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.
Where you can see me perform in the next month... 4/30 10pm - Don't Touch The Foot @ Sage Theater 5/01 7pm - Otto’s Shrunken Head 5/03 7pm - All Cities Tourney @ Fontana’s 5/06 8pm - Rodeo Bar 5/08 10pm - 80 Minutes ’Til the Weekend @ Joe Franklin’s 5/09 9pm - Jokes Ahoy! @ The Lilac 5/12 9pm - Baby Hole @ The Lamp Post (Jersey City, NJ) 5/13 8pm - Shrink @ Otto’s Shrunken Head 5/15 9pm - *** WE’RE ALL FRIENDS HERE @ THE CREEK *** (LIC) 5/16 9pm - Jokes Ahoy! @ The Lilac 5/19 7pm - Comedy Showdown @ Ochi’s Lounge (Comix) 5/21 9pm - Jerk Practice @ Parkside Lounge 5/30 9pm - Jokes Ahoy! @ The Lilac
My dad doesn't do comedy. But he does do this great character that I call The Improv Complainer. The world throws out a random suggestion and whatever it is, he complains about it.
I spent last weekend with him and my sister. During a drive, I took notes on his various complaints about the options on satellite radio, etc. It went like this:
My sister mentions John Mayer, who's on the radio. My dad: "Who's John Mayer?" Sis: "He dated Jennifer Aniston." Dad: "It certainly didn't do much for his singing."
My sister changes the station. Now a recent Bob Dylan track is playing. My dad loves Bob Dylan. Dad: "Do you have any country?" Me: "Dad, this is Bob Dylan." Dad, realizing it's true: "It's not one of his best."
My sis switches to Howard Stern, who is interviewing Jerry O'Connell. O'Connell says, "I told my wife if she gets another dog, I'm leaving." My dad: "Sounds like a good deal for his wife." Keep in mind he has no idea who Jerry O'Connell is.
We pass a California Pizza Kitchen. My dad: "California pizza!? California pizza is THE WORST."
My sister switches to a hip-hop station. Dad: "How can they call this music?"
Dad: "Matt, did you see Ken Burns' jazz documentary?" Me: "No, how was it?" Dad: "Pretty good but not perfect. Too much about new jazz, not enough about old. He should have had more about Scott Joplin."
My sister switches to the "rock and blues" station. Dad: "Rock and blues? There's no chemistry between the two." Take that Eric Clapton!
That was all within a ten minute span. And the truth is my dad doesn't even like music. Or pizza. He's just constantly on the complaint warpath. (Hmm, a character that complains a lot onstage. I should totally explore that, eh?)
Also, he reminded me of this: He's a real neat freak. When I was a kid, he would constantly make sure that I washed my hands and brushed my teeth. I remember being young when Marvin Gaye's father shot Marvin Gaye. I asked my dad, "Why did Marvin Gaye's father kill him?" My dad's answer, without missing a beat: "Because he wouldn't brush his teeth."
Thorn: As wonderful a media critic as Jon Stewart is, he seems very disinterested in bearing the burden of responsibility for anything he says — and in fact insists against all questioning that all he's trying to do is be funny and that's it, forever and ever amen.
Gladstone: Right. This is true, of course. He has created a wonderfully convenient out for himself.
(Gladstone then claims that Stewart has been backing away from this stand, but Thorn disagrees with her.)
Good to see I'm not the only one feeling this way. Just to be clear, everyone in the interview loves Stewart and The Daily Show — and I do too. This isn't about do you like Jon Stewart, it's about whether it's ok for him to deflect all criticism with his "but I'm just a clown" excuse. It's awfully convenient to point fingers for a living and then argue that you're immune from the same kinda treatment. In my book, if ya give it, ya gotta be willing to take it.
Now that everyone watches standup clips online, the 5-10 minute tape that used to be standard fare feels a bit passé. The reason: Long online videos don't really get watched. Maybe by a show booker but not by normal people. That's why you see Comedy Central and others breaking online clips into 1-3 minute chunks. Just one bit or a few quick jokes. Anything longer overshoots the attention span of online viewers.
Still, you need a tape of a longer set for bookers, contests, etc. The best two recent tapes I have are from a few months back and recently I asked Mike Drucker's opinion (because he is very smart and very funny) on which one I should use. I thought his feedback was interesting so, with his permission, I'm sharing it here. (Unless you're a glutton for my standup, no need to watch both sets. The commentary about tapes in general is why I'm sharing this.)
