Rob Cantrell Interview

Rob Cantrell Interview

Written by: Hannah Chusid
BCT:  So how are you doing?
RC:      I’m doing well.BCT:  Fantastic, so you were on Last Comic Standing, right?

RC:      Correct.

BCT:  Could you tell us about your experience with that?

RC:      I was on the very first one, so it was kind of bizarre, nobody knew what it was, it kind of came out of nowhere.  I’d been doing comedy in San Fransisco for about three years and it was my first real break.  The audition was weird, we’d been told a little bit about it, didn’t really know much.  I walked in and I got past the first round in San Fransisco and they invited me to LA and I got picked out of that, and there were a lot more comics, then I went to Las Vegas.  That was the year they had us all living together in a mansion in Beverly Hills.  I’d just finished opening for Todd Barry at the Sacramento Punchline, I remember, and then all of a sudden a couple weeks later I’m on national television.  So I went from zero to 2000 really fast.

BCT:  You grew up in San Fransisco, right?

RC:      No, I was born in Washington, DC, and then moved to Virginia.   After college  I was just sick of the east coast, I wanted to let my freak flag fly and get out to San Fransisco, taste the burritos, and dance and do comedy.  Mostly I just launched right into Stand-up as soon as I got there caught I was hella broke.  But yeah, it’s a great scene.  So much of my career is just due to the San Fransisco scene.

BCT:   When did you get into comedy?

RC:      It was after college.  I’d always wanted to do it, I wanted to pursue it but I didn’t know how.  I wasn’t really a theatre guy, I wasn’t a jock, I was just kind of …. I was a comic.  There’s certain comics who are just comics.  I just gravitated toward it, anything that was stand-up I totally would absorb and go through with a fine tooth comb.  I loved it.  I thought the lifestyle was cool as hell, I didn’t want a boss, I wanted to dress the way I wanted to dress and act the way I wanted to act.  And stand-up is completely hard and you gotta sacrifice a lot of your life, but those are some of the perks.

BCT:   Do you remember your first stand-up bits?

RC:  My bits, yeah when I started I didn’t really do that many bits.  It was a full-on monologue where I would go on stage and I would act like a really bad comic.  I would do all these really bad jokes and then I would have a mental breakdown and I would crawl underneath the audience’s table and start singing, it was really out there.  I look back on it now and it was really good, but it scared a lot of people.  But it always killed.  It would go to complete chaos but I would always bring it back and just tie the bow.  So my first stuff, I would sing R. Kelly songs in my mom’s voice, stuff that didn’t really go over in comedy clubs.  I bombed horribly those first few years.  I look back now and some of that stuff the ballsiest I’ve ever done.  Stuff I do now is a lot more honest and fun and cool, but back then I really would freak it out

BCT:   Do you remember where you first performed?

RC:      Yeah, it was called the Luggage Store.  It was an art space on Market Street, and Market Street is notorious as this kinda prostituty place, kinda homeless, druggie place.  It’s like the super downtown, there’s nothing really arty about it, just business men and street people but there was this one art place.  It was all folding chairs, there was no mike, it was hosted by Tony Sparks, like everybody starts there.  It was a terrible terrible open mic, but I did it and there was just this huge elation, like … I don’t know what it’s like coming out as a gay person, but as soon as I did it there just a wash … I remember there were some homeless people in the audience, it was San Fransisco, there were a lot of freaks.  I went up, I didn’t even know I was supposed to sign my name, but I signed my name, I didn’t realize it was to go up I thought it was just to get in.  I thought you just went up, you know?  We’re doing this for free.  But then you realize why it’s for free.

BCT:   So you just went up, you had no experience, no training, just went up and did it.

RC:      Yeah.  Pure build-up.  It was definitely a calling, it was something that I had to do.

BCT:   Unprepared?

RC:      No, I did write.  I wrote a bunch of stuff down, but the very first time I pretty much just talked about being up there, being in the moment.  It went over pretty well, but it was all very spastic, very high energy, just this release of comedy.

BCT:   And how old were you?

RC:      I started when I was 26, 27.  I remember being at an open mic right when I turned 27.  It was intimidating that I was starting so late, and I really just worked very hard.  Threw all social life away for a good three and a half years, just completely absorbed into doing comedy as much as possible.  That’s what you have to do, you know?  Everybody wants to do it.

BCT:   Who are your comedy idols?

RC:      Growing up it was Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Steve Martin, the first cast of Saturday Night Live, Bill Murray, Jon Beluchi.  My first book report was “Wired, the Jon Beluchi story.”  I loved the young comedians specials, loved Jim Carrey, David Allen Grier, loved all those guys from In Living Color.

BCT:   Do you do any sketch or improv?

RC:      Yeah I do, I’m in this play called the Marijuana-logues.

BCT:   Is that off-broadway?

RC:      Yeah, it’s been running for like fifteen years, and I’ve been doing it the past three years.  It’s running at a place in Brooklyn, this venue called Littlefield.  So I do that and that’s a full on play but there’s a lot of jokes and I do this whole monologue in it.  Lately I’ve been doing a lot of rap videos that are all comedy.  And then also I’ve been doing a lot of short films and sketches with friends, you can check them out on FunnyOrDie, I have an account there.  Sketch on stage, in San Fransisco I had this fake jazz band for a while with a few comics, we had all these little sketches.  Right now I love doing film, short films.  With the technology we have it’s so easy to do short films.  But stand-up is the core, and to do that you really have to commit to it.  It sucks being  a mediocre comic, you really have to be good at it to make it fun.

BCT:   Is there any rap artist that you like to make fun of the most?

RC:      No, I don’t make fun of, I respect hip-hop.  I’d rather be the Tenacious D of hip hop, and have respect for it.  In the beginning, before I started rapping I would hate on Eminem or Kid Rock cause I didn’t think they were that good.  But now that I do it, I realize it’s a lot like stand-up, these guys are brilliant and have balls of steel.  So when I do it, I have this song called “Rub My Feet,” and that came from New York, just busting my ass and running around here and banging your feet up.  I have another song called “Coffee and Weed,” it’s all about coffee and weed, and we just did another called “We Nice,” all about how nice we are.  It’s very boisterous and and positive.  You know there’s a ton of negative stand-up, and I always just try to be very positive and happy go lucky.  That’s how I am in real life, and that’s how I approach hip-hop.  I like really vibrant, happy, goofy shit.

BCT:   So do you perform these live?

RC:      I used to.  Now I do it more in the studio, writing and working on lyrics.  I really like rhyming.  I read a study that it’s good for your brain.

BCT:   I can’t rhyme, so props to you for that.

RC:      You can rhyme, come on.  Water.  What rhymes with water?

BCT:   What rhymes with water?  I don’t … see?  I told you I couldn’t.

RC:      It’s just a skill.  It’s just a skill you gotta hammer on and work it out.

BCT:   You know, I have an app on my phone, the rhyming dictionary.  I got it for a poetry class cause I can’t do that, can’t write poetry.

RC:      You just gotta enjoy it.  Gotta enjoy it and get into it.

BCT:   So what’s your favorite club in New York City?

RC:      They’re all really good.  I love performing at the Comedy Cellar.  If you just like pure stand-up, its really hard not to enjoy the Comedy Cellar.  But then I love Carolines on a packed night, a Friday or Saturday night.  Carolines is like a Cadillac, it’s old school, cool and smooth.  I like doing UCB (Upright Citizens Brigade).  A lot of the clubs are becoming really touristy, I like UCB cause I like talking to real people in the moment in New York.  I find a lot of the alternative rooms like UCB have more New Yorkers.  But I love the clubs, love the Comic Strip, it’s so cool you feel like Seinfeld up there.  The scene in New York is so great.  All the clubs have their weird tics and tacs.

BCT:   Right, I love UCB it’s so underground and has this really raw vibe to it.  The UCB East, have you been there?

RC:      Yeah, I like it.

BCT:   Any favorite clubs outside New York City?

RC:      The Punchline in San Fransisco.  Among comedians that’s just a really great club.  And then I just did Denver Comedyworks in Denver.  That’s a really cool town.  The Punchline in San Fransisco is where I started.  Your best clubs are just bare bones.  And that one it’s really bare bones but it’s run well and the staff is good, they shut down hecklers.  The crowds are smart and attentive and they’re not just papered, meaning free tickets.  It’s a great place to work out.

BCT:   So is there a difference between audiences in New York and other places?

RC:      Audiences are different everywhere.  You never can master stand-up.  Even the best of the best still get nervous and try to figure stuff out.  Each club is a bit different, each scene is a bit different, I did Japan recently at a military base for marines, and that was different.  But once you get New York, it really is the hardest of the hard.  If you can handle this you can handle most anything.  But it can wear on you and make you a negative person.  You gotta watch that, but some people are negative and that’s just their vibe.

BCT:   Do you have any advice for new comics?

RC:      I would say just bust your ass.  It really comes down to focusing, and if you really wanna do it, hard work, and don’t take it that personal.  You’re always going into new situations.  Getting up on stage you need a huge ego, but the other backstory is there’s a lot of funny motherfuckers in the world so you gotta stay humble, stay good, but just be true to yourself and work hard.

Legendary Comedy Clubs Owner Al Martin

Interview with Al Martin

 
Written by: Leo Goodman
If you’re on this site then you already know New York has some pretty damn good comedy clubs.  What you might not know is that three of them are owned by one guy.Over the past couple decades Al Martin has developed himself into a one-man comedy industry, with New York Comedy Club, Broadway Comedy Club, and now Greenwich Village Comedy Club providing audiences with stand-up shows and more seven nights a week.  It’s even more than you realize, once you consider that Broadway Comedy Club itself has three different stages, each of them with shows every night.  Sitting in the comic’s lounge area just off the main room downstairs at Broadway, with the sounds an audience’s laughter just on the other side of the wall, the comedian-turned club owner talks about telling jokes, booking jokesters, and just how much comedy a city like New York can sustain.BCT:   You actually started as a comedian.AM:    Correct.  In the late 80’s I was doing stand-up comedy.  Got some t.v. credits, I actually have more credits than some of the guys who are working in the club here.  I always said my highlight would be see my name up in Vegas, see my name on tv, then thank you and goodnight.  I occasionally get up, once in a blue moon I get up and do a spot.

