Comedian Danny Lobell dreamed of self-publishing one day, but he didn't think he could until Harvey Pekar bluntly told him, "You can."
Now the story of his friendship with Pekar is the subject of Lobell's new comic book, Fair Enough, tracing his journey through meeting Pekar, self-publishing and starting one of the internet's first podcasts, and meeting some of the greatest comedians in history. The writer plans to follow in Pekar's footsteps, continuing to self-publish an autobiographical comic book that captures his own brand of humor and unique experiences.
Lobell is currently host of the Modern Day Philosophers podcast, in which he discusses philosophy with comedians like Carl Reiner and Maria Bamford.
Featuring art by Amy Hay, Fair Enough is available via mail only at the Fair Enough Comic website, but Lobell is hoping to bring the book to comic book stores.
Newsarama talked to Lobell to find out more about his comic book, how his phone call to Pekar changed his life, and why he decided to capture it all in an ongoing autobiographical comic book.
Newsarama: Danny, not only does Fair Enough depict your relationship with Harvey Pekar, but it feels very much in the tradition of the type of stuff Harvey did. Is that what you were going for?
Danny Lobell: Yeah, exactly that. I really wanted to make it like a love letter to Harvey. He had such an impact on my life.
I wasn't aware of his work until the American Splendor movie, and then once the movie hit, I was so inspired by the movie that I reached out to him and became friends with him. And then I went back and read all his work.
And then I became friends with him, and I became hooked on his work.
Nrama: It's been awhile since this happened, of course, so what took so long for you to get around to doing something like this?
Lobell: I don't know about you, but I sit on these things that I want to do for a long time, and then finally, something kicks me in the ass and says, "All right, when are you ever going to do this? You've got to just do it or it's never going to happen."
And there wasn't something that specifically prompted it, I don't think. I just felt like enough years of me saying I want to do this to myself had gone by, where if I didn't do it at this point, I was clearly just lying to myself.
Nrama: Yeah, and having read the first issue, I think Harvey would want you to just do it already, right?
Lobell: Yeah, that was his message, was to just do it.
He was just such a fascinating guy and a great writer and an inspiring guy. He was a guy who worked in a V.A. hospital, and he was a file clerk. And yet, he was able to reach so many people and have this whole other second career by pursuing his creative dreams.
And if you think about how many people work in these "dead end jobs," that would always love to do something like that but never do, the number is staggering. It's really one in a million that actually does it, like Harvey.
So that was a message to me. I was like, you could just be like most people and want to do something, or you can be like Harvey and actually do something.
That message resonated with me. He told me, "You can!" And I had this moment of, like, "Oh, wow … that is true, isn't it? You can."
Anytime you tell yourself I wish I could do this, the only thing stopping you is the wishing and not the doing.
Nrama: Let's back up and talk about you. Can you describe what you do and who you are?
Lobell: [Laughs.] Can anyone describe who they are?
Nrama: I bet you can, because you did a pretty good job of it in the first issue of Fair Enough.
Lobell: Well, who I am is an ever-evolving — hopefully — ever-evolving answer.
But I'm a stand-up comedian. I've been a stand-up comedian now for 15 years. I had the very first ever comedy podcast and interviewed comedians. It was called Comical Radio, and it came out of the magazine [The Comical] that Harvey inspired me to do.
I had just heard from my dorkie roommate at the time, who was into tech magazines and tech blogs, about a new thing called podcasting. And he was a coding genius and he helped me to put up a podcast. Nobody knew how to do it. Nobody knew that it could be done — there were approximately three podcast listeners in the world and half of them tuned in.
Nrama: One and a half people. That's a great market share though, right?
Lobell: Yeah! But I wound up interviewing people like Chris Rock and George Carlin and Jackie Mason on my original podcast. Sean Lennon. Larry King. Jim Davis, the creator of Garfield. They all came on my podcast. It was really fascinating.
I did that for eight years.
Back then, nobody knew what a podcast was. After we tried to explain it a bunch of times, we just would be, like, "It's a radio show. It's an online radio show." That's how crazy it was — nobody knew the word podcast.
Nrama: What year are we talking about?
Nrama: And you're still doing a podcast, right? This one delves into philosophy.
Lobell: Yeah, I started a second podcast when I moved to L.A.
I had a little bit of an identity crisis when I moved to L.A., because after eight years of doing the podcast in New York, it was over. And it was like, now who am I? I'm just someone who did something but isn't doing anything anymore.
I didn't have the magazine anymore. I didn't have New York anymore. Nobody knew me here — I wasn't getting any stage time, starting from scratch and doing open mikes, coming from having worked my way up in New York. I thought it was transfer over to L.A. and it didn't. It meant nothing here.
I was living with my girlfriend (who became my wife), and I was going from being, like, angry at my religion to rediscovering it through her conversion. I didn't really know who I was anymore. I'm like, am I the guy who hates religion or likes religion?
