When musical comedian Jon Lajoie uploads a new video to YouTube, it’s almost guaranteed to get at least a million views. So it was a no-brainer for the Canadian star to release an album — available now on iTunes — with all of his hits.
Two years ago, Canadian Jon Lajoie was a virtually unknown actor, working on a TV show in Montreal. Today, he is one of the fastest-rising stars in the comedy scene, singled out by Adam McKay and Will Ferrell as one of the funniest contributors to FunnyorDie.com. His videos have garnered millions of views on YouTube and he has released his debut album this year, You Want Some of This? He also recently kicked off his first national tour, Jon Lajoie: Live as Fuck.
Lajoie recently chatted with Punchline Magazine about his song writing process, why some musical comedy sucks, the power of YouTube and much more.
Were you doing stand-up before you started posting your songs?
No, I studied acting and theater stuff. I was on a Montreal TV show for a few years— a French language, family-type TV show. It wasn’t a very good show, but it was work. I was in a band for four years. Then the band broke up a few years ago, and I had the summer off from the TV show, and I wanted to do something I really enjoyed. And I grew up on sketch comedy— Kids in the Hall and Monty Python. And my dream was to do that. So I started writing stuff, but it’s really hard to write sketch when you want to show it. So I bought a camera, hooked it up to my computer, and that’s how I got started.
So then you posted your first song “High as Fuck” in late 2007. Can you talk a little bit about how that came about?
I started posting stuff earlier, but it was mostly short sketches, commercials and stuff. The first thing that got popular was the “High as Fuck” song, which was the first time I ever did musical comedy. And I wasn’t really sure about it; I never wanted to be a comedian with an acoustic guitar. But that started getting popular and I thought, ‘OK’ and kept going in that direction.
And you became an Internet celebrity pretty quickly. At what point did you realize that your videos had really become sort of a phenomenon?
When “Everyday Normal Guy” came along, that’s when things really started blowing up. I noticed it when in Montreal, where I lived at the time, I started getting recognized more for the videos than for the TV show. That’s when I realized, ‘Oh shit, people are really watching this.’ The first time I was recognized for it, I thought the guy somehow knew someone in my family, and my brother had put him up to it or something. But it started happening more and more, and it kind of hit me.
What are some of the most notable complaints or angry reactions you’ve gotten?
I mean, there’s a lot of positive, a lot of negative. And I don’t really listen to people’s feedback. But one really negative one came from a sketch I did called “Friends with God.” It’s about a janitor who befriends God. He becomes kind of his roommate. It’s just ridiculous. God likes CSI: Miami, you know. It’s clearly a joke. But I got a bunch of emails from angry Christians telling me that they wanted to kill my mother, and put a gun to my head, and watch me beg God for forgiveness. And it’s funny, because those people clearly listen to the teachings of Jesus. That was the most negative responses I’ve gotten. The rest is just stuff like, ‘He’s a fag,’ ‘Such a fag.’ These are guys sitting in their mom’s basement jerking off four times a day, so whatever.
Can you describe your song-writing process?
I always come up with a general idea. Like “Everyday Normal Guy” or I thought I should write a love-song about “Two Girls, One Cup.” And then as a musician, I do all the chords and melody and stuff. Then I fill all the words in. But it always starts with that topic and then it’s just fill-in-the-blanks. But as a musician, my main criteria is to make it sound like a song that can exist– that it sounds like a song that would be played on the radio. The jokes are funnier if it sounds like something that’s really serious and sincere, then people are like, ‘What the fuck did he just say?’ in the context of a real-sounding song. Like the ‘Two Girls, One Cup’ song, I wanted it to sound like a James Blunt song.
For straight-ahead stand-ups, a lot of them will start with a general idea and then they can work it out on-stage every night until it’s better. You weren’t on stage doing your stuff much until recently, so would you run your stuff by anyone or perform it at a local place before you posted it?
No, I’m pretty impulsive. I’ll write something. The next day, I’ll be recording it. The next day, I’ll be making the video and posting it. I try to be spontaneous with that kind of stuff. I have a bunch of songs that I recorded, but I just let them sit around too long and now I’m bored with them and don’t want to make a video of them. I usually come up with an idea and I get really excited about it. I want it to be in front of my audience quickly. And sometimes that sucks.
