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.
Miller High Life claims to be "the champagne of beers."
The champagne of beers!?
"Excuse me sir, between the various beers on your menu, which one would most remind me of...a completely different beverage?...Oh, excellent. One more question: Between the Slim Jims and the Beef Jerky, which would you say is most like the caviar of dried meats?"
Have you seen the guys who drink High Life? I've never looked at one and thought, "Wow, I bet he's a huge fan of the French."
The Benson Interruption was a blast last night. A lot more fun than the previous one I saw at UCB (which featured all improvisers). Doug was drunk (and stoned) from the get go and was on the whole night. It was a hot room and everyone had fun sets.
It's interesting to watch how the different comics handle him. Arj Barker had Doug interrupting him left and right while Eugene Mirman managed to keep Doug pretty quiet for the most part. Tony Camin, Doug's comrade in The Marijuana-logues, mostly just bantered with Doug the whole time.
Anthony Jeselnik — he just scored a gig as a writer for Jimmy Fallon's new show, something Doug may not have been supposed to reveal — tried to deadpan his way through Doug's interruptions without breaking a smile. And he tried to "punch up" a few of Doug's bits which was made even funnier by the fact that Doug wouldn't let him get through any of them. Also, Jeselnik, when he gives attitude, sounds a bit like Kanicki in Grease.
No big surprise that the highlight was Paul F. Tompkins. I sure hope he gets out of his Best Week Ever cage to do more spots in NYC because it's just a delight (yes, a delight!) to watch him go. Him and Doug really seemed to have a blast with each other. It's part of what makes the show so enjoyable: The comics seem to be having as much fun as the audience.
At one point Doug interrupted Paul's bit on New Yorkers for a couple of minutes and then told him to go back into the bit. Paul refused, saying, "You know they can hear us, right? We have microphones." Paul ended with his bit about his mom's wake and it was neat to hear how it's evolved since he played Comix a few months back (a recap of that show).
Fun racial fact from Saturday night's We're All Friends Here show: White people smell like wet dogs! Didn't you know? There's even a book about it. But why? This message board comment from "watitdos little cousin" gives the answer.
when the white people were living in the cabes of Europe 4000 thousand years ago... they lived the life of a beast... walking stooped over on all fours... eating raw meat... and killing their newborn by smashing their heads against the cave walls.
the wild dog was a animal animal that they tamed and used to help them hunt and track... and also they were used as watch dogs.
now... when the cavemen went out to hunt... they took some dogs with them and left the other dogs there at the caves to watch out for the young caveys and the women.
now everybody knows that the white woman is a natural freak... she started having sex with these dogs.
after 2000 years of the sperm of the dog entwining with the flesh of the woman... now today when white people get wet or sweat... they smell just like a dog.
that is why you are quick to see white people with dogs... especially white women that have those little ones... is because they smell like dog and they can pass it off on the real dog that they are holding under their arms.
some white people odor is not as strong as others... but if they get wet or sweat you will smell it.
they cannot help it.
and i am NOT making fun of them... it is just the truth.
"Everybody knows that the white woman is a natural freak." Classic. Btw, some guy named "Satan Slayin Mike" concurs...
Teach brutha, teach.
Smell a White person fresh out of a summer rainstorm at around 95 degrees on a extremely humid day.
Jim Gaffigan's "inner voice" schtick is brilliant. He's a great jokewriter already but that voice really sets his act apart from the pack. He gets it both ways: He fires rapid-style one-liners in an old school kinda way yet simultaneously deconstructs his own act/persona along the way.
Why it's cool (other than being funny): The voice shows he's already thought about how each bit is being perceived by the audience. So it's clear he's got total control of the stage and the room. Also, it totally disarms anyone who might get offended by any of his bits (he's pretty clean generally but there are a few jokes he does that toe the line). I feel like it's Gaffigan subliminally saying, "I get why you might find this joke stupid or offensive, but you don't wanna be the real-life version of this lame character I'm doing, do ya?"
