This weekend, the comic Joe Mande is making his return to Boston. Mande is a graduate of Emerson College and lived in Boston for many years. Now he is bringing his comedy to the screen as a screenwriter and an actor, which means he's on two strikes at once right now.
Mande became famous years ago on social media, often for getting on the nerves of celebrities or companies with what he wrote. In 2014, Mande received a cease-and-desist order from LaCroix because he would not stop posting on Twitter acting like he was the sparkling water spokesperson. Now he's no longer on Twitter. Mande quit the site six years ago, calling the place toxic.
Morning Edition co-host Jeremy Siegel spoke with Mande about the state of social media, being on strike and how the future of comedy and writing with the advent of artificial intelligence is playing into the unions fight. They began with Twitter or X, as it's now called, under Elon Musk. This transcript has been lightly edited.
Joe Mande: Well I mean it's much cooler now, now that it's just one letter, the coolest letter, X. I mean, I get updates from friends and stuff. It seems like it's somehow an even uglier place than when I left it.
I am a writer. And then the SAG-AFTRA — I just went on strike about a month ago. So, yeah, I'm double dipping. I'm double picketing. You know, I feel like my whole life I've been sort of preparing for this moment to not work in two different ways.
Jeremy Siegel: For people who didn't know, you used to be very on Twitter, you became famous for buying a following of millions.
Mande: Yes, Yes. I bought a million bots from a man in Moldova for about $400.
Siegel: That's a pretty good deal.
Mande: It was a great deal at the time. It could have been cheaper, but they kept getting deleted.
Siegel: So beyond your comedy, you're a prolific writer and actor on TV.
[clip from Mande’s guest role on “Parks and Recreation”]
Siegel: People probably know you from “Parks and Rec,” “Modern Family.”
[clip of Mande on "Modern Family"]
Siegel: You're on strike right now, right?
Mande: Yeah, I'm actually double striking.
Siegel: Are there a lot of you that are double? Is it a proud title to have?
Mande: I don’t know. If anything, it's just obnoxious to make everyone know that you're double striking.
Siegel: What is it like, though, striking right now?
Mande: At first it was just kind of fun, I'll be honest. Running into old friends, old coworkers and stuff and reconnecting. But it's been really hard. It's been, you know, a hundred degrees outside, and it's all sort of performative. Like you’re just trying to keep the strike in people's mind as they drive by, and studio executives see this sort of world where they can come up with premises for movies and TV shows, implement A.I., and then have people like me just go in and edit and punch up robot-written scripts. So I think that's why we're fighting the A.I. thing, because if they try to do that, it would destroy our industry.
Siegel: Have you read any jokes or scripts that were written by A.I.?
Mande: Yes, I will admit I’ve been joking with my friends on the picket line that this whole time we've been striking, I've just been playing with A.I. It's fun for me because it's just not there yet, and it's very bad. So, yeah, to promote my standup shows, I've been having ChatGPT write jokes in my voice, and then sort of posting them ironically as if they're my word.
[clip of Joe Mande’s A.I. stand-up]
Mande: You know what's crazy to me? The fact that we still have daylight saving time. I mean, who came up with that idea? Was it Benjamin Franklin? Did he really think we needed an extra hour of sunlight to chase turkeys or something? And don't even get me started on the confusion it causes.
[end of clip]
Mande: It's really, really long-winded. Like, you can’t watch these videos — I mean, I can't watch these videos without taking it really personally. It's like, wait, is that what the algorithm thinks my stand-up stylings are like? Just really long-winded, takes forever to get to the punch line — which is like, okay I think that might be kind of be true. And then I had it write a joke about cancel culture and it was a lot of stuff like, “you know, you can't even fart in public without getting accused of global warming,” which is I guess technically a joke, but nothing I would say myself.
[clip of Joe Mande’s A.I. stand-up]
Mande: Cancel culture has become so prevalent that I'm genuinely afraid to sneeze these days. I'll be like, ‘achoo’ and someone's already typing, saw ‘Joe Mande sneeze and didn't say bless you. Canceled.’
[end of clip]
"I think that's why we're fighting the A.I. thing, because if they try to do that, it would destroy our industry."
Siegel: Your performance in Boston is somewhat of a homecoming. You are a graduate of Emerson. Do you like coming back to Boston?
Mande: I love it. Every time I'm back, I have fond memories.
[clip of Mande’s stand-up]
Mande: When I started out in college in Boston, I was performing at the Comedy Studio and Gary Gulman came in and dropped in and did a set.
Mande: And I probably had 10 minutes in entirety. That was all I had in the world at that point. And Gary Gulman came in and he probably did 15 minutes just about cookies. He was just up there just talking about different kinds of Oreos and how he felt about Oreos. Remember chocolate covered Oreos that had just come out and he was like, ‘Oreo, have you been reading my diary?’ Like it was just crazy and he was just rambling. Started talking about Fig Newtons and stuff, and how he couldn't spot a fig if it walked into the room. It was great.
[end of clip]
Mande: It is funny to me though, like I felt like such an adult going to school at Emerson in Boston. I felt very independent and mature. But now every time I'm back, especially when it's during the school year, it does often just feel like a city full of babies, like little children. And I was one of those babies once, and it is fun to return and be like, ‘oh, this is a city for children, I love it.’
Siegel: Joe, this has been an absolute pleasure talking with you. Really excited for the show in Boston. Thank you so much for coming on.
Mande: Thanks. And I just want to say that, you know, I am double striking. So if you don't come to my show as a member of two unions, you are a class traitor.
Siegel: That is comedian Joe Mande. His performance is this Sunday night at the City Winery in Boston at 7:30 PM.