Hey. I’m Matt Ruby (firstname.lastname@example.org). I live in Brooklyn and I'm a standup comedian and the creator of Vooza, a video comic strip about the tech world. This is Sandpaper Suit, a comedy blog about standup, filmmaking, and whatever else I feel like talking about. Established 2006. Phew, that's a while.
Rick Shapiro: Crazy rant performance art style. Dirty as shit. Half the crowd walked out during his set. He wasn't suprised. The man has seen some dark things methinks. The good part: rambling shamanic style to his delivery. Not holding back on anything. Bukowskiesque.
Zach Galifianakis: Hour set in front of big crowd at Irving Plaza. Just absolutely killed it. He's so on top of his shit right now. Felt like the comedy equivalent of seeing Radiohead right after OK Computer came out. Mixes the one-liner piano jokes with more conventional style and incorporates some crowdwork walking through the aisles and then closes with a big musical number.
The one liner quick hit style is all about rhythm. It's like a boxer who relies on his jab. You just keep peppering and peppering and wearing down the audience. And the whole thing builds a rhythm. The audience starts to get the "beat" and knows when the punch lines are going to come. And once you've got 'em, you've got 'em. It builds like a wave. At that point, even when a joke's only mediocre, it still gets laughs. This paragraph has way too many analogies. I'm gonna stop now.
Louis CK: Showed up again at Stand Up NY to work on material. Did exactly the same set as the previous week, just fine tuning it. Experimenting with just changing a word here or a phrase there and getting the timing just right. There was 15 people there, dead room, and he still got 'em. Guy just seems like such a pro when he's up there. My fave bit from the set is where compares girls and women (e.g. "there's no 'women gone wild' 'cuz when women go wild, they kill their husband and drown their kids in a tub.")
Headed out soon after that with Dan and Joe (other comics at the club) and wound up waiting on the subway platform with Louis. We said hey and nice set and then left him alone. On the train there was some crazy guy singing out loud along with his iPod. We were joking and shooting the shit and then Louis came over to chat. We asked him about his new material and he said he's working on putting together another hour's worth of material. He was headed to the Cellar, presumably to do the same set again. He doesn't know where/when it'll wind up. We talked a bit about his last HBO special and then it was time to get off the train.
It was striking to me because so many comics seem so obsessed with hierarchy BS that they won't even talk to comics who they think are "beneath" them. Or they'll just crack on them. Yet Louis, who's got HBO specials, didn't give a shit. He just came over and said hey and was a regular guy willing to talk, even though we're just three comics starting out. Puts getting blown off by some hack in perspective.
Venue: Bar None Date: 2/22/07 Length: 8 minutes Crowd: 25 people
Q: What's kryptonite to a comic? A: A room full of drunken cops!
The place was crawling with 'em. Really drunk ones too. Show started with one of 'em, black dude, grabbing the mic and riffing and joking around and generally being unwilling to give up the mic. He was actually kind of funny. His cop buddies were loving it and egging him on. Problem: The show was supposed to begin and he wouldn't get off the mic. Finally, one of his pals gets him offstage and they all start taunting the comics and yelling shit like "You better be funny, NYU boy."
Victor was hosting and had the rough job of trying to grab the reins. Half the room hipsters and comics. The other half drunken cops talking to each other, yelling at the stage, and acting rowdy. The energy was actually pretty intense and, if judo'd properly, it might've segued well. But Victor took the bite and started getting antagonistic back at them. Shit nearly got out of hand at one point when one of them bumrushed the stage but then got held back by his buddies. I talked with Victor later and he said he's gotten rushed a couple of times while onstage but friends *always* hold the cockmouth back.
Anyway, Mike O'Rourke was the first comic and entered the lion's cage. He's fucking funny. Took it to 'em. The cops kept pretending they weren't cops, claiming at various points to be FDNY, Sanitation, dodgeball teachers, etc. But when Mike joked about having warrants one of them got all up in his face and he had to explain, "I'm fucking joking!" Mike's got a great style, acting kinda street/thuglike but being really intelligent with the shit he says. I dig.
