NYC -- 36 year-old Benjamin Kowalski of Newark, New Jersey, has struggled for more than 15 years to find success telling jokes on-stage. Born into a family of strict orthodox Jews, it was always assumed he was headed for medical or law school. But after watching some Jerry Lewis movies in his teens, Kowalski knew he'd found his destiny.
"It was really hard at first, because I was just sort of doing what every other comic was doing. I did a lot of observational stuff, had a long set all about dating and sex, and I even went through a sort of "dirty" phase. My parents didn't care for any of it -- especially the last one. What's worse, neither did my audience."
Kowalski says he has struggled to feed himself at times, and for more than ten years lived in shared housing with other struggling artists.
"I sort of got used to failure," says Kowalski, eyes down-turned "I know that's hard to believe now, with all that's been happening for me lately, but it's true."
Suddenly Kowalski's eyes light up, and a smile spreads across his face. "Then came the 2016 election, and I found my niche."
Indeed, what was seemingly buried deep within the recesses of Kowalski's brilliant comedic mind was unleashed, suddenly, with the election of Donald Trump.
"It was definitely the catalyst, there's no denying that. It was just like fireworks going off -- punchline after punchline screaming at me from the back of my head. I could hardly keep up with my own thoughts.
In his new HBO comedy special, "Donald Trump is A Big Meany," Kowalski delivers laugh after laugh as he defies convention by taking some pretty risqué jabs at one of America's most beloved presidents.
"Is it just me," Kowalski teases, "Or does Donald Trump have a big, fat stupid face?"
At first the audience seems a bit uncomfortable with Kowalski's tone. It's easy to mistake his approach as being mean-spirited, but Kowalski, through his skillful use of facial expressions and body-gestures, somehow manages to put the audience at ease.
"it's edgy stuff, I admit," Kowalski explains. "Before things get going, you can feel the audience squirm a little."
But however taboo Kowalski's biting wit may seem at first, by the five-minute mark he somehow manages to put the audience at ease, and the auditorium reverberates with waves of laughter.
"How about that hair? Have you seen this stuff? Put some makeup on this guy and he'd make a pretty good clown, am I right?" Kowalski has to choke back his own laughter with the zinger, triggering riotous crowing from the crowd. "I wonder if McDonald's is hiring?" With this, the congregation of laugh-seekers is pushed over the edge, and it's instantly clear why Kowalski has been crowned this decade's king of comedy.
Kowalski says the most satisfying part of his success has been the respect his family shows him at family gatherings.
"I used to just hide in a corner during Shabbat and Bar Mitzvahs, but now I'm the center of attention. 'Did you hear what Benjamin said about Donald Trump last week?' they say. And 'That Donald Trump sure is taking a beating from our boy Benny, isn't he?'" Kowalski takes a deep breath and smiles. "It makes me glad to know I'm not regarded as the schlemiel of the family anymore."
Kowalski's stand-up special premieres on HBO this February 14th, Valentines Day. Also, now in preproduction from Columbia Pictures, Kowalski will be co-starring with Stephen Colbert in a new "buddy cop" movie, "The Trump Card," coming to theaters sometime in 2020.