Luke Mones (MOHN-ess) will make your day funnier. I’m not just talking about the day you listen to his new album Happening In My Head. That day will be funnier, but so will every day thereafter. Every time I drive by a 7-Eleven now, I laugh and think about bananas. I can no longer pick up prescriptions at CVS with a straight face. I imagine what might happen if Jesus enrolled at Hogwarts or if Joe Biden became a bus boy. (You won’t guess. Just listen to the album.) There’s even a place where Luke simply uses the word “the” in a way that is fresh, hilarious and unforgettable. There’s so much more, including why Luke describes himself, at considerably over six feet tall, as the “Biggest Jew” in America. Luke’s height has had repercussions since age five. It’s not easy being a towering presence.
And let’s talk about Luke’s presence. What stands out to me is not just his height, but his genuine charisma and smile. I could hear it in his standup before I had the good fortune to meet him over Zoom. Just listening to Happening In My Head, you can actually “see” that smile. Along with his material, the warmth in his delivery has the effect of breaking down all barriers between comedian and audience. Not only that, he is lightning quick with crowd work – a brave risk during an album recording. Just listening at home, I could feel myself drawn to his lighthearted yet profound, insightful observations. Luke has the kind of gravitation that pulls people towards him like planets to the sun. This is a comedian who will make your days better.
Luke wrote and starred in Comedy Central’s digital series Genies (with Chicagoan Josh Johnson), and is currently appearing on the CW’s Great American Joke Off. He has also guested on HBO’s Insecure, and Conan and his work has been featured by the AV Club and Huffington Post. His short film Early Decision screened at the Cannes Film Festival and he has performed at festivals nationwide, including Netflix Is A Joke and Laughing Devil where he was awarded first place.
Luke kindly spoke with me about his life in comedy and how a certain kind of “anxiety” is actually a remarkably positive life force.
IN THE BEGINNING
Teme: What is your comedy origin story?
Luke: I started in the New York open mic scene when I was in college. Right before the pandemic, I moved to L.A. Now I’m lucky to be getting out on the road a lot more. I am really excited to have put out my first album and by the challenge and newness of working on my second hour.
Teme: Why comedy?
Luke: I was influenced from an early age by the comedy shows and standup comedians that I saw on TV and in movies. I never really conceptualized it as a career path. I didn’t really understand that it was something that people could do, but it always spoke to me. I did theater when I was a kid and made videos with a rinky-dink, early-‘2000s digital camera, so I was always creating and performing. I liked making people laugh. I could make my friends laugh. I wanted to see if my sense of humor worked on strangers, too.
Teme: From literally the first word on your album, I could hear that you have great, positive energy and it’s really uplifting! How do you maintain and convey that energy?
Luke: Well, first of all, thank you for saying that. I really appreciate it. Doing standup is very invigorating. It gives me a lot of life force. The frenetic, positive energy I’m trying to cook up when I’m on stage feels like the most natural vibe to channel. I’m trying to create a positive, shared anxiety with me and the audience. Not anxiety in the negative sense like dread or anything like that, but just getting people jazzed up and feeling like they’re present and in the moment.
Having an audience operating in that energy sets live comedy apart from watching it on your phone or on TV. Because live performance is being encroached by all these digital mediums, I feel like it’s so important to create that. My energy on stage is something that I’ve really turned up in the last couple of years subconsciously. But definitely listening to my album, I can feel that I’ve turned up the volume on that live-wire aspect. Whatever anxiety I feel pre-show, and I think this is true of so many comedians, it’s about transforming that anxiety into excitement and into being present and channeling it into something that helps you in the performance.
WHAT’S HAPPENING IN LUKE’S HEAD?
Teme: How did you decide on the title, Happening In My Head?
Luke: It stems from the exact thing we were just talking about. That charged-up, high-energy but positive feeling of walking the line where I’m in awkward moments or weird pauses with the audience that are unplanned throughout the hour. I’m thinking, “Is this really happening or am I imagining this whole show?” – and making a joke out of that. I’m trying to create a very zany and surreal vibe. That’s part of my comedy and part of my observational voice. Happening In My Head is a tribute to what I’m trying to do in terms of keeping things in that goofy, surreal place.
Teme: Do you have a favorite track on the album?
Luke: I have favorite moments scattered throughout the recording. A lot of them are moments that weren’t planned – even the beginning, getting up there and settling in. I loved trying to figure that out, not having a plan and seeing where it would take me. Any moments like that throughout the album which enhanced the live, in-the-moment aspect of it, were my favorite.
Teme: There were so many great moments like that! Is there a specific one that comes to mind?
Luke: Yes, totally. A guy clapped during a joke about hypochondria, and I had an interaction back and forth with him where I’m calling him “the clapper.” On paper, it’s a brief interstitial crowd work moment. But it was illustrative of a fun thing that can only happen in the standup setting. I remember getting offstage and thinking that it was memorable and that I wanted to keep it in the album. That was a big thing for me, to have moments from that show that felt authentic to what a regular standup experience would be rather than just a recitation of jokes.
Teme: It’s really brave to do crowd work while you’re recording an album.
Luke: I want it to feel like I’m in control, but that it could go off the rails at any time. With crowd interactions and unscripted moments, I very much know how to right the ship of the show and figure it out for the audience because it’s an unruly situation. That’s true of any comedy show. It’s a big crowd of people who don’t know each other. Everyone is drinking. It’s dark. It’s at night. People every day around the world are liable to misbehave at a comedy show. It’s part of it, so there’s always that fear that something could go haywire. But I also love that part of it and I think that part’s exciting.
