Comedian Q&A: Catching up with standup comedian Jim Florentine

Comedian Q&A: Catching up with standup comedian Jim Florentine

Most of the world got to know stand-up comedian Jim Florentine through his work on Comedy Central’s Crank Yankers. Florentine was the twisted genius and voice behind Special Ed.

Florentine spoke with Paste Magazine this year about creating Special Ed.

“I was messing with the telemarketers, and I said, ‘Let me see if I can act like Special Ed and still keep them on the phone.’ And it was unbelievable. They would still try to sell me something even when I was acting like that. Special Ed was darker originally on my CDs. Comedy Central wanted him to be a little more happy-go-lucky…” he said.

Florentine moved on from Special Ed long ago, but Crank Yankers gave him a welcome platform, and the New Jersey-born comic has been making audiences laugh ever since. He’s also a huge music fan, and he’s interviewed dozens of recording artists over the years through his affiliations with various cable and radio programs.

Florentine is currently on the road, but we caught up with him between performances to ask about music, his inspirations and making a living as a stand-up comic (hint: registering with SoundExchange means comedians can collect their digital performance royalties).

Royalties make up an important share of the revenue that comedians, actors and spoken word artists collect each year. SoundExchange has paid more than $4.5 billion in royalties to date, but we can only collect and distribute your royalties if you register with us. Many comedians have done just that, and now they get paid for their work when it’s played on non-interactive digital radio, including services like Pandora, SiriusXM and iHeart Radio.

So, register with us here or the joke is on you. You can also become a member – membership gives you more benefits than registration. Membership is free and allows us to collect international royalties on your behalf and get those royalties to you.

SoundExchange: You’ve said Richard Pryor is one of your inspirations. Did you ever get to meet him, and what was it about him and his comedy that made you respect him?

Florentine: Unfortunately, I never got to meet Pryor. I remember as a kid going to the movies to see his concert films and just his honesty onstage about his personal life really intrigued me. He was the first guy onstage I saw not just doing jokes.

SoundExchange: We have to ask about Crank Yankers which turned 15 recently. You said that was your first job in television. How fun was it working with the group of comedians that included Adam Carolla and so many others?

Florentine: It was an amazing show to work on. We would fly to Las Vegas to make prank phone calls and hang there for a week or so.

Jimmy Kimmel, Adam Carolla and Daniel Kellison were the creators of the show and made sure the talent was taken care of. It was one big hang with those guys, and you felt like a family working together. They plucked me out of obscurity. I went from performing in sports bars where they wouldn’t shut the game off during the show to Improvs across the country.

SoundExchange: You released “A Simple Man” last year. How is your material from “A Simple Man” different from your earlier material and how have you changed since starting out in the 1990s?

Florentine: When I started out, I was used to going for the easy laugh. About year nine into my stand-up career is when I realized if I wanted to get to the next level, I was going to have to write more personal material and grow as a comic.

SoundExchange: You wanted to be a musician at one time. Why didn’t that work out?

Florentine: I don’t have an ear for music, nor do I have any rhythm. When someone doesn’t believe that, I tell them to watch my moves on the dance floor and see how long it takes to laugh at me.

SoundExchange: Even though you didn’t become a musician, you’re a music fan, and you’ve interviewed lots of musicians on VH-1 Classic’s That Metal Show (2008-2015) and now on Ozzy Osbourne’s Boneyard on SiriusXM. What was your most memorable interview with a recording artist and why?

Florentine: There are so many great ones, but interviewing Ozzy and also David Lee Roth when I was on The Opie and Anthony Show. Both of those guys were a huge part of my life early on, and they couldn’t have been nicer to me.

SoundExchange: You’re touring. You have a podcast. You have a book coming out. It’s not all fun and games, and people don’t always realize how hard comedians work to piece it together and make a living. Has the business side of comedy become harder in the digital age, or is it easier because there are more platforms on which to distribute your work?

Florentine: It’s a little of both. It’s great that you can put your own content out there, but the problem is there are so many platforms it makes it harder to find [content]. Doing a podcast for me is like having my own radio show that everyone in the world can listen to. It’s not that lucrative, but it’s a great platform for keeping your career current and for anything you’re promoting.

SoundExchange: As a comedian (who’s registered with SoundExchange!), you receive digital performance royalties. But not all comedians have registered with us. How important is it that comedians and spoken word artists register with SoundExchange, and do the digital radio services represent an important new source of revenue?

Florentine: I find it mind boggling when I find out comedians have not registered with SoundExchange. I registered years ago, and it’s been incredible. Before the internet and satellite radio, it was tough to get your album played anywhere, let alone collect royalties on it. SoundExchange doesn’t mess around. If you play it, you have to pay. It’s basically free money for the comic. SoundExchange does such a thorough job, too. If you’re a comic who has not signed up for SoundExchange, you’re a f***ing idiot! Ha!