You’d expect someone like Brooklyn-born comedian Simeon Goodson to be straight up freaking out right about now. Depending on who you are, an impending move to Abu Dhabi could strike you as utterly terrifying or worthy of giddy anticipation. The dazzling, conservative Vegas of the Middle East is a polarizing place to say the least. But somehow Simeon’s experiencing these two extremes and managing still to take things as they come. While the United Arab Emirates is hardly the dream home for a guy who enjoys swigging glasses of Hennessy (“OD ice”) and belting out karaoke renditions of “Trap Queen,” Sim sees his impending move there less like a stint in purgatory and more an enjoyable challenge and the chance to be a transplant for once in his life.
Like any good comic, Simeon is anything but subtle– and not just because he’s tall and has a smile that’s as wide as his wing span. He turns heads in a room and is prone to yelling at the top of his lungs during normal conversation. He’s not one of those comics who possesses a vast distance between his stage persona and the one he dishes out to journalists and friends alike. That quickly building, high-pitched yelp you’ll hear during his routine is based on Sim’s normal diction, and it’s a sign he’s growing impassioned, outraged, or even just sort of pleased.
I half expected to meet Sim and find that his press kit exaggerated the whole bad boy thing. It contains a photo of him looking bleary and red-eyed, possibly bombed; an account of his career that says he “found drinking an integral part of his persona and humor”; and there’s overall emphasis on “drunken hilarity.” And most comics I’ve met have a stage presence that’s one thing, and a whole other inability to communicate, let alone have a normal drink with us humans. But my assumptions were wrong, Sim didn’t disappoint.
In August, Simeon is leaving New York City, where he’s been a part of the comedy scene since 2004 (he got started at 24), for Abu Dhabi, where his wife scored a contract. “Everybody’s coming to New York for comedy to try and make it, so being from New York I felt I never got that. So I might take it for granted a little bit,” he explained. “I think just going out there might be so dope I’ll never come back. Well, I’ll come back, I got sneakers here. I gotta come back.”
When we met in the late afternoon, Sim ordered a glass of Hennessy without hesitation and winked, “I’ve got a bottle in my pocket.” He also had weed he was willing to share, if only he could figure out where he put it… “It doesn’t have to be off the record, I have nothing to hide,” he assured me.
Sim happens to be splitting right after his new comedy album drops August 1. Manifesto was recorded at Poco in the East Village, as a smaller place it’s Sim’s preferred venue, and his routine on the record gives listeners a good sense of the topics Sim’s interested in as a comedian. Like most comics these days, he’s all about bits that are a mix of confessional and anecdotal. Not surprisingly, his act encapsulates the everyday things he experiences as a Brooklynite: dealing with the headaches of city life (getting into a car accident with a “crazy Haitian woman”), parsing out his identity (Sim is Chinese and black), and confronting gentrification (“Of course I’ve had the muffins on North 4th Street in Williamsburg, I just said I’m from Brooklyn.”) Though trust, Sim’s approach to the latter subject is a fresh one.
Booze plays a major role in Sim’s act too. This became clear when I saw Sim screeching out “Trap Queen” at karaoke night during our second meeting. He was the indisputable center of attention and not just because he had the mic in his hand. Nights like that one are what inspired Sim to get into comedy in the first place.
“Drinking’s not really a part of my act, it’s more like a part of my life I guess, so it becomes a part of my act. I started out doing jokes by just getting drunk at bars and stuff. And people were just like, ‘You should do comedy,'” he recalled. “And then you try it out and you’re either good at it or you’re not good at it.”
While alcohol isn’t exactly illegal for Westerners in the United Arab Emirates, non-tourists do have to jump through some hoops to buy it or consume it at restaurants, and boozing isn’t exactly encouraged. Needless to say, Sim’s probably going to have to make some big adjustments.
“I drink all the time, before shows, during shows, after shows, morning, afternoon,” Sim explained. “Yeah, I drink a lot. You know, moving to Abu Dhabi, they’re not that liberal with alcohol over there. So I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m trying to wean myself away from it. I might just start working out or something, like get mad beefed.”
It might sound like Simeon’s just trying to cover up his apprehension about the move with jokes, but after pressing the issues, it seems that Sim’s actually, weirdly okay with the move, which after all is a temporary one. “You can’t say no to a free trip around the world, there’s no way you can justify that. Even if you can justify it now, in like 10 years you can’t,” he said. “You know, I’m still regretting free candy that I turned down when I was, like, seven. So I can’t imagine turning down a trip around the world.”
I caught up with Sim before he takes off. Among other things, we discussed his comedy, his friend Hannibal Buress, and rape jokes.
