In this episode of “Going Out With Jake Cornell,” host and former NYC hospitality pro Jake Cornell chats with comedian, writer, and host of the We’re Having Gay Sex podcast Ashley Gavin. The two discuss why “cruise people” are like Disney adults, how to deal with hecklers at comedy shows, and how going out can be a theatrical experience. Tune in to learn more.
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Jake Cornell: This episode is with one of my dear friends and iconic New York standup comedian. She has a show called “Sunday Sqool” that happens every single Sunday at Sour Mouse. It’s a great show, check it out. She’s huge on TikTok and is such a good comedian. She has an incredible podcast called We’re Having Gay Sex that I have been a guest on multiple times. Check that out. It’s so good, she’s so funny. Please enjoy me going out with Ashley Gavin.
Ashley Gavin: We would go to Mexico, and I’d never been to Mexico before. We’d pull into Mexico and there would be what they called the “drugs and deli” at this island called Cozumel. I would just load up on Z-Paks. What did I call them? I gave them all different names. I called the Xanax, Xan-mex. It’s perfectly legal there, and I know everything’s fine. But it’s also just fun and a little dangerous to not really be sure how this works over here.
J: You can buy Xanax and Z-Paks over-the-counter in Mexico?
A: It’s over-the-counter.
J: I did not know. That’s fascinating. I knew that it was cheaper because it’s not a poisonous health care system.
A: Yes, exactly.
J: But I didn’t know that they were also over-the-counter. That is fascinating. I would take a Z-Pak once every three months just to reset my system.
A: I have some from Mexico, if you would like it.
J: I’ll call you if not, because my mom also loves to stockpile medicine. I’ll be like, “Oh, my toe hurts.” And she’s like, “I have a Vicodin,” and I’m like, “Why do you have a Vicodin?”
A: I’m acting like I’m an expert on this. I did this one time. But I got them because I was really afraid I would get ill. I get sinus infections. I was so afraid that I would get sick on the cruise.
J: They say cruises are where you go to get sick. It’s just incubation.
A: I’ve never gotten sick. I’ve done so many of them. I’ve never gotten sick. Cruise people love their cruises.
J: I’ve heard it’s such a culty thing. So this ties into going out because I’ve heard that it’s a very specific type of person who likes cruises. It’s funny because in the gay world being a cruiser means a very different thing.
A: It is quite the opposite. There’s very little sex.
J: That’s the thing. It’s an extension of the Disney thing.
A: It’s a little bit like adult Disney.
J: A curated experience, the tracks you go down. It’s very strange to me. What is your experience outside the job itself? Obviously, performing to cruise crowds is challenging.
A: Well, I actually really enjoyed it. Just so people know, it was a great gig as an up-and-coming comedian. To perform every day, sometimes twice a day for half an hour, in a great room with great sound and a crowd that wanted to be there of like 500 people — that’s really dope.
J: No, that is amazing.
A: They also hate gay people. But you know, you win some, you lose some.
J: That aside, what was the experience of your off hours on the cruise ship?
A: Dude, it was really fun. I had a run back-to-back for three weeks.
J: Maybe like 21 days on the boat?
A: Yeah, that was the longest I’ve ever done. Everything is so close. It’s like Disney or even like camp, in a way. Everything you need is right there. You don’t have internet.
J: There’s no internet on cruises?
A: You have to buy the internet and it’s like a billion dollars. That’s why I’m stocking up on the drugs when I get to Mexico. I’m going to die out here. I need to have an emergency situation.
J: Did the staff not get free Wi-Fi?
J: That’s unbelievable to me. It’s like one dial-up and if more than 10 people are on it, it goes down.
A: The ship literally sinks. They’re like, “Who is downloading porn right now? Someone is penetrating and we are penetrating the sea.” Anything that takes place on a boat is the most extreme form of capitalism because there’s no laws or regulations, so they can pay people so little and then gouge them for everything.
J: Well, because it’s international waters.
A: It’s in the international waters. It’s a horrible situation. I wish that I didn’t have to do it. But for a long time it paid the rent. They treat the comedians really well. It’s a whole classist situation, too. The comedians are from America, so we get treated differently than the staff that’s from around the world. It’s awful.
J: Yeah, that’s really brutal.
A: But also, thank you. I am available for the New Year’s Eve one, if you guys are still looking for something.
J: That is absolutely incredible. I don’t think I would do well on a cruise. We are friends who don’t hang out.
A: We’re becoming friends.
J: I think that’s a great way to describe it.
A: I hope you like me. I have a weird thing about you liking me.
J: Wait, really?
A: Yeah. I really want your approval and your love.
J: You’ve never expressed this before, and that’s really interesting to me. Wait, I like you. Do you think I like you?
A: I wasn’t sure how much you liked me.
J: There was one time, three weeks ago, where we saw each other four times in one week.
A: Yeah, and I was having a mental breakdown, and I’m feeling a lot better now.
J: I actually can genuinely tell that you’re in a better space. She’s living a better week than she was last month.
