Comedian Todd Glass first began performing stand up in the early 80's in his native Philadelphia, personally witnessing some of the greatest performers of that era every weekend at The Comedy Works before finally getting on stage himself at the Wednesday night open mic, Eddie Murphy, Richard Lewis, Jay Leno, Rosanne Barr, Jerry Seinfeld and Gary Shandling were just a few of the incredible acts Todd watched in those early years. "I truly love it more now probably than when I started, I can't get enough of it," Glass said during our phone interview, currently on the road touring with Daniel Tosh, the veteran comedian had a lot of profound insights to offer on topics ranging from political correctness, freedom of speech, taking personal responsibility for our lives and having the courage of ones convictions. The early years of Todd's career saw him opening up for huge musical acts such as George Jones, Patti Labelle, Aretha Franklin and Dianna Ross. His earliest TV appearance came in the late 80s on A&E's An Evening at the Improv, later as a contestant on Last Comic Standing and most recently as guest bailiff on Comedy Central's The High Court with Doug Benson. But beyond the wheels of fame and fortune Glass is perhaps what most would call an earnest and off the cuff truth teller. Much like Hicks and Carlin, Todd has an uncanny ability to cut through the dross and dig up the bare essentials, in both craft and in life, Glass knows that what matters most is being on the right side of history, comedy being one of the many ways we eventually get ourselves there. "If you don't stop the bullshit now it'll never end" Todd says. "Like anything else, I treat this like the triathlon, just nip it in the fucking bud right now." On comedy's role in our cultural and artistic landscapes, Glass had this to offer, "When you figure out a way you can tell the truth and get paid for it you can see why a lot of comedians in the past were truth tellers."
James: What do you think some of the traps are, whether self inflicted or not, that comedians can fall into when they're starting out?
Todd: Jealousy won't ruin you, it's what you do with it, it can work for the good if it motivates you to be more productive, but if it motivates you to turn bitter then it'll just kill you. Everybody gets what they deserve. It sounds weird to say, but that means that even if I don't like what they do or their craft, they still deserve everything they get. Taking responsibility can be a great way to grow. I take responsibility for where my own career is, some people have had more success than me but some people have had less success than me, so if I don't take responsibility that means I can't even take responsibility for what I do have. Everybody is exactly where they should be in their career, that doesn't mean I don't want more when I say that, don't get me wrong. When people become angry at the idea that everyone deserves what they've gotten it's because they have a lot of reasons in their head of why they aren't where they should be and probably none of it includes blaming a hundred percent of it on themselves.
James: Part of it's the contributing factor you're bringing to it too from your own life, like you've mentioned before when people say it's a cut throat business that's usually because of who they've put in their environment and surrounded themselves with.
Todd: I've always said that perception is your reality. If you think something's a certain way it might be because that's what you're attracting.
James: Do you think that bitterness is ever legitimate for some comedians who maybe feel that they've been done over or whatever it may be, beyond just what they're contributing to the situation?
Todd: That's probably not a comedian thing, that's probably in life, people have a lot of reasons to blame everybody but themselves, and I try and stay away from that.
James: Do you think that there's ever situations where they might have a point though?
Todd: Of course, but everybody deals with that stuff. And again I'm not somebody who has had the success of Louis C. K. or Chris Rock, I've had success, but when I say I take responsibility for where I'm at it's not because I can say that because I'm a household name. I'm not saying some people don't get a lucky break. To me the example there is like if your neighbor wins the lottery, yeah he got lucky, but you didn't! I know what you're saying, can't there be an isolated situation where somebody got fucked over, yeah, but you can't blame that on your whole career. People get bad breaks sometimes, but so do people with huge success. I'm sure this is in every profession; "I should have that" and they don't really want to say it out loud. Sometimes the way to get someone to hear what they're saying is not by arguing with them but by asking questions. "Oh, what should you have?" and then let them answer. "Oh, what happened?," just keep asking them questions like you believe what they're saying without any tone in your voice and eventually I think they might hear that they sound a little ridiculous. Like if you bought it, you just go, "really, wow, how did that happen, oh that lucky break, whew, maybe you should just get out of the business because it sounds like it's not gonna go good, because you have no control over that." I just know that if you take responsibility for what you have and what you don't have you'll definitely end up happier and less bitter.
