AE7. One Million Dollars!
Comedian Ted Alexandro on NBC's Saturday Night Live stealing his "Zillow" joke & the challenges of being an independent artist in the present-day
Click above to listen to a half-hour chat with Ted Alexandro, in which the NYC-based comedian talks about NBC Saturday Night Live’s 6 Feb 2021 sketch that drew significantly from his joke about the real estate listing app Zillow, connecting this theft to the challenges of being an independent artist in the present-day
“In a way, I’m satirizing the culture of people having press conferences and a lot of the absurdity that goes on, but I was serious about the fact that I had done the joke first. It was in my special in 2020. I had been doing it since 2019 at the Comedy Cellar, which is one of the biggest clubs in the country, if not the world, and where a lot of SNL writers happen to perform and come through.”
Having dabbled with comedy “booking” for salon-type events I’ve organized at a handful of New York City small rooms, I informally knew of a small group of comedians whose names always came up when it came to adding comics to lineups that also had Democratic Socialist organizers and local candidates. The last of such events, which I never got around to hosting because the pandemic beat us to it, was a fundraiser set to feature some of these usual-suspect comics opening for late Michael Brooks interviewing then-NY-5 Congressional candidate Shaniyat Choudhary. Aside from causing the outright tragedy of never getting to meet Michael in-person before his untimely passing, the event’s cancellation also postponed me getting to meet another wonderful human being and avowed socialist—comedian Ted Alexandro.
Shortly after the pandemic lockdown temporarily shuttered the stand-up comedy business itself, Ted successively put out two improvised comedy “specials” last year. I put the term in double-quotes because these events fit the description of comedy specials only insofar as Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music fits the description of a music album or Spalding Gray’s Swimming to Cambodia that of a play. The first among these specials is Stay-at-Home Comedian, a compilation of Instagram stories comprising jokes delivered influencer-style to a front-facing phone camera, which Ted followed up with Cut/Up, an equally resourceful pastiche of bits that the comedian had delivered at Comedy Cellar. Salvaging the special that circumstances prevented him from filming all at once, Cut/Up especially is remarkable for offering a three-kids-in-a-trench-coat equivalent of the standard Netflix/HBO fare. Thanks to our present perpetual state of cabin fever, Ted’s collage of comedic material co-signed by the last gasp of collective laughter before the world stopped, earned the adulation of home-viewers who, like me, perhaps craved the intimacy of live events more than the pomp and show.
Earlier this February, Ted’s 2020 special gained further notoriety on the day of the nation’s holiest tradition—the NFL Super Bowl 2021. Featuring Dan Levy, Emmy-winning creator and star of Schitt’s Creek, NBC’s Saturday Night Live showcased a pre-taped comedic sketch the night prior, imagining a commercial for the property listing app Zillow like it’s a phone sex hotline. Ostensibly satirizing gentrification amid concerning trends of home-ownership, the SNL sketch was lauded by blogs that seemed not to have seen the next video that pops up on YouTube if you search for “SNL Zillow skit”—that of Ted’s podcast with fellow comic Tim Dillon breaking down how Lorne Michaels’s 46-year-old institution has lifted the entirety of its new viral skit’s premise from Cut/Up. In response, Ted asks to be recognized as the writer of the joke, in turn meriting a payment of “One Million Dollars,” which the comedian demands by enacting joke-theft himself, using Dr. Evil’s line from the Austin Powers movies—an SNL creation—against them.