Chris Rock on his road to Madison Square Garden

Earlier in the year, Chris Rock showed up to try out material at two different shows I was on at Stand Up NY. Seeing him work on brand new ideas in a small room like that was really incredible. (I wrote about the first one back in March and the second one in April.)

On Monday night, he performs at Madison Square Garden in front of 20,000 people (and then goes on a six month tour). In Hard at Work on New Year’s Eve (NY Times), he talks about the months he's spent crafting his newest material.

But for Mr. Rock, as it is for those other guys, being gifted is really just about doing the things that make it look easy.

The least surprised person when that first laugh starts and then moves in a wave all the way up to the cheap seats will be Mr. Rock. For many months he has been piecing together his act in clubs in New Jersey, New York, Florida and Las Vegas. Comedy bit by comedy bit, he has built two hours of material one minute at a time, culling the belly laughs from the bombs.

And he knows it will work. Other people would admit to a deep breath or a big gulp before taking on the toughest crowd in the biggest room in their hometown — he grew up in Bedford-Stuyvesant — but Mr. Rock does not roll like that.

“You got to realize, I’ve been working on my act probably since around April, March,” he said, sitting in an office he keeps on the Upper West Side. “I am ready.”

The Stress Factory is near his home so he's done a bunch of shows there. The owner talks about how his act has progressed.

“He knows that they are going to give him that first laugh because of who he is,” said Vinnie Brand, the owner of the Stress Factory. “But he came out here and worked his material, over and over, cutting and trimming, until by the last show you could not believe what he had put together. He still has that hunger to be a great stand-up comedian, no matter what his name is.”

Or as Mr. Rock put it: “Maybe for about three minutes after I walk onstage, they’re into my résumé. But after that it’s like, ‘What’s he got?,’ especially in a town like this where you see famous people walking down the street.”

Two good bits from the interview: Rock says a good comic never blames the audience and that getting people to be quiet is "true ownership of the room."

He complains about nothing and is nobody’s victim. The responsibility, as he sees it, is all his, here and on the stage. The audience is there for the winning, but it takes work.

“When you get up there that first time and you don’t do well, you’re basically hearing ‘No’,” he said, looking out the window of an office from which you can see all the way to Harlem. “How are you going to approach this ‘no’? Are you going to respect it and put the blame on yourself and improve who you are, or are you going to blame the audience like an idiot?”

“It’s never their fault,” he said. “No matter how late it is, no matter how much they did or didn’t drink, no matter what the sound system is like, no matter how hot the building is or how cold the building is, it ain’t the crowd’s fault. You want to get up there, you want to be a good boy, you want to headline, that’s what you have to go in there with.”

Mr. Rock watched Eddie Murphy take over the Garden many years ago, and he has not forgotten.

“There were moments you could hear a pin drop, and that’s really what it’s all about,” he said. “Anybody can just say stuff and get people to scream. If you’re really good, you can get them to be quiet. Quiet is true ownership of the room.”

If you're curious to learn more about his workout shows, check out the writeups I mentioned: March show and April show.


Hair loss solutions, combovers, and facial hair

So my bald spot's growing. People say, "You should just shave it all off...Embrace it!" But that seems like a weird way to solve a problem: Just make it a lot worse. No one ever says, "You're starting to smell a little funky...you should cover yourself in skunk juice. Embrace your stink!"

goateeAnd ya don't want to be one of these bald guys who grows a goatee, as if hair on another body part will give people some sort of mind freeze that makes them not notice your baldness. Did anyone ever say, "Was he bald? I couldn't tell because all I saw was that lucsious goatee!" If hair on other parts of the body is such a good distraction, then bald guys should start wearing tank tops and showing off their back hair. "Sure, I'm bald...but check out this handlebar moustache between my shoulder blades!"

kangolThen there's these other bald guys who wear hats all the time. The worst are the ones who wear those Kangol caps backwards. Sure, 'cuz you're a big Samuel L. Jackson fan. Motherfucker! Sorry, you can't be more bald than a white guy in his 30's who's wearing a Kangol cap backwards. That's when you should have a combover. Take those four hairs and wrap them around your Kangol cap. Please.

comboverI like the combover guys though because they're trying to sell the theory that it's quality, not quantity, that matters. "Sure, I've only got eight hairs left. But look at how long and flexible they are!" The combover is a great solution if you live in a world where wind doesn't exist.