James: You've said that the best comedy is the comedy of tomorrow, the stuff that's about to happen but hasn't happened yet, in other words the comedic work that's happened in the past shouldn't take precedence over what's still to come.
Todd: Anybody who says "comedy isn't what it used to be", they're not out in the trenches. Maybe that's why I'm more in touch with what's going on, because I'm still out there. But I get it, I could be out of touch too, I'm sure if I had a show and a lot of success on television I might not be as in touch with new comedy as I am, that's all, I'm not saying I'm so great because I'm in touch, I'm just still out there. Even with music, when somebody goes "you know, there's no good music like there used to be," I just go inward and I think "oh, they're just watching music on television. They're not out at night clubs where new musicians play," or they wouldn't say that. So you just decide, do you want to be Frank Sinatra who made fun of the Beatles, or do you want to be someone who is in touch. I think Patton Oswalt said it; the best comedy hopefully is tomorrow. And I don't think if Richard Pryor could communicate with us he'd be thrilled to know that comedy never evolved after he died. Of course he wouldn't want to think that! Comedy was everything to these guys! If there was some world where you could go up to George Carlin or Richard Pryor and go "comedy is getting better and better" they'd be like "oh, fuckin' awesome!" not "oh fuck, I was hoping I was the last of the great comedians."
James: Do you think a part of over romanticizing the past is just a way of trying to stave off change?
Todd: I think it all comes down to the simplicity of this, sometimes it was an easier time for you. You didn't have as many bills. You didn't have as many responsibilities. You had more of your life ahead of you. So you were able to enjoy music more, and go out more and be in touch with reality more when it came to the arts, and as you get older, not always, some people are 80 and still very in touch with new music and comedy, but it's not the norm, the norm is that it was better back in your day. Comedy is in a great place, but you have to see a lot of it. You can't stick your nose into a scene scrunched up. "Let me see what's going on here," you know what I mean? That's not how you know what's going on, you've got to be immersed in that scene. Also being in touch with what's new and good helps you grow. I see new comics that inspire me to be a better comic, I want that.
James: Of all the changes that comedy has undergone, and I know you embrace most of them, but are there any that you think aren't necessarily for the better?
Todd: I wish I could think of something, but no, everything is for the better. If you said "is there anything bad about a knife" I'd be like "yeah, it stabs people!" But it also operates on people. So if you pull the scope back usually it's all for the better.
James: What are your thoughts on Political Correctness?
Todd: Whenever people complain about what they can and can't say, you have to acknowledge that verbiage changes over the years. Comedians used to use certain derogatory words on stage, and I'm sure they didn't like it when public temperature changed, so either grow or die or be miserable, there's your choices. Everyone has a right to speak and I think people are very confused at what freedom of speech is. Take situations, and there's been a few of them, where a comedian has said something really controversial that crossed the line and there were consequences. Now imagine a pretend conversation where Lenny Bruce comes back, and someone tells him "there's no freedom of speech anymore," and they tell him what happened to a comedian and so Lenny Bruce goes "Ah, so they can't perform anymore, they’re in jail?" "No, no, they’re not in jail, they just got fired." "Oh, so they can't perform live anymore?" "No, they can perform live." "Oh, but they can't do another radio show or tv appearance anywhere on the planet, ever?" "No, they can still do that." So pull the scope back. They said something that got them fired but they're still able to pick themselves back up and perform. You think that's what Lenny Bruce was pissed about? No! Lenny Bruce fought and won and I think it's disrespectful to him to go "oh my God, Lenny Bruce would be in deep shit if he were still here." No, Lenny Bruce should be allowed to sit back and go "holy fuck, I fought for a lot of these things and look at how everyone's benefited by them!" Employers have freedom of speech too, they're allowed to fire somebody if they want. And all you have to do to learn is give a fuck! No one's clobbering you because you don't learn over night. The people who are getting shit on aren't the people who aren't learning quickly, it's the people who don't even want to digest it. It's one thing if someone puts a steak in front of you and you eat it and you say you don't like it. Alright, well you ate it. But you can't sit with a steak in front of you that you're not even willing to eat and go "I don't like it!" And to me that's what all these social things are, you're not even digesting it, you just don't even think it's worth it. It sounds funny if you just say what it is, what they're basically saying is "ugh, great, another group of people I have to learn about. Their plight, ugh, it's all I need is more people to learn about."
