Rev. Bob Levy
Larry the Cable Guy
Last Comic Standing
Chondra Pierce - A
Piece of My Mind
Live Comedy from the
Laff House: Make
Room for Comedy
Roundup 2 - Bill
Engvall, Jeff Foxworthy
and Ron Shock.
Southern Gents of
Comedy - Ron White,
Vic Henley, Steve
McGrew and Otis Lee
Laffapalooza #6 -
Jamie Foxx, JB
Smoove, Gerald Kelly
and Wil Sylvince
Laffapalooza #7 - Rob
Stapleton, Loni Love,
Jo Koy and James
Laffapalooza #8 -
Rodney Perry, Tony
Paul Mooney -
Russell Peters - Two
Dave Attell - Insomiac
Tour Uncensored -
Dave Attell, Dane
Cook, Greg Giraldo and
Mike Epps -
Jeff Cesario - You Can
Get a Hooker
Kims of Comedy -
Steve Byrne, Bobby
Lee, Kevin Shea and
Alonzo Bodden - Tall,
Dark & Funny
Jim Gaffigan - Beyond
Don Rickles - Speaks
Jackie Mason - The
World According to Me
Jake Johannsen - Jake
This Dot Com
Brad Montague -
Eric Schwartz - Wimp
Kathleen Madigan - In
Drew Hastings - I'm
Just Like You
Jesse Joyce - Joyce to
Marc Maron - Not Sold
Mike Birbiglia - Two
Tom Rhodes - Hot
Jimmy Shubert -
Ron White - You Can't
Oliver Double - Getting
the Joke: The Inner
Workings of Stand-Up
Ed Driscoll - Spilled
Gravy: Advice on Love,
Life, and Acceptance
from a Man Uniquely
Unqualified to Give It
Brad Stine - Live From
Middle America: Rants
from a Red-State
Sandi C. Shore - Sandi
Shore's Secrets to
Stand-Up Success: A
Judy Brown - The
Health Inspector -
Larry the Cable Guy
and Bruce Bruce star in
the comedy with
support from Lisa
The Benchwarmers -
David Spade stars with
Nick Swardson, Craig
MacDonald and Adam
Sandler in a comedy
about a three-player
baseball team that
Phat Girlz - Mo'Nique
and Godfrey star in the
comedy about love and
Scary Movie 4 - DeRay
Davis co-stars in the
spoof comedy with
Anna Farris and Regina
The Wild - Eddie Izzard
lends his voice in the
Over the Hedge - Garry
Sykes and Omid Djalili
lend their voices in the
starring Bruce Willis,
who replaces Jim
Carrey as the lead
Little Men - Keenan
Ivory Wayans directs
his younger brothers,
Shawn and Marlon
Wayans in a comedy
that co-stars Tracy
Morgan, Gary Owen
and John Witherspoon.
Wordplay - Jon Stewart
shares his passion for
crossword puzzles in
featuring Bill Clinton,
Bob Dole and Ken
Click - Adam Sandler
stars in the comedy
about a man who finds
a universal remote.
THERE IS NO
By Tasha A. Harris, Editor-In-Chief
Most Valuable Player
Making the Comedy World a
Better Paid Place
It’s a chilly Sunday night in March as I enter
Caroline’s to meet one of the hardest
working comics on the New York comedy
scene, Russ Meneve, who despite feeling
under the weather, came out to talk to STM about his comedy career, how he co-
founded and led the New York Comedian’s Coalition with Tom Shillue and Ted
Alexandro that united over 400 comedians to ask club owners for a long overdue pay
increase. After several meetings with comedians and club owners, the Coalition
negotiated a raise for all working comics in the city.
Meneve is a natural leader onstage as well as offstage. The Hawthorne, NJ native has
appeared on The Tonight Show, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, Last Call with
Carson Daly, and Last Comic Standing and his delightfully wicked and hilarious stand up
earned him a spot on New York Magazine’s “The Ten Funniest New Yorkers You’ve Never
Even after scoring a victory for New York City comics and receiving Cringe Humor’s
highest honor as “The Impact Player of 2005,” Russ is still looking out for the
betterment of his fellow comics – educating, empowering them to seek their fair share in the comedy business.
