How to People Watch with Big Jay Oakerson

Big Jay Oakerson is a busy dude. Weekdays, he and fellow comedian Dan Soder co-host The Bonfire on SiriusXM. Twice a week he co-hosts “the most offensive podcast on Earth”, Legion of Skanks with Luis J. Gomez and Dave Smith. And that’s before we even talk about stand-up comedy.

Already this year, Big Jay’s done Bert Kreischer’s Fully Loaded Tour, Kid Rock’s Comedy Jam, and later this year he’ll be recording his special at Skankfest Vegas.

In between it all, he’s back in MTL for JFL’s notorious Nasty Show, this time as host.

Well, when I spoke to him, he was almost here.

“I’m in Oklahoma City. I’m not bragging.” He tells me he was getting some work done on one of his Legion of Skanks tattoos in his hotel room into the wee hours of that morning, which is the low-key rockstar shit I can appreciate. For those keeping score, he currently has five LoS tats, while Luis J. Gomez only has two.

Considering how much he travels, I wonder if there’s anything he does in every city.

“When I was in my 20s, even early 30s…I was so happy to go to another town and as long as possible, you know, they’d be like, well, it’s a Wednesday through Sunday gig. You know, and I’d be like, hell yeah, let’s make it Tuesday. Like, I’d be in a hotel and talk to chicks and blah, blah…have some drinks and everything. And now…at 44 when I’m on the road constantly…my back still hurts from that plane. I pretty much just know my hotel and route to the comedy club and back and then hopefully along the way there’s like a Starbucks, you know, a place to buy cigarettes.”

Traveling during the lockdown did provide some rare opportunities though.

“I was hitting the road for some things when it was you and nine other people on a jumbo jet. And that was fun.”

The road in this current period is more confusing.

“I put no politics into any of this kind of shit at all but…with the masks, you’re just like ‘so, it’s just okay now?’ That’s the funny thing about being in the middle of things like that and not political, because there’s such a staunch thing of people like ‘the masks are bullshit, and it’s just the flu or whatever’. And I’m like, I don’t know about that. And then people that are like, you know, ‘mask up this thing is deadly, it’s killing everybody, and it’s …the worst thing in the world’. Like, I don’t know if it’s that serious…It’s like when they have the masks off…okay, I’ll take the mask off. But like, should we be taking the masks off?”

In a time where everyone has an opinion and soapboxes are more available than ever, it does become tricky deciding who to believe on just about every subject.

“I’m so…swayed…easily on things… The person who I deem to be a little smarter says it and I’ll just roll with that…I’m always a documentary away from changing my opinions completely.”

“…I always use the example of Fahrenheit 911…When it was over I was like, George Bush maybe should be charged with war crimes…And then they made a documentary called Fahrenhype 911…the counterpoint to that, and when that was over, I was like, the guy’s just trying to do his job, man. I mean, president’s a hard job.”

Insight into self is rare enough, but Big Jay goes a step farther with uncanny insight into others. He has a unique knack for embodying a character in the moment; creating inner dialogue improv, or an off the cuff narrative. I ask if he’s always been a people watcher.

“You know, it’s funny…when I first started comedy, it was in Philadelphia, and it was an all black comedy club. And me and Kurt Metzger, another brilliant comic…we were in this black comedy club, and… I looked the part… that worked in that kind of room; Kurt couldn’t have been more like, khaki pants and you know, Quicksilver shirt, white art school kid…When it went bad on stage at these places, you get chewed up by an all black audience who’s coming at you…they’re not just saying ‘you suck, boo’, they’re going ‘look at your shoes’.”

“…So me and Kurt used to go to the DMV in South Jersey, and just sit on a bench outside of it…every kind of person is walking into the DMV every day… we would just like, tear each person walking by apart, just to ourselves…That’s actually how I worked that muscle…It got to a point where it’s like, I don’t know if my jokes are going to be good in this black comedy club, but if somebody starts…heckling me…it was almost like a relief. You’re like, okay, I can definitely do this.”

In addition to hosting the Nasty Show, Big Jay’s also performing at Marc Maron’s gala, and hosting The Worst at Cafe Cleopatra, an experimental storytelling format that sounds both compelling and cringey.

“People come up on stage and tell their stories of their worst experiences with you know, fill in the blank, whatever it is: your worst date, worst show, your worst car accident, it could be whatever…I’m very big on not being rehearsed as much as possible …somebody can have a thing of like, ‘well, I have a story, but it’s like my jokes you know? I mean, it’s like, it’s in my jokes. And I have punchlines in it’. And I’m like, ‘well, you can still say some of the punchlines…but just tell me the story…not like you’re telling it on stage…tell it like it just happened to you and you don’t have those punch lines’. …I sit down at a table kind of…off set from them, so they can tell the story to the audience, but I’m there to like, extrapolate…ask questions…so it’s more like …a podcast live thing, but it’s just a story each person tells, and I kind of go through it…You know, when you’re getting to a story about something that happened at Dunkin’ Donuts, and in the middle of the story, you’re like ‘yeah, I hitchhiked, and a trucker drove me to the thing’, you know, …they’ll just say it like that, whereas I’ll be like, ‘wait wait wait, hitchhiked?!’ and it turns into a tangent of ‘who the fuck hitchhikes? I haven’t heard that since the 60’s’.”

Whether it’s the bits we gloss over, or the parts we polish to distract from our insecurities, there remains nothing more universally funny than the foibles of being human.

Catch Big Jay Oakerson hosting The Nasty Show and The Worst and as part of The Marc Maron Gala

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