Life for comedian Josh Wolf wasn’t always just backward ball caps and making fun of celebrities on Chelsea Lately.
Wolf, now in his early 40s, spent his 20s raising three young children. For some of that time, he cared for them on his own in a one-bedroom Los Angeles apartment.
To make ends meet, Wolf and kids ran a peanut-butter-and-jelly-sandwich business out of the apartment. They would deliver the sandwiches to office buildings, with individualized notes written as if they came from customers’ mothers. Until the health department shut the operation down, that is.
Unable to afford baby sitters as he pursued a standup career, Wolf left his children in the care of fellow comedians, a famously churlish bunch.
Wolf, a Massachusetts native and Boston Red Sox fanatic, now writes for and appears regularly on Lately, Chelsea Handler’s hit E! channel talk show. Wolf recalls his lean years in a new book, It Takes Balls: Dating Single Moms and Other Confessions From an Unprepared Single Dad (Hatchette, $25.99, 256 pages).
Sometimes profane, sometimes insightful and always affectionate toward his children, Wolf’s book takes on parenting philosophies, dating divorcees (who were as pressed for time as he was) and his male friends’ disregard for fashion after they get married. (Wolf makes sure his hoodies and baseball caps are clean and fit nicely.)
Long split from his ex-partner, the children’s mother, Wolf married filmmaker Bethany Ashton in 2004.
Though he’s no longer current on dating single mothers, Wolf’s parenting skills are up to the minute. When Wolf called recently from Washington, D.C., his teenage son, Jacob, was with him in the car.
How the interview went:
Q. What are you doing in Washington? Performing standup?
A. Yes. I also am doing a lot of interior design. So I am going over to the White House later. I think they need some concert posters on the walls.
Q. Did having to care for the children keep you off the road when you were younger?
A. Yes, it kept me off the road. It just made things much more difficult. The peanut-butter-and-jelly thing was born out of necessity. I couldn’t afford day care, and I couldn’t go on the road, and if you do a set at the Improv in L.A., you make $10.
That is how I met Chelsea. I had to bring my kids, and the other comics would watch my kids when I went onstage. Chelsea said the first time she saw me, she thought, Who is this guy with three kids?
I would come offstage, and a couple of comics would be sitting at a table with my kids. Or the bartender sometimes would make them a Roy Rogers. For as neurotic and backbiting as (comics) generally are, a lot of people helped me.
At the time (parenting duties) handcuffed me, but in hindsight it made my career.
Q. How did it make your career?
A. I was forced to talk about real things (onstage). I was doing typical comedian jokes. But (parenting) took up so much of my life that I was forced to talk about it, and then I found a way to make it funny.
Q. You’re still a fairly young guy, but your book advocates more traditional parenting, with clear boundaries between child and parent. You challenge parents who don’t want to tell children no, and the everyone’s a winner participation-trophy culture.
A. I do like the fact that this generation of kids is maybe closer to their parents. But at the same time comes a lack of boundaries and a lack of discipline and maybe a work ethic.
Parents are just so scared to be honest or to hurt their children. I feel like problem-solving (among children) is gone, because people are watching the playground. You used to have certain skills because you were made to have them.
Q. So what’s with wearing the cap all the time? There are photos of you without it, and you have a fine head of hair ...
A. When I first started doing Chelsea, I did not wear a hat. Then I started wearing it, and unfortunately, when I would take the hat off, nobody knew who I was. I have kind of backed myself into a habit.
I do have hair. I took photos recently without a hat, and in a suit, even. There I am, with no hat, in a suit, doing my fashion-catwalk walk.