We had the good fortune of connecting with Jeff Hodge and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jeff, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
My thought process behind starting my own business was that I got tired of making money for other people so why not start doing it for myself. When I look back at all the years, I have been in this comedy game, I have seen how the have’s do it and what the have-nots have been doing to keep them going. I figured that I knew how to do that too so why not. Yes, it’s a big gamble but if I am not willing to gamble and spend money on myself, I can’t expect someone else to spend their money on me. Another reason for starting my own comedy spot was I wanted more stability. When you perform for others, you never know when you are going to get booked so you’re always at the booker’s mercy to get stage time. By me starting my own business, I now know that on a certain day of every month, I am guaranteed stage time. That’s a win for me.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I became a comedian from listening to my crazy friends. They would always tell me I was funny and that I should become a comedian. Being and Island boy, I had no idea what a comedian was. Keep in mind I was a teenager from St. Thomas, USVI back in the 1980’s, when things were more conservative than it is now. I had just moved to Houston, Texas and I was culture shocked being in a big, freaking American city with wide freeways, tall buildings and lots of pretty girls at my high school wearing Chic jeans and make-up looking like the girls I had only seen in magazines and on tv. Talk about major culture adjustment. There was a lot of distractions, so I had to really focus to get my work done that first year in at James Madison high school. Here’s the thing, I had an accent (which I never had until I moved to America). So the kids at my school would make fun of the way I talked. So the first year I clammed up and didn’t talk unless I had too. People kept telling me they couldn’t understand what I was saying. Kept asking me if I was speaking another language and I kept saying the same answer, “No, I speak English only!” One day my cousin Angel, told me that I needed to slow down so the Yankees could understand what I was saying. I did and things got a little better. Fast forward to when I was starting out in comedy. One day while I was goofing off in my Architecture class at the University of Houston (the first 10 years. It took me 20 years to finally get my degree at CSUN in California). My buddy, Ashley (I called him Ash) who was sitting behind me asked me if I ever thought about doing comedy because this architecture thing wasn’t going so well for me? I had never told anyone that I had tried open mic two times right after I graduated from high school and bombed. (I was trying to see if I was funny enough to skip going to college or joining the Army those were my choices and I didn’t want to do either one of them so I was going for the gold.) When he asked me about being a comedian, I was surprised. So, I told him I had tried the open mics and had a rough go at it. I would go onstage and say things that I remembered saying during the day that made people laugh. Sometimes people in the audience would laugh sometimes they wouldn’t. I really didn’t know what the heck I was doing. So Ash, volunteered to start going with me to the open mics and helping me out. The results were the same, hit or miss with the audiences. So one day while discussing the early demise of my comedy career, Ash suggested I go talk to the manager at the comedy club, Comedy Workshop. I did and he suggested I take a comedy class, Comedy Gym. The class was $200 for 8 weeks, I only had $100 so Ash gave me the extra $100 to take the class.
The Comedy Gym promised to teach me all the things I needed to be a successful comedian, so I signed up. So, I get in this class and they started telling me to use my accent to my advantage because it made me different from the other comics. Well, because I was teased so badly about my accent in high school, I refused to do that. In fact, I tried to hide my accent and refused to say anything about being from the Islands onstage because I was so traumatized from all the teasing I got. Lucky for me I got over this because using my accent and talking about my Island background really helped me to stand out as a performer.
What are some of the challenges you faced?
Being in the comedy game for over 20+ years hasn’t always been easy. You have more downs than ups and depression is always trying to creep into your space when those down times last longer than you had anticipated. As a performer, you sacrifice a lot chasing the dream. Family, personal, business and romantic relationships all take a back seat to someone pursuing their passion in the entertainment industry. When I look back at where I started and who was around me then to present day, not one of those people are around anymore. It’s sad but that’s the reality of the game. It’s not that we are no longer friends or anything like that, but friend’s interest change and people move on. People come and go but you have to keep on keeping on if you really want it in show business.
Romantic relationships are the hardest. You’re always gone during a lot of important dates (holidays, birthdays, Valentine’s Days, anniversaries, child births, etc.) These things add up (as a guy we usually don’t notice this until it’s too late, but she is keeping score of all the missed dates that she considered important to her.) Then there is the other side of the coin if you’re a male performer. If he is on the road traveling and doing shows, then he has to have a woman in every city. If I had a dollar for every time that was said to me, I’d be rich by now. With age comes wisdom and with wisdom comes clarity about what’s important to you. When I was younger starting out in comedy, my career was more important to me than some relationships and my actions bared that out causing irreparable damage to some of them. Now that I am older, peace of mind and quality of life is paramount to me. It’s more important to me to be a good father to my two kids and an overall good person to everyone I meet than to be the funniest guy in the room. (By the way, the woman in every city is a myth.)
How did you overcome the challenges? What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way?