BCT:   I would assume you get up whenever the hell you want.

AM:    Yeah, yeah, I would say.  But you move on to other things, you know?  It’s a funny thing, I got into producing shows, running a room, to get stage time.

BCT:   That’s why all comics run rooms.

AM:    Right.  And then it became so all-encompassing that now I can’t concentrate on doing sets because I’m busy running the shows.

BCT:   Where was the first room you ran?

AM:    The first room I ran was a place called the Eagle Tavern, it was on 14th street.  It was actually right next door to what later became Comix.  At the time that place was a supermarket.  We did the longest-running open mic there, it would run from four o’clock in the afternoon till about eleven at night, and a lot of the bigger names in comedy now started at that open mic.  Sarah Silverman worked that open mic, Judah Friedlander worked that open mic.  (Chuckles)  I worked that open mic.

BCT:   Four to eleven, you said?

AM:    Yeah.

BCT:   And was that just five minute spots?

AM:    Five minute spots.  We would get -

BCT:   Every comic in town.

AM:    Yeah, sixty, seventy comics come out.  And then from the people who came to that open mic, we developed, myself and another guy, a room at Houlihan’s on 48th and 2nd.  We had a downstairs room, we would do a Saturday night show, and I would bark.  I was actually a barker in front of Grand Central Station.  We would bark in an audience, and have a few people bringing, we’d have a good show every week.  And then one day the manager of the place came and said to me “no more stand-up comedy.”  I asked him why, and he said because they’d had a reggae party there the other night and there was a riot, so they decided no outside producers anymore.  And I said “I have seventy people coming to a show tonight!  What does reggae have to do with comedy?”  And he said sorry, no show.  So I had to run on second avenue, and I found a bar on 48th and 2nd, they had a room on the second floor that was vacant.  I said to the bartender, who was the owner, “do you have anything going on up there tonight?”  And he said no, and I said “would you like sixty customers up there?”  And he said definitely.  So we dismantled our sound system from Houlihan’s, we ran it up to 48th and 2nd, and hence the New York Comedy Club was born.

BCT:   That became-

AM:    That became New York Comedy Club.  We operated at that location for five years.  We started on Saturday nights, then we added a Friday, and then Jim Mendrinos ran our “New Material Wednesdays,” Chris Menzilli, from Gotham fame, ran our Thursday college night, Andy Engel, who runs new talent at Gotham, was one of our comics, a lot of the people in comedy today started in that little room on 48th and 2nd.  And then after five years the landlord there sold that building, and we wound up moving to our current location, 24th and 2nd.  The New York Comedy Club, been there almost twenty years now.

BCT:   So that was the first club that was yours, what was the next one, was that Broadway?

AM:    Well what happened with New York Comedy Club is we expanded into a second showroom, and –

BCT:   A second showroom at the club?

AM:    Yeah, it was a space right next door.

BCT:   Cause that’s not the case now.

AM:    No, no more.  What happened was … New York Comedy Club’s biggest competitor was Broadway Comedy Club.  It was the same landlord.  He said to me “Al, I have a space on 53rd street that I’m building, I want you to take a look at it.”  Now, when I first came to look at it, it was the café space upstairs, and I thought this was gonna be too small for a comedy club.

BCT:   Where The World is now.

AM:    Yeah, where The World is now.  I asked him “what do you have going on in the lower level?”  He said oh, it’s just a space for storage, maybe some lockers, and I said “let me take a look at it.”  I looked and said “you know what, I think I can make this work as a comedy room, can you make a deal with me?”  And he said yeah, and that was ten years ago.  We opened up with that one room, and then expanded.

BCT:   So when you said that New York Comedy Club’s chief competition was Broadway …

AM:    What happened was that a lot of the business in those days … we were the first to use street teams.  Before they had street teams a lot of the operations would be going into offices and selling comedy club tickets, hair salon packages, all that stuff.  And then we got the idea of, hey, let’s put some guys in Times Square selling comedy club tickets at a discount.  New York Comedy Club was the first to do it, but with the advent of Broadway Comedy Club the street teams found that it was easier to sell in Times Square for a Times Square location.

BCT:   Oh, absolutely.

AM:    Yeah, if somebody at the Hilton wants to walk just four blocks over here, why go all the way to 24th and 2nd?  So it became a lot harder to pitch New York.  It’s only now, ten years later, that New York is starting to get another street team built up.  So that was a challenge for New York.

BCT:   But you were running both, you were in competition with yourself.

AM:    Yeah, I was in competition with myself.

BCT:   And trying to not ruin your old club with your new club.

AM:    Right, but what happened was we started doing different things at New York Comedy Club.  We started doing a lot of new talent stuff over there, made it a very new talent friendly club.  We made it hey, you’re a new performer trying to get stage time on a Saturday night at ten o’clock, New York became the place.  But now that’s sort of blended now, we’re adding, for the first time in years, we’re adding professionals onto the shows there because we have a street team starting to sell tickets for those shows over there.

BCT:   Also you have, dare I say, this web site.

AM:    Yes, true.  Also, Broadway now is celebrating its tenth year next year.  Feels like just yesterday the place opened but it’s almost ten years.  And this year we opened up the third one, Greenwich Village Comedy Club, that’s down on Macdougal street, 99 MacDougal.

BCT:   I talked a little while ago to Dustin Chafin, who runs a lot of the doings over at Greenwich, and I’ll ask you the same question I asked him, I’m interested to see if your answer is the same.  What made you figure “hey, you know what the Village needs?  Another comedy club.”

AM:    Well, I’ll tell you, I didn’t set out looking for a comedy club in the Village.  I have this real estate broker, whom I’ve had for years, he calls me up all the time with properties.  He called me and said “hey, I have this place on MacDougal Street.”  I said “MacDougal Street, I used to go there all the time when I was a kid.”  I looked at the place, it used to be a music space, and I figured a comedy club could make it here.  It has the Al Martin signature, which is the lower level, like I have here at Broadway.  I looked at it and said well, there’s a lot of comedy here, but then I came back at night and realized there’s a lot of people there.  I was able to really negotiate a good lease with the landlord, and that was how Greenwich Comedy Club was born.  It wasn’t something I was looking for, but I’ll tell you it’s been doing very well right from the outset.  We haven’t really gone through a cold snap yet, of January February March, so I don’t know how that’ll shape out but we’re making contingencies to deal with that.  But the crowds have been robust, Fridays and Saturdays we’re selling out shows, and the weeknights have been good.  We also have opportunities there for a couple of open mics in the early evenings, get some newer talent in there, and it’s doing well.

BCT:   One thing I’ve noticed is that Greenwich and New York are both, not tiny, but they’re cozy little rooms, and then you have Broadway which has that big room downstairs.

AM:    I like the small atmosphere.  If you could put a gun to my head and say “what’s your favorite room of yours in the city,” I love New York Comedy Club.  I love Greenwich Village Comedy Club.  I love those rooms because of their intimacy.  When you get laughs at New York Comedy Club, I don’t know if it’s the tiles on the floor, sound bouncing off the low ceiling, there’s just nothing like it.  That room, when you’re crushing in there, it’s old time comedy, the went it was meant to be.  We’ve sort of got away from that, with these big mega rooms that get built around the city, but there’s a place for some of these intimate, smaller spaces.  And in this facility, Broadway, I like the Red Room upstairs.

BCT:   You mean The World, or the other one?

AM:    The other one.  Some people call it the CCL Room, some call it the Red Room, depends what era you’re from.  Early days it was CCL, now it’s Red Room.  I don’t know what to call it, I just call it one of my favorite rooms.  The main room down here, as a performer, it’s not my cup of tea, but a lot of guys like it.  A lot of guys tell me how much they like it.  Because Broadway, down here, gets crowds from all over.  You know?  It’s America.  If you’re getting ready to go on a tour across the country, this is the place to do your stuff, to know if it’s gonna work.

BCT:   Because you have a big crowd of tourists, so you’re gonna be performing for New York and the Midwest and the South and the North, all at the same time.

AM:    Right.

BCT:   Now, in all your different rooms there are a number of different shows and you don’t micromanage all of them.  Is there any particular criteria for who gets to run shows?

AM:    Well, in the main room it’s always run by myself and Rich Brooks, in terms of the booking.  So, we’re very tight on who goes on our main stage here at Broadway.  That being said, the café room, The World, that’s Aaron Haber, and then the Red Room is where we do a lot of our produced shows.  If you have got an idea of how to bring in an audience and you wanna do your own thing, it’s a great lab to produce and your own show.  It’s a good opportunity for a lot of younger comics to get on stage and start to develop shows, and get that stage time, that oxygen that they need to develop as performers.  So that answer, in a nutshell, is if you have an idea to promote and can get a room filled, by all means run with it.

BCT:   Having been a performer and then moving into the management end of the business you have a good perspective on watching trends in comedy.  Is there a big difference between comedy now and comedy when you were on stage?

AM:    You know, I’ve seen four or five resurgences of alternative comedy over the years.  It seems every few years people try to push alternative comedy on the population and then it seems to eventually fizzle out.  A lot of club owners, when they book people they go “I want the next big tv star.”  I take a little bit of a different attitude, my attitude is, if I’m sitting where I am right now, in the bar area, and I can hear, through two heavy, thick concrete walls, the audience laughing, then I know I’ve got a winner on stage.  And that’s really the criteria I want.  You know, someone, they work a forty or a sixty hour week and then they come in here on a Friday or Saturday night they don’t want to hear your deep, dark stuff.  They just want to laugh.  If you can tell them that deep dark stuff and still be funny that’s fine, but my criteria is make my audience laugh.  Simple as that.  If you have that ability I’ll book you.

BCT:   Can you give me any good heckler stories, both from when you were on stage and also as an owner?

