7 — Ugly Joke
Seth [00:00:19] Ah. Welcome to Storytime with Seth Rogan. Today’s episode: Ugly Joke. Where does your story start?
Speaker 2 [00:00:36] My story starts in Marietta, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta, like 30 miles northwest. Two thousand four.
Seth [00:00:46] So what year were you born?
Yassir Lester [00:00:48] I was born in 1984.
Seth [00:00:50] 1980- So you’re 20 years old.
Yassir Lester [00:00:52] I’m 20 years old at the time. Yeah. Yeah.
Seth [00:00:54] OK. The voice you’re hearing is Yassir Lester, a writer, actor, comedian, all around showman extraordinaire. Can I say that? I just fucking did, so deal with it. I’ve known Yassir for years. He’s on a TV show I produce, Black Monday, and he writes for the show as well. And Yassir has a story about comedy, the power it wields and how it is a blade that can cut your opponent but can slice you to the core as well. How’s that?
SINGERS [00:01:43] Story time. Story time, yeah.
Yassir Lester [00:01:52] I’ll say this right now, presently, Yassir at thirty six years old, this is like the best my life has ever been by any metric of what you would call like success, right? Like, I have enough money to live. Like my family’s good and healthy. So like all that aside, Yassir at 20 I still think is like the best version of my life. Which like, I know sounds crazy, but I only did three things and this is like…
Jon Stewart [00:02:26] Oh, hey, welcome to Borders. I’m Jon Stewart.
Yassir Lester [00:02:29] This is like when Borders Bookstore was like still around and stuff, you know?
Seth [00:02:33] Oh, yeah, yeah.
Yassir Lester [00:02:33] So like, I worked at a restaurant, then I you know watched a Criterion Collection movie that I bought from Borders with tips that I made that night. Then I would like work out at the local YMCA, and then I’d get a sandwich from Publix, which is like a grocery store chain in the south. And then I would go to work and that was my day every single day. And I mean it.
Publix commercial [00:02:58] Publix. For value such as Thompson seedless grapes.
Yassir Lester [00:03:02] Dog, I was so happy, like yeah! So keep in mind like I’d gotten a scholarship to like art school and like I went for like three days and I was like, I hate this. So I moved back in with my mom. She’s like, as long as you pay rent, like I don’t care what you do. Like if you’re going to be a server that’s just you like, it is what it is. Not that it’s a bad life by any stretch, but she was just like, You’re going to, you know, pay your way. And so and also, I mean, she was broke, too. So it’s not like she wasn’t like doing it just to build character. She’s like, We need money for the house.
Seth [00:03:45] Explain who your mom is a little bit just for some context.
Yassir Lester [00:03:48] My mom, Vicki, is like a single mom, you know, raised me, my brother and sister, like so- I mean, she is truly a juxtaposition of like 30 things. She is her own foil in a lot of ways. Like she’s so nice and caring and like, if she sees anyone struggling at any moment, I mean it, like, she raised us to be like, if you have five dollars in your pocket and you see someone on the street, they need that money more than you. Like and but then you’d be like, Well, we have nothing. Like and she’d be like, Well…
Seth [00:04:22] As it should be.
Yassir Lester [00:04:23] Yeah, you know, but she’s like, Well, we have an apartment to go back to. So that is something, you know what I’m saying? So like, so so like, so loving and caring, but also like just to like a kind of weird mean lady in terms of like always wanted to like roast and like clown her own kids. And it’s just like, what is like? You don’t need to do this to us. Like, this happens at school like she would like I’m light skinned, my brother’s a little bit darker and my sister’s light skinned, and she’d always just be like, You know, Isaiah’s the only one, who’s my middle brother, who’s the darkest and she’s just like, he’s the only one that’s like, kind of cool. He’s darker than y’all. He’s taller, like he’s more muscular. And it’s just like, Yeah, I mean, I we know. You know what I’m saying? Like, just like such a weird person to be around.
Boy [00:05:11] I bought a condom.
Mom [00:05:13] Boy, what is that for? You making finger puppets?
Seth [00:05:20] Yassir’s living with his mom, getting his ass roasted by her, watching Wong Kar-wai films at night, eating Publix sandwiches during the fuckin day. Dude is living the life. Well you didn’t have too long term a projection on where this might lead, it seems.
Yassir Lester [00:05:41] Well, well, here’s here’s what I’ll say. So like I had already in my head- granted, I didn’t have the mechanics of it yet, but I was like, I’m going to move somewhere to do stand up. I didn’t know where yet. I didn’t know if I was going to go to L.A. or New York, but I was like figuring it out.
