Raymond Lambert’s new book, All Jokes Aside: Standup Comedy is a Phunny Business, follows up on his critically acclaimed 2012 Showtime documentary about America’s one-time preeminent black comedy showcase where stars like Jamie Foxx, Mo’Nique, Chris Rock, Steve Harvey, and Dave Chappelle began their careers. It is an uproarious, insightful memoir that provides a deep look into Lambert’s successes, failures, and lessons learned from running All Jokes Aside.
To see when Raymond will be in your city, see our events page. Below is a Q&A with the author.
Why did you decide to write this book after already having produced a successful documentary about All Jokes Aside?
It is virtually impossible to compress 10 years of history into an 85-minute documentary. You simply have to leave a lot of the good stuff literally on the cutting room floor. I would get questions at every stop while screening the film about my background: What else happened during the heyday? What did you do after All Jokes Aside? What are you doing now? So I felt that a book offered the opportunity to dig deeper, share more details of my journey before, during, and after All Jokes Aside. And there is a lot more to share, but I needed the right collaborator(s). Then I met Chris Bournea, and later Agate’s Doug Seibold. Here we go.
You spent the beginning of your career as an investment banker on Wall Street. How did your experience in the financial sector inform the decisions you made as a comedy club owner?
I worked in sales and trading, which is charged with providing liquidity in the capital markets, the marketplace where stocks or bonds are bought and sold. This liquidity allows a company to raise the capital needed to launch and grow its businesses. But before I sold or bought anything, I had to study the company—its business, management, financial data, annual reports, etc. I became very good at analyzing data. So from the beginning when my business partner and I were evaluating the opportunity to launch a comedy business, I used the same analytical skills that I had learned in business school and on Wall Street to determine if the idea appeared legit. Just as important, if not more so, is that fact that this training also gave me the framework for monitoring our progress and keeping things under control as we jumped in, grew, and expanded.
When you opened All Jokes Aside, you had no direct experience running a comedy club. How long did it take you to feel comfortable in this new career?
I have a history of starting things for which I have no direct experience, so it was not unusual for me to open a comedy club with no prior experience. In fact, I have had little to no experience in practically every job that I have ever had. Youth and inexperience are bliss. But humbly speaking, I have always felt that if it has been done before, I can do it also. A wise man once said, “If you can imagine it, you can achieve it. If you can dream it, you can become it.” I believe that.
Chris Gardner mentored you. Which of the lessons he taught you proved most beneficial as you navigated your way through this uncharted territory?
Chris was not very happy with me when I decided to leave his firm. He had big plans for me, and like a recalcitrant kid, I decided to throw it all away and join the circus. He didn’t speak to me for several years. But one thing that he and I have always agreed on is the idea that you must claim ownership of your dreams and relentlessly pursue them. You may disappoint others along the way in that pursuit, but you must be unreasonably willing to pursue them. Flash forward twenty years, our visions once again align, and now we are business partners on a slate of new exciting projects.
What advice do you have for young MBA-holders who are unsure of what sort of career path to follow?
I joke that I have never had a career: I’ve had a series of jobs. All jokes aside, George Bernard Shaw said that nothing great is ever accomplished by a reasonable man. Be unreasonable. Find what you are not only passionate about, but obsessed with, and find a way to make a living from it. And whatever you do, don’t compare yourself to your classmates. It’s not an easy thing to do, but comparison is lethal to contentment.
Do you have a favorite act that performed at All Jokes Aside? What was it?
I am asked this question all the time, and it’s like asking a parent who’s your favorite child. I have had the good fortune to work with some of the greatest stand up comedians in history. It is impossible to choose. That said, if it were my last meal of jokes, and I could only see one act that I have worked with . . . I am forever indebted to Steve Harvey. He saved our lives and taught me the comedy business. Then there is George Willborn, who was the heart and soul of All Jokes Aside. But before I met Steve and George, I witnessed Bernie Mac. After seeing him perform for the first time, I had all the confidence I needed to jump into the stand up comedy game. I recall thinking that if I had cats like that in my own backyard, then there must be dozens of cats around the country at least half as good. And that’s pretty damn good.
What’s next for you?
My primary interests are in social entrepreneurship, entertainment, strategic consulting, and fatherhood. With respect to social entrepreneurship, I want to use my entrepreneurial skills and apply them to solving social problems that plague our society. Hunger. Homelessness. Disease. Pay Day Lenders. In entertainment, my motivation is essentially the same: how can we collectively use our talents as artist, comedians, musicians, and filmmakers to address these same social ills? And I want to work closely with result-driven organizations by consulting with them on affecting social change. Last but not least, my most important job is to be the best father that I am capable of being. For now, that’s enough to keep me busy.