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Communication Breakdown: Don Jamieson On His Evolution As A Standup Comic

If you are a fan of hard rock and heavy metal, you probably already know the work of comedian Don Jamieson. Alongside his long time writing partner, Jim Florentine, and radio icon Eddie Trunk, these metal aficionados became legends in their own right as the hosts of VH1 Classic’s long-running and highly acclaimed series, ‘That Metal Show’. Crisscrossing the nation with more gigs per year than any hardworking metal band on the scene, Don Jamieson lives and breathes rock ‘n’ roll. Named one of the top 10 metalhead comedians by Revolver Magazine, Jamieson has captured some of his most irreverent work to-date on his third album, ‘Communication Breakdown’. Recorded at The Funny Stop in Cuyahoga Falls, OH, ‘Communication Breakdown,’ available now from Metal Blade Records, is the legendary standups’ third live comedy album and ushers in a new era of comedic storytelling to his already fierce arsenal of sidesplitting funny material. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with the comedian to discuss his evolution as a standup, the current state of comedy, and what the future might hold for one of comedy’s (and metal’s) brightest stars.

It’s great to catch up with you again, Don. I think it’s been several years since we last connected for an interview, and you have had a ton of stuff going on. To start, I wanted to go back to your very early years. What went into finding your creative voice as a young comic?

It really came down to practice and getting on stage. Another part of it is, being in the rock and metal world so heavily and being known through ‘That Metal Show,’ really allowed me to start incorporating more of that connection with my material. Hard rock and heavy metal is such a big part of my life, the music that we love, I asked myself, “How am I not talking about this on stage?” so, I’ve definitely done that a little more in recent years. As far as your comedic voice, it really comes down to just getting up there, doing it every night and hopefully it comes to you eventually.

You tour over the country as a standup comedian. How do you gauge the audience as far as how metal you might take it on any given evening?

It depends on how many Iron Maiden shirts are in the crowd! [laughs] That’s really what you do is gauge it. You put your toe in the water with some of the more well-known bands and if people are responding then you can get a little deeper with it. Generally, even if I do jokes about bands that people might not know, I try to set it up for them so that I kind of paint a picture so I don’t lose the crowd. That’s a big part of what I do as well… I’m a nightclub comic. You want your ad to appeal to people who might just be out on a Friday and Saturday night who just want to sit, laugh and have a good time. It’s a little bit of everything and you have to listen to the audience and let them tell you where they want to be taken.

I’m sure I speak for a lot of your fans when I say it’s really inspiring to see a guy melding what he loves into an awesome career!

Yeah, I would feel weird now releasing material or being on stage and not talking about that part of my life. I embrace the world of rock and heavy metal. It’s the only type of music I ever liked. The first two albums I ever had were KISS’ “Destroyer” and George Carlin’s “Occupation: Foole,” so comedy, hard rock and metal have always been my world.

You have a brand new album, ‘Communication Breakdown,’ which was recorded at a small club. What can you tell us about the venue and why you choose it?

I work a lot in Ohio and my humor definitely appeals to the blue collar cities like Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and places like that. Cuyahoga Falls is just outside of Cleveland and The Funny Stop is a great club. It’s just an old school club with a great vibe! Ya know, when I’m at a baseball game… it’s great to go to Yankee Stadium, but I don’t really need sushi and a chocolatini sent to my seat at a baseball game! It’s the same thing with the comic club. You just need a really great room that sounds cool and an audience that is really into it. That’s really why wanted to record at The Funny Stop.

Did you have any particular goals in mind when you started plotting this album?

I wanted to keep with the general style of how people know me. I like to tell a lot of jokes in the hour that I’m on stage, but I also have a lot of stories the I’ve been tinkering with and experimenting with. I wanted to take a chance because it’s a real challenge to tell stories onstage. Usually, I like to get a laugh about every 30 seconds. Sometimes, with these stories, you go a little longer. You still need to get laughs but it’s a different style of doing comedy. It was a real challenge, but it really paid off. There are stories about meeting Kiefer Sutherland and Johnny Depp, as well as a story about how I can’t block myself from having a threesome. I have some really great personal stories and I really felt the need to tell them, so I was glad that I was able to do that this time around! You aren’t typically going to go to a comedy club and hear stories from comics about getting a hickey from Kiefer Sutherland! That’s not something you’re generally going to hear! [laughs] I really wanted to put my own stamp on things because as comedians we generally talk about the same stuff. We talk about all the painful crap in our life from divorces to breakups to any kind of loss or pain. A great example is the skateboarding story but I put on this album. I bashed my head open in front of my nieces and nephew and thought I was going to die. I figured if I was going to go through that amount of pain I needed to turn it into some kind of comedy, which is what we all do. The more specific you can make things, the more it kind of stands out for people.

Is this style of storytelling something you think you’ll do more of moving forward?

Yeah. The thing with comedy is that once your album comes out then you have to work on the next set, so I’m already working on new material. Actually, I tried a couple of new stories out on stage last night and they went pretty well. I think I’m definitely going to have that as a part of what I do from now on. I’m the worst storyteller in the world, so it’s a great exercise for me to do that and get out of my comfort zone.

In what other ways has your material evolved in recent the years?

