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.
In the Tank with Jon Fisch = cool podcast that offers interesting interviews with comedians like Pat Dixon, Ted Alexandro, Hannibal Buress, etc. Fisch, Dan Allen, and Dan Shaki cohost it.
Recently they posted an interesting talk with Letterman booker Eddie Brill: part 1 and part 2. Both parts worth listening to (1 has more stuff on the history of the NYC comedy scene and 2 has more about being the Letterman booker).
A taste: He said comics should avoid being too finger-pointy with a crowd. "It's never 'you suck.' It's 'we suck.'" Brill says he didn't book Bill Burr for years 'cuz he was still in the "you suck" phase of his career.
Another Brill tip: Slow down and enjoy the moment. The audience will sense that and respond to you better.
"I Need Laughs: One week in the trenches of the New York underground comedy scene" is a behind the scenes documentary of a single week in Feb '09 prowling around the alternative/underground comedy scene in NYC (7 parts, 30 minutes total).
Thanks to everyone who came out to Hot Soup last Friday. It was an AMAZING show. We're off this week for holiday but will return on Dec. 4. We're sticking with O'Hanlons too. Feels like a better fit for the show.
Last Saturday's edition of the show was really super too. We even had one interview that was haunted by a stray cat and mysterious falling objects. Look for that to hit the interwaves next month. And come on out to the next live edition of the show: Sat, Dec. 12 at The Creek. That's a pretty slow weekend for parties and what not so you're probably free.
Note: None of this stuff will actually make you funny.
I use these Field Notes notebooks because I dig the thin size, perfect for a pants/jacket pocket.
And then there's the classic Moleskine notebook, famous for its use by Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, and thousands of shitty open mic'ers.
Best book I've read on the art of standup. Written by someone who was really in the game which helps. Has great interviews with Carlin, DeGeneres, Maher, Lewis, Rock, etc.
Martin looks at the evolution of his act, from childhood magic gigs to blowout arena success.
Not about standup exactly but it definitely relates. Hart, a playwright, wrote this book all about how tough the road was to his first hit play, a comedy called "Once in a Lifetime." Really shows how much dedication and persistence is required to craft something great that gets laughs every step of the way. I read it based on this recommendation from designer Michael Bierut who called it "the best, funniest, and most inspiring description of the creative process ever put down on paper." Also, the NY Times called it "the best book on 'show business' as practiced in this century in our time."
Both of these are excellent reads for writers of any kind. I can sum up the biggest lesson you'll get from both: Get rid of words. Eliminate anything that's not essential.
Fascinating look at Seinfeld putting together a new routine with cameos from his standup buds. The only shitty part is suffering through all the Orny crap. Fwiw, "I Need Laughs" is my (very) low budget version about what it's like doing standup in NYC.
Played a huge role in pushing alt comedy into the mainstream. Galifianakis' "physical comedy" bit still cracks me up.
Wings for Wheels: The Making of Born to Run Another non-standup recommendation is this story behind the creation of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band's "Born to Run" album. Also shows the dedication to craft that goes into making a great piece of art. Even if you're not a Bruce fan, it'll suck ya in.
The whole series is worth listening to but this is the best one. Amazon sums it up well: "Seinfeld describes his own evolution as a comic, the role of quasi-musical elements such as pacing and rhythm in a performance, and many points of technique that comic wannabes will find of interest." The Carlin and Woody ones are good too.
Relatively small/cheap. Sound quality ain't that great though.
More expensive but gives ya great sound quality. It's what we used to record the We're All Friends Here podcasts.
The iPhone has a built-in voice recorder app that I see people use too. Not sure how good the sound quality is on it though. Biggest pro of using it: You're already carrying it all the time.
Will give ya video good enough for YouTube or reviewing. Warning: For a "real" tape, I think you want something that's better quality (the sound quality can be iffy).
We're moving the show a block away to O'Hanlon's for the foreseeable future. I could tell you why. But it involves lots of tears, bloodshed, and a synopsis of the last episode of Cougar Town, so let's just skip all that. Anyway, we did the show there last week and it was groovy so we'll keep it going...
