Welcome to “Humor of the Beast,” a recurring series where we interview the funniest people about their favorite band, as well as the impact heavy music has had on their lives and in comedy. In this article, we talk with Joe Sib.
Joe Sib’s impact on punk rock is undeniable – having co-founded the influential label SideOneDummy Records, plus singing in bands like Wax and 22 Jacks. But over the past 10 years, Joe has been climbing up the standup comedy ranks as well. In fact, his commitment to touring as a comic has led to such high-profile gigs as joining Jim Breuer on the road as Metallica’s opening act.
Read highlights from our chat with Joe below – where he recalls how a certain legendary singer from Seattle cock-blocked him from joining his favorite band the Ramones onstage, shares what it was like to discover Metallica’s Ride The Lightning at a young age, and describes what challenges both comedians and musicians will face as a result of COVID-19.
I want to start off by having you tell your story about seeing the Ramones’ last NYC shows – which I first heard you share at a SideOneDummy Storytellers Show a few years ago.
I was probably in my mid-20s when they decided to call it a day. The Ramones were doing three nights at Coney Island High, then one night at The Academy in NYC. That was going to be the final show [before they announced plans to end their farewell tour with Lollapalooza], so I had to go! I got hooked up to get into the shows via Arturo Vega [graphic designer who created the Ramones’ logo]. I flew out from California to New York, and a buddy of mine living in Brooklyn let me stay with him.
After the third show [at Coney Island High], I ended up backstage talking to Joey Ramone. At this point [in my life], I was friendly with him and Johnny. The Ramones camp knew who I was – whenever they came to the West Coast, I was at their shows! I said to Joey, “Hey, what do you think about me being the Pinhead at The Academy show?!” Basically, the Pinhead was the Ramones’ mascot… A guy would come out onstage wearing a dress and a mask [of a character named Schlitzie] from a movie called Freaks [which inspired the song “Pinhead”]. When the band would play “Pinhead” during the end of a show, the mascot would come out and hand a sign that said “Gabba Gabba Hey” to Joey.
When I asked Joey [to be the Pinhead at the final NYC show], he said, “You got to talk to Johnny.” So I walked over to Johnny and asked him. He looked me dead in the eye and said, “You know Joe, that’s an important job. I don’t know… Come down tomorrow and audition.” It’s crazy to think now as a grown man that I was that excited for an audition to wear a mask and a dress, but I was so stoked! I was thinking there’s no way I was going to miss [or fail at] the audition. So, while at a bar [after hanging backstage and drinking], I started to straight up tell people, “Guess what, I spoke to Johnny and Joey, and I’m going to be the Pinhead tomorrow night!” I remember there were all these people [from the New York punk scene] there, and everyone was so stoked for me!
After drinking and celebrating that night, I overslept and found myself running down the street to get to The Academy for my tryout… I roll into the venue as they were finishing soundcheck, I come up onstage and Johnny’s laughing while talking to this other guy. As I walk over to him for my audition, the guy he’s talking to turns around … and it’s Eddie Vedder! This is 1996, so Pearl Jam was on FIRE! He might as well have turned around and been Jesus Christ standing there!
Johnny introduces me to Eddie Vedder and we start talking. I go, “I’m here for my audition to be the Pinhead! I’m ready to roll!” Johnny goes, “Aww Joe, I’m sorry man! That’s not going to happen… Eddie’s going to be the Pinhead.” … I remember going from loving Eddie Vedder to hating Eddie Vedder. In my mind, I literally was like, “How could this happen?!” I could tell Joey felt bad for me. As I walked by Joey, I gave him a look as if to say, “Can you help me out?!” The look he gave back was like that scene in The Godfather – “Sorry, I can’t help you Joe. It’s just business.”
So, I’m at my last Ramones show, sitting at the back of the venue. It’s really bittersweet [watching the show] … But as they go into “Pinhead” and Eddie comes out dressed as the Pinhead, I suddenly remembered that I told about a thousand people [the night before] I was going to be the Pinhead. It just dawned on me, “Oh shit, he’s got a mask on … and Eddie Vedder and I are about the same size… If anyone I told is here tonight, and A LOT of people I told are, they’re not going to know the difference!”
The show ends, and it was like wildfire! People I didn’t even know were coming up to me going, “Fuck yeah! Congratulations Joe Sib! You were the Pinhead at the last Ramones show in NYC! Beers are on me! Let’s do a shot!” I’m sitting there thinking, “Uh oh, this is really bad.” At that moment, I had two choices – either I go with it, or tell everyone I wasn’t the Pinhead. For a moment I tried to tell people, but I couldn’t get a word out.