AM:    One time, this was back at the old New York Comedy Club, I actually threw a drink at a customer that was mercilessly heckling me.  He got up as if he was gonna come at me, and I picked up my soda and threw it at him.  And he was saying “this is bullshit, your paying for my sweater,” and I said “yeah, I’ll pay for your sweater, send me the cleaning bill, now get the hell out of my club!”  It was well worth the privilege of dropping that soda on him.

BCT:   Did he send you the cleaning bill?

AM:    No, he didn’t.  Just left, never heard from him again.  There was an incident at New York Comedy Club when the ceiling was leaking, the rain was coming in, and a customer actually had her umbrella open in the showroom.  There was another time when a customer was waiting for a drink.  And this was when cell phones were just starting to be a thing, and she actually called the club.  I was up front and I answered the phone, “New York Comedy Club, can I help you?”   And she said “yes, we’re sitting at a table right at the stage, haven’t seen a waitress for a while, can you send her over?”

BCT:   That’s the beauty of cell phones.

AM:    Yeah, nowadays she’d just text it.  We get all sort of customers.  We’ve had customers walk in an hour late for a show and say “I have a reservation,” we say sorry, we gave your seat away.  “How can you give our seats away, we had a reservation.”  “yeah, you’re an hour late, you weren’t here.”  People can get very demanding.

BCT:   And that’s why when you get a reservation now they tell you to be there ten minutes before showtime or they give your seat away.

AM:    Yeah.  I had a customer once … the tickets say “reservation required.”  The tickets say “two beverage minimum”  This guy comes in, gets his seat and then complains about the two drink minimum.  First of all, you’d be hard pressed to find a comedy club in the country that doesn’t have a two drink minimum.  Second of all, it says it on the ticket.  You’ll notice it’s all around you, the two drink minimum.  It’s on the ticket, there’s a sign up at the box office, when you’re greeted at the box office they tell you, when you make your reservation they tell you that, your waitress tells you that.  That’s because people will complain that they didn’t know about it.  And then when you look on Yelp you see a review that says “what’s up with New York Comedy Club, all they did was tell us about the two drink minimum.”  So you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t.

BCT:   Do you feel like eventually you’d want to open up a fourth club?

AM:    Well, three years ago I almost bought one of the other clubs in the city.  I was trying to close the deal in June, and they owner of that club threw in a kink at the last second that would have made me miss the entire summer.  Now I felt at that time that with our street team I could have made the purchase price back just with the summer, but if I lost the summer then now I’m opening up a comedy club in September or October, which is about the worst time you can open a club.  The middle of people going back to school, Jewish holidays, and the Yankees in the playoffs.

BCT:   People who want to go out will stay in if it’s rains

AM:    Right, right.

BCT:   So coming in to fall and winter …

AM:    Yeah, and that leads me to another question, I don’t know if you were going to ask it or not.  People ask me, “in this age of the internet, when people are staying home more and more, watching things streaming live, how do you feel about the future of your business?”  I think people still go out, I don’t have an issue, we still have people here at the club.  I think the problem is when too many comedy clubs open in the city.  Of course people will say “well why does he have the right to open a comedy club, if we can’t?”  But you know this was a city, originally, you had Catch a Rising Star, The Improv, then came the Comic Strip and Dangerfield’s.  So for many years you had four clubs in the city, and they thrived and flourished.  Then came Caroline’s, then came Comix, then came Boston Comedy Club, and the field virtually doubled within a few years, and the business started feeling the effects of it when Catch a Rising Star and the Improv closed in the early nineties.  I think this city can support six or seven comedy clubs, and now with ten …  Comix has gone out of business, Laugh Factory’s gone out of business, Ha’s closed, it got back down to a more manageable level of six or seven clubs.  And then I had to go and open Greenwich, and The Stand just opened …

BCT:   Which are very nice clubs.

AM:    Yeah, nice clubs.

BCT:   But so was Comix.  Comix was a gorgeous stage.

AM:    Yeah, Comix was nice, the Laugh Lounge was nice too.  We lost four clubs in this city in the last few years and then replaced them with two others.  But the thing I like about my clubs is I have some of the best locations you can have, for foot traffic, and that is Times Square and Macdougal Street in the Village.  You can’t beat that.

BCT:   And even New York Comedy Club, which is kind of out of the way, it still fills up.

AM:    Right, it fills up, it has its own niche.  And the overhead is low there.  It’s interesting that when you run that kind of operation you don’t have to deal with a lot of comic budgets, because they’re mostly produced shows, so the economics is different over there.  My goal would be to eventually have more professionals in there and pay the money, but once we lost the street teams we had to adapt.  That place is like a cockroach, it always survives.

BCT:   There’s been a big burst of improv and sketch in the city, with Upright Citizens Brigade, the PIT, the Magnet.  Do you plan on bringing any of that in, or are you sticking with just stand-up?

AM:    Well, here At Broadway Comedy Club we have Eight is Never Enough, an improve troupe, they do Saturday afternoon matinees, in the summer they do every day of the week.  We have Comedysports at 6:00 on Saturdays, and Fridays at 8:00 and Saturdays at 8:00 and 10:00 we have Chicago City Limits.  So we have a pretty good amount of that.  And at Greenwich they have Chicago City Limits Second Generation.

BCT:   On that little stage?

AM:    Yeah, somehow they figure it out.  It’s improv!

BCT:   Well, I’ve done improv too and you want space to work.  Greenwich Village Comedy Club has a very small stage.

AM:    Yeah, they figure it out down there.  Listen, my objective is always to get varied types of programming and not just to rely on any one thing.  Slowly we’ve built a reputation for a decent amount of improv here.  We’ve done plays here, off off broadway.  We’ve done Cabaret singing shows, I’m still stuck with a baby grand piano from those days.  One of the things we’re getting involved in now is we’re starting to do some pay-per-view here at the club.  We’re hooked up here and at New York Comedy Club to do live streaming on the web, and we’re starting to put together some pay-per-view shows of comedians who want to get their stuff out there.  Even newer comedians who have a following outside of New York.  What we’re gonna do is have a show and you can download it and watch it for 99 cents.  So that’s something we’re working on, and hopefully we’ll get a big name who wants to do that.  Live from Times Square.  We are the last block on Times Square.  If you look at a map, Times Square ends at 53rd and 9th, so we’re on the northwest quadrant.  Right there on the edge.

Ted Alexandro Interview

Ted Alexandro Interview

Written By Leo Goodman

Ted Alexandro has been a working comic for twenty years, developing his style and building his reputation.  Although he likes to travel, the former music teacher is definitely a New Yorker, living in Queens, performing at clubs every night and also getting himself arrested at Occupy Wall Street.  He’s been on all the late-night shows, has Comedy Central specials, and is getting ready to record a new hour-long special this winter.

We sat outside at a little coffee shop in Astoria near where he lives.  It’s a quiet place that has regular music and comedy performances, a good place to sit and write, and as soon as the barista sees Ted she asks if he wants the usual.

Sitting outside over a cup of tea (not the usual), Ted talks about teaching, long-term collaborations, and letting the fans find you.

BCT:   I know that when you started doing comedy you were a teacher during the day, teaching music.

TA:     Yeah.

BCT:   Were you a teacher first, and then after too many days of wanting to say bad things to the kids you decided to try stand-up, or was stand-up the thing and teaching was just a means to an end?

TA:     I was always performing.  Through high school I was doing the plays, in college I was in plays, and I was a music major originally; jazz piano major.  Then I switched to elementary education cause I was kind of in over my head with the jazz program.  But I was still doing theatre the whole time, and then I got into sketch comedy with this guy, Hollis James, who turned out to be my best friend in college, and we started doing a two-man stand-up act.  Right when we got out of college.  My very first teaching job was as a gym teacher, when I was still in college.  I took a semester off to study jazz piano with this teacher, and a friend of mine who was working at a school said “my school needs a gym teacher, do you want to do it?”  And I was 20 years old, I didn’t have a degree, I wasn’t an education major at this point, but they just said “can you blow a whistle?”

BCT:   (Laughs)

TA:     (Laughing)  So then I was teaching gym, to K through 8.

BCT:   We’re certain there are very qualified gym teachers out there, Ted was just not one.

TA:     Yeah, my apologies to anyone out there with their masters in physical education.  Yeah, so that’s how my teacher career began.  I came from a family of teachers, my parents both taught, and my grandfather, so it was in the family, but it wasn’t really on my radar.  I was thinking “how can I get into entertainment?”  First I thought music might be it.   I thought about acting, but I thought, is an acting degree really necessary?  So I thought let me get my teaching degree and see what happens, so I have a job.  So I wound up teaching music for five years.  I was doing a two-man stand-up act with my friend Hollis, but very sporadically.  In the third year I really locked in as a solo.

BCT:   So really a good, steady day job that keeps your nights free.

TA:     It was perfect, yeah, it was really the perfect complement to a stand-up career, because not only was I teaching but I was a music teacher.  So it wasn’t like I had a lot of take-home stuff.  There were no papers to grade.  I was done at three.

BCT:   Was it ever hard not to treat the kids as hecklers when they were … I remember being in school and sometimes being terrible to the teachers, and I think if I were a teacher now I’d be fired after two days because I’d wanna fire back at the kid.

TA:     Yeah, it’s funny cause it’s a similar dynamic, the person in front of the room and this group of ne’er do wells that you’re trying to coral.  So I think definitely teaching helped me develop that muscle of being in front of a crowd.  You do have, I guess you could call then hecklers, the kids who are being disruptive or whatever, and in that sense teaching helped develop that muscle, too.  Communicating, in whatever you’re style is, “I’m in charge.”  Some teachers do that by slamming a ruler on a desk, others turn the lights on and off, you find your thing.  Same in comedy, you gotta find your comedy voice, I had to find my teaching voice, there’s an overlap.

BCT:   It helps with developing the presence of “because I’m standing here you will listen to me.”

TA:     Yeah, sure, you have to kind of communicate in ways verbal and nonverbal that now is the time to listen to me.

BCT:   How much time do you spend performing in New York, as opposed to on the road?

