The Jester Interview: Carl LaBove
By Michael Shashoua / Jester Editor-In-Chief
Carl LaBove is a veteran comic who experienced the heights of fame in the 1980s as a compatriot of Sam Kinison. LaBove has lived a life more unbelievable than most fictional stories, which he is currently recounting on stage (see review, 5/9/12) at venues in Queens and Long Island as he works out parts of a one-man solo show that promises to be more than only stand-up comedy. He will perform the show again at the Producers Club on June 15. Jester recently spoke to him about his experiences and the process of developing the show, over a meal at the Gramercy Diner in Manhattan. LaBove can speak at length with great enthusiasm, so he opens this conversation, before even any questions are asked.
Carl LaBove: A friend told me once that the only way you can have a breakthrough in life is if you’re completely broken down. That made so much sense to me. I had to go to the bottom of my emotional state, that close to losing it, giving up and quitting, and going somewhere else. [In short, LaBove lost an alimony battle with his ex-wife, who bore a daughter that was actually Kinison’s, but LaBove reconnected with the child after she turned 18].
To survive it, meet this girl and have her realize that she was the baby I held for a year and see it in her face -- to see her face, dying to know me -- I had loved her my whole life and you can’t throw that away. What I threw away was raising her so she could be raised with the truth that I wasn’t her father. For her to look at me the way she did and want me to be part of her life, which I instantly became, it hit me that my responsibility is that’s my best friend’s child and I have to make sure she’s OK. That started a three-year process of us breaking through what she’d been told her whole life and me telling her the truth.
My job was to give her the truth because she was old enough to hear it and she was seeking it. So that relationship changed me because it gave me a lot of closure. I started to remember all the good things about Sam. In life, our friends do a lot of horrible things to us. Some of them are drug addicts, some aren’t in their right minds, some just broke up or got divorced and they’re crazy for awhile. That’s how I look at that particular time. So I was able to let it go.
Jester: Since you started together, would you say that Sam’s style of performing influenced you or was it the other way around?
LaBove: I learned a lot from him about not being afraid to tell the truth in a joke and let it stop the moment, and then go from there. That’s how we influenced each other. He was fearless and older than me and lived a lot more. He was fearless into topics that I wasn’t going into yet.
People sometimes confuse the fact that I scream and yell, but I always have. We all did – all the Texas guys did. But Sam found the anger with the relationship humor. He was known as the screaming comic. Not that I scream my whole show, but when I do pull it up, it’s reminiscent of him, but it’s always been me. … So I remind people in a way of Sam, but it’s not the act. It’s the spirit that I remind them of – that spirit on stage.
Jester: How are you choosing stories for the show?
LaBove: I have a giant puzzle of stories. I have a storyboard at home. It’s emotional topics – the happiest times of my life, the worst times of my life. They’re 2- to 5-minute vignettes – acting pieces, but real stories. They’re in the moment of what I was going and growing through. They’re things that I’ve lived.
Go through your life and try to figure out the thing that absolutely changed your life. What was that one thing that someone said or that incident that happened to you in either a good way or bad way, that absolutely changed you for the rest of your life? If it was bad, what did you learn from it and how did it envelop into your persona and personality that now as adult, you can say, “Wow, I’m this way because that happened to me.” To dig into yourself that deep and try to pull that stuff up, and make it entertaining so people say, “Wow, that happened to me,” or “I get what he’s saying” or “my sister went through that” or “my brother…” If you tie all those things in so they’re real and from the heart, then everyone else is going to get it too. That’s what I’m searching for – the stories that are the realest and have the most soul.
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© 2005-2017 Michael Shashoua