Other guys turn to Propecia or Rogaine...but I don't really trust the pharmaceutical companies. These guys don't see to care about side effects though, as long as they have some hair. "That's right, I'm rocking the full head of hair again. Of course, I now have cervical cancer...but it's worth it. Chicks dig it, so who cares if I'm growing a uterus?"

I think I'll just grow a ponytail. 'Cuz the balding ponytail is one look that never goes out of style.

Or maybe I'll innovate with a a fresh, new look...no one's gonna care if I'm bald when I'm rocking the chef's hat:





I'm jealous of women because they get to protect themselves against things they fear. For example, they can carry around a rape whistle. But I can't protect myself against what I fear. I can't carry around an intimacy whistle.

Her: I just want to lie here and cuddle with you all night long.
Me: [Whistle!] No means no! And if you mention "Bed, Bath, and Beyond," I'm breaking out the commitment spray.

Can't happen.


Steve Martin's advice for making it as a comic: "Be undeniably good"

Steve Martin was on Charlie Rose last week. Great interview. At the very end, he gave his advice to someone who's trying to make it in show business: "Be undeniably good."

When people ask me how do you make it in show business or whatever, what I always tell them — And nobody ever takes note of it 'cuz it's not the answer they wanted to hear. What they want to hear is here's how you get an agent, here's how you write a script, here's how you do this — But I always say, "Be so good they can't ignore you." If somebody's thinking, "How can I be really good?", people are going to come to you. It's much easier doing it that way than going to cocktail parties.

Good reminder that shortcuts are rarely the answer. Those workshops on how to make it in the comedy business or how to get representation come to mind. But the real answer is to just be great. If you're fucking great, people will notice.

Example that comes to mind: Reggie Watts. Every time he performs, people are blown away. They don't just enjoy it, they are amazed. I gotta think that when you consistently amaze people, blowing up is inevitable.


How to write an advance letter to performers

I did a show at The Lincoln Lodge in Chicago last week. Great room/setup/crowd...really enjoyed it. They do a pro job running the room too. Check out this impressively detailed email sent out to performers the week of the show:

Well its the week of the big show! Looking forward to seeing you this Thursday/Friday and just in case this is your first show or you're a Lodge veteran in need of a refresher.......
Lincoln Lodge Performer FAQ:
Q: Where is The Lincoln Lodge?
A: The Lincoln Lodge is Located at the Lincoln Restaurant, 4008 N. Lincoln on the corner of Lincoln, Damen, and Irving Park.
Q: What time is the Show, and what time should I be there?
A: The Show starts at 9:00 pm, and performers should be there no later than 8:45 pm. If you have special technical needs (music, video etc.) you should inform the Lincoln Lodge of these needs at least a week prior to the night of your performance(s), as well as arrive no later than 8:15 pm so that all technical requirements and sound checks can be addressed.
Q: Am I getting paid?
A: Yes. You are paid a flat rate of $10.00 a show and a $4.00 commission per full paying audience member there to see you. The door staff keeps a running tally.
Your compensation will be distributed on the final night of your booking, following the end of the show (Special arrangements can be made for unusual circumstances).
Q: What is expected of me?
A: To arrive ready to perform at your best and to help publicize the show in any way you can.
Q: What Should I expect of The Lincoln Lodge?
A: You should expect that The Lincoln Lodge will do everything humanly possible to ensure that you excel in you performance. This includes providing every resource we have if needed, but please remember we are also comics and volunteers, and not technical geniuses. You can also expect to be treated with professional courtesy by staff, and cast of the Lincoln Lodge, and the Lincoln Restaurant.
Q: I get free drinks and food, right?
A: Sorry no. The Lincoln Lodge Budget does not provide enough funds to provide free drinks and food. Please remember that all food and drink funds go to the Lincoln Restaurant, not the Lincoln Lodge.
Q: Do I get any complimentary Tickets to the show?
A: Yes! You are allotted 1 free admission per performance. Please notify the Lincoln Lodge door staff on whom you are providing your complementary ticket to.
Q: In what order do I appear in the show, and how much time should I prepare?
A: Set lengths and position will be available at the show from the producer upon your arrival, and posted in several areas in the performance space.
1 If you are a featured comic you should prepare 10-12 minutes for each night.
2. If you are a guest comic you should prepare 8 minutes.
Please be aware that set times vary by night due to show constrictions.
3. If you are a variety act you should prepare 15 minutes.