TA:     I would say I’m in New York 70 percent of the time, as opposed to on the road.  Certain years it’ll be 60/40, or even maybe 80/20 occasionally.  But I like being home, and I’m fortunate to live in New York where there’s a lot of opportunity, not only in New York, but in the Tri-State area, to get work.  I’m from here, my family’s here, I like being home.

BCT:   I know that you have some very strong political views, you spent a lot of time down at Occupy Wall Street.  When you’re on the road these days is that something you bring up, or do you let it alone?  This being an election year.

TA:     I have a bunch of political stuff, a bunch of social commentary, race stuff, gender, homosexuality, gay marriage, you know,  these types of things.  Socio-political stuff.  But I try to have a balance in my act so it’s not too preachy.  Personally I don’t like to sit through an hour of that, so I don’t feel comfortable … you know, I’ll do a chunk of maybe 15 or 20 minutes out of an hour touching on those things.  Some are Occupy Wall Street stories, getting arrested, stuff like that.  Sometimes I’ll throw those in even when … where was I?  I was in Seattle recently, which is a very progressive town, not like I was in Mississippi.  But every town has progressives.  That’s one thing I’ve learned by traveling.  The stereotypes we have about certain cities, certain towns, while they may have some truth … when I was opening for Louie CK, he played every city, and his fans were there.  I learned that if you do your thing and you find your voice you’ll find your fans wherever you are.  If you’re in Biloxi, Mississippi you’re gonna play to your fans if you get to a certain level.  Which I’m not at, I’m still playing the clubs, and there are people who come to the club to see me, but it’d be nice to get to that level.  That’s what I’m building toward, is just having that point of view, putting out content consistently so people know what I’m doing.

BCT:   And just getting to the point that wherever you go you’ve got a base there.

TA:     Yeah.

BCT:   Which is also something that is unique to this day and age, that that is available.  I know you make a lot of videos and put them out online, and you never know who’s going to see that.  You mentioned Hollis James and also racial stuff, which makes think of Nobody’s Dummy, which I watched this morning.  Talk a bit about the videos that you two make.

TA:     Yeah, I love collaborating with Hollis, we make a lot of stuff.  We started as a duo, so we still have this great connection.  When we sit down to write together we have a real synergy, which is nice.  As a stand-up it’s nice to work with somebody that you trust.  So we did this video, Nobody’s Dummy, which is a mockumentary about the first interracial ventriloquist team.  During the Civil Rights movement, and nobody would hire them cause they were interracial.

BCT:   A white ventriloquist with a black dummy, to be clear.

TA:     Yes, it was Horris and Huey, I play Horris, and Huey is the dummy.  And there’s some pointed commentary in there within a satirical genre.  When we sit down to right together, a lot of times we’ll take something very serious and take it to an absurd level.  We did that with Nobody’s Dummy and we did it with Kiss My American Ass, after Bil Laden was killed.  We wrote this song as a country duo.  So yeah, we like to take things that are serious issues, be it race relations, or our hyper-militarized sensibility as Americans, and try to have fun with it.

BCT:   And you and Hollis have a new web series coming out, Teachers Lounge.

TA:     I play the music teacher, Hollis plays the janitor, and we’re always just hanging out in the teachers lounge.  And various faculty comes in, so fortunately we were very lucky with our casting.  We got Lewis Black to play the principle, Judy Gold is the gym teacher, Judah Friedlander is a science teacher.  Ted Leo, the musician from Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, plays himself.  Janeane Garafolo makes the PA announcements that begin every episode.  So we got a great group together for the first four episodes, and we hope to continue shooting them.  We’re shopping them around now, hoping to find a good place to land.

BCT:   So those are shot, and you’re trying to find good online distribution.

TA:     Yeah, the dilemma was do we shoot these and fund them ourselves, or do we take the idea to this channel or that channel and have them fund it and have them be involved in the creation of it?  So we poked around a little at that but didn’t really like what we were seeing, people trying to be a little too hands-on for what we were used to.  So we said let’s fund this ourselves, we’ll own it, we’ll shoot it and make it whatever it’s gonna be, at least initially.  And then we’ll shop it around and see if we can sell it, and it’ll be ours, good, bad, or indifferent.

BCT:   So funding it yourselves but still not just putting it on youtube.

TA:     Right, hopefully that will be the case.  Hopefully it’ll land and somebody will license it.  The big picture is hopefully it’ll be a tv show and land that way these workplace comedies do, The Office, Parks and Recreation.

BCT:  So you could have gotten better funding by giving up some of the creative control, but by choosing to run it all yourselves you’re really able to get your own vision in there.  And then, as you said, there’s an audience for it somewhere and they’ll find it.

TA:     Yeah, and it’s more satisfying.  As a stand-up I’m used to having more control.  Close to twenty years as a stand-up, it’s hard to just turn that over to somebody that you’ve never met and don’t trust.  Whereas with Hollis we’ve known each other a long time and trust each other implicitly, so when we’re shooting there’s this short-hand between us, and with the director – the same guy who directed Kiss Our American Ass directed Teachers Lounge – there’s a familiarity that just helped.

BCT:   You’re getting ready to do a new hour soon, I know you’re doing it at the Laughing Devil – are you recording it there?

TA:     I’m working it out, I’m probably gonna record at a bigger venue, find a 500 seat.  So I’ll be working out the hour which I plan to shoot in December.

BCT:   Is there a large difference between what you’re doing now and specials you’ve done before?  Do you feel you’ve come a long way for this new hour?

TA:     Yeah, I think my voice has really crystallized in recent years.  Probably as a result of doing all these different venues.  To me that’s part of the gift of coming up in New York.  I don’t know where else you can do that, you can play the Cellar and also Whiplash at Upright Citizens Brigade, or just a little bar on the lower east side

BCT:   Or a little coffee shop here on Ditmars Boulevard.

TA:     Yeah, the Waltz Astoria.  There’s so many opportunities to perform that are different enough, it shapes your voice.  I look at it as you’re always in front of … at it simplest level you’re always in front of a group of people and your job is to make that group of people laugh.  The same way as a teacher you’ve got a group of students, teach them.  You’re job is to figure out how to connect to that room, that group of people, and every one is going to be a little different.  One of the things you learn as you grow as a comic is not to psych yourself out because of the room.  Not to say “oh, this is the Cellar,” or “this is an Alt room, I have to be Alt.”  You learn to do what you do, maybe you change it slightly, you make little adjustments, but you don’t change who you are.

BCT:   Have you considered moving out to LA?

TA:     I’ve lived in LA a couple different times.  Went out there for pilot seasons to audition for things.  It was a good experience, getting out of my comfort zones, but ultimately I realize that New York is home.  It’s where I want to be.  I mean if some amazing opportunity comes up that demands that I move I’ll definitely consider that.

BCT:   Gonna take a second to ask a non-comedic question.  I know you were on an episode of Oz.

TA:     Yeah.

BCT:   And I watched most of that show, would you tell me the episode?  I wanna see if I remember it.

TA:     I was in a rape therapy group with Sister Pete, Rita Morano.  So we were in a circle and we were all talking about how we’d been raped in prison, and the recurring line that we all said was “I had no choice.”

BCT:   I had no choice.  I do remember that episode.

TA:     That was wild, man, cause I did a set at Caroline’s, and, unbeknownst to me, Tom Fontana, the creator of Oz, was there.  I got a call from his office the next day asking me to come in.  Cause I used to do a bit about prison rape, and I did it that night.  He was known for unconventional casting, he would cast a poet or a musician, and he saw me do stand-up and just cast me.

BCT:   He saw you do a bit about prison rape.  Was the line “I had not choice” in your act?  Did that come from you?

TA:     (Laughing)  No.

BCT:   Have you found ways since then of working it in, just to see if someone in the audience will go “hang on a second.”

TA:     Right, right.  It’s funny, cause usually people will say “I read that you were in Oz,” but very few know where.  It was just one episode, I had three lines.

BCT:   Still a lot of fun.

TA:     Oh, yeah, and it was just out of the blue.

BCT:   So good things can come from rape jokes.  Or at least they could then.

TA:     I think I told my rape joke at just the right time to advance my career.

BCT:   Which was a decade ago.

TA:     Yes.

BCT:   So finally, can you give me one good heckler story.

TA:     Probably the most visceral heckler story I have, I was trying out new material I was just trying out this new bit about how at baseball games they have you sing God Bless America during the seventh inning stretch, how that became the norm, post-9/11.  Before then it was just Take Me Out to the Ball Game for the seventh inning stretch.  Then they started singing God Bless America, and here we are eleven years later and they still do it.  So I was just kind of talking that through, the absurdity of how, because these terrorists decided to fly these planes into buildings it added a song to the seventh inning stretch.  I was also talking about how it’s that song, God Bless America, but not every American believes in God, and not everybody at a baseball game is American.  In fact a lot of the players are not.  But again, just ideas, talking through ideas.  By no means was it a finished bit.  It was a late night set and I was just trying it out.  But this one table stands up, and they’re like “no.”  This one guy just yells “No!”  And I look at him and I’m like “you don’t get to decide that,” but he just says “no, no, enough!”  And then the other side of the crowd started yelling at him, and the other people at his table started yelling, and then it was just mayhem.  I’m on stage trying to negotiate between the two sides.  I eventually told them “look, you don’t have to agree with everything you’re hearing.  I would imagine sometimes you go to movies where you don’t agree with everything in the movie.  Or you go to a ballet where they depict something that you don’t like, you don’t stop the ballet, do you?  But then again you don’t probably ever go to the ballet.”  I’m always amazed at the specificity of comedy being the only thing where people feel they can interrupt a show.  I find that fascinating.  But it’s part of the bag, you just have to accept that.  So anyway it’s mayhem.  By the end, though, most of the crowd was on my side, or at least on the side of whether you agree or disagree let’s listen to this.  But these people were yelling at me, saying shut the fuck up, and I shut them down sufficiently that I finished the set, but as I was leaving the stage a woman at that table grabs my shirt and is yelling “you’re a piece of shit, you’re a piece of shit.”  And I said (very firmly) “I would appreciate it if you’d take your hand off my shirt,” and she did.  But then security ushered me out of the club, cause a couple other guys were coming.

