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.
So I competed in the first prelim round of the Boston Comedy Festival last night. Great show and very tough competition. I was pleased with my set so I don't feel bad that I didn't advance. (In retrospect, only thing I would have changed is one joke I do about coke/weed that prob wasn't the best choice considering it was an older crowd.)
Really, it seemed like about 8-9 of the 12 comics had sets that were strong enough to advance. (Strong comics like Myq Kaplan and Doogie Horner had very good sets yet also failed to make it to the next round.) Judging any art — and esp comedy — is a crapshoot, ya know? Oh well. But congrats to everyone who did make it to the next round. I think they were all deserving.
I'm still no contest vet but one thing I like about 'em is it really forces you to distill your material. I'm constantly grinding away on new material normally so it's a good stop-and-review process. A tight 5 minute set means ya hone and polish your shortest, tightest jokes and try to build a flow from 'em. Kinda like what building a late-night set must be like.
I toss out any bits that have long setups. Even there's a big payoff, it feels like you're wasting time. Also, I've got some touchy jokes that work better once I've established who I am onstage. At a contest, ya don't have much time to do that so I stay away from those bits and go for the surefire stuff. Also gone is weirder stuff that might work well at some alt room in Williamsburg but not in front of a bunch of tourists at the Hard Rock Café in Boston (where the Fest was).
What I don't like about contests (other than the inherent ridiculousness of judging art): Ya can get screwed easily if there's a certain type of crowd or if there's a bad MC and ya go first, etc. Lots of variables that are out of control.
Also, they come with a bit of an "America's Got Talent" vibe. With 12 people doing quick sets, standing out almost seems more important than delivering well-written jokes. If you're JAWGTJ (Just Another White Guy Telling Jokes), that can make it esp tough. A great comic like John Mulaney could totally lose to a beatboxing grandma in one of these things, ya know? But hey, that's part of the game.
On a side note, spent the weekend up in Boston doing other shows and I think the scene there is really cool. Feels like a real community up there. All the comics are in on this tourney pool (March Madness style) for the contest — run by Tom Dustin, great comedian aka The Mayor of Boston Comedy — and they all show up at each show to see and support each other.
One big reason for the vibe: Rick Jenkins at The Comedy Studio. It's a great hub for developing comics and Rick really has built a special thing there. Every weekend the Studio is sold out yet he still puts on lineups that nurture young comics and encourage experimentation. And he's able to do it because he doesn't charge a big cover/drink min. That small, cool, sustainable approach can really impact an entire comedy scene. Nothing like it anywhere in NYC.
Also weird in Boston: There are no midsize rooms (from what I gather). There are a bunch of 80 seat venues. And then there's a big leap to 1200 seat theaters. But nothing in between. That seems like a strange vacuum.
Remember back when Myq Kaplan gave me advice on competing in comedy contests? Well, we're head to head in this BCF prelim round! It's like Daniel vs. Miyagi! Or Skywalker vs. Yoda! Or one of Edward James Olmos' students vs. Edward James Olmos in that one movie where Edward James Olmos plays a teacher!
The backstory: Years ago, Crystal killed one night in front of a famous manager and then asked the agent what he thought. The agent told him he was effective, but not good. He said Crystal's own personality was missing — he didn't leave a tip.
You didn't do anything personal or unexpected. There was no risk taking. A comedian's job is to take risks, and you're playing it too safe. Don't be afraid to fail. And don't ever forget, 'Leave that tip.'
Interesting. My top priority is always laughs. Then, it's how much do I actually care about what I'm saying. But this "how much you is there in there?" thing is def a good factor to throw into the equation too.
Maybe it's even worth shifting priorities and going with something personal even if it's not getting huge laughs. I'm reluctant to do that (esp in shorter sets) but I can see how leaving an audience with a feeling, a piece of who you really are, can get you further than giving 'em laughs that are forgotten by the time they get home.
Plus, being memorable is key too. Anyone can get laughs. You're the only one that can deliver you.
Note to comic on show I did the other night: Not a good idea to state that "anyone who wears a polo shirt is a douchebag" in one of your bits when BOTH hosts and the comic following you are wearing polo shirts. And also when you are wearing a jacket that looks like this. Since, y'know, people who live in glass houses shouldn't...