By the time he got off, the room had been somewhat corralled. Actually, I might've helped a bit by yelling at one particularly loud table to shut up so we could pay attention to Mike. See, it's one thing if people are yelling at the comic and interacting. But if they're just talking loudly to each other and facing away from the stage, it distracts from the whole room. It's like a leak in a bucket. Energy keeps getting sucked out.
Still, the vibe of the room was really tense and bizarre. Cops and comics operate in a similar way, they always need to be in control. And that's where the clash happened. Neither side wanted to give an inch.
So another comic comes up. Kinda quiet white dude doing smart jokes. He's not bad but too timid to handle this crowd. Then, apparently another comic who was booked on the show decided he didn't want to go on. So the gals who do the show ask me if I want to go up. I was just at the show to get some cheap drinks, didn't expect to perform. But I think my yelling at the cops showed I was game for whatever and could maybe handle the situation.
So I went up. Started just chatty without really telling jokes. Tried to build some familiarity. Then I went into my bit on slutty girls. Right move. At least got the train rolling. I had one table talking back, with a really drunk cop on the verge of passing out and some chick who I assume was also a cop. Then I went into white collar comedy tour. Didn't really fly well. I was sloppy and slow 'cuz I was drunk and thrown off by the room a bit. Tough to concentrate when there's a dude about to pass out right in front of you. Everyone else in the room sensed it too. So I started chatting with him. But he couldn't even form a sentence. It was like trying to run a race against someone moving in slow motion. Whole thing descended from there. I just went off from any material and tried to comment on the room. Made fun of that girl's clothes (Filene's Basement in '97), the bar (the bucket collecting piss under the urinal pretty much summed it up), and the fact that the drunk dude tried to compliment his galpal by saying, "She's been around a long time." Just what every girl wants to hear, right?
It wasn't a very funny set. I wasn't prepared, I was pretty drunk, and I barely got any jokes out. But it was compelling to watch. And in that situation, if you can tread water, you've done pretty well. Another buckeye earned (or whatever those things on Ohio State's helmets are).
Venue: Stand Up NY Date: 2/18/07 Length: 9 minutes Crowd: 20 people
Watching Mike DeStefano work was a real pleasure. Room was split, half black/white, and he played it beautifully, tailoring his act to the black folks and making fun of the white people. Lesson: Win over the people most likely to not like you, and the rest of the room will follow.
I had a good set too. I "headlined." But really, after 2.5 hours of comedy (some really bad), it's the bitch spot. It's like calling the guy who goes last at a gangbang the headliner. But I had good combo of riffing on the room and working in material.
Since the room was mixed, I decided to bring up race stuff too. White people are usually so sensitive about race that if you just talk about it in an honest way it comes across in a really refreshing way. Some of what I said:
I'll talk about black and white people. Who gives a shit? I'm not gonna say anything bad...'cuz I'm not fucking racist. I smoke too much weed to be racist. I don't have the energy for it. Racism does seem like a nice distraction from being broke and dumb though, like a vacation from your mind: (sarcastic) "I'm not thinking at all about my trailer cuz I hate black people." It's weird that black guys are always wearing hooded sweatshirts. Because you'd think if there was one group of people that would be opposed to outfits with hoods...Maybe we'll start seeing Jewish people growing little Hitler moustaches.
Joe Rogan leads a bunch of comics in a posse-style attack on joke stealing Carlos Mencia...
The whole pack attack vibe in the video is a bit creepy but I respect the way comics have a code about stealing. If you're caught ripping material, you're pegged for life as persona non grata. Almost like a mafia thing. Rogan talks more about it here.
(Side note on the video: Note the power of the microphone. As soon as someone hands Rogan his own mic, the entire tone changes. Volume is a hell of a weapon.)
Other comics known for ripping off material: Denis Leary stole Bill Hicks material (Rogan talks about this), Robin Williams stole everyone's material (and is supposedly now banned from a lot of NYC clubs). Dane Cook's been accused of stealing from Louis CK and Rogan too. This Radar article has more on joke stealing.
On the flip side, there's gotta be some wiggle room for two people coming up with a joke independently. A lot of creative minds think alike. The "Who's gonna build the wall to keep the Mexicans out?" bit isn't exactly the most original joke I've ever heard.
Also, there's an argument to be made for subconscious leakage here. I can totally see how someone who listens to comedy nonstop and is in the clubs all the time might pick up ideas for material without realizing it. But still, if it's a pattern of behavior, that ain't right.
