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.
It gets to be a grind going to all these mics and churning away on new material. Was talking with Mark last night about it. He mentioned some other folks who do similar shows but never go to mics. They only do booked shows. While we come up with a new five minutes almost every week (admittedly, lots of it is trash), they do normal sets and slip in one new joke here or there. And prob maintain a lot of sanity in the process. Nothing saps your will to live more than a shitty mic.
But of the people he named, they had mostly been doing it twice as long as us. I can see how your approach might change then. But for us, for now, we kinda agreed the grind is still the way to go. Can't say for sure until yer on the other side but it feels like there's a period where you're still building a foundation. Where constantly writing new stuff and getting up all the time, even at mics, is teaching you the process of being funny. Writing all those new bits is building up inventory. Even if ya wind up not using something, it's there to revisit later if ya can thread it in with something else.
And those stage reps are how you build callouses. Each joke that does or doesn't work is teaching you something. And each shitty room is preparing you to handle anything.
So this is it. I've been waiting crazy long for this moment, y'all. And now it's time. I gotta make a decision.
This whole journey has been crazy. But when I started this thing, I expressed that, y'know, I like two different type of girls. The party girl. A girl who likes to hang out, have a good time, live it up. Get freaky. I like that.
And then I like the conservative girl as well, you know? Smart, sexy, you know, a girl that I can kick it with. Conservative, but still freaky. I'm looking for the best of both worlds, y'know what I'm saying? And I can truly say it's hard. Crazy hard.
I mean, Chocolate Milk, when we first started hanging out, you were there, paying attention. You connected with me. Y'know what I'm saying? You really put forth that effort.
But, y'know, I really feel like you have a real big heart. And you know what they say: Big hearts break easy. That scares me. 'Cuz I might break your heart. Into lots of pieces. And I dislike sweeping.
Special Sauce, I can truly say that your name describes you perfectly. You know, special. And sophisticated and classy. Crazy classy. My passions and your passions are very similar. And also, on top of that, we got a lot of things in common. Plus, there's stuff we both like. Like club soda. And getting freaky.
But, yo, driving to your parents house. I was SO nervous. Y'know what I mean? Because I wanted them to like me and so much to where I even put on my clear Versace glasses with NO PRESCRIPTION and I wore a Louis Vuitton Belt two sizes TOO SMALL and I was drinking a PEPSI MAX that was no longer CARBONATED just so I can feel like, you know, they knew I was respectable and that I was a good person.
But I can truly say that you're a special person. You got strong values. That's very important to me.
Y'all see why this decision is like real crazy for me to make? I like y'all both. I really do. This whole thing is crazy.
Special Sauce, I told you you were special to me. I'm not lying to you. This whole time, a lot of things was running through your head, a lot of things was running through my head. There was a lot of running going on, like it was an emotional marathon.
But I'm a sprinter. And I think you need a long distance runner. Like a Kenyan or something. And to be honest with you, I would rather you be with a man who IS the kind of runner you want and not who COULD BE the kind of runner you want. Know what I'm saying? So that's why I can't choose you. Which is crazy.
Chocolate Milk, people been hating on you from the beginning. Spunky, Step Ladder, Livin' in the City, Tomahawk...they was all talking trash about you. You been standing strong though. I really been a believer in you and you been believing in me. Through the ups and downs. From the helicopter ride to when you was dancing on the stripper pole in my shower. And I really really felt 100% myself around you. I never had to lace my Converse by John Varvatos Bosey Boots ALL THE WAY TO THE TOP when you were around.
So I'm gonna ask you this one more time. For the last time. Are you here for my pretend love? 'Cuz I'm here for you. Crazy.
Last week was my first time in LA. Some reactions:
It sure is nice to swoop into town for a few days and do a bunch of good shows somewhere. Whether it's LA, Chicago, or Boston, I always feel reinvigorated after doing that.
As expected, I'm not really a fan of the car culture thing. Plus everywhere closes at 2am. Your options: drink and drive, don't drink, or figure out a carpool situation. All of which are kinda lame. Guess that leads to a healthier lifestyle in a way.
I knew Tiger Lily and CDR were great shows but I had no idea how much fun that Josh and Josh Show would be. Show was packed out and that room is amazing. Also, I didn't perform on it but ComedyJuice at the Improv looked like a great spot to perform at too (clubbier vibe there).
I wouldn't want to start out (or start over) in LA. Easier to bounce around from show to show in NYC at least. In LA, it seems pretty common that you just pick one destination per evening and that's it. Plus, I think there are more good shows in NYC.