Seth [00:05:57] Had you done it ever?
Yassir Lester [00:05:58] I had done it one time. I ate it so hard and like-
Seth [00:06:04] I was just gonna say, it must’ve gone really well if in the back of your head you were like, I’m going to give up everything one day and pursue this.
Yassir Lester [00:06:10] I mean, it sincerely, like to me the decision to do stand up given how bad I did is just as sociopathic as like someone thinking they can be president. Like it was, it was so astronomically incorrect. Like I couldn’t have done worse than been like, and in my head, I was like, Yeah, yeah, I got what it takes.
Seth [00:06:33] That’s so funny. You know Ike Barinholtz, right?
Yassir Lester [00:06:35] Yeah, yeah. Of course.
Seth [00:06:36] He uh he thought he was going to be president.
Yassir Lester [00:06:40] That’s that specifically with him, that’s crazy.
Seth [00:06:44] I want to hear more about this one? Check out our episode with Ike Barinholtz. Is it weird to plug my own podcast during my own podcast? Might be, but it’s happened already.
Yassir Lester [00:07:02] So, yeah, I’d only done the one time, and I was just like again, like, so I like, move home and I’m like, I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I’m going to make it happen.
Seth [00:07:09] You’re going to do it. OK.
Yassir Lester [00:07:10] Yeah. Had to get a job. So the place, I still think it exists, it has to. It was the only like nice restaurant within like a 15 mile radius. It’s called Aspen Steak House. So keep in mind, I’ve had every job up until then, like I’ve worked in McDonald’s, I worked at Wal-Mart, I worked at a sandwich shop called Fat Tony’s. Like, I’ve done it all, you know? So I’m like, This is like my foray into, like fine dining. And again, the most money I’d ever seen in my life. I would make like 60 bucks in tips a night. There were times where I was like, I think I might just do this forever. Like, you know what I’m saying?
Seth [00:08:00] And you only work 5 to 11.
Yassir Lester [00:08:00] That’s what I’m saying. Like, it truly left you with like a life to have because also like it shuts down, the restaurant shuts down, and then those become your homies anyway. And you all kind of just like, hang out and drink for a little bit or eat or whatever it is, and then you go home. So it wasn’t like, it’s not like I felt like I was missing out on anything. It was like we worked. We hung out for a little bit and then I would watch, you know, the limited edition DVD of Bottle Rocket.
Seth [00:08:45] I’ve never worked at a restaurant, but I have a lot of friends and family who have, and what I’ve gathered is that it’s kind of an intense social scene. People date, they’re hooking up, there’s resentments, there’s a lot of shit going on that’s just completely fucked up. But you forge bonds with people. And the Aspen Steak House in Georgia was no different. And Yassir found himself becoming friendly with one server in particular.
Yassir Lester [00:09:10] Brian. Me and him were like pretty close in terms of like, we weren’t like the best of friends, but like, I’m glad I see that person like once a month, you know what I’m sayin like so it’s like we very rarely worked together, but it was just like when we worked together, we were like, Yeah, it’s us.
Seth [00:09:28] Was he around your age?
Yassir Lester [00:09:29] No. I mean, he was like 30, I think. But here’s the thing. I was also 20 at the time, so he could have been twenty two and it would have felt the same to me. Like, you know what I mean?
Seth [00:09:38] He was older. He was just older. That’s all that mattered.
Yassir Lester [00:09:40] There’s certain markers of things that like I, he had a five o’clock shadow. He truly could have been my exact same age, and I would just be like, Yeah, no, he’s fifty three years old.
Seth [00:09:52] Yeah, me and my wife are always talking about that because we don’t have kids and we’re always like, we’re younger than all of our friends with kids, even if we’re several years older than they are. Just because like that age- that they in my head are so much older than me. I know 28 year olds who seem decades older than me because they have like five year olds. And I’m like, That seems fucking insane to me.
Yassir Lester [00:10:12] I think you should- to find the real age of someone, especially if they have kids, if they’re like twenty nine, but they have an 11 year old, you have to add the 11 years to the twenty-one.
Seth [00:10:22] Oh, that’s a good one. I like that.
Yassir Lester [00:10:24] You know what I mean? Like and then it’s like, Oh, you’re you’re 40.
Seth [00:10:27] Yeah, that is true. Yeah, that that adds up. OK, so you’re working with a man who’s of indiscriminate age and and you sort of get along. Brian.
Yassir Lester [00:10:38] Right. Yeah.