I’ll give you an example of a clear mistake. In my new video, “I Kill People,” I wrote it really fast and posted it online. And one of the lines referenced being like Bruce Willis in the movie Invincible. Then right away one of the comments was that Bruce Willis was in Unbreakable, not Invincible. I was thinking “Oh fuck, maybe I should have reviewed that.” So little things like that will come out. But generally for the comedy, if I think it’s funny then I try to trust my instincts.
Is there any topic that you deliberately try to stay away from in your songs?
I don’t know if there’s anything I wouldn’t touch. It all depends on the angle that I take. I try to stay away from relationship stuff, because that territory is dead. It’s been done. But if I find a cool angle, I’ll go for it. One thing I try not to touch is religion; and the only time I touched it was with the “Friends of God” video, because my parents are really religious people. I try to stay away from it in my videos. And yeah, I joke about girls shitting on each other and stuff like that, but I couldn’t say, ‘Your Jesus religion is retarded,’ I don’t want to offend them by talking about that.
What do you think makes for bad musical comedy?
When someone’s just putting jokes to music for no reason. If there’s no reason why it’s a song and you’re just playing chords. And all of a sudden, you have an acoustic guitar and you’re saying things and the song is boring. We have a few of those guys in Canada and there are a few in the U.S. But people that do it well, it makes sense that it’s a song. Flight of the Conchords, Lonely Island, Bo Burnham they do it well and it makes sense that it’s music with them. But for other guys who are like, ‘Hey look, I’m making jokes and have a guitar in my hand,’ you want to smash the guitar over their face.
Are a lot of fans sending you their own awful songs or stupid suggestions?
All the time. I usually keep the best ones for stage material. My favorite one, a guy wrote me and said, ‘Yo man, I got this song idea. It’s just an idea. You’re gonna have to finish it: “‘I’m an animal, I’ll eat you up like Hannibal, ‘Cause I’m an animal’ You should finish it.’”
What was the first live show you did featuring your YouTube songs? Were you nervous about it at all?
In May 2008, I did one show; then, I did the Just For Laughs Festival. I did one show before the Festival just to get on stage and see if I want to do live comedy. And I really enjoyed it, enjoyed writing the material for it. My fear with doing the live show at first was really that I don’t want to stand in front of an audience and perform the stuff they know. I really wanted to construct a live show that had a video component, a musical element, a stand-up element, and a sketch portion— all with new material and material they know to mix it up.
What’s going on with your national tour? You’ve been around the country now for a few months, anything surprising or unexpected on your first tour?
Yeah, there have been places that I’ll be positive that no one will be at this show. Like we went to Minneapolis. And I’ve never been to the city, I know nothing about it, and I get there and there’s a line going around the block. And I walk up to them and say, ‘You’re not here for this show, are you?’ And they were, so that was surprising.
But then there are other places where they have no idea who I am and just don’t get my sense of humor at all. That’s what it was like at the Irvine Improv. Some of the audience, they wandered in, and just didn’t get it. You’d get nervous giggles. They weren’t my audience, they were there to see the comic get on stage and talk about his girlfriend. But it’s fun to do that, because you’re standing there naked in front of them. And it’s up to you to win them over.
Do you think anything gets lost in translation from video to live onstage?
Yeah, it’s a mix. There are some songs, like “Sunday Afternoon,” that I made a video, but wouldn’t perform it live. Because live, it would take away from the images you can see in the video, and it wouldn’t be funny in front of a live audience. But then there are a lot of jokes I’ll write specifically for live shows, because I know it’s funny that I’m saying this in front of 300 people and they’re all gonna listen to me and go, ‘What the fuck did he just say?’ But you’d lose some of that shock value on a video.
What do you have planned for the future?
I just landed a role for a show on FX. We’re shooting the pilot soon. It’s a funny show. It’s about a bunch of guys who get together for Fantasy Football. I kind of want to do everything. I love the touring, the Internet stuff— which I’ll never stop, because the creative freedom is amazing. I’m also writing a musical feature. I’m preparing a second album. I like doing all of it, so when a few of those things fail, I have a back-up plan.
For more info on Jon, check out jonlajoie.com.