If you want industry attention, LA seems like a better bet than NYC. I heard tales of people killing at a show and then being invited to meet with multiple agents/managers the following week. Never heard of anything like that happening in NYC. Plus, there's just more work if you're looking to do TV/film stuff.
Shows seem to run longer out there. Like 2+ hours. Guess that's better when people are doing the one location per night thing but it's tough to keep a comedy audience engaged for that long.
Stuff you know already: It sure is nice to be able to hike or go to the beach all year round. There are fewer neurotic, writer types and more performy, actor types on shows. Taco trucks and In 'N Out Burger = yum.
Kumail has a joke he's been doing for a long time about swiping your metrocard on the subway and how you should "swipe once, swipe strong." As I recall, it was a funny line but never really a major hook in his set before.
Then at Kabin the other week I saw him reframe it. He talked about he's always irrationally in a rush and desperately trying to get places faster. And then he threw in that line while talking about how he gets pissed while riding the subway. And there was other stuff in the bit that tied into the whole "in a rush" thing.
It completely changed the context of the joke. Before it was a quick, random, observational joke that made fun of someone else. Now it's transformed into a longer bit that's more introspective and personally revealing. It examines Kumail's own worldview instead of just mocking someone else for moving too slow. A subtle change, yet it really elevates the whole bit.
I emailed Kumail and asked him if I was on point with this theory or just talking out my ass. His response:
yeah that's a pretty good assessment of the change in that joke. Its always very satisfying to me when ideas i think are funny or interesting end up in other contexts and suddenly, now they seem to work better. I have some ideas i've been carrying around for 5 years that are only now finding their way into bits. I like to go back every now and then look up older bits or ideas i don't do anymore. Sometimes you figure out the angle 5 years after you think of an idea.
Sift through the junkyard and occasionally ya find some real gems.
Had a blast hosting last night at Comedy Death Ray. Packed house, hot crowd, stacked lineup (including 4 NYC comics: Mulaney, Hannibal, Gabe Liedman, and myself). Below = photos of Hannibal Burress (top) and Sklar Brothers performing.
Monday, January 18 8:00pm What's Up Tiger Lily? @ Hollywood Studio Bar & Grill
Tuesday, January 19 8:30pm Comedy Death Ray @ UCBT (tickets)
Wednesday, January 20 9:00pm The Ed Galvez Punk House @ Westside Comedy Theater
Thursday, January 21 8:00pm The Josh and Josh Show @ Bar Lubitsch
Saturday, January 23 Secret show (email me for details)
Come say hey Angelenos.
NYCers: Hot Soup still going on this Friday and next (I won't be there though). It's at O'Hanlons every Friday at 8pm for free. This week (1/15) features Pete Holmes, Adam Wade, Adrienne Iapalucci, and Michelle Biloon.
Usually I'd use this space to plug a show I'm on. Like Night of No BS at Parkside Lounge at 9pm tonight (1/12). That will be fun. Come on by.
If you don't, I suggest you go to Comix. Sean Patton and Rory Scovel co-headline (ticket info). They are two of my favorite comics in the city and rarely get to headline in NYC. Also, both are guys who you want to see stretch out and do a full 30 minutes. Too: Kumail is hosting and he never hosts.
Patton's done Live at Gotham and JFL but I still don't think industry gets it completely yet. Or he just doesn't fit into a neat little box (Letterman booker Eddie Brill said on a podcast about him: "He's really hilarious. One of the funniest guys I've seen in ages...[To Patton:] If you change to try and be on Letterman, I'll kill you.")
Every week at Kabin, he puts on a clinic. Blows it out of the water with different material each time. Soulful, personal, revealing, deep, and sometimes even poetic bits that take you somewhere. He did a 30-minute set at The Creek a few months back that was mindblowing. People still talk about it. There's a reason every comic in the room tunes in when Patton goes up.
And Scovel is great too. Does a weird southern character sometimes. Other times he's just his shroomy self. Wandering, riffing, and pushing ideas around.
Story I've heard about Rory: He was in the Seattle Comedy Competition years ago. He was on stage and two people left to go to the bathroom. He grabbed their chairs and brought them on stage and when they came back he made them sit in them and asked them questions. It crushed and he finished first. He didn't know if they had left or if they were ever going to come back but he took a risk and it paid off.
That's Rory. Never know what you'll get — but it's almost always hilarious.
Also, kudos to Comix for booking these guys. Other places rely on the same 'ol, same ol' all the time. Good to see a club that's willing to be a bit more progressive.
Nick Griffin: I'm so married to the words, I can't go up there with an idea. I need to go up there with an end line, a touchdown.
