Comedian Jason Salmon’s Debut Album FORCE OF NURTURE: Proof That Real Life Is Really Funny
Just as beauty is always in the eye of the beholder, comedy is always in the eye and ear of the observer. In other words: it’s all subjective. Actor/comedian Jason Salmon (Orange Is The New Black, 30 Rock) is definitely aware of how one person’s interpretation of what’s funny can be miles apart from another’s, but he also understands how one’s real life experiences can add significant authenticity to comedic material.
Born in Texas, Salmon grew up in a religious yet practical family who taught him as much about the power of humor to enhance lives as they did about the nuts and bolts of comedy itself. That formative childhood upbringing was but one influence that has informed Salmon’s style of comedy. Extensively working to refine his material from performance to performance, Salmon also found immense sources of comedic inspiration from his adult life.
After hundreds of road trips and real time fine-tuning of his comedic skills, Salmon shares his hilarious yet humanistic view on the world in his debut live stand-up album, Force Of Nurture. Released on CD and digital through 800 Pound Gorilla Records, Force Of Nurture gives listeners a chance to hear Salmon expound on subjects both newsworthy (politics, society, culture) and autobiographical (his childhood, life in Texas and New York, offbeat people, etc.)
Upon its premiere release on October 23rd, Force Of Nurture has become a successful milestone in Salmon’s burgeoning comedy career. Though Salmon is highly accustomed to cutting up on camera during guest roles on 30 Rock, Orange Is The New Black and Funny or Die online comedy skits, Salmon embraces the thrill of sharing his unique — and clean — approach to stand-up comedy on every track of Force of Nurture.
Of course, it took a long time for Salmon to make that approach as perfect as possible for his audiences, and as he discusses herein, his first recorded live set demonstrates the extent of his thorough preparation.
How did this recording come about, and what did you do to prepare for it?
Jason Salmon: A first stand-up comedy album is probably as interesting sociologically as it is for entertainment value. That’s because it’s this weird documentation of a person’s history as a comedian — from the initial moment of thinking you’re funny enough to be on stage through this long and winding road that leads to making a recording that you’re going to sell to people.
It’s a road filled with unbridled confidence and ruthless self-loathing, performing countless times in increments of minutes or hours to both raucous crowds and indifferent gatherings, for which you may get paid thousands of dollars, or maybe nothing at all.
And the craziest part is, at this point in my career, that might all happen to me in a single day. I have stood on stage and performed jokes at my grandma’s funeral and my friend’s wedding. So while the album makes it official, the comedy has been my medium for processing life for years. So the material was there.
It was just a matter of figuring out what part of it I wanted to use for the album. Some made the cut because they were obvious choices, and some because they were nostalgic (the first joke I ever wrote is on this album) and some because I felt like they just fit the narrative.
For this performance, how did you refine the comedic material — including that which you’ve shared with audiences in the past?
Salmon: The difficulty with putting jokes on a recording is that you are sort of saying, “that’s finished” and I have never honestly felt like any joke of mine — no matter how polished — was completely finished. As a comic, you rewrite them countless times, with innumerable tags, and run them in front of every audience that will listen (and also some that don’t) to get them as sharp and efficient and lyrically musical as you possibly can.
So I gave myself until one month before the recording to refine the material, and then for that month preceding it, I just put the pieces into place. The way I like to do standup is as if I am telling one fluid story. So that, combined with the fact that I’d be working on very little new material, made that month of piecing it all together the hardest part of the process.
A good part of the album is devoted to social, cultural and political issues. Given that those are very sensitive subjects that elicit strong reactions from people, describe how you work to create funny takes on such subjects without running the risk of offending certain audiences.
Salmon: I feel like comedy is an art form that plays to the universality of the human experience and is inherently inclusive, but clearly politics often loves to highlight and even vilify the differences, and (it) is inherently divisive. So my challenge is to approach social, cultural, and even political topics from the human perspective, not the agenda driven.
And I like to tell those jokes everywhere, because I want everyone to laugh at them…and, for the most part, they do. I believe that most of us would get along a lot better if we weren’t being steered constantly by people who need division to maintain power.
How have your own personal life experiences influenced and inspired your overall approach to comedy?
