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.
Discussing all the crap that Hollywood puts out...
NB: People blame the industry but I get sent all the projects they're looking at. Everything out there is crap. It's hard to write good stuff. Me: What about Curb or the British Office? NB: Their ratings suck compared to the top 20 shows. No show without a laugh track will ever be in the top 5.
Also from NB: "Standup is the hardest thing to do. If you can do standup, you can do anything." "Whoever writes the most will be the funniest."
I talked with GG about the limitations of performing as a character. His response: "If you can come up with one funny character, you can come up with more."
Got my mitts on an advance copy (available in November) of "Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life" by Steve Martin. It's all about his years doing standup and how he got started. It's a quick read and really interesting if you're a fan. Some highlights below.
His most persistent memory of stand-up:
I did stand-up comedy for eighteen years. Ten of those years were spent learning, four years were spent refining, and four were spent in wild success. My most persistent memory of stand-up is of my mouth being in the present and my mind being in the future: the mouth speaking the line, the boy delivering the gesture, while the mind looks back, observing, analyzing, judging, worrying, and then deciding when and what to say next. Enjoyment while performing was rare — enjoyment would have been an indulgent loss of focus that comedy cannot afford.
The best opening lines he ever heard:
The best opening line I ever heard was from Sam Kinison...He said, "You're going to see a lot of comedians tonight; some will be good, some will be okay. But there's a difference between me and them. Them, you might want to see again sometime." But wait — maybe the best opening line I heard was Richard Pryor's, after he started two hours late in front of a potentially miffed crowd at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. He said simply, "Hope I'm funny."
He developed material by translating what made him laugh in life:
I came up with several schemes for developing material. "I laugh in life," I thought, "so why not observe what it is that makes me laugh?" And if I did spot something that was funny, I decided not to just describe it as happening to someone else, but to translate it into the first person, so it was happening to me. A guy didn't walk into a bar, I did. I didn't wat it to appear that others were nuts; I wanted it to appear that I was nuts.
He believed in contradiction:
Lewis Carroll's clever fancies from the 19th century expanded my definition of what comedy could be. I began closing my show by announcing, "I'm not going home tonight; I'm going to Bananaland, a place where only two things are true, only two things: One, all chairs are green; and two, no chairs are green." Not at Lewis Carroll's level, but the line worked for my contemporaries, and I loved implying that the one thing I believed in was a contradiction.
Defense against loudmouths:
I developed a few defensive lines to use against the unruly: "Oh, I remember when I had my first beer," and if that didn't cool them off, I would use a psychological trick. I would lower my voice and continue with my act, talking almost inaudibly. The audience couldn't hear the show, and they would shut the heckler up on their own.
Try to make the waitresses laugh:
There was a sign of encouragment from these early jobs, and years later I heard it phrased perfectly by Bill Cosby. He said that early in his career when the audience wasn't laughing, he could hear the waitresses laughing, and they saw the show night after night. I noticed that the waitresses were laughing.
Making an audience remember him:
At the end of my closing-night show at the Troubadour, I stood onstage and took out five bananas. I peeled them, put one on my head, one in each pocket, and squeezed one in each hand. Then I read the last line of my latest bad review: "Sharing the bill with Poco this week is comedian Steve Martin...his 25 minute routine failed to establish any comic identity that would make the audience remember him or the material." Then I walked off the stage.
What's hard is being consistent:
It was easy to be great. Every entertainer has a night when everything is clicking...What was hard was to be good, consistently good, night after night, no matter what the abominable circumstances.
How he worked in new material:
When I had new material to try, I would break it down into its smallest elements, literally a gesture or a few words, then sneak it into the act in its shortest form, being careful not to dsirupt the flow of the show. If it worked, the next night I would add the next discreet packed until the bit either filled out or died. I can remember bailing out of a bit because I didn't want to be trapped in it for the next five minutes. The easiest way was to pretend I'd gotten distracted by something and then completely change track.
Other quick thoughts:
Comedy's enemy is distraction.
[On Laurel and Hardy] This is where I got the idea that jokes are funniest when played upon oneself.
Through the years, I have learned there is no harm in charging oneself up with delusions between moments of valid inspiration.