Teme: Speaking of, I’ve seen clips of you dealing with hecklers and you’re awesome. I saw a clip where a drunk woman interrupts your show, then we hear a siren in the distance and without missing a beat, you said something like, “Your ride is here!” Do you have advice for people who want to be quick like that and spontaneous in their thinking?
Luke: I was not always able to come up with stuff quickly. It didn’t come naturally. It’s a result of doing countless shows in comedy clubs and bars and before that, open-mic nights where nobody was listening, and getting comfortable with things not going your way or silence, or not getting a good reaction.
I know the clip you’re talking about. It was a nightmare show outside in a parking lot. Being able to deal with stuff quickly is a result of being comfortable. There are so many other times that wouldn’t make it to a clip I would put on Instagram where I say something and it doesn’t go well, or it just is weird. It’s a skill that I’ve honed, but also it’s a very imperfect thing. I look at it less like a skill and more like I’m used to it and I’m okay with it not going well.
WHERE DOES MATERIAL COME FROM?
Teme: What is your writing process? For example, on your album, you have material about buying fruit at 7-Eleven and shopping at CVS and it’s very original, memorable and hilarious. How did you develop that funny lens?
Luke: I’m very curious, and it’s a good thing and a bad thing. I’m constantly over-analyzing stuff throughout the day. A lot of times, over-analyzing is not good for my brain and not good for the people in my life. But that part of my brain is also the part that leads me to have an information-seeking, natural curiosity about things. I’m also trying to think of jokes all the time, so all those things converge.
It’s funny you mention the 7-Eleven joke. That was something that happened to me years ago, before I did comedy. I was in a 7-Eleven buying an apple and the person working there was like, “Where did you get this?” It was like they had never seen anyone buy an apple before. I logged that, and it hung out in my brain subconsciously for a long time, to the point where I think I had some other joke I was doing about 7-Eleven and then that thought came in my head.
Sometimes there’s a little seed of an idea and the jokes and tags grow from that. Sometimes it’s a conversation with a friend. I think, if that made my friend laugh even if I said it on accident, maybe I could say it as a joke.
I wish that I had the type of act where I could efficiently and naturally produce jokes and material, and sit and force my exact type of standup onto a page, but I’ve tried that and it just doesn’t work as well for me. I feel like it always has to be ideas that come passively and then I actively work on fleshing them out.
Teme: On the album you begin one of your bits with, “Any Jews here?” I’m Jewish, and it’s rare that I feel like an insider, so that’s really fun to hear. How and why did you start doing that?
Luke: Great question. I’ve had jokes for a while centered around my Judaism. The joke I do on the album about the bar mitzvah is a 100% true story. Every word of it. I don’t want to spoil it, but that whole unfortunate situation did occur.
So that little inclusive crowd-interaction piece formed organically in the course of a year of doing that joke. I was really just trying to get a gauge. A lot of times I’m doing a show in a place where there are no Jews. It doesn’t change the way I tell the joke, but sometimes it’s just a good way to prime people. Sometimes in a place where there are no Jews – I don’t want to say people are uncomfortable – but it’s a way to test those waters while also setting the tone for the stuff I’m about to do.
Teme: That’s a really fun introduction to a joke. It makes me feel like, “Oh, I’m welcome here.”
Luke: Yes, exactly, and there’s some tension there because, as I say in that joke, we don’t always feel comfortable speaking out or identifying ourselves. If the person with the microphone does it, maybe it makes people feel more comfortable about doing it. But there’s nothing really noble about it. I’m really, at the end of the day, just telling a story. It’s a bit that I love doing. I think I’m going to set it aside now, but that crowd interaction is something that I’ll continue to do in some form, I’m sure, as I build my next hour.
MOST MEMORABLE HECKLER
Teme: What is your most memorable audience interaction so far?
Luke: When I was a year into comedy, I hosted a show for military families at Fort Hamilton, a military base in Brooklyn. The audience was kids and their parents. There were supposed to be three comedians and two of them didn’t show up. There was this amazing barbecue and one of those bouncy houses and I had to be the one to say, “Excuse me, everyone. It’s time to come inside and stop your day in the beautiful sunshine on this lawn and watch me do comedy without a microphone.” It was not a good show. It was in a conference room and I remember a baby threw a rattle at me and then the kid got taken outside by his mom. I remember thinking that’s probably the first and only time I’ll have a heckler get time out. If only I could do that now with drunk adults.
A DAY IN THE LIFE
Teme: What is a typical day like for you?
Luke: If I’m on the road, a lot of things center around the shows I’m doing that night. If I’m at home, usually I’ll have a couple of spots in L.A. at night, one or two usually. During the day, I am writing and working on various projects that exist in the orbit of standups and auditions and working on clips that I’m putting on my social media. But every day looks different. I think that’s part of having this weird career where there’s not a lot of structure. Later today, I’m going to be making some videos with a comedian friend of mine named Brendan Sagalow, a standup in New York who’s here in L.A. right now. Collaborating with a friend and writing is usually how I spend my time if I’m being good.
Teme: So when is your next Chicago show?
Luke: I was at The Hideout last year. I don’t have anything on the calendar right now, but I hope to come back before the end of the year and make it a yearly thing.
Teme: What did you like best about being here?
Luke: Besides doing the show, my favorite thing was walking along the lakefront. It was a really amazing, beautiful day. I hadn’t been to Chicago before. I didn’t understand the layout of the city, so definitely my non-comedy highlight was getting to see the entire city from the lakefront on that day and to take it all in.
Special vinyl edition here.
See Luke on Comedy Central, Netflix and in person: linktr.ee/lukemones