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.
Below, check out the new video trailer and podcast from the second "We're All Friends Here" show. Featuring Ben Kissell, Mike Drucker, Cassidy Henehan, and Becky Ciletti (show was on 6/13/08). Topics covered: Goth girls, albinos, marrying young, gay dreams, Ken Griffey Jr., lesbians, sex with bananas, etc.
The next Flying Carpet will be August 10 at Rififi...or will it? I just got a note from the manager at Rififi that tomorrow may be the last day it's open.
it's quite possible that thursday will be the last day that rififi will be open, it seems that the owner of rififi has come to an impasse with the landlord... as you might have known rififi has been occupying the space on a month-by-month basis since march and the landlord is now asking for substantially more money, it's possible that he's playing hardball but if an agreement isn't be reached by thursday then it will really be the last day that rififi is open.
i'm sorry we didn't have a couple of weeks to plan for this but the relationship between the landlord and the owner has always been somewhat unstable so it was hard to predict if and when the end would actually come... please be assured that all of the time and effort you put into producing your show has been greatly appreciated, if there is any change in the situation i will let you know as soon as i hear about it.
So far I have done one show, last night. And I pretty much ate it. I mean I fucking really bombed horrrrribly. I mean it was the worst set I've had in years. Years and years again. I mean holy nigger tits did they hate me. I did half an hour. Fifteen minutes in people were just chatting like I wasn't there. I opened weak and closed weaker and in between I sweated about four me's onto the floor. I can't believe I'm still alive. Toward the end, a very vicious man, yelled out simply "You're a loser!" and I said back to him, "Yes, sir. I am." and then more silence. I took a breath and continued. Rare, rare moments of deep, hot, sweaty, shave a few days off the end of your life failure.
How do I feel about it? Last night I felt awful. That's part of bombing. I walked away with my head spinning. "This is a nightmare. They're going to hate me in London too. I'm over here for a fucking month!"
But today I'm okay with it. I'm owning it. So much that I'm unneccicarily spreading the word through my own website about how bad it went. How stupid is that?
I have to say that, for bombing, I bombed well. For the first ten minutes or so, I lost my composure, I gave them my timing and had salt in my eyes and throat. But then I slowly pulled back on the stick and righted things. I got back into the pocket, to where I know what I'm doing and I know I'm doing it well. I got my timing back to where I wanted it. I felt lucid and honest, which is how I need to feel on stage. But the show didn't get better. It was a very strange sensation that I have NEVER experienced. Usually, bombing is sort of chicken and egg. It's a spiral. They don't like you, so you lose confidence so you start sputtering and doing badly so they don't like you so you lose confidence and down and down and down.
But this was different. Because I recovered, I pulled out of the spiral, which is something that I can do just from sheer experience. I've been there a million times. But every time I"ve pulled out of the spiral, I've been able to take the audience with me. In this case, I came out of it, felt great, and yet they still hated me. It was strange. I did the rest of the show that way and then said goodnight. I think someone clapped at the end. He might have been beaten to death...
It's always your fault. you can NEVER blame the crowd.
I don't want any pity when I bomb. To me, bombing is a pure positive. Because it's a rare experience and it's a great education. Every great show, when you kill, is pretty much like any other great show. But every time you bomb, it is completely unique. I've never bombed the same way twice. And they stay with you, the bad sets, like Lyme disease or herpes.
I did my second show here in Dublin and it was unbelievably great.
I was really worried, I gotta tell you. It's amazing how, even with 23 years experience, a single show can make me question EVERYTHING. I ran five miles today. That's how seriously I took the whole thing...
I did about 40 minutes of all new material and it was everythign I hoped this would be, in that I had a great great experience, but entirely different from what I'm used to. The audience was generous, patient and thoughtful in a distinctly Irish way, Just as the audience the night before was impatient, mean and distracted in a distinctly Irish way.
I'm glad for both sets. Actually, I learned something the first crowd. They were no geniuses, but the experience still made me look at the material I've been doing on stage and it forced me to ask myself what of any of it is bullshit. Am I doing anything that I don't really believe in, just to get laughs?
