Q&A about standup with me at Romanian (!) comedy site

I'm big in Romania!?

Sergiu Floroaia runs "the first 100% stand-up comedy website in Romania" and recently interviewed me. Link: "Încerc să fac un nou set în fiecare lună, dar durata unui set în New York e de obicei de 8-12 minute." Fuck if I know what "Încerc să fac un nou set în fiecare lună" means. Anyway, he translated my answers...here's the English version.

How did you start? Did you have a role model?
How I started: I moved to New York City after living in Chicago for a long time. I began to go to Rififi and Upright Citizen's Brigade Theater and saw a lot of great comedians for cheap or free. I'd thought about doing standup for a long time before that but seeing all these great comics in person is what really gave me the push to try it.

I didn't have any one role model. But I remember seeing great sets by people like Patton Oswalt, Greg Giraldo, Nick Kroll, Will Franken, and others before I tried standup myself. Those nights showed me what great, raw standup can be like in the flesh. Something I hadn't really experienced before moving to NYC.

Once I started hanging out in clubs a lot, my perspective changed a little bit. At that point, what I really enjoyed was watching great comics perform multiple times and seeing how their material changed/evolved. People like Todd Barry, Judah Friedlander, Todd Lynn, or Gary Gulman come to mind as guys who I got to see a lot and really enjoyed how they mixed up their material and interacted with the crowd. New York is a great place for that sort of thing because you see big name comics drop in to clubs all the time. Also, there are lots of great up and coming guys too who you might not know of but will hopefully get more recognition soon.

What are you doing now? (In terms of comedy)
I perform standup at least a few times a week at different places in New York and occasionally elsewhere. I host two shows too: "Flying Carpet" at Rififi [now on hiatus] and "We're All Friends Here" at The Creek and The Cave (Mark Normand cohosts that one). I also work on web shorts too. You can see those here:

How often do you change your material? How much do you work on 30 minutes of solid material?
I'm constantly changing my material. I try to do a new set of material each month at "Flying Carpet" so that pushes me to write a lot. Also, the scene in New York isn't that big so a lot of times I wind up performing for audience members and other comics who I see a lot. Telling jokes that people have heard before isn't fun for them (or me) so that's a good motivator for writing more too.

If there's a downside to this quick turnover of material it's that I don't get to hone jokes as much as if I did the same stuff over and over. But I think that'd be pretty boring anyway. I'd rather take chances on new stuff. That's more exciting for me and I think audiences feed off that excitement too.

As for 30 minute sets: I wish! Occasionally, I'll do a 15 or 20 minute set but the average set in NYC is usually 8-12 minutes.

Is your favorite joke the same with the joke that works best with the audience? What is that joke?/What are those jokes?
My favorite joke is always changing. Usually it's something fresh because I get sick of stuff quickly. So check out my most recent set and you'll probably see what's my fave stuff at that time.

Sometimes a joke I really love will fall flat with the audience. I might try it a couple more times but if it still gets nothing, I'll drop it. You've gotta follow the laughs.

What's your take on offensive material? How far can you go? How far do you go?
Well, I'm not crazy about comics who use dick jokes and naughty words as a cheap way to get laughs. That seems rather childish.

But I like things that are smart and truthful even if they are offensive to some folks. The truth is often offensive. That shouldn't stop you from telling it.

How far can you go? It depends. I think the more people like you as a person, the further you can go with doing edgy stuff. It depends on the audience too. I talk about sex, nazis, rape, and other stuff but it's usually in a pretty lighthearted way. Sometimes I go too far and lose an audience. It's a balancing act that I'm still figuring out. If you get them on your side by first being friendly and likable, it makes it a lot easier to get away with the dark stuff.

Do you think we should be able to laugh at anything? (Why?)
I don't think any topic should be untouchable. If it's funny, it's funny. The more offensive something is, the more it has to actually be truly funny.

You argue that stand-up is about being a funny person, not having funny material. Why is that?
Actually, it was Woody Allen who said that first so I can't take credit for it. I think it's about being a good performer. A lot of writers think all they need to do is write funny jokes. But then they get onstage and bomb. The jokes are only part of the equation. Your energy, rhythm, confidence, personality, delivery, etc. are all hugely important too. I think that's what Woody means. It's about writing good material AND being a good performer. Funny people can get laughs before they even get to the punchline.

What's the most important advice you'd give to someone that wants to start doing stand-up?
Do it as much as you can. There's no substitute for stage time.

Learn to listen. The audience is telling you all the time if you're on the right path or not. You need to gauge the laughs, the silences, the energy of the room, and figure out when they're with you and when they're not. A lot of new comics recite their acts instead of reacting to the room which can be a turnoff. Great comedy is a dialogue, not a monologue.

Live an interesting life. It's tough to be compelling onstage if you don't have any life experience that makes you worth paying attention to.

What's the stand-up comedian that you'd recommend as a "case study" for a beginner?
There's no one person. Everyone's gonna have their own comics they prefer. Find whoever makes you laugh the most, figure out why they're funny, and learn from that.

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4 Comment(s)

Blogger PK said...

Great interview Ruby, fucking brilliant.

-pk

9/11/08, 11:53 AM  
Blogger Tyler said...

It means: I try do create a new set every month, but the length of a set in New York is usually 8-12 minutes.
I'm romanian and also interested in what your take on Romania is. What do you know about it?

9/13/08, 4:34 PM  
Blogger Matt Ruby said...

I'm romanian and also interested in what your take on Romania is. What do you know about it?

Er, not much I'm afraid. Good gymnasts there, right?

9/14/08, 9:58 PM  
Blogger Abbi said...

Great job, Matt!

9/22/08, 10:36 AM