I like when guys come up with these sex acts that humiliate women and then give them strange nicknames. I make up new ones. "That chick I was with last night...I gave her a Detroit Suitcase." That's when you're eating a girl out, you vomit on her, and then you throw her out the window. It's really fucking hot. Or there's the Velvet Porcupine. That's when you she's giving you head and you cover her with honey and then you release a swarm of bees in the room.
Another comic told me Patrice O'Neal does a big chunk on the same topic (I've never seen him). I guess I could go ahead and try it anyway since I did come up with it on my own, but it ain't worth it. As someone starting out, I really don't want to get tagged as a thief.
Besides, it's good inspiration to come up with material that's more personal and authentic to myself. The more you get to a specific, personal truth, the less likely it is that someone else will have covered the same ground.
One cool thing about NYC is you can show up to do a slot at normal Monday night "new talent" show and have three guys who've been on HBO there testing out material. Gary Gulman, Jim Norton, and Louis CK were all in the house at Stand Up NY last night and killed it. These guys can sell out big clubs but I think it's even more fun to watch them work a tiny crowd where many/most of the people there don't even know who they are.
Gary MC'd the night. It's interesting how he plays up his "cocky bastard" attitude onstage with his I'm so funny and so good looking schtick. Kinda the opposite of what most comedians do (i.e. obsess over their flaws). He mixes it in with some self-deprecating material and an aw-shucks persona so it works.
The funniest part of Jim Norton's set was the guy who was Amen-ing a lot of Jim's sickest (and presumably somewhat sarcastic) jokes. Jim: "It's awkward going with your girlfriend to get your AIDS test results because you can't really celebrate that much." Guy in back: "Aw, yeah. That's the truth!" Jim: "A guy can't stop fucking a girl once he starts..." Guy in back: "No, he can't! Oh damn, no way!" Best of all, this guy was on a date! WTF? I can only imagine what that poor girl was thinking at her loudmouth, STD-prone, rapist of a date.
Louis CK was the best of the bunch though. He was introduced by the MC and a bunch of people got up to go the bathroom which was amusing in its own way. Louis was just so smooth though. Chuckled about it and moved on. I usually can't stand comics doing jokes about their kids/marriage/etc. but his biting honesty on the subjects is a whole different can of worms. He did great bits about fighting with his wife, how having kids makes you understand how someone could put their kid in a garbage can, the differences between women and girls, etc.
Aside: I went to piss at one point in the night and some dude was in the can taking a dump while talking on one of those walkie talkie cell phones. First off, what the hell is the point of those phones? And why on earth would you use one while taking a shit in a public bathroom?! Then he hung up (or "10-4'd" or whatever). But apparently silence was not an option for this guy. After a few moments, he sighed, "Whoo!" Out loud. I guess so I could empathize with his efforts? Because no one actually has to exclaim out loud while shitting, right??? Hmm, maybe there's just something wrong with me.
Venue: East Village Lounge (open mic) Date: 2/8/07 Length: 7 minutes Crowd: 25 people
Nice feeling last night: I flipped a room from red to black. Open mic at East Village Lounge. My first time there. The room was DONE. Two comics before me had both ventured into creepy territory. Comic yelling at MC, borderline racist/crazy stuff even. (Btw, it's a pretty good sign you're a shitty comic if, after your set, you feel the need to tell someone, "It's ok, I'm biracial.") There were eight people left upfront, the rest were in the back by the bar drinking. I was, um, "cooked" and in my don't give a shit mode. It worked.
First thing I did was call out the bizarro comics before me. "I didn't realize this was a crazy crazy open mic. All open mics are crazy. But this is one of those crazy crazy ones."
Still some loud talking in the back. I decided to get louder. "Is there a fight going on? It's comedy, let's love each other. Or laugh. Or at least stop talking." A little bitchslap to quiet 'em down. They started to pay attention.
Then I commented how open mic comics always start out with ridic premises that no one agrees with..."Remember when you first joined the priesthood?" Er, not really. "Don't you hate it when girls have sex before marriage?" Um, actually I think that's pretty cool.