Next thing I know, we show up at the Niagara. The place is packed and everyone is raging. From across the room, Jimmy Gestapo from Murphy’s Law – the New York ambassador of hardcore – makes a b-line through the club with a smile that’s just so heartwarming. He grabs me and screams with the thickest New York accent, “Joe Sib! We’re so proud of you! That was so awesome tonight!” Now everyone’s around me [going nuts]. And right there I realize it’s one thing to keep this lie going to a bunch of people I don’t know, but not with this guy because A) He’s my friend and I love him, and B) He’s Jimmy Gestapo, and you do NOT want to be on his wrong side…
So I go, “Hey Jimmy… I got to tell you something… I wasn’t the Pinhead.” The whole bar just went silent. He goes, “What are you talking about?! We all saw you! You were up there with the mask and dress on giving him the sign!” I go, “No dude, it wasn’t me!” He goes, “What?! If you weren’t the Pinhead, then who was?!” I go, “Dude… Eddie Vedder was the Pinhead!”
Everyone’s looking at me, and Jimmy goes, “Eddie Vedder? … GET THE FUCK OUTTA HERE! This guy’s crazy!!!” Then the whole bar just starts laughing – just an explosion of “Haha, this guy’s crazy! Eddie Vedder, yeah right!” They didn’t know Eddie Vedder was even in town, and he isn’t hanging out at the Niagara! All I could do was grab my Heineken and go, “Alright, I tried… I AM THE PINHEAD!”
As much as it killed you to not be the Pinhead onstage, just being in the same room as Johnny and Joey Ramone – let alone getting to candidly talk with them – must’ve been surreal.
Oh absolutely! That band was everything to me – the music, the lyrics, everything about them just spoke to me so clearly. Their music was very tight, had a certain number of beats per minute, a certain length … That formula is one of the main things that drew me to the band. It spoke to me mentally.
It’s even an influence on my comedy! When I’m writing standup, I’m always trimming and shortening it. I’m always saying to myself, “Ok, what can I do in this amount of time? What can I take out to make it even tighter and better?” Even that Ramone story I just told you – that use to be a 30-minute bit, and now I can tell it with the same impact in 10-15 minutes.
Do you recall the first time you discovered the Ramones?
My parents had gotten separated, and I used to go visit my dad on the weekends. I was in 6th grade, and it was before HBO or Showtime. There was this channel where my dad lived in the Bay Area that would continuously show a movie during the weekend – so right when it ended, it started again… One weekend, the channel was showing Rock ‘n’ Roll High School. I was like, “Holy shit! What is this?!” I don’t even know how many times I watched it that weekend – I remember my dad coming down around 3 a.m., and he was like, “You’re still watching this?!” I couldn’t take my eyes off of them!
I didn’t [at first] know they were a band – I thought they were actors or real brothers! I went to school that Monday morning, I told my friend I saw this movie, and he went, “You know they’re a band, right?” At that point he showed me Road To Ruin, and I was like, “What?! They’re a real band?!” Right there and then, they became my favorite band and my first gateway into different music.
Then where everything in my life changed [shortly after discovering the Ramones] – my dad said, “Hey, this weekend when you come over, bring your skateboard.” He picks me up and we go to the skateboard park … The real gamechanger was that [the more I skateboarded, the more] I started to hear this music being played there. It was the sound of the Buzzcocks, 999, Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Redd Kross … I just started to gravitate towards it. After a few weeks, I finally got up enough courage to go up to the kid playing this music and ask him, “What am I listening to?!” He just started to go, “Alright, this is Black Flag, this is Circle Jerks, this is D.O.A., this is X, this is The Germs,” and so forth.
At that point, I never looked back! [My life] became, “Get up, go to school, go skateboard some more, discover a band, find out when they were coming to San Francisco, go to the show, and do it all over again.” I was in the right place at the right time when punk rock hit the suburbs. I got to see EVERY single band from Los Angeles and ALL the British bands [coming out at the time] during their first trips to the United States. That led me to getting into hardcore and bands like 7 Seconds, Youth Brigade, Minor Threat. I remember seeing Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield [of Metallica] at the On Broadway when Crucifix and GBH was playing. At that point it wasn’t, “Oh my God, it’s Metallica!” It was just, “Oh cool, those metal dudes are here!”
Metallica really helped bridge a gap between two genres, metal and hardcore punk, whose fans for a while hated each other.
Oh, fuck yeah! This is how it played out: if you were a punk rocker in the 80s, the first [metal] band you got your head around was Motorhead. When you listen to all of those Motorhead songs, you’re in! Then you see what these guys look like, and you go, “Damn, they might have longer hair, but there’s the bullet belt. There’s our common ground! These guys get it.”