Actually, now that I think about it...anyone in any house shouldn't throw stones. It's just a rude thing to do. Even if it's not glass, you'll probably scuff up the walls. And who lives in a glass house anyway? Plants, I guess. But they rarely throw stones.
Actually, you know who does throw stones at glass houses? Billy Joel. What a bad ass.
SNC: Switzerland Neutral Comedy @ The Tank!!! w/John Mulaney! The Tank, 354 W. 45th St btwn 8th and 9th (the 45th Street Theater) Cost: $5
Come check out SNC’s last show at The Tank for now. What can I say? We’re like a rolling stone and moss gives us allergies. $5 admission with cheap booze and, as always, pretzels and cookies! This line up speaks for itself: Hosts: Jay Hoskins and Evan Morgenstern. Featuring: Ali Wong, Devin Sanchez, Rachel Axelrod, Daniel St. Germain, Ash Louis, Michael Lawrenece, Matt Ruby, Danny Rouhier, and special guest: John Mulaney!
Here's a guest post from Dan Wilbur, a comedian who works in the Comix office. He has worked the past two summers with the head of PR, Kambri Crews, and currently is an assistant to Justin Gray, the head of promotions. As part of his job, he contributes to the Comix blog and Twitter account. Below, Dan writes about what it's like to be a comic working at a comedy club.
When I first arrived at Comix I wanted to gain this vague understanding of “comedy” and “the business of comedy” which is what I learned tenfold. But I didn’t realize how much I didn’t know until I worked in the office. I didn’t realize how collaborative every single show is, whether it’s a headliner or a monthly show with an external producer. Literally every show (unlike a room you would just buy out) is the entire staff’s responsibility from the general manager down to the guy in charge of sending out Tweets. With any collaboration, there will be frustrations: ideas will get repeated, your idea might get lost in the mix, and occasionally the name of a show will stick that nobody really loves, but there’s more work to be done, so you move on. Working in a club teaches you that the business and creative aspect of comedy comes with constant upkeep. There’s always a show the next week, and there’s very little time to rest on your laurels even if the last headliner sold out the room.
One other thing I’ve learned on the business end of things is that careers are not linear. People have great months, people have terrible months. If a show consistently does poorly, it doesn’t mean that the club turns its back on that comic, it means (no matter how big the comic is), as a group, we need to come up with a different show or a different way of promoting a current show, so more people come. Also, a show can become stale no matter how good it is. If you’re pitching the same show to press outlets over and over, it becomes white noise at a certain point, even if everyone loves the show. “Five for $5” which used to be “Hot Comix” was great when it started, and even though we are doing the same thing we always do, we have to change that specific show to get people interested again. You should always be working on some project, but if it doesn’t pan out, move on and keep working. Having perspective is a valuable lesson I’ve learned from working at Comix.
I think everyone learns when they first arrive in New York how slow a process becoming a club comic is. I thought as soon as I got the job I would get a guest spot on a Comix showcase, then a huge comic would see me, and ask me to write for their new sitcom. Being around working comics is THE BEST PERK because you’re listening (daily) to a successful comic. It doesn’t hurt to know those people (in fact, networking is KEY to doing well in the comedy world, and going to other people’s shows is the easiest way to stay in touch) but humility is the most important part of listening to comics like that. Even if you despise the person, there’s a reason they’re working, and you better figure it out quick if you want to work that room too.
The least interesting part is meeting huge comedians in the middle of the day. It’s one thing to say, “Oh, I shouldn’t bother this comic right after his set,” but it’s an entirely different faux pas to grab the attention of a working comedian at noon on a Wednesday. That means he or she probably got five hours of sleep, and is there to work. (Side note, if you are the comedian coming in to the office to discuss something, smiling doesn’t hurt. We’re all at work too. Julian McCullough brightens my day whenever he comes in).
The question I get the most often is: “Are you getting a lot of stage time out of the job?” That was never the point. If I were onstage every night in front of people I barked in, I wouldn’t learn anything. I’d just be onstage in front of people who didn’t have other plans. Furthermore, Comix pays me in cold hard cash (or peanuts, depending on how you look at it), and if they paid me in stage time, what would be the incentive for getting better? It would be a horribly dishonest office if my coworkers kept encouraging everything I did onstage because they want me to do a spreadsheet for them. Work is work. You should get paid for it. That said, the only reason I have my current job is because I started working there for free. That’s how most comedic jobs start. But I love my job because I am supporting good live comedy, a universe that I hopefully will be a part of in the future. The better the club does, the more opportunities there are for live comedy to thrive.
