The best of Sandpaper Suit for 2008

Here are some posts from the past year that were especially popular or that I liked a lot:

The "best of" category includes some more top posts from '08 and earlier too.

While we're looking back, I also want to say thanks to all you regular readers out there. It's been great to read your comments and hear your feedback when I see you out in person. It's humbling to me that people actually read this thing and find it enjoyable. So thanks again and happy new year!


Upcoming: Ochi's, Jersey City, and We're All Friends Here

Shows I'll be doing...

Tue Dec 30 @ 7pm
Eric I's Comedy Showdown
Ochi's @ Comix
353 West 14th Street (@ 9th Avenue)

Tuesday, January 6th, 9:00 pm
BabyHole @ The Lamp Post
Hosted by Melissa Surach
382 2nd Street
Jersey City, NJ

Sat Jan 10 @ 8pm
The comedy chat show with boundary issues
Hosted by Matt Ruby and Mark Normand
The Creek in Long Island City
10-93 Jackson Ave at 49th Ave
Featuring: Katina Corrao, Luke Cunningham, Sean Donnelly, and MC Napkins

Fri Jan 16 @ 7:30pm
Too Cool for School @ Coco 66
Nick Turner and Cassidy Henehan host
66 Greenpoint Avenue
Brooklyn, NY


Get Sandpaper Suit in your email inbox every day

Regular visitor here? If so, consider getting Sandpaper Suit delivered by email. It'll show up in your inbox once a day. And the email includes links from "The Pocket" too. (That's the white box in the sidebar where I post interesting comedy links from around the web.) Easy as pie. Though come to think of it, pie is pretty difficult. As is pi. Anyway...


Let's put the X in Xmas! (That was a KISS song I think)

Attention Pagans, Jews, NYers, stragglers, or other misfits: With Chesley and Sean, the Kabin Louisiana boys, out of town, Matt Ruby and Mark Normand are guest hosting the Thursday (Xmas night) "Comedy as a Second Language" show. Also appearing: Cassidy Henehan, Danny Solomon, and more.

Thursday at the East Village's own...
Kabin Bar & Lounge! 92 2nd Ave (btw 5th/6th Sts)
$2 cans of PBR

P.S. If you're outta town, you can catch Matt and Mark at the next We're All Friends Here on 1/10 at The Creek in LIC.

Sham and Wham

I went to a vegetarian restaurant that had "Sham" on the menu. Impressive. You're just coming right out and telling me you're trying to deceive me with an inferior product. "I'd like the Rib Off please...and some Chili Con...how do you pronounce that? Ah, Con Artist."

Vegetarians even have a product called "Wham" which is fake Spam. As if that's the problem with being a vegetarian. "You know what I miss? Meat that I couldn't identify in the first place." A vegetarian who misses Spam? Wow. That's like talking to a guy who moves to a foreign country and having this conversation...Q: What do you miss most about America? A: Jersey!


The ol' set list on the hand

Set list on hand

Sometimes I'll write a few notes on my hand that I fear might slip my memory in the HEAT of BATTLE. With the right glance, it can be a wee bit subtler than looking at a piece of paper. This photo is from a set I did months (years?) ago. Don't even remember some of these bits actually.

The king of this technique: Rick Shapiro. There's barely any skin showing on his hands by the time he's done writing notes on them.


Urinary tract infections and cranberry juice

It's strange that urinary tract infections are cured by cranberry juice. Sounds like something a doctor who lost his license would come up with. "You know that burning feeling you're having...Well, I can't write you a prescription, but I've got the perfect cure: Ocean Spray!" Question: Does it have to be 100% pure cran or can you get away with just cran cocktail?

Also, it's surprising that cranberry juice, which usually stains everything it touches, is what cleans out your urinary tract. Using that reverse logic, I have a theory: Club soda is what actually causes the problem in the first place. Someone start researching that.


Recent Twitter posts

Follow me on Twitter for quickies like these:

I'm tired of backlashes. Those have totally jumped the shark. And I've just about had it up to here with people who have had it up to here.

Things I don't get: karaoke, guitar hero, rock band. Reason: I actually LIKE music.