Me to Mike:
need an expert opinion. i have two sets that are both decent and i'm wondering which one i should use as my goto tape.
i think this one is better (hot crowd, tight set). mark says this one is loose and more "the real Ruby."
hate to waste 20 mins of your day, but if you're willing to watch both and let me know which you think is better to send to show bookers, etc., i'd really appreciate it.
Here's the deal with the videos.
Normally, I'd say the one you like more is better. Louder laughs longer pauses for laughs, which is great.
BUT I like the look of the other video more. The first video looks a little squashed and too bright and the angle is a bit weird. I think the Karma one has a much more complimentary look for you and feels much more professional-looking.
So comedically, I'd go with the Broadway one. True, the Karma one is a little more your style (and both are great, make no mistake), the Broadway one is just louder and more powerful on the laughs.
However, as far as professional look goes, I would learn towards Karma. It really feels shot well and you look better in it, the curtain looks better in it, and the angle feels more "pro club tape" than the Broadway one, all of which which may make you ultimately seem more professional.
Does that help at all?
Yes, it did help. I was so caught up in the audience reaction and my delivery that I wasn't even really thinking about the overall production quality of the tape. (Gotta get my head out of my own asshole sometimes, ya know?)
Also, it took a bunch of views of the first one before I noticed I say "oh boy" after a few different jokes. Some sorta weird nervous tick that I didn't catch at first. Weird that. Been watching out for it since.
Anyway, may be a moot point now since I had a hot set the other week in Chicago and it was filmed. A copy is on the way and my fingers are crossed it came out well. I think I've progressed since the above tapes were shot so it'll be nice to have one which shows that.
(P.S. That Karma tape, the one that's shot well, was filmed at the New Young Comedians show. A big shout out to Aalap, Chelsea, and Matteson for running a great show and hooking performers up with quality tapes too. The next one is actually tonight, Friday, at 8pm at Karma. Details/tickets here if you're interested.)
Left: Marc Maron performing at "Punch Up Your Life!" (Pete Holmes and Jessi Klein's new show) last night.
This was right after a funny moment where Maron started mocking the way comedians laugh. To paraphrase: "See, that's all the comedians in the back laughing. You can tell because they don't actually laugh. They're too jaded. So they just kinda make a noise ('Aaaaaah') that shows they approve."
Guilty as charged. Actually, I don't even make a sound usually. If I think something's well written, it'll get a smirk out of me. But for real laughs, it's usually gotta be a riff or random aside or something I just didn't see coming at all.
You know what's interesting about that clip to me? It's really about me, it's not about other people. Like the story I tell Conan about the guy sitting next to me on the airplane when the Internet shuts down suddenly, and he says, "This is bulls---," and I go,"How can you be angry? People owe you something that existed a minute ago?" There wasn't anybody next to me on the plane, that was me. People don't talk to me on airplanes. [Laughs] Anytime you see a bit where some stranger does something to me, it's me.
The fact is, I was really upset that the Internet shut down. I was livid. Then I caught myself — wait a minute, what are you upset about? This was incredible that it was possible even. It was like an epiphany to me, I started seeing things differently. "Take a breath and calm down, this is as good as they make these right now. This is as good as it is, and it's pretty goddamn great." And the same thing with the planes, they're hurling tons of metal with people in it all over the earth, all day, every day, 24 hours a day, safely. It's because these people are dedicated geniuses that we're all landing safely but somehow it doesn't make us happy. Too bad.
Interesting that he changed the perspective that way. The rage he feels is what makes the bit sing. It'd be a totally different joke if he said, "I'm an idiot because I felt..."
Also noteworthy that the original incident was years ago. Sometimes jokes come in a flash and sometimes they take months/years of marinading before they hit. I just finished the ending to a bit that I first started doing over two years ago. I had no idea where to take it back then. After a long period of subconscious stewing, helpful advice from others, and plain 'ol getting better at standup, I think it's finally there. Better late than never.
my friend who likes comedy was there. interesting to hear his take on the night. he said my set was diff than other comics 'cuz i was the only one who "didn't just talk about his own asshole all night." funny to hear that. we always hear "be more personal" but to this guy it was a turnoff that people just talked about their own lives and nothing else. maybe there's something to the idea that mixing observational and personal is a nicer blend than going all one or the other.