Because everyone is so hypersensitive these days, I think it comes down to how creative you can be with what you say. You want to keep your edge but you also don’t want to offend people. What’s not offensive today will be offensive a week from now, and 3 three weeks from then it won’t be offensive anymore. As a comedian, as much as I like to make people laugh at things they wouldn’t normally laugh at, you also have to be creative about it and keep up with the times. That’s pretty much what it is now. You have to keep the essence of what you do, but also put it in a different way then perhaps you did in the past.

‘Communication Breakdown’ also features some riffage from Dave Mustaine, which is very cool. How did that come about?

It’s such an honor to have Dave on the album. I had seen him at the Revolver Awards in New York. He said, “Hey man, if you need anything from me just shoot me an email.” He was probably thinking I never would, but of course I’m the guy who always follows up and asks for the favor! [laughs] He was cool enough to do it for me and I really appreciate it! I’ve done that with my last two albums as well. I had Vinnie Moore from UFO on my last album and Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal on my first one, so having Dave was a real thrill!

Comedy has becoming a booming business once again in the past half decade and it continues to gain steam. How has that affected you as an artist and what’s the best part about being in the game right now?

It’s great because we can all find our audience now, whereas back in the 90s or early 2000s, unless you did a spot on ‘The Tonight Show,’ ‘Late Night with David Letterman’, or you got a Comedy Central special, it was much harder to do. Now there are so many outlets for comedians to do things! I would have never known 20 years ago when I started doing stand up that’s the thing people wouldn’t know me from the most would be sitting around on TV with two of my best friends interviewing rock stars! [laughs] That’s where my niche happened and that’s where I found my audience. That’s what’s so great about comedy these days; there is room for all of us, we all have our niche and we can play directly to them! I’m also lucky to be on a great record label, Metal Blade Records, who supports me as well. That’s another big part of it!

You definitely put your all into your career as a standup comic. In your opinion, what is the key to longevity in this day and age?

That’s a good question. I think if you go into comedy with the mindset of putting everything you’ve got into it, that’s the healthiest way to approach it. If you get into comedy because you think you’re going to become a star and make tons of money, you probably won’t. If you go into it because you have a love for it, a need to make people laugh, and you want to save a lot of money by not going to therapy because you’re telling your problems to perfect strangers, I think you’ll do okay in this business! It’s like any other job, man. You really have to bust your ass. You have to take it seriously, but it can also be a whole lot of fun. I’m grateful to be still doing it and still making new fans after 20 years.

“Communication Breakdown” just hit the streets. What lies in store for you in the coming months?

I’m going to be touring all summer. I will definitely be working on a lot of new material. I will be visiting a lot of new places, but I’ll definitely be coming back to some of the favorite places I have been in the past. When people come out they’re definitely going to see some new stuff and hear some of the greatest hits! Other than that, we’re still working and will always be working on trying to get ‘That Metal Show’ back on the air. Let’s all keep our fingers crossed for that, not just because I was on the show but because it was such an important part of the scene and important to so many bands. For those reasons alone it’s really worth bringing back!

I couldn’t agree with you more! I think the show was appreciated when it was on the air but I think, now more than ever, it’s truly missed.

Yeah! Tell my mortgage broker about it! I always joke around and on the album I say, “I appreciate that you guys watched ‘That Metal Show’ long enough that I could buy house but not long enough for me to afford it anymore…” [laughs] So, let’s hope it comes back soon! In the meantime, I’m glad people are digging the new album and I appreciate the great support of people like you, and obviously you guys are big supporters of the scene as well.

Don Jamieson

You have pretty much done everything from comedy to hosting television shows to writing a book. Is there anything else you are anxious to tackle in the short term?

Oh boy! Ya know, I have shot a few pilots for some new TV projects, so we’re going to see what the status of those things are, and Jim Florentine and I are always up to some kind of nonsense! For people who haven’t heard our ‘Terrorizing Telemarketers’ CD or watched our ‘Meet The Creeps’ videos, those are available on iTunes. If you go and pick up “Communication Breakdown,” maybe check those out as well and see some of the stuff we have done in the past. He and I will always be collaborating all crazy comedy stuff!

As I said earlier, you can serve as an inspiration to a lot of people out there. What’s the best lesson we can take from your journey like yours?

Just support the music and comedy that you love because otherwise it goes away. Gene Simmons really caused a lot of controversy by saying “Rock is Dead.” I don’t think he meant it in the full sense of the whole scene being dead, but in a way I see what he’s saying, which is that if we don’t get out and buy the concert tickets and we’re only going to steal the music off the internet, then we are only hurting ourselves. Bands today make their living by touring. That’s how I make a living, by going out and touring. I’m not U2! I’m not going to sell 10 million comedy albums but I hope I sell a few! Every little bit counts, and if we support our artists then we are going to keep them around for a while and that’s really what’s important.

Well said! Thanks again for your time today, Don! Keep up the great work!

Thank you, Jason! You’re doing great stuff with Icon Vs. Icon and I hope to cross paths with you again very soon!

I’m sure I will be catching you on the road! Until then, I’ll be out there spreading the word!

Awesome! Thanks, Jason!

For all the latest developments in the world of Don Jamieson, visit his official website at www.donjamieson.com. Connect with him on social media via Facebook, Twitter and YouTube