After binging a bunch of tv shows — a lot of Game of Thrones and Little House on the Prairie — and ordering endless delivery, I realized this wasn’t going to end any time soon, and started a business entertaining people online who were stuck at home called Comedy Cloud (www.comedycloud.co). I’ve always known how to host a show; after years of hosting thousands of comedy shows, and a range of events such as a kimono fashion show, an awards ceremony for a photocopy company, and a music festival in a barn in Ohio (what a dream gig), my reputation amongst my peers is — and I say this with gratitude and pride — quite good.
The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.
As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”,Ray Ellin, CEO of Comedy Cloud.
Ray Ellin is a comedian, host, producer, and writer, and is the founder of Comedy Cloud (www.ComedyCloud.co). He produces live, interactive, Zoom-run, VIRTUAL, online comedy shows for companies and non-profits.
Ray is also executive producer of Comedy Central’s This Week at the Comedy Cellar, which recently wrapped its third season, and he is the owner of Aruba Ray’s Comedy Club (www.arubacomedy.com) on the island of Aruba.
But Ray’s current specialty is performing live for employees and interacting with them in real time over Zoom — bringing a bit of the live comedy show back into the lives of many people who are missing it in lockdown.
Ray caters each show to each company and audience (all female comedians for a women-run organization, all Italians for an Italian-American charity group, etc.). But whatever the bent of the office, he makes sure his show motivates employees and improves company morale. The featured comedians include entertainers with major TV credits. And everyone leaves the show feeling uplifted!
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
It would probably be very exciting to tell you I grew up on a houseboat, sailing around the globe, talking to sea creatures as I glided through the water, and getting lost in literature each night under a starry sky. Alas, I grew up in a suburb, the youngest kid, the only boy, with older sisters. Both my parents and sisters are pretty brilliant, my dad working as an engineer, designing cameras at Polaroid, my mother a classical pianist and certified music therapist, my sisters engineers and writers. I played a lot of sports, entertained classmates. I remember getting my first laugh when I was three. Felt amazing.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Never turn down a job, you never know what it will lead to.” My mother told me that when I was in college. As a result, I’ve taken on a variety of endeavors, that did end up leading to far better work or improved a skill set; doing standup in a bowling alley while people were bowling behind me, participating in radio shows on small stations at 3am. Her advice has led me to this interview 🙂 let’s see what I learn from it.
The other quote I like is “Go to sleep, re-read it in the morning.” Pretty self-explanatory.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
“The Catcher in the Rye.” I first read it when I was eleven, and have re-read it multiple times since. I processed it differently as a young kid, as a teen, as a college kid, and as an adult. There was something about Holden Caulfield’s journey that resonated with me, just as it did for millions of other people. Even as a kid, I had a pretty good BS meter, so maybe I connected with it on that level. Then again, I’ve also read Dr Seuss’ “One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish” many times. Very different experience than Catcher in the Rye. Far more accepting.
I’ve watched the film “Cinema Paradiso” about forty times; it’s so gorgeous, how it was shot, the music, the message of pursuing your dreams, the love story. I guess I’m just an impressively well-rounded fellow.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?
Prior to the pandemic, I did standup, mostly in NYC at Comedy Cellar, hosted multiple live shows a week, hosted television and web shows, did some acting, produced tv shows and film, I made the movie Latin Legends of Comedy, produced live events, opened a comedy club in Aruba called Aruba Ray’s (www.arubacomedy.com). Lots of performing and developing projects. Right before the pandemic, we wrapped the third season of a Comedy Central show of which I was an EP. I’ve always been a self-starter, I’m not one of those people that’s just been given things. Sometimes I really do wish I were. You want some swings at the plate, but more often than not you won’t even get a ticket in to the ballpark. So, you have to build your own field.
What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?
After binging a bunch of tv shows — a lot of Game of Thrones and Little House on the Prairie — and ordering endless delivery, I realized this wasn’t going to end any time soon, and started a business entertaining people online who were stuck at home called Comedy Cloud (www.comedycloud.co).
I’ve always known how to host a show; after years of hosting thousands of comedy shows, and a range of events such as a kimono fashion show, an awards ceremony for a photocopy company, and a music festival in a barn in Ohio (what a dream gig), my reputation amongst my peers is — and I say this with gratitude and pride — quite good. But I wasn’t sure how it would fly doing comedy online, through my webcam and out to someone else’s laptop. After speaking with many friends who had been cooped up working remotely, and then being asked by a guy who saw me perform if I would put together a show for his employees, I figured I would give it a shot.
I’d never been on zoom, didn’t have great equipment for an online show… but the event went quite well, certainly exceeded my expectations. People were really laughing, releasing this tension, connecting with each other. I could ad lib with the audience in a way I would at an in-person show. And while the laughs and energy are different, they exist. They’re real. And these online shows present very different challenges from a regular show, which makes it new and fun and interesting.
And not to get too heavy, but I was really eager to immerse myself in something. My oldest sister passed away unexpectedly during COVID-19 in March, and a week after her funeral, lockdown started in NYC. So suddenly I’m by myself in my apartment, during a pandemic, not only processing this terrifying global crisis, but also the most horrible thing to ever happen to my family, and I was doing so alone. A truly messed up, bizarre and surreal experience. Distractions were welcome, and these online shows certainly helped. I was pleased to get lost in them and find some laughs and a purpose.
Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?
Immediately after the first online show I said to myself — and I remember this moment vividly — “There’s something here. This is good. This works, and I know how to make it much better.”
How are things going with this new initiative?
So far so good. Since late April, I have produced and hosted over ninety online shows. Mostly for companies looking for something different for their team. LOTS of holiday parties and cocktail hours and lunch breaks.
These shows boost employee morale, and allow everyone who has been working remotely connect with each other. It’s a reward for people who have been working so hard, and with limited human contact; these shows engage people in a totally different way than they experience all day. It’s the most fun anyone can have on zoom. Except for Jeffrey Toobin. He knows how to have fun on multiple screens.
I’ve assembled a roster of excellent comedians, with outstanding television credits, who are also terrific online. I know of plenty of comics who are phenomenal in a club, but just can’t connect on zoom. And I get it, it’s not for everyone. Some comics don’t enjoy the medium. Others have adapted. So, I can cater the lineups to whatever a company is looking for.
We have done a few virtual fundraisers, and some 40th birthday parties — and those have been terrific — but most of the shows are for companies that want to bring their group together, and have fun.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Big picture, my mother and father. Both are smart, and talented, and extremely hard working and stressed being educated and well-rounded and made sure we experienced all types of things growing up. They did the best they could, and as I’ve gotten older I appreciate that more and more.
In terms of this past year, perhaps it’s the guy who booked me for the first zoom show — Jon Singer, the CEO of Spirit Music Publishing, who knew me from my club in Aruba. He was looking to take care of his employees, and every week he was trying to offer them something different online; music, motivational speakers, whatever. He really seems like a great boss. So, given what I knew was happening to people stuck at home, and Jon’s persistence in having me perform for his staff, the ball got rolling. I’m quite grateful to him for giving me the nudge and enthusiasm.
I’m also grateful to a group of people who came to a weekly Friday night online show I set up on May 1st — not for companies, but for people that just wanted a weekly escape. Most of them knew me from shows in NYC and Aruba, and they bought tickets every Friday — EVERY SINGLE WEEK — with proceeds going to charity. They wrote me some of the kindest and most thoughtful notes I’ve ever gotten professionally. I’m talking about people stuck at home, not connecting with too many people, many were healthcare workers, many out of work or retired. They were extremely grateful to have my Friday night show to look forward to, to be entertained, and I would do my best to talk with as many people as possible during the shows — and I am so grateful to all of them for their support and enjoyment. It was a very unique situation, this group from around America and the globe, every week for six months during the pandemic.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
There isn’t one particular story. It’s the amount of people who were lonely or lost or sad or scared who reached out and said, ‘Thank you, this is helping, we love it.’ Considering I initially wasn’t thrilled with performing through my webcam, this outcome can be classified as pretty interesting.
So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?
Sure. Minimize watching the news. How many times must you view the same story — the same scary story, full of both facts and unknowns — over and over. Flip the channel to a comedy. Watch some standup. Turn to sports. Watch an inspiring documentary. Get lost in a favorite book. Rewatch The Notebook and have a good cry, and get that anxiety out of your body. Do a bunch of push-ups WHILE watching The Notebook. How’s that for multi-tasking?
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
It would be a movement that would inspire positive thinking. You can 100% lift your own spirit with your thoughts. Positive energy attracts positivity, and that is crucial for success and happiness.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
My junior high school Spanish teacher, Wayne Hatford. If he’s not available, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, or Paul McCartney. And Lori Greiner and Daymond John. I have plenty of questions for each of them.
How can our readers follow you online?