you like, you think your whole life what you would say if you ever met this person and what you would ask them. I had been waiting 30 years to ask Alice Cooper a million questions! That was the most exciting thing to me. He is an amazing interview! To be honest, I have never heard him tell the same story twice, ever, anywhere! He has had so many crazy experiences and puts a punchline at the end of every great story! So I am taking notes and thinkin’, “Who’s the comedian here? Me or Alice!” [laughs] He is just so awesome!
The star power on the show has really grown over the past few seasons. Anyone that you are dying to interview?
I would say, probably, Justin Bieber. Maybe Lady Gaga, ya know? Have her reunite with the meat dress for the show! [laughs] We haven’t had Ozzy and of course that would be amazing. Brian Johnson from AC/DC would be incredible. He is such a funny guy and obviously AC/DC are still going strong but we don’t know how much longer we are going to have with those guys. Of course, if the Van Halen album does happen, and it sounds like it is going to, we would love to have Eddie Van Halen and David Lee Roth come on. Those are people that I would really be thrilled to have on.
Out of you, Eddie and Jim, who is the biggest diva on the set of ‘That Metal Show’?
[laughs] Well, I guess I am with my sideburns. I like them to be very proportionate before tapings and I take a lot of time in the makeup chair! [laughs] I don’t know, maybe Eddie. He is the anchor and the straight man to Jim and I’s Beavis and Butthead. He takes a lot of stuff on himself! But I don’t know, in our dressing room there is a bunch of water and energy drinks and we sit in there and fart — we are pretty low maintenance.
I imagine being a comic on the road has a lot of similarities with being a metal band on the road. Do you have any interesting stories from the road or are they all under lock and key?
I actually did a really interesting tour, which I would like to do again, last summer. I toured with Charred Walls of The Damned. They are a Metal Blade recording artist and the band has Tim “Ripper” Owens, who sang in Judas Priest, and Richard Christy of The Howard Stern Show. We all went out in a 10-passenger band with a trailer and it was a wild experience! When you are in a van with seven smelly guys for two weeks, it is pretty hardcore. I know why they call him “Ripper” now, believe me! There is something wrong inside and he really needs to go in for a checkup. It’s was really old school. We took the van and I went out with them to open up all the shows, which was really thrilling to open for a really heavy band. The audience took to it really well. But as far as the traveling, it was just really crazy, staying in sleazy little truck stop hotels along the way. I think I ate all but one day out of the two weeks we were on the road at a gas station.
Sounds like you could use some recovery time after a tour like that!
Yeah! For comedy, you just fly out, do a couple dates, stay at a nice hotel and they feed you well at the club and then you go home. When you tour with a metal band, it is a totally different animal but I am excited to do again, hopefully when my comedy album comes out. Maybe I will tour with another one of the Metal Blade acts or with Charred Walls of The Damned again.
Let’s talk a little about the album. You recently signed a deal with Metal Blade Records as you mentioned. How did you get involved with them and what can we expect from this union?
I meant Brian Slagel, who is the owner of the company, about a year ago. I was honored to meet him because he has played a really big part in why I love metal so much. He has brought so much metal to the United States in the last 30 years that it is unbelievable. Brian flew out to a couple of the Charred Walls of The Damned dates and really liked what I was doing. We just kept talking and I think he had a little too much wine one day and offered me a record deal! [laughs] I am going to record the album in January in New Jersey. We are gonna pack a great club in Jersey with fans and metal-heads, tape a couple of shows and make a great live CD! I want to give Metal Blade something really heavy that really fits into their catalog and works for them. I want to fuse that heavy metal attitude with comedy and bring it to the label. I am thinking that it will be out in the early spring sometime, maybe April. It should be really cool.
Doing a full album must be a huge undertaking. What are you doing to prepare for the project in terms of writing and preparing yourself for the set you will provide us?
You just keep writing. If things come up in your life, you just write it down. A band who can go into a room and really craft a song to the point that they like it and decide to record it. A comic, when you write a joke or a story, the only place that you can really try it is in front of a crowd and they aren’t all going to be gems. I have no other place to do it. I can’t stand in front of a mirror and tell jokes to myself because it gives me no gauge as to if an audience would like it. That is sort of the danger of comedy but it is also the thrill of it. My comedy is very intense and I take a lot of chances with it but I want the material to be right and good for the album. The act is stuff that I have been doing for about the past year and a half. There is some new stuff that is more recent but I am not going to take a lot of chances with the record. I want it to be comprised of the best material that I have and then put it out there. It is my first live stand-up CD, so I really want it to be perfect!