The king of ending jokes with some sorta singsongy melody: Patton Oswalt. Always gets a laugh though.

Just watched a tape of a recent set where I said "oh boy" in between jokes 5+ times (as a filler while I think). Need to watch that.

Act outs that give voice to animals are always funny. Norm opens with one here...Seinfeld does it a lot too.

Restaurants of New York: You can just assume that I want tap and not bottled water from here on out.

NYC problem: The word "mixologist" is used way too much. "Bartender" was working just fine.

Saw Tropic Thunder last week. So bad. I don't get 99% of what goes for funny in movies today.

I would love to have a microphone like Gene Rayburn used on Match Game: photo

Music theft didn't start with MP3s. People jacked BMG Music Club for tons of CDs when I was in college. Top signup name used: C.D. Stealy.

Misprounced words = funny. E.g. Zach G w/ "characters" (pronouncing the ch- like in charades) or Greg Proops saying "Stipaul" for St. Paul.

myq on naked show: "it's weirder for the audience...not that i'm trying to sell you. do what you like. be clothes-minded." nice dad pun!

"The impressed applause break" = when a crowd applauds because of performance, not funniness. Ways to get it: long lists, big act-outs, etc.

People who live in glass houses...spend a lot on curtains. Huuuuge heating bills otherwise.


Video debut of The Hip Hop Pirate: East coast! West Coast! Barbary Coast!

Music and words by Matt Ruby, video shot and edited by Matt Lament.

Also, the HHP asked me to deliver this special message to y'all. Please forgive his salty tongue.


The Funky B.U.C. in the house. Spitting maritime knowledge and nautical know-how. Droppin' hit records like I drop anchor, son. You other pirates can't fuck with this.

Where my wenches at? Damn girl, I got a plank you can walk right here, baby. Aw shit. I ain't saying she a golddigger, but she ain't sailing on no merchant ship.

Let me get serious up in here. I got a message you all need to hear: George Bush does not care about pirates!

And know this: Captain Morgan is a weak ass bitch. Suck a dick, Morgan! O captain, my captain, you a bitch captain when it comes to rappin'. You actin' rough, but you about as tough actin' as Tinactin, Captain. That's athlete's foot medicine. You as tough as athlete's foot medicine. Which, in the big scheme of things, is not very tough. Fool. You better pray you don't sail up next to me or I'm gonna pop a cannon in yo ass.

Don't hate the saila', hate the seas. Now watch my video bitches. Peace.

Wow. Who knew he could even type with that hook on his hand? Impressive.


Wear your best for your execution

A list of Nicholas Taleb's rules for living includes this one:

Wear your best for your execution and stand dignified. Your last recourse against randomness is how you act — if you can’t control outcomes, you can control the elegance of your behaviour. You will always have the last word.

Kinda applies to dealing with shitty crowds, hecklers, bombing, etc. You can't control what happens, but you can control the way you handle the situation.

I hate when a comic's having a bad set and then turns on the audience (e.g. "You guys suck" or "Look at my fucking bicep!"). If you're gonna bitch at 'em, at least try to be funny about it or make a point. If not, suck it up, try to learn from it, and move on.


Audio: Corralling multiple hecklers, including a pro-Gandhi one

More fun in the "people yelling out how they disagree with me in the middle of a joke" department (see "Video: A gay heckler yells 'fuck you' to me" for more).

This time: Rowdy crowd at "Art Star" mic the other night. I went up first which didn't help matters. Needed some corralling but we got there in the end...

Watch out Gandhi fans, I'm coming for ya.

Time Out New York "Joke of the year" nominees: Louis CK, Todd Barry, and Matt Ruby

TONYTime Out New York just posted the nine nominees for Joke of the year and lookie there, I'm one of 'em. Thanks TONY.

I'd greatly appreciate your vote. Takes just a moment.

Some reasons to vote for me: 1) My joke is pretty funny (and uses less words than almost all the other jokes). 2) My photo is the only one that includes a tiger. 3) Mike Drucker's joke means he's probably going to hell. 4) If Todd Barry, Louis CK, or Hannibal Buress wins, he won't use this as one of his credits. I, on the other hand, most certainly will.