WE'RE ALL FRIENDS HERE The comedy chat show with boundary issues Hosted by Matt Ruby and Mark Normand FREE Saturday, Nov 21 8pm @ The Creek 10-93 Jackson Ave at 49th Ave Long Island City, NY Just one subway stop from Brooklyn and Manhattan
The podcast is coming back soon too — launching on Breakthru Radio. Stay tuned for details.
What was going through my head recently while sitting at the back of a show:
Argh, stop running the light already. Especially since you're eating it. Nothing worse than a guy who is just sucking balls and then decides he's gonna do an extra 10 minutes. And since he's lost them already, he decides he might as well get filthy and offensive. Lots of faggot this and cocksucker that.
I'm up next which makes it that much more agonizing. The host is lighting him. Then I start lighting him. It feels as if the universe is lighting him. Finally, he wraps up. He leaves the stage and then people start walking.
OK, hopefully the host will bring me up quick at least. No such luck. He gets up and does five minutes that also doesn't work. (After each comic he's doing five minutes that don't work, but he doesn't seem to care.) By this point, over half the room has walked. Finally he brings me up. And I go up to a few dazed people who look as if they just watched their mother get punched in the face. What I want to say: "Hey, who's ready to laugh? OK, who's ready to not commit suicide?" I tried to power through, but it was a tough go.
It's one thing to keep doing time if you're killing. But when you're sucking the life out of the room, it's just lame and selfish.
Below are the 10 best standup bits from the past few decades as determined by me. The rules: Has to be after 1990. Only one per comedian allowed. Went for longer bits over one-liners/quick-hit stuff (that's why no Hedberg).
1. Chris Rock: Black People vs. Niggaz
2. Louis CK: Why?
3. Bernie Mac: You don't understand
4. Paul F. Tompkins: Peanut Brittle (starts at 42:19 in at clip below)
Neat moment after our Hot Soup show on Friday: 15 comics and friends gathering around the bar's TV in the back to watch Sean Patton's "Live at Gotham" set. He did great and everyone loved it. (Btw, Sean did an amazing 30 min set at The Creek recently that really blew me away. He just keeps getting better and better.)
And then a bit later everyone regrouped to watch Kumail Nanjiani's Letterman debut. Man, the Letterman crowd loved him. One of those "tough to get the jokes out through all these applause breaks" kinda sets. And he was even wearing a nifty suit. (Oddly, they played him off to "Born in the USA." What are you getting at, Paul?!) See the recent Times article on Kumail too? Everyone is climbing aboard the bandwagon.
From a personal perspective, I remember seeing these guys honing some of these same bits at NYC open mics less than a year ago. Pretty neat to see the rise from basement to network. I think all the other comics watching at that bar on Friday night felt the same way. For a normally pretty jealous/jaded bunch, there were a lot of good vibes in the room. We all know those guys are both great and deserve what they're getting. So congrats fellas.
Topical jokes have a short shelf-life. Ya can squeeze a few months out of 'em but then ya gotta throw 'em out. That's a big part of why I avoid them. I'd rather spend my time crafting something evergreen. If I'm gonna come up with a great bit, I want to be able to get as much life as possible out of it.
There's another kind of limiting joke: one that's funny only to a specific area. I remember seeing a comic in Chicago one time who was really killing. Great set. But I started to notice something. Every single one of his jokes was Chicago-specific. About riding the el train, going to Wrigley, etc. Funny to the people in that room but what happens if/when this guy ever goes on the road or tries for a TV spot? He had crafted a great set that was worth nothing outside of his hometown.
Ya see it in NYC all the time too. What the hell are those conductors ever saying on the subway? People from Jersey are stupid! And you won't believe how tiny my apartment is... Those topics can get laughs here. But the relatability of 'em is gone when ya go somewhere else.
“When I first started playing outside New York,” says Hong, “I was so surprised when I found how many of my jokes didn’t work there. Even when I went to LA, a place and go at least a couple of times a year and try to get some spots; there are some jokes that are very New York-centric that only work in New York, which is my fault for writing them. Even outside of LA, there are jokes that are too socially edgy that they don’t get it. They don’t get apartment living. If you have too many jokes about going out with your black friend, gay friend, and drag-queen friend, they’re going to be, like, what? So it’s great to have that mix.