It made me really think about my set tonight. I didn't do anything particularly different. But I ran my five miles, I paced a small patch of grass while I waited for my turn on stage and I brought my very best and truest to the set. And it paid off. Maybe I've been getting lazy. Crowds that I've been playing to on tour for the last couple of years have been great. Maybe they've been carrying me a bit. I can't let that happen.
I really liked this part: "The experience still made me look at the material I've been doing on stage and it forced me to ask myself what of any of it is bullshit." It's one thing to bomb with material that you really care about or really represents you. But if you fail doing stuff you don't really care about, that's the worst. Because then the audience is kinda right for not liking it/you. If you're not into it, why should they be?
I knew it was trouble from the beginning. Another comic I know well opened the show. His jokes that normally get big laughs were met with next to nothing. It didn't get better after the next comic either.
There was a good sized crowd. They just weren't laughing. A big crowd that's still dead is a special kind of beast. It's different than a small crowd that's quiet, which may still be having a good time even if they're not laughing loudly.
This room had tension. It felt antagonistic. A girl in front took a call on her cellphone as I was being introduced. Not a good sign.
I went for some quick hitting jokes upfront but didn't get much of anything from the crowd. Felt like a showdown. Then I tried to break it down with some jokes that were more personal and less clever. Still not huge laughs but they started to warm up. Then I hit them with some dirty jokes and a big act out at the end:
Got nice reaction on that so at least the end was strong. But it was, as Sean Patton said later about his spot, one of those "power-through sets."
Lame but true: Afterwards I kinda hoped the other comics would do poorly too. That way at least I could blame the crowd instead of myself. But two comics later, Patton blew it open. So it could be done.
After thinking about my set (and watching what worked with other comics), here's my theory on what the crowd wanted — and maybe it's what every big crowd that's still dead wants: 1) Go dirty/dumb. Tell jokes about fucking or tv shows or something that's not too esoteric. 2) More act-outs. Get into a character and act it up.
It's a lot more like dealing with a club crowd than a typical downtown room. Ya can't be overly clever or subtle. If they're not getting it, they're not getting it. Shake 'em up.
I was feeling pretty negative about my set, but on the way out I overheard an audience member talking about the show. As I walked by, the dude said to his friend, "This guy did the hard work. He broke 'em down." And actually, that was an awesome thing to hear.
Some nights ya get to drive 120 MPH. Other nights you're just trying to get from 0 to 60. Or 30. Or just off of 0 at least.
Open mics are a weird path to success. It's like if you decided that you wanted to win a gold medal in the Olympics. And they're like, "Sure, but first you've got to train with all the people at the Special Olympics." And you're like, "Ok, but these people don't even know which direction to run in...and I think they might be racists too."
But alas, you need stage time so what else are you gonna do? (My take: If you're not getting up 3+ times a week via booked shows, you should still be hitting mics.)
One way I try to stay sane at mics is to write down notes of things/people I think are funny...but not in the way they're supposed to be. Some examples:
1. "Am I right?" guy. He says the most absurd things and then tags them with "Am I right?" "They're shooting people in the schools. Am I right?" "Women deserve to be shot. Am I right?" Uh, whatever you say dude.
2. Some guy said this: "If you want a girl to pet your balls, pretend it's a puppy." WTF?
3. I enjoy when people laugh at the wrong places during jokes. Like one time this guy was setting up a joke and said, "I went to college." An audience member in the back started laughing.
4. Worst/best heckle ever: "I feel bad for you." Pretty bad, huh? Even worse: It was delivered by a girl who is handicapped.
5. One time a handicapped person got up onstage and told a really racist joke. Which led me to wonder: If someone handicapped tells a racist joke, are you supposed to laugh? It's like some sort of bizarre Zen comedy proverb.
6. You see plenty of Moleskine notebooks at mics. I love the aspirational tone of Moleskine's marketing copy: "This is the legendary notebook, as used by Van Gogh and Matisse, Hemingway and Chatwin." What they should say: "This is the legendary notebook, as used by thousands of shitty open mic'ers."
7. There was a guy in a Notre Dame shirt telling abortion jokes. That's like a guy in a PETA shirt telling Michael Vick jokes.
