If a friend left bizarre messages about everything from the pronunciation of the chocolate bar Toblerone to your grandmother's dating status on your phone for more than a decade, most people would probably stop talking to that person. But when it happened to Valley Forge native and comedian Blake Wexler, he turned the messages into an album.
"It does sound like a mentally ill person after a certain period of time, but this is one of the funniest people in the world," says Wexler, 28, who is now based in Los Angeles. "It's taking that skill and directing it right at you, and only you. It's like Hoop Dreams for comedy fans. You get to see a window into [our] lives."
Appropriately dubbed 12 Years of Voicemails from Todd Glass to Blake Wexler, the album will be released Friday — right in the middle of a run of dates Glass has this week at Center City's Helium Comedy Club, where the pair first met in 2004. The album is a collection of nearly 50 messages from Glass to Wexler, chronicling the duo's friendship as a game of demented phone tag. It feels like a comedy set for an audience of one. They have their own inside jokes, but as a listener, you feel part of it.
Wexler's album is one of the first of its kind. But none of it would have happened without that fateful trip to Helium.
A Conestoga High School graduate, like Glass, Wexler began doing stand-up at 15, performing in bars and clubs in the Philadelphia area. In 2004, five months into his budding career, he met Glass after Glass performed at Helium. Glass, who started his comedy career at 16, took a liking to Wexler.
"I remember meeting him. He looked 16 — he had pimples, and I felt bad for him," Glass says of Wexler in — what else? — a voicemail.
Wexler describes Glass as having been kind in that first meeting. The two connected over comedy and Conestoga, and Wexler ultimately gave him his card — yes, a teenage comedian had business cards — but didn't expect anything to come from it.
Glass, however, called Wexler shortly after they met and left a message saying he had set up tickets for a future show for Wexler and his father. Wexler saved that message, which opens the album. He also saved every other voicemail that Glass left him, up to the present.
"This might be a mental-health disorder on my part, but I do save a lot of voicemails," Wexler says. "This is dark, but I save some from my parents in case they pass away, so I will have something from them. With Todd, he could die at any minute — no, I'm kidding."
Wexler says he saved Glass' messages to play back to friends or to listen to again by himself. Glass was and is one of Wexler's comedy heroes, so archiving the messages seemed appropriate.
Over the last 12 years, Wexler saved about 60 messages from Glass, and cut only those that were too personal or nonsensical from 12 Years of Voicemails. In that time, you hear them cultivate a friendship. You might not expect that, though, considering that Glass' messages usually involve ranting about labradoodles or cheesesteaks or fake models of cars Jay Leno might own.
Though it's a comedy album, some of the messages aren't exactly funny, more heartfelt. In one, Glass encourages Wexler to quit Emerson College, where he was enrolled as a screenwriting major. Glass says he considered Wexler truly funny and wanted to give him "a kick in the ass" to follow his dream instead of having something to fall back on.
"Nobody ever asks you that if you are going to dental school," Glass says. "Your parents never say, 'What if dental school doesn't work? What are you going to fall back on?' If this money is being spent, and it's hard-earned money that you really don't have, quit college."
Wexler didn't leave school, but he appreciated Glass' sentiment. Today, he credits much of his success to Glass' tutelage, even if he didn't listen to it sometimes.
"My career now, I can attribute to two main things. I would say 30 or 40 percent was going to Emerson College, but 60 percent is Todd," Wexler says. "There is a weird line between, 'This is one of my best friends' and, 'This is also a guy who has taught me everything I know in comedy.' "
Glass doesn't see himself as a mentor exactly. But Wexler says he has seen Glass treat other new comedians similarly.
"What type of mentor would I be if I said, 'Of course I am [a mentor]'?" Glass says. "Some comedians have passed on words of wisdom to me. I tried to pass that kind of stuff on."
Glass' messages were not just professional, they got personal, too. In 2013, he gave Wexler advice after a particularly devastating breakup.
"Things go bad and things aren't right, and you just sort of wallow in it for a while. Better that you go through this now than stay in [it]," Glass said in the message. He also tortured Wexler back to equilibrium with worst-case scenarios, like his ex sleeping with everyone on the comedy scene. Instead of being horrified, Wexler found Glass' approach funny.
"It made me realize that this was like anything else. It can and should be laughed at," he says. "It was the best advice I could have gotten from a family member or close friend, and that close friend was Todd Glass."
It took Wexler some time to get comfortable around Glass. He started giving back as good as he got around 2011, when he felt he could hang with Glass comedically.
"Fifteen messages later, Blake starts to loosen up and be a little funnier with me," Glass says. "I told him, 'Don't get too comfortable, I'm still a headliner.' "
These days, so is Wexler. He's preparing to put together his next stand-up album — an 18-month endeavor of writing, performing, testing, and tweaking. With any luck, he says, proceeds from 12 Years of Voicemails will help pay for his next release.
But if it's really successful, you'll never get rid of him, he says.
"Maybe Texts from Todd will be a book," Wexler says. "We'll really milk this thing for what it's worth."
Staff writer Nick Vadala received his own voicemail from Todd Glass to comment on this article. We present it here in its full form. There is adult language, so listen at your own risk.