It all came together when Chris Colletti's silver-sleeve jacket got stolen. "I think it was a moment of growth, because as soon as you lost that jacket we accomplished more," Ivan Martin posits. "First time I went to Sidebar I remember lookin' at myself in that jacket," Mark Joyner adds, laughing. Colletti and Martin, who work together on a web series under the name "Me 'n' You Productions," are good foils for each other; where Martin is more theatrical and extreme with analogies, Colletti is a little more straightforward and self-deprecating. When their pal Joyner, who goes by Dark Mark on stage, joins them, the conversation ambles, they interrupt each other, and they make each other laugh. Though their paths here have been divergent, the three of them now work together in various ways; in addition to the web series, Martin and Colletti also organize monthly stand-up showcases, which Joyner occasionally emcees. Joyner runs a weekly open mic at the Sidebar, one of the venues where they often meet up and which they all agree is a sacred space for trying out jokes. City Paper hung out with the three of them at Platform Arts Center (which, full disclosure, is run by a friend from whom I rent a studio space). We talked about how to break down divisions in the scene, the importance of critique and friendship, and how comedy is maybe a little bit like crack.
Mark Joyner: So you got a convict, war veteran, and—
Chris Colletti: Just a white guy.
Ivan Martin: . . . and an artist.
City Paper: How did you all get started?
. . .” I’d have like 20 minutes and just, like, go. But at the time I didn’t realize I was basically doing stand-up. And then, when I joined the military [Martin was in the Navy from 2002 to 2006 and was deployed to Iraq twice] it was kind of the same thing, especially if it was Friday nights, they’d be like, “Yo Ivan, say that stuff you was sayin’ earlier . . .” My last year of the military I was just like, I’m a comedian. That was the beginning.
CC: Like a lot of comics, it started in childhood, like an attention thing; I used to do these weird abstract impressions when I was little. As I grew older I started accumulating weird stories because I just had weird luck. But ultimately [my mom] is definitely my biggest inspiration in terms of my comedy and my presence in general. She's where I got my speaking voice from. She just had a beautiful speaking voice and reading voice—her cadence, her pausing, the way she would emphasize certain words. So when I first started out, whenever I'd get on stage, I always could hear my mother's voice in the back of my head.
IM: Being on stage for the first time, that was my first hit of crack. (everyone laughs) I was like, addicted to it.
MJ: That was an interesting analogy. Cause crack has to be amazing.
CC: And addictive.
IM: But you can't say your first time on stage you weren't, like, (snaps) hooked.
CC: This is gonna be the next headline: "Comedy: just like crack!"
CP: "Three comics agree!"
IM: I bet a lot of comics would agree.
CC: It's the highs and the lows.
MJ: Cause that's really what addiction is, right? Addiction is when you love something that's no good for you.
CC: You get on stage and it's a tremendous high. There's no going to sleep after that, so you're either up all night or you're gonna get fucked up.
MJ: And you traumatize yourself a little bit. (laughs) Over and over again. That's a lot of people's major fears—I don't like people, all the shit like that, and I get up on stage every fuckin' night.
IM: You're up there by yourself—
MJ: Until you get used to it, like, "Oh, I just bombed some shit . . ."
IM: I mean, in any sport, you can share your space or blame it on somebody else. With comedy those are your jokes, that's your time on stage, you can't blame it on nobody. So what's your origin, Mark?
MJ: Oh, I'm from Baltimore. I was one of those kids that just didn't have a lot of direction. I ended up leaving home and I moved to New York. Not even moved, I just fucking did because I was doing a bunch of bullshit that my mom was like, "You can't stay here anymore."
CP: How old were you?
MJ: 16. And then shortly thereafter I went to prison for a minute—for 10 years or so . . . So I'm just gonna go ahead and do the charge. This is gonna be the last time I go through this. Not saying I won't talk about it, but, it was an attempted murder beef. I used to sell drugs and stuff like that, and another guy had come to our little team, I was gonna give him some work and stuff . . . do you understand what I'm saying? Drugs. I was gonna enable him to do whatever.
CC: You sound so sophisticated talking about this—
IM: "I was gonna give him an opportunity . . ."
MJ: I just don't wanna be misunderstood, OK.
CC: He's a businessman.
MJ: It's not even a business. Firstly, these were decisions of a child, a teenager. I used to hustle for another drug dealer. He went to jail, left me his "work," and this was how I was getting by, and the other people I was with, they were part of my group, and suddenly I'm like a boss. Some new guy comes around, wants to get some money, and I'm like OK, roll with us and tomorrow I'll give you some work. We went to this hotel room where we used to put our drugs together and he got in some kind of a fight, or argument, with one of my co-defendants who was a woman, and he kicked her in the stomach. We beat him up real bad, and he almost died. And I went to prison. I got the most time . . . I had five co-defendants, and three of them made it as if it were my idea. You know, these dudes knew each other for a long time and I just came around, so. I basically took the fall harder than anybody else.
