We had the good fortune of connecting with jD Shapiro and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi jD, how do you think about risk?
Taking risks is MASSIVELY important. Without it I know I would have never had any success at all, and I fully believe it’s the only way anyone has success.
Many of my friends and family thought me moving 3,500 miles away with $900 and a car packed with my stuff was a risk. They’d say “How long you going to give it before you make it.” I’d say, “Until I make it.” They kept wanting me to put a time stamp on it and I didn’t understand that at all. I simply was going to make it no matter how long it took.
And I do not feel I’ve really made it yet. Lot’s more I want to say.
Anyway, I didn’t think this was a risk. Going out with my scripts THAT was a risk because it’s a big piece of me in them so if they are rejected- and even the ones that sell are rejected more than accepted, it’s a rejection of me. I had to have a very tough skin to get into and, even more so STAY in the game. Luckily I’ve had that I think my entire life. Or most of it. I think that comes from growing up in North Jersey and Hell’s kitchen. Those are some rough streets especially HK. Another risk I took, and by finally overcoming my fear and doing it, has helped make my writing and directing better (Jus as being a writer and director, who studied acting, has helped me with my standup) Ooops. Too late for a spoiler alert. It’s Standup comedy that was a risk. Now don’t get me wrong, when people say “you’re so brave” I say, “It’s not like I just joined up to the military and going to have bullets shot at me.” But it’s still a risk because, unlike acting where you have a character you can hide behind, or even writing were you don’t need to be in the room when people read you, with standup your naked. At least you SHOULD be. The best are. I say “Standup is like walking a tightrope. Over a school of hungry sharks. As people slash at the rope with machetes” And that is not an exaggeration at all (Especially at The Comedy Store in LA. BRUTAL! But I think Mitzi Shore, the owner, made it that way because when the proud “we” who call The Store our home go to other clubs… it’s soooooo much easier) Sorry, I digress. I think it’s because I’m Dyslexic and my mind scatters off into pictures. Or, I’m just a scatter brain, I leave that up to others to decide. I’ve taken risks with money as far as making a movie goes, or putting money into other projects, or putting time into a project which means no money coming in. But I don’t feel risking money is my biggest risks. In fact, I don’t find much of a risk at all. Maybe because I grew up very poor and I can live without much. Again, don’t get me wrong it’s FOOKING GREAT to have money. It can buy you a lot of things; mainly time and being able to help those you love or those in need. But some of my biggest risks are what I have said, Some examples: In meetings with studio execs or even heads of studios I speak my mind. I tell them when I think they are wrong. Believe it or not, in Hollywood (and many walks of life) to be honest about how you feel is a huge risk.. Now, I’ve learned not to say to the head of a studio “That’s the dumbest fucking idea I’ve ever heard and I’m not putting that in the script” – which I have said to TWO studio heads. I’ve learned to be more political about it for two reasons: 2: calling someone out does them or me no good. All it does it closes them off and put them on the defensive and all it does for me is get me fired. 1: Sometimes a really fucking stupid idea- there can be a germ of gold in it. And unless I mull it over and don’t react to it I won’t ever find that gold. Yes, most of the time it’s shit. But every now and then shit becomes fertiliser to some Jack-Magic Beans. So now I’ll usually say, “I’m not sure if that works but let me think about it.” Then I go home, I DO think about it for a bit, but if nothing hits I know it’s not gonna be Jack-Magic Beans. Then I call the exec, or producer or head of the studio – whomever gave me that note or notes, and say, “I thought about it. And it’s the stupidest fucking…” I kid I kid. I say it doesn’t work BUT then I tell them what does work and I give them credit for coming up with that even though they didn’t. Another example if Stan Lee. Stan and I had started creating comic book content together for about a month or two. He called me JD or Jake. We didn’t have a bond at all, other then collaborating together. We have to go to a meeting and we are waiting at the elevator with the other partner in the project, Tony. As we wait Stan says, “I almost didn’t make it today I haven’t been feeling well.” Something popped in my head. Do I take the A RISK and say it, or play it safe. I took the risk. I said, :Stan, if something happens to you and you die I’m going to Weekend At Bernie’s you.” Silence. I thought Tony was gonna shit his pants. Then Stan BURST OUT LAUGHING, slaps me on the back (pretty hard I might add for an older, skinny guy) and says, :Jakey! (first time he called me “Jakey” and he did so from then on” That’s the funnies thing I’ve ever heard!!!” The entire ride down the elevator Stan kept slapping me on my back and laughing. Good thing it was only a 8 floor ride down otherwise he might have broken my vertebra. After that Stan and I bonded like grandfather and grandson, Maybe even father and son. Stan and I became very close, he told me stories about his life I found out he spoke to very few people about and was not public knowledge, he even trusted me when we disagreed on something creative (Not all the time. Some times we’d disagree and we didn’t come to an agreement- and then he had final say being Stan The Man Lee). I truly believe had I not taken the risk, spoken what popped into my silly little brain, we never would have bonded to that extent and become that close
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
What sets me apart, what sets anyone apart who is an artist and not a hack (and the world is full of hacks) is to I am true to myself. Or least I try to be. If I am, if I am honest in what I write, direct or act in, then that sets me apart from others. See, nothing is new. Everything is deirivited But if you use your voice, then it’s new even if it’s the same old love story, action story, drama, sci-fihorror, etc. That is what sets all great artists above the rest: THEIR VOICE. I have a voice and I like to use it. Sometimes to others discomfort. But that’s okay with me as long as I can get people think- think about their actions or ways and perhaps change them if they feel it’s needed. Enlighten them if possible. Empower them as much as I can. I often fail, and my voice becomes the tree in the forest that no one is in. But as long as I stick to that simple, very difficult dogma, I can eventually set myself apart. Or at least die trying. The other thing that sets me apart is, if I fart in an elevator I point to me and say, “Yep. I did it!” I’m most proud I’m still in the battle considering how many ups and downs I’ve had. BOTH are devastating when you are down because once up you’ve tasted the Promise Land. And it’s way more than just milk and honey. It’s a void being filled inside of me. It’s no longer a fantasy or dream you made it and so when you crash down it’s more real and its sting is more of a bite. So the fact that I keep getting up I’m proud of. That being said, I’d like the knockdowns to end. Come on, I’m getting told old for this shit! I want the world to know I’m not afraid of it.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I have to talk about three cities since I have lived in all three. I’ll start with my first. NYC: We’d go to Katz for Pastrami, Mariella Pizza on 8th Ave. Peeking Duck in China town. Hit an Irish Pub on 9th Ave. Harlem (for a place who’s name I suddenly forget) that makes the BEST donuts in the world. And ANY Italian restaurant in Little Italy that is family run, not fancy-looking, no tourists, lots of Italian is spoken for the best Italian meal outside of Italy- but competes well with Italy. Central Park near John Lennon’s plague to skate or bike ride. FAO Schwarz to be kids again. We’d also have NY hotdogs from a vendor; mustard, onions, sauerkraut and fuck no not ketchup on a hotdog. Come on! Duncan Donuts for the 2nd best donuts and we’d buy Yodels cause they are hard to get anyplace other than NYC of Jersey. Lincoln Center to listen to classical music. Standup NY to get great laughs. Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and walk from Soho to the village too Little Italy to Harlem. Of course, if it was winter there is 5th ave and all the windows, the Christmas Tree in Rock Center, and ice skating there as well. I’d take to CBGB’s but it got torn down! How the fook does that happen. It was a shithole (like most of NYC in the ’80s and early 90’s) but a legendary one. Then there’s catching a Mets game and a Giants game (even though that’s in Jersey). No reason to watch the Knicks until they decide to become a professional team again. And to the 911 memorial to remember. We’d end the night by driving across the GW Bridge and sitting on the Jersey Side to look over the Manhattan skyline in all its glory. I’m leaving out A LOT because NYC is filled with a ton of great stuff to do! LA: Sushi! Sushi sushi sushi!!! The best I’ve ever had is in LA (I have not been to Japan yet) Among my favourite sushi places in LA (and LA means LA, BH, WeHo, etc) Hama downtown and Izakaya Sushi on 3rd street. Venice Beach to watch the freak show. Drive along the coast on PCH (Cause you can’t walk it which is INSANE. The designer of southern CA should be hung by their balls and never to be released) Hollywood Blvd, east of LaBrea, to watch the freaks. Rainbow Room for the Pizza, music and to get into a fight (For some reason like 50% of the time I went there I got into a fight) he Comedy Store for a great laugh. Downtown