Seth [00:10:47] Brian and Yassir do a lot of things that you do when you’re a young kid working in a restaurant. You sip on cocktails that are left on the tables. You dig into a discarded plate of prime rib together, and you just generally pass the time by trying to make each other laugh. They even come up with a little game.
Yassir Lester [00:11:03] We had like weirdly just between me and him, had started a game where like someone would walk in or like a, you know, whatever, people would walk in and we would just roast them just like to smithereens for no reason whatsoever. And like, keep in mind, this isn’t like- it’s not like we were comedy pros. It’s just like an overweight person walks in, blegh, bald person walks in, blegh. You know what I’m saying, like a lady with, like, I don’t know, bad teeth. So we’re just like being idiots. We’re young idiots in Georgia who, like, haven’t quite figured out the comedy formula. We’re just like going after people, you know what I mean? And we didn’t do it with anyone else because we were like, This is our thing.
Seth [00:12:05] It’s almost like Aspen Steakhouse became Yassir’s training ground for his early comedic career. He was taking inspiration from his mother, who was roasting motherfuckers. And he had a captive audience in his friend, Brian.
Yassir Lester [00:12:20] So me and Brian one day end up on the same shift.
Seth [00:12:26] The night in question was a slow night at the Aspen Steak House, as I am to understand it. Few people at the bar. Few people in booths. Overall, not too eventful.
Yassir Lester [00:12:38] So this couple walks in and like he just it’s like the most brutal I had heard him go after someone. But I mean, like to the point where you’re like, this isn’t funny. Like, you know what I mean? But I’m laughing because it is funny, but he’s just like, ruthless.
Seth [00:12:54] Per the rules of the game, it was Yassir’s turn next.
Yassir Lester [00:12:57] I had to, at the very least, match it. So this family walks in… And I’m like, Woof woof, look at this pack of dogs. These are the ugliest people I’ve ever seen in my life. They’re repulsive. Brian, look at them. I can’t imagine an uglier person, but now there’s four of them. They probably eat dead cat. Like, you know, just like I’m just like every, every single thing that you could say about a person that’s mean, I said it. Brian’s quiet, and he’s like, Wow, and I’m like, Gotcha. And he’s like, that is literally my family. That is my mother. That is my father. And that is my sister. And he walks over to them, hugs his mom, hugs his sister, hugs his dad, and dog, I’m not kidding, like, just turns around and just stares at me.
Unidentified [00:14:08] You called my family dogs!
Yassir Lester [00:14:11] Oh oh, oh oh oh man!
Seth [00:14:19] Yassir had done fucked up.
Yassir Lester [00:14:21] Dog, I’m not kidding. Every single server walked by like, Hey Brian’s family, what’s up? And I was like, everyone knew? Everyone knew this was your family? Like, How? How did I miss the boat so hard on this? Like, keep in mind, I had worked in this place for like a year at this point. He probably thought that I knew and I was joking. And then when I kept going, he’s like, Oh, no, he doesn’t. He doesn’t know. And let me keep going. If you started clowning my family, I would be like, All right, stop, you have to know that’s my mom. Yeah, you know what I’m saying? But he let me just roll.
Seth [00:14:56] Is what you said about them accurate?
Yassir Lester [00:14:59] Here’s the thing. Yes. Like like to this day, like if you want me to say it was an attractive family, I can’t do that. Brian wasn’t even like a, he wasn’t a looker.
Seth [00:15:12] Well, I was going to say that makes it so much worse if as if it was an ugly family.
Yassir Lester [00:15:21] So I run to the back like, I’m like, I don’t know what else to do. So I run to the back and I just start slicing bread for the bread baskets. And dude, he walks back there and I swear to God, I’m like, All right. And every time you say this phrase, everyone knows it’s a lie. But I do the phrase where I’m like… Man, you know I was just kidding, right? You know I was just playing right, Brian? And he goes, I swear he got stone faced, he goes, No, you weren’t. And I was like, ahhhh. I was, I was like, This is it. Like, again, like, I was like, I’m going to, I’m going to have to die in a fight with this dude because like, you can’t allow someone to talk about your family this way and do nothing. But to my surprise, he literally did nothing for weeks. Brian just chilled for weeks. Long game, bro. Long game.
Seth [00:16:40] Slow burn. Slow burn. Revenge as a dish best served cold kind of thing.
Yassir Lester [00:16:46] Buddy. In this case, like piping hot.
Seth [00:17:08] Imagine, if you will now, the pages of a calendar flipping by. A little montage of Yassir going about his day to day life, going to Publix, going the Borders, watching a Pedro Almodovar film, going back to work, paying his mom rent, and all the while pondering the ethics of what he had done. Did you tell anyone that you worked with that this happened?