FLYING CARPET FREE Standup Comedy Extravaganza Sat, July 28 at 7pm Mo Pitkin's (Downstairs) Ave A btwn 2nd and 3rd Streets
Check out this lineup! Neal Brennan (co-creator/writer of Chappelle Show) Larry Murphy (http://www.myspace.com/lsmurphy) Matt McCarthy (http://www.myspace.com/howcanthisnamebetaken) Jesse Popp (http://www.myspace.com/jwpopp) Noah Garfinkel (http://www.myspace.com/noahgarf) Dan Soder (http://www.myspace.com/scareddan) Matt Ruby (http://www.sandpapersuit.com) & more!?
...Hosted by Simon Beauregard (France's #1 standup comic!)
Seen Judah Friedlander (30 Rock) perform a bunch of times in the past couple of months and I really dig his act. It's all one joke: He's a fat slob who claims to be world champion...of everything.
This one joke is stretched as far as it can go. Sex, sports, whatever, he's the best. He's ready for anywhere the crowd takes it. You play softball? He plays hardball. And yesterday he bunted a home run. And before that he pitched a perfect game, from left field. Etc. It's all got an old-school, Rickles-ish schtick feel to it.
He sells it by not selling it. He delivers it in a "I couldn't care less about all this" tone. He's turned not giving a shit into his whole act. (Nice performance work if you can get it.) Still, he's super quick with crowdwork and totally on point with his timing and delivery.
Pros to doing something like this: tight focus, easy hook for people to remember you, anyone can get it, etc. Cons: I wonder if it feels limiting to have your entire act be about one topic?
I realized the other night I listen to comics the way I listen to songs. I'm hearing the rhythm and melody first. If that doesn't hook me, I probably won't even pay attention to the lyrics.
The comic equivalent: I don't pay attention to the words if the delivery is weak (no confidence, no timing, no selling the jokes, etc.) Especially if it's one of those shows where there's a bunch of meh comics. If you don't sound like you're worth paying attention to, I'm tuning you out. It's self-defense, really.
A good comic sounds like a good comic. Listen to Chappelle or Galifianakis and they just sound funny. Take out the words and you still know where the jokes fall. Here's a clip of French comedian Raymond Devos:
I have pretty much no idea what he's talking about. But he still seems way funnier than most of the tepid comics at NYC open mics.
Some people waited in line four days to get an iPhone. But you could just walk right in an hour after they went on sale and pick one up in minutes. This must have been very frustrating for the guys who waited in line. That's four days they could have spent not getting laid somewhere else. Like in the basement, commenting on blogs.
Neal Brennan, co-writer of The Chappelle Show, stopped by Comedy Village last night. His intro mentioned his involvement in Chappelle Show and someone yelled out, "Were you in the game show one?" "No," he shrugged. "But I wrote it." [Laughs] "That's the problem with being off camera, no one knows who I am...I wrote Rick James." His set was solid. And even touched on the third rail of hack topics: Flying. "I want to tell an airline joke," he said. "But what is this, 1988? Too bad. I've got a really good observation about airlines."
Venue: Comedy Village Date: 7/9/07 Length: 8 minutes Crowd: 25 people
Here's an odd compliment to get: "Never be yourself again." But that's what someone said after my Simon Beauregard's last set (Simon is the #1 standup comic in all of France who really hates Americans). The set ended with a standing ovation and really positive feedback:
"That was genius." "I couldn't control myself." "Not a note was off." "I would drink your piss right now." (er, thanks but...)
About Simon: He likes to do crowdwork but can't talk to Americans because they are beneath him. So he just rails against American culture. He's very popular in France but has not been able to visit the U.S. due to an incident with a young girl in a hot tub years ago. He loves fine food, jazz music, and young girls. He hates American culture and Gerard Depardieu. He's sort of a cross between Serge Gainsbourg and Bill Hicks.
Simon has "appeared" three times now and it's weird how well it works. It's almost as if being a character allows him to be himself more. Acting like a snob who hates Americans and their culture isn't much of a stretch for him. In fact, it was the basis of lots of his jokes anyway. So he just gets in flow and go with it. He can fake the accent pretty well considering he's not really French.
Simon's really fucking mean. But the exaggerated nature of the character/accent soften the hostility. It's all a joke...but at the same time everything he says is kinda true too.
Plus, French accents are just funny (see Peter Sellers' Inspector Clouseau or Sacha Baron Cohen's Jean Girard). In truth, Simon is mocking the French just as much as Americans.
