You know and love him from The Nerdist Podcast, but Jonah Ray is like a layer cake made of onions — he’s got layers and layers, man. But, as they say in Inception, we have to go deeper. In addition to his hosting duties, Jonah not only co-hosts The Meltdown Show, a weekly stand-up show at our home base of Meltdown Comics, and writes for E!’s The Soup, but he’s an active stand-up comedian too. His latest album, Hello Mr. Magic Plane Person, Hello, drops today on limited-edition white vinyl from A Special Thing Records and digitally on iTunes and Amazon. I caught up with the Burrito Baron himself to talk about the state of the comedy union, his writing process and his greatest fear.
Nerdist: The Meltdown Show has become one of the hottest alt-comedy rooms in L.A., attracting big name drop-ins from people like Louis C.K., David Spade, Robin Williams, Aziz Ansari, and others. What has the experience been like nurturing the show from its humble beginnings to what it is today? How do you feel the show has changed over time?
Jonah Ray: I had been doing shows there for quite sometime as a monthly venture and had wanted to do it weekly. But, I didn’t ever do anything about it because I’m incredibly lazy… I mean busy. I’m very busy. So, when Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily Gordon moved to town and wanted to do a weekly show, we joined forces and created The Meltdown. It’s great to see the venue get popular. When I first started doing stuff there it quickly became my favorite place to perform, and I’m glad that everybody else thinks so now as well.
N: Who is the coolest person you’ve met through doing The Meltdown?
JR: The “coolest” person? Well, that’d have to be Gaston, the owner [of Meltdown Comics]. He’s one of the raddest, most interesting people I’ve ever met. He talks like nobody else, he’s got a crazy back story, and he sold his entire record collection to start Meltdown Comics. He’s a positive force, a bulldozer of smiles.
N: Any chance you and Anthony Jeselnik will bring back your sketch group Cops Brought Pizza?
JR: Anthony and I never have to bring back CBP because CBP has never gone away or died. It lives within the two of us everyday of our lives. But maybe we’ll do something with it again when’s he’s done taking over the world of comedy….
N: Many of our readers are aspiring comics themselves. What has your journey to the center of the comedy earth been like?
JR: If you just keep doing it, it’ll feel like you’ve never progressed. Because there’s always something more to do once you get started. It’s getting up in “that” room or show, it’s getting booked on “that” late night show, getting to do a half hour, an hour, and so on and so forth. There is no end to it; don’t look for one thing that’s gonna make it seem like it’s all worth it. Because, just by doing it, that’s what you have to take away from it. Blah blah blah, it’s all in the journey. Oof, I sound like a REEEEAAAAAALLLL asshole.
N: Your new album Hello Mr. Magic Plane Person, Hello drops today from A Special Thing Records on a limited edition white vinyl with only 500 copies being pressed. Will it be available digitally too, or is this just part of your master plan to create an advance market for rare Jonah Ray memorabilia?
JR: Yes, the album is available on white 10” vinyl AND also on iTunes and Amazon. But if you buy the record you get a download code for the MP3s, so you don’t have to find your record player and plug it in to listen to it. Then, you can use the record to make a bowl or clock. There are other Jonah Ray memorabilia items available too: old beer cans, used needles, facial hair clippings, broken eyeglasses and VHS copies of the movie Rad.
N: What is your writing process like for a full-length album like this? How has your approach changed over time?
JR: The album is quite short, about 25 minutes. I just wanted to put out a collection of what I’ve been working on the past year. My approach remains the same: whenever I’m talking to my friends and making them laugh, I try my best to translate that into stand up material. But when you’re just joking around with friends, they might as you the dreaded question, “Are you working a bit out on me? Is this a bit?!”… and that can be devastating.
N: Some comics like Louis C.K., Aziz Ansari and Jim Gaffigan have turned to a digital self-release model for distributing their most recent specials. Prohibitive start-up costs aside, what are your feelings on this trend and what do you think it means for comedy going forward?
JR: I believe it’s a great thing for guys like that. When you’re a name, you are your own distribution. People know you and will seek you out. Small time jerks like me get a lot of perks when working with a label, especially one as DIY and awesome as AST Records. Radiohead did a great job of showing people that just because you’re big, it doesn’t mean you have to do the same thing every other big artist has done in the past. And that’s the ONLY great job Radiohead has ever done.
N: Obviously, people know you from stand-up and the Nerdist Podcast, but some folks might not know you’re also a writer for The Soup on E!. What goes into writing for a show like that?
JR: There’s an entire staff of people watching tons of horrible television just to comb through all the mucky muck and find the priceless little gems that make our world seem that much worse. After a few clip meetings where people present the stuff they’ve found, head writer/executive producer K.P. Anderson says what he thinks will work. Then all the writers scurry into their windowless caves and write what we call “wraps,” which is the intro and after joke for the clips. THEN TV HAPPENS!
N: I really enjoyed Jonah’s Arcade and was bummed when it didn’t get picked up. Any chance we’ll see it revived for the Nerdist Channel?
JR: Thank you! The main reason it was so good was because of the staff, which was bonkers. It was executive produced and created by Matty Kirsch, and Brad Stevens and Boyd Vico from Web Soup ran the show. The writing staff was Kumail Nanjiani, Tom Segura, Paul Bonanno and Matt Mira, and the director was Jordan Vogt-Roberts (Mash Up). I can’t imagine doing it anywhere else, as it’s not necessarily what I want to be doing, comedy-wise. Comedy Central offered it to me and I took it, because c’mon! You have to! But hosting clip shows isn’t really what I want to be doing. Plus, the only way there will ever be a really good video game comedy show is to give The Indoor Kids a TV show.
N: Who are some of your favorite working comedians right now?
JR: There are a lot of awesome comics right now. So, here’s a list of people you should check out: Hampton Yount, Maronzio Vance, Sean O’Connor, Moshe Kasher, Jerrod Charmichael, Sean Patton, and Aparna Nanchierna. Those are all of my favorite people to watch live right now.
N: One last question: what’s your greatest fear? No reason. We’re totally not compiling a Batman-like database in case of emergency.
JR: My greatest fear is going to a social function only to find out there ain’t no booze and I have to interact with people completely sober. YIKES! PROBLEMS!
Jonah’s new album Hello Mr. Magic Plane Person, Hello is available today on limited edition white vinyl from AST Records and digitally on iTunes and Amazon. You can also catch Jonah weekly on the Nerdist Podcast and hosting The Meltdown Show at L.A.’s Meltdown Comics.