Hey. I’m Matt Ruby (email@example.com). 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.
I was at a café the other week and a mediocre singer-songwriter started to perform. In between each song, she would tune her guitar slowly and painfully. She even explained her lack of an electronic tuner by saying, "Use a tuner and you lose your ears." Um, yeah, but if you don't use a tuner, you lose your audience.
It's weird to hear a performer tell you they are purposefully doing something painful to you because it's good for them. "After this song, I'm going to stab you repeatedly...because it'll be really great for my triceps!" Great! Is there anything else that I, as an audience member, can do for you? Gee-sus.
Unfortunately, it IS best to close with something really funny. And to open with something really funny.
Ideally, whatever you open with establishes your sensibility. So even if you don't feel it is a blockbuster bit, try and pick something you feel is really "you". Then the crowd will decide if they want to go along with you or not. And it really is best to end on a high note. Even if only because it just feels better.
But also because if you have a limited amount of time, that last impression can mean a lot. Try and make sure you've got your timing down, so you know how much time you have after the light. Or ask the person in charge of the light to give you that light at a certain time so you can do that bit without rushing it. If it's a two minute bit, ask to be given a light when you have two or three minutes left. Then you can take your time with it.
Having said all that, do it the way you want to do it. There are no rules. My advice might make things a little easier for you, but it's your style and I haven't seen your material, so who am I to tell you what to do? The best way to learn how to structure your set is doing it a bunch of times and mixing things up if you feel they're not working to your satisfaction.
Dealing with hecklers:
When I first started, I had enormous difficulty dealing with hecklers. Any time anyone in the audience said anything, I instantly went on the attack, and in a rather inelegant fashion. I just tried to shut people down with insults. What took me forever to learn was that you have to give these people enough rope to either hang themselves or show that they are not actually a threat. It's worth talking to hecklers to see if they are just goons who are trying to ruin your set or if they are just enthusiastic folks who want to get in on the fun. Talking to them lets the audience know what they're all about, so if you need to take them out, you will definitely have the audience on your side. If they're simply nice people who don't realize they're committing a faux pas-- and believe me, most people have no idea that it's not good to yell stuff out at shows-- you can get some comedy out of it and gently let them know that their input is no longer required.
Why he loves Brian Regan:
A guy I absolutely love is Brian Regan. He may not be underrated per se, people do know him and his is respected, but I don't think he's respected ENOUGH. What Brian does is almost impossible-- to be hilarious and have the butt of the joke be HIMSELF 99% of the time. Comedy can be pretty much boiled down to making fun of stuff. It's a lot of finger-pointing. Like I do. So to make yourself the object of ridicule and be as funny as Brian is is pretty hard to pull off without being some milquetoast quasi-Christian comic. Any time his special comes on Comedy Central, I will watch it to its conclusion no matter when I happen to jump in.
What he does if someone else has a similar bit:
When something like that happens to me, I drop the bit. Even if I think my bit is better written and executed than the other bit with the same premise. I just hate the idea of me doing a bit that's similar to someone else's very specific bit. It's happened to me a few times, and I've dropped the bit even if I came up with it first. I think it's best to be able to say to yourself, "I can always write more material."
I want to be as much myself onstage as possible so that I can communicate to the audience the things that I find funny in the way that I find them funny. The challenge of stand up is, "How do I express this idea to the audience as closely as possible to the way that it made me laugh so that we're having the same experience."
Video of the debut edition of "We're All Friends Here," the new monthly standup/talkshow combo I'm cohosting with Mark Normand. This show featured Sean Patton, Baron Vaughn, Tom McCaffrey, and Brent Sullivan. It was filthy and a lot of fun. Lots of good stuff in the interviews too so maybe we'll do the whole thing as a podcast.
The next one is Friday, June 13 (8pm) at The Creek and The Cave and will feature Rob Cantrell, Becky Ciletti, and more.
Yet check out this quote from an 18-year-old "poet" living there who gave his name as Eirehan Failte:
“Even when it’s really loud, it’s still better than some terrible stock-trading roommate listening to Fox in the next room.”
Really?! Is it? "Are you playing drums at 3am? Cool. Wait, are you trading stocks? Because capitalism keeps me awake!" Nothing's more annoying than a roommate who's got a job and can afford to pay the rent...how bourgeois.
And is Fox really that bad? If I was given a choice between watching Prison Break or having bedbugs, call me crazy, but I would take Prison Break. Even though bedbugs probably have a more realistic plotline. (At least there's no head bedbug who has a full body tattoo that includes hidden architecture blueprints of my bedroom.)
I can hear this kid talking about future roommates: "Yeah, my roommates are in Al Qaeda. But at least they don't like Coldplay!"
"My roommate's got the bird flu, but at least he doesn't care about the NASDAQ."
"Yeah, I live with Satan in the third circle of hell but it's cool since he really likes Donnie Darko...Yeah, I met him through Craigslist. Missed Connections. I put an ad on there that said, 'G train. 7:30pm. Wednesday. You: Red suit, horns, pitchfork. Me: Not intimidated.'"
if you make a living only providing an in-person (hands-on) service, you are limiting your income. If you were in a “while you sleep” business, there is no limit to how much you can make...Musicians MUST NOT buy into that “only earn by performing” belief because it limits your income.
Translated for comedians: If you're established, this would mean making money from selling albums or shirts. But for small timers, there's still a lesson here: Don't rely solely on stagetime to get known. Figure out ways for people to find out about you "while you sleep" via things like online videos, a blog, or a podcast.
To confidently invest in an artist (as a label), I’d want to see:
every song has been absolutely improved repeatedly - every note/syllable crafted to be the best it can be
live show is so entertaining that even a deaf person would enjoy it
artist has done this for a few years and still believes that this is their real calling in life, regardless of external rewards (or total lack of)
an unflappably healthy attitude to the immense amount of work it really takes to be successful at anything
Translated for comedians: Perfect your craft. Be hilarious every time you perform. Be undeniably good. Do crowds love you as much as they love Reggie Watts or Mulaney? If not, then why would you think you'll get to blow up like those guys? Expect to pay your dues. And don't get all negative 'cuz you're not getting great shows or you're barking or you're still doing open mics.
What’s really keeping you from where you need to be? (It’s not piracy.)
“Obscurity is your real enemy. Fight obscurity until you’re a household name, then piracy will be more of a problem than obscurity. Until then, worry about pigs, not sharks.”
The thing separating us from where we are and where we need to be is not piracy.
It’s always something more internal, whether writing, communicating, producing, networking, promoting, or taking a wildly different approach to marketing.
Putting so much attention and energy into fighting piracy (as if, when solved, you’ll suddenly start selling 10 times more) - is misguided effort, distracting you from what you really need to be improving.
Translated for comedians: Don't blame others for your lack of success. Look for internal solutions. Not getting booked on other people's shows? Start your own. Not getting laughs? Write better jokes. Etc.
whatever excites you, go do it whatever scares you, go do it every time you’re making a choice, one choice is the safe/comfortable choice - and one choice is the risky/uncomfortable choice. the risky/uncomfortable choice is the one that will teach you the most and make you grow the most, so that’s the one you should choose.
Thanks to everyone who came out to the We're All Friends Here show on Friday. People loved it and we learned a lot about our guests (and ourselves).
Topics covered included: -Pubic hair maintenance techniques -Jerking off with olive oil -What Adrien Brody was like in high school -Receding hairlines -Why black men have big dicks -What white people don't get about being black -Homosexual experiences -Tops, bottoms, and versatiles -Lots more
It really felt like a group therapy session. Except you felt like a pussy if you didn't reveal something way too personal.
Plus, there was The Coatrack of Offensiveness (featuring the racist hat, the sexist tie, and the anti-semitic scarf). This all gives new meaning to the phrase "You had to be there."
Next one is Friday, June 13 at 8pm at The Creek and The Cave. Yup, Friday the 13th. Scary.
Also: The last Flying Carpet was a hot one too with great comics, a dash of improv, 10 Things I Hate, and a search through attendee shopping bags. Next Flying Carpet is Sunday, June 29 at Rififi at 8pm. First Sunday one so let's see how it goes. 8pm slot is nice for the working folks too.
What the hell is going on here? I'm hosting another show now? Yes. It's true. Tomorrow (Friday) night. In Queens? Yes, Queens. "But I don't go to Queens." You do now. Long Island City. It's one stop from Manhattan (or Bklyn) so you'll get there quick. Just take the G or 7. You love those trains! It's a super cool venue: The Creek and The Cave. Cheap drinks. You like those. Outdoor patio for post-show hanging too. And the whole show is free.
I'm cohosting with one of my fave NYC comics: Mark Normand. He likes to say, "We're all friends here." So that's what we're calling the show. "Great, another standup show...who cares?" you say. Well hold on there cowgirl, this is a brand new bag. There are four standups who do sets and then the fun really starts: We sit each one down and grill 'em like a porterhouse at Peter Luger's. We're gonna ask really inappropriate questions too. 'Cuz one thing Mark and I have in common: boundary issues. So we're gonna get into the dirt. Like that Motley Crue autobiography. (Which is fantastic, btw.) Blushes guaranteed.
What will we talk about? Hint: One comic's gay, another one's black, and another one burnt his ballsack with a cigarette the other week and we're gonna show a video of that. Highbrow, baby, highbrow! Really this will be a grand 'ol time. And the comics are super too. Make your presence felt.
Here are the details...
PERFORMERS: Baron Vaughn (http://www.myspace.com/baronvaughn) Tom McCaffrey (http://www.tommccaffrey.net/) Sean Patton (http://www.myspace.com/seanpatton) Brent Sullivan (http://www.myspace.com/sully2106)
HOSTS: Matt Ruby (http://www.sandpapersuit.com) Mark Normand (http://www.myspace.com/heresmarkk)
SHOW INFO: WE'RE ALL FRIENDS HERE 8pm on Friday, May 16, 2008 FREE! The Creek and The Cave 10-93 Jackson Ave. Long Island City, NY Map: http://tinyurl.com/5psqlv
TravelZoo's ad campaign "What's the deal with TravelZoo?" I don't know advertisement. Isn't that your job? I'm not looking for a homework assignment here. I'd like to see the other ads from this agency...a tourism ad: "Puerto Rico...Where is it?" A drug ad: "Valtrex...you know!" A beer ad: "Michelob...What do you think?"
RedEnvelope catalog At the bottom of this catalog, it says, "How do you say, 'I love you'?" RedEnvelope, how did you know that this is EXACTLY how I say I love you?! I dump a barrell of rose petals on the bed, strip down to my boxers, and lift my girlfriend over my head while balancing her on my feet. Then we go into the hot tub, fill it with floating candles, and scrub each other with crystal loofahs while singing Feist songs to each other. 1, 2, 3, 4...
Cute animals on the internet Sites like Cute Overload are porn for chicks. An adorable pug sitting on an Eames chair? That's ridiculous...especially since his legs can't even reach the ottoman. I think the whole thing is Photoshopped anyway. [I was gonna say, "What kind of prick would photoshop that?" But then I remember that I'm the one who made these.]
Guys who complain that there were no chicks at Comic Con That's like complaining that there's no bacon at a Seder. Also, this is a 100% real conversation that I heard:
Guy #1: I was really disappointed there were no chicks at Comic Con this year. Guy #2: Do you really want a chick who's into comic books? Guy #1: Yeah! Do you know how much I'm dying to have a girl bring up Hawkeye in bed? Guy #2: You're dying to have a girl bring a hot guy in bed? Guy #1: Hawkeye! Hawkeye in bed. Me: [Astounded silence.]
"Dealing with Difficult People" seminar If you need to attend a seminar called "Dealing with Difficult People," then you're the difficult person.
Ridiculous fitness trends Boot camp yoga? Yeah, 'cuz nothing creates the zen relaxation of yoga better than a drill seargant yelling at you. "I want a room full of downward facing dog poses and I want it NOW!"..."Where you from boy? Tennessee? There's only two kinds of yoga in Tennessee...Bikram and Vinyasa...and that don't look like Bikram to me! So you must be doing Vinyasa!" [Damn, you didn't see the Officer and a Gentleman reference coming now did ya?!]
Silly toilet reading material What's the best way to show the world what a wealthy and smart businessman you are? A copy of Money Magazine on the toilet...obviously!
Also, I've never read "Money," but the promo headlines on the cover are some kind of generic: "Smart Moves in a Mean Economy," "The Two Things You Must Get Right," "Buy These Stocks (and Avoid These)," etc. Way to take a controversial stand Money Magazine! I'm guessing the inside headlines read like this: "Don't Buy Things That Suck." Or "Money is Good but Being Broke is Bad."
Tourists who return home acting like natives of where they went A guy I know went to Spain and came back pronouncing everything like he was a Spaniard: "We spent a week in BarTHalona. And then a couple of days in THaragoTHa." Dude, you're American...you THound like an aTHole. Comprendé? And take off that matador suit while you're at it.
Ridiculously named reporters I thought Storm Field had a ridiculous name but wow: The hip hop reporter for the New York Times is named "Mike Nizza." MIKE NIZZA!? I'm dying to meet him just so I can ask repeatedly, "Are you Mike Nizza?...ARE YOU MIKE NIZZA?" He'll probably go, "Fuck yeah I'm Mike Nizza. Writer for the New York Tizzle." This is making me uncomfortable. I think I'll just call him Mike N-word instead.
Bad MySpace ads I love this "Fleetwood Mac Ringtones!!!" ad. Man, they really nailed the Fleetwood Mac demographic with this guy. Actually, he looks more like a Stevie Nicks solo career fan.
Attention Chicago. I'll be performing two standup sets there this weekend (Fri and Sun). Details:
1. Friday 9pm Lincoln Lodge. Did this show last time I was in town and it was lotsa fun. Great place w/ huge beers. Fyi, a friend told me this about the show: "Sometimes it gets really packed and they sell out early, so probably best to buy tickets from their site." Here's link for tix. Show starts at 9pm. i'll be up around 10:00 PM - maybe later.
No one is more underground than DJ Underground. Produced by Brad Steuernagel and Jay Bois (thanks guys!). Music by Ruby Lament. (That's my music project. You can download our new album for free at that link if ya want. Warning: It's not funny.)
I Eat Pandas was voted ECNY Best Improv Group and recently got a TimeOut NY Critic's Pick (TONY: "We like the way I Eat Pandas does it.") Eric André has been on Comedy Central's Live at Gotham and just auditioned for a full 1/2 hour Comedy Central Presents. He's gonna blow the place up. Joe Mande won "Best Emerging Comic" at the ECNY awards and hosts Totally J/K. Kenny Zimlinghaus can be heard on Cosmopolitan Radio on Sirius (and hosts a great show at Rififi that's happening right before Flying Carpet). Special imports Ryan Conner (DC) and Micah Sherman (Boston) are both hilarious. And I'll be hosting and showing a special video from DJ Underground.
Update: Just added Boston's Myq Kaplan to the bill. He got rave reviews for his recent Live at Gotham taping: "Myq Kaplan blew plenty of minds with his awesomeness, earning multiple applause breaks and the attention of everyone downstairs in the lounge/green room. Very poised...A shining performance that'll certainly get him industry attention."
You hear that a lot. Make your material personal. Talk about your family, your fears, your childhood, your secret thoughts, etc. Louis CK or Mike Birbigs come to mind as examples of this approach. And Howard Stern might just be the king of it.
Those guys are some of my faves. But so are a lot of comics who never get personal. Mitch Hedberg, Zach Galifianakis, Steve Martin, Todd Barry...their material rarely touches on intimate details about their lives. Do I know anything about what these guys are truly like at home or whatever? No. Do I care? No.
Maybe they're revealing something about themselves based on how they tell their jokes and look at the world. When Mitch Hedberg talks about Pringles or bananas, you're still getting some pretty deep insight into how his brain works. Maybe it's ok to not get personal if you're being peculiar in your own way. Maybe a strange joke about koala bears reveals as much about you as a story about how your dad yelled at you or whatever.
Anyway, just something I've been wrestling with in my own head. Sometimes I think I should get more personal with my material. But then again, it just doesn't seem to come all that naturally to me. Maybe it's cuz it's easier to keep some emotional distance. Or maybe it's just easier for me to make random stuff funny than things that are close to home. Hmm.