Then after listening to Motorhead, the next band [at least for me] was Judas Priest. At that point, they might be wearing leather paints, but it didn’t matter because Rob Halford had short hair and the studded leather jacket. It was more theatrical, but you couldn’t deny that fucking Priest was cool! Then [punks would] get turned onto that first Iron Maiden record with Paul Di’Anno, and he looked like a punk! All of a sudden punk rock and metal start combining a look …
The only difference was the hair! Then you hear Metallica’s first three albums … I remember going out with this girl who was into both punk and metal. We were in her bedroom having sex and she puts on Ride The Lightning. Let me tell you, the only thing to stop a teenage boy from having sex is Ride The Lightning! I was looking at the album cover naked while sporting wood, and I went [to the girl], “Wait let’s stop for a second… What am I looking at?! What am I listening to?!” Metallica always were metal but with a punk rock, “Fuck You” attitude. It made [it easier for punk rockers] to love them so much more.
What was your biggest takeaway from actually getting to tour with Metallica?
After going on the road and watching them play 35 shows in front of 23,000 people… They connect with people in a way that I’ve never, ever seen before. My biggest take away from being around the band, especially James, is who those dudes are onstage is the same as off. There’s only one real difference – James wears a Motorhead shirt and blue jeans offstage, and a black shirt and black pants onstage. James carries himself in a way that’s so authentic and so real.
And the way the band runs that ship – everyone in that camp, from top to bottom, is the best at what they do. Whether they’re the lighting coordinator or the guy that does the rigging, there is no one better at that job than them! I don’t know how they’ve done it, but the Metallica camp has only hired people who are as good at what they do as each bandmate is at what they do. The professionalism I experienced on that tour for six months was unbelievable. I was almost more in awe of that than I was of seeing Metallica perform every night.
What do you think 16-year-old Joe Sib – who as you shared was literally in the act of having sex when he got distracted by Ride The Lightning and opted to stop so he could finish listening to it – would say if you told him one day he’d be opening for Metallica in arenas?
He’d say, “Can I do it with clothes on?” No, you’d have to put it in terms of “how” it would happen. 16-year-old Joe was in his first band as a bass player, and at that point knew he wanted to pursue music … So, if you had said to me at 16 when I first heard Ride The Lightning, “Hey, someday you’re going on the road opening for Metallica,” I’d presume it’d be with my band.
But then if you were to say, “No not with your band. You’re going to be DJ’ing and serve as a co-host / comic. Oh, and you know that guy on SNL that does Goatboy? You’re going to be best buds with him, and he’s going to invite you [to do the tour with him]” … I would’ve been like, “Ok, I don’t know what you’re smoking, but I want none of that! Something is obviously mentally wrong with you!” I would’ve NEVER believed that. For all of it to happen that way is insanity. You can’t write it out any better than that!
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While on the Metallica tour every night during the show I would abandoned my DJ fortress and venture to the furthest upper deck nose bleed section I could possibly find and bring down 4 unsuspecting fans to join their Metallica brothers and sisters on the floor where they would be no less than 20 feet away from the band or even closer! It was by far my favorite part of the night. The look on these fans faces as we made our way down from their original seats in “no where’s-ville”to the floor of the arena was priceless. The idea came together one night with @jimbreuer_official and I talking about how killer that would be if we could do something like that each night. From there I ran it by my buddy and tour accountant for the band @chrisner1 . Chris came back later and said “Lars loves the idea! Let’s do it!” From there the one and only @robkoenigld the bands lighting director sorted out the details of lighting the section each night and making sure it all ran smoothly. Before I knew it, it was on and for 35 shows 4 lucky fans got to see their favorite band up close and personal curtesy of @metallica and @larsulrich Stay safe, healthy and sane everyone.
Having been so entrenched in the punk rock scene, both as a singer and a co-founder of SideOne Dummy Records, what inspired you to transition into standup comedy?
I started doing comedy professionally at such a late age – in my 30s. By the time I started, I was done being in a band. I already had a lot of success being a singer, with touring and with SideOne Dummy… all my friends were singing acoustically, but I didn’t want to. At a certain point, I started telling stories while hosting my own radio show, people really liked it and that turned into me thinking, “Maybe I could do this live…”
I then wrote this one-man show called California Calling. While doing that in LA, a friend of mine at the Improv said, “Hey I love your show. Why don’t you come back and do your show, but in a 7-10 minute format?” I remember [the first set] didn’t go well, but I got a few laughs… [After that] all that matter to me was doing standup well enough so I could get on lineups at places like The Laugh Factory and the Improv…
I just dove in head first, and literally for the last ten years got onstage every week. Right before coronavirus hit, I was at the Punchline in San Francisco doing a weekend there – we were the last show in the Bay Area. Up until that point, I was doing standup five to seven times a week, sometimes even three times a night. It just became an obsession of mine.
Now, going through quarantine, there’s a part of me realizing how much time I’ve spent focusing on standup and having to ask myself, “How’s it going to look when we’re able to go back onstage? What happens if we’re not able to go back onstage until 2021? What does that look like? Are you going to do comedy with a mask on? Are you going to do standup to people with masks on?”
Do you foresee comedy having more challenges to overcome in a “post COVID-19 world” than music?
Both are going to have huge struggles. It will never go back to the way it was when I did my last show at the Punchline in San Francisco. I don’t even have a theory or idea of what the “new” normal will look like. I don’t know what it’s going to look like on the other side for bands or comedians.
The other night, I was talking to Duff McKagan of Guns N’ Roses on the phone. I asked him, “What do you think it’s going to look like?” He said, “Joe, I don’t know…” And they’re a band that’s supposed to do baseball stadiums this summer, and he doesn’t know! I also talked to Jay Bentley from Bad Religion, who play 2,500 to 3,000 seat theaters, and he’s straight up saying, “We’re not doing anything until 2021 by the earliest!”
I’m super worried we’re going to lose artists who won’t be able to weather the storm. Sure, the big artists like Metallica and Guns N’ Roses will be able to because of their magnitude. But what about the comic who makes $600 a weekend while opening for a bigger comedian and maybe $200 a week [at other shows]? That comedian is maybe making around $1,200 a month from standup… Now that $1,200 isn’t there. How long until they go, “I can’t get unemployment anymore, so I’m going to take that job my brother-in-law keeps offering me.”
As soon as they can go back onstage, they’ll go, “Ok, I’m going to get back into the standup game… but I haven’t been onstage in eight months!” Oh, and when they say we can “get back onstage,” capacity will be lowered. What does that mean? Now all of a sudden, you’re competing [for set times] with Joe Rogan and Chris D’Elia. Are clubs going to have comics at levels B or C onstage? The clubs LOVE them, but they’ll go, “Sorry, we have to make room for the big names.” So now they’re scrambling [for sets], and they’ll end up going, “Fuck it, I’m done! I’m out!”
Once everything happened, I went, “Alright, how can I still exercise my muscle as a comedian?” and I started to do these livestreams from my wife’s closet. After that, I decided to exercise another muscle and do interviews with some bands and comedians on Instagram. The only reason I’m doing that is so every week I have at least one moment where I have to put myself out there in front of people – where I have to exercise that muscle of thinking on my feet, trying to be resourceful when asking questions, trying to be funny and entertaining… That’s the only thing I have right now.
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Had a great LIVE stream with my friend @thebrianfallon about songwriting, inspiration, cutting your own hair, why we both still love Joe Strummer and how Brian’s Mom was Punk before Punk. @sideonedummy made a killer @spotify playlist(link in bio) of some of the key bands/songwriters we talked about. Everything from The Boss to The Dead Boys. Take a listen cuz it’s pretty RAD. #quarantinelife #socialdistortion #jessemalin #theclash
This is what’s frustrating: there’s a lot of comics I love, who are hilarious people and great writers, but don’t want to put themselves in front of their phone. They’re like, “I don’t like it! Going on a livestream on your phone is SO lame! It’s almost like trying to say masturbation is better than sex…” But there’s no way around doing a livestream. It’s awkward, it’s lame, you have to really work a different muscle, but there’s a lot of comics I know who aren’t [willing] to do that.
I don’t know where [the comedy scene] is going to be, but I know this: I’ve got to keep creating, I’ve got to keep trying, I got to stay positive, and I’ve got to stay in shape and work out that muscle! That’s all I can do because I’ve worried during the day and at night, and it doesn’t do any good. All I’ve got is the moment we have right now, and all I can do is try to embrace it the best I can.
Are you more concerned about COVID-19’s impact as a record label co-founder or as a comedian?
Honestly, neither. I’m thinking about everything as just a human being. It’s not even on my radar as a label owner or a comedian. If you told me right now, “The world is going to be fine, but the one thing that won’t be is your record label,” or “If you stop doing standup, everything will go back to the way it was, people will be able to go back to work and remain healthy,” I would in a fucking second go, “I’m done! I don’t need to be on fucking stage!” The only thing that’s going through my mind is how we’re all going to get through this.
Headshot of Joe Sib courtesy of Kevin Baldes
Editor’s Note: This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.