By Tyson Paul
A month into the global pandemic, Ellen DeGeneres would foolishly joke saying that self-quarantine was similar to being in prison. Working in the comedy business, Jerry Law could respect the fact that Ellen was just trying to make light of a tough situation, as any comedian would do. But, being a man who has spent his fair share of time in both prison and pandemic self-quarantine, he could easily see that there’s a very big difference between the two. He has shared the stage and rubbed shoulders with every famous comedic talent including arguably the best to ever do it, Mr. Dave Chappelle. You may look at his career stats and instantly assume that Jerry has been performing stand-up comedy since the late 90s. Actually, during that time, Law was busy running the streets of East Oakland, which would ultimately lead him to a 15-year prison sentence. Serving almost 13 years in prison, it was at this time Jerry along with other inmates realized that he had the potential to pursue a career in comedy once he’s released. After being released in the early 2010s, Law would go on to use his humor and persistence to get re-adjusted to life on the outside and become one of the most recognizable new faces.
Now known to many as an all-star veteran in the game, Jerry has seen audiences laugh at his raw and unpredictable thoughts on everyday life all over America. The Northern California comedian recently sat down with We Own The Laughs.com’s Tyson Paul where he discussed everything from growing up in the Bay Area, police reform, and the state of comedy. Find out why Jerry Law’s comedy is too raw to be stopped.
Hey Jerry, Tell us about yourself, where did you grow up?
What’s up Muthaf*^ka! I grew up in Oakland, CA. Growing up, I loved writing poetry, making people laugh, and humping my girlfriend. (Laughs) I wish I was just joking with you, but I’m not. I’m a pretty easy-going person.
You were always quite the comedian in your family before you even knew it was your calling. Talk about your family’s connection to your comedy?
My family’s connection to comedy is interesting. My grandfather used to abuse my grandmother. I wanted to see her smile, so I did whatever it took to make her laugh. It would later make me into a protector and provider towards women whom I adored. Also roasting was a way of life in my family, you couldn’t survive with us if you couldn’t roast somebody. My mother was the coldest at roasting.
Tell me about the years of your life prior to ending up in prison?
Prior to landing in prison, I had given up the “Street Life” all of my friends were going to jail or worse. I wanted better for me and my family so I enrolled at Merritt Jr. College where I made it on the track team. I was told by my coach that if I made it to nationals 2 years straight that I would receive a full scholarship to Stanford, but shortly after that conversation, I was incarcerated. I guess I couldn’t leave that other life alone fast enough.
How long were you in prison?
I served 12 years & 10 months of a 15-year prison sentence. I was released on New Years Day 2012 after serving 85% of my prison term.
Did you ever use your potential to be funny as a tool in prison at all?
I found out that I was just naturally funny. The brothas laughed at me even when I was being serious. I never thought to myself ”Oh sh*t! Here come the killers, better make up a joke.”
How different was the world for you when you were first released from prison?
The world changed a lot! I didn’t know how much it had changed or how much I hadn’t changed until certain situations arose. Like ordering food, something as simple as that was a challenge for me because I hadn’t chosen my own meal in over a decade. I had lost the ability to choose for myself. I used to take so long to order that the waitresses would forget and I didn’t order. They thought I was waiting for the bill instead of just getting there. I just started ordering whatever the person I was with ordered. I had to retrain my brain.
When you were released from prison, you saw yourself on television in prison on MSNBC “Locked Up.” You’ve actually used that show as one of your TV credits for comedy shows. Is there no such thing as bad TV credits in comedy?
What prompted Jerry Law to first start telling jokes as a comedian?
I initially started comedy on the outside due to a promise I had made to a brother by the name of William Caviness aka KILL KILL from L.A 120 Raymond District. On the inside, your word is all you have in prison, so it means EVERYTHING! I’ll never forget what he told me, he said “Lucky, do me a solid, please be a comedian when you get out. I’ve been locked up 27 years, I have life without the possibility of parole, I’m going to die here. Make me a promise that you’ll do this comedy thing. I promised him I would and look at me now. I KEPT MY WORD!
I had enrolled at Chabot College in Hayward, CA prior to my release. I met a few comics during a radio show I worked on and they invited me to an open mic with Tony Sparks.
What comedian or comedic personality most inspired Jerry Law’s comedy career in the beginning?
At the beginning of my career, I would have to say Earthquake. Pound for pound his rapid-fire style was unmatched. His timing and control were revered. He would hit you at will and could ease up at will like a boxer. I wanted my style to be just like that, I could either fire my shot off one at a time or unload the full automatic that would have the audience on the edge of their seats.
How did you go about getting plugged into the Bay Area comedy scene? Was it difficult at first?
Once I got hit with the comedy bug, I knew that I had to be around it. I’d watched countless hours of comedy, but never been to a live show. I saw a flyer for a comedy show and decided to attend. There I met Mario Hodge and asked him to teach me about comedy. He said yes and mentored me, little did I know, he had only been doing comedy for 2 years. A few months later I’m performing at Tommy T’s comedy club and the rest is history.
From Dave Chappelle to Jess Hilarious, you’ve shared the stage with literally every famous black comedian for the past 20 years. Describe what it felt like going from a fan of these comedy legends to a peer among these guys?
