Most people will go their entire lives without knowing the simple joy of telling jokes in front of an audience and pretty much no one on earth but Evan Jones will ever understand what it’s like to do standup comedy in a concrete cell surrounded by steel bars. Last week, while protesting against the Grand Jury’s decision to forego an indictment in the Eric Garner murder, comedian Evan Jones was arrested by the NYPD. After being ziptied and tossed into a paddy wagon, he was driven to a holding cell where he proceeded to do what he does best.
What’s it like to tell jokes in jail?
It was awesome. There were 50 people, which is a big show for me in any scenario.
Where do you usually perform?
Well, I do a lot of bar shows in the city. I do crazy themed shows, like one called the Naked Show at the Creek and the Cave. I also have my own show called The Only One Tripping where all the comics are on shrooms.
So walk us through how this all happened.
Well, I was at the protest. I’d been marching for about four hours by myself – I didn’t go with a group of comics or anything. Eventually I got to Times Square, and I met a bunch of comics that I knew would be there. All the groups that had been marching around the city started to come into Times Square, so there were thousands of people around. Eventually I saw this Guy Fawkes mask on the ground, so I picked it up and put it on. But then as cops started arresting people, they singled me out because I had the mask on.
You weren’t telling jokes with a Guy Fawkes mask on were you?
No no, they took that off before they even put me in the van. I was in that paddy wagon with these drunk guys who were yelling at the cops. Once they threw us in the cell, it got really boring.
You realized you were trapped.
Yeah, and they were bringing so many people in. Every 20 minutes they’d bring 3-4 people into the cell. When I first got there, it was about 40 people, then it got up to 65-70 people.
So at what point do you start telling jokes?
Well, we continued to do protest chants inside the cell. One of the guys who was leading those chants was also leading the chants at the protest so I started talking to him because he was familiar. When he found out that I did standup, he was like, “Man, do some jokes right now.” I thought he meant do them right there in conversation between 3-4 people, so I tried to explain how weird that would be. You know, there’s no context, but he was like, “no no, I don’t mean in conversation, I mean for the whole cell.” I was obviously hesitant but he just said “look I won’t put you on the spot, but I’ll just tell everyone here that someone in this cell does standup and we’ll see if people are down for it. If people are down for it, I won’t point you out or anything, just feel it out and if you feel like doing it, then do it.”
So he got up and did a mic check, where he just said, “mic check” and everyone said mic check back, then he says “alright, someone in here is a professional standup comic” and I felt the whole room get excited. Some people were like “Oh no fuckin way!” Then he goes, “So how would you guys feel if he did a set right now?” and the whole room applauded, so I didn’t think twice about it after that. I got up on a bench and I was like “What’s up guys?”
The cops kept bringing people in throughout my set, and every time they did, we would all applaud in solidarity, but then some guys insisted that I keep telling jokes instead of stopping to applaud the new guys. But I was like “No, I’m not going to keep going, these cops don’t deserve to hear any jokes.” I don’t know who started it, but anytime the cops opened the door after that, everyone would chant, “No Free Jokes.”
That was fun, it felt like we were denying the cops the chance to hear jokes, but in hindsight, those walls are sound proof, so they had no idea what we were talking about. They just knew that somehow we were having fun at their expense.
You literally had a captive audience.
Yeah, that was cool. Most shows I do are in bars so you’ve got to compete against the noise and people going to the bathroom, but everyone was just there in the moment and I was the most entertaining possible thing at that moment.
Did anyone still go to the bathroom?
Yeah, there were a few guys that went.
[laughs] So you could hear and see them taking a piss while you’re telling jokes.
Yeah. It was crazy because they were arresting so many people, it was such a diverse cell. There were two rabbis in their 40s in there, and these dudes from Harlem with teardrop tattoos on their faces. There were young white college kids. It was such a diverse crowd, and everyone was totally on board with me on this material.
Did the rabbis favor any jokes in particular?
Well, the jokes about being high at protests seemed to resonate with everyone a lot. The jokes that really resonated with the dudes from Harlem were the ones that I was riffing about being arrested. I was saying stuff like, the zip ties they used made us seem like we were a bunch of action figures still in the box.
None of the cops were watching this right?
No no, since the walls are soundproof, they’d just walk in through the doors to see this crazy dude standing on the bench and yelling.