The fun part of the job, and this is true with any job that does promotional work (i.e. you don’t have to work at a club for this to happen, but it helps to not work at Starbucks), is that you end up watching clips of people you’ve never heard of, you go places you would never go (I’ve been to The Daily Show front desk, tons of hotels, and to the office of an awesome gay bar), and anything cross-promotional usually yields free stuff (Burritos, movie passes, etc.). I also am required to NEVER wear a tie.
Lastly, I find that comedians are always afraid that if they only go from work to open mics and then to sleep they won’t have any material because they don’t have lives. They are correct. But the only way to get good is to inundate yourself for awhile, and then pick times when you live your personal life. I still find time to talk to non-comics (civilians) about non-comedic things on the daily. I always feel good about that since I spend most of my day working and thinking about comedy in general.
Everyone loves a hot crowd. They're juiced and laughs come easy. All you have to do is not fuck it up. Just ride the wave and keep it going. You can even throw in extra tags that normally wouldn't work and extend the laughs.
But the best crowd for getting better as a comic is a 50/50 crowd. A 50/50 crowd laughs at good jokes but gives you nothing on lame ones. They're either on the bus or off the bus on a joke-by-joke basis. It's tough to build momentum with a crowd like that, but at least you're working with a judge you can actually trust. There's a fairness there. When a bit does work, you know it's actually got legs.
50/50 crowds won't always give you the best set in the world. But they teach you more about what's funny than a hot crowd does.
I love watching Rob do his hip-hop hippie thing onstage. I like how he punches certain phrases. And the subjects he talks about: weed, shrooms, the Beatles vs. the Stones, etc. How he can crush at both an urban show at a big club and also at a back of a bar alt room with a bunch of hipsters. How he'll just wander aloud onstage and stumble into epiphanies. He's one of those guys you can see do sets over and over and still not get tired of.
I asked Rob to answer a couple of questions about the record and how it came to be:
What was the most surprising thing about the whole process of recording/releasing the album? The most surprising thing about recording an album is how much work there is. In the beginning I though you could knock it out one, two, three, press record BAM-Album. NOPE. First you have to find a good sounding room, clear it with the club owners, find a smart tech guy to mic it right, then there is editing, mastering, artwork, distribution, and spreading the word. A label and management can help with getting these things done, but at the end of the day it is your name on the ALBUM and you are going to have to deal with the feedback. My advice is to get your hands dirty in every detail of the process.
What's your favorite bit on the record? Why? How did you write it? Stand Up Bits- There are two true stories that I really enjoy listening to. One story (The Bike Story-track 9) is a detailed story about wrecking an old school banana seat chopper bicycle when I was 7 and how it almost cut my dick off. It was one of those traumatic things that only close family knew about and laughed at, at the time it was hardcore brutal, but kids always fuck themselves up, some cousin gets a compound fracture jumping out a tree house with a cape, another puts a nail gun in his hip playing 'Outlaw of Josey Wails'. At first people would freak out, slowly I got better and better telling it. It is not the type of bit that will get you laid after the show, -doesn't matter because I am Married N Shit (track 20/music), but it does connect with people a little deeper than just a straight up joke. That is why I enjoy telling stories now and then.
The other is a story (track 15-The Tombs) about getting arrested in New York in the LES for smoking a joint with a professional violinist outside the Parkside Lounge. I spent a weekend in 'The Tombs', they would pick a night to bring people in for weed and scare them by putting them in the TOMBS. The bit most always kills because it is interesting and absurd. I enjoy it because I get to sing a Pink Floyd song in it.
I love comedy, music and weed. This is what KEEP ON THE GRASS is all about.
I've heard you talking about how other comics have a "herd mentality." What do you mean by that? Why do you think that's bad? To keep it simple, go right when everybody is going left, break away from the pack and get fucking noticed. That how I see it. This type of thinking can lead to horrible bike accidents and getting arrested, but then again, you will have 20 minutes of original material for your new CD.