It always left me humbled and very thankful. Coming from the absolute bottom of anybody’s life to telling jokes on major stages all over California and other states. I got to perform in my hometown at the ORACLE ARENA! I’m still riding high from that performance. Becoming a peer is something I was supposed to be, I still need to put some more work in, because there is still a lot more I want in a comedy.
Whether you’re making people laugh onstage or making us laugh on film and sketches on social media, you’ve always managed to adjust well to all of the latest types of comedy. What would you credit that to?
I credit my adjustments to patience and perseverance. My motto is KEEP GOING so I’m going to do just that. I’m a hustler, so I’ll figure it out.
You may have started your comedy career later than most comedians, but you definitely made up for it with your grind and energetic personality. Now you’re considered by many young comedians as an OG in the game. What type of pride and responsibilities do you take in being an OG? What examples do you try and set for the young comedians that look up to you?
I want them to follow me, Hustle, Hustle, Hustle! Never give up. Never run the light and always say thank you every time for the opportunity. Don’t let anyone outwork you.
As someone who has experienced the criminal justice system firsthand, I’m sure you have a lot to say about mass incarceration and inequality in the American justice system. What are your thoughts on social injustice and what do you think it will take for us to finally see change?
For us to see CHANGE, we have to divorce ourselves from ourselves and the destructive things that we were taught to participate in. From music to movies, we need to stop glorifying all of the negative portrayals and stereotypes that we think are so great.
Every radio station in America plays songs that influence black death and boost the crime rate. The folks in charge don’t want to get rid of crime, I mean why would they? Do you know how many branches of law enforcement have been made in the name of catching the bad guy? We CIA, FBI, LOCAL PD, CHP, ATF, and many more white men with guns all in the name of fighting crime.
If no crime was committed they would be out of a job, that’s why they plant drugs, guns, and lie to get their bad guy. Remember that these are men who have to feed their families like you and me. Did you know that most Local police depts. have a quota that they have to reach? They have to have so many arrests during a certain period of time or the department loses money.
Now you have a cop who’s not meeting his quota, stressed out, in a bad marriage/no sex, plus he has been called “bitch ass” 30 times before noon. Do you think you should give this crazy muthaf**ka a gun? That’s a recipe for what we are seeing right now…MURDER!
How long did you initially think this pandemic was going to last?
I figured it would last about 90 days not 9 months or more. I think it will be over before the election. Just my observation.
I recently saw YouTube interviews from D.L. Hugley saying that many notable comedians have lost around 80% of their annual revenue during this pandemic. Jerry Law is not a huge movie star or a famous headliner selling out arenas all alone, but you do have notable TV credits and a well-known enough name to make a decent living before the pandemic. Can you tell readers how the sudden pandemic revenue loss has affected you?
I didn’t have a 9-5. I survived solely off of Comedy. So when COVID hit, it hit hard. All my gigs were canceled. I did have a few deposits, but not enough to survive for very long. I woke up one morning and didn’t have a clue where my next dollar was coming from. I have a son and he can’t eat excuses or explanations. I had to make a decision. I ended up getting a solid regular job (Thank God).
What are Jerry Law’s thoughts on virtual comedy shows?
Virtual comedy shows…I say do what works for you. I don’t like them. I can’t get the feedback that I know comes with my material. The punchline hits differently when you’re just looking at the computer screen and you don’t know if you are doing good or bombing.
Do you think that viral comedy shows will end as soon as comedy clubs re-open or are they here to stay?
Depends on the comic and his/her audience. The clubs will win. Folks are tired of being in the house.
Can virtual comedy shows be a great way for comedians to make a living if the pandemic lasts for one more year?
YES! If the people like you and you doing NEW material every week then yes! If not then HELL NOOOOO! you’ll lose money and fans because your core audience has heard your stuff already.
Do you feel that comedy clubs should be able to reopen with guests mandated to wear facemasks and social distancing?
Most Comedy Clubs are small and intimate enough. They would lose more money by social distancing. If you can’t fit as many people inside, that means less food, alcohol, and merch being sold.
Do you think comedians are at the point now where they’re willing to risk their health for finance by performing live shows again?
YES! Folks want to come outside, they’re tired of being in the house. Comedians everywhere are going through stage withdrawals. We miss the natural high you get when on stage. You’ve seen the D.L. Hughley video right? He passed out and they carried him out like a heckler (Laughs) Then they said he had COVID. The risk during this pandemic hits differently when your money gets involved.
Do you think people are at the point now where they’re willing to spend money and risk their health for pure entertainment such as live shows again?
YES! Not so much being at a point, it comes down to the beliefs. Some folks still don’t think the coronavirus is real.
Who are some comedians you haven’t worked with yet, but would like to once live comedy returns?
I would like to work with Kenan Thompson on SNL and Martin Lawrence.
If Jerry Law could choose 1 comedy club and 3 comedians to perform with on your perfect show, how would it go?
Tommy T’s Comedy Club in Pleasanton, CA, and the comics would be Tony Roberts, Earthquake, and Damon Williams. We would all do 20-minute sets each, that show would be EPIC.
What are some things in comedy that you would like to accomplish in the next few years?
I would like to have a Netflix special as well as be in a great comedy or drama on Netflix. I also want to go on tour with a national headliner or my own headlining tour.
Follow comedian Jerry Law on all forms of social media at @jerrylaw2raw.