Let's just talk about words you can say and words you can't say. Let's go back into history and look at people's beings that were used as adjectives. Say to somebody, do you think we should bring them back? I would imagine most people would say no. Well okay. Now we're dealing with other words. Do you know what you're gonna look like when you look back and you put up a fight to hold on to the word retarded as freedom of speech? So why can't you use those words, that's freedom of speech? [Todd is being rhetorical to make a broader point.] You know who I'd respect more, someone who said "yeah, we should bring back those words," at least they're consistent and I can fucking follow that! "That progression I'll take, but the words that are in our lexicon right now, ugh." For me to respect the other side you'd have to throw me a word that we got rid of that wasn't somehow, and it always is, for the better. I should preface all of this by saying I don't think there should be rules to what you can and cannot say. I will never be a part of that. I will never be a part of editing any comedian or poet or musician. Everybody should say what they want. Everybody. End of story. I will not be a part of censoring it. But now that that's out of the way we're allowed to discuss it. Discussing it doesn't mean I want a court order forcing you to stop it. I don't want anybody to stop anything because they were made to stop. I hope something I say will make them want to stop. I think out of all the people who say you can't say anything anymore, I think it's because they took verbiage out of their act not from their heart. For instance I used to use the word retarded years ago, I didn't take it out of my act and vocabulary because of peer pressure, I took it out because it made sense to. And I think the people that say you can't say anything anymore, whether it's a comedian or just somebody in regular life, it's because they're dropping stuff out of their verbiage because of peer pressure, so they're pissed! And I think they should bring it all back. Bring it all back! But that's who's the maddest. I'm not mad that you have to nip and tuck your verbiage, so I feel I have freedom of speech, they don't feel like they have freedom of speech because they're not dropping it out from their heart, they're dropping it out because they got sick and fucking tired of being corrected. And so now they think you can't say anything anymore because they're dropping verbiage out of their act, either out of peer pressure or because they don't want backlash. I feel like I can say whatever the fuck I want! But that's because I'm ready to deal with the fact that whatever I say could have backlash.
There should be no rules. People should say whatever they want, but you have to deal with the outcome of what you say, but that's why it's so brave! How brave would it have been for Lenny Bruce or George Carlin to have said whatever they wanted and face no backlash? You think Martin Luther King didn't get back lash? Oh boo hoo, you don't want backlash? That's fucking hilarious! You don't want backlash, the one thing that makes it brave to say whatever you want, and you face usually no physical backlash, except the groups you make fun of sometimes, they don't usually face verbal backlash, they literally get the shit beaten out of them, the groups you're giving a hard time, but all you get is some verbal backlash, the majority of the time, you get to say whatever you want and you face a little verbal backlash, and you don't want that!?! Well then go talk to your friends!
Now do I ever see a group of people go after someone and they're wrong? Of course I do! I'm a comedian. Thank God that sometimes great comedians ignore the pulse of that audience that one night. We wouldn't have great comedy if they didn't. But they can still do what they do, that's what matters! People say it's inhibiting their speech, when your parents corrected you on your language they weren't inhibiting your speech, they were trying to make it beautiful! There's no danger here at all, because we're not talking about stopping them from doing whatever they want! Everything I'm saying will never stop good comedy. It's not like I'm saying if a comedian says such and such they should lose their comedy license. That's dangerous! But talking and saying whatever you want, understanding that you risk backlash, that will never be dangerous. Picture some comedian today who feels like he can't say anything anymore sitting around having drinks with Lenny Bruce, and Lenny goes first, tells the guy what happened to him, then it's the newer comedians turn; "I had 65 tweets aimed at me." It seems absurd, I don't even have to role play for you, Lenny would be like, "you're the luckiest fuck in the world! They can complain and you can say whatever you want and they can go "fuck you" but you get to go on stage the next night? Wow!" Hey, would it be so bad that Lenny could be proud of himself? Like maybe he in some way helped that? But instead you're going "Lenny Bruce, all his hard work was for nothing. It's getting worse." It's so delusional. When I hear someone say these specific words; "you used to be able to go to colleges and be a free thinker," I think "Oh, you got old, because you still can." You know what nobody wants to do, admit they turned into their parents. It fucking blows to admit you turned into your parents! And so much it sucks that when it happens, instead of saying it did, you turn on young adults. "Oh, they're getting dumber," that's what your parents thought. You don't want to turn into your parents and then when you do instead of having the self worth to go "Oh fuck, I turned into my parents!" you put the blame on the new generation.
