My friend’s third cousin was performing at a comedy club in Manhattan and I somehow managed to get an invite. The awkwardness of comedy clubs aside, and ignoring the desperation that the club serves along with your minimum two drinks, the evening was impressive. Caroline’s showcases some of the best talent in the field. But tonight, the headliner was not a “30 Rock” alum, Louis CK, Bill Maher, Jim Gaffigan or Joan Rivers (the only comics I might pay to see) — it was 14-year-old Simon Cadel.
You read/imagined that correctly. It was like a comedic bar mitzvah (those happen at age 14, apparently). And like a regular bar mitzvah, the place was filled with cousins, classmates and party crashers, aka friends of the other acts of the night and your few randoms who are just there to enjoy some laughs. His parents were front and center of course. It was his first headlining act after a slew of 5- to 15-minute sets at other venues like New York Comedy Club and Gotham Comedy Club.
Having fallen in love with stand-up comedy at Long Lake Camp For the Arts when he was 11, Simon took a class at Gotham Comedy Club’s Gotham Kids in Comedy and was invited to perform at their best-of showcase after a last-minute cancelation. With encouragement from his parents to pursue his passion, Simon began posting his comedy to his YouTube channel where it was discovered via the grace of God and the Internet, by Jackie Mason’s daughter, Sheba Mason, who proceeded to book Simon a showcase at New York Comedy Club.
I spoke with Simon and his “momager,” Betsy Cadel, in an exclusive interview over Skype last week about what the heck a 14-year-old was doing on the stages of New York’s comedy clubs next to some of the most vulgar acts the industry has ever seen. I was very concerned for him. I grew up in love with the stage as well but ultimately decided a life of fame and glamour in the spotlight wasn’t for me. I couldn’t pop my pimples fast enough. (Sorry, but I am going to be comparing myself to him throughout this entire article as there is only a decade’s age difference but what seems like a lifetime’s worth of accomplishments that I have yet to make between us.)
Part of his great allure is probably how surprised you are after you initially underestimate his talent. “A 14-year-old could never make me, a jaded 20-something living in New York City, laugh. I could probably guess every joke he could possibly make,” are all things I was telling myself leading up to the show. The show itself was hilarious. Initial trepidations and skepticism aside, I tried to keep an open mind and convinced myself a 14-year-old wouldn’t be headlining at Caroline’s if he wasn’t funny. And it turned out he was.
It was immediately obvious that Simon’s mind works very quickly. He has a level of sophistication and a depth of understanding of satire and humor that you would never expect from “someone his age.” But then again, if he didn’t have the right mindset, he wouldn’t be where he was that night, which was on stage, versus in the audience, where I was, ordering a required $40 worth of drinks in the basement of a comedy club on a Tuesday night in midtown.
Simon was very self-assured. He’d already auditioned for “America’s Got Talent” twice. The second time, they had reached out to him. His mom had assured me that stand-up comedians have claimed second place for the last two seasons of the show.
In the “early days of his career,” he would run his material by his parents, who would set strict ground rules over what could be said or referenced in his performance. Simon wasn’t allowed to watch “South Park” or “Family Guy” (my parents were more naïve about my TV-watching habits growing up). But now they take a more laissez-faire approach and simply give the OK or make him change a joke or two after it’s already been written.
Simon plays the bass and pens songs about a day in the life of Apple and Microsoft’s Xbox Live (to keep things fair and balanced of course). Despite preferring a more subtle approach to comedy and avoiding physical humor, Simon whipped out a ukulele three times during his show. He says his material comes to him from his daily life — for example, week-long road trips with the family and shopping with mom at the supermarket for orange juice with varying amounts of pulp.
As a bar mitzvah gift, he was given lessons with renown political comedian Scott Blakeman, whose teaching credits also include Jon Stewart. Blakeman MCed the Caroline’s show and books Simon at other venues he himself has performed at. The excessive Jewish jokes in their combined material can be a lot to stomach for your average goy, but in the tristate area, Jewish jokes go over better than any other kind really.
Simon works on his material after he’s finished with his homework, which he calls “very humbling” to come home to. I always found homework humbling as well. Sure. Why not? After an entire day of being pummeled with facts and formulas to memorize, all I wanted to do was to go home and proudly vomit it all back into essays and quadratic equation solutions. And just like any other 14-year-old, Simon says his friends constantly keep him in check making sure he knows he’s not that funny and that he is constantly behind the times on the latest Internet memes and trends. Regardless, they still expect more and more jokes from him every day in the halls. God I do not miss grade school. He says he’s received nothing but encouragement from other comics out there and emphasizes that he hasn’t experienced any jealousy from his peers or fellow comedians — a wise answer from a kid who may have others in his class who are twice his physical size.
Although he expresses a strong desire to pursue stand-up as a career and go on the road, Ms. Betsy Cadel has equally strong reservations. Clearly not the stereotypical fame-hungry parent, she is eager to protect her son’s image and preserve his childhood innocence as much as possible, all while dealing with your average teenager-parent dynamic. School comes first and many jobs and opportunities get turned down. A 14-year-old who lives in the suburbs can’t be expected to schlep into the city for a midnight performance on a Monday. C’mon people. Comedy will never interrupt his education. College is a given and she is very happy with the creative school he is currently attending up in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., after transferring from a more sports-centric one, at which Simon never felt like he fit in. Jews should stick to what they do best anyways — comedy being in the top three for sure.
After “seeing the sausage being made,” the most important thing to mom is that Simon is happy and loves what he’s doing. Having worked in advertising and now running her own production company, she’s worried that Simon may not have a full understanding of how the industry works and that many comedians would give anything to get where Simon is now — and they’ve been working at it for their entire adult lives. Should he ever lose interest, she plans to let him call the shots. Betsy describes their professional relationship as if “I’m driving the car, but he is the gas.” She will support him as much as she can for now, working as his PR rep, agent, manager, and of course the most important role a mom plays in any kid’s life, his chauffeur.
Citing such comedic influences as Jim Gaffigan, Bo Burnham, Brian Regan, College Humor, Smosh, “Freaks and Geeks,” and Steve Martin, Betsy took Seinfeld’s advice and decided that “if you work clean you always work.” Despite hearing some of the most obscene things typical of nightlife comedy, Simon and his parents know where that line is when a 14-year-old is performing at 10 p.m. on a Saturday night in downtown Manhattan. Cursing will never be allowed. The most “dangerous” it ever gets are jokes about how his parents learned about incognito mode on his browser and hugging girls who are taller than him. Ali Farahnakian, the founder of The Peoples Improv Theater, once came to one of his shows and offered up some great advice telling him to pause for laughter, dig deeper into his jokes and to “pull more funny off the bone.”
Upon leaving Caroline’s, it became immediately evident that Simon is going to be more successful and famous than I will ever be, and that’s OK because he deserves it. I might even start watching more than just “Weekend Update” on “Saturday Night Live” if Simon was going to be in the other sketches.