A: That was the worst week I’ve had in a long, long time.
J: And that’s OK. I think if that had been the first week I met you, I would have been like, “Damn.” but I met you before, so I knew that there was range.
A: I was going through it. I was going through relationship sh*t and like professional sh*t. And I was working 100 hours a week. I was in such a bad place.
J: Yeah, you were definitely in an intense space. I do like you. Can you tell I’m speechless by this notion? I feel like I’m not someone that people turn to for approval.
A: You’re so funny and cool.
J: Thanks. See, those are two things I don’t think about myself.
A: Look at your jumpsuit.
J: I feel like a fraud in this jumpsuit. For everyone listening, I’m marrying a Dickies jumpsuit today.
A: You’re not a fraud. Please paint my apartment.
J: The problem with me wearing a Dickies jumpsuit like this, which is a fashion statement in New York, is I’m actually built like a mechanic.
A: You’re not a Twinkie little non-binary kid from Brooklyn with a mullet.
J: I have a beard and I’m 225 pounds, 6 foot 5.
A: You’re over 6 feet. That’s all that matters.
J: I look like a mechanic and I can’t do an oil change. So it does feel fraudulent. I don’t queer-present enough to justify this, and I don’t have the masc skills to justify this jumpsuit. So somewhere in the middle I am a fraud.
A: I feel like a straight man wearing this is actually going to fix your car. There’s no straight man that wears a jumpsuit in a fashionable way. And if there is one, I don’t like him.
J: I also bought a short sleeve brown one and I look like I’m a waste management guy in that one. UPS, janitor, garbage man, anything. A brown, short-sleeve jumpsuit in my body type looks like I do trade for a living. And I don’t. So I need to stop. But I’m not someone who is perceived as cool. I think people like me and I’m nice, but I don’t feel like I’m part of the cool crowd. So it’s interesting to me that you perceive that.
A: Oh, I think you’re part of the cool crowd.
J: That’s very nice of you.
A: I’m never in the cool crowd in comedy. I’ve been trying to figure out how to break in for so long. Recently I’ve accepted that it will just never be.
J: But the thing is, I also think the cool crowd doesn’t exist.
A: Shut up, that’s something someone in the cool crowd would say. You’re such a f*cking dick in your jumpsuit. “We hang out, but it’s not even real.” We’re all just individual people. We’re all humans.
J: What’s unfortunate is so much of that is what I was going to say. But I don’t think that’s just doing comedy.
A: I’m fuming.
J: I understand. There’s two versions of it. There is an actual crew of people that is, “We are a crew and we hang out and we have named ourselves and we are a clique.” That is inherently profoundly lame.
A: Of course they don’t say that.
J: No. But there is that version of it, where people do kind of identify as a crew. I think that that is inherently lame.
A: You’re orbiting that world, man. You’re so happy about this. She thinks I’m part of the cool crowd, and now I have to let her know that she’ll never be in the inner circle.
J: This is not what’s happening. I’m getting canceled on my own podcast.
A: You’re not getting canceled. I called Xanax “Xan-mex” earlier. Please f*cking cut that. I don’t want people to leave here thinking that I think it’s different from Xanax. It’s the same Xanax. No one knows me. I don’t even do drugs. I show up to Mexico and I’m like, “Please give me the Z-Pak.” That’s the equivalent of me going f*cking wild. But anyway, do you guys want some Xanax? Because I would give it to you to be in the cool crowd.
J: I’ve never taken Xanax. I think I would like it, so I won’t take it.
A: I take literally half of one to fall asleep every few months when I’m super stressed out.
J: Thank God, I thought, you’re going to say every night. I was like, that sounds like a huge problem.
A: No, I just use it when I’m so, so stressed out that I can’t sleep.
J: I get that. I use CBD for that.
A: I have CBD, too.
J: But I was going to say that the other version of it is what you were saying. Social media can make it look like people are rolling in a crew where it’s probably not that. Do you know what I mean?
A: Do your listeners care about this at all? I still feel like there are groups. I’m not going to name any names because then it sounds like a negative thing because I respect a lot of these comedians and I like these comedians, but they’re part of a crowd or a group of comedians that has been deemed something. There was an article that came out, and now everyone’s going to know some of the people that I’m talking about. But I already feel like these people have passed into a new place. The brat-pack-of-comedy type of thing.
J: I missed this. So I actually don’t know who it is.
A: Don’t Google it and know that I respect and think these comedians are really great. But also there is a little bit of a clique-y vibe.
J: I get that. If you read that article, and it’s OK, because I’m not in that.
A: You’re not in the article and that kind of sucks for you.
J: But I’m not in the article, either.
A: But you will be.
J: I don’t think I will be. This ties into what I was talking about with another guest. Social media and media can make you feel like there’s one clique that’s the place to be. Or there’s one bar that’s the place you have to go, one restaurant you have to go to. It puts us in the headspace of then being like, “I got to go to that thing. I got to get in with that group. I got to do that thing.”
A: I don’t feel that way anymore. I know this group exists.