It was a character that I did that was always part of my personality. And I still will do it in everyday life. If I'm late to meet my wife, I'll be like… [Inner voice.] "I can't believe you're late." I used to do it at this place Surf Reality on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. But during my Comedy Central Presents, I made a point of not doing it, which seems kind of odd, but it is something that certain audiences wouldn't get. But it's something to keep the material fresh. I remember being in DC and hanging out with Dave Attell—he was the headliner and I was middling—and me just going crazy with the inside voice, 'cause there is an improvisational kind of side to it. And it just really clicked. Attell was like, "Ah, you found your gimmick."
I think it's fascinating to watch how many angles he can take on a single topic too. Comics like Chris Rock, CK, or Paul F. Tompkins are great at wringing a topic dry. But I don't know if anyone attacks a subject with as many quick jokes as Gaffigan does. Just one-liner after one-liner. He builds a rhythm and then keeps hitting for minutes, even after you figure he must have exhausted every angle on the topic.
That's why watching him do, say, a whole Letterman spot on bacon is so fun. Or his classic Hot Pockets routine:
That much material from such a silly topic is a whole joke in its own way.
He stopped in at a show at Ochi's Lounge last week. His latest target: Dunkin Donuts. He's got good stuff brewing on that topic too. Also fun to see that he keeps all his jokes in a couple of binders that he carries around in a backpack.
The story behind this bit: It started from a real conversation with another comic. I remember at the time thinking it was a ridiculous thing to say. Mentioned it later to someone else and saw potential for a bit.
So thought about it more and why I thought it was so silly. It occurred to me that orgasms are extremely cliché too...but that doesn't seem to bother anyone. So that's where the whole "it's ok to play the hits" thing came from.
Then I started to think about what the opposite of a cliché sex move would be and came up with "avant-garde blowjob"...which is both a funny concept and a funny sounding phrase. Then it was just a question of getting to an act-out that fleshes out what that kind of blow job would be like...I figured a girl just staring at a dick for 20 minutes was a good start. Got laughs with that and then kept adding to it with other artsy terms. I stretched it too far (there used to be another line) but realized it was taking away from the laughs if there were too many examples. Sometimes I get greedy adding too many tags. The laughs die down if ya go too far though.
Later, I went back to the setup part and added in the "Hotel California" and overproduced lines. Not my fave lines, but once you've got some momentum, might as well milk it.
And speaking of stretching too far, I used to use a callback to another sex-themed joke I have at the end of this whole bit, but it felt like I was trying too hard to get a callback in there. So I cut that out and now I just try to really punch the words "not cliché" at the end. It brings it back to the original setup and puts a nice bow on the whole thing. I'd like to use more callbacks, but, when I do, they often feel a bit forced to me. Maybe I'm just being overly sensitive though.
One weird underlying thing in relationships: When it comes to having kids, women have a shot clock — until they're 35 or 40. But men can wait. It's like a basketball team where half the team thinks it has 24 seconds to shoot and the other half is like, "Yeah, I'm just gonna hold the ball...until I'm 52." Meanwhile, that other half of the team is like, "Pass me the damn ball, my uterus is open!"
I know a couple of struggling comics who have quit their day jobs in order to focus 100% on comedy. I don't really get this. Sure, if you're getting TV spots and working the road and can make a living, then go for it. But if you're not at that level, what's the point? It's not like there are daytime shows you can do. Are you really going to sit around and write jokes from 9-5 every day?
"Making it" in comedy is really out of your hands in a lot of ways. You can keep getting better, but you can't put a shot clock on getting paid. Quitting your job isn't really likely to speed up the process in any significant way. But it will make you a lot more anxious and take some of the joy out of it.
If you can't work at a job you love, maybe the best idea is to seek out a crappy job. Something that puts some cash in your pocket but that you don't want to stick with forever. Temping seems to be a popular route for a lot of comics.
I recall some Jay Leno interview where he mentioned how if he had a good job, he'd never have made it as a comic. He'd have been too complacent. Shitty jobs are the reason he stuck at it. (Then again, Leno is a freak about cash what with that whole "I never spend my Tonight Show money" thing.)
I also remember an interview where The Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne talked about working for 11 years as a fry cook at Long John Silver's. He said he never minded it because it was completely mindless. His body was just a vessel moving objects around, but his mind was free to wander and roam anywhere. And that's why he stuck with it for so long.
