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.
Venue: Stand Up NY Date: 4/23/07 Length: 6 minutes Crowd: 11 people
Here's a look at the, ahem, glamorous world of standup. This is what it's like to do a set in front of the remaining 11 people who have sat through 3 hours of comedy on a Monday night. By then, they looked like extras from a scene in "Children of Men."
* Don't sit down for five years. When you sit down you send a message to the audience. You lower the energy. You have to bring something from a much deeper place.
* You have to set a tone of funny in the first 30 seconds. Then you can get darker (or whatever). But those first 30 seconds determine how the audience sees you.
* Persona goes a long way. When people buy your persona, they open up to you. (Persona explained at Wikipedia: "A 'second self' created by the author and through whom the narrative is related...[it] literally means mask.")
* The toughest thing for a beginning comic to learn is how to read the room.
* Write, write, write.
* Don't blame the crowd. It's always your fault. If they don't laugh, it's because you did something wrong.
* Don't listen when other comics say a room is dead. It was dead for them, that's all. A great comic can walk into the sleepiest room and still get 'em going.
Victor Varnado & Village Voice. What do these two entities have in common? If you have answered that Victor Varnado, host of Grandma's Candy Box & one of Grandma's favorite grandsons is on the cover of this week's "Village Voice" then you are correct!
If you have answered "Alliteration," "East Village Legends" or "Bums use them as Blankets," you are also correct! If you got none of these right then you are incorrect. Grandma now loves your cousins more than you and I am removing you from my Will.
On the show this week!: Lee Camp: From Spike TV, E!, Sirius Radio, and his own comedy webcast SharkBaby. What happens when shark babies grow up? If you have to ask, you'll never know. Myka Fox: Recently Co-hosted The Comical Radio and is champion of all things regrettable and worth mention. The Straight Men: Every time I try to find their credits I get gay porn sites. Come see them live! Matt Ruby : Recently performed on same bill as Chris Rock, read about it on his blog "Sandpaper Suit". Jason Kanter: Currently touring all over the country. Jason is bald and he loves it when people rub his head and make a wish! Its his absolute favorite thing! More favorite than milkshakes at the drive-in! Try it, he will be grateful to you! Hannibal Burress: Visiting from Chicago, this comic was recently featured at the Montreal Comedy Festival. Roger Hailes: You'll recognize him from his sketches on the "Chapelle Show" Eliza Faria Santos: Is sleep deprived. She that hopes you find this newsletter amusing but mostly, she hopes that it makes sense.
Hosted by Victor Varnado: My brilliant, belligerent, black albino grandson. He's been on HBO, Conan O'Brien, Starz Network, Comedy Central, and many feature films. Go pick up this week's "Village Voice"! He is naked on the cover!!!
Love & kisses, Grandma
Grandmas Candy Box Thursday 9:30pm - $2! @ Bar None (3rd Ave btw 12th and 13th sts)
The other week I did standup on the subway. Three other comics and I were headed downtown after a show. Omar was drunk, started mouthing off, and soon we were "entertaining" the D train. Alright, most people didn't really give a shit but at least a couple had fun with it.
We each had "one-stop sets." It was all rather ridiculous (and of course no one really laughed) but it actually was a strangely valuable learning experience. In that kind of situation, you better bring some energy and your jokes better not be wordy. Get to the point quick or don't bother. And it certainly makes a normal audience less intimidating. What are they gonna do? Be more apathetic than the crowd on a midnight subway car? Highly doubtful.
When you play on the street you can't approach it as if you are playing on a stage. Busking is an art form of its own...You have to relate to the audience and be a real people's person. You can't hide behind your instrument and just play, with an invisible wall between you and the audience, the way a stage performance is conducted. In busking you use the passers by as if they were paint and your music is the paint brush - your goal is to create a collective work of art with the people, in the space, in the moment with you and the music.
A busker is someone who can turn any place into a stage...As a busker one needs to interact with those around, break walls of personal space, and lure people into a collective and spontaneous group experience on the street, in the moment, with you. A bad busking act is when the performer doesn't make an effort to connect with the audience. Like musicians who play for themselves, not acknowledging the audience, just burying their heads in their instruments.
Venue: Stand Up NY Date: 4/02/07 Length: 6 minutes Crowd: 40 people
One of my best recent sets. Great crowd, totally into it from the beginning. Laughed heartily at "Keep it going for the phrase keep it going." I knew it was on.
Listening back, what's interesting to me here is the extra tags I threw on to jokes. "I'm generous like that...I need a more informative cum swallowing site...Don't test me...'Cuz they're both just so fucking authentic...etc." That's the kind of shit that just pops into your head when you're in flow. Right brain to the rescue.
And that's why writing will only take you so far. Being up there, in that moment, is when some of the best lines come. Or at least ones that are present and immediate and feel like part of a conversation. People respond to that.
That's why taping sets is so helpful too. These lines would be lost otherwise. Having them recorded gives them a chance to live again and maybe get added to those jokes full-time.
Once a person had passed the required background check, state law requires that law enforcement officers issue a concealed carry permit to anyone who applies. However, no regulations and no background checks are required for purchase of weapons at a Virginia gun show.