I totally agree with your friend. I mean, somewhat. I hate when comics just go up and talk about themselves. I think it can be great but you've gotta talk abt the world around you. to me that's the point of doing comedy. If I talk about myself I try to make it super relatable. When I say my gf had a pregnancy scare that is to set up a joke about babies, not my life.
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.
That mentality is part of why I actually stopped during the "fuck you" set and asked the guy why he's yelling. I wanted to know what was going on and see if there was something fun there. And that's what made the whole thing really soar.
(I think having an actual foil in the crowd amped up my energy level too and really helped sell the whole thing. Good lesson there too. Maybe I should start imagining there's an "enemy" in the crowd for more of my bits.)
Some interesting bits from that AST thread: AmericasMobileDevice talks about how smart clubs deal with potential problems in the crowd by seating them near the back:
Last time I was up in San Francisco watching a show at The Punchline a group of birthday girls were in line for the show. The guy seating at them was on top of it and sat them in the back close to the door. When I asked a friend about it he said they do that on purpose. That way if the girls get loud they can intervene without having to go through the crowd and if they ask them to leave it will be a short walk. I get the feeling most clubs don't take that proactive stance and I respect the Punchline for doing it.
A non-comic asks, "If I ever grow balls and do standup I think I will just say, 'You guys are embarrassing me, please stop' when I am heckled." Louis CK responds with this:
I usually respond sincerely to hecklers. It doesn't happen to me very often but when someone yells something out, I usually grind the show to a halt, focus on them, and I say very seriously "It really makes it hard for me to do the show when you talk. will you please stop?" They usually get very very embarassed and stop talking.
I really like your approach, though, of admitting your own weakness to them, that it's making you feel embarassed. I think anytime you're being honest, it's a good thing. I don't agree with the other comment that it's a grave mistake to let them know they have power over your feelings. I think that's an unique and very compelling approach.
Did a show at Town Hall Pub in Chicago last night which is in Boy's Town, gay area of Chicago. A block away was a clothing store with this Easter-theme window display:
I think what I like most about it is the subtlety. Did I mention the carrot moves up and down slowly too? Only way this could be more over the top is if they added a banner that says, "What would Jesus fuck?"
I've also been thinking about the gay mafia lately and wondering what they leave in the enemy's bed. A horse's head? Too messy. They probably just leave sheets with an extremely low thread count. And a note that says, "Sleep on that, bitches!"
Apr 10 9:00pm Lincoln Lodge Comedy Show (Chicago IL) Apr 13 8:00pm Zanie’s (Chicago IL) Apr 14 8:00pm Switzerland Neutral Comedy @ Stain Bar (Brooklyn NY) Apr 15 8:00pm Extra Fancy @ Bowery Electric (New York NY) Apr 17 8:00pm WE’RE ALL FRIENDS HERE @ THE CREEK(Long Island City NY) Apr 22 8:00pm Haiku @ Jeollado (New York NY) Apr 23 8:00pm Topaz Bar & Hotel (Washington, D.C.) Apr 25 10:30pm Arlington Drafthouse (Arlington, VA)
Alternative comedy often seems like it's just for rich, white, college educated people. Kinda lame that. That's why I was psyched to do my first urban show in Harlem on Monday night. (I've performed at a smaller one in Brooklyn and some mixed crowd shows before — but nothing like this.) Packed house, 95% black. Very no bullshit crowd. You knew exactly where you stood at all times.
Man, that situation makes you hyperaware. And joke selection becomes huge too. You go through every line and throw out anything that relies on a reference to, say, Jews, Renee Zellwegger, or Philip Glass. And you better hit 'em hard and fast. This ain't no place for wandering or rambling. (Reference point: The host is doing act outs about how uncircumcised dicks look like they're wearing hoodies.)
Now, we all know that in comedy you're supposed to open and close strong. I decided to go the opposite route. Well, they decided that really. But ya live and learn. Though tense, it was really fun. Felt like a real standup experience. Bring it or get the fuck out, ya know?
Here's video of the set along with some 20/20 hindsight annotations. Watch the whole thing to find out why I almost got punched on my way out!
Host went up afterwards and said he expected to find me with a blow dart in my neck! Ha. The good news: He also dug my set, invited me to do it again, and said to not sweat the threat. Can't wait to go back. (Seriously.)
It's always exciting when you're on a packed subway car during morning rush hour and you spot an empty seat. But then you remember there's usually a reason why a seat is empty.