BCT:   Wow.

TA:     Yeah, this is not one of those heckler stories that’s gonna be on youtube.  It wasn’t hilarious, it was just upsetting.  I walked out of there, my heart was racing.  I just wanted to try out a bit.

And then, as soon as we’re done talking, Ted takes out his computer and starts writing something new.

Christian Finnegan Interview

Christian Finnegan Interview

Written by: Hannah Chusid


I’m sitting at my desk at around noon on a Friday morning, Skyping with comedian Christian Finnegan. He has been featured on Comedy Central and on the show Are We There Yet?.

Hannah Chusid: Here I am sitting with Christian Finnegan on Skype. How are you?
Christian Finnegan: Just swell, thanks…just smashing. Just one moment of bliss after another.
HC: It’s great because we actually do have a mutual friend [my college professor], Stephen Gardner.
CF: Oh yeah, that’s right. I know him as “Cheeky” of course. He’s sort of like Dudley Moore and Arthur—only more drunk. That’s not true—he’s your teacher. He’s a very upstanding, very professional, educator of the young minds.
HC: Yes he is. He’s one of my favorite teachers. He taught me how to paint superiorly!…So we have some questions…Where did you grow up?
CF: I grew up in Massachussets about 45 minutes outside of Boston in a town called Akton, MA. It was just typical, New England crap suburb.
HC: Were you near the T?
CF: No, I was too far out. I would have to take the commuter rail and then go into the T. Like the end of the T was about half an hour away from my house.
HC: Did you do a lot of comedy in Boston?
CF: I never did. I have no connection to the Boston comedy scene at all. I have only even performed there a couple of times. I went college in New York. I didn’t start doing stand-up until after I graduated college, so even though 1 out of every 4 comedians seem to be from the Boston area, I have zero connections. I always feel bad whenever I run into another Boston comic ‘cause they’re always like “Oh—The Comedy Studio!” and they talk about “The Connection”, and I know nothing about it. I performed a couple of times there, but I’m a New York comic from the get-go.
HC: What’s your favorite club in New York?
CF: That’s a hard question. I mean, The [Comic] Strip I will always have a lot of affection for. First off it’s been around forever, and you know that there’s going to be a crowd every night and they run things relatively on time which is always a nice thing. If your set is at 8:15 then maybe it’ll be at 8:20, but it’s not going to be like 40 minutes later. I like the managers there…I don’t know, of the New York clubs that’s probably the one—but you know it’s hard to say because they’re all fun and weird in their own way. I mean I loved Comix before it closed. Comix, which closed a couple years ago, a few times I got to headline there. When that room was packed, it was one of the best rooms in the country. They would seat over 300 people in the room, but it felt really intimate which is a hard thing to capture—to get a lot of butts in seats but to not feel like a cavern. Comedy sort of demands intimacy, and sometimes when I’ll go on the road, I notice these clubs which are beautiful architecturally, but the ceilings are 80 feet high. It just feels like you’re in a banquet hall or something.
HC: Yeah. Like The Stand was really great. I remember going there and it was very intimate.
CF: Yeah obviously it just opened. I walked in there and I was all like “Oh, this could be great!”. Tiny little room, but it feels very intimate. It feels like a classic, New York club vibe, where you can really get into it with people. You don’t feel like you have to be like waving your arms to reach the back row. You could really just talk like a normal person and have a conversation with people. And I think a lot of times that’s where a lot of the great writing happens, because most comedians, they’ll spend time writing at home. But a lot of the actual writing gets done on stage when you try things and you see what works and see what doesn’t. Sometimes you start just kinda riffing a crowd member that turns a 3 minute bit into a 5 minute bit. A lot of times that’s not possible at a club that’s really huge. That’s only really possible when there’s 50-75 people in the room.
HC: Because you feel more of their energy.
CF: Yeah. You feel more their energy, and I feel like it’s more of a conversation, even though you’re the only one talking—hopefully. It feels more like a conversation as opposed to a presentation, which in a club it almost feels like “Alright, I’m going to do a show for you now”, whereas in a little club it feels like “Hey guys, let’s talk about this”, which is more fun, I think. Obviously, when you’re doing big clubs, things are going right for you. In terms of what’s just more fun, doing small rooms is definitely more fun.
HC: Have you tried improv?
CF: When I first started doing stand-up, I took Level 1 at UCB. This is back when the original members of the UCB were teachers. It was just the 4: Amy Poehler, Ian Roberts, Matt Vesser, and Matt Walsh. Now, I was in a sketch group at the time, and then when it came around time for Level 2, I didn’t have enough money to do it. I was doing sketch, and I wish I stuck with it longer. I think at the end of the day, stand-up was where I was destined to end up, but I think that if I did improv a little bit longer, I would’ve acquired crowd work skills a little easier. I think it’s really good for getting out of your head being able to exist for the moment and having fun on stage as opposed to sticking to a script. So, I wish I have done it longer, but I do have a teensy bit of experience.
HC: So, you studied acting, right?
CF: I started as an actor when I went to college and then halfway through I switched over to creating and directing. By the time I graduated, that was pretty much that. I was interning at The Village Voice, and kind of like journalism and not feature-writing-type stuff. And after college I worked for publishing for a few years, and then I really missed performing, but I hated the idea of just being a pure actor and waiting around for people to give you work. So, stand-up was a combination of the two where it’s like you’re performing, but your own stuff. It’s just you, just do you it. There’s no insulting, there’s no debate, there’s not collaboration (unless you want it). If you succeed, it’s on you. If you fail, it’s on you. There’s something very appealing about that. It’s very light on its feet.
HC: Right. Where did you go to school?
CF: New York University.
HC: Ahh, NYU. Tisch School of the Arts, right?
CF: Yes, the degree dare not speak its name. Nobody ever likes to admit they went to NYU.
HC: I mean it is a great school though.
CF: It’s a great school. I will say, in all honesty, was not as great when I went there. People seem to be impressed when I say it now. It didn’t feel like that. Not that it ever was a bad school, but the standards of admission I think are higher now than when I got in there. It didn’t seem as prestigious at the time as people seem to think of it now. One of the main reasons I went to NYU ‘cause it was in New York, it was downtown, and I really just wanted to be in New York. That’s why when people go to NYU, they just tend to say “Oh I just take classes”. Nobody admits they enroll as a full-time student because that would undercut their “cool” persona they create around themselves.
HC: Who were your comedy idols?
CF: Patrick Milligan…Who are my comedy idols? That’s a good question…It feels so exhaustingly lame to say Louis CK at this point just because it’s one of those things I’m now angry when I hear people talk about how great he is. Not because he isn’t, but just because it entered that echo chamber of “I don’t know anyone in stand-up but people say Louis CK is great so I’ll say he’s great too”. He is one of my heroes and Chapelle as well.
HC: Weren’t you on Chapelle’s Show?
CF: I was. I was in the “Mad Real World’ sketch—many, many eons ago. I spent over 15 years doing stuff and that’s still the thing that people talk about the most, which is great and totally flattering to me to be remembered for anything. But he’s a favorite of mine from way before Chapelle’s Show. I think my freshman year of college, we had like a dorm field trip to The Boston Comedy Club, which doesn’t exist anymore. And at the time, I hated stand-up. I hated it with a passion. I think some level it’s because I secretly wanted to do it but I really just loathed the idea of stand-up comedy. I sat in the audience and person after person was terrible, like “this guy sucks…”. And then one kid, who looked like he was about 12 years old, who cracked me up, and years later, I realized that was Dave Chapelle. He’s maybe a year—2 years old than I am, but looked like 12 years old at the time. It was kind of neat to realize that. Like that guy who I thought was hilarious—just an open mic-er, doing nothing. Now is thought of as being great. It’s nice when you kind of feel like the cream does rise because so often it doesn’t really feel like the case.
HC: Yeah, it’s really hard to break into stand-up if anything.
CF: Yeah, everything is hard in its own way. I think it’s even harder now for a personality type like a Dave Chapelle—those quiet guys—’cause you know, from my limited experiences talking to him, he’s not the kind of guy who’s constantly life-of-the-party/everybody-has-to-pay-attention-to-me all the time. He kinda just wants to be a normal dude when he’s off stage. He’s very shy and I feel like that personality type has an even harder time in stand-up now when everything is now “How many Twitter followers do you have?” or “Let me promote myself up the ass all day” and “Have I told you about me lately? ME ME ME!” A Chapelle or a Mitch Hedberg type would cut through the white noise now. It kind of bums me out sometimes when I go to an alternative comedy show, which is where I started, and I still kind of think of it as sort of my main home. I’ll see like a really kind of quiet, self-into comic, and I’m like “Man, you’re gonna get eaten alive”, unless you’re willing to brag about yourself constantly. It gets really hard to get anyone to pay attention.
HC: How do you think clubs in NYC differentiate than any other cities?
CF: There’s the concentration of comics, first of all. There’s so many comedians that I think its the quality that tends to be better. The proficiency level tends to better, simply because it has to be. And when I say “proficiency level”, I don’t necessarily mean that they’re funnier or less funny, but in terms of looking and sounding like a professional comedian. Like being able to perform in front of an audience of tourists and strangers, there are more comics like that in New York than another city. And there’s something to be said for a city like Boston or San Francisco that has kind of a smaller scene, where there’s not as much industry hype or whatever. They kind of create this sort of weirder comedy scene. New York has a larger degree of pros. I’m not necessarily saying that they’re funnier, but they’re able to sort of fulfill the responsibilities of being a professional comedian better than other cities. LA, obviously has that. But in LA, you have a different problem—SO many celebrities that it’s really hard to be a young nobody in LA because you’re competing with all the comedians who are so good in New York that now they have TV shows and live out in LA and dominate the clubs out there. Also I think the fact that there’s so many different kinds of people in New York. There’s so many different industries that are centered here, whereas LA, it’s entertainment and that’s pretty much it. If you’re not in the entertainment industry, you probably want to be. In New York, obviously, you have entertainment, you have publishing, you have fashion, you have finance, you have the UN—so many things are centered here, that you get a much richer mix of people, and I think that helps you learn how to perform for anybody. A lot of times when I go out on the road, and maybe I’m working with a comedian who is from LA, if they’re not particularly seasoned, it’s a lot of stuff about living in LA, or it’s a lot of stuff that is very kind of funny for people who are 25 years old in the acting business. But, if you gear a guy in Pittsburgh, who works in a shoe store, who doesn’t give a shit. I don’t care about your witty take-down of Breaking Bad. They might be really funny, but they don’t know how to perform for civilians.
HC: So that’s why the audiences differentiate in different cities—like the environment.
CF: There are a ton of really incredibly proficient comedians who live in places—St. Louis, Cincinatti—all over the country, but a lot of times, those guys, all they perform for are civilians. They don’t perform for other comedians as much. All they become is professional, and it becomes too tradesman as opposed to artists. When doing comedy, have a trade, and have an art. It’s half being a bricklayer, and it’s half being a painter. I think the best comedians are the ones who are able to do both, where they’re doing something really innovative to make them think, but they’re also doing work like “I will make you laugh.” It’s not enough just to have something interesting to say, but it’s also punchlines, you need to know pacing, and things like that.
HC: Do you have any good heckler stories?
CF: Well, yeah. There was a club once where a guy tried to storm the stage to get me, and had to be dragged out by 5 waiters and managers. He was screaming “I’ve seen people die!” the whole time. He just returned from Iraq, and obviously had some issues to work out, and he kept yelling “I’m fighting for your freedom of speech!” and I wasn’t even talking about politics. This was early in my comedy career, and I think I was talking about the game Monopoly. And I bet he was thinking “You smell like one of those panty-ass Liberals”, which is true. And he just kept yelling “I’m fighting for your freedom of speech!” When somebody’s yelling stuff out, it hasn’t always been official to engage them, because a lot of the times, it’s just what they want, and then it just becomes a can of worms and you can’t get out of it. The entire audience doesn’t care, they just want to hear what you’re doing. But, you kind of have to show that. They say a snake can smell fear. If the audience feels that you’re not confident, and in control of the situation, it doesn’t matter how good your jokes are. You really have to look like you’re captain of the ship or else on a cellular level, people will start to lose faith in you. And so even though obviously this guy is a veteran, he’s dealing with some stuff that I can’t even imagine, I don’t really want to humiliate the dude, but it’s gotta stop. You start making fun of the guy, and it gets laughs and stuff, of course that rages him further, and then he grabbed onto the railing so they were trying to pull him out, like he is holding on with both hands. The whole thing probably took about 4 minutes to get him out of the room, which in stage time, is an eternity. 15 minutes into a 45 minute set. So, then there’s that awkward moment of “Okay, who’s dating?” Know what I mean? Like how do you transition back into material? That was probably one of the better heckler stories. It happened in Alabama, which bums me out. I hate when clichés turn out to be true. Something that isn’t sort of renowned for being Southern douche-villem but it did actually happen in Birmingham.
HC: Oh my god…Well that is all the time we have. Thank you so much!
CF: My pleasure!

