“By the way, I just want to mention, I have a bird on top of my iPad.”
I’ve never had a comedian tell me that before. But then, I’ve never interviewed a comedian like Zygy Susser. When I connected to Susser through Zoom last week, he immediately warned me that I might hear chirping from his end of the call. Charlie was a good bird, though: he didn’t disrupt our interview at all. I didn’t get to ask Charlie any questions, but it was good to know he was nearby and doing well, as Susser talks about him in the comedy special we were there to discuss. Of course, just as Susser isn’t a typical stand-up comedian, Good Timing, the special we were talking about, isn’t a typical stand-up special.
There are a few clips of stand-up in Good Timing With Jo Firestone, but it’s more of a documentary than a comedy special—one that focuses on a unique group of comedians who have taken part in a comedy workshop hosted by Firestone since 2020. Firestone, a veteran stand-up comic, writer, and performer (you might know her from her Comedy Central special, her time on The Tonight Show, or from Adult Swim’s Joe Pera Talks With You), starting teaching the workshop for senior citizens right before the pandemic started. It promptly moved to Zoom, and several months later, after vaccines made the world slightly safer, Firestone’s students gathered together to perform their own stand-up show. In Good Timing we see Firestone reconnect with her classes in person and prepare for their big night (or afternoon) on the stage. It’s a heart-warming hour that’s interested more in the people it focuses on than in their comedy, and seeing the rapport they develop with Firestone and with each other is the kind of pure, charming positivity we could all use more of today.
Everything about Firestone’s workshop seems like the result of the pandemic. A full-time, working comedian with regular TV jobs teaches senior citizens comedy through Zoom? That’s about as Covid-era a story as you could imagine. So it’s surprising to hear that Firestone’s workshop started up before the pandemic shut everything down. It came together not because of Covid, but because Firestone was looking for something to do. “I had some downtime. Some time without a job,” she tells me. “And so, like, maybe I’ll teach a class? And I started teaching right before the pandemic hit.
“It was really conveniently timed,” she continues. “It was supposed to be like a 13 week class. And then we all went inside, and it became a Zoom class, and it’s gone on for—I think it’ll be almost two years pretty soon.”
The workshop was organized through Greenwich House, the esteemed non-profit that’s been running community programs in the Village since 1902. “It’s like an arts organization,” Firestone says. “They have senior centers, they have, like, pottery and music classes all around the village. It was just people who signed up for that. And then people joined through Zoom that might not have known about the center.”
One of those who joined after the workshop moved to Zoom was Zygy Susser, who learned about the class from a friend who attended. They both had some experience in stand-up, but it wasn’t a job for Susser, and he was eager to learn more. He was also eager to chase the same high he felt the first time he ever performed stand-up.
Susser’s first stand-up show, he tells me, “was a narcotic experience. It was mind blowing. I mean, I took a class, and our graduation show was at Gotham Comedy Club. And it was five minutes—you know, I’d never performed before in front of strangers. And I mean, I was high for days. I mean, it was better than any sex I ever had. I was never into drugs or anything. But wow. It was so hard to come down. I had to have it again. I had people in the audience, I had maybe 10 guests. But this was a club that held 200 people, and most everybody was laughing. And it was just amazing. Just amazing.”
When Susser learned about Firestone’s workshop, he knew it could help him dip his toes deeper into comedy. And although he had never heard of his new teacher or seen her comedy before, he quickly became a believer.
“You know, Jo Firestone, I’d never heard of Jo,” Susser said. “And wow. She’s incredible. She blew my mind, she’s just perfect. And she’s great with all the seniors. She’s so funny and patient and everything. So I saw some of her stand-up. I saw her with other people, Joe Pera, you know, whatever, I’m learning. But all these new people I never heard of, and it’s fantastic. It’s opened up a whole new world.”
We can see Firestone’s patience and good nature in person in Good Timing. We see her leading discussions with her students in small classes, tasking them with various brainstorming exercises and talking about what they find funny. She also conducts one-on-one interviews with her students, giving us a glimpse into their lives and how and why they decided to take her workshop. Like Susser, some have tried stand-up before. Some are professional actors looking to expand their horizons (one of them, Alix Elias, I immediately recognized from Rock ‘n’ Roll High School and decades of guest appearances in almost every sitcom that’s ever existed). Some are lifelong fans of comedy and making others laugh, who have long dreamt of performing on stage but never had the opportunity or courage to seriously pursue it. And others are just hoping to get out of the house and have some fun. Almost all of them seem as good natured as Firestone herself, willing to learn and to open themselves up to strangers, both in their class and, ultimately, on stage. They’re all charming and endearing in their own way, and a few are even legitimately hilarious.
Firestone’s workshop hasn’t ended. She’s still meeting with her students every Monday. “People keep showing up,” she says, happily but with a self-effacing hint of surprise. “A few more people are in the Zoom than were in Good Timing—I would say it’s, like, 24 people that come to the Zoom pretty regularly, and 16 of them were in the special. Eight of them decided they didn’t need the life of the rich and famous, so they passed. But yeah, I think as long as people keep showing up, and I think it feels great. I have a job now and I just do it before the job and it’s great. It’s a really fun thing for me too.”
Good Timing with Jo Firestone is now streaming on Peacock.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.