A friend of mine worked at a Little Caesar's restaurant, showed up for work early one morning, and walked in on the manager of the restaurant fucking a woman...made out of PIZZA DOUGH.
A woman made out of pizza dough...because, as we all know, the worst part of sex with a real woman: You can't BAKE her afterwards.
I mean this guy is an innovator. He's like the MacGyver of masturbation: "See this penis pump? I made it out of a paper clip, some baking soda, and a dugout canoe."
Does he have a real girlfriend? Maybe he gets confused sometimes. She's all: "Honey, you're acting weird in bed lately. You sprinkle flour all over the sheets. You keep tossing me up in the air. And why were you so happy when I got a yeast infection?!"
I bet he sticks with this trend in other ways too. Like when he has a birthday party where a woman jumps out of a cake, it's actually a woman made out of cake.
Did a gig at Princeton last weekend for a bunch of grad students there. Smarty pants audience. It was kinda weird to do a show where the smarter the joke was, the more it got laughs. Usually the opposite, ya know?
The flip side of that: They were pretty touchy about anything to do with race, gender, etc. Smart + liberal = always fearful of anything that might be construed as offensive (even if it's not really). Wrote about this before here: "White audiences and comedy about race."
Anyway, I went into my bit about the gay pride parade. I know it's a touchy subject so I usually start off by going after the religious right and explaining how I do support gay rights. Still, some dude in the crowd, presumably gay, wasn't having it. Here's what happened:
It actually turned out great. I believe in the joke and the point being made in it so I wasn't really phased. And his interruption took a planned bit and made it seem like a riff (ya always get more laughs on something if the crowd thinks ya just came up with it off the top of your head). Plus, the tension made the laughs that much deeper when the bubble burst. I should hire this guy to come to every gig.
Through the magic of google alerts I came to your page and I think you bring up a really valid point and it evoked some thoughts in my mind that I thought I would throw out there – maybe it’s useful. I suffered for a long time from doing too much new material and not working on the same material over and over to perfect it.
Maybe I’m someone who takes longer to grasp things than other people, but once I moved to New York I was given advice by a few people to “really work on my 7 minutes” for the sake of a tape or to have a polished audition set. I resisted it for a while, but once I started doing it, in addition to getting out of NY to perform in front of other audiences, it helped so much - and for a lot of the reasons you stated – building confidence, finding new tags, better economy of words, stronger punches – but the biggest for me – it taught me how to make the timing, rhythm and therefore delivery the joke as consistent as possible.
With that in mind, it made it a lot easier to try new material because I had honed my delivery or voice creating a more consistent act all round.
Really good point I think. Doing the same stuff over and over really does help you determine what your voice is and whether other material fits in.
That said, I still worry that it can lead to autopilot syndrome where you lose spontaneity and just turn into a drone. But I think there's a balance to be had...just a question of finding that sweet spot.
Oh, and one more thing that's nice about telling the same jokes over and over. You know how good they are. When an audience doesn't laugh at a joke that you know is funny, you can just shrug it off. Makes it easier to keep your confidence up.
I don't get people who sign their emails "Sent from my iPhone." How is that information valuable to me in any way? Am I supposed to go: "Oooh...you sent it from your iPhone...well stop the fucking presses! Erase my entire inbox, I just received an email from an IPHONE."
It's usually a completely worthless email too. "Cool, see you then. Sent from my iPhone." Pointless. You know when you should sign your emails this way? When you're trapped somewhere. "The proposal looks good...Sent from the bottom of a mine shaft." Now that's something I should know. He's in the bottom of a mine shaft. I should send help. Now I know. Way to keep me informed.
Do these guys do this all the time? When they leave a voicemail, do they say, "OK, call me when you get this. Bye...I'm calling from my iPhone." When they give you a ride home, do they drop you off and say, "You just rode in my Cadillac."
And people who end their emails with a signature that has a philosophical quote should also calm down. "Be the change you want to see in the world." -Mahatma Gandhi. Yeah, that's the perfect way to conclude that "10 Ways to tell Santa is a Computer Nerd" email you just sent me.