8. Ah, the 'ol unrelatable premise. "Remember the first time you joined the priesthood?" Ok, I made that one up. But that's what always comes into my head when I hear a comic who's got a premise you can't possibly relate to.
9. Sometimes there are mixed mics with musicians there too. One time a girl tuned between each song for an agonizingly long time and explained it by saying, "If you use a tuner, you lose your ears." Yeah, but if you don't use a tuner, you lose your audience. I love the level of disrespect for the audience there. "I'm going to do this thing that's really painful to you because it's better for me. Next I'm going to stab you repeatedly because it will be really good for my triceps!"
10. A few times I've seen a couple on a date at a mic. Neither one is a comic. What kind of bizarre S&M thing is that? Forget whips/chains, if you're attending open mics for fun than you are truly sick.
11. "Too soon" guy. No dude, not too soon...too not funny. Chronology was not the issue.
12. The guy who's convinced timing is the issue. One time, I saw a guy who ended a "joke" with "God is the king of all butt rapers." No one laughed. Then he said, "I know, I have to work on my timing." Yeah, timing, that's the problem. That's like a 400 lb. dude who's convinced his problem with the ladies is bad breath.
13. You know you're racial humor isn't going over well when you get off the stage and then tell someone, "It's ok, I'm half black."
14. There's one open mic in town that actually has a bathroom attendant. "Finally! How am i supposed to deliver laughs and grab my own paper towels. What kind of superman do you think I am? Deliver jokes and grab my own paper towels? I think not. Check my rider." Oof, that's gotta be a fun job...y'know, because open mic'ers are notoriously good tippers.
15. One mic tried to have a different theme every week for the comics to riff off of. The theme one week: "Broken dreams." Isn't an open mic with the theme of "broken dreams" a bit redundant? What's next week's theme: delusional people who want to perform but can't attract real audience members!? "Broken dreams" is the theme of every open mic. It's like going to a Klan rally where the theme of the week is "racism."
16. There's a mic hosted by a gay dude who likes to boast about his sexual exploits with underage boys, illegal immigrants, etc. Here's what I said about that onstage:
Just listened to an excellent Louis CK interview (download MP3) on XM Unmasked. He discusses how he came up, his career shifts, how most comics are lazy, Chris Rock, and more. Two parts that stood out to me below...
On surviving failure:
If you can go to places and fail and come out intact, you've got a huge wealth of information. Bombing is much more instructive then [killing].
When you kill, you go, "Hey, look at me!" You don't learn anything. You don't even remember why you killed. "It's cuz I'm great! That's why."
But when you bomb, it's like a murder happened to you. And you've got data. You've got evidence. It's like forensics. You walk around poking things with a pencil and go, "Well, if you hadn't said this after that, it wouldn't have gone so bad." And you learn. You have a huge wealth of information.
On how he transitioned from jokey jokes to being more honest onstage:
I decided I'm not going to come up with jokes anymore. I'm not going to think of funny things to say. I'm going to say the things that are gnawing at my head. Any thought that I've been having a lot, I'm just gonna say it.
And all of a sudden a huge amount of lifelong fear was gone. I just didn't care. Even if I got a "whoa" from the crowd, it just didn't matter. It didn't mean anything to me.
And I get away with it for some reason. Some of it is just because I'm very convicted about it. When I say my baby's an asshole and people go "ohhhh," I go, "Fuck you, you don't know my baby. You don't know this guy."
I just felt impervious to criticism. Because I wasn't making jokes, I was just talking. I was just saying how I felt for once. So that was huge for me.
"Unmasked" is XM's latest exclusive original series -- an informal and interactive conversation with the super-stars and emerging Kings of Comedy. From George Carlin to Lewis Black to Jim Norton, they tell their story of life, inspiration and the art of the laugh.
Me on MTV commenting on the No Age video. This week they are airing my comments on a Leslie Roy video and maybe a Slipknot video too. The show airs 7-10 AM every morning. (You know, when you're totally watching MTV.) More details on the shoot.
The other day I was watching Seinfeld and drinking a gin and tonic. Gin and tonic are good when they're together but they both really suck on their own. The same is true for Jason Alexander and Michael Richards.