Ester Ku Interview

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Interview with Esther Ku for BestComedyTickets.com

Written by: Kevin McCarthy

Esther-Ku

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

KM: Thanks for talking with us. To start off could you tell us a little about what drove you to be a comedian and how you got your start doing stand-up?

EK: Sure. Well I was always a writer in my high school and I wrote for the school paper and all these kids at school would always come up to me like “I read your articles first cause they’re funny!” So when you’re a kid and somebody tells you you’re funny, you’re like “Oh, I’m gonna be a comedian.”  You don’t ever think of the practicality of “Well, I’m gonna be broke for ten years.” And once you hear like, people coming up to you telling you your funny a few times, you’re like “okay, yeah, maybe I can do this.” So, when I graduated college, which I should’ve never gone to college, I think that was a mistake, but I was trying to lose my virginity and I didn’t know any other legitimate way to go about doing that. So after I graduated from college, I moved to Boston and I started with the open mic scene over there. So that’s how I got my start really.

KM: So you said you wrote for your school paper, what did you write about? Because I imagine it’s a bit different than your stand-up material if it was for your school paper.

EK: Yeah, I just wrote like, I knew that kids had really short attention spans, because we were forced to read for an hour every Wednesday, so I was like, I know they’re not gonna read a whole article, so let me just write a little column like “You Know You’re a Freshman When…” “You Know It’s Winter Break When…” You know what I mean? Stuff like that. Just little jokes in the form of columns for the school paper.

KM: Yeah. So I was listening to an interview you did with NPR a few years ago, and you’re talking about how you were still working towards being able to make comedy your sole source of income, and you said you were working part-time at a dentist’s office.EK: Yeah! Did I say that?

KM: Yeah, that was a few years ago. I think it was 2008. Was that true, you were working at a dentist’s office?

EK: Yeah, I was actually working for a dentist who was also a comedian, Dr. Michael King. I met him at a comedy club when I first moved to New York and said “I just moved here from Boston.” And he said “Do you have a job?” I said “No.” He said “Well you can answer phones for me.” He’s a really nice guy, I worked for him for a couple of years.

KM: So you’ve made comedy your sole source of income then? You don’t do anything to supplement your pay besides comedy?

EK: Besides whoring myself out on my nights off, no. [laughs]

KM: So you said that was your main goal as a comedian at the time. So I’m wondering, what was that moment you realized you could quit your day job and make a living in comedy. Was it Last Comic Standing or anything like that?

EK: Yes, Last Comic Standing helped a lot, but I think just building up the time. Because when I did Last Comic Standing I literally had five minutes. It’s not like I could just go on the road with five minutes. It’s just been about getting on stage every single night and building up a bigger set for me to be able to go on the road on my own, rather than piggybacking off of somebody.

KM:  So you’ve been working in stand-up since 2004 from what I understand, is that about right?

EK: Yeah.

KM: So about a decade, so I was wondering, there’s been a lot of talk about how in the past decade the role of women in comedy has changed a lot. Like, that female comics have a much more prominent place than they used to.  So I’m wondering, as someone who’s been working for the past decade, from your experiences as a female comedian have those attitudes changed throughout your career?

EK: Well, I think any female comedian who decides to pursue this career path really knows that the majority of comedians are still male and will always be male, and so, if anything I look at it as an advantage. I think it helps us stand out, and we’re more memorable just because there are so many guys. So when women do make it and make a name for themselves, people will remember us, you know? So I even look at it as an advantage. I’m sure there’s tons of disadvantages, but I don’t like to focus on that, you know? I’m not one of those comedians who are like “Well, all the guys give rides to each other, and all the guys play poker and open for each other…” It’s like, who gives a shit? We stand out, so we win.

KM: Yeah, I was about to ask a follow-up to that question, since you’re also Korean, and Asian-American comics aren’t very well-represented in comedy, but it’s also given you a lot of the subjects of your stand-up. So I was wondering if having that identity helps you stand out as a Korean female comedian, but I guess you sort of answered that.

EK: Yeah, I guess it helps me stand out, but I feel that there are two worlds of comedy, that there’s the mainstream world, where the white comedians and the white audiences primarily go, and there’s the urban comedy world, which is where a lot of the black, Latino and etcetera go to perform. So I oscillate between both worlds, like I’ll do a mainstream, regular comedy club, but I also love playing urban clubs. But you know, the comedy circuit for Asians hasn’t really popped up ever. You know? So it’s like I constantly have to be borrowing my audiences from other sources, I feel like. Cause Asians are too fucking cheap to pay 20 dollars and then a two drink minimum, they’d rather just watch us on YouTube and judge us from there. But I think every race thinks that their race is the cheapest, right? [laughs]

KM: Yeah, I guess so. [laughs] So let’s go back, I mentioned you were on Last Comic Standing before, could you talk about your experiences with that, how it did or did not further your career?

EK: Well I think I was like, way in over my head at the time. I was going up against some heavy hitters who had been in the game for a long time and I was sort of a deer-in-headlights. But I still had fun with it, and I learned a lot from being on the show, and I’m able to parlay that into my experiences now with MTV.

KM: Yeah, with Girl Code, right?

EK: Yeah.

KM: Okay, so that was my next question. So you’re on Girl Code, which seems to me a more popular show than Last Comic Standing was, but you’re also not really doing your stand-up routine on the show, and it also premiered pretty recently, it premiered a few months ago, so I was wondering if you could talk about how that’s had an impact on your recent career.

EK: You know, I think the impact it’s had on my career is that it collects all the female fans out there into one place, which, I’ve always said that I wanted to play to the females in the audience. But when you go to comedy clubs, it’s mostly couples, so you have to speak to both guys and girls, but my point of view is relatable to females because I am female, and I can speak about my experiences openly about relationships , and things that young girls can relate to, so I’m really happy to have that as a medium because I’ve always wanted to speak to girls but it’s sort of hard because you have to collect them all in one place, but it’s doable through Girl Code.

KM: So Girl Code is based on a show on MTV2, Guy Code, which is the same thing but it’s catered to guys. Were you familiar with that show? Did it feel good to be able to speak for women?

EK: Yeah, I was familiar with Guy Code. Guy Code had billboards up in Times Square, so when they chose me for Girl Code I was really excited, like “Oh my god, this is gonna be awesome.” It was great, because when Guy Code first came out, no one knew how it was gonna do, but it did really well. It’s kind of been easier for Girl Code, because people are familiar with the format.

KM: Yeah, the format of Girl Code is that they give you a topic, things that pertain to women, and they ask you to talk about it. Was there ever a topic on the show you were like, “Yes, I have so much I have to say about that,” that you were excited to talk about?

