After studying philosophy and world religions in college and graduate school, Ethan toured the world for several years as a philosophy & religion professor and marketing consultant for overseas universities, eventually becoming dean of academic affairs for a private college in Vietnam. After returning to the United States a few years ago, Ethan decided to bring his writing and public speaking talents to bear as a stand-up comedian and broadcaster. Since beginning his career in comedy, Ethan has shared the stage with hilarious people like Aaron Berg, Wendi Starling, and Hannibal Buress. Today he produces and hosts one of South Florida’s most popular podcasts, Sex on Kava, and is a regular performer at the Villain Theater, home of Miami’s finest improv comedy.
You can follow Ethan on Twitter or Instagram at @ethanisnotfunny or check butchandfemmecomedy.com for tour dates. Listen to his podcast, Sex on Kava, on iTunes or at sexonkava.com, or listen to his other podcast, Jesus Christ, That’s Funny!, on iTunes or at jesuschristthatsfunny.podbean.com.
1) Why did you end up quitting your big time corporate/academic job in Asia?
I didn’t feel fulfilled by it. I made a lot of money and theoretically, it was a perfectly satisfying career, but I could never quite shake the feeling that I was supposed to be doing something else with my life. Sometimes I would think about doing comedy but there were no opportunities to learn to do stand-up in Southeast Asia. I quit my job, left Vietnam, and moved to Florida since I have family here. Within a couple of months I was addicted to stand-up comedy!
2) Where was the most interesting place that you ever traveled to? And why?
Adam’s Peak (also known as Sri Pada). It’s a mountain in a remote jungle in Sri Lanka with a Buddhist temple on the top. People make pilgrimages there and it’s revered by several religions. There are steps cut to the side of the mountain but it still takes about eight hours to get to the top. I climbed it with my girlfriend and when we got to the top, we rested and looked at the temple while these giant butterflies came and landed on everybody. It was beautiful.
3) What type of comedians do you enjoy watching (locally and nationally)?
Locally, David Stebbins. One reason he inspires me is that, like me, he’s an addict in long-term recovery. I can really relate to his material about addiction, but more than that, I love that his style is filthy, energetic, and unabashedly confessional. He will say anything as long as it’s true and funny.
Another local comic I enjoy is Kat Toledo; she has this style of comedy that’s different than anyone else around South Florida. Her jokes are very abstract/esoteric; sometimes she’s saying things that you can tell are only funny to her, but the way she uses her voice to sell it makes her material work. She’s just a great performer, magnetic stage presence. I am a very difficult audience, I have a hard time liking standups. I am not an easy laugh, but Kat can crack me up onstage
Finally, a local up-and-comer I really respect is Artesse Lector (AKA Hennessy Williams III) He’s got a strong stage presence, really commanding, and he’s got a very analytical mind, just quick-witted and very deep. His writing is amazingly strong for someone so new on the scene…. Just great premises and an ability to find the best punchline quickly seems to come naturally, which also makes him great at dealing with hecklers. Also, he’s got a serious vocabulary that encompasses everything from academia to business to urban vernacular. You get the feeling he’d be equally comfortable giving a serious presentation to the board of Apple Computer, or shooting the breeze with a wino on a street corner, and he’d probably have something interesting to say to each of them.
As for nationally known comics, my biggest influence is definitely Norm MacDonald. I used to watch him on Saturday Night Live doing Weekend Update when I was just a kid, so his style really got into my brain early and influenced what I think comedy should be. My favorite thing about Norm is that doesn’t believe in cleverness. He never goes for the clever, witty punchline; he goes for the obvious one. The one anyone can understand. So it never seems like he’s talking down to the audience. He plays a dumb guy on stage and that’s my goal in comedy as well. I spent my life and career before comedy trying to prove to everyone that I was smart; as a comic I’m looking to connect with people instead, and I think the dumber I am, the easier this is.
Another comic that inspires me is Russell Brand. Not so much his material, just his attitude towards life and his career. Watching him taught me that you don’t have to be some kind of depressed nerd to be a standup comic– you can have a positive outlook on things, and enjoy life! And of course, that you can be a great performer and stay clean and sober.
4) What types of foods do you enjoy eating when you have time to cook?
I am a really healthy eater; I hate processed food, and I cook all the time. Umm, I make a lot of brown rice and lentil curries; I also enjoy making grilled cheese sandwiches with Ezekiel bread. I eat a lot of plain yogurt with fresh fruit, which is my go-to snack when I’m writing, or late at night after I’m done performing. And one of my all-time favorite things to make is Caesar salad (for which I always use my own recipe for the dressing: vinegar, olive oil, and lots of anchovies!)