Do you have a working title for it yet?
Well, I guess we will have to see how it goes. We might have to call it, “I Guess You Had To Be There!” [laughs] I am just crazy out of my head that my album is going to have the Metal Blade logo on it! That means the world to me! If they want me to call it “Don Jamieson’s An Asshole,” I will call it that as long as it has that Metal Blade stamp on it.
Comedians run into hecklers from time to time. What is the craziest thing that has happened to you?
Early on, I had a guy heckle me in a club. The worst thing you can do is let somebody get the best of you. At this point, I had only been doing comedy for a few years and I didn’t really know how to handle the situation. I remember that the guy was really big, really loud and really drunk! I remember that he was a truck driver. I finally just snapped and said, “Well, if you think you can do better, you come up here and show me!” And god dammit if he didn’t come up there and do better than me! [laughs] It was the worst thing ever! Usually, that shuts people up because they are afraid to be up in front of a crowd, but this guy comes up and kills!
Any other comedians that you would like to collaborate with in the future?
The other comic that I work with a lot, I open on the road for him, is Andrew Dice Clay. I have been doing that with him for about five years and we have played all over North America and Canada. Dice is the reason that I got into comedy to begin with. I was standing in the crowd at Madison Square Garden when he was at the height of his fame chanting, “Dice! Dice! Dice!” All these years later, he is one of my best friends and I get to perform with him. He is a really great guy and he is a lot like me, Jim and Eddie — an absolute ball breaker. It is non-stop goofing on one another and other people.
I grew up watching Dice as well. It must have been a real mind-blower to open for him.
The first time I opened for him, I did very well but I didn’t know what he was going to say. He watched me and he knew my whole act. He said, “I like the joke about the dolphin and this one and that one … ” He was actually a fan of my comedy and that means the world to me coming from a guy who has created this unbelievable character of “The Dice Man.” So you are right, it is very surreal. I have stayed at his house, I went to his wedding and I have been to his kid’s Bar Mitzvah. Seeing Dice in a Yarmulke is pretty surreal. [laughs]
Who do you consider the greatest working comedian, right now?
Besides me, let’s see … [laughs] I think you still have to give it to Chris Rock. He is very consistent with his stuff. I am lucky because I live in New York City and I get to see him in small comedy clubs working out his new material. Even when it is the newest of new material, where he is reading it off of a piece of paper, he is still killing, he DESTROYS! I am always the type of comic, as was the late George Carlin, Andrew Dice Clay and Chris Rock, who gives a very intense and edgy performance. Rock hasn’t softened up a bit over the year, which I really like!
What do you consider the highlight of your career so far? Obviously, you have a lot of years ahead of you but I figured I would ask you in your “early years” …
Well, thank you for your optimism! [laughs] Definitely ‘That Metal Show’ has been a huge thing because, as I said, it is a culmination of a ton of things that I love to do alongside my best buddies. Jim Florentine and I won an Emmy for some comedy sketches that we did for HBO. That was really exciting! It didn’t really help with my career but if you put it on your nightstand next to your bed, it really is an aphrodisiac when you have a chick come over! If nothing else, I am proud of that! And again, this Metal Blade thing is a huge honor for me! I am so seriously stoked! It all comes down to the live performance and that I am able to make a living as a stand-up comic. I may be playin’ firehouses in 10 years but so be it!
That being said, do you have any advice for anyone who is looking to pursue a career in stand-up or the entertainment industry?
Just do it once. You’ll know. If you go onstage and you feel nothing, then it is not for you. If you go up there and feel like I did or that you just did 10 lines of cocaine, you are probably going to want to stick with it. Then the next step is to have a thick skin because this is a rough business, not just the performance part, but dealing with the business side of things. It is a tough road but if you can keep an even keel about yourself, you will be alright.
Where is the best place for everyone to catch up with you online and find out more about what you are up to?
Thanks for all of your hard work and your time, Don!
Thank you! I really appreciate your support. It means a lot and that is why the show has, thank God, been so successful because of everyone in the metal community being so supportive. It means the world!