Q: Can I cuss?
A: the Lincoln Lodge does not enforce a policy of censorship. We would hope that part of your professionalism would include not overtly offending our paying audience.
Q: Does the Lincoln Lodge provide a recording of my set?
A: Sorry, no. The Lincoln Lodge does try to record all of its shows but a quality recording may not always be available so you should make your own arrangements to guarantee a recording. If you wish to tape your set, you must provide your own equipment to do so. Also, please bear in mind that we do not provide a specific space to set up recording devices. You may set up equipment where space is available, as long as it does not encroach on, or obscure the view of, the Lincoln Lodge paying audience.
Q: Is the Lincoln Lodge a "bringer" room?
A: No. Please be aware that although there is no requirement to bring a certain number of audience members to perform at the Lincoln Lodge , we strongly encourage you to highly promote your appearance to take advantage of being seen in a showcase environment, increase your fan base, and maximize your financial compensation.
Q: What can I tell guests I have invited about the show?
A: Please inform any attending guests that dining is available from a full menu in the restaurant from 8:00 PM onwards and the pre-show dining is accompanied by music and a slide show. Full show information including on-line ticketing is available at www.thelincolnlodge.com if you wish to inform your guests via the wonderful world web or they can call The Lincoln Lodge info line at 773 251 1539 for details. Free parking is available in the restaurant parking lot located on the Northwest corner of Lincoln, Damen, and Irving Park.
Q: How can I help?
A: Contact The Lincoln Lodge for Promotional Materials for distribution, and find out about opportunities for flyering campaigns.
The Lincoln Lodge


"According to Jim" has writers?

The show must go on, 'According to Jim' (Entertainment Weekly):

While sitcoms continue to go dark because of the ongoing writers' strike, at least one comedy is trying to keep the lights on. A show source confirms that ABC's According to Jim, which may return as early as this winter for a seventh season, resumed production this week in L.A. even though its writers are picketing. Jim Belushi, who also serves as an executive producer and director, will help run the show, though it's unclear whether he'll write, too.

Thank goodness they have that comedic genius Jim Belushi to bail them out! That guy is a hoot.

My favorite is when he does that Blues Brothers bit with Dan Akroyd. Nothing says class quite like stealing your dead brother's act and taking it on tour! Gallagher Too would be proud. Maybe Jim can write an episode where he plays a samurai swordsman at a deli...You know, as an "homage" to John.

My advice to the writers of According to Jim: Don't strike too long. You should feel pretty lucky that you collect a paycheck at all, no?


Everyone in NYC is an “artist”

okeefeIt’s weird how everyone in NYC is an “artist” of some sort. For example, a girl I know went to see her gynecologist the other day. (Nothing serious, just a tuneup...check the tires, change the oil, etc.) And her gyno starts telling her how she’s also an artist. (I mean the gynecologist is an artist…She didn't look at this girl's pussy and go “Wow! This is a work of art.”)

Anyway, I'm not sure I'd like a gynecologist who's also an artist. Who wants an abstract vaginal examination? “You know, your vagina really evokes Georgia O’Keefe's blue period." Or even worse, she might talk like an art show press release: "I can tell your pussy lips address issues of neo-conceptual formalism and conceptually reposition and re-contextualize formal histories of gender roles in our society." That seems pretty unlikely though...especially since gynecologists probably don't call them "pussy lips."


The Pocket (interesting comedy links from around the web)

Update 08/15/11: The Pocket has been discontinued since these kinds of links are now included in the regular flow of Sandpaper Suit.

Older links from "The Pocket" at delicious.com/sandpapersuit.


Heart of Darkness show on Saturday at Julep


This is always a fun show. And that holiday party you were invited to will probably suck anyway.


How I dealt with a heckling clarinet player

Lately, I've been having fun dealing with people who behave badly at my shows. Not really hecklers, more like loud talkers or sloppy exiters. But the other week, I had a new situation. The backstory: I did a set at a variety show. Before me there was a band. After the band got off, they hung out in the back of the room by the bar. While I performed my set, one of 'em kept noodling away on his saxophone. I yelled at him to stop playing saxophone. He got indignant about the fact that it was a clarinet, not a saxophone. I thought he was a cockmouth. So I told him so. Here's a link to the audio.


Who's the bigger Hitler?