What do I do? Who am I?
So I had this identity crisis and got really philosophical.
And I remembered that when George Carlin died, Jackie Mason called me up and said, "You know, he was more than just a comedian. He was a modern day philosopher."
And I thought about that, and it just kept playing in my head. And I remember, George Carlin told me, "Yeah, I'm a comedian. But some of us are more than comedians. Some of us are artists."
So the two things came together in my head, and I was like, so to be an artist and a comedian, you're a philosopher. And all the comedians I really like are very philosophical, and yet I know nothing about philosophy, because I didn't pay attention in school.
I thought, maybe I should try learning philosophy.
Nrama: And the Modern Day Philosophers podcast was born.
Lobell: Yeah, I've done nearly a hundred of them now. It's been pretty cool. Fred Armisen came over to the house and did one. I did one with Carl Reiner and Maria Bamford and Mark Maron and Bill Burr… all these great comedians really took to the format.
Nrama: So you're a podcaster and a comedian, but now you're a comic book writer?
Lobell: My original love and passion was comic books. As a kid, that's what I wanted to do. I didn't know Harvey existed. I wanted to be like Stan Lee.
I collected comic books. I loved comic books. I would write my own superhero comic books as a kid and photocopy them and sell them in class.
I didn't know stand-up comedy existed until I saw Seinfeld. I thought he had invented a new thing. And when I did stand-up comedy for the first time, I thought I was the second one to ever do stand-up comedy. After Seinfeld.
Nrama: Is this a joke?
Lobell: No! I mean it!
Nrama: You should have gotten out more.
Lobell: I grew up in a bubble! I grew up in an Orthodox Jewish bubble. We didn't have the same exposure to pop culture — even though we lived in America, it's a different reality when you live in a religious bubble.
Nrama: Let's talk about Fair Enough. The first issue kind of introduces you, as well as your relationship with Harvey. But what do you want this comic book to be as it moves forward?
Lobell: The second issue is the story of an afternoon of my life in Los Angeles. It's just one day that I had a weird afternoon, and I wrote about it. And the whole comic book chronicles it. And I think the third one is going to be about my internship at The Colbert Report. I was an intern there and it went horribly wrong. And I want to tell the story.
They're really just true stories from my life — some from now; some from back then. I'm going to write about some of my crappy road gigs as a comedian. I'll tell the road stories in comic book form. Talk about my journey as a comedian, my life as an observing Jew living in Los Angeles, trying to make it in show business. Living with my wife and my dogs and my tortoise and my chickens.
There's a lot of material there.
Nrama: You found an artist for the first issue, and I know you're self-publishing. How did that all come about?
Lobell: It's a different artist for the second issue than it was for the first one. I like that Harvey Pekar had different people see his story through their artistic lenses. So I want to do that.
I also want to illustrate one of them myself, because I also paint and draw. But that was too tall an order for the first issues. It would have come out in the year 2052 or something if I had attempted that. But at some point I do want to illustrate one of my issues.
It's funny — I call them "my issues."
Nrama: They are, in more ways than one.
Lobell: Yeah. I got a lot of issues! A lot of issues planned; a lot of issues to work through.
My record label financed the printing for the first issue — Stand Up! Records, where you can also get my albums and Mark Maron's albums and Lewis Black and Maria Bamford and Doug Stanhope. They have a lot of great comedians on their label.
I went about this without any idea that anyone was going to help me with it, but I just went forward and thought I'd figure out a way. But when I decided to just try to sell an ad to my record label, they said they'd prefer to just go ahead and fund the whole thing.
I hope it's a good investment for Stand Up! Records. And if not, then I'll go back to plan A, which is to figure out a way to do it myself. But I won't even think "if not." I think it's going to be a huge hit.
All we need now is a distributer. If anyone reading this has anything to do with comic book distribution, we're looking for a distributor to get us into comic book stores. That will be the next step.
Nrama: It's available on the Fair Enough website, right? Is it digital? Or just print?
Lobell: It's not digital — it's only by mail.
Nrama: You really are upholding Harvey's tradition.
Lobell: Yeah, and you know what's really cool? I sent one to Harvey's widow, Joyce Brabner, who is also a very talented writer in her own right. And I was really nervous what she might think of it, because it's like me putting myself out there, and I'm also writing about Harvey. I wanted to obviously do a good job and honor who he was.
So I sent her one. And she really liked it. And she sent me her new book to review, which made me feel so good. It's like, wow, you thought it was good enough that you're going to let me review something you wrote? It's written by Danielle, their daughter. And it's really phenomenal, and I'm not sure if I'm allowed to talk about it more than that right now.
But it was very validating, and it felt really good, that she trusted me to look at this book they're putting out. And I was like, OK, I guess I did well.