This article talks about how late-night hosts are having a tough time finding funny jokes about Barack Obama:
Of course, the question of race is also mentioned as one reason Mr. Obama has proved to be so elusive a target for satire.
“Anything that has even a whiff of being racist, no one is going to laugh,” said Rob Burnett, an executive producer for Mr. Letterman. “The audience is not going to allow anyone to do that.”
Ooh, comedy and race. Always a fun/touchy subject.
Comedy is one the few places in our society that people actually discuss race openly. So watching a crowd react to racial material is interesting. What I've noticed: White audiences can get very uptight about the subject. They often just shut down. Meanwhile, black audiences are a lot more receptive to jokes on the topic, if they're delivered properly.
(I'm not talking about racist humor. Just racial humor. You can talk about black people, or whomever, and joke around without being a racist.)
In clubs, you see this tension with comics who really get into race, like Todd Lynn (who's black) or Mike Destefano (who's white). They'll tell a racial joke and the audience goes quiet.
Often, Lynn or Mike D will then berate the audience. These guys are pros and they know how much laughter a joke should get. If they don't get it, they'll tell the audience why they're wrong. Lynn will say, "That shit is funny right there, I don't care what you people think."
White audiences in alternative rooms (wow, was that phrase redundant or what?) are the worst. They get scared of anything that deals with race. Liberal guilt, I guess. And also perhaps since you don't see black comics in alt rooms as often as you do in regular clubs. Another good reason that it's healthy to check out shows in both scenes.
In mixed rooms, I've seen this a lot: White crowd looks at the one table with black people in the room to see if they're laughing. It's like that table becomes the referee for whether it's ok to laugh. Comics will point this out too. I've heard plenty of club comics say things like, "Sure, look at the black guy to see if he's laughing..."
A few times I've seen a black comic doing crowdwork and pick out some Asian dude in the room and refer to him as Jackie Chan. And the whole room laughs. Hmm, what would the reaction be if some Asian comic referred to a random black dude in the crowd as Denzel?
The bottom line is that the audience has to trust you. Eventually, a comic like Lynn or Destefano gets the crowd because he wins their confidence. You've got to be really good and tackle any race material with ultraconfidence. If the audience smells you're weak or unsure, they won't trust you. And also, don't actually be racist.
Just because you have an amazing one-night-stand with someone doesn't always mean you want to have breakfast with them the morning after. The bass line in the beginning always reminds me of revving up your motorcycle, hitting the road solo, and leaving her draped under the white sheets like a crime scene.
Isn't he dreamy?
And here he is on the song "Don't Run":
I believe that there's a spot in a girls mind, just like on her body, that when properly stimulated, results in a divine awakening. George Lucas couldn't have said it any better when Luke Skywalker used the force to blow up the Death Star by shooting his laser beam into a tiny hole.
Yes, that George Lucas really does know what women like.
Saw it last week and it was really great. I think Birbig is an amazing craftsman and what's even more impressive is how effortless he makes it all seem. He just has that natural, friendly, "aw shucks" vibe down so well. Talk about likability.
It's a long show but genuinely riveting and funny the entire time. Check out this interview to hear him discuss how his narrative, storytelling-based style lets him hold an audience's attention longer than straight standup.
He's digging deeper and deeper too. Getting more confessional and opening up real scars from his past (and present). He talks about failed relationships, his health issues, etc. There's even a "life lesson" at the end! Like on a very special episode of "The Facts of Life" but not quite as cheesy.
It's neat to watch a performer of his caliber evolve and get both better and braver onstage. So go if you can.
The other week I went on an audition for some Friar's Club roast contest. I didn't really take it very seriously and just prepared a few jokes on The Pussycat Dolls. (We could choose any pop culture icon to skewer.) For example:
People give the Pussycat Dolls a hard time, but I think they're really attractive for transvestites.
Ladies: Al Gore wants to talk to you after the roast. He says your hairspray usage just tripled the hole in the ozone layer.
My fave PD song: Don't cha wish your girlfriend had VD like me?
And now they're breaking into TV too. I really love their show too, you know, "Deadliest Catch." Who knew crabs could get that big?