Oh yeah, we were gonna be rappers. The whole squad. We were gonna be a huge rap group, but that never really came down. It got a little cutthroat. Plus it’s really not what I’m about. It’s not really my thing anymore. It was at that point. But then they were like, “You actually have to kill people.” And I was like, “Oh, wait, no I just wanted to talk about it in fancy ways.”
No, no. Well, when we’d go to rap open mics up in Harlem, there would be whole crews there from two, three blocks away and they were just booing the shit out of me. It’s very competitive, more so than comedy. I guess because it’s a smaller talent pool. It’s not as universal as comedy can be. Comedy is just something I love though, cracking jokes, making people laugh.
I think it’s gotten that way recently. But fortunately I started in ’04,’05-ish, right after Dave Chapelle quit his show, so I was like, ah, there’s room for another black guy. So I stepped in and figured I’d just shoot to the top.
There were a lot less people doing it then. It became a lot more popular. But I feel like I got in– well, not on the ground floor of course, because I was like three years old at the time– at a good place. I feel like people who start 10 years from now will also feel the same way, though.
There are shows, but it’s not like a scene as you would define it in New York, where I could wake up and be like, “Hey, I’m gonna go do a show.” Like, “I’m not booked on anything but I’m going to either find a show to hang out at or watch a show, or even participate in a mic or something.” That’s not going to happen. It’s gonna be like, “Well, the next comedy show is in two and a half months, get yourself together for it.” I don’t even really know how to do that. But it’s fine.
But they do have a lot of weird laws. Like you can’t Facebook about [the Royal Family]. Like you know how people are like “Fuck Barack Obama!” You can’t do that, be like “Fuck the Royal Family,” and just go home. People will be at your house. “We saw this Twitter post, and you’re going to jail.” So we have that limitation, but again it’s a temporary limitation, so hopefully all the things that happen I can just write them down and bring them back home and at that point I’ll just have a dope ass hour of weird Abu Dhabi stories.
No, absolutely not, because they’ll just laugh. They won’t give you an honest critique. You gotta go to like a third party, like a room of complete strangers, just a completely different culture. I’ve done shows at Latino clubs in the Bronx, I’ve done boat shows in Staten Island.
You have to go some place where you know for sure no one you know is there, or nobody there is someone you know. If you can get those chuckles, you might not get the “har hars” but if you can get chuckles out of the complete opposite of what you represent, the people you are most uncomfortable around, then you’ve probably got some killer-ass material.
And then when you come back to your people, like when I go back to a black room it’s cake. It’s sliced, moist cake. No effort at all.
Well, it’s a huge theme in New York City in general. I was in the city when they gentrified this area, the Lower East Side and Saint Marks. This all used to be like drugs and fuckin’ Tompkins Square Park was the type of place where your mom would be like, “Don’t cut through that park. Walk around the park.” But you’re like, “It’s so much shorter!” But they’d be like, “There’s killers in there!” There’d be people OD’ing and shit.
It’s a very touchy thing, because I have comedian friends, and as comedians we have people on all sides of the issue so we have people that are moving here from, you know, Seattle. And they’re like, “Don’t blame me for the high rent. I didn’t ask for rent to be this high. I’d much rather be paying what you guys were paying in the ‘90s.”
I just think it’s a bunch of rich people taking advantage of everyone and then pitting them against each other. That’s why I like to make fun of it. I have that false outrage about it, but I understand what’s really going on. Like I’m not going to get mad at you about the rent. I would like to see my neighbors again but, you know. I just feel like it’s a lot of infighting.
Everybody here wants to be in New York for some reason, some people grew up here. But ultimately even if you grew up here and stayed you’re some kind of crazy-ass artist or dreamer or something. I think the beef is unfounded between the people who are yelling at each other. It tends to be the quote-unquote hipsters versus the black people, pretty much. And that’s not really the issue. The issue is the landlords, and the billionaires, and the property owners.
But it’s fun. I love New York. I’m from here, it’s really the only thing I know. It’s not exactly the same as when I was born. That’s both a good thing and a bad thing. I would love to go play Street Fighter with my Chinatown friends at the arcade. But then again if I could go back there, then I’d be the old dude we used to make fun of when I was 14. I feel like, as an old dude, I’m nostalgic about what I used to be. But as a young dude, I’m optimistic about what could be.
On the album you can hear people ordering drinks, clinking glasses, and shit, and I love that aspect of it, because those are the majority of the shows that I’ve done in my career. That show is the one that I felt was the most true representation of New York comedy that you’re gonna get. There were really only 25, maybe 30 people. The other shows we recorded there were like 100 people, but that one, that was the real show.