That socially edgy thing is something I just heard from someone else too. Apparently, edgy jokes (like something with racial overtones, but not actually racist) will get big laughs in NYC but fall flat on the west coast where people seem to be more sensitive. Curse you, people who are sensitive!
So time and geography are two joke ghettos. I guess the other one would be topic-based. Being overly niche-y. Like I have a new bit I'm doing about Tom Waits. Fun in an alt room where there are hipsters or musicians. Tougher in a room in midtown filled with people who are, um, not in a Tom Waits demographic.
Some may argue you should stick to whatever material you want to do regardless. Eh, I'd rather take it on a show by show basis and deliver the jokes that will work best in that room for that crowd. I see part of the job as being able to read the room and know if one joke's gonna work better than another.
This Friday, Hot Soup welcomes: Jon Fisch (Last Comic Standing/Comedy Central) Rory Scovel (Comedy Central) Sheng Wang Sean Donnelly ...and more.
HOT SOUP! Every Friday Doors at 7:30pm, show at 8 FREE SHOW Professor Thom's (upstairs room) 219 2nd Ave between 13th and 14th St. Produced by Matt Ruby, Mark Normand, Andy Haynes, and David Cope Drink specials ($3 beers/$4 mixed drinks)
We're All Friends Here returns Nov 21 (a week from Saturday) at The Creek. Also, our first episode of the show on Breakthru Radio is coming soon. Stay tuned for details.
Other places I'll be telling jokes soon:
11/12 8:30pm Always Be Funny @ River Bar (NYC) 11/14 8:00pm Laugh Riot at the Hyatt @ Bethesda Hyatt (Bethesda, MD) 11/16 8:30pm Chip Chantry's One-Man Show @ Khyber (Philadelphia, PA) 11/17 9:00pm Baby Hole @ The Lamp Post (Jersey City) 11/21 8:00pm We're All Friends Here @ The Creek (LIC)
Last week = First time I'd ever seen Stanhope live. Loved it. Early show (he hit the stage before 8pm) but he still managed to get hammered before the end of it...and even wound up having the guy who kept buying him drinks kicked out for constantly yelling stuff out.
Maybe not as many punchlines per minutes as some other top guys, but I feel like he's doing more of a Hicks/Carlin/offensive/"important ideas" thing than almost anyone else right now. And lots of ruthless honesty. The kind of stuff you're still thinking about days later. Plus, the total lack of pandering is great. He fully expects to walk people during his set (no big surprise from a guy who titles CD tracks "Fuck Your God" and "The Upside Of Sexual Abuse.")
Things got interesting after the show too. Then, he was interviewed for some TV pilot where a psychiatrist analyzes comedians. The whole thing was pretty half-assed but it was fun to hear this guy going after Stanhope's lifestyle choices. Q's: Wouldn't you rather be happy? Aren't you worried about dying? Don't you want to improve your mental health? A's: Happy people are brainwashed. We're all gonna die. Clarity is more important than positivity. In front of a crowd of Stanhope fans, this stuff all killed. The psychiatrist didn't have a chance.
A lot of the psych talk focused on Stanhope's drinking and drugging. He admitted he hasn't spent an entire night sober in over 20 years. But he also seemed fine with that. He thinks he has clarity and he doesn't care about living forever so what the fuck? He doesn't want to be happy or "improve his mental health."
It reminded me of something philosopher John Stuart Mill once wrote:
It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question.
Too bad we never got to hear Mill do standup, eh? Alright, comparing a justifying-his-alcoholism-Stanhope to Mill is a reach. But after listening to Stanhope get analyzed, he really seems like a guy who's operating from a similar core philosophy. And that made it interesting to watch him vs. this shrink who seemed to represent society's view that you're supposed to be happy or something's wrong with you. The problem with that: Sometimes the people with the most wisdom seem the least happy. Does that really mean they need "fixing" though? Anyway...
From a comedian standpoint, the most interesting part of the interview was when Stanhope talked about why he always drinks while performing. Does he need booze to make him funny? I'll paraphrase his answer: No. He doesn't need booze to make him funny. He needs booze to make him a better ACTOR. See, a lot of standup is acting like you just thought of something. And he hates doing that. The only time he enjoys a joke is the moment he thinks of it. When it comes to him. Then he has to go out and say it 300 nights in a row and that makes him miserable 'cuz he feels like he's losing a little part of his soul every time he does it. So he drinks to get over that.