The other day this happened and on the seat were half-eaten chicken wings and a bottle of Aunt Jemima maple syrup...just spilling all over the seat. Like there was some guy going "What's the most disgusting combination of things I can leave here? Well, I'm out of bull semen and Crazy Glue, so I guess this combo is just gonna have to do!"
Wings and syrup, what a way for this guy to start the day. I know you're not supposed to miss breakfast...but I think the most important meal of the day is any one that you don't eat on the subway.
Come to think of it, an NYC subway stew sounds like a good idea. I think it'd include chicken wings, maple syrup, nail clippings, a rat, a condom, a rat inside a condom, and Jerry Orbach's eyes.
GREAT interview. Especially good stuff starts around 60 minutes in. Fascinating discussion then about Gaffigan's path in comedy. No idea he used to do characters, political stuff, impressions, biographical stuff about his dad, etc. (He stopped doing political stuff because he thought he looked too Republican and too much "like someone's boss" to get away with it.)
Also talks about doing topic driven material and the challenges of that. His inner voice thing gets some play too. And great stories from the old days. I love imagining him and Greg Giraldo sitting around talking comedy and discussing their biggest influences (Dave Attell and Brian Regan). It's def worth checking out.
A Gaffiganesque experiment Btw, a few months back I did a little experiment where, inspired by Gaffigan, I attacked a single topic (potatoes) for five minutes. It was pretty dumb (and prob too much of a rip off) so I never did it after that, but you can get the flavor in this video.
I also had a few more jokes on top of that and did it as a complete set at a few mics. It didn't feel right to me for above reasons, but I did notice something interesting. When you stick with a mundane topic for that long, THAT becomes the joke. That I was still talking about potatoes was funny.
Maybe kinda obvious in retrospect but surprised me at the time how much mileage I got in a room just from that. It was like a stunt to keep going on the same topic and people who would normally not give a shit would tune in to see what angle I'd come up with next. They'd even shout out different kinds of potatoes to talk about. (Usually au gratin for some reason.) There was definitely a sense of momentum and rhythm to it.
Fun playing with a topic like this as a concept, but it was also nice to move on. My heart just isn't into talking about something I don't really give a shit about for that long.
Sometimes things come out of your mouth wrong. It's a good way to ruin a joke. But it can also lead to some fun riffing opportunities. Here's a recent set at an open mic where I got tripped up on the phrase "malignant tumor."
One of those times where ya have to see opportunity instead of crisis. Fun example of this is Paul F. Tompkins riffing on "Spangwish" during his "Sesame Street" bit on Impersonal. Gaffigan also has a fun one on "Doing My Time" where his inner voice character mocks him for slurring his words ("I think he's drunk").
Caught Greg Giraldo doing a show in the LES the other week and he mentioned onstage that he's getting divorced. Got me thinking about the failure rate of comedians in relationships. (And also how few comics I know are even able to get in a relationship at all.)
A big part of the problem has gotta be the whole time factor of doing standup. For pros, being on the road a lot has gotta be tough. I've heard in interviews people like PFT and Birbigs talk about how they like their current NYC "residencies" (at Best Week Ever and Sleepwalk With Me respectively) because it lets them spend less time on the road and gives 'em more QT with the fiancé/wife. My recollection is hazy, but I think Jim Gaffigan and Brian Regan have also discussed how they try to not be on the road for too long because it takes them away from the family.
Even if you're not at that level, it's still hard. You're out every/most nights of the week at bars and getting home late. That's not the healthiest foundation. Clearly you need someone who really supports you in what you're trying to do and understands the game and how it works. You could bring your signif other to shows, but how much comedy can you subject someone to before it turns into a punishment? (Then again, someone who never goes to see you perform seems like a problem too.) Bringing someone to an open mic is just plain cruel — unless you've got some sort of S&M thing going on and the whip ain't cutting it anymore.
For a certain type of comic, you also have to add on the whole telling the truth thing. (I don't think this applies to a comic who does clever one-liners or observational stuff.) People who really open up onstage might not be able to turn that off in their personal life. I'd imagine that'd be a pretty tiresome quality in some ways.
And even if it's just onstage that they're brutally honest or say unpleasant things, that's still gotta be a tough thing for a spouse/gf/bf to handle. I'm thinking about bits I've heard done by certain guys who fit this description. Giraldo talked about doing blow with a hooker and how awful marriage is. Daniel Tosh talked about getting a stripper in Kansas City pregnant. CK talked about how terrible it was to listen to his wife (at the time) tell stories and how, without her, he'd wind up living alone under a bridge like a troll...and how nice that would be. Chris Rock talked about getting caught cheating and how new pussy "always clears your mind." Howard Stern...well, what hasn't Howard talked about on air?