Yassir Lester [00:17:34] I told everyone. Not only that, they were like, You made fun of Briana and Samantha and Doug? And I’m like, How does everybody know? Like this is- Did y’all pay actors to come in?
Seth [00:17:49] This all feels like a setup.
Yassir Lester [00:17:51] Yeah. Like, I was like, This is crazy. So I tell my mom, like, I’m like, This is I did this thing. And she’s like, You have to apologize. Like, there’s- that’s that’s insanity.
Seth [00:18:03] And this is your mom who’s known for roasting people.
Yassir Lester [00:18:05] Right, like, but you know, she’s also like, I only roast my own family. I’m not going to roast a bunch of strangers. Yeah. I apologized like multiple times, like, dude I swear to you, I never would have said anything. And it’s just like, No, no, it’s fine. I get it. It’s fine, it’s fine. I get it. I’m like, Okay.
Seth [00:18:26] Yassir is just waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Yassir Lester [00:18:29] So we had this manager named Rob who would wear- do you remember the store like Structure which became Express?
Seth [00:18:37] Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Yassir Lester [00:18:38] He would always wear like an Express shirt or Structure shirt with like the collar fully open. But like that weird, like shiny satin shit. Then like really tight dress slacks and like the European style like leather belt with like a big, you know, like chrome belt buckle. But then out of nowhere, just full on snakeskin cowboy boots.
Seth [00:19:06] You don’t wear snakeskin cowboy boots unless you’re a villain. It’s like literally a villainous wardrobe choice.
Yassir Lester [00:19:14] But wore the boots specifically because he would do a thing where he would say uh he would always walk up to the female servers and hostesses and would always say, You know why I wear the boots? And everyone would be like, why? And he’d be like, because I have a tongue like a rattlesnake. And then he’d go and he’d do like this like flickering tongue thing. And all the women would always be like, All right, Rob. I don’t know if I, I don’t care that I said his name. So, of course, Rob sexually harasses himself out of a job.
Seth [00:19:47] Those boots to walk him right out the door of this restaurant.
Yassir Lester [00:19:57] So anyway, Rob gets canned and they’re like, We got to go with the most senior server here to replace him. Who do we go with? We got to hire Brian. So then Brian goes off to manager training for two weeks, comes back. His first shift- this is not an exaggeration- his first shift after he comes back as manager… You know, they give us- when you’re a server, you do like a big team meeting at the beginning. They tell you what the specials are, blah blah blah. What sections you’ll have all, all that mess. So in front of everyone, he’s like, You know, this is what’s happening tonight. Hey, Yassir, don’t let me forget, we got to talk at the end of your shift. I just got to run something past you. And I was like, Oh, we can like, talk about it now, you know. He’s like, No, definitely end of the shift. I’m now working a shift where I know what’s going to happen. But like, I have to work this entire shift. So I work this entire shift. It’s like the worst tip night of my life. Like, I make like eleven dollars. Shift ends. I make like eleven dollars and he’s like, hey, you know, it’s time to talk. I just wanted to run something past you. I was just like, OK, like- and he keeps saying, like, run something past me, which really-
Seth [00:21:24] It’s a crazy thing to say.
Yassir Lester [00:21:25] It’s such a crazy thing to say. So now he said it so many times that I’m like, Maybe it isn’t what I think it’s going to be. It’s like, OK. He literally brings me to the office. And this is not an exaggeration, I swear to you. He sits me down and he’s like, So you’re fired. And I’m like, uh huh. Uh huh. And I’m like, Why? And he’s like, you know.
Seth [00:21:47] You know why.
Yassir Lester [00:21:50] And I’m like, yeah. So I’m like, so is there a- and he’s like, Nah just, you know, I think you’ve you’ve done enough here. And I was like, OK, cool. You know, like, thank you so much. And he’s like, any time.
Seth [00:22:06] That’s right. Yassir ended up thanking this motherfucker for firing him. It taught Yassir a valuable lesson, the one that he thinks of to this day. What is that lesson?
Yassir Lester [00:22:15] Karma is real and it is swift. That whole journey that I told you about was like a total of six weeks. You know what I’m saying? Like, I like a flourishing server career…
Seth [00:22:30] The best, the best version of you that’s maybe ever existed. Yeah.
Yassir Lester [00:22:35] I did other server jobs, and none of them ever matched that job. And it really was like, Oh, it’s because I did this thing. Like and maybe, maybe the karma of it also is the second part of it to like, propel me to get me in L.A. or whatever. But but that still didn’t happen for like another six months. So I really I’m just taking it as like I talked about this dude’s family and I got fired and then struggled to find another job.