Marc Maron: I tend to find that stuff onstage because part of the vitality of doing standup for me is discovery onstage because that's when I really feel the connection. I think that I'm sort of addicted to that, to putting myself out there and seeing where it goes even if it goes into the crapper.
'Cuz I find that the jokes that I find onstage will stay with me. Like, I can write jokes but when I do them onstage as they're written, I feel detached from them and that it's something separate from me whereas if I really actually engage with an audience and drag them through whatever emotional shit that I'm going through that there's a type of mutual discovery that goes on that resonates with me and I kinda stick with that stuff.
But I've always envied guys like you who can write jokes and just do the jokes. I figure out what my jokes are but it's not an easy process.
One thing I've been noticing about writing onstage lately is how the audience tells you where you need a punchline. You can just sense that you're either going too long without getting a laugh or that some tension has been created that needs to be released. Then your mind struggles to come up with something to save that moment. And out of that desperation your brain will sometimes turn up something surprisingly good. Your subconscious rides to the rescue. Of course, sometimes you just wind up with crap.
Writing onstage doesn't have to be an all or nothing proposition either. There's the CK approach of never even thinking about an idea until you take it to the stage. That's pretty risky though. And then there's the more Seinfeld-y approach of going onstage with everything completely scripted out. That can be pretty stiff. Lately I've found myself taking a hybrid approach.
Like if it's a longer bit, I'll go up with some idea of where it's going to go. I know where it needs to end up and a few of the punches or points I want to hit along the way. But in between, I just see where my mouth takes me. That way things don't sound so stiff. And sometimes you stumble into funny stuff you didn't anticipate.
It's almost like what I imagine doing a Curb Your Enthusiasm scene is like. You know where you have to get to but you don't know how you're going to get there. And the result is more organic and fluid.
On Curb, each scene is filmed multiple times and then they edit together the best takes. A similar "shoot lots of footage and edit later" approach can work well in standup too. I almost never nail a long bit right out of the gate. The first couple of attempts are really just trying to discover where the hooks are. Then I try to focus on those and cut out whatever isn't working. Then I might sit down and try to attack a specific part of it, say coming up with the right tag or a good analogy or whatever.
A lot of times the best way to find out what the story is about is to walk onstage without having it completely nailed down. Because it’s in that moment of pressure where, almost, your party instincts kick in. Like where you’re at a party and someone’s like, “Hey Mike, tell that story from college about how you overslept for class and missed the final.” You get onstage and the audience is staring at you. You’re feeling out the crowd, and you’re feeling out what they’re identifying with, and you kind of go to that...
I’ll take recordings of telling it [onstage] four or five times, listen for where the laughs are and what the interesting parts are. Then I’ll try and write a draft of the story.
It def helps to record and listen back to wandering sets. Otherwise it's tough to really remember the particulars of what worked and what didn't.
Hey, can ya take a moment and vote for me in some online contest? Yeah, I know. But it only takes a sec.
The deal: I've been selected to compete in the public voting for the Magners Comedy Festival. Vote here. (No login or anything time consuming required.)
Voting is open to the public until January 17th and you can vote each day. The winners compete in Boston in February and grand prize is a trip to perform in Dublin. I've never been to Dublin. I think U2 might be from there. But really, who knows? Well, Wikipedia probably. But it's not really worth that much effort. Anyway, thanks.
Nothing else matters if they do not keep turning the pages. THAT is the first priority.
I think there's an analogy to that in standup. The first priority is getting the audience tuned in to you. They have to be engaged and they have to stay that way. If you don't have their attention, you're wasting time just moving ahead with material. If people aren't focused on what you're saying, nothing will be funny.
Ties in with what I see as the most common mistake new comics make: talking too much. I mean saying words that don't HAVE to be there. If what you're saying isn't leading to the funny part or the actual funny part, it's dragging everything down.
Friday 1/8 HOT SOUP! Featuring Matt McCarthy (Comedy Central), Zach Sims, John Knefel, and more Showtime at 8pm FREE SHOW O'Hanlon's 349 E 14th St between 1st and 2nd Ave. Produced by Matt Ruby, Mark Normand, Andy Haynes, and David Cope
Saturday 1/9 WE'RE ALL FRIENDS HERE The comedy chat show with boundary issues Featuring Sam Morrill, Mick Diflo, and Mike Recine Hosted by Matt Ruby and Mark Normand FREE 8pm @ The Creek 10-93 Jackson Ave at 49th Ave Long Island City, NY Just one subway stop from Brooklyn and Manhattan
By "greatest" do you mean "funniest"? I'd like to see a little blurb after the clip of why this made the cut (revolutionary / often quoted / spurred copycats, etc).
