I was sitting on a couch in a second floor apartment in the Bywater area of New Orleans. Across from me, Andrew Polk and Joe Cardosi were scrolling through their phones, giggling. I asked them to share the source of their delight with the rest of the class.
“Just reading comments from this huge fraud,” said Cardosi.
This particular fraud was one of those characters that exists in every comedy scene. Quick to label themselves a comedian, slow to put in the work required to be one. The loudest voice online but the least vocal from an actual stage. A hobbyist posing as a professional. For Polk and Cardosi, this is the definition of a comedy fraud, and it’s something they are fighting against. Together, the duo has assumed the name Massive Fraud for their multi-armed comedy effort that includes stand-up, sketch, podcasting and a monthly live show called KARATEFIGHT. Stylistically, their stage presences are very different. However, Polk and Cardosi revel in confrontational dialogue and dark pop culture references to figures like Joseph Kony, Budd Dwyer and JonBenet Ramsey.
In terms of stand-up, Polk and Cardosi are relatively new to the field, both around three years in, give or take a couple of months. But that hasn’t stopped them from earning some pretty impressive credits. Cardosi has opened for Doug Stanhope and Louis C.K. Polk has also opened for C.K., plus comics like Hannibal Burress and Todd Barry. The boys of Massive Fraud are two young comics building a new ground floor in an up-and-coming New Orleans comedy scene. But their success isn’t completely trouble-free. Their work to produce something that they truly believe in has left some with the impression that Massive Fraud are massive assholes.
I talked with Polk and Cardosi about the keys to a successful scene, the meaning of fraud and, of course, dinosaurs.
Isaac Kozell: Why are you guys such assholes?
Joe Cardosi: We have a reputation for being assholes. It’s not intentional. I’m honest with people, but not an asshole.
Andrew Polk: I’ve never been a jerk to anyone who didn’t deserve it. I have been a jerk to doofuses and goons. I feel like we have to be more protective of comedy here because no one else seems to be.
IK: What do you mean by that?
AP: There are very few show creators who set high standards for the comedy on their shows. Some people will pull literally anyone on their show just so they can have a show, which is in direct conflict with content control. The problem that creates is that people will come out to a show labeled “New Orleans Comedy” and it’s just four open-mic’ers doing 20 minutes each.
IK: That’s not technically a show
JC: Right. Most New Orleans comedy nights are open mics. So you have people who go up once a week saying that they’re doing shows.
AP: The New Orleans comedy audience is still so young that they don’t know the difference between an open mic and a showcase. They haven’t been trained to recognize the difference yet.
JC: The first show that someone goes to in New Orleans will form their opinion of local comedy from there on out. If there are people in a scene running shitty shows and creating a bad product, I worry that the local audience will think that’s how all comedy is. If you’re fucking with the thing we’re trying to grow, the thing we love, then that makes you kind of an enemy. I don’t hate them personally, but I hate the active damage they’re dong to the scene. In a bigger market, you can have shitty shows pop up and natural selection will kick in and take care of things. But our scene is too small to wait for that to happen.
AP: I used to be in a band. When I would see a great new band on the scene, I would be like, “Oh shit. They’re good. Uh-oh.” We would be concerned that they would take shows away from us. Comedy is not like that. If someone moves in and is better than everyone else in town combined, we’re like, “Thank God! We need you.”
JC: We’re still a small scene. We’re growing, but right now it’s small and shitty in some ways.
IK: In your opinion, how many solid, active comics does an area need in order to have a strong, non-shitty scene?
AP: You need enough people to fill every show for two weeks without doubling up. So, probably 40.
IK: Explain the meaning behind the phrase Massive Fraud.
JC: We’re kind of a nebulous comedy entity.
IK: Jesus. Let me ask that again. How would you explain Massive Fraud?
JC: Me and Polk gravitated toward each other early on. Andrew was about to move to L.A. We had a few other people move to bigger cities and I felt like if he left, I didn’t know what would happen to the scene. I was pushing for him to stay. Right around the same time, Josh Androsky and Dave Ross visited and were like, “Don’t move to L.A. We love it here.”
AP: I remember Dave Ross saying, “Combine every show you did last week. How much stage time was it?” It was about an hour. Dave was like, “Are you kidding me? I’m pretty well known in L.A. and can’t get close to that much stage time in a week.”
JC: We had one of those conversations where we were like, “If we’re going to stay, we have to focus. We have to create an actual promotional thing.” I did sketch comedy for years before I did stand-up and had a radio and podcast background. Polk has improv training and the ability to network and book great shows. It became a division of labor. Massive Fraud is the name of our sketch group, but it’s also an umbrella to fit everything we do under.
IK: But what’s the meaning of Massive Fraud?
AP: Me and Joe figuring out how we work together and what we feel is important came as a product of us defining the actions of people that we found to be massive frauds. There are bad habits in comedy that prevent growth and kill scenes. We kept throwing around the terms “massive frauds” and “huge cowards.”
JC: People started relating to those terms and we became known for using them. We also thought it would be funny to do a comedy show with a headliner like Kyle Kinane called “Massive Fraud.”
IK: Who is doing comedy now that makes you jealous in a good way?
JC: There are two comics from New Orleans who come to mind.
IK: Don’t say Andrew Polk. Fuck that dude.
JC: Yeah, he’s a piece of shit. Mark Normand is a guy that I used to hear a lot about when I first started. People would say that he was doing great in New York. One time he came back to New Orleans and got this hero’s welcome. Part of me wanted to be like, “Eh, fuck this guy. These people are just sucking his balls.” Then I saw him on stage and he was so fucking good. He’s funny in a way that I could never be.
AP: Mark is the most measured, paced-out comedian. He’s an internal clock of humor. Every beat of his joke is perfect.
JC: Another guy is Sean Patton. Some people have compared me to him because we’re both from here and also I think because of our energy. But every time I think I’m getting good at comedy I’ll watch Sean go up and I’ll be like, “Oh, I don’t know a thing about comedy.” He’s so in the moment.
AP: When I first got interested in doing comedy my favorite comedian was Nick Swardson. My first year on stage it was Eugene Mirman. Second year on stage, Todd Barry. Now it’s Rory Scovel.
IK: Ok, now let’s get really serious. What’s your favorite dinosaur?
AP: I’m voting for whichever dinosaur killed Newman in Jurassic Park.
JC: I don’t like feathered dinosaurs. That’s bullshit. My dinosaurs don’t have feathers.
IK: But we can prove that dinosaurs have similar bone structures to birds. There are fossils that indicate that there were dinosaurs with feathers.
AP: I’m sure it’s right. I just don’t want to know about it.
JC: It’s sort of like Jesus. Old ladies want their six foot tall, brown-haired, blue-eyed, white Jesus. Probably not how he was, but that’s how they want him.
AP: My Jesus can spit poison.
JC: But if I had to choose one, I would go with T-Rex.
AP: That’s like saying the Beatles are your favorite band.
JC: The Beatles were a great band. T-Rex was a great dinosaur. T-Rex is the Beatles of dinosaurs.
AP: T-Rex, now that’s a great band.