J: That’s going to prevent you from ever actually doing anything cool, because then it makes you into a wannabe. If you go into the restaurants that everyone’s telling you to go to, if you’re trying to be at the coolest spot once something is deemed the coolest spot, it’s not the coolest spot anymore.
A: What if you are a wannabe and you’re OK with that?
J: I think that’s OK. But I don’t think you’re a wannabe.
A: Yeah, I’m doing comedy.
J: You’re very much doing your own thing.
A: I’m doing my own thing,
J: I also think a big part of it is that you don’t drink.
A: It was never a social event for me, comedy.
J: I feel like in my pre-pandemic life, I saw a lot of this, and maybe even was I kind of doing it to an extent. You’re toeing the line between what is me actually trying to do comedy and move my career forward through my comedy, and what is like social climbing? What am I trying to leverage in my social life?
A: I am truly horrible at social climbing. I am fundamentally bad at it.
J: But that’s what I like about you. I don’t think I think you are authentic because you’re bad at social climbing. To be perfectly honest with you, you’re too blunt. You are very direct and you say exactly what you’re feeling and wanting.
A: People f*cking hate it. Sometimes they love it and they hate it. It’s a very visceral reaction to me.
J: I get that. But I think that’s because some people can’t handle that level of honesty.
A: Or I’m just like being a b*tch.
J: I don’t think you’re being a b*tch.
A: I am a b*tch, but I’m a really charming b*tch. I’m a likable b*tch.
J: You can call yourself that. If anyone else ever called you that, I would absolutely have a huge issue with them.
A: Oh, thank you, big, strong man in your jumpsuit.
J: I’ll kill them.
A: That was so straight.
J: I’ve seen you be very blunt and very direct and very frustrated, but I’ve never seen you be mean.
A: No, I try not to be mean.
J: I also don’t think you have a cruelness to you.
A: Yeah, I’m a big softie.
J: Exactly. And that I respect that line. I always say, I don’t like nice people, I like good people. I find niceness very boring. That ties into the social climbing thing. I don’t think you’re doing that ever.
A: Were you in the room when I did the thing to the TikToker?
A: That was probably the bluntest thing I’ve ever done.
J: What did you do?
A: We were at a show with a bunch of TikTokers who had never done comedy before. There was very little comedy. And that’s fine, I actually respect it.
J: Oh, the show we were on together.
A: Yes. We were in the green room.
J: Maybe it was during my set.
A: It might be the bluntest thing I’ve ever done in my life. We’re in the green room. These folks are really talented content makers, but they’ve never done stand up before. Maybe some of them are on the younger side and don’t quite realize that some people have been doing comedy for eight years, and they’re still really only doing open mics. Some of those people are actually really good and will become famous. It’s a grueling, horrible, horrible art form. I don’t know why any of us do it.
J: There’s an aspect to it that you do need to work hard and you do need talent. But also there’s an aspect that you need to be lucky enough to be the one the claw machine grabs. Like the aliens from f*cking “Toy Story.”
A: For some people, the claw machine comes early.
J: The claw machine comes early, and for some people it comes really late. And it’s not necessarily an indication of their talent or their work ethic, necessarily. Sometimes it is that the opportunity hasn’t hit them yet. That is what is so awful. It’s a twofold thing where it’s hard to know. If you’re the person who is really and working really and you’re like, “Am I bad?”
A: You’re just watching everybody go.
J: But then also, there are people who think they’re that person, and you should stop. So it’s hard to know which one of those you are. It’s maddening.
A: This one particular content maker, he was a little young, was performing at the Bell House for 400 f*cking people.
J: It was sold out.
A: It was unreal. It was the first time I had done the Bell House and I’ve been doing comedy for seven years. And I am not one of the cool kids, so I don’t get booked at the Bell House very often. I’m more of a Manhattan comic or whatever. We’re in the green room and to this we’re like, “Wow, your first time doing comedy and you’re at the Bell House.” That’s crazy. So many people would literally rip their hand off for this opportunity. I’m losing my mind. I’m in a very bad place.
J: For everyone’s context, this is the week where Ashley was having the worst week I’d seen her in. I was like, “You’re intense right now.”
A: Yeah, I was really intense. I was in a really bad place. I was not getting a lot of sleep. I’d been scorned by a woman. I’d been scorned by Hollywood. I’m scorned, I’m just totally scorned. And this girl was sitting there and she was like. “Yeah, actually, I performed one other time, but it was like an open mike, like in a basement with like all these men and like no one was paying attention.” I just turned and I was like, “Yeah, we know.”
J: We’ve all done that.
A: For eight f*cking years. I need to get to a better place.
J: I think you and I were in very different headspaces at that show. Was that my first time doing the Bell House? That might have been my first time doing the Bell House. It was sold out and no, it wasn’t my first time doing the Bell House, but it was my first time doing it sold out. I was like, “Holy sh*t, like, this is packed out. This is crazy.” It was you and me and one other comic who perform regularly and have been doing this for a long time. And then it was three people who have never done comedy. That is jarring.