And then I mentioned the funniest things I had heard so far in the night were actually reactions from the crowd. A guy onstage who was bombing said, "What, do you want me to do a trick?" And some guy in the back said, "Get circumcised." I said, "Now that's funny."
And then there was the un-punch line. Some guy onstage goes, "So when I was in college..." And a guy in the back starts laughing. But that wasn't the joke. The comic was going somewhere with it. But apparently this dude in the back found the concept that this guy had gone to college hilarious on its own.
By this point, the crowd seemed with me. Or at least relieved. I called the couple who was sitting right in front brave and said something about them being willing to sit right next to a dragon.
But then I had an interesting blank out moment where I almost lost 'em. I was doing a joke about how white people always call Barack Obama "articulate" and I sarcastically mimicked a white person saying something like, "He speaks so well for a negro!" It wasn't racist at all (making fun of racists actually) but I think subconciously my mind tripped on the fact that I just said the word "negro" in public. Like I had done something naughty. And then I just blanked out. Couldn't remember where I was supposed to go next with it. Black dude in the front row had to remind we where I was and then I hopped back on. But it was an interesting little trap door I fell into.
I then went into some of my prepared stuff, things I'm working on getting the delivery just right. Went well. I even got the back of the room paying attention and the bartenders laughing (they liked the "whores for oil" bit I've been working on).
Maybe there's some other word besides "flipped" I'm supposed to use for what happened, but that's the first time I've taken a room that negative into the positive. And I did it by being in the moment and just describing what was happening in the room. Plus, I was amusing myself. When you think something's funny and you're almost laughing while you talk about it, people are a lot more likely to give up laughs too.
Afterwards, the MC got back up and thanked me for bringing the attention back to the stage. I got handshakes and good jobs from the other comics. And on my way out, the bartender stopped me, asked me my name, and told me to come back next week. It was just a stupid open mic but I'm more proud of that set than any other I've done to date.
Some rough drafts for jokes I had with Daniela's comments on 'em in italics.
Slutty girls pretend they're inexperienced. They always tell the same lie: "I never do this sort of thing." Meanwhile she's pulling out the nipple clamps, handcuffs, and the Jaws of Life. Er, something's suspicious here.
(the setup should be: slutty girls pretend they are inexperienced. That's good. "I never do this sort of thing" Is good but the examples aren't yet funny- ie rick had the same setup and would say I never this sort of thing and stick the whole mic in his mouth or I have the same setup I say I never do this sort of thing and I had and last week I was tested. You need a punch after the I never do this sort of thing... I really like you just saying I don't need to feel special I need the job done right-
Slutty girls are good for society. They keep pussy in circulation. Without them, there would be a pussy drought. And a pussy drought is bad news for *everyone*...just look at the Middle East. If there were more slutty girls there, guys wouldn't be blowing themselves up to get to those 72 virgins in heaven.
Cut it down! Say: Easy women are the best. A pussy drought would be bad for everyone. The middle east stuff has been done with the 72 virgins- think of a new punch. You could say look at the middle east its terrible. We shouldn't be at war we should exchange oil for our whores 10 barrels for every girl on elimidate. Or something else that is a real problem about slutty girls not being around.
The internet has made male fantasies so specific. Guys used to say, "I like Asian chicks." Now a guy likes barely legal Asian midget cheerleader gangbangs. Meanwhile, his buddy only gets off on *amateur* barely legal Asian midget cheerleader gangbangs. 'Cuz the pro Asian midget cheerleaders just aren't believable. Weddings are like porn for women. Girls don't care about Playgirl, they get off on Modern Bride. It's not "Look at that wang!"...It's "Look at that Vera Wang!"
There are a few different subjects going on in this joke only every have one subject before there is a punchline. The setup is-Say: The internet is making things complicated guys used to say I like asian chicks now they say I like barely legal midget cheerleaders who only do gangbangs. The following stuff about the other guy who likes weird porn too is complicated. You need a punch like "I cant keep up I just like asian chicks" The wedding stuff is a separate joke: Women don't seem to like porn- they don't seem to get off on playgirl the masturbate to modern bride. Look it's a vera wang- im cumming.
Weddings make girls crazy. What other explanation is there for how much wedding crap costs? $2,000 for a fucking *cake*!? I wouldn't pay $2k for a cake if it had one layer of crack, one layer of ecstasy, and frosting made out of Angelina Jolie's pussy juice.