Salmon: My parents are a big influence (my mom is actually a big part of the reason I decided to work clean). They are the inspiration for the album title. I’m a happy person and a lot of that is because of the environment and the tools they gave me as a child.
In some ways it was a stereotypical Texas conservative religious home, but my parents were also smart, wise and pragmatic. So instead of being sold the standard dogma of “because it says so in the Bible,” they explained to me why they felt like their beliefs were practical in their lives.
Also, they bought me a ton of joke books. So, not only did they help me develop the understanding of joke structure, but they gave me the appreciation for the spiritual component of it too — the fact that, to make someone laugh deeply, you are essentially accessing a place in them that they can’t get to all by themselves. So when I’m onstage, I’m not as concerned with you loving me as I am with all of us having fun.
In what ways did those experiences influence and inspire the comedy heard on Force Of Nurture?
Salmon: I say that my comedy is clean, and yet the album is labeled “explicit” because I deal with a lot of topics that are very adult and sometimes very dark. But I think some of the worst things humans have done come from insecurities and fears that are no different than those of a kid. And my humor comes from stripping away the baggage of adult agendas and just playing with the kid’s insecurities.
I have actually had friends tell me that their kids loved the album, because they connected to the playfulness even though they didn’t really understand the subject matter.
As an actor and comedian, who are some of your biggest influences?
Salmon: The great thing about doing standup in New York City is that every night you want to be inspired to get better, you can go to any club in the city and see comics that will make you reassess your work ethic. Comics like Mike Vecchione, Gina Brillon, and Greer Barnes (who are not yet household names) always make me want to get better.
As far as bigger comics go, I love Bill Burr because my favorite thing in comedy is when a comic tells a joke and I do not agree with the premise, but by the end of the joke, not only have I laughed, but I now think about the premise differently. Not saying I’ve changed my mind. But I think about it differently. (Bill)’s the master of that.
You’ve appeared in several TV shows, including Orange Is The New Black, and you’ve also starred in sketches for Funny or Die. Compared to performing in front of an audience, is performing on camera more challenging? If so, why?
Salmon: The difficulty with performing in front of a live audience is the same as the reason you do it in the first place — because you’re the final product and the buck stops with you. I love improv (which is a lot of where the sketch world comes from) and I enjoy discovering a new character (like what happens in TV, film, and stage), but those are all collaborative endeavors where every step (from writer to actor to director) plays a role in the final product. But in standup, I am in control of every step. Maybe I’ve just not yet met the perfect foil, but for now, I’d rather be in control.
On the other hand, do you feel that both styles of performance present their own challenges/advantages? If so, why?
Salmon: An audience gives you an immediate feedback and that is definitely one of the best parts of standup, but I started in theater, where you rehearse for months before an audience ever sees it, and so I do find a pleasure in the unrequited improvement of a comedic moment. Sketches and commercials have some of the same live energy of standup in that you can riff and come up with funny moments on the fly.
TV, film and theater each are much more structured so you aren’t as collaborative in the creative process, but it does afford the chance to delve into another psyche that is not your own. So I think no matter which medium, the challenges are a big part of what makes the job fun.
That said, there is probably no greater joy for me than being on a sketch/commercial set where I say something so ridiculous that I can see the crew struggling until the director yells cut and everyone bursts out laughing.
For those who haven’t seen or heard you perform, what can they expect? Salmon: My style is a kind of silly colloquial philosophy. A friend once summed it up as being like, “the best advice you’ve ever gotten from the dumbest guy you know”.
When and where can people next see you perform? What other projects do you have coming up?
Salmon: I’m currently in the midst of a month-long tour performing for our troops throughout Europe, but if you play video games and enjoy my dulcet tones, I do voice some characters in the new Red Dead Redemption 2. In December, I’ll be at the Omaha Funny Bone (from) the 6th through 9th and in the Dallas Area at Hyena’s in Plano Dec. 20–22. Between these dates, you can check my schedule (on my web site) for my New York City shows.
Salmon’s album Force Of Nurture is available digitally on iTunes, and on good old compact disc via 800 Pound Gorilla Records.
Salmon’s official web page has more information about the comedian, plus a list of his upcoming tour dates: