When asked if he has any regrets, comedian Joe List reflects on a difficult period in his both his career and personal life, a period when vice and anxiety were getting in the way of his chance at success. “I felt that my career should have been better or further along. I regretted the way that I had approached my career and handled it.” Flash forward to the present and List – who just released his second full length album entitled Are You Mad at Me? – has let go of regret in favor of embracing the lessons he’s learned along the way. “Everything I’ve done has brought me to here and now. I’m happy and satisfied. I feel pretty good.” I caught up with List on a recent afternoon while he walked through Central Park on his way to record Tuesdays with Stories, his podcast with fellow comedian Mark Normand. We talked about the new album, when it’s safe to read reviews, and mining personal shame for the sake of comedy.
Your new album Are You Mad at Me? just came out last month. How has the response been so far?
It’s been pretty great. It was number one on iTunes and Amazon when it came out, which was exciting and fun. I read the reviews and they were really great. I mean, the iTunes reviews are probably fans, so it’s a little loaded, I suppose. But it was nice and touching.
Most people advise against reading reviews or comments sections. As someone who deals with anxiety, do you ever worry that you’re putting yourself through hell by reading the reviews?
I’ve gotten better with it. There are some people who you can tell are just trolls or just hate you for whatever reason. I read the reviews on the first day because I knew it would be fans that would write really nice things on there. But YouTube comments I usually avoid. Twitter comments are usually nice, but I had a guy the other day… I’m quick to block on Twitter. I’ve been pretty lucky so far. I’m at a point where most of the people that pay attention and write stuff are the small number of fans that I have. Other people just don’t know that I exist, which is kind of a nice place to be in your career.
The new album was released on Comedy Central Records. The last time we talked was right before your Half Hour came out. Did you know at that time that you were going to release a full length album with them?
No, I didn’t have an album deal with them. I wanted to, but they only put out so many albums per year and I think they had already hit their quota. But when 2016 came around they made an offer.
This is your second album. Your first, So Far No Good, came out in 2011. How do you think you’ve grown since the release of your first album?
I have definitely changed and grown a lot as a person and as a comic. At that time I wasn’t doing a lot of headlining. I wasn’t performing that much. I think that you tend to get stronger and wiser as a human as time goes by. I think this album is much stronger than that one. I’m not particularly proud of that first album. There are a lot of jokes on there that I like, but as a whole I don’t think it’s a very good album. This one I feel is a solid, strong album. That opinion might change though.
Do you feel that you released your first album too early in your career?
Maybe. I was ten years into comedy, but I wasn’t headlining enough. That was one of my first weekends headlining, so I really didn’t know what I was doing. I just wanted to get the jokes out there. That album I put out so that I would have something to sell on the road. Whereas this album I put out because I felt that it was a good embodiment of what I’m doing and what my act is at this point.
The subject of dealing with shame comes up a good bit on the album. A lot of people claim to have no shame whatsoever, but you embrace your shame in a way that I find very interesting. Is shame a feeling that you carry with you on a day-to-day basis when you’re in public or have interactions with people?
That’s a much deeper question than the rest of them. A lot of this album was from a time when I was drinking a lot and was kind of messed up mentally – and physically, I suppose. I got sober and got my life together, so a lot of it was me looking back and saying, “That was funny.” Weird sex stuff, anxiety stuff, drinking, even eating. I guess there was a lot of shameful or embarrassing stuff in my life from not living properly. I always try to make jokes about it. I guess it goes back to when you’re a kid: you try to make the jokes before the bullies can. But yeah, I don’t generally feel shame. I think I did, not really anymore, but I can still find the humor in it.
Are you a “no regrets” kind of person or do you definitely have some regrets?
I think I’m pretty much a no regrets kind of person. Not in a way like, “Hey, I don’t regret nothing. I’m just me.” Not that kind of attitude. More in that I can’t change what I’ve done, but I can change the way that I behave today and in the future. The past is the past. It’s not a good use of time or energy to regret things or worry about what I could have or should have done. I did for a period a few years ago because I felt that my career should have been better or further along. I regretted the way that I had approached my career and handled it. But now I’m in a really great place in my career and personal relationships. I’m proud of the album, I have a little bit of money, and I’m getting work. So I wouldn’t change anything. Everything I’ve done has brought me to here and now. I’m happy and satisfied. I feel pretty good.
When we talked in October of last year we got on the subject of goals. One of those goals was that you wanted to put out an album annually. Do you think you’ll have another album ready by summer 2017?
Yeah. I don’t want to do a thing where I put a release date on it like, “It has to come out July 2017.” But I have a new 35-40 minutes that I’m doing now on the road. It’s different stuff than what’s on the album. I think it could be in a position to be recorded and released the next year. I won’t be angry at myself if it doesn’t come out in exactly a year, but I would like to have an album come out every year to two years. I’m on my way to having a solid headlining set that’s much different than the album.
One of the other goals you mention was that you wanted to do Conan, which you did in January. A lot has happened for you in the last year.
Yeah, it’s exciting. I’m trying to just stay focused, be grateful, and take it a moment at a time.
Photo by Mindy Tucker.