A: I was happy for them, to be perfectly honest. I’m glad they had the opportunity.
J: But here’s the thing, I was, I’m so happy that I have the years of time to give me context to know how special this is. I’m excited about this in a way that they’re not. I think that’s what makes people so mad, they don’t even know what they have. That sucks for them. If they’re starting here, they’re going to have to really ramp up to find something that’s exciting for them.
A: Don’t you think some people kind of can tell? I feel like if you have a working head on your shoulders, you should be able to be like, “This is cool.”
J: I think there is. But you still can’t recreate the feeling of wanting to do it for seven years and then getting to do it.
A: My first open mic, I thought, was the best day of my f*cking life.
J: During my first open mic, halfway through, they announced that Robin Williams had died. So that’s what happened at my first open mic in NYC.
A: Mine too. No, I’m kidding.
J: I didn’t go up. I walked out and cried.
A: Yes, I remember when that happened. It was awful.
J: That was my first time trying to do standup comedy in NYC and I was like, “This feels an omen.”
A: They interrupted your set? They didn’t wait to the end of your set? Someone just stood up?
J: It was at Eastville Comedy Club before it became New York Comedy Club. They were like, “We’re going to take a five- minute break. And then everyone comes back and we’ll go through the second half of names.” During the five-minute break, everyone pulls out their phone and gets the news. When the host of the open mic comes back, all he did was talk about how sad this was and how much he loved Robin Williams for six minutes. And that after he say, “All right, up next, Ashley Gavin.” I’m not doing this, and I left.
A: That’s what open mic comedy is. That’s such a great explanation of what happened.
J: He also was visibly ill. Not Robin Williams, the host of this show. He was like, “I don’t feel good.” He had a stuffy nose and was like, “Robin Williams died.” I was like, “This sucks, like, I’m leaving.” But eating all that sh*t makes the sundae better when you get the sundae.
A: I’ve eaten so much sh*t.
J: You’ve never been someone who’s drunk or gone out in a partying sense, right?
A: No, never.
J: You love a restaurant, you love a date, but we’ve never been a rager.
A: Yeah, no.
J: As someone who’s never done it, have you felt that that has empowered your social life over the years throughout? Hindered it, challenged it? You went to college. And then you’re in comedy, these spaces where I think partying and going are connected.
A: I think my friendships are very real. I have a very small circle of friends that I’ve had for years. Whenever I make a new friend, they are usually a friend for life and I’m going to be very, very close with them. When I was in college, other people were hooking up. I wanted so desperately to just hook up and understand what that means. When you don’t have alcohol in your system, I think it’s probably just a lot f*cking harder. Now I can do it. I’ve learned the skills to be able to do that. I went to Bryn Mawr. I went to a women’s college and everyone’s f*ckin gay or thinking about it or bi or whatever. I just wanted that so badly, but I couldn’t do it because I didn’t drink. Especially when you’re in college where that is the lubricant. No one has any other coping mechanisms or social skills to facilitate.
J: I definitely leaned on it hard.
A: I would just walk into those environments every year. One time I’d be like, “Maybe this time I can be having fun,” and I would go and I’d be like, “Nope, 15 minutes.” Then I go back to my dorm room and play Call of Duty.
J: To simulate violent warfare and be like, “This is peaceful to me.” But then, and how has it been in comedy? I feel like that’s another space where it’s so frustrating.
A: I feel like I have beefed up my social skills. It wasn’t until two or three years ago that I figured out how to be in this environment without being drunk and having fun with people. Honestly, you kind of have to host a podcast.
J: To hold space for genuine conversations?
A: Yeah, but I’m the host. This is not about me. This is about you. You’re the guest.
J: Oh, interesting.
A: I actually enjoy that so much more.
J: Why do you feel like that dynamic can’t happen out and about?
A: I do think it can. I had to learn this skill. I didn’t have the alcohol to be the social lube. What became the social lube was me having a really deep, genuine interest in everyone that I have ever met. Which I know sounds antithetical to everything I said. I hate everybody, man. But the reality is, if I saw that girl today and I started talking to her, I would podcast her. I’d be like, “Tell me literally everything. I want to know everything about you.”
J: Because you don’t do small talk or acquaintances. This is the thing. That’s what it is. When you’re drinking in a way that I don’t like anymore, like when I was in college or when I was younger and when I was in happier times, you’re doing all of this to have conversations that mean nothing. And you dissociate a little bit just to do the thing. I was really unhappy at the college I went to. It was incredibly straight. It was in Vermont and it just wasn’t a space where I actually thrived. Alcohol and partying was a way to get myself in a headspace where I could do the thing and kind of get by. What I respect about you is that you’re someone who I don’t think is capable of doing that. In a way that I’m jealous of. I think it’s a true gift that you are un-unfortunately bound to be authentically yourself at all times.
A: Oh yeah.
J: I’m just saying it would be hard, as someone who’s very adaptable.
A: It’s much easier now. It’s made me better at social situations. When people are young, they’re kind of weird and mean when you’re authentically yourself. I think probably because they’re not authentically themselves.