Wait a minute. The one place in the state where there are no gun regulations or background checks is at a GUN SHOW? Because something should be illegal...unless you get it at a show dedicated to that thing!? "Normally, crack is illegal...but not if you buy it at The Crack Show!"
I had a weird set last night. Room was dead. Other comics made "thrown to the lions" references. It was late in the evening when Rob Cantrell got up and did an awesome set. He can be funny but last night he wasn't. Just deep and truthful and mushroomy. Bill Hicks meets Terence Mckenna style. And just when you feared he'd go off the deep end, he talked about how it must be awesome to be a bird because if you don't like where you're at, you can just fly somewhere else, and then does an impression of a bird. Totally ridiculous and awesome.
He inspired me to break from my set. It turned out rather lame. Well, lame in that it wasn't funny. I just talked. Wanted to see where it would lead me. It was a good exercise but not funny enough. I started out alright but then I got a bit too philosophical about Americans being scared and people telling you not to do stuff because they're just jealous that they can't do it, etc. When I tried to weave in some jokes again, it was too late. They saw me as a serious guy and that's not the path to laughter. The vibe I was bringing was interesting, but it wasn't funny.
Now I wonder what would've happened if I had gone out and just did my intended set. Would've gotten more laughs but is that always better? At that point, in that room, with that crowd, it just seemed like it would be phony to stick to material. Still, I feel bad about delivering a lackluster set. These people paid money to be there after all.
I think there are two solutions: 1) Get better at weaving punch lines into the ranting. Mix the jabs in with the uppercuts. 2) Fuck 'em and bring your A game and make it work. If your frame is stronger — and the material is there — they'll come around.
So I perform every Monday at Stand Up NY. Two out of the past three weeks, Chris Rock has shown up and done a 40+ minute set of new material. No promises he'll be there again but it's always a fun, weird show with some good comics on the bill anyway. Plus, you can get in for free (normally $15 cover) if you say "comp cover for Matt Ruby." Still a two-drink minimum though. But you're a fucking lush anyway so what do you care?
MONDAYS @ STAND-UP NY Monday, April 16 (and every Monday) 236 W 78th St (btwn B'way and Amsterdam) 9pm show
Rock's set last week was great but my favorite moment of the night was before he even showed up. Another comedian got a woman in the audience to admit she's had a finger up her ass. So what? Well, she was sitting in between her teenage daughter *and* her mother-in-law at the time. Scandalous! And that poor girl...it's like they say: A moment on the lips, a lifetime in the therapist's chair.
What's that? You don't want to go all the way uptown to see me perform? Alright, quit your whining. I've got a couple of East Village shows coming up too.
On Thursday, April 26 I'll be doing a set at Grandma's Candy Box, a weekly show at Bar None. It's free and they have cheap drinks. Last time I performed there, the room was full of drunken cops and one of the comics nearly got arrested. Good times! Details:
GRANDMA'S CANDY BOX @ BAR NONE Thursday, April 26 98 3rd Ave (btwn 12th & 13th St) 9:30pm
And here's some "save the date" shit: On Thursday, May 10, some friends and I are putting on "Flying Carpet," a comedy extravaganza at Mo Pitkin's. On the bill: Kristen Schaal, Andres Dubouchet, Joe Alexander, Brian Koppelman, Dan Soder, Landon Kirksey, and more. All for only $3. It'll be a grand time.
FLYING CARPET @ MO PITKIN'S 34 Ave A (btwn 2nd and 3rd St) Thursday, May 10 9PM
Here's how that works: He walks in. Everyone starts whispering. Comic onstage finishes his set and Chris goes up (other comics get bumped or have to wait and are fine with that because they get to watch a master work shit out). The audience members whisper and seem slightly aghast. All the other comics and waitstaff fill the room at the sides and the back. There's about 50 people in the room.
He puts a yellow legal pad on a stool and starts flipping pages looking for jokes. He doesn't address the crowd or do crowdwork. All he cares about is shaping the jokes on the pad. Most jokes seem already written out. But then you can see where he starts trying to extend. He gets this little glint in his eye and dances around different act-outs.
When he finishes his bits, he leans back against the wall and returns to the pad. He flips through, finds one of his topics, and says out loud, "Hmm...weddings...kinda hack. It's tough to unhack that." The comics in the room love the reference. But he doesn't really play to the industry people at the sides. He's more focused on the middle of the room, the random audience members and their reactions.
He covers a lot of the same topics as last time (like how cruel kids are, how he hates rich kids but now he has his own, how women can never go back financially and men can never go back sexually, etc.). But doesn't do them the same. There are new twists and turns.
Overall, it's not as funny as one of his HBO sets. He's not as committed. The peaks don't go as high and the rhythm isn't there in the same way. In "Bring the Pain" and those other specials, he grabs it by the throat and doesn't let go. These workout sets hit those highs occasionally but include a lot of lulls too. It's a lot more catch and release. Some of the older audience members sit with arms folded and seem unimpressed.
