Published on Nov 4th, 2017 | by Free Standup NYC
Q&A by Andrew Ian Bayroff with: Bill Cannon
As a stand up comic, I’ve had the great pleasure of performing with individuals that either gave up their “safe” full-time jobs, such as doctors, lawyers, teachers, or transitioned once retired, to stand up comedy. Some of them have gone on to appear in movies and TV shows, and have never once called me. But I digress...
Today’s Q&A is with Mr. Bill Cannon: A retired, 27-year veteran of the NYPD, 9|11 first responder, university professor, actor, model, and an all-around good guy. Thank you, Bill, for your time.
What is, or has been, the biggest hurdle as a stand- up comic for you?
No matter what you do in life there are highs and lows, comedy is no exception. There are so many different components to this, writing, performing, networking, editing, and then doing it all over again. Last week I was in a comedy depression, I was always thinking when am I going to write the next good bit, what mics, shows should I do this week, how do I make this premise funny? It’s always a challenge. Probably most important is to live your life and find humor in your family, people you meet, and experiences you have. I guess to answer your question what is the biggest hurdle I’d have to say the overall grind.
Let’s get this one out of the way early so the readers aren’t wondering throughout the entire article: The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones?
Neither. No wonder I don’t get the references when young comics tell jokes about The Walking Dead or the Game of Thrones. I don’t watch much television. In my free time, I try to write and I’m also a musician so I practice my guitar playing. I have started watching Ray Donovan and the new show the Deuce on HBO.
Did you ever try out your material on someone you arrested or interrogated?
Humor has a big role in police work both in dealing with the public and in surviving with your fellow officers. Cops are funny people and joke about even the most macabre subjects. A double murder in Spanish Harlem one of the victims was a midget, a detective asked does this count as two murders or 1 and ½? For some that may seem as taboo but for cops that was an obvious joke. Soliciting information from people is a subtle and practiced skill. In order to get information from a suspect, or a witness that person has to like you. Understanding the human condition is a big part of it, and how you talk to people will determine your success or failure as an investigator. Detectives that I worked with and that worked for me, utilized every tool in their repertoire to get a confession, and admission, or just a statement. Humor is a huge part of interview and interrogation, it shows your human side and everyone no matter what their position in life is, has a sense of humor. It breaks the ice, and can also relieve tension at a critical time. People might be amused to see an arrested person laughing with the detective over a shared joke but it’s all part of it.
What is the single most false assumption about cops?
Cops are viewed as instruments of the state and represent the government in enforcing laws, keeping the peace, and controlling conduct. Many people don’t agree with how that is accomplished so take an antagonistic stance against the police/ authority. To answer your question people assume that cops are less than human, machine-like, and without feelings. Your goal as a police officer was to return home to your family the same way you came to work, in one piece. The majority of cops that I worked with over my nearly 27-year career joined the police force to do good deeds, to help people, to make a difference. No one was getting rich. There are some cops that took the job for the wrong reasons, but eventually, they get weeded out.
You and I have performed on more than one occasion, and I know you have strong opinions about everything. What has been your biggest pet-peeve as a comic so far?
My biggest pet peeves are these bringer shows that masquerade as regular shows, then you call up and the producer you find out that it is a 5-person bringer. If as a comic you do more than a few bringers you will not have many friends left. I did a show at a prestigious Manhattan location and the producer asked for 5 people, I said no, he said to bring two. I did, I had my two sons come to see me. I didn’t feel bad about making them come to see me since I paid for their college. Anyway, $15 dollars each to get in, two drink minimum, and tip = $100.00 dollars. As you can see if you did that on a regular basis you wouldn’t have many friends left. Another pet peeve is these bucket mics that charge $5.00 dollars and a drink, so this particular one costs $13.00 dollars. Then you could potentially sit for over an hour waiting to get on stage. By the time you get on stage you have heard every dick joke, Trump joke, and Tinder joke that your brain has turned to mush and you’ve lost your love for comedy.
As a retired detective, first responder, hell, as an American, what is your opinion with players kneeling in the NFL? This trend, if you will, has also permeated other professional sports as well as schools. Do you see people who kneel unAmerican, anti-military or anti-police?
Is it unAmerican? Well, protesting is as American as apple pie, so no it’s not unAmerican. There should be a dialogue between the NFL and police organizations to see how they can work together to address these issues.