J: This is what I’m interested in.
A: People thought I was such a f*cking b*tch.
J: When you were younger and going through this, where people all thought you were a f*cking b*tch, what made you think you were funny? How did you come out of that being like, “I’m going to be a comedian.” Everyone f*cking hates me.
A: My freshman year of college, everyone f*cking hated me. That’s what always happens to me. They all hated me. In my senior year, I was probably one of the most popular people in my class. That’s the dynamic for me all the time. People are like, “What is wrong with this person? I love her.” That is the essence of who I am.
J: You’re an acquired taste.
A: Yeah, I’m an acquired taste. Once you get to know me, you’re like, “Oh, all of the yelling and the meanness is a shtick.”
J: Yes, because it’s the authenticity thing.
A: I mean, it’s real. I’m really pissed off, but I’m actually quite happy underneath all of that.
J: But when did you start to identify as funny, or someone who was funny.
A: Very young, very young.
J: During these times when everyone’s kind of like, “F*ck this person,” you’re like, “I’m so funny.”
A: Truly. In my freshman year in college in particular, I was like, “Why does no one understand what I’m doing?” I think in New York, as a kid, everyone’s kind of a b*tch. You grow up in New York, it’s just a part of your being. I’m half-Jewish. Technically, I’m Jewish on my mom’s side. I went to school with a bunch of other Jewish kids and it’s that sense of humor thing that we all have. And I think everyone understood that. But then you take that out of New York with a bunch of other 18-year-olds who are like, “I’m going to a women’s college to focus.” It’s a little jarring for them.
J: The “everyone in New York is an asshole” kind of thing is, I think, really misrepresented. It’s that thing of being not nice, but good.
A: New Yorkers are good people.
J: New Yorkers are good f*cking people. They’re just not nice. That’s what makes me mad about these transplants. I say this as a transplant. I’m seven and a half years in, and I can’t claim being a New Yorker yet, and I know that. The transplants who move in and are dreadful humans and are like, “I’m a f*cking New Yorker,” No, you’re a terrorist. You’re not a New Yorker. I think people take that to think of New Yorkers as rude or whatever as an excuse to say, “I’m an authentic New Yorker if I’m literally a foul human.” No, you have no idea.
A: New Yorkers will pull a kidney out of their body and put it into your body and be like, “You f*cking asshole. Take my fucking kidney.” That is what a New Yorker is. We’re all in it together.
J: I was reading this article about this guy who was uptown. A kid was having a seizure and fell in front of the subway as it was coming. A man jumped on top of him to hold him still. And the subway safely moved over both of them. Because if you lie in the center of a subway, it’ll go over you.
A: This is something I’ve learned as a New Yorker.
J: Yes. He saved this kid’s life by being like, “Stop f*cking moving.”
A: You a piece of sh*t.
J: He jumped his ass in front of a train for another person.That’s a New Yorker. It’s not like, “I’m not going to tip.” .
A: Maybe it is New York. That’s part of the authenticity thing, this city is relentless. You kind of just have to be yourself there.
J: Did you feel relentless when you grew up here? What part of town did you grow up in?
A: Above the Upper East Side, in Yorkville. You don’t know that until you’ve left and then you’re like, oh, it’s all the time. New York is all the time. It’s constant.
J: Obviously, it’s not a monolithic experience. But were you a family that was out at restaurants and eating out a lot? Or were you guys more homebodies?
A: There was this one French restaurant, a little cafe around the corner that we went to a lot. My dad was just a classic 1980s New Yorker. He worked in business and would love a f*cking steak. Whenever there was something fancy we would go to, what I perceived to be, a New Yorker-Italian steakhouse. That was what we did when we went to a fancy dinner.
J: Like a celebratory thing.
A: Yeah, that was what we did. It wasn’t ’til I was in high school that I was like, “Oh, I can just order in Chinese food.” I can order in, like, anything, because I have a little bit of money. I was working in the summer. Oh, do you know what the New York thing was?
J: Well this is the New York episode, because they have been sirens for the past 25 minutes.
A: I didn’t notice it ’til a minute ago.
J: It’s truly been 20 minutes.
A: When you’re in high school, you can leave school.
J: Across the board at all high schools?
A: At most high schools.
J: I didn’t know this.
A: You can leave in the middle of the day. What you would do with your friends is, you’d go to the bodega and you’d grab snacks or whatever, and then you’d walk to the nearest park or a stoop. Me and my friends had stoops that we would go to. And we’d eat Oreos, french fries, and mozzarella sticks from the bodega. I don’t think you get anywhere else. Do you know, “Hey, Arnold?” It’s like, “Hey, Arnold.” We’re the kids on the stoop, eating snacks.
J: That’s so interesting. I had no idea that was part of the New York high school experience. I’m so glad to know that. What is your relationship to restaurants and going out now? What is a big night out for you on a night off? There’s no shows, unfortunately.
A: I’ve had very few shows lately, and I just realized it. I was like, “F*ck, I got to get booked.”