Well, there’re in a great state in the context that we can all make our own albums. You don’t need a record deal anymore. It’s just a lot more available now. And it goes back to where there’s not one or two channels where you can get your media now. And you don’t have to conform. I didn’t have to make a clean album. I didn’t have to be on Letterman first. I could just go ahead and make my own album, promote it accordingly, and move forward from there. There’s more choices now, and that’s good for everybody.
You also have a couple of web series, right? One is “D Lemon in the Morning,” but you have a new one coming out too, right?
The story is that you have this building in an undisclosed part of Brooklyn and it’s transitioning from old-school Brooklyn to new-school Brooklyn and that transition is personified by Mike, who is the building owner’s nephew. He’s the building manager and now he has to regulate the old tenants and the new tenants and all of our shenanigans. It’s a comedy series, so there’s no real social message. No one’s trying to, like, break barriers but there’s some hilarious shit going on.
It’s real simple stuff like coffee prices going up, animals in the building, Air BnB — you know, little weird things that affect the community. There’s that juxtaposition of how the old tenants aren’t really against those things. For example, I live in Canarsie, we can’t really get delivery. We can get like pizza and Chinese food, but you’re not gonna get like sushi or shit like that. So the first sign that we got Seamless in the area and we were like, “AHHHHHH!” And we logged on and there’s only Chinese food and Dominos pizza, because those are the only restaurants there and we were like “Ahhh, what the fuck!? We gotta open a sushi spot and sell it to someone who knows how to make sushi.”
I’ve known him for years, and the funny thing is that’s not some thing he’s doing. That’s just who he is. He’s just chillin, even when he’s mad he’s just chillin. [I met him] at open mics and shit. Like with Eric André, we used to do open mics together.
Twitter is like a sleeping beauty mirror. “Who’s the beautifulest of them all? I got 10 notifications! I must be the most beautiful of all of Twitter.” I used to fuck with Reddit. Most women don’t [use it]. It was kind of like a dude thing and then it turned into a weird dude thing. It went from, “Look at these titties!” which was kind of fun for everybody, to “We should kill this bitch!” And I’m like, “Whoa, I don’t wanna, I just wanted to… ”
I dunno, I have daughters. I have little girl babies. I have a mother and a wife and all that. So it’s difficult. I feel like I have to hear the joke to really gauge whether it’s appropriate, but I feel that as a default, like, no. If you have some really dope ass, creative rape joke (it’ll happen, where somebody just says some shit and it’s addressing both sides of the issue, but it sounds horrible) I’m not gonna say, “Don’t do that joke.” But most of the time the guy saying the rape joke is saying seven minutes of rape jokes. Even if the first one is super creative, you’re like okay, you need to let this go.
As an artist, I would say, if you feel like it’s really breaking barriers, and that it’s really addressing everything and you can say the joke and a woman is like, “Ohhhh, what? alright”– and then the second time they just crack up laughing. If you just come out there and you’re like, “I’m raping bitches! Isn’t that hilarious?” You know, there’s nuance to everything. If you can capture that, then by all means.
But that goes for race jokes, pedophile jokes, terrorist jokes, there’s a good way to do all of that awful material where you can be self-aware of it, where you’re not actually saying a rape joke but you’re just referencing saying a rape joke. There are ways to do things. I can’t say you have to say it this way to do it right. But at the end of the day you need to know that 50 percent of the population may possibly be offended just by you bringing it up. So in that context, you should really think about what you’re saying.
All the New York comedy I know is either drunk comedy, drunk and high comedy, or super sober used-to-get-drunk-and-high comedy. There is a difference, I guess: stoner comedy is like that Workaholics kind of vibe where everyone is just high and making silly decisions, but like realistically stoners… we have shit to do.
Like I know some people who have only been smoking weed for a short time and they act like dickheads. But I wouldn’t define them as “stoners.” They’re just young weed heads. They don’t know how to have some snacks in the house already. They smoke and they get hungry and there’s no food in the house. And I used to be that, that’s not a bad thing. I don’t know about “stoners” and “drunks” and all that. Labeling bothers me.
Oh yeah, once you self-define you’ve voided every label except the one you self-defined as. I went to this commercial casting agent and she was like, “So you’re kind of a hipster right?” I was like, “What? Bitch, I’ll kill you!” And then I walked outside and looked in the spoon like Zoolander and I was wearing a fuzzy hat and colorful sunglasses and had a big beard, and I’m like, “Maybe she was right.”
I don’t like labels as far as applying them to other people. I understand that there are labels already in place, like this is a goth bar and I walk in and everybody’s got white face paint on. Sometimes there’s a need for labels. But I’m not comfortable with labeling comedy like that.