How did you get started in stand up?
I started in ’93 so I’ve been doing it 13 years. I was always fascinated by it. I didn’t
know I was going to do it for a living growing up. I knew I loved it. I did a talent show
in high school when I was 17 and I never thought about doing it again…
How long was the time gap between when you did stand up in high school until you
started doing it again? What brought you back to stand up?
From [age] 17 to 23. I always loved it. I had a job at Pricewaterhouse, an accounting
firm and I hated it. So I said let me just try this thing I’ve always wanted to do.
Where did you perform?
I went to the open mikes here in the City: I went to the West End Gate or something,
Gladys Comedy Room. I remember going to open mikes for a long time and barking
Who are some of the other comics with whom you started?
Dan Naturman, Ben Bailey, Judah Friedlander and Pete Correale, I think was around. A
lot less…a lot of people didn’t really make it past the first few stages.
You started at the end of the comedy boom, so how you find work during that time?
For me at that time, the fact that there was going to be less money or whatever the
situation was, I wasn’t going to see money for years anyway. I just wanted to get better
and get good at it.
Did you find a lot of work?
In the beginning – no. The first five years are hell. You don’t really get any work, any
good work anyway. You get a part-time job but I don’t have any fond memories of the
beginning because it was so hard.
What type of material did you do?
I think it’s the same as now: it’s an observational kind of thing. I did dirty and clean,
so I did both…
How has your style changed?
It’s a little bit darker than it was…I think you just accept it…everything really needs to
be talked about. You realize “I’m just going to say whatever I think.” …Once you get
more of the artist view as a comedian, you see that everything is really fair game.
When is the last time that you bombed was and what did you learn from it?
I still bomb all the time. The point of trying out new jokes to try to get better, the more
you’re going to bomb. The best guys really bomb all the time. The more chances
you’re taking, the more you’re going to bomb; and the more chances you’re taking,
the more you’re going to get better.
How are you different as a comedian today than you were a year ago?
Certainly, any inhibitions or fears are completely gone. It diminishes to the point where
you’re so free up there. Each passing year, it gets better and better.
What fears did you have?
It’s not that you’re afraid to get onstage,
but you’re afraid to go down a path in
your mind and not have the audience go
with you. Then slowly, that fear goes
away. You don’t care if they go with you or
not…They can like it or not like it, and
that’s okay too, but I’m going to say this
because I think it’s funny and it’s going
to be a much bigger payoff for me
because it’s so unique and different…It’s
going to have a much bigger payoff if it
does work, so it’s worth that risk.
How long does it take for a comic to find his voice?
If you want to find it faster, it kind of goes back to what I just talked about. Don’t be
afraid to not have them laughing. Someone asked me about writing and how to go
about it and I said to the person: “It’s the unique thing that something that happened
to them or you think about that no one’s ever talked about, you don’t really know how
to phrase it onstage, but you never heard it before – that’s the one you want to do.
It’s that weird thing that you find funny that you never heard anything like it, that’s the
gem that you got to go after.
Do you write onstage or do you set aside time to write?
I write during the day.
Everyday. I get up, I start making coffee. And then I start writing for as long as I can. I
save every bit, joke and idea. A lot of the great jokes that I have now are things that
really didn’t work in the past that I held onto and I was able re-work.
You’ve been on The Tonight Show and Conan. How do you prepare for a TV
Preparing for it, it’s funny because all your jokes are set. They approve them and go
over your set. Nothing really prepares you for a TV spot. I remember when I did my
first Conan appearance, it was my first TV spot and I remember when I first went
onstage, the sound was different, the band was playing and the audience was way
back. It was very different medium than what you’re used to. You get better at it the
more you keep doing it…
How did the New York Comedian’s Coalition come about?
I was sitting in my apartment one day and I was thinking about how the pay hadn’t
gone up for so long…We asked an accountant what we would need to get by and he
actually calculated that it would be worth about $100 a day, so we did our best. I
basically constructed a letter and we sent it to everybody outlining the raise and how to
go about it constructively. Everyone was really behind it. It was just a matter of making
everyone aware of what it should be, how it hasn’t changed in 20 years and how do you
feel about it. We had overwhelming feedback and had a meeting and went from there.
