Comedian Ted Alexandro talks "Teacher's Lounge", Occupy and more

Comedian Ted Alexandro talks "Teacher's Lounge", Occupy and more

After 20 years in the business, Ted Alexandro has long been enjoying the view from the top of stand up comedy. Alexandro has a plethora of impressive television credits that include Conan, Jimmy Kimmel Live, the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, two half-hour Comedy Central specials, and multiple appearances on the Late Show with David Letterman.

Ted, along with co-creator and co-star Hollis James, recently launched the innovative and highly hilarious web series Teacher's Lounge, which they funded through Kickstarter. Over the phone, Ted dove deeper into Teacher's Lounge, his involvement in the Occupy movement, a once in a lifetime surprise from Louis C.K., and more.

*See below for the first 2 episodes of Teacher's Lounge 

How long were you a teacher before becoming a comic?

I taught for about 5 years. My first teaching job was actually as a gym teacher. I took a year off, I was about 20 years old and I was studying jazz piano. so I took a year off to just really study one-on-one intensely with a teacher. And during that year, a friend of mine was a teacher at a school and said they needed a gym teacher.

So that was really my first teaching job. I didn't even need a degree, at that point, I wasn't even taking education classes or anything. I was still a jazz piano major. It was just a good way to kind of make money, while I was taking this year off from college and studying one-on-one with this piano teacher.

That was the first kind of classroom experience. But then, I switched my major to education and I wound up teaching music when I graduated. So that was about a 5 year run of teaching around New York at different schools.

While you were teaching did you find a lot of nuances funny that wound up in the web series?

I think that in any work place environment, you're always aware of things that are funny. A work place environment has rules, or has some sort of protocol of professional behavior.

That's even more heightened in a school because there's children around. You have the combination of your colleagues, your fellow teachers, who you kind of show one face to, and then you have children.

And especially me as a music teacher, I'm dealing with the whole school. Classroom teachers just have their one group of kids, but I was teaching literally everybody. I think it's a pretty interesting and funny dynamic. Especially me being a comic, I think a lot of it was kind of being filed away for later use.

The comics you cast fit in perfectly. Did you write with them in mind? 

There's a certain amount of things that could be switched around or interchanged, but definitely we wrote with these comics in mind and their voices in mind with an idea of what would work and what would be interesting.

We approached it from the foundation of let's start with a comic and see what would be a funny job for them to have or what would be fertile ground for them to explore.

Do you have a favorite moment from first season?

I would say the Dave Attell episode. Dave played the school photographer and that was very memorable well certainly (laughs) because it's Dave. He was great with his improv. But also because we brought in, that was the one episode we had the most people in by far.

Because we needed faculty members for him to photograph so he could interact and improv with people. We brought in about 15 or 20 comics that day, for him to shoot with. Just to watch Dave work for about an hour... He even went longer than we anticipated. We thought maybe he would shoot for half an hour, 45 minutes, but he just kept improvising and shooting for over an hour.

One thing was funnier than the next, everybody was biting their hand trying not to laugh at different takes. He'd be shooting one-on-one with one comedian, kind of giving them instructions like a photo shoot, the way Dave is, like doing crowd work. The rest of us were just trying as hard as we could not to ruin the take and laugh on the side.

Ted 1

How was your experience with using Kickstarter?

It was great. The Kickstarter thing kind of fits in with my philosophy in general of going directly to the people and making your case saying, "Here's our idea, are you willing to support it?" Rather than going through the corporate system of entertainment, which a lot of times will dilute the voice of the artist in some way.

We felt, "If people like the idea, we will get the money," which we did and that was incredible. And that will then enable us to control the process start to finish and not have to compromise on the artistic side of things. Sometimes they'll tell you who to cast, or "we don't like this person." We didn't want to have to deal with any of that foolishness.

We just really wanted to make the show that we wanted to make. It can be nerve-wracking with 30 days of "are we going to make it?" And $50,000 is a lot of money. The show actually cost more than that for us to make.

We were really just looking to recoup our investments and pay everybody, the crew and the tech people and all that kind of stuff. It's also more satisfying because you have more of an investment, you're asking people to support something.

If I just have a show coming out on whatever network, it just kind of appears and people watch it or they don't. With this, you're kind of engaging with people from the beginning, which is exciting.

What drove you to be involved in the Occupy movement and what has the experience been like?

I wasn't really a very involved activist on any kind of sustained level before Occupy, but when I went down to Zuccotti Park, it really kind of resonated with me. I think it maybe awoke something in me that had been kind of dormant.

I think a lot of people are struggling and scrambling, artists certainly, but even folks that aren't in the arts, even folks that are in their 40's, 50's, even 60's, who thought they had a secure career in one field or another and have seen it kind of dry up or seen jobs outsourced or jobs made part time...

Basically, the things that I saw being discussed at Occupy were things that I felt were very relevant and kind of not being discussed. It was like the people were forming a megaphone to say "Hey, these issues are important to us, we want representation in our government, we want jobs that pay a living wage." To me, it was an opportunity to participate in a modern movement that was advocating for the rights of people.

Did you have trouble balancing your career in comedy with your involvement in Occupy?

No, not at all. I think, like a lot of things in my life, when I feel passionately about something or someone, everything fits together rather seamlessly when you love what you're doing. I loved being involved in that, and I love comedy obviously. Everything went pretty seamlessly.

Sometimes I would go down to Zuccotti Park before or after my sets. One time I actually got arrested and had to cancel my set at the Comedy Cellar. I had to yell over the fence to a couple of my fellow comedians to let them know that I wouldn't be there that night.

Ted 2

What did they arrest you for?

I got arrested for trespassing I think. Trespassing was the charge because we were on a lot that had been gated and locked. This bishop went over the gate with a ladder and a whole bunch of people went over the gate, and I went over as well.

The lot of land was owned by Trinity Church, which is also a billion dollar real estate company. To me, it was symbolic of that unholy alliance of corporate interests with people that are supposed to be serving the people.

Can you tell the story where Louis C.K. surprised you with a huge gig?

That was an exciting moment. I had been opening for Louie C.K. on his tour a few years ago and the tour had finished. I hadn't really talked to him in a couple of months, but I got a text message from him one night saying, "What are you doing tomorrow night at 8 pm?"

I didn't know what he was referring to. If it was a gig or maybe to go to dinner... I assumed it was probably a gig. I texted back, "I'm free tomorrow. What's up?" Then he texted back, "57th and 7th 8pm." That was it. That was all he wrote back.

I Googled "Louie C.K. 57th and 7th" because I was racking my brain, "there's no comedy club over there," " No theater that I'm aware of..."

It comes up he's playing Carnegie Hall. I realized in less than 24 hours I was going to be onstage opening for Louie C.K. at Carnegie Hall. It kind of blew my mind.

Scott King is a contributing writer for the Wall Street Journal and RedEye Chicago. @ScottKingMedia on Twitter. 

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