Here are the nominees and here's where ya vote. Thanks guys!


"You're in the subway so obviously you understand cost-benefit analysis"

You understand cost-benefit analysis

Yeah, riding the subway means you understand cost-benefit analysis. That's totally what I think when I see the homeless guy across the car from me eating his shoe. This is like saying, "You're on death row for shooting three people so obviously you understand the laws of physics."


"We are alway trying so hard to find material and it's right there"

Email exchange with Mark Normand about yesterday's post on hanging out with other comics...


That's funny stuff. See, we are always trying so hard to find material and it's right there. I love when you just get mean and be yourself. It's hilarious. We're writing jokes about cats and shit when that's the stuff you should be talking about. That's you!! Its real, its truthful, a little cranky but it's you. I feel like this is what CK is saying, you gotta do shit that really eats you up.

Now I'm getting worked up...Even if that stuff rubs some people the wrong way- it still is nice for the people who go through shit like that and I think that's your audience.


Yeah, I totally agree with ya. I notice that sometimes I'm writing and it just GOES. I'm not trying to be clever or use wordplay. I'm just saying what I really think. And it's usually bitching about something. In fact, the more I'm using the word "fucking," the better it is. Because that means it's coming from somewhere deeper.

Mark pushes me sometimes on material that he thinks is in my voice and I appreciate it. "That's so you" is almost as good a thing to hear about a bit-in-progress as "that's so funny."

I wrestle sometimes with being a total grouch and ranting all the time yet I do feel like it might be my "natural voice" (or close to it). The tough part for me is figuring out how to go negative yet still making people laugh and feel comfortable about it.

Kinda related: I really liked this piece songwriter Jeffrey Lewis wrote about why he likes to err on the side of discomfort.

For me it’s in the too-personal that I often find my writing strength and my most powerful artistic ingredients...On one hand I think that if an artist is creative enough it should be possible to make great art without having to resort to self-immolation. I don’t know of any songs by Woody Guthrie or Jackson C. Frank that make reference to their own immense personal tragedies, but this didn’t stop these artists from making songs of the greatest emotional power. On the other hand I strongly believe that it’s important to use art and songs to push the boundaries of public communication beyond the usual, and thus maybe bring both the artist and the audience a bit of catharsis by trying to shine a light into a dark place.

Lewis writes that seeing Jonathan Richman perform his recent “As My Mother Lay Dying” was "about as personal and painful as an audience-artist interaction can get — and as emotionally redemptive." Here's the song, which is pretty fucking great:


The problem with hanging out with other comics

I really enjoy hanging out with a lot of comics. But man, you get a bunch of 'em together and it sure gets annoying.

First of all, so much handshaking. What are we, businessmen? Politicians working a rope line? I see you at shows three times a week. Do we really need to go through this formality? I've gotta bring a bottle of Purell with me anytime I go to a mic. A nod and a "hey" is plenty.

And then everyone's always trying to one-up each other on funny lines. How about just having a normal conversation? You know, with sentences that don't end with a plea for laughter/approval. You don't have to act like there's constantly an invisible mic in your hand.

And they're so gossipy. "Did ya hear that so and so sent so and so a text message that said..." No, I didn't. And I don't care.

And why are so many comedians so socially awkward? Half the time I feel like I'm hanging out with a bunch of sixth graders at a middle school dance. Sorry, I don't really feel like talking about the latest issue of "Wolverine" or some trailer for a Sci-Fi movie that comes out in 2014 or Xbox vs. PlayStation or the plotline of "Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan" (didn't the Muppets already take Manhattan?).

There's a whole world outside of comic books, movies, TV, video games, Facebook, and comedy shows...but you wouldn't know it from half the conversations these guys have. I really don't ever want to hear about "Lost" or "The Dark Knight" again.