5) What do you love most about stand-up comedy?
Connecting with people on stage! I’ve also made some great friends in the scene and I love hanging out with those guys and writing with them.
6) Who is the person that you would want to hang out with (Alive or dead) and where would you take him or her?
Socrates, because I want to know if Aristotle or Plato got it right or maybe neither. We would go to the local bar and I would order him some wine to get him talking! I’d probably have a Diet Coke, my all-time favorite drink.
7) What don’t you love about stand-up comedy?
When comics aren’t true to themselves on stage and I have to watch them. When new comics come on stage and talk about politics, hacky racist stuff, and how dumb they think women are (this last one is usually male comics). I’m not saying you can’t do jokes about these topics. I’m saying that most of the time, when comics, especially new comics, get on stage to tackle these topics, they end up doing terrible, boring jokes that have the ring of falseness. Everybody seems to want to show their brilliant insight on big social issues on the first day. Here’s a hint: Focus on your own flaws, and you’ll be funnier.
8) If you could have any actor or actress play you in the movie of your life then who would it be? And why?
Scarlett Johansson, because she would really be able to bring out my feminine side and I think she’s just as pretty as I am. Everyone would finally understand why I’m the femme in the Butch and Femme Comedy Tour.
9) What is your advice to New Comics?
Don’t do social issues right away. Talk about yourself, your own life and your own experience. Cheer up when you’re on stage and remember that you’re performing for people, you’re supposed to be entertaining. So don’t hate the audience, don’t give up on your material. Care that you are up there on stage!
Most of all though: Do comedy. There are stages everywhere; go on stage as much as you can. I hate it when people say “I can’t put gas in my car so I can’t make it to an open mic”. That’s not an excuse. When I first started, I didn’t have a car, so I rode a bicycle to open mics all over South Florida. You CAN get there. I suggest anyone starting out hit 10-15 stages every week and write in between every time you’re onstage. You won’t be able to avoid getting better.
10) I know you do a lot of podcasting and you’re doing some touring now. What’s the Sex On Kava podcast and what’s the the Butch and Femme Comedy Tour?
The Butch and Femme Comedy Tour is a regional standup tour I founded with the hilarious and beautiful Anna Lepeley. We met this past winter and had this natural chemistry (probably because she’s a butch lesbian and I’m an effeminate heterosexual dude). We knew we both had limited credits but figured they’d be good enough to get us booked in smaller cities, which turned out to be right. So we’ve been hitting up cities throughout the Southeast; we co-headline these shows, and we finish with a comedic song. It’s a deliciously raunchy show and we have a lot of fun with it. Check out butchandfemmecomedy.com for dates.
As for Sex on Kava, it’s a weekly podcast that I started over a year ago with my buddy Rich Kennedy, proprietor of Awa Na Kava Lounge, the weirdest bar in the world! A couple of years ago, I used to sit there at the bar, drinking water, and talking to Rich about all of his strange customers. It’s a kava bar, so they don’t serve alcohol, but somehow all the strangest people you’ve ever met find their way there. I’d go there after doing comedy all night to decompress, and would usually end up laughing so hard I couldn’t breathe at something happening in the bar, or Rich telling a story about something happening in the bar, and finally we just said: “We have to start recording this stuff!” So we started the podcast and called it Sex on Kava (because half of the funny stories are about sex). We interview the hot chicks and the weirdos in the bar, and we also bring on local comedians which gives them a chance to be funny in a non-standup setting. There’s drama, fighting, sound effects, very real moments, confessions, relationships, beautiful people, and several lunatics who regularly get on the air! It’s a lot of fun; listen on iTunes or at sexonkava.com. And write us a review and a 5-star rating on iTunes! (Trying to get better at reminding people to do that.)
I have another podcast, which I co-host with a Presbyterian minister. It’s called Jesus Christ, That’s Funny! (JCTF for short) and it’s sort of a comedic take on religion, relationships, and the meaning of life. My co-host, Pastor Dwayne Black, is sort of famous; he was in the news a lot last year, getting arrested for feeding the homeless in Ft Lauderdale. JCTF is probably the most personal media project I’ve ever done; I talk about my moral, spiritual, and relationship problems; sometimes I forget there’s a microphone in front of me and start really revealing my deepest, darkest secrets! Then Pastor Dwayne usually ends up telling me what I need to change to be a better person! Then I make a series of jokes. I really like working with Pastor Dwayne; He’s (obviously) religious and I’m not, but we end up finding a surprisingly large amount of common ground. And of course, there’s a lot of irreverent humor but I think that helps us connect with people. We’ve gotten great feedback from listeners so far. Listen on iTunes or at jesuschristthatsfunny.podbean.com.