Still there are some great fucking moments. He says love doesn't exist (it's just a combination of like plus need). He talks about how every woman thinks her pussy can change a man. He talks a lot about women and relationships actually (most brilliant bit of the night revolved around "In every relationship, there's a Hall and there's an Oates."). He talks about how he's just good enough in bed. About why you should drop out of school in 2nd grade instead of 10th grade (you'll be qualified for the job you'll get either way). And lot's more. Tough to get it across here but he's got some amazing, ballsy material cooking.
I'm not sure there's any better comedy class than watching someone that good work on material at that stage. More than anything, you see how much hard work it is. He's grinding out this material. He mentioned how men in his family have been lifting shit for 400 years. He's lifting too.
So what's it like to follow a legend? I went up a few comics later and the crowd seemed exhausted by then. You just gotta roll with it, acknowledge what we all just experienced, and use that as inspiration. Crowd was actually pretty loose considering the length of the show (and prob drunk too) so we still had fun.
Online comments bring out the crazies. A few examples...
At the message board of Bill Maher's site, there's an amusing debate over whether the Jews "control the entertainment industry and the media." Someone named Gorillamom posted this bizarre comment there with random name dropping, gratuituous typos, non sequiturs, etc.
My friend and master screen writer Stewart Stern, is from the Hollywood Jewish community. His family co-founded Paramount Pictures. He wrote the screen play's "Rebel Without a Cause, Cybli (with Sally Field) The Ugly American, The Outsideres, and few others. I loved having lunch with him every Sunday in the gorilla unit. He's a good cook. He prepared the gorillas diets at the zoo every Sunday.
I really wasn't expecting the transition from "he wrote the screenplay for Rebel Without a Cause" to "I loved having lunch with him every Sunday in the gorilla unit." I guess when your name is Gorillamom, it always comes back to the gorillas.
From : Jeffrey S email@example.com "I somehow stumbled on your stupid web site. It's dumb and I'm going to tell my friends how dumb it is."
Jeffrey sounds like a good friend! I wish I had a friend like him around to point out dumb things that I'm unaware even exist. My lame friends only tell me about things that are smart or interesting. Sucks.
From: Daniel K firstname.lastname@example.org "Fox News doesn't lie. They are the only ones that stand for family values and supporting war"
Thank goodness there's still someone around that stands for both family values AND war. The two go together like chocolate and peanut butter. It's about time we get this country's priorities back in order.
From: Matt S email@example.com "your evil. You are gay and you probably would like everyone to be gay to get your ass pounded fag."
Joe's black. I'm jewish. We had this conversation the other night.
Joe: I've tried matzah and I don't like it. Couldn't you guys figure out how to make bread? Me: Matzah sucks 'cuz we made it while being chased through the desert for 40 years by a bunch of Egyptians. I'd think you'd be able to empathize. I bet the bread wasn't so great on your slave ships either. Joe: [Laughs] Me: When the man comes for you, sometimes you forget to grab the yeast. If the Klan surrounded your house, you might take off before packing up the Crisco.
Which reminds me, I've been thinking about Mel Gibson's "The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world." Yeah, 'cuz, you know, as a people, wars have worked out pretty well for us Jews. After World War II, we looked around at each other and said, "Oh yeah, gimme some more of that!"
Also amusing to me: the stereotype that Jews love money. You know, unlike all other ethnic groups. Other ethnic groups just hate money. They give away cash left and right.
Actually, the reason Jews got good with money is because Christians refused to do banking or financial jobs in the Middle Ages. The church said it was filthy so Jews had to take over all the money-related careers. Meanwhile, Christians decided to stick with cobbling and smithing or whatever the hell else people did back then. Not the best move in retrospect. (Hey, Jews have fucked up plenty too...outlawing bacon for starters.)
How can you hate a group of people for doing a job that you forced them to do because you considered it beneath you? It'd be like hating Mexicans for being busboys. But I've never heard someone say, "Damn Mexicans, they love dirty dishes!"
Anyway, Jews don't love money. We love bargains. We've been conditioned to by Jewish holidays, which always seem to be based on a crazy good bargain. For Passover, the little bit of matzah each Israelite took out of Egypt miraculously lasted 31 days. For Hannukah, a one day supply of oil lasted eight days. It's no wonder we get excited when there's a 30% off sale at Saks.
While waiting to go onstage, vet comic Todd Lynn likes to offer words of wisdom to new jack comics. From last night:
There's a difference between writing good jokes and being funny. When you're funny, people laugh no matter what you say. Funny is about timing, delivery, attitude, and confidence. Writing good jokes is about being smart. The trick is bringing the two together.
Don't slouch onstage. Look like you care about your jokes. The audience will reflect your energy.
The long buildup stretches out the tension. This joke could be told in 10 seconds but it's the stretch that gives it tension and gives away the persona of the narrator. Interesting: The punchline is actually silence. The pause is when you realize the true message being conveyed is the complete opposite of the words being said. That incongruity is the laugh spark. Then you've got the smarmy tag "Oh, not have way I guess." Brilliant act-out that gives a final punch to it and shows the level of bullshit being dispensed.