I wind up feeling like William Shatner in that Star Trek convention skit on SNL (video):

Shatner: You know, before I answer any more questions there's something I wanted to say. Having received all your letters over the years, and I've spoken to many of you, and some of you have traveled... y'know... hundreds of miles to be here, I'd just like to say... GET A LIFE, will you people? I mean, for crying out loud, it's just a TV show! I mean, look at you, look at the way you're dressed! You've turned an enjoyable little job, that I did as a lark for a few years, into a COLOSSAL WASTE OF TIME!

[ a crowd of shocked and dismayed Trekkies.... ]

I mean, how old are you people? What have you done with yourselves?

[ to "Ears" ] You, you must be almost 30... have you ever kissed a girl?

[ "Ears" hangs his head ]

I didn't think so! There's a whole world out there! When I was your age, I didn't watch television! I LIVED! So... move out of your parent's basements! And get your own apartments and GROW THE HELL UP! I mean, it's just a TV show dammit, IT'S JUST A TV SHOW!

Charlie: Are- are you saying then that we should pay more attention to the movies?


And so I sit silently in the corner, wait for my set, smile and try to be polite, and then get the fuck out of there.

Some comics are constantly hustling to do multiple spots in a a night. I get that and do it myself sometimes. But I wonder if these guys might be better off taking a few nights off, going out into the normal world and interacting with civilians. Living a life. You know, that thing you're supposed to talk about onstage.

[FYI: Yes, I realize how ridic it is to be a BLOGGER telling others to get a life.]

Anyway, I'm going back to my cave. (Good thing I'm not socially awkward at all, eh?) Hmm, maybe now you can see why you don't find me on a lot of other comics' MySpace "Top Friends" lists.


Big auditions happening this week in NYC

So I've got a big audition this week: I'm trying out for the "Just for Awkward Silences" festival that's held in Saskatoon every year. That's Saskatchewan. Home of the Roughriders CFL team. Interesting fact: There are eight CFL teams and five of them are nicknamed Roughriders...and the other three are all called Argonauts. Silly Canadians!

But seriously, a bunch of NYC comics are auditioning for the Just for Laughs fest in Montreal this week which is kinda a big deal. Dozens of comics will be performing at different shows around town. The judges will then decide who makes the cut.

The hope is to get a breakout set there, like Sean Patton did over the summer. After that, you'll get a management deal, late night spots, passed at all the big clubs...or at least that's the dream.

I didn't get an invite. I'm annoyed but since most of the people I know who got a spot deserve it, I can't complain too much. There's apparently a system where you have to be vouched for by a couple of industry types or comics who've made the fest in the past or something. I haven't really had any shows in front of industry types (at least not that I know of) and I'm pretty bad at hobnobbing with other comics so I can see why I didn't get the call.

Or maybe I'm just not funny enough. That couldn't possibly be the reason though, right? Right!? Gulp.

Anyway, it's been interesting to watch the different approaches auditioning comics are taking while getting ready. Some are going to mics and practicing every line trying to find that perfect tag or word to use in a joke.

Others are fearful of sounding over rehearsed and are holding back from doing their audition sets. They think keeping it fresh is a better idea than practicing the same lines over and over.

I tend to side with the former group. These are only six minute sets. Ya figure you're doing proven material that you've done a bunch so you should know it pretty well already. For me, doing good material in a shitty room takes the wind out of my sails.

Then again, it's not something I have to worry about. But yeah, I'm totally not bitter or anything.


Your mom doesn't work here

I had a job where the office manager wanted employees to clean up more. She put up a sign in the kitchen that said, "Your mom doesn't work here." I wrote in, "That's because she's dead." And then I left dishes all over the place.


The Ear, high degree of difficulty dives, crankiness, etc.

"The Ear" is an LA Times column where David Steinberg interviews comedians. In his Q&A with Larry David, Steinberg explains the meaning of "The Ear":

Stand-up comedians need someone to bounce their stuff off of. It’s usually a close friend, because you have to say what’s funny out loud to someone you trust before you perform in front of an audience. Any comic with a brain has an Ear or two he entrusts with his comedic life—-in other words, his material. The Ear is a sounding board. He gets to know a comedian’s cadence, his point of view, his mind. Most stand-ups never step onstage without going through the routine with their Ear. I have had the opportunity to be the Ear for some of the greatest comedy minds in the business. One example is Larry David, my friend and colleague for more than 20 years.

