Ted Alexandro Wants His Viral Louis C.K. Stand-up Set to Speak for Itself

Ted Alexandro. Photo: Gary Dineen/Fiserv Forum

Ted Alexandro has been a stand-up comedian for over 25 years, but he also seems to answer to a higher calling. A New York City native, Alexandro has been active in social-justice movements like Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter. In 2004 he co-founded the New York Comedians Coalition, organizing more than 300 comics who successfully fought for their first wage raise in nearly two decades. His comedy has consistently been peppered with political and social commentary, evidenced by a set at the Comedy Cellar where he pointedly criticized Louis C.K. and Bill Cosby. A video of the set went viral two weeks ago. Alexandro also makes a habit of divulging details of his personal life in his act. Four years ago he released his second special, I Did It, where he discussed being in his mid-40s, single, and childless. Now, he’s married.

His third stand-up special, Senior Class of Earth, was recently released on All Things Comedy, a production company run by Bill Burr and Al Madrigal. Recorded a year ago, in the hour-long set Alexandro discusses life with his fiancée and dealing with Donald Trump’s stranglehold on the news cycle, among other topics.

Vulture caught up with him recently in the middle of his press tour.

How’s married life treating you?
It’s great! My wife Madalyn and I are celebrating our first anniversary this week. I’ve never been happier.

Are you going to do a complete 180-degree turn from your I Did It special and have a kid too?
I don’t have any big announcements at the moment, but I wouldn’t be surprised — plus I need the material.

For years your act featured jokes about being a bachelor in your 40s, but now you’re married and you talk about your relationship onstage. How much thought and importance did you put into incorporating that material into your act, this rebranding of sorts?
I think that’s just a byproduct of your life changing. It’s not like I work backwards from what’s good in my comedy. I live my life and then I talk about it. To me, comedy just reflects where you’re at and this is where I’m at now.

Was it uncomfortable for you at any point being in such uncharted territory, talking about a significant other onstage?
When you’re talking about your fiancée or wife, it’s different from talking about a hypothetical, like if you’re dating. There is that added level of intimacy on your part and also on the other person’s part, so you kind of need it to be signed off on that it’s funny and it’s okay. You don’t want to disrespect other people’s boundaries.

Your Comedy Cellar set about Louis C.K. went viral and you’ve been critical of him on social media, too. But you were on his TV show and you opened for him at Madison Square Garden. Did you consider him a friend?
Yeah. In comedy circles, there’s a varied spectrum of friendship, but when you tour with someone for six months, you’re friends, in terms of working together.

Was it personally challenging for you to read about the sexual misconduct allegations against him?
I think I was as shocked and disappointed as a lot of people were.

Do you feel like he deserves, at some point, a place back in the comedy community?
I think all of that gets worked out over time. I believe in redemption, but I also think that things take time. That’s the hope for anyone — you want people to have redemption, but it is earned. Most of my thoughts around it are in the clip that I posted.

Is there anything that you feel like he can do to earn his way back into the community?
That’s not for me to say; that’s not my concern. I prefer to address things comedically and I feel like the clip did that and made the points that I’d hoped to make.

You’ve talked previously about being a fan of Bill Cosby’s comedy growing up. There’s been a lot of talk — between his incarceration and everything that’s gone on with Woody Allen — about separating the artist from the art. Are you able to go back and appreciate Cosby’s comedy at this point and separate him from it?
No. I can’t. To me it’s like a betrayal, because when I’m listening to all of those classic albums, I’m doing it through one lens — a lens of trust. That trust is betrayed, and now everything of his that I listen to goes through a different lens. So, no, I can’t separate it and I don’t think it should be separated. I think trust is earned. If you’re talking into a microphone in front of hundreds or thousands of people, it’s because your point of view is trusted, and when you betray that trust then, for me, it’s impossible to listen through the same lens.

In 2004, you organized New York comics and fought for a raise from clubs for spots. After the Louis C.K. story came out, Laurie Kilmartin, a friend of yours, wrote a Times op-ed about how women are treated in comedy. What, in your mind, can the comedy community do to make workplace conditions better for women?
Really, we should be listening to women. Laurie is not shy about posting her opinions. So I’m taking the approach of the first thing we can do is listen to our colleagues who have no absence of opinions, no absence of solutions, suggestions. This is not something to be taken lightly where you just give lip service to being inclusive and respectful of women; this is an ongoing thing. If you’re claiming to be respectful of women, then make it a daily, ongoing practice to consider all of the things that they’re recommending we do to make the workplace better, safer, more respectful, more inclusive. I’m not the expert; I don’t know what it’s like for a woman in the comedy work space. I have some idea, but women certainly know better than I do.

It’s been 14 years since you helped get that raise for the New York club comedians. Prior to that, they hadn’t received one in 19 years. Is a new concerted effort for a raise needed now or in the near future?
The Comedy Cellar, to their credit, have implemented further increases since then, without provocation from us, so that’s certainly been appreciated. The Cellar is kind of the standard in terms of New York pay. Everybody knows the cost of living goes up in New York City every single year, so these are the kinds of things that, ideally, would be revisited every couple of years. But that takes a lot of energy and a lot of work.

Have other clubs fallen in line to compete with the Comedy Cellar in terms of how much they pay?
The Westside Comedy Club, when they opened, they matched where the Cellar was at, but most clubs still remain at the levels from about 2004, or maybe 2007 when we got another raise, as far as I know.

Since your special was filmed, Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette has come out and there’s been a lot of talk about the evolution of stand-up becoming more thought-provoking, almost like a spoken-word performance or a poetry reading. In the last 25 minutes of your special, you talk about politics and even human annihilation, and I think there’s some tension in the room. What are your thoughts on this possible comedy shift, and where do you fit in with it?
I don’t give it a whole lot of thought. I still try to make people laugh and say things that I find funny; if they’re also thought-provoking, then that’s a bonus. But I do think everything I’m talking about in the special are things that we’ve all been talking about. It shouldn’t be shocking or offend anyone’s sensibilities. My hope is that I do material that’s funny. If it makes people uncomfortable, that’s fine by me, but I do want it to be funny, first and foremost.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Ted Alexandro Talks Louis C.K., Cosby, #MeToo