J: I know, same. December is feeling slow for me, if that makes you feel better.
A: It does.
J: Kate was sick yesterday and I got to take their slot, so I got one show.
A: This is stupid. Go, ask your question.
J: What does a going out night look like for you now?
A: It doesn’t have to be fancy, but just a good vibe. Just a nice room, and to be able to sit across from someone with, like, good lighting. I’m such an old man.
J: I’m the same way, because it’s like an oasis from the city.
A: It feels so nice. It’s almost like going to a show. There’s a little bit of theater to it.
J: OK, exactly. Some people don’t get that, and that is what I get frustrated by.
J: Yeah. Maybe I experience this more because I worked in restaurants for so long. Restaurants are theater, to an extent. Especially restaurants, more so than bars.
A: Oh, definitely.
J: It’s something about the theater of being taken to a table and sitting down. There’s lighting that was designed, there’s music, the score.
A: The forks look fancy and they’re set up in such a way.
J: I think this is what people don’t understand about how you interact with your servers and who’s working with you to make the experience better. It is a theater experience, in the sense that there’s a certain sort of experience that’s been designed for you. Give into it a little bit, be down for what they’re selling. People are like, “Well, I want french fries and they’re not on the menu.” Babe, that’s not this show. You can get that tomorrow. If you’re wanting to enjoy what this restaurant has to offer, you kind of need to lean into the current of it a little bit and let it take you.
A: And it makes you feel better. The conversation that you have with someone is better. It makes you open up in a way. That’s why dates are so f*cking nice. You’re immersed in an experience and then you get to be immersed in this other person. I’m probably a little simp b*tch. I just love being across the table from someone and being able to look at them and appreciate them in this very special way. I love getting dressed up for it, too. That’s another part of it. You pick an outfit because you know where you’re going and you want to match the vibe or whatever.
J: See, people need to take those out of your book, because I think this is really special.
A: Oh, thank you.
J: I really don’t think people do this. I don’t think people think about where they’re going and how to maximize their own experience for where they’re going. I was thinking about this when I was on your podcast and you were talking about, depending on what kind of date you’re wanting to have, that will influence what restaurant you’ll choose. You are so data- driven to an extent, but it’s in an authentic way. I don’t think people think about that in the way that, “Oh, it will be more fun for me if I lean into this.” If you’re going to a fancy steak house, part of the fun of that is dressing up. I think people get tight about that because they think, “Oh, I don’t want to wear a dress.” No, dress up how you feel, whatever dressing up means to you.
A: For sure, what it means to you. But also, you’re going to have more fun if you weirdly role play. Do you know what I mean?
J: It’s immersive theater.
A: A girl came over to my apartment the other night and we were going to order Thai food. We did not arrange this, but she came in this cute little sweats thing, and I was in my sweats. That was the theme for that date, the intimacy of ordering in Thai food and being on the couch. But if you go to a fancy-ish restaurant, to a place where you know you want your pants to have some sort of zipper button on them, that’s the bare minimum.
J: Just maybe not an elastic.
A: Right, exactly. I went to this place around the corner from here. I don’t know how to pronounce it because it’s an Asian restaurant. It’s called PLANTA Queen. When I read “Planta” I thought it was going to be Central American and Latin cuisine. But it was this Asian place. It’s all vegan. It has some of the best sushi I’ve had, period.
J: Have you ever been to Jajaja? That’s one of my favorite restaurants.
A: Yeah, I love Jajaja.
J: I went there two nights ago for dinner again. I hadn’t been since before the pandemic. This is one of my favorites. It’s flat out, not even a vegan restaurant. The food there is good. I think there are now four locations in New York. There’s a West Village and Williamsburg location now.
A: Good for them.
J: I think they also have a stall in one of those DeKalb Market things.
A: Yes, I do. But I was really hoping you were going to say in the bathroom.
J: Yeah, they have a glory hole. They have a vegan glory hole.
A: Corncob, sustainably sourced.
J: Oh, it’s so stupid. No, I f*cking love Jajaja so much. I do think that leaning into the vibes of whatever is great. I went to COTE, it’s a Korean steakhouse. It’s actually not far from here. It’s a few blocks away. I described it as a “Sex and the City” restaurant. You walk in and it’s got the dramatic red lighting, it’s over the top and ridiculous. We were dressed up nice and we had our cocktails in Martini glasses. You feel like you’re in the theater of it. I think that is so fun. At the show last night I covered for Kate, there were these two women in the audience. It was my first time being back doing live shows where there were people in the audience talking full volume.
A: I would actually have lost my f*cking mind.
J: I actually should have gone harder on them than I did. I just did the thing where I held a bit to kind of stare at them until they stopped talking and everyone laughed at them.
A: That’s like a good way to start.
J: They kept going. I was like, “F*ck, I really should have laid in.” I was the second comic and for the service of everyone who went after, I should have really put them in their place. I should have been like, “You need to f*cking stop or leave.” But it’s that thing of, why are you here?