and around LA to hit food trucks cause there are SO many amazing ones and all types of fantastic food. Drive around BH and Belair– to see the mansions the freaks live in. Surfing on Seal Beach. Soot Bull Jeep for Korean BBQ (Notice I have a lot of food places to go. I was born a Jew, it’s in my blood even though I do NOT believe in organised religion) I’d take you to a Lakers game BUT unlike too many people in LA we would show up in time and stay to the end no matter what the score. Same with Dodgers and Kings game. Seats on the glass of course (Hey, ever since I got money I’ve spoiled myself with great seats cause growing up, when we were lucky enough to go to a Giants or Mets or Knicks Knicksoror Devils game we were so high up nose bleeds happened 20 rows below us) Lots more to do and just a few hours away you have Joshua Tree and much more. I’d end the evening (still has to be light out) by going to the Farmers Market on Fairfax for it’s rich history and all kinds off food, then walk to The Grove cause it’s kitschy cool and then we’d drive to the top of The Grove’s parking garage and look at the Hollywood Sign (Did I stutter? I did indeed say the top of a parking garage) Hey, if my screenwriting doesn’t work out maybe I’ll write Travel Guides. Which brings me to– MADRID, SPAIN I’d need a book three times larger than the bible to list all the beyond amazing restaurants in Madrid! The food is beyond extraordinary and many different types. I had no idea until I came here. Europeans know. American’s don’t because we don’t get authentic Spanish food even in Spanish restaurants. It’s more Mexican meets Spain meets something else. And the food is healthier. No preservatives. And we’d go “tapping”. For Madrid we would walk and walk and walk. Next to Venice, Italy it’s the safest city I’ve ever been in (Well, before I got here. This pandemic keeps up I might just go back to my Hell’s Kitchen’s days and start some shit up just to break up the amazement) Architecture is my favourite art form and you walk around Madrid and soak it in. We’d go watch a football match for Atletic Madrid (Yep, like the Mets vs the Yankees, unlike Real Madrid Atetlic is a great team money can’t buy cause they don’t have nearly as much as Real, or Barca. And their coach is a rock star). I would, however, take you on a VIP tour of Real Madrid stadium cause it’s rich with history and it’s pretty cool. We’d have hot chocolate where, among many great writers and artists, Hemingway use to go. Not because of Hemingway but because it’s fantastic hot chocolate and the basement level is very cool (I go to write there a lot it’s open 24/7. Well was because of C19 not now). Ok, I lie. Of COURSE one of the reasons I go is that Hemingway went there! The other amazing thing about Madrid is it’s so easy to catch a 3 hour or less plan ride, or fast train to another area of Spain or Europe (Hey, USA. Get. Fast. Trains! Why don’t we have them yet and are still a 3rd world country in this are and many others? In this gas due to the lobbyist for automobiles, tires, and mainly oil. Fuckers!!!!) Wed have FANTASTIC Spanish wine that cost 1o euros a BOTTLE or less (In NYC or LA you spend $25 on a GLASS of just ok wine) And of course, we’d get an authentic (which means you wait 30-40 minutes for it to be cooked) Paella. Anyway, we’d finished off the evening by going to the terrace at Elisabeth’s parent’s house that has an AMAZING 360-degree view of Madrid including The Palace and The Opera house, and have tapas, with olives and Jamon (even though I’ve cut WAY down on meat and pork cause Cows and Pigs are smart and have feelings. Yes, I’m still a barbarian and ear them sometimes. Yes, I feel bad enough. But they are sooo delicious) And we’d have a civasa or Spanish concoction like Sangria (which is not from Mexico as I had thought) or Tinto Verona, or a gin and tonic which.for some reason, is a big drink in Spain (Note: Don’t ever order a Martini thinking you’ll get a martini made like they do in the USA. Or UK. Or like ANY other country in the world) Other than Martini’s the rest is pure Heaven!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Man, this is hard because I’ve been lucky there really are so many. Including those people who told me No. Or I suck. Or I’ll never make it. Maybe especially because of them. And there were (and still are) PLENTY of them. That MOTIVATES me. Many times in my life I’ve been told I can’t do something and that’s when I need to prove them wrong. I haven’t always succeeded at proving them wrong but it’s damn worth the RISK to do so. I won’t name them but i want to truly thank all those haters or non-believers. Without you, I wouldn’t have had any success. As to people who believed in me, or at least let me be who I am and go after my dreams; Both my parents. They worried, They wished I had done something more steady. My dad even said, when I told him I was moving to LA to be a writer/director, “But what are you