That's Myq Kaplan taping his Comedy Central Presents special last night. He crushed it. Ya know you're doing well when your applause breaks keep messing with your rhythm. Myq even started doing a jig at one point to pass the time while the crowd clapped. I think his special will turn out great...no sweetening necessary.
The Sklar Brothers were the second act on the show. Also had a great set. Different vibe. Myq's more of a classic joketeller while the Sklars almost have a vaudevillian feel with the quick back and forth banter and the way they heighten each premise. Their closing bit on Andrew Dice Clay was wonderfully cruel.
I'd never been to a Presents taping before. Quick impressions: It's a hell of a production. Big trucks outside. Fancy stage lights. Crane cameras swooping all around. I can see how if you're booking the comics for it a big priority might be "I want someone who won't fuck this up."
There was only minimal warmup before the first comic. A host did some quick crowdwork and then brought up people in pairs to do a dance off with each other. Sucked balls for those six people but pretty effective at warming up the room I must admit.
The host strongly encouraged lots of energy and applause. And it worked. The crowd was def on the side of the comics. Not like a club where ya gotta work for 'em. After the first set, they switched out the front rows with the middle rows so the faces on camera look different for the two different specials.
It's a good example of coming up with a unique voice too. Before Simmons, a sports column written from the perspective of a fan was a real anomaly. Then, everyone writing about sports was always trying to be an insider. Simmons deliberately stayed away from the locker room and palling around with players and that's a big reason why his take is so fresh.
Plus, I love that he talks about race in a frank, honest way. Like talking about the complications of the NBA being a league of mostly black players marketing itself to a mostly white audience and a mostly white media. Where else do you hear this discussed in the sports media? Most announcers and journalists pretend to be color blind but then ya listen close and wind up noticing how frequently they talk about guys who "hustle" (i.e. white), guys who are "natural athletes" (i.e. black), etc. Anyway...
The bouncer at any snooty bar ... the deli counter guy who only gives samples to people he deems worthy ... ice skating judges (especially the French ones) ... softball umpires ... the guy at Best Buy who checks receipts before you can leave the store ... sixth-grade gym teachers ... bank tellers ... bartenders in crowded pickup joints ... condo association presidents ... sports radio hosts who hang up on callers when they don't agree ... everyone who works at a video store ... stewardesses on long airplane flights ... movie theater ushers ... the maitre'd at any restaurant in Vegas or Manhattan ... and the hotel worker in charge of the volleyball games at any resort.
Also, his B.S. Report podcast has recently been featuring interesting interviews with funny people (Patton Oswalt, Jeff Ross, Matt Stone, Neal Brennan, etc.) It's worth checking the archives even if ya don't care about the sports stuff.
I've done 41 mics so far. I'm over the initial hump but that's just the first foothill at the base of the mountain. Topic idea: when should a comic start to promote himself? Do you often see guys promoting themselves too soon? Or posting clips online they shouldn't be posting? Do some comics not promote enough?
My .02: Get a solid tape and put a clip up online. Use that to get shows. Keep hitting mics too. Whenever you get stage time, destroy. Hope people notice. It will take a while though.
Once you get a funnier clip down the road, use that one instead (and delete the old one if it's something you no longer want others to see). Have a website that people who like you can check out, just a simple one is fine. Start an email list and/or a Facebook page so you can keep in touch with people who like you. Also good: Start a show and promote that. In fact, that may be the best way to get attention at an early stage. Have a kick-ass show and fill the seats. This is a good way to get other comics to know about ya too.
If someone comes up to you after a show and says they dug your set, ask them for their email or give 'em a biz card with your contact info so it's not a one-time only thing. I wouldn't worry too much about promo photos or anything else that's gonna cost ya a lot of money. Not worth it at this stage.
Also, recognize that people will judge you by your first impression. If you're not bringing A game yet, you might want to hold off on approaching industry or producers of top shows. They may write you off and then not be tuned in if/when ya do get better. Right now you're like a band with its first demo tape. Get better before you turn on the "full court press" of promotion.