CP: I can't imagine what it was like to be that young—
MJ: I made poor decisions. You know some kids, I didn't grow up with my dad around, that's not an excuse, my mom worked a lot, that's not an excuse. But it was like the perfect storm. I got out of my house—when I say out of my house, meaning from being a kid to, in less than a year, prison. My daughter was born. When I got out she was 10 years old. So I dedicated my life to taking care of her. Mind you, I've always cracked jokes. What we're doing, I've done my entire life. I would watch other [comedians] when I was a kid, like Eddie Murphy's stuff, "Kings of Comedy" stuff and all that, and critique it then. I didn't know what the fuck a callback was but I'd say "ooh, if he'd said it right there it'd be funny."
IM: Mark is the only dude that can call me and he'll put his foot in my ass and tell me I'm fucking up. It's not too many friends you have that go out of their way to pay attention to what you're doing, and to call you on it when you're fuckin' up. You know what I'm saying? And that is a lot of our friendship.
CP: So you guys critique each other. What is that like?
MJ: If you respect one another, comedians that respect each other . . . you want to hear what they have to say.
IM: I mean, usually this is what happens: you're done, and it's like "good set, good set, oh maybe this . . . " But for somebody to call you 48 hours later and be like, "I remember your joke, I remember what this shoulda been, if you don't agree with me, let's ask somebody else, let's rehearse this . . ." It's just hard to find. I know I'm in competition with the three of these guys. If we're all on stage, we all wanna be the funniest guy that night. But if either of these guys amongst the three of us are the funniest, I can honestly say I feel like we can share a little bit of that. Especially if we're in the same show.
CC: And it's really important to dialogue because it's important to have a different perspective. Sometimes you get too close to a joke, and you can't even tell if it's funny anymore. You get a lot of comedians in the room, and it's a double-edged sword because on one hand, it's really hard to make a comedian laugh, so if you can make a comedian laugh then you know what you said is in all likelihood very funny. Or it's so heinous you could never say this in front of regular people. You can only say this in front of comics. And it's really hard to know the difference.
CP: Since you [Martin and Colletti] work together so much, do you argue a lot?
IM: We don't disagree a lot, weird enough. Most of the arguments we have, we find out we were both saying the same thing.
CC: We just have a different style of wording things. I have a very literal understanding of words and grammar and I pay attention to the diction . . .
IM: And I speak in very weird and extreme analogies. When me and Chris first met we had a whole lot in common but we also were able to have conversations about what we disagreed upon. And that's where our friendship started and immediately we were like, we should start to work off the fact that we disagree so much, and we get along so much. And that's where the web series popped off, the actual Me 'n' You Productions as far as him being a white guy from the north, me being a black guy from the south, and us being friends. That's why all of our shows are always diverse. So that's how we work.
CP: As I get older, I become more aware how shitty things are in the world, and how do you deal with that? I've found that making fun of things or making funny art about a bad relationship or something can be really satisfying. [Ivan has a joke about how three of his grandparents passed away in his bedroom underneath his Michael Jordan poster.]
IM: [In the poster,] you know how Michael Jordan's crotch is just open? I'm like that's the worst vision, just looking at Michael Jordan's nuts. "Had a great life, this is it." They never moved it! As far as the military goes, same thing. I would talk about stuff that actually was sad, like, oh, you almost died tonight! A-hahaha! You know . . . cause these were moments that were sad, we were missing home, so as long as everybody's here, let's talk about it and make light of it.
MJ: It's a coping mechanism.
CC: It is. It's an incredible form of catharsis, and like, finding the funny is the only way I can handle the more miserable aspects of my life. It's just the second you can laugh at it, you have power over it.
CP: We talk about "the art scene" in Baltimore as if it is just one scene, but it's not. The same seems true for the comedy scene here.
IM: With me and Chris' show, we take guys from all the pockets. If you're out in Westminster doing something we got you. If you're out at Owings Mills doing something we got you. That is the purpose of what we're trying to do, we're trying to get people out of the fear zone of being amongst one another. The truth is, when you're amongst other comics, it's just like any other form of sport—I'm sorry, analogy time—with basketball: After a while, you gotta stop playing at the park that you're so used to. If you really wanna consider yourself that guy, you gotta go to other parks.
MJ: That's a dope vision.
CC: I guess that's what we're saying before. Our goal is to explore these dynamics in our web series "Me 'n' You." That's part of the reason why we chose the name "Me 'n' You," that kind of evolved out of, first of all, we would talk about ourselves a lot, and we would say the phrase "me and you" a lot. And then we realized that phrase "me and you" is very specific to us but out of that context it's very generalized and open to participation. So "Me 'n' You" is not just me and him, it's me and you and everybody. I think there's a lot of humor in the culture clash.
IM [to Colletti]: Do you have your notebook with you, the one that says—
CC: No, but I remember what it said. I'm the great white punching bag, and he's the big black shark . . . I guess my idea for us going forward is that I want myself to be a punching bag. I'm trying to show people like "white people ain't shit." . . . I just want to knock us [white people] down a peg, knock myself down a peg, so I'm always going to be that character going forward.
IM: When we're all even, then you can really see what we're about once you remove the dynamic of supremacy, that whole ideology . . . But once we find that medium ground, it's over.
CC: Ah, it's just the beginning.
Catch "The Art of Comedy," the next Me 'n' You Productions showcase, on April 3 at Platform Arts Center. Mark Joyner hosts an open mic at the Sidebar every Monday night.