I admire people who make it a point to be great talk show guests. They don't just half-ass it, they try to make their appearance an actual moment.
Old school guys who were great at this: Charles Grodin and Super Dave (both relied on fake animosity with the host that was a great change of pace from typical interviews). Norm Macdonald is always terrific.
And Adam Carolla is another guy who always comes out swinging. Here's a fun clip of him on "Talkshow with Spike Feresten."
Totally sounds like a conversation you'd hear at We're All Friends Here.
Here's how I feel about Obama getting elected: It's like someone just cleaned my bathroom for me. I'm very grateful. And happy I don't have to look at that shit anymore.
One good thing about Obama for comedians: It will be nice to have a president who can actually speak. Someone who respects words (and knows how to pronounce "nuclear").
Reminds me that Chris Rock has an iPod where he keeps solely comedy performances and political speeches. I've never really studied great speeches this way, but I can see how a comic could learn a bunch from doing so. With Obama, it's been interesting to listen to the rhythm of how he speaks, the way he uses taglines as callbacks (e.g. "Yes we can"), how he rotates in fresh material, etc.
Someone asked me last night: "If you're a low energy person, what's the best way to host a comedy show?" The honest answer is maybe it's best not to host. When you're MCing, it's different than just doing standup. Your job is to make people feel comfortable and keep the energy level in the room high. Steven Wright is a fantastic comic, but would be a shitty host.
My advice to this person was to let someone else host and then do a spot during the show. Or find a cohost who's a bit more amped. Or do as little time as possible and just keep the show moving (there's nothing worse than a lame host who keeps bringing the vibe down after each comic by doing too much time). Or make funny videos you can show instead of trying to force yourself into something that's not you.
Hosting a show is like hosting a party. You need to make sure everyone's having fun. A regular set can be more selfish, awkward, or low energy. When you host, it's not nearly as much about you. It's about setting a fun vibe/tone for the room and making the crowd feel like a cohesive unit.
So I was always writing and trying new stuff, rarely saving a joke for longer than a couple of months. But one night this summer, my attitude changed. I showed up to do a set and it was (surprisingly) a great crowd. And they were filming the whole show too. I got up and was doing really well for the first four minutes. And then I kinda fell apart. Nothing terrible but a chance at a great tape slipped through my hands.
I got offstage and was really pissed off at myself. I decided to take a different approach. So for the past few months I've been working a lot more on honing jokes and trying to wittle my best stuff into a killer 7-10 minute set...even if that means repeating jokes that I've been doing for a while.
In this interview, comic Ophira Eisenberg — I've never seen her but I think this quote is interesting — says you have to work on seven minutes for a year to make it perfect.
I do my material four times and I'm bored with it. But, I've learned that I can't do that. When I was pursuing Premium Blend, I learned you really have to work on seven minutes for a year to make it perfect. You have to be able to say, 'I know how this works and you can count on it.' Then they'll say, 'Of course!' I used to try something new every second day and that was great. But I never honed stuff. Jim MacAleese, a comic from Canada, once told me, 'It's called a routine for a reason.'
I think there are lots of comics who take this approach. I just dislike the idea of intentionally viewing your act as being "routine." That feels overly stiff to me. There's gotta be a middle ground here, right?
Lately, I've been taking a two tier approach. I've got my A material. If there's a decent crowd, I go for it and try to have the set of the night. If there are comics in the back who have heard all those jokes before, oh well.
Then I've got my "undertow." A constantly changing series of bits that I try at open mics or shows with meager audiences. In those places, I often throw in some more personal stuff, talk about the room, etc. Sometimes I intentionally go into stuff that is unformed just to see if I can riff into some gold. (At the very least, this keeps me conversational...which I've found to be the best approach in a dead room.)
Some benefits to going back to the same jokes over and over: You get an air of confidence. When you know a joke works, the audience can sense it. Also, you start seeing ways to stretch jokes. You add in a new tag or figure out a way to fold a good joke into an existing bit. Or you keep going deeper and deeper on a subject (one good technique: keep asking "Why?"). Sometimes it's the 20th time you tell a joke that the perfect callback or end line comes to mind. And thankfully, that one extra line or change of wording can make telling an old bit feel fresh again.