EK: Yeah, for a lot of the topics I do stuff like that. Farting was one of them. I’ve always had a passion for fart jokes. [laughs] Growing up with three brothers, there’s never such thing as too many fart jokes. But also, you know, the things that are taboo to talk about, like masturbation or sex on the first date. Things that we as women were not supposed to talk about. But when I do talk about it, girls come up to me after comedy shows and are like “I do that too! I masturbate too!” or whatever, so it kind of gives us a cool way to unite with each other.

KM: Well while we’re on that subject of taboo subjects, I was wondering about your YouTube videos, like your song parodies. I was wondering how that came about; was music always part of your life, and what inspired you to take these oldies songs and make them about…you know, “Fistin’ the Night Away.”

EK: Oh, you did your research! [laughs] Well I actually grew up playing music at the church that I was forced to be a member at. So I just always played music and enjoyed expressing myself with music before I learned what comedy was. So when I got my driver’s license and I started driving, I would always listen to the oldies station on the radio, and I just loved the oldies, because they’re like, you know, if you listen to today’s music it’s hard to even understand the lyrics that the artists are trying to sing, whereas oldies tell a story, you know? They tell an entire love song in a two-minute song, and I just love the melodies.  So my friends and I would just jam in Central Park, and I would just come up with these wacky lyrics, so I don’t know, I guess it just came organically, it’s not like I was trying to make parody songs or something.

KM: Have you ever done any of the songs live? Like in your stand-up routines?

EK: Yeah, I’ve done the songs live. You know who helped me a lot, when I went on The Howard Stern Show, Dan the Parody Man. He’s the one who taught me how to write a parody song, he does all the parody songs about boobs and all that stuff.  So he’s been a big influence in my career.

KM: The reason I asked about performing them live is like, I was looking through the YouTube comments and I feel like the female commenters all find it very funny, but its some of the guys who are weirded out by it. So you talked about how you wish you could perform the women, so I was wondering how people react to those songs live in like a mixed crowd.

EK:  Well I wasn’t aware that that guys online are the ones who don’t like it, that’s funny, but you know, people seem to enjoy them. People seem to really get into them, and if people are really drunk I make it into a sing-along for everybody, so we can act like drunk kindergarteners in the club.

KM: So I was told you recently moved from New York to Miami, is that right?

EK: Yes.

KM: We were just wondering about that, because Miami is not very well-known for its stand-up scene, especially compared to New York, so I was wondering what inspired that move.

EK: Well, you know, I was in New York for seven years, and I thought I would never leave, but I loved it and I was like, this place is awesome, I’m so inspired, I meet so many people all in one day, but then it just sort of grew on me. Well, not grew on me, but I just sort of got sick of it [laughs] and was like, “I need a little breather.” So I decided to come down to Miami. But it’s actually been fine, because whenever I go back up to New York, I could just see everybody in a short amount of time rather than just sit there and be ignored half the time [laughs] like if I was there all the time, you know what I mean.

KM: Yeah. So we talked about your stand-up, your TV appearances, your YouTube videos, is there anything I’m missing? Are you working on any other projects right now that you want to talk about?

EK: I mean, I think that’s everything. Well, we got picked up for season 2 of Girl Code, so I’m really excited about that.

KM: That’s great. Girl Code just ended its season, right? So it’s on break right now?

EK: Right. We finished season 1 two months ago and we’re in production now for season 2.

KM: Oh okay. So that’s good. So, I have one last question; I wanted to go back to a question I asked earlier but I figured it would be a better question to end on. So in that interview I mentioned that you did with NPR, you talked about working for the dentist’s office, and then later in the interview the subject becomes about how different comedians have different measures of success for their career, like some people won’t consider themselves a success unless they have their own HBO special or TV show or something, and you say that your measure of success for your career at the time would just be to be able to just do comedy and quit your day job.  So I’m wondering, having achieved that, what is your ideal goal as a comedian right now? Like what’s your next benchmark of success?

EK: Let’s see, so you’re saying I should’ve had a better goal back then, right? [laughs] Well, I think…I do have bigger goals, but sometimes it’s hard to express them to other people because you’re afraid of, what if it doesn’t happen, you know? So I want to share my goals, but I’m also shy about sharing them. I don’t know, I want to travel the whole world, you know? Like I want to be influential to women in all parts of the world, you know what I mean?

KM: Yeah.

EK: Because I feel as though I’ve liberated myself from the very religious upbringing that I had, and I feel like I’ve become a whole new person than who I was supposed to be, the life that my parents had designed for me. So I want to show women not to be afraid to step out of their comfort zone. Whether it’s through my stand-up or my performances or my songs or whatnot…I mean, I guess that’s my ultimate goal, to just aid in the sexual liberation of women. I know we had this ‘60s movement, and women are now allowed to vote and everything, but I think we still have a long way to go still.

Interview with Esther Ku

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Interview with Esther Ku for BestComedyTickets.com

Kevin McCarthy

KM: Thanks for talking with us. To start off could you tell us a little about what drove you to be a comedian and how you got your start doing stand-up?

EK: Sure. Well I was always a writer in my high school and I wrote for the school paper and all these kids at school would always come up to me like “I read your articles first cause they’re funny!” So when you’re a kid and somebody tells you you’re funny, you’re like “Oh, I’m gonna be a comedian.”  You don’t ever think of the practicality of “Well, I’m gonna be broke for ten years.” And once you hear like, people coming up to you telling you your funny a few times, you’re like “okay, yeah, maybe I can do this.” So, when I graduated college, which I should’ve never gone to college, I think that was a mistake, but I was trying to lose my virginity and I didn’t know any other legitimate way to go about doing that. So after I graduated from college, I moved to Boston and I started with the open mic scene over there. So that’s how I got my start really.

KM: So you said you wrote for your school paper, what did you write about? Because I imagine it’s a bit different than your stand-up material if it was for your school paper.

EK: Yeah, I just wrote like, I knew that kids had really short attention spans, because we were forced to read for an hour every Wednesday, so I was like, I know they’re not gonna read a whole article, so let me just write a little column like “You Know You’re a Freshman When…” “You Know It’s Winter Break When…” You know what I mean? Stuff like that. Just little jokes in the form of columns for the school paper.

KM: Yeah. So I was listening to an interview you did with NPR a few years ago, and you’re talking about how you were still working towards being able to make comedy your sole source of income, and you said you were working part-time at a dentist’s office.

EK: Yeah! Did I say that?

KM: Yeah, that was a few years ago. I think it was 2008. Was that true, you were working at a dentist’s office?

EK: Yeah, I was actually working for a dentist who was also a comedian, Dr. Michael King. I met him at a comedy club when I first moved to New York and said “I just moved here from Boston.” And he said “Do you have a job?” I said “No.” He said “Well you can answer phones for me.” He’s a really nice guy, I worked for him for a couple of years.

KM: So you’ve made comedy your sole source of income then? You don’t do anything to supplement your pay besides comedy?

EK: Besides whoring myself out on my nights off, no. [laughs]

KM: So you said that was your main goal as a comedian at the time. So I’m wondering, what was that moment you realized you could quit your day job and make a living in comedy. Was it Last Comic Standing or anything like that?

EK: Yes, Last Comic Standing helped a lot, but I think just building up the time. Because when I did Last Comic Standing I literally had five minutes. It’s not like I could just go on the road with five minutes. It’s just been about getting on stage every single night and building up a bigger set for me to be able to go on the road on my own, rather than piggybacking off of somebody.

KM:  So you’ve been working in stand-up since 2004 from what I understand, is that about right?

EK: Yeah.

KM: So about a decade, so I was wondering, there’s been a lot of talk about how in the past decade the role of women in comedy has changed a lot. Like, that female comics have a much more prominent place than they used to.  So I’m wondering, as someone who’s been working for the past decade, from your experiences as a female comedian have those attitudes changed throughout your career?

EK: Well, I think any female comedian who decides to pursue this career path really knows that the majority of comedians are still male and will always be male, and so, if anything I look at it as an advantage. I think it helps us stand out, and we’re more memorable just because there are so many guys. So when women do make it and make a name for themselves, people will remember us, you know? So I even look at it as an advantage. I’m sure there’s tons of disadvantages, but I don’t like to focus on that, you know? I’m not one of those comedians who are like “Well, all the guys give rides to each other, and all the guys play poker and open for each other…” It’s like, who gives a shit? We stand out, so we win.

KM: Yeah, I was about to ask a follow-up to that question, since you’re also Korean, and Asian-American comics aren’t very well-represented in comedy, but it’s also given you a lot of the subjects of your stand-up. So I was wondering if having that identity helps you stand out as a Korean female comedian, but I guess you sort of answered that.

EK: Yeah, I guess it helps me stand out, but I feel that there are two worlds of comedy, that there’s the mainstream world, where the white comedians and the white audiences primarily go, and there’s the urban comedy world, which is where a lot of the black, Latino and etcetera go to perform. So I oscillate between both worlds, like I’ll do a mainstream, regular comedy club, but I also love playing urban clubs. But you know, the comedy circuit for Asians hasn’t really popped up ever. You know? So it’s like I constantly have to be borrowing my audiences from other sources, I feel like. Cause Asians are too fucking cheap to pay 20 dollars and then a two drink minimum, they’d rather just watch us on YouTube and judge us from there. But I think every race thinks that their race is the cheapest, right? [laughs]

KM: Yeah, I guess so. [laughs] So let’s go back, I mentioned you were on Last Comic Standing before, could you talk about your experiences with that, how it did or did not further your career?

EK: Well I think I was like, way in over my head at the time. I was going up against some heavy hitters who had been in the game for a long time and I was sort of a deer-in-headlights. But I still had fun with it, and I learned a lot from being on the show, and I’m able to parlay that into my experiences now with MTV.

KM: Yeah, with Girl Code, right?

EK: Yeah.

KM: Okay, so that was my next question. So you’re on Girl Code, which seems to me a more popular show than Last Comic Standing was, but you’re also not really doing your stand-up routine on the show, and it also premiered pretty recently, it premiered a few months ago, so I was wondering if you could talk about how that’s had an impact on your recent career.