Hard work and a don’t quit mentality has helped me overcome a lot of the challenges that I have faced in this industry. Here are a couple examples of what I am talking about Back in 1990, when the owner of a popular Houston comedy club told me to get out of the comedy game because I had an accent and nobody would understand me, I worked harder on speaking clearly so people could better understand me. And when they didn’t, I used it to my advantage. That comedy club has since closed in 1991. I am still here making people laugh. In 1997, I was up for a warm-up job of a popular late night talk show. After reviewing my tape from a hot, set I had the previous night one of LA’s top comedy clubs, the secretary of the host of late-night talk show looked me dead in the face and told me that I wasn’t funny! I almost fell over right there in the network, studio office from her harsh, point-blank delivery of the bad news to me. I distinctly remember driving home to my 4th floor apartment and crying myself to sleep with a mind-set of quitting comedy and moving back to Houston. That late night talk show was cancelled within a year and I am still in LA living the dream. Motto: Don’t quit because people tell you to. Quit because you decide to!”
Looking back at my almost 3 decades struggle in comedy if I had to pinpoint the one or two things that have gotten me through the madness is my family, good friends and a belief in God. No matter what the setback was, those three things have always been constants in my life. I was having a conversation with my mother via phone a few months ago and she revealed to me that she is always praying for her kids and asking the Lord to bless her kids and grandkids from evil and harm. My thoughts when she said that was, “My mom is such a mom. Always looking out for her kids no matter how old we get!” Then I chuckled and thanked her. That is the shield that has protected me all these years while I was chasing the dream.
We’d love to hear what sets you apart from others.
Being one of only a handful of comedians (if that many) from the U.S. Virgin Islands performing on the US comedy circuit has helped distinguish me from the thousands upon thousands of comedians. My work ethic has also helped to distinguish me from my contemporaries. I am not only a comedian but I also produce comedy shows all over the USA. This has helped me to build up a following in the LA area. Until Covid- 19 hit, I was producing a monthly comedy show, Jeff Hodge & Friends Comedy Jam, at the Ice House Comedy Club in Pasadena, CA for the past 15 years. Being able to create content and shows definitely helps in this business. I have more to offer mangers and agent when they are looking to sign new talent.
What you are most proud of or excited about?
Some of my other achievements that I am proud about is authoring seven books (101+ Ways To Get Out Of A Traffic Ticket; Things That Tick-Me Off About Driving; 101+ Ways To Stay Awake When On The Road; 101+ Ways To Keep A Man; 101+ Ways To Tell When The Relationship Is Over; 101+ Ways To Tell If The Person You’re Dating is Crazy and ROAD TRIPPIN… The Life And Times of A Comic On The Run. Having never written a book before, I was really pumped up when I saw my first book in print. (FYI – I use to teach the comedy traffic school so that is where the material for the first three books came from.) I am also proud of my podcast that I created, ROAD TRIPPIN… The Podcast! It’s a podcast that features performers (comedians, singers, actors, musicians, actors, etc.) sharing their road stories with the audience. I have always said that the best stories comics have are not the ones they share onstage but the stories they tell when they are not onstage. My podcast can be heard most place where you listen to podcasts. Jeff Hodge School of Comedy is also another of my endeavors that I am proud of. It wasn’t my intention to start a comedy school because I never thought I had anything to offer. Then approximately 8 years ago, a friend pointed out to me that she had taken a comedy class where the instructor was not a comedian but a comedy writer. She said even though he was funny, he couldn’t give actual stage experience from being onstage working his craft as a comedian. I was still not sold on teaching because I never considered myself a teacher. Again, she pointed out that I had been teaching comedy traffic school for years and how I had taught my 7-year-old son, Jaiden, how to perform a 3-minute set onstage at the Ice House Comedy Club. It was only then that I realized that I in fact did have teaching credentials. So we set out on coming up with a name and creating a curriculum for my school. I know there are many comedy classes being offered all over LA. The thing that sets my classes apart from the rest is when you take the Jeff Hodge School of Comedy classes, you become part of the family. This means that whenever I am producing a show, short film, workshop, podcast, etc, former students get to be a part of those events too. A lot of people take the other comedy classes and get their one showcase when the class is done. That’s it. Now they have to scramble for stage time. My students know that so long as I am producing something, they have a good shot of being in it so the investment in Jeff Hodge School Of Comedy continues paying for itself long after the class is over.
My latest achievement that I proud of is starting my weekly comedy show every Saturday night, the Yeah Mon Comedy Lounge. It’s located in the heart of Hollywood right on Melrose Ave (7551 Melrose, Ave, Hollywood, CA 90046). Show times are at 7:30 pm. For more about my room, visit: yeahmoncomedylounge.com. “Come for the laughs, Stay for the Entertainment!”
What do you want the world to know about you or your brand and story?
What I want the world to know about me is that I came, I saw and I conquered! No matter what the obstacles or challenges were, I found a way to get over or around those obstacles. The outcome may not have always been how I planned them, but you know what, I am right where God wants me to be. A little Island boy moved from St. Thomas USVI to big Los Angeles, CA to pursue his dreams of being a comedian and somehow managed to survive 25+ years after arriving in the big city of lights and dreams. My brands: Yeah Mon Entertainment; ROAD TRIPPIN, Jeff Hodge & Friends Comedy Explosion; Yeah Mon Comedy Lounge, Ambassadors Of Comedy, Jeff Hodge School Of Comedy, etc. have all been built on hard work and determination.