Weddings are stupid. 2000 for a cake I wouldn't pay 2000 for a cake unless the frosting was made out of Angelina jolies pussy juice.
Women have this whole thing with showing off the size of their engagement rings. The subliminal message: It shows what a good provider their mate is. "You got engaged? Let me see the ring!" Men can't do this though. You'll never hear a guy say, "Dude, you got engaged!? Let me see a picture of her tits!"
Women show off their engagement rings. Yuck! Just once I wanna hear a guy say to another guy you got engaged show me the picture of her tits.
Dr. Phil's lost it. He's always spouting those weird Texas phrases but I think he's just making them up. Like: "When you're an armadillo, sometimes it's hard to see the rodeo through the trees." "There's no sense blowing on a tumbleweed if you got a pair of pliers in yer saddle." What the fuck are you talking about Dr. Phil?
The only way to handle this is to say- I feel boring I just wanna go around talking like Dr phil especially on dates with airhead girls. Girl "so these shoes are prada" you "when youre and armadillo it's hard to see the rodeo through the trees" Girl "no I said prada" "Theres no sense blowing on a tumbleweed if you got a pair of pliers" girl "what?" you " I meant blow me."
Dr. Phil also has a weight loss book out. How can a fat man write a book about weight loss? I'm going to put it on my bookshelf right next to "Flava Flav's Guide to Finding Your Soul Mate."
Venue: Stand Up NY Date: 2/06/07 Length: 8 minutes (excerpt below) Crowd: 15 people
Uphill battle. Night after Super Bowl. 11 degrees outside. I went on second to last after 2+ hours of so so comics. All considered, it went alright.
I've been working on some new jokes with Daniela and tried some of 'em out. The lines she helped me with got laughs. But when I strayed, the jokes fell flat (too many words, not confident on delivery, etc.). Each word matters so much.
Top priority: I need to tighten stuff up...get a rhythm going. The edited clip on this post shows how my set should sound. Instead I dilly dally too much between punch lines. And whenever i tell a joke for the first time, I talk too much. Hunting and pecking. Too much setup/explaining. I need to just get in and get out.
A pic of my cameo in Rounders. I told them to make me look like a seventies porn producer.
Matt: just finished Rounders DVD. great stuff. esp knowing you and picking up on the bits of your life, like law school, michael mcdermott, etc. what an amazing cast too.
i'm sure you've already discussed ad nauseum but...
a few bits in commentary track made me think of comedy: the talk about how audiences enjoy the movie more because they don't understand a lot of the card terminology/references. in my mind, audiences like when a connection is over their head because it shows that you're not insulting them...you're giving them the benefit of the doubt. similar to dennis miller's rattling off arcane references. you'll never get all of 'em but that makes you like the ones you do get that much more.
and then the part where ed norton talks about the thrill of losing to better players. something about how it's "embarrassing yet intoxicating" at the same time. sounds a lot like what it feels like to bomb onstage.
and the suspense vs. surprise discussion was interesting too. sometimes i think comedy is like writing a horror movie or a movie with a surprise twist. it's all about giving enough clues to have it make sense but not enough clues to ruin the suprise. always tough to guage that when you already "know how it ends."
and glad u guys admitted the scene where he rejects foxy famke is ridic. ; )
Brian: ...glad you liked rounders. it's strange how much writing that script changed my life. I remember the beginning days of doing that, of committing to it, of showing up every morning with David to write in this little storage closet with a slop sink, a half a desk and one chair. We saved the draft to floppy disk each day, and each night I would read back what we wrote, amazed that the pages were actually filling up with stuff.
I love thinking about beginnings. David had written screenplays before, but the whole thing was so new to me, and was something I had wanted to do so much and for so long. These beginning days of stand up are similar, somehow, in that I don't know what I am doing, but I love doing it, I have moments of real connection, moments where I feel lost, moments when I am a rank amateur, moments when I know I look and sound like a professional up there. You know what I mean?
Thanks for this picture, by the way.
Matt: On beginnings...They come with some very cool stuff: Learning, surprises, a time when work feels more like play, anxiety (the good kind), the satisfaction you get from overcoming fear, etc. Beginnings give a rush.