Why do you think so much time passed before someone stepped up to the plate?
It was just having the right leaders to do it. We were passionate enough to do all the
How much work went into organizing the Coalition?
Bringing everyone together is a lot of work. Uniting people for a cause is very hard to
do, especially comedians. People were really afraid of the cause. Some people were
afraid of the clubs, some were for the clubs, and some were behind the raise, but not
for other things, so to keep the whole ship together, to get the goal accomplished was
really hard. We had to go about very slowly…the bulk of the work is keeping the group
together and going about it in a very civil and dignified way with the clubs. I think back
to how many conference calls we had; we were on the phone for hours.
I noticed that in the beginning, there was a lot of press, but in the end there was very
little follow up.
Once there was a resolution, there was no story. People wanted to see a big strike with
cameras in the street.
What was the outcome?
They went up on the money. It’s a little different with each club. On average, it’s $20 or
$25 during the week. I know before comics would get $10 and sometimes as low as $5.
On the weekends, it went up to about average $80 from $60.
What kind of feedback did you receive from the comics?
I think they were very supportive of it. The only people that really fought it were the
club owners. Some comedians were not really behind it, which I found shocking.
I think some were afraid of losing their spots because we were challenging the clubs.
Did the cause benefit all comics?
It benefited everyone who works, that’s working at a club, even the people who weren’t
What’s next for the Coalition because I saw a letter that you sent out in regards to
comics getting paid for their sets that are used by digital media companies?
We sent out an email because there are a lot of companies are trying to build these
massive libraries for this whole new media revolution that’s happening and they’re
giving comedians very little money and they’re profiting. They want to own the sets and
perpetuity, which means they would own it forever. The comedians were signing and I
tried to put a stop to it, and luckily I did. People just don’t think. They’d be like, “Yeah
I’ll sign it, give me $20” and the companies bank all their material and then use it, sell
it to Verizon and make millions of dollars and that would be end of it. Luckily, we got
the word out.
Find out a rate you want to do it for and at the very least, get that perpetuity
agreement out. If they want to hold it for a year, and then maybe use it, that’s one
thing; but to own it forever, that’s too much.
It seems like comics need a performing rights organization –
Or a union really–
Because they’ll make sure you get paid.
If you try to unionize, they don’t want to do it. I don’t why but people are afraid of
Yeah, but you should never be afraid to get paid.
Right, but there’s an added thing in show business is that people are very desperate to
get on TV and be a star…You’re chasing a dream so there’s a much added level of
desperation involved. I go out to L.A. and people still don’t get paid for club spots. At
least in New York, it’s more about the art. If you’re in L.A. trying to be a comedian,
they will not pay you because they know you’re there to be a star.
What should comics be more concerned about: fame or getting paid?
There’s plenty of money coming in from stand-up comedy that you can have a piece of
that for what you’re doing right now. It shouldn’t be that all the club owners get all the
money and maybe you get a shot of being a star. There’s plenty of money coming in.
The artist is very much a part of that money and the reason why it’s coming in.
The fame thing – I don’t think you should really chase that. You should try to be the
best artist you can be. Work on that and if the fame happens, great but if it doesn’t,
there’s plenty of money to be made in the clubs.
To view Russ Meneve's club schedule, click here.
Tell us what you think
about the interview with
Russ Meneve. To post
your comments, click here.
Tasha A. Harris is a writer-
comedian. She was the former
news editor of Two Drink
Minimum and a contributing
writer to The Comic Bible and
Punchline magazine. Harris is
also editor at Talent In Motion.
Russ Meneve is so right about performers being paid. How did this idea take hold that
you're worth nothing while you are getting better? This notion is the ultimate in anti-
work and anti-family policies. Do entry-level workers in other businesses get nothing for
their contribution to the bottom line? Of course not, and comics should share in the
economic activity in which they participate.
The club owners make enormous profit on liquor and require a cover charge. Bringer
Shows should also be addressed. Yes, there is a difference between open mics and
bringer shows and what people like Russ do but the clubs should at least split the cover
charge with the people who are literally providing the audience. The work of the New
York Comedian's Coalition was a good beginning, but can you believe the ruckus over
a measly $20? Much more still needs to be done.