There was an interesting discussion at the Thanksgiving dinner I went to last year. The scene: Two women debate who's the bigger Hitler when it comes to preparing Thanksgiving dinner. "My kids say I'm such a Hitler because I have to have the turkey in the oven by 10am."

Really? See, I'm Jewish. In my house, no one ever compared themselves to Hitler. Especially not about how good they are at stuffing something into an oven. "Boy, the way you roast that carcass, you sure are like that evil dictator who murdered millions of people by roasting them in ovens. And then when you leave the gas on by accident, man, it's just like Auschwitz in here! And when you bury the bones in the backyard, try to fight a war on two fronts, and commit suicide in your underground bunker next to your girlfriend...that's all MUCHO Hitlery."

We don't reference other mass murderers this way. "Boy, your fridge is really stuffed...you are a regular Jeffrey Dahmer with the packed fridge!" Or "You always get to the airport so early...boy, you are such a Mohammed Atta that way. You are just a Bin Laden for advance planning."


"Rocket Man": William Shatner vs. Stewie Griffin

William Shatner performs Elton John's "Rocketman" at 1978 Sci-Fi Awards show:

So ridiculous that it would seem to be beyond parody. Yet here's Stewie Griffin's Shatner-esque version of the same song from "Family Guy":


Babies are a lot like little pet gorillas

My 9 month old nephew is like a crawling tornado. Kid walks into a room and instantly does everything he's not supposed to do. Rips the cable out of the TV, tears up papers, throws books around the room. And everyone thinks it's so cute. This doesn't work for adults. You can't walk into a room, throw garbage around the place, spit your drink in someone's face, slap a girl on the ass, and then puke in the corner and have everyone say, "Oh, he's so cute."

He also crawls everywhere and gets all filthy. I have a solution: They should make pajamas for toddlers made out of Swiffer pads. Then the kid can just crawl around to every corner and get some cleaning done. Would kick the ass of that Roomba thing.


Upcoming shows in NYC and Chicago

My upcoming shows:
Dec 6: 9:00PM The Clubhouse @ Telephone Bar
Dec 11: 9:30PM Chicago Underground Comedy @ Beat Kitchen - Chicago IL
Dec 14: 9:00PM Lincoln Lodge Comedy Show - Chicago
Dec 15: 9:00PM Heart of Darkness @ Julep
Jan 4: 7:00PM Family Hour @ Comix (Ochi’s Lounge downstairs)
Jan 5: 8:00PM 50 1st Jokes @ The Creek and The Cave

Future dates are always listed at my MySpace page. Details on tonight's show at The Clubhouse...

Okay Clubhouseketeers! This week is sure to please with some super funny peeps. Come join Peter, Cass and Jay a better show than STOMP! for free!

-Matt Ruby
-Brooke Van Poppelen
-Logan Jacobson
-Kyria Abrahams

The Clubhouse @ Telephone Bar
149 2nd ave. btwn 9th & 10th st
Free - 9ish - be there


Mansinthe is mantastic

A Liquor of Legend Makes a Comeback:

One absinthe that will try to brave the regulators next year is a spirit distilled by Markus Lion in Germany for the performer Marilyn Manson. Called Mansinthe, it is “designed to please newbies as well as long-term absinthe lovers,” Mr. Lion said in an e-mail message.

#1: Hey, what are you drinking?
#2: Dude, it's Mansinthe.
#1: Mansinthe? That sounds kinda gay.
#2: No way, it's named after Marilyn Manson!
#1: Shit, why didn't you say so in the first place!? I only buy products endorsed by goth rockers! Gillette Sensor Reznors, BauWowhaus Dog Food, Sisters of Mercy Shoe Polish, etc.


Ribbons and bracelets

These days everyone's got a stupid bracelet or ribbon that shows they support some good cause. (Previously: Ribbons that signify we need to save the whales who have breast cancer and work in sweatshops in Darfur.) Whatever...easy to wear accessories don't mean anything. If you really want to show you believe in a cause, wear something hard: "I'm wearing this KKK hood in the middle of Bed Stuy to show my support for those with breast cancer." "To show my support of PETA, I'm going to swim in this shark tank while wearing a necklace made from raw steaks!" Prove you’re willing to sacrifice something and then I’ll believe you actually give a shit.


Set at Bowery Poetry Club

My set at Brainy Axe a few weeks ago. Topics include: Jerry Orbach, Snickers, grammar nazis, the religious right, the East Village, and video games.

Moving on/Subscribe to my newsletter

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