EK: You know, I think the impact it’s had on my career is that it collects all the female fans out there into one place, which, I’ve always said that I wanted to play to the females in the audience. But when you go to comedy clubs, it’s mostly couples, so you have to speak to both guys and girls, but my point of view is relatable to females because I am female, and I can speak about my experiences openly about relationships , and things that young girls can relate to, so I’m really happy to have that as a medium because I’ve always wanted to speak to girls but it’s sort of hard because you have to collect them all in one place, but it’s doable through Girl Code.

KM: So Girl Code is based on a show on MTV2, Guy Code, which is the same thing but it’s catered to guys. Were you familiar with that show? Did it feel good to be able to speak for women?

EK: Yeah, I was familiar with Guy Code. Guy Code had billboards up in Times Square, so when they chose me for Girl Code I was really excited, like “Oh my god, this is gonna be awesome.” It was great, because when Guy Code first came out, no one knew how it was gonna do, but it did really well. It’s kind of been easier for Girl Code, because people are familiar with the format.

KM: Yeah, the format of Girl Code is that they give you a topic, things that pertain to women, and they ask you to talk about it. Was there ever a topic on the show you were like, “Yes, I have so much I have to say about that,” that you were excited to talk about?

EK: Yeah, for a lot of the topics I do stuff like that. Farting was one of them. I’ve always had a passion for fart jokes. [laughs] Growing up with three brothers, there’s never such thing as too many fart jokes. But also, you know, the things that are taboo to talk about, like masturbation or sex on the first date. Things that we as women were not supposed to talk about. But when I do talk about it, girls come up to me after comedy shows and are like “I do that too! I masturbate too!” or whatever, so it kind of gives us a cool way to unite with each other.

KM: Well while we’re on that subject of taboo subjects, I was wondering about your YouTube videos, like your song parodies. I was wondering how that came about; was music always part of your life, and what inspired you to take these oldies songs and make them about…you know, “Fistin’ the Night Away.”

EK: Oh, you did your research! [laughs] Well I actually grew up playing music at the church that I was forced to be a member at. So I just always played music and enjoyed expressing myself with music before I learned what comedy was. So when I got my driver’s license and I started driving, I would always listen to the oldies station on the radio, and I just loved the oldies, because they’re like, you know, if you listen to today’s music it’s hard to even understand the lyrics that the artists are trying to sing, whereas oldies tell a story, you know? They tell an entire love song in a two-minute song, and I just love the melodies. So my friends and I would just jam in Central Park, and I would just come up with these wacky lyrics, so I don’t know, I guess it just came organically, it’s not like I was trying to make parody songs or something.

KM: Have you ever done any of the songs live? Like in your stand-up routines?

EK: Yeah, I’ve done the songs live. You know who helped me a lot, when I went on The Howard Stern Show, Dan the Parody Man. He’s the one who taught me how to write a parody song, he does all the parody songs about boobs and all that stuff.  So he’s been a big influence in my career.

KM: The reason I asked about performing them live is like, I was looking through the YouTube comments and I feel like the female commenters all find it very funny, but its some of the guys who are weirded out by it. So you talked about how you wish you could perform the women, so I was wondering how people react to those songs live in like a mixed crowd.

EK:  Well I wasn’t aware that that guys online are the ones who don’t like it, that’s funny, but you know, people seem to enjoy them. People seem to really get into them, and if people are really drunk I make it into a sing-along for everybody, so we can act like drunk kindergarteners in the club.

KM: So I was told you recently moved from New York to Miami, is that right?

EK: Yes.

KM: We were just wondering about that, because Miami is not very well-known for its stand-up scene, especially compared to New York, so I was wondering what inspired that move.

EK: Well, you know, I was in New York for seven years, and I thought I would never leave, but I loved it and I was like, this place is awesome, I’m so inspired, I meet so many people all in one day, but then it just sort of grew on me. Well, not grew on me, but I just sort of got sick of it [laughs] and was like, “I need a little breather.” So I decided to come down to Miami. But it’s actually been fine, because whenever I go back up to New York, I could just see everybody in a short amount of time rather than just sit there and be ignored half the time [laughs] like if I was there all the time, you know what I mean.

KM: Yeah. So we talked about your stand-up, your TV appearances, your YouTube videos, is there anything I’m missing? Are you working on any other projects right now that you want to talk about?

EK: I mean, I think that’s everything. Well, we got picked up for season 2 of Girl Code, so I’m really excited about that.

KM: That’s great. Girl Code just ended its season, right? So it’s on break right now?

EK: Right. We finished season 1 two months ago and we’re in production now for season 2.

KM: Oh okay. So that’s good. So, I have one last question; I wanted to go back to a question I asked earlier but I figured it would be a better question to end on. So in that interview I mentioned that you did with NPR, you talked about working for the dentist’s office, and then later in the interview the subject becomes about how different comedians have different measures of success for their career, like some people won’t consider themselves a success unless they have their own HBO special or TV show or something, and you say that your measure of success for your career at the time would just be to be able to just do comedy and quit your day job.  So I’m wondering, having achieved that, what is your ideal goal as a comedian right now? Like what’s your next benchmark of success?

EK: Let’s see, so you’re saying I should’ve had a better goal back then, right? [laughs] Well, I think…I do have bigger goals, but sometimes it’s hard to express them to other people because you’re afraid of, what if it doesn’t happen, you know? So I want to share my goals, but I’m also shy about sharing them. I don’t know, I want to travel the whole world, you know? Like I want to be influential to women in all parts of the world, you know what I mean?

KM: Yeah.

EK: Because I feel as though I’ve liberated myself from the very religious upbringing that I had, and I feel like I’ve become a whole new person than who I was supposed to be, the life that my parents had designed for me. So I want to show women not to be afraid to step out of their comfort zone. Whether it’s through my stand-up or my performances or my songs or whatnot…I mean, I guess that’s my ultimate goal, to just aid in the sexual liberation of women. I know we had this ‘60s movement, and women are now allowed to vote and everything, but I think we still have a long way to go still.

Judah Friedlander Interview

By Hannah Chusid

ImageI then went over to stop Judah Friedlander, featured on 30 Rock and other various movies. We sat down after he finished his set and after taking pictures with his fans.

Hannah Chusid: I’m here with the #1 World Champion, Judah Friedlander. How are you doing?

Judah Friedlander: Unbelievable.

HC: So, how did your set go tonight at The Stand?

JF: Four standing ovations at The Stand.

HC: Four standing ovations! This is a brand new comedy club, what do you think of it?

JF: I like it a lot. It’s well designed, intimate, good sound system, and good seats.

HC: How was the crowd tonight?

JF: Very good.

HC: Where was the first club you performed at here in NYC?

JF: I don’t remember…

HC: It was that long ago?

JF: It might’ve been a place that’s not open anymore called the Eagle Tavern.

HC: Where was that located?

JF: That was at 14th between 8th & 9th.

HC: Oh wow…Chelsea, right?

JF: It wasn’t in a good neighborhood back then.

HC: No, it was not. And now it’s really nice over there…Have you ever tried improv or did you start in improv?

JF: I’ve never done it with an official sketch group, or an official improv group, but I do a lot of improv within my act and in acting things I’ve done tons of improv, but I’ve never been part of an improv group.

HC: Did you ever take acting?

JF: I never studied it.

HC: Where did you go to school?

JF: I quit school after the third grade.

HC: Of course, ‘cause you’re the champion.

JF: Yeah.

HC: How were you dubbed “The Champion”? This is what I’ve always wanted to know. I’ve always thought about this.

JF: You know, they had the world championships, I won it, and there it is.

HC: You just got it because you’re #1.

JF: Yeah.

HC: How many of those hats do you have?

JF: I’m not good at math.

HC: But you’re the champion!–

JF: But not of math or reading.

HC: No math, no reading…Where was your favorite place to perform in NYC?

JF: Well here at The Stand so I don’t want to not say “here”, but there are several clubs I do in the city. I’m probably at the Comedy Cellar the most. I like this club a lot, and I definitely think people should check this club out, because the guys that own it are not just business guys–they live and breathe comedy. They really care about comedy, and it’s a reflection of the room. It’s a well-designed room…but I perform all over the city. The Comedy Cellar the most. I’ve been here just since it opened. I do the Comic Strip–I do all the clubs pretty much. I do Stand Up NY, I do EastVille Comedy Club, I do Caroline’s. I get around to all of them. It depends. I don’t want to say one or the other, but The Cellar i’ve been working at for the longest and the most. If I were to have one home club, it would be that one.

HC: Definitely. Do you find there’s a difference between audiences in NYC vs. audiences outside of NYC?

JF: Not necessarily. There are some things that are different. In general, New York’s audiences are probably the least best-behaved. They’re also good. They’re tougher than other audiences sometimes, which is good.

HC: What was your inspiration for your book “How To Beat Up Anybody”?

JF: That’s a book I made based off of my stand-up, but it’s all new material made just for the book. Stand-up comedy is my main thing #1 for me. It’s based off of my stand-up and being the world champion, but there was new stuff made just for the book, because I like doing comedy in all different mediums. I’ve been wanting to do a book for about 10 years, and i started making that book 10 years ago, and then after working on it on-and-off for 8 years, without trying to get a book deal, people knew my comedy from TV shows–30 Rock–my publicist asked me about doing a book and I told him well I have one I’ve been working on for years. So I made it all myself and it took years to make.

HC: Also, I’m curious about how you got into ping pong/

JF: Oh, yeah I played that as a kid all the time. And then we learned from a neighbor’s friend, Chinese guy, who would go to official tournaments and stuff. So then me and my brother got into some real official ping pong…

HC:…and you’re the #1 Champion of ping pong too, right?

JF: Now if you look up the official ratings, they may not say that, but we knew that they’re corrupt and that I really am [the champion].

HC: And that is our time thank you so much, Judah!

JF: Thank you. And also I’m running for president so vote for me: WorldChamp4Prez.Com.

Make sure you follow the world champion @JudahWorldChamp. You can look him up on Facebook and visit him at JudahFriedlander.com.