Here's the first appearance of Simon, at Faceboyz' open mic at Mo Pitkin's:
People who use the term "African-American" are racist. Because that's the clearest way to show that you never actually hang out with black people. Let me know next time you hear a black person say, "What up African-American?"
I don't get pine tree cleaning products. A pine forest isn't clean. Nowhere is dirtier than a forest. "Wow, your kitchen must be clean since it smells just like a place that is covered in dirt! And is that cesspool scented dishwasher detergent you using? I love that smell."
A friend of mine says he's a total Nazi about grammar. That's odd, cuz you know what I'm a total Nazi about? Killing jews. I'm a total Hitler that way.
Patton Oswalt cited this Bill Burr tirade as "operatic." It's pretty much a roast of the entire city of Philadelphia.
In 2006, he gained notoriety for an incident in Philadelphia as a part of Opie and Anthony's Traveling Virus Comedy Tour. After the crowd began to boo him mercilessly, Burr decided to fight back. He abandoned his scripted material entirely, proceeding to hurl profanity-laced insult after insult toward the crowd themselves and the city of Philadelphia. He continued in this off-the-cuff manner for over ten minutes, and was treated to a lengthy standing ovation as he left the stage.
I went to the New York International Auto Show last week. I call it the car show. They have a building full of new cars.
See, now where else are you going to find this sort of informative, hard-hitting, investigative journalism? Nowhere, that's where.
When I was young the cars I remember best were: Ford, Chevrolet, Oldsmobile, Buick, Hupmobile, Packard, Studebaker, Dodge, Plymouth, Cadillac, Chrysler, Pierce Arrow and Pontiac. Some of those are out of business now.
Really Andy, some of those are out of business now!? Well, that explains why my Hupmobile hasn't been delivered yet. I'm going to get on the horn pronto and give that Hupmobile dealer a piece of my mind!
Some of the names are different but the cars are more the same than they used to be, I think. You used to be able to tell a Plymouth from a Chevrolet or a Cadillac from a Ford but it's harder now. I don't even know a Subaru from a Suzuki.
So true Andy, so true: It IS hard to tell these Asian cars apart. In fact, the only thing more difficult is trying to tell the difference between one Asian person and another. Is that guy Chinese or Korean? Really, who knows?
You don't see a lot of dirty cars at the auto show. They have about ten people just dusting them...Car dealers ought to have one car out front with mud on it so we'd all know what it's going to look like most of the time in our own driveway.
Brilliant idea. You know who else should follow this advice: Victoria's Secret. They should have one really superfat model so Americans would know what the lingerie will look like in their own homes.
The manufacturers may be running out of names, too. They're using a lot of letters and numbers now on their cars. The Jaguar X-JR, the Infiniti M35X. I'm about ready for a new car myself. Maybe I'll go out and get myself an AUDI A4 2.OT Cabriolet.
Er, after reading this, I don't think you are ready for a new car Andy. In fact, I'm pretty sure you shouldn't be driving at all.
Click here for more of this 5th grade report on a field trip to the Auto Show Andy's commentary.
I'm surprised by how many comics do the same set every time I see them. Six months have passed and they're still doing the exact same 7 minutes.
What's the point of that? Is that 7 minutes gonna be your Letterman set or something? It's usually just meh stuff so why are these guys spending months perfecting it? They're just treading water.
It's hard to write new jokes that are really funny and new material often fails. But if you can't get over that, why are you on stage? Trying out new stuff and failing is how you get better. And if you can't do it on a "real" stage, go to an open mic where sucking is par for the course. Otherwise, you're just fossilizing.
I think this is gonna be especially true moving forward. The digital age means shit gets old way fast. The idea that you get one killer set and coast on it is antique. Info spreads too quickly for that and it's just gonna spread faster and faster. Success is going to go to the comics who can generate new content all the time. People who can make new funny all the time. Those who can't constantly stream it out won't be able to keep up.
Saturday's Flying Carpet kicked some serious ass! Thanks to all who turned out. All the comics killed it and we were treated to a finactic climale featuring Mike O'Rourke freestyle rapping while Reggie Watts laid down the groove. It was most definitely tight and not at all wack. Next edition: Saturday, July 28 at Mo Pitkin's (downstairs at 7pm).