Steinberg asks David about the Curb where he gets his wife’s pubic hair stuck in his throat.

Did you ever think for one second people would think that’s crossing the line?
No, no, no. I think that’s right on the line. If you take the dive that has a high degree of difficulty and you land it, you get more points from the judges. But if you take the easy dive, you don’t get anywhere. You have to take some of these things and see if you can thread the needle.

If you take the easy dive, you don't get anywhere. Man, that's good.

In the Seinfeld interview, Jerry says, "All comedy starts with anger."

Crankiness is at the essence of all comedy...all comedy starts with anger. You get angry, and it’s never for a good reason, right? You know it’s not a good reason. And then you try and work it from there.

At the end, Jerry talks about the influence of The Abbott and Costello Show (YouTube clips) on "Seinfeld":

Yeah, that show was about comedy. There was no explanation of anyone’s life. Nothing made sense. There were always a lot of inexplicably evil people on that show, and we took that right on to ours: The garage attendant who tells you, “We can’t get your car out. We just can’t."

I love to play straight. Bud Abbott is really funnier to me than Lou Costello, because a really good straight man keeps bringing thae logic back. In stand-up, it’s all about this rigorous logic.

Jerry also mentions that he'd been doing comedy for only three and a half years when he got his first Tonight Show appearance.

In Jon Stewart's interview, he explains how he got started closing shows at The Comedy Cellar:

I was working as the day bartender at a Mexican restaurant on MacDougal Street--which, by the way, if you're ever looking to live the dream, the day bartender makes nothing. But there was a club right down the street called the Comedy Cellar. And there was a guy there named Bill Grundfest. He did the best thing for me ever, which was: "I'll tell you what I'll do; I'm not gonna pay you, but I'm gonna let you go on every night as the last guy." And so I went on for two years at the Comedy Cellar at 2:30 or 3 a.m. as the last guy. It was me and the waitstaff and a table of drunken Dutch sailors. And in that place, I learned how to be myself. It was the thing that made me want to be good. You begin to develop an internal barometer that doesn't include the audience. And that was a really big thing to learn: not to fall in love with the audience.

[Man, this post is chock full of Jews.]

Found the Seinfeld Q&A link via The Comic's Comic, who asks, "What year was this? Oh, this year. 2008. Really? Really. All of the talk about filming Comedian and pharmaceutical side effects and 'anal leakage' threw me off, too."

Actually, I think these interviews are all transcribed from "Sit Down Comedy," Steinberg's TV Land show from a few years back where he interviews comics. Pretty sure I remember hearing some or all of this stuff before. You can watch episodes of "Sit Down Comedy" online.


Applause breaks are analytical, laughter is primal

What's the pinnacle you can get as a comedian...a really hard laugh or an applause break? I'll take the hard laugh.

Applause breaks tend to be more analytical. People give them to you when they think something's really clever or they want to show you they liked something. There's an inherent pause there. People decide to applaud.

Laughter is primal though. A real, deep laugh = there's no choice about it. Laughing like that is a body release, like crying, sneezing, or orgasming. (Feel free to insert your own joke about experiencing all of those at once...actually I think Big Jay already has one.) That seems like a more soulful goal to aspire to.

But yeah, either one will do just fine.


Recent Twitter posts

Follow me on Twitter and ya can catch stuff like this:

I love listening to Howard Stern interviews. He likes to say, "You make a good point." Keeps the interviewee talking and feeling positive.

Why aren't there more stores that sell hotcakes?

Wallace Stevens: "Sometimes you must go too far to see what would suffice."

The germaphobe's worst fear: the office bathroom key. It's like a portable cesspool.

Suggestion to Hallmark for an anti-romantic card: "You're like a diamond, but without the dead Africans."

Hoping to use this phrase soon: "Don't paint stripes on a horse and tell me it's a zebra!"

Abandoned a lame mic last night. Sometimes sanity is better than stage time.

The problem with the movie "Comedian" = Orny Adams. Is it even possible to be more unlikable than that guy? Ugh.