Yeah, pretty dumb. I know.
So I show up at Gotham at noon one day and it's actually a legit audition with like 20 people in the room (no idea who they were). Richard Belzer — in a snazzy suit and accompanied by a cute, little dog — and two other people I don't know are judging.
The guy running it tells me to "talk to the chair." I start and I'm talking to the chair on the side of the stage for most of the time when I realize there's a chair right in the middle of the room that says "subject here" and then I'm like, "Shit, which chair?" And I'm bombing because these jokes aren't actually funny. It wasn't pretty. At least the whole thing was done in 2 minutes.
Belzer said he didn't really know anything about The Pussycat Dolls since he's old. Another judge said it was a bad choice since the winner gets to roast Matt Lauer and Katie Couric will be there. And they said i seemed nervous and the material was predictable, etc. I said thanks and shuffled off.
Sooooo, looks like I won't get to roast Matt Lauer. But don't worry, my heart will go on!
In this post, I talked about the idea of continually speaking onstage and letting your subconscious take the lead. The Storytelling FAQ advises a similar technique for when you get stuck:
If you get stuck, keep going. Don't frown, curse, stop, or apologise. Simply describe details of sounds, colours, smells, clothes, atmosphere etc. to play for time - this is also a psychological trick because it stimulates your imagination and mental images, and keeps your energy up, which is the best way to trigger your memory.
Or stay silent and still engaged with people's eyes and they'll think it's a dramatic pause, as you let inspiration return (don't look at the floor to remember). Nobody but you knows what you were going to say, so they will never spot your departures from it - there are no 'mistakes'. New improvised details or observations can be gems to keep in for next time.
The site also encourages giving people a real chance to applaud when you're done:
Take time to finish. Look at people, smile, and listen to their applause - do not run away or gesture to dismiss it, the applause is their chance to give you something back, and the instinctive hiding gestures that most people fall into appear as a little insulting. Accept that they liked it!
"Likability" is a track from "Johnny Carson On Comedy." In it, Johnny talks about what he thinks is the most important thing for a comedian to be successful: The audience has to dig him as a person.
The most important thing to me in comedy is the empathy that you have to have for the performer. I think this is the greatest thing that a performer can have if he's going to be successful: an empathy with the audience. They have to like him. And if they like the performer, then you've got 80% of it made...
And if you don't have that, it's damn difficult to get the audience on your side. If they resent you or they don't feel any empathy with you or they can't relate to you as a human being, it gets awfully difficult to get laughs...
There may be funnier men in the world, who may be quicker on the ad-lib or can say funnier natural things in a given moment. But I still feel the most important thing is the likability, the rapport, that indefinable thing that, you don't learn it, you don't study for it, you don't take a course in it, it's either there in the individual or it's not.
That to me is the most important thing when I see a comic performing on a stage. You can tell very quickly whether the audience likes them. Not so much what they're saying but how they say it, how they relate to the audience.
Great reminder on how writing good material is just part of the battle.
Incidentally, I recently watched "When Stand Up Stood Out" (documentary about the Boston comedy scene in the 80's) and it was amazing how much power Carson had over comedy back in those days. He was the kingmaker. All those guys were just begging for a shot to get on his show. Make it on Carson and you get huge. If you don't, you're stuck where you are forever. Talk about a logjam.
I heard a couple of interesting notes about the last round of tapings at "Live at Gotham" (the Comedy Central show that gives a lot of up and coming comics their first shot at a tv spot).
1. One of the high-profile hosts had such a bad opening set that he had to come out and do another set at the end of the show just so they could get something usable.
2. At least one comic had the club do a check drop on him while he was doing his taping. I can't even imagine how annoying that must've been. Your big shot and they decide to drop the checks right then!? (Check drops always lead to chatter about the bills amongst audience members.) The club oughta know better. Sure, you can sweeten the laughs later but that's still gonna totally wreck the flow/timing for that comic.
And speaking of sweetened laughs, This always amuses me during televised standup: You hear a laugh track filled with laughter and applause right as the screen shows an audience shot of a completely emotionless room. I admire the balls of that.