James: Playing devils advocate for a moment, do you think that students shouting down a comedian or whoever the speaker happens to be, do you think that's too much? Do young people have an inability to sit with uncomfortable ideas that they may not necessarily agree with, but that they should still be able to sit through and hear them out for an hour?
Todd: You're right that they shouldn't shout them down. They should do a silent walk out. But I think the problem is they're so in touch with the group that that person is hurting that it's harder for them. When you see how powerful a joke can be and how it hurts someone that's gay, or how it hurts a woman or person of color because you have black, gay and transgender friends and you see the tears coming out of their eyes it must be harder to put up with this bullshit of Ann Coulter or people like that! So I get anger. There gets to be a point, when is this fucking gonna end? And now it's with transgendered people, leave people the fuck alone! We go one group at a time? To me this is how the world evolves. When you go to therapy you deal with your anger, not anger at the mall, anger with your kids, anger with your wife, you just deal with your anger and then you'll implement it with everybody. We just go one group at a time. Okay, we got past this or we made headway. Now we're starting to understand gay people, now transgendered, what don't you get! Just leave everybody the fuck alone and the next time there's a group and you don't understand them, you realize you're wrong every other time! To me the worst people are the ones who go "alright, I'll stop using the word gay," they genuinely understand, but then they fight the next word. Don't you see the patterns of yourself, every time there's a crossroads of decency you take the wrong path? It s one group at a time. Just learn that you're wrong. My analogy with anger is that once you deal with your anger you will not be angry with your kids, your wife, it's not like you sit in therapy for a year and a half dealing with the anger with your wife, and then finally you get that under control, then you're back in there next month, "I'm yelling at my kids now." No, let's nip this anger in the bud, and every time you reach a crossroads where you'd normally deal with it by yelling and screaming, this time you won't. And that's what I feel we should do socially, just realize you don't make good choices, you're wrong every goddamn time. If I don't change my behavior because of a criticism someone has made of me, it's never because I didn't take it in. You'll never see me, like I said before, sitting in front of steak saying I don't like it and I'm not even tasting it.
James: When people rely on certain words often they've just become so used to saying it without the ability of thinking it through.
Todd: People say it's the intent. But no one gives anybody a hard time for using those words. They give you a hard time for holding on to them. It took me a while to let go of certain words. But if you're using the word retarded now I think you're doing it defiantly. Any five and dime therapist could figure out you're mad at something else, this can't just be about the word retarded, this is your last straw, it's like "I stopped doing that and I stopped doing that, fuck it, I'm not gonna stop doing this!" The one thing that's cool about using certain language is that you face consequences and they don't want any consequences! That's like cigarettes, you know why cigarettes are cooler than e cigarettes? Because they kill ya! That's why when you smoke an e cigarette you don't feel cool. Having freedom of speech is only cool if you have backlash, and you want to take that out of it, you want no consequences? Then it doesn't make it brave. [Todd, again, is being rhetorical to speak to his broader point about the hypocrisy of bitching over restricted verbiage] Say it from your heart and then you'll face the consequences of riling people up. People who fight for using the word retarded or being able to say gay as an adjective, they should fight for it. As a matter of fact I wish they wouldn't stop it if they didn't do it from their heart. I really truly wish that everybody who stopped using certain words because of public ridicule would bring it back, fight the fight! Because you're doing exactly what I'm doing, all I'm saying is that I think history might not write you as well as it's going to write me. Ask yourself, in 50 years if there's a video of me fighting this fight I'm making, am I gonna stand the test of time? All I can tell you is if we don't stop the bullshit now it'll never stop. I don't want my story to be one where people say "you know Todd Glass was pretty evolved but not anymore," and someone goes, "Well, in all fairness he is 80." Just nip it in the fucking bud right now. What's the negative part about being too kind or too aware, even if there is a down fall, I bet it's not as bad as the other thing.
Visit Todd's official website @ toddglass.com/
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