Search queries from yesterday that led people to my blog: "tyra banks as a dinosaur" and "menudo Halloween Show in New England"

Shakespeare plots are curiously similar to the plots of Three's Company episodes. Someone overhears something wrong and then hijinx ensue.

There are too many comics out there doing card tricks. And not enough making the statue of liberty disappear.

You get the idea.

Eye level in Jersey City

Did an odd show in Jersey City last week in a bar with no stage. Weird to be eye level and two feet away from people while doing comedy. Here's what it looked like (that's Jared Logan performing):

Eye Level in Jersey City

Sometimes you'd do crowd work and the people within five feet of ya would totally be laughing and the people in the back would be like, "What the fuck is he talking about?"


I'll be in Chicago this week

Shows I'll be doing...

TUE Dec 2 (9:30PM) Chicago Underground Comedy @ Beat Kitchen

With Nick Morgan, CJ Sullivan, Prescott Tolk, Chad Briggs, Matt Ruby (Special guest in from NYC!), Jeb Cadwell (Lincoln Lodge!)

THU Dec 4 (9PM) Lincoln Lodge Comedy Show
FRI Dec 5 (9PM) Lincoln Lodge Comedy Show

Your host ALLISON LEBER steers a lineup guaranteed to dispel those holiday blues as we feature a debut by MIKE SCHMACK (thurs. only) ,the Lodge's own fresh faced ELIOT RAHAL and the master of the oblique one-liner MIKE SHEEHAN! We're also glad to host a rare Chicago performance from the Big Apple's MATT RUBY (MTV) and the first official live full headlining appearance by former Lodge host Steve O. Harvey's latest musical buzz-building project THE BAND OF A THOUSAND NAMES!


Malcolm Gladwell on what makes a great performer: 10,000 hours

"A gift or hard graft?" is an extract from "Outliers: The Story Of Success," the new book by Malcolm Gladwell. In it, he says it's hard work that sets great performers apart from the pack.

The thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That's it. What's more, the people at the very top don't just work much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.

This idea - that excellence at a complex task requires a critical, minimum level of practice - surfaces again and again in studies of expertise. In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is a magic number for true expertise: 10,000 hours.

"In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice-skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals," writes the neurologist Daniel Levitin, "this number comes up again and again. Ten thousand hours is equivalent to roughly three hours a day, or 20 hours a week, of practice over 10 years... No one has yet found a case in which true world-class expertise was accomplished in less time. It seems that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery."

No wonder Jerry Seinfeld says to "just work." If you want to be a master, you've got to do it over and over.

For comedy, number of times on stage might be a better measure than number of hours. Something like you need to perform on stage at least 1,000 times before you can be a great comic. (And even that might be on the low side.)

The excerpt also features this interesting bit on The Beatles:

John Lennon, in an interview after the Beatles disbanded, talking about the band's performances at a Hamburg strip club called the Indra: "We got better and got more confidence. We couldn't help it with all the experience playing all night long. It was handy them being foreign. We had to try even harder, put our heart and soul into it, to get ourselves over. In Liverpool, we'd only ever done one-hour sessions, and we just used to do our best numbers, the same ones, at every one. In Hamburg we had to play for eight hours, so we really had to find a new way of playing."

...All told, they performed for 270 nights in just over a year and a half. By the time they had their first burst of success in 1964, they had performed live an estimated 1,200 times, which is extraordinary. Most bands today don't perform 1,200 times in their entire careers. The Hamburg crucible is what set the Beatles apart.

This struck a chord: "It was handy them being foreign. We had to try even harder, put our heart and soul into it, to get ourselves over." You could say the same thing about shitty shows or open mics. To get over at these gigs, you really have to bring something. You've got to be energetic or in the moment or have a really strong bit. In front of a packed house, on the other hand, you can get away with slacking a bit more. The crowd will provide the juice.

In fact, I sometimes wonder about comics who get a break and wind up doing packed gigs or touring right out of the gate. Like maybe they miss out on the foundation you get when you spend years doing crappy gigs and winning over iffy crowds.

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