Seth [00:23:11] So what is the lesson here? Comedy is a tool like anything else, and a tool can be used to destroy and a tool can be used to create. It all depends on what your intention is. What did Yassir take from this? Does he apply it to his day to day life? Is it something that he carries around with him? Now you’re a stand up comedian. You tell jokes for a living. You write jokes for a living. Is it a lesson it’s good that you learned? Is it something that you actually draw on, do you think?
Yassir Lester [00:23:43] Yeah, I would say, like, this is just a lesson for people out there in the world. Like, really know your context and your audience when you’re roasting, first of all. Be making fun of people like there are some people that absolutely deserve it, but make sure you’re telling a joke well.
Seth [00:24:02] Yeah.
Yassir Lester [00:24:04] You know, I think a lot of times people just say mean things and they’re like, I was kidding and you’re like, Oh, that just felt like a terrible thing.
Seth [00:24:13] Yeah. And it probably made you consider like, who to attack with your humor because you saw that it is a powerful weapon when, when wielded, you know? I was on Bill Maher once.
Bill Maher [00:24:25] He is a big time comic actor. Seth Rogen is over here. Seth Rogen, How are you?
Seth [00:24:31] And he kept trying to get me to say, like, that people are too sensitive.
Bill Maher [00:24:35] The crowd is too politically correct.
Seth [00:24:38] “I don’t find that at all.” And I refused to say it because I don’t think it’s true in general. But I kept saying to him was like any joke you’ve ever made that people don’t like, it just wasn’t funny enough. “But I think some people who get labeled as comics who are like, Ooh, the political correct community is condemning me, forget that they also have to be funny.”.
Yassir Lester [00:24:58] Right.
Seth [00:24:59] Which, which is the last thing a comedian wants to hear. A comedian would much rather hear like, no people are too sensitive. No, there’s some things you can’t talk about. And there is a lot of like subtext ascribed to why something is not funny enough because of what you’re saying. Inherently, things aren’t funny if you’re punching down instead of up. Inherently, it’s just an audience does not like that as much. Inherently, it’s just less interesting to people’s brains to see weak people be admonished.
Yassir Lester [00:25:28] Right? Yeah, it’s just a dangerous game to play.
Seth [00:25:31] But he was playing it with you. You were playing a game with the guy that it happened to, and it’s something that he himself was doing. That’s what’s also fucked up is like, it’s it’s kind of his fault.
Yassir Lester [00:25:46] Yeah, yeah but like…
Seth [00:25:48] If Brian is listening to this podcast, is there anything you want to say to Brian?
Yassir Lester [00:25:54] I hope you know my level of regret. At the end of the day, it wasn’t a judgment on like your character or anything.
Seth [00:26:02] And if Brian, if you are listening, what I want to say is like, it takes two to tango, man. You were playing this fucking game and you called some people’s parents ugly, too. They just weren’t around to hear it. And you were unlucky enough to have to hear the the results of your own game, you know? And so like, I appreciate that you regret it and you should. You shouldn’t be going around call people ugly. But on the grand scale of things, he was not an innocent player in all this. There’s only one thing I can think of that would excuse the severity of Brian’s response. Do you think that part of it was that you had met his parents before and that you didn’t remember who they were and he was, he was upset about that?
Yassir Lester [00:26:52] There is, Seth, I mean, this for real. There’s no way. Like- and this is rude- I would remember meeting someone that ugly.
Seth [00:27:06] You don’t meet someone that ugly and just it washes over you.
Yassir Lester [00:27:12] Yeah, you’re like, I’ll remember this.
Seth [00:27:18] And they were just ugly people. Storytime with Seth Rogen as an Earwolf production… Produced, edited and sound designed by Richard Parks III. Our executive producer is Frida Perez. Additional production by Josh Richmond, Renee Colvert, Jared O’Connell, Marcus Homme and Marina Paiz. With special thanks to Amelia Chappelow. Artwork is by Robin Richesson. The theme music is by Andi Kristinsdottir. I am Seth Rogen.
November 9, 2021
Ashley Ray tells the story of a TV show that changed her mom’s life. Featuring Ashley’s mom, Sharon, and Academy-Award-winning filmmaker, Ava DuVernay (Selma, 13th, Queen Sugar).
Check out Ashley’s Podcast “TV I Say” on her website here: https://theashleyray.com/tvisaypod
And make sure to follow @theeashleyray on Twitter and @theashleyray on Instagram.