Not every Philly comedian can say he spent time in drug court without having been booked and behind bars for holding too much cocaine. David James, however, is different. He was a one-time Montco Probation and Parole court officer who left behind the gavel for the mic, the judges for the jury of comedy club audiences, and stand up, starting with open mic nights at The Laugh House, and eventually crushing all comers during Helium Comedy Club’s first-annual Philly’s Phunniest Competition.
This week, James releases “Kidnapping Season,” his new album of stand-up bits, recorded live at Helium Comedy Club, way back, pre-C-19 in February 2020. In a perfect world, James would hold a release party at the space where he recorded his comedy spectacular. Not in the present day of a pandemic. “Release party?”, he said with a laugh. “Probably in 2021, red states tomorrow, no mask, no distancing at all, governor’s jawns.”
A.D. Amorosi: Tell me all about your previous work experience within the drug court system in Montco?
David James: l left working at Drug Court in 2015. It’s a part of Montco Probation and Parole, but also a part of the state system. Basically, it’s for people that aren’t violent, sex crimes, no drug dealers, just people that have substance abuse issues and that is what led them to their crimes. A lot of 3 times DUI people, maybe one or two potheads, but 99% alcohol or hard drugs. Teachers, Engineers, also people who were drop-outs, so it hits everyone. I had to interview people that were applying, determine if they were eligible, decide what type of treatment they needed, inpatient, outpatient, recovery house, etc… Allocate money from the state for their treatment, and I had a caseload I was supervising. A lot of crazy stories, some deaths, some suicides, but for the most part the program is a success.
A.D. Amorosi: How does working within that system compare to being a stand-up comic?
David James: They are nothing alike really, as far as me. Doing drug court I was not joking or having much of a personality. The guy on stage was pretty much an entirely different person. What is similar is you are going to be around people with drug alcohol abuse issues, people that are sober or went to NA or AA, still in it… So the drug abuse thing is similar but not the extent of facing prison time. So either way, you are going to work with some people that have issues and a past.
A.D. Amorosi: How did working within that system, perhaps, lead into you being a stand-up comic?
David James: I had already started stand-up before drug court, so it just got a point where I got good enough at stand-up that I thought I should pursue it and leave the “real job” life behind. Working with that population does toughen you up mentally, so you don’t flip-out over things as much because you’ve seen some dark shit.
A.D. Amorosi: Do you care to make any jokes at all about your boss being the man to pass judgment on Bill Cosby as the court case was in his jurisdiction?
David James: No. It’s a slippery slope because I respect the Judge. I made no jokes at all or even talked about it during the trials, because it was a lot of pressure on the Judge, and we don’t need anything that could mess something up or bring attention away from the case. Same things when Andy Reid’s kids came through our offices and court, none of us talked to the press or made comments. Now I think that it is over, I can talk about it soon. Or maybe just wait till Cosby dies.
A.D. Amorosi: Did you have any contact with Cosby at all, and if so, what are you allowed to say about said contact?
David James: No contact with Cosby. That was just the Sheriffs, who by the way, are all “frat boys” with badges, pretty much. I knew when he was in the building but I wanted nothing to do with the circus. It did suck being the second funniest person in the courtroom when he was there though.
A.D. Amorosi: So what do you like and dislike about the Philly comic scene?
David James: I like that it’s tough. People that meet Philly comics are usually very impressed because we are so skilled. Most NYC or LA comics know that they have to put work in following a Philly comic and that its a lot easier for us to transition outside of Philly. I like that we can be mean to each other and also friends, making fun of each other or just shitting on other people is a lot of fun, mainly a northeast part of the country thing. LA, Austin, Portland, not mean to each other at all. What I don’t like is that we are so close to NYC that people don’t look for talent from Philly. I also wish that the city did a better job of promoting and supporting or spending time getting to know the Philly comics and scene. Other non NYC or LA cites do a much better job at that.
A.D. Amorosi: Pandemic – Ok or not ok – to say nothing of its quarantine? Hey, some people like staying in.
David James: Pandemic? I’m adjusting, I’m an introvert so not having too much of a problem, but I do get restless. Comics are trying to figure out the new temporary norm and how long that will last. It is super weird not doing comedy, I had a lot of gigs lined up and was getting momentum that was coordinating with the album release. I was planning on getting heat to use as a launching pad. Most comics are actually less productive now that they have more time on their hands
A.D. Amorosi: What are your favorite comedy albums, and why? If you say Bill Cosby, I’ll pee myself?
David James: Ha! Bill Cosby, “Himself”. Dave Attell, “Skanks For The Memories”. Steve Martin, “Let’s Get Small”. Steven Wright, “I Have a Pony”. Richard Pryor, “Anthology Collection”. Patrice O’Neal, “Mr. P”. Brian Regan, “Live”. The Eddie Murphy Specials. Dave Attell’s is my favorite. One of the first I got, still makes me laugh. So creative at writing. Richard Pryor, the Anthology goes from earlier raw days before he really found his voice all the way up to having multiple sclerosis. He was the best and a pioneer, so much range. He could do a 10 minute, one-man play, and then talk about freebasing cocaine and shooting his car. Bill Cosby’s “Himself” is pretty flawless.
A.D. Amorosi: What are the themes that run rampant or are riddled throughout your new album?
David James: Probably things that piss me off or people that piss me off. Probably things that bother me.
A.D. Amorosi: Is there one joke or a funny idea you had that was most challenging to fit or form into a routine for the record, and what was so challenging about it?
David James: There is a bit where I’m describing an annoying person, that happens to be gay, but blames the dislike on the fact that he is gay, but not that he is annoying. So it’s not homophobic… Its extra phobic. I had to figure out a way to explain that I hate extra people. So I had to order the routines about getting in an argument with hipsters and getting so annoyed with them that I went to a gay karaoke hamburger bar alone and had a great time because there were no hipsters. I had to play that bit before the getting annoyed with an extra gay dude so people would be right on board that I truly hate him for who he is, not his sexual identity. And then talk about how I hate old black dudes because they are extra also. So the order of these bits is extremely important to get across what I’m saying.
A.D. Amorosi: Final thoughts on “Kidnapping Season” or anything at all?
David James: I have to adjust to this new reality and use this time to do side projects. I think for a lot of us who are very strong at stand up but don’t do much else as far as skits, filming things, writing a script… We can gain some new creative outlets, or just do the projects we always thought about. So that’s my plan.