A: I hate to sound like a boomer, but you gotta put your f*cking phone away and you got to stop talking. I don’t care what the show seems like to you. It’s a f*cking show. You gotta put your goddamn phone away. Please, it’s disrespectful to the comedian to see that little light pop up there in the middle of a joke. It might throw their timing off. You don’t realize it, but you’re getting a slightly less good version of the joke every time you pull out your f*cking phone.
J: I have an auditory thing where, if two people are sitting on either side of me and are talking at two different levels, I have to move. I don’t like that cross sound. So someone talking at a different pace when I’m talking, my brain starts to truly short circuit.
A: As anyone who’s taken Psych 101 knows, if you’re speaking and then someone else next to you starts speaking, you will say the words that they are saying. Because you can’t have input going into your ear while verbal output goes out of your mouth.
J: I do that, but with texting. Sometimes I accidentally text out the word I’m hearing and it usually goes really bad.
A: Yes. So when you talk during a comedy show, you’re quite literally frying the brain of the performer. You’re f*cking them up. It’s not nice to do.
J: You’re touring a lot. You’ve been on the road. You’ve been traveling to different places. And you weren’t doing that before the pandemic as much, right?
A: Not really, not with a draw. No one knew who I was. Thank you.
J: What is that like? What have you been learning?
A: I have formally decided I can’t do intimate venues anymore.
J: Oh, interesting.
J: Define for me what you consider to be an intimate venue.
A: It’s a venue that’s not designed for performance explicitly. Where the lighting might be a little higher, so everyone can kind of see each other, as opposed to the lighting that’s designed. I need a stage and lighting and a situation where the sound is specifically designed to go out. I’m hearing the laughter and not much of a mix of the whole room. I know this sounds super nitpicky. And they are literally closer in level. They’re right there, I’m not much higher above them. Whereas in a room, you might be a little higher above. I can’t do it anymore. I’ve done five of those bar shows. They’re big, they’re like 130 to 150 people, but they’re still in a bar. People just come and talk to me. They sit right in the front and they’re just like, “Hey,” mid-set. They’ll raise their hand and speak over me.
J: Are they drunk?
A: No. I mean, yes, but not hammered. Some of them are hammered.
J: But that’s not the impetus. That is so strange to me.
A: It’s wild. And I’m so grateful that you’re there, truly. I love you. If you’re listening to this, I f*cking love you. But please, I made a set for you and I would like to do it.
J: Some people cannot handle not being involved. They start to really experience an identity crisis, sitting in an audience. I’m a “Sleep No More” nerd. I’ve done “Sleep No More” three times and I do plan to do it a few more times. It’s one of my favorite things. But one time I saw a guy in “Sleep No More” who was clearly a straight man. I was like, oh, you cannot handle that you have a mask on and cannot receive any attention right now. He was deliberately trying to f*ck up the dances. Have you done “Sleep No More”?
A: No, I’m just so sorry.
J: No, it’s fine. I think you would like it, actually.
A: I think so, too.
J: We should go. I think you like it. It’s very fun. But there’s no boundaries. You can walk through something while a dance is happening. No one does, because everyone wants to watch the f*cking dance.
A: Because they paid for it.
J: Because they paid for it. Also, it’s telling a story, and it’s interesting. And it’s well done. And this guy was clearly trying to do this. I was like, oh, you think the draw is that you can do this and you can get involved in this way? That’s so crazy to me. I just think it’s so interesting that some people can’t handle it. I think it’s the same thing with hecklers. If someone’s getting a little too much attention and they are not totally vibing with it or they feel threatened by it, they have to get involved. No one’s looking at you.
A: I have no idea why this happens. They are the weird people that think it makes the show better. There’s TikTok going viral right now of this guy.
J: OK, is he a comic? Is he advocating for hecklers? I will hunt him down.
A: No, no, no, no. He’s having this back and forth with this woman, and frankly, I think he’s handling it so well. He’s playfully mean. I actually get that question somewhat frequently, more frequently than I ever thought that I would.
J: Do you think people are seeing these heckler videos going viral?
A: I posted videos, yes.
J: I don’t think I would ever post a video like that.
A: What they don’t know is that 95 percent of this interaction, if not more, never makes it to TikTok because it’s a disruption. Then finally, you see this curated, edited, one-minute moment of probably 20 minutes of constant disruption that has ruined the show. Maybe that clip is great for online, but the show itself is better if they just shut the f*ck up. I think that’s the disconnect.
J: Because you have to feel safe to laugh. If someone is violating social contract, the audience stops feeling safe. They’re like, “Is someone going to address this? This is uncomfortable. The comedians are clearly nervous.” That’s why I was really mad at myself when I left the show last night. I really should’ve been like, “Hey, you two need to shut the f*ck up or leave.”
A: It makes people uncomfortable. I’ve done that. I’ve done that and said, “Hey, people spent money on this. I am not letting you own this anymore.” But it makes people uncomfortable. It truly is a moment. They have to move on from it.
J: I know, it’s a lose-lose. It is damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
A: It depends on the level of the disruption. Sometimes it’s worth the awkwardness to then be able to move on.