Don’t Quit has my motto from day one. I may not have always been the funniest comedian in the room but I was always one of the hardest working. Hard work + talent trumps pure talent any day. Always believe in yourself and put God first and you will never be last! Www.jeffhodge.com; Facebook = @jeffhodgecomedy; IG = @jeffhodgecomedian; Twitter: @jeffhodgecomic; Youtube: comedian Jeff Hodge
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?
The Getty Museum would be one of the first places I would take anyone visiting LA. The panoramic views of the Los Angeles area is second to none. Also, because I use to work there, I have inside information that I can tell my guests that will make the tour that much more interesting and entertaining. For example, The Getty Museum is the richest museum in the world. The reason it’s free to get into the museum is because J. Paul left it in his will that he wanted the admission to be FREE so everyone could come to visit not just the HAVES. Venice Beach and the Santa Monica Pier are definitely stops on the weeklong vacay in LA. Venice Beach for the street performers and the beach. The Santa Monica Pier for the pier, mall and beach. TOI restaurant on Sunset would definitely be one of the places to take them to eat. They serve hot, spicy Thai food until 4 a.m. (This was before Covid so I am not sure if they still stay open until 4 a.m.) While we were in Hollywood, I would take them over to the Walk Of Fame, Mann’s Chinese Theater and the Dolby Theater so they could take pics of all the tourisy stuff they see on TV and have been wanting to see. The residents dressed as movie characters are always good for a laugh or two. (Only on Hollywood Blvd can you see two people dressed as Spider man. One person has a 12-pack so he is way too big for the costume and the other one’s costume is so faded, it’s almost pink and powder blue!) Before we left Hollywood, I would take them to the top floor Hollywood & Highland Center onto the observation deck so they could take great pics of the Hollywood sign. The angle is so good that you can take pictures of you that makes it look like you’re right there next to the sign.)
El Torito Restaurant in the Marina or Studio City would be the Happy Hour spot for drinks, chips & salsa and watching a sporting event. Tequilas Cantina & Grill in Burbank is another one of my Happy Hour spots that I will definitely take my guests. They have a margarita drink so big you need two hands and a date to move the glass (Now that’s really big!) Since we’re close to NoHo, Pablitos in my N, Hollywood neighborhood on the corner of Vineland and Burbank Blvd would be my go-to for street tacos. Real good, inexpensive and filling. I find myself visiting them several times a week. You have to walk off some of this food and drinks, so Runyon Canyon is a good trail to walk, talk and see people. You never know who you might run into when on that trail. Not calling any names but I saw a couple celebs while out there huffing & puffing on the trail. The bike trail on Santa Monica Pier is also a good exercise. It runs all the way from Malibu to Redondo Beach. I would use the Red Line Subway to take my guests from my place in N, Hollywood to Hollywood, downtown LA all the way out to the Santa Monica Pier so they could experience the subway and what it’s like to move around LA without traffic.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My journey to where I am today, began 40 years ago when I arrived here in America. I never knew I wanted to be a comedian until I started attending James Madison High School in Houston, Texas. That’s where I first started hearing about being a comedian. To be honest, I didn’t even know what a comedian was back then but it sounded good, so I ran with it. There are so many people that have contributed to where I am starting with: my parents, Edgar & Zulah Hodge; My aunt, Ruby Vanterpool, that I lived with when I moved to Houston; Ms. Arnell White – mentor/leader of the James Madison FHA organization that took us on trips all over the USA, which looking back turned out to be the foundation of my yet unknown comedy career. Ashley Anderson – my college buddy in my architecture class that gave me the extra $100 I needed to pay for my first comedy class, etc. this list can go on forever, but the one person I want to give credit and a big Shoutout to for this article is Angel Vanterpool. One of my fave cousins that we lost July 2, 2020 to Covid. When I first moved to live with my Aunt in Houston, Angel had just moved there 2 months before me. He was two years older than me and had been living in Sumter, S. Carolina for two years before moving to live with my aunt too. We went to the same high school, and I was a grade behind him. He was the one that was originally in the FHA organization and asked Ms White if I could tag along on the trips they would take. Looking back, these trips taught me all the tools I would need later in my career to become a comedian. Tips such as how to travel long distance via car or plane from one city to another. How to book and check into motels rooms. How to read a road map. How to attend large gatherings of individuals. Angel was the one that taught me how to perform and be a showman. He was a natural clown and had a way of just befriending everyone he met. I watched him do his thing. People came to know us brothers on these trips and at my school. So, whenever we went on a trip, he would start doing his thing and encouraged me to follow his lead. From that I learned the art of performing in front of strangers no matter what age, color or gender. When I asked him where learned that from he would reply, “I just make it up and go with the flow.” So I started doing that. Going with the flow whenever I step out onto the world stage. Angel is no longer with us but his protégé is. Thanks Smoke (nickname I gave him). You can also read book, ROAD Trippin… The Life and Times of A Comic On The Run. (When you read it, please don’t judge me.) Hahaha.
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