There will be an album release party for Rob's new record in Brooklyn on Sept. 4th, 8 PM at Coco66 at 66 Greenpoint Ave.
Speaking of getting out of town, a reader wrote in asking for advice on getting road gigs. Aalap Patel, one of the co-producers of New Young Comedians, recently did a weeklong minitour in California so I asked him how it all happened. Here's Aalap on the tour:
I recently had the honor of going on my first comedy tour, performing about 7 shows over 5-6 days, in and around LA as part of the "Like These Guys Standup Comedy Tour". I have to give a hearty thanks to John Wells and Nick Rutherford, two comics who have roots in the west coast and were kind enough to invite me to tour with them. I also want to thank my close friend Matteson Perry, who completed our lineup and helped me tune my jokes up, night after night.
It was an amazing experience; we did a variety of shows, at famous venues like Mbar, at small theaters like The Empty Space Theatre in Bakersfield and at Moorpark College, and out of the way places like The Ranch in San Miguel (A honkey-tonk and steakhouse). We had audiences as large as 200 and each show felt like a new challenge. Even when staying for 2 shows at the same venue, like we did in Bakersfield, our later show had a very different audience than our early show.
It was one of the milestones of my young comedy career, and I was very sad to see it end. But one of the most valuable lessons I picked up from this tour is that we, as comics, can get out there and tour without having to go through the traditional gatekeepers (comedy club bookers, managers, NACA). I picked John's brain about how he set this tour up and in the end it sounded like a straightforward process.
Unless you have credits or connections with club bookers, it makes sense to target venues where you have inside connections (colleges, bars, etc.) or a bit of an installed fan base in the form of friends and family who will not only attend the show but might be of assistance in getting some seats filled. The first thing to do is create a press packet that features information about the tour, about each comedian, links to videos, and a flyer that can be used to promote each show. You want the venue to understand what you're offering and that it's of value. The artwork on the flyer and in the whole packet should be consistent and of a high quality, their decision is affected by your presentation as well as your comedy.
After booking your first few gigs, thinking geographically about where else you can go and what sort of venues are open to you and fill up a series of dates in the days leading up to your larger shows. Once the gigs and dates are set, you still have promotional work to do. Some venues handle this for you, others are only interested in getting money off the bar and rely on you to fill the place. You want to contact as many media sources as you can; newspapers, radio stations, websites, and blogs, and get as much free or cheap promotion as possible. We used facebook as a supplement for each show but as you can see from the links we got some interviews and ads into various local papers.
Just make sure you put on the best show you can, because you always want to have a chance to go back next year. Good luck.
I did Dave Walk's final Comic vs. Audience show in Philly on Monday night and had a great time. Packed house, long set, great reaction, got to meet/hang with other comics, etc. (Thanks Dave!)
In fact, nearly every time I get out of NYC and do shows in other places (Boston, D.C., Chicago), it goes great. It makes a lot of the shows I do here pale in comparison. Stage time is currency in NYC and it's tough to get. And when ya do get it, it's often for a relatively small or unenthusiastic crowd compared to other cities. (Note: That may be because I do good shows when I go to other places instead of taking whatever I can get which is what I do here.)
It'd be a no-brainer to do more of these out of town shows if I was making real cash at 'em. But it's usually just a few bucks, if anything. And there's the time and money you spend getting there too. Spending money to do a show is something I really hate out of principle.
But then again, if I'm not booked on a real show, I'll sometimes pay $5 to do a shitty mic in NYC. If I'm willing to pay $5 to do a lame mic in front of unenthusiastic comics and a few civilians, how much is it worth to me to do a great show in front of 60+ real audience members who are totally on board?
For the Philly show it was a $20 bus ride and two hours each way (I came back the same night). I wouldn't do it all the time, but once in a while seems worth it.
Boston is a longer trip (around 4 hours) which means either finding a place to stay or sucking it up with an early AM return trip. I did it once last year and had a great time. Going back end of August to do a few shows and to perform at The Boston Comedy Festival. But I'm still iffy on making the trip often because of the time/$ thing.
I travel pretty frequently to Chicago and D.C. anyway so I try to get up whenever I'm in those places. Adding shows on to a trip I'm already taking is great. It's the whole idea of paying to perform in another town that bugs me. But maybe it's something ya gotta do for a bit just to get out there and have other people see ya.