J: So now, when traveling, it’s going to be only theater spaces.
A: Only theatrical. It’s wonderful. The whole thing is amazing. I sound like I’m complaining. It’s the most wonderful experience of my life, and there were so many first-time comedy people. They’ve never been to a comedy show, and it’s such a gift to give them that experience. A lot of them think they don’t like comedy. Why do people think they don’t like comedy?
J: This is funny because this reveals that I was literally talking about you behind your back, but in a positive way.
A: Who was it? Are they in the circle?
J: I don’t think you know them. Maybe I’ve read about them in a magazine.
J: It was Dave Attell. No, just kidding.
A: He’s not part of the circle. I mean, I love Dave Attell, but he’s not part of the circle.
J: I was talking about how so much of your following is queer women or queer femme people. And I was saying how I think it’s really beautiful and amazing. This was right after I hosted your show and you were telling me that there are going to be a lot of people in the audience’s first comedy show.
A: Oh, that’s right. Yes.
J: I was kind of mind blown by that. I was like, “Ashley draws out people from this population where this is maybe the first comedy that resonated with them or that they felt safe in.” It was interesting because I’ve never seen that happen with a queer man. I feel like that is a queer woman experience, in a way. Which is very interesting to me. I got really petty about it, to be honest. I think that queer men oftentimes, in our lives, use comedy as our safety net. It’s OK that I’m gay because I’m funny.
A: We stage manage on the lesbian side, but historically theater’s more of a thing for gay men.
J: It’s a way to kind of make it OK that we’re effeminate or that we’re gay or whatever. Sometimes when another gay man is like, “I’m saying that I’m funny enough to do this professionally,” well, that’s a threat to my humor. That’s been the thing that keeps me safe in my social settings and in my family. So who the f*ck do you think you are? And they don’t like it when other gay men are funny.
A: The worst heckle of my life came from a young gay man.
J: Of course it did. I was not jealous because I was really happy for you.
A: You can be jealous, it’s fine.
J: I wanted to kill her. I just left that show being really happy for you that you had this queer audience and it was really beautiful to see. And I was like, “Oh, I would love to have that one day.” But I wonder if it’s as possible for a queer man.
A: I’ll tell you right now, I didn’t think it was possible for me. I never expected this to go this way. I couldn’t have pictured it in my wildest dreams that a bunch of 23-year-old white lesbians would be following me around places. But that’s what happened. It’s a little more diverse than that. But it’s a lot from TikTok. And TikTok puts people who are like you in front. It’s a lot of their first times, and I feel a little bit like I’m teaching people to accept the immersive experience. I guess if there’s, like, a theme to this episode, it’s to go to the restaurant, wear the right outfit, and put your phone away.
J: Yeah, lean into it.
A: To the experience of it.
J: It’s funny to tell people listening to a podcast to put your phone away.
A: Stop listening.
J: That came up in two interviews recently, about how unplugging from things and living in the room that you’re in is a big part of it. So much with restaurants right now is about getting the picture of the food and tagging that you’re there. And I think it’s the same with comedy shows. It’s like when you’re at a concert and you can’t see the stage because everyone is holding their phone to take a video. It’s not about turning it into currency for you to show. The same thing happens at comedy shows. The joy of this is, all you have to do is laugh.
A: There’s psychological research around how if you take a picture of something with the intent to share it, you enjoy it less if you take a picture of it for your Instagram.
J: Is that true?
A: Yeah, but you can enjoy it more if the picture is genuinely for you. I am just so enjoying this. I’m going to take a picture for my personal reflection later.
J: Yeah, because the line is gone of what is for me and what is for output?
A: I got this in my happiness class that I’m constantly evangelizing. If you’re a fan of mine and you’ve heard me talk about this, this is the Coursera Yale, Science of Well-Being.
J: You take a happiness class?
A: I took a happiness class two years ago.
J: Have you found it really helpful?
A: Dude, I was f*cking suicidal, literally. And now I’m very happy. It was a life-changing course.
J: That’s amazing, I’m so happy for you.
A: I highly recommend it. I do these things religiously. I meditate every day, I write.
J: You found the practice that works for you.
J: That’s gorgeous. Well, this has been so eye-opening to me. It makes sense that someone who has never drank will be the one to be like, “No, you need to lean into the experience and stay aware of what’s happening and enjoy.” It is gorgeous. And don’t heckle at comedy shows.
A: Don’t heckle at comedy shows.
Thank you so much for listening to Going Out With Jake Cornell. If you could please go and rate and review us on whatever you’re listening to this on, that would be really gorgeous for me in a huge way, so thank you.
And now, for some credits. “Going Out With Jake Cornell” is recorded in New York City and is produced by Keith Beavers and Katie Brown. The music you’re hearing is by Darbi Cicci. The cover art you’re probably looking at was photographed by M. Cooper and designed by Danielle Grinberg. And a special shout-out to VinePair co-founders Adam Teeter and Josh Malin for making all of this possible.