As a retired police sergeant and first responder, I find the protests against the National Anthem disturbing. We have seen major events in this country, active shooter incidents, hurricane disasters, terrorist attacks, and major fires that killed lots of people. In all of them, the police did not waver, responding and risking their lives without hesitation.
In regards to dialogue between the police and the NFL that is already happening. The president and Vice-president of the NYC Sergeant’s Benevolent Association are meeting with representatives of the NFL in California this week.
The bottom line is that these protests are hurting the NFL. Whether you are boycotting the NFL because you support the protests, or are against them, viewership is down.
I see people that kneel as not necessarily being unAmerican or anti-police, but rather are disrespectful to the military and the police.
As far as the NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem I have a problem with it. Most people couldn’t go to their jobs and protest because it is a private enterprise. Do the NFL owners/the league have the right to establish parameters in regards to expected conduct during the playing of the National Anthem? The answer is yes. These protests are hurting the NFL both on the financial bottom line and viewership.
You and I come from adjacent generations, prior to the politically correct, seemingly, sterilized culture we live in today, why haven’t you allowed that to affect your material?
I felt like I was censored for 27 years while working for the NYPD. You always had to watch what you said. There is a certain amount of liberation going on a stage and saying what you want. Most of my material is about everyday life my experiences through my point of view, my perspective. I think that once you let political correctness affect your material you’ll be afraid to take chances, and your material will reflect that. I was also not raised in a politically correct environment. Both sides of the political spectrum spoke their minds without fearing offending others. People were willing to listen and even if they didn’t share your point of view they respected your right to say it. I think we have lost that ability to listen and respect others opinions.
Trump has added a seemingly endless amount of material for comics, what do you say when audience member starts heckling a comic when they make fun of trump?
I took an 8-week comedy course at Gotham comedy when I first started stand-up comedy nearly 4 years ago. The teacher was Jim Mendrinos and he cautioned against too much political humor, you risk alienating the audience that may not share your point of view. We have seen the backlash against Hollywood and other celebrities for getting political. Stand Up comedy certainly has the soapbox, and the freedom to talk about any subject matter that is funny. Topics like hipsters, millennials, gentrification, income inequality, health insurance, tax cuts, they surely are political but they are not against any one person or political affiliation. I guess if a comic or a performer starts getting political the audience may show its displeasure by heckling or booing the artist. Surely if I pay over $200.00 dollars to see a musical artist and they start pontificating about politics I am not going to be happy. But freedom of speech is paramount and we must never lose that right because of political correctness.
Ice-cream or cake?
Ice Cream without a doubt would be my choice, specifically Haagen-Dazs chocolate-chocolate chip. I am known as an ice cream sleepwalker. I get up in the middle of the night and eat ice cream and then have no recollection of it in the morning. My wife always catches me by the physical evidence I leave behind. I leave behind a spoon with ice cream on it, ice cream on the countertop, or ice cream on my Tee shirt. You would think with my background in homicide I would know how to clean up a crime scene.
What is it about being on the stage that is so alluring to you?
I guess the most alluring thing is the immediate gratification you get when a joke that you perform is funny, gets a laugh or a positive reaction from the audience. Besides being a comic I am also an actor. Stand- up comedy compliments acting, and acting compliments stand-up comedy. Performing stand-up allows you to get on stage as many times per week as you can handle. Acting is different, you have to audition and be chosen to get on stage or perform. The actual performance vis-a-vie stand- up comedy, is dependent on many factors. How well did you write a joke, how well did you perform the joke, what is your point of view. If you can get up and perform stand-up you have the balls to get up in front of any audience. It’s helped me a lot in acting, both in the audition process and in my scene study classes. If I hadn’t performed stand- up comedy I might have been intimidated by some of the very talented people in my acting class, which includes Broadway stage performers, television actors, and opera singers.
Who would win in a fist fight, you or your nephew Mike Cannon?
I would kick Mike’s ass. He’s built like a comic, 6’0 tall 170 pounds and a lot of attitudes. That attitude is good for the stage but not the street. Mike’s a great comic and I hope one day to grow up and be as good as him. I have had the opportunity to perform on the same show with him twice and it was a great honor. Comedy sort of got us back together, I hadn’t seen him in probably 10 years and I went to see him at the Stand one night. I had been doing comedy for 6 months at the time. I called out to him after he got off stage and he said, “Hey Uncle Billy!” Ever since then we talk regularly and run into each other once in a while on the grind. He’s at a different level than me, but yes I could kick his ass.
"Humor has big role in police work."