going to do for a living” he didn’t stop me and even gave me $50- which was a lot to him. My sisters always encouraged- I mean put up with me. Even when I made them do plays with me that apparently, according to me Mum, I’d introduce by saying NAME OF PLAY written by jD Shapiro, directed by jD Shapiro, starring jD Shapiro with my sisters. Jajajajaj! And they also put up with my making them play football with me. (Hey, when you don’t have a brother you improvise with what you got. My dog Sundance was one hell of a safety and my cat Seltzer wasn’t half bad linebacker) Mrs. Green. I had a teacher in first grade who would give me “A’s” or “A-” on my writing- again me Mum told me this story. But my paper was filled with red circles because my spelling and grammar was so bad. (Was? Still is!) So me Mum went to her and asked why such good grades. She said that she felt I was very creative and if she gave me bad grades due to my spelling and grammar I’d shut down. Wow! How fucking lucky was I to have a non typical teacher do that! An alien, or angel she certainly helped make me into the writer I am today. Many of my friends whom without I wouldn’t have made it in business as well as life including (in no particular order) Gary, Ken, Ellen, Elisabeth, Hannah, Jillian, Darron, Philip, Mike, Joey, Joey, Ivie, Cami, Andy, Mere, Debbie, Becky, Irv, Jimmy, Brian, Kirk, Barbara, Raymond, Greg, Craig, Melissa, Aaron, Adam, Monica, Britt, Maryann, Frank, Marco, Lisa, Cousins David, Mark, Susan, Nikki, Richie, Steve, Duncan, Stephen, Daniela, Candy,Jessica, Joe, Jon, Jon, Danny, Donna, Stephen Richard, Robin, Wendy, Bobby J, Leo B, Fonzi, DannyBoy, The Great Caruto, Edurne, The Twins, Danny, Pedro, Aunt Francie, Aunt Janet, Uncle Stevie, Coach Johnson, Dr. Karasch, Doc Speigle, Anne, Mrs. Speigle, Mr & Mrs. Rosenbloom, Doc Tesler, Booby, Doc Hector, Doc Javier and so on and so on and… I know I’m missing some VERY important people that influenced my life profoundly and thus I deeply apologise to them!) These friends and family let me be me That’s not easy on them! I ain’t exactly a flower patch to be friends with. More like the thorns in roses. NOT that I am bad to them. I think to the last of them they’d say I am there for them when they need me and I’m loyal to a fault. But because I tend to disappear or can be very stubborn about things- something i need to change) These friends, and family who are also friends, either encouraged me or picked me up when I was feeling down or both. As it was said in “It’s A Wonderful Life” I am truly lucky and the richest man in “Bedford Falls”! Kevin Hassarud and The HBO Comedy Festival: Kevin ran the festival and We Married Margo won Audience Award for Best Film and it was an incredible time in my life that started a new chapter for me Dan and Julia Myrick: Dan became a big fan of We Married Margo and needless to say I was a big fan of Blair Witch. Not only have we worked together but there is a lot of love and encouragement from these two. Sir George Lucas: He became a fan of an indie movie I wrote, directed and co-starred in (Seems nothing changed from my childhood) called We Married Margo. He invited me to Skywalker and gave me some great advice and a totally free sound mix! To say that helped boost my confidence is an understatement. And I’m a geek so the experience was fantastic! Frank Darabont. Also became a fan of WMM and we almost turned it into a TV series together (Still available e for that if anyone is interested) Mitzie Shore. Owner of The Comedy Store. She made me a “Made Man” (Paid Regular) at The Comedy Store Dani Zoldon. Owner of Standup NY. He made me a regular there. Stan Lee. Donna Moffit, John Moffit, Randi Siegel and Robin Williams. They encouraged me to start doing standup Brad Fuller, John Mass and Marc Gordon. Very encouraging to me and always helped me believe again when I had doubt. Austin Macauley Publishers, the publishers of my first (but not last) book, “Think Like A Man: The Only Guide You’ll ever need (That’s called a “Shameless plug) It came out June 2019 and it’s on several prestigious “must-read” lists. Melissa Morris who is my publicists She came into my life only about 3 years ago and has had a profound and positive effect. She is the one who got Think Like A Man to the publishers as I had sent out letters, got all rejections and put it aside thinking nothing would ever come of it. Elisabeth Larena for reasons I’ll keep to myself And the first producer who gave me a paying gig as a writer. Sadly I don’t remember his name. He paid me $1,000 to write a script about kids who use their gaming skills to do real battle. I got $500 up front and $500 upon delivery and I would have got $10,000 (minus the $1,000 I already got) if the movie had ever been made. It never was but that was the sweetest money I ever earned because I was a now a paid writer!
Other: Tinder, Jdate, CathlicDate, blackDate, Happn, DateADate, DateADyslexic… I kid I kid. Or do I?