I know, I know...they're joking. These are jokes. And the stage should be the one place where you don't have to answer to anyone else. And a signif other should understand that a comic who wants to be personal but edits him/herself on sensitive topics is hamstrung. You might understand that, but still...
Imagine being married to one of those guys. How would it feel listening to those bits? Having your friends hear your husband tell those jokes? Would any of those guys be fine with it if the person they loved got up on a stage and discussed stuff like that in public? Is that just something you've gotta accept when you decide to be with that type of person?
And then you have someone like Dave Chappelle who's totally open about everything but almost never mentions his wife or being married on his albums/specials. Maybe that's an even weirder thing...to not be mentioned at all.
I got no answers here. Just thinking.
Anyway, I guess a comic could always try dating another comic instead of a civilian. But Jesus, who the fuck wants to date a comedian? I guess that's the problem right there.
Here was the scene at the Comic Strip Live lottery last night. They're going to "find the next Eddie Murphy or Jerry Seinfeld in this group." Good luck with that Comic Strip Live.
Random draw determined dates. How it works: Everyone gets a five minute spot on a Tuesday 11pm show where the owners will watch them perform and give feedback. I guess the best get a callback to do another spot. And then maybe they get passed. Mine's on October 20. Viva advance planning! Talent ranged from people who have never done comedy at all to people who have been on Comedy Central.
Oh, and by the way, you get the date of your spot on the back of a flyer promoting CSL's bringer show. Just in case you wanna, you know. The cynic in me is looking for the angle here: Is it just a marketing stunt? A way to promote bringer shows? A way to get people to bring friends to a Tuesday, 11pm slot that would normally be empty? Or maybe they sincerely are looking for new talent to bring into the room? If so, how come they're the only club in NYC that actually seems to reach out to people in this way? Hmm.
I got a late number and had to stay the entire time. Man, I hated the scene. I hate cattle call stuff like that. 200 comics in one room ain't a pretty site. Neuroses overload. As Mark said, like pigs in a trough.
Funny how everyone thinks they just need a break. They just need to be seen by one person. They just need a manager. They just need to get on this one contest. They just need this or that and then their career will take off. I was there too so I'm throwing glass stones or whatever...but what happened to just being hilarious? You know, being funny every time you perform until it gets to the point where people want to book you on shows or whatever because they know you'll make the audience happy. I know, that takes a while. But this "American Idol" notion that ya just need to be discovered doesn't feel healthy. Seems like it's often the refuge of people who are lazy or delusional.
Anyway, after that I did a spot. First time on stage since Saturday (I was out of town). Felt rusty. Funny how just a few days off can do that to ya. Show was rather strange too. I went up first. Crowd was six comics in front and then the audience in back...and by audience, I mean a table of four senior citizens and a couple of gals in the back row, one of whom would yell out stuff like "You sure talk a lot." And "I came here to laugh." And "It's ok, I like you."
Great. Tried to do some crowdwork upfront but nothing. That's when she yelled out "I came here to laugh." So I went to material. Got some laughs along the way but whole thing was a letdown. One of those nights where ya leave feeling "I shoulda done something different but I don't know what." Anyway, the night got even worse for comics (surprise: she started talking even more!) so I guess I should be thankful.
Apr 01 - 9pm Comedy Show @ O’Hanlons Apr 02 - 9pm Comedy as a Second Language @ Kabin Apr 04 - 7pm Night of No Bullshit @ Parkside Lounge Apr 06 - 9pm Comedy Dungeon @ Jazz on the Park Apr 14 - 8pm Switzerland Neutral Comedy @ Stain Bar Apr 15 - 8pm Extra Fancy @ Bowery Electric Apr 17 - 8pm *** WE’RE ALL FRIENDS HERE @ THE CREEK *** Apr 22 - 8pm Haiku @ Jeollado
Listen here or search "Jumping for Joy" at iTunes. Details:
Zachary Sims and Mark Normand sit down with Matt Ruby to discuss the South by Southwest festival in Austin, annoying things on the subway, and how to dress like a gentleman.
Finally, Mark and I get to do a podcast together! This one was really fun. I actually like doing podcasts a lot because it's more free-flowing than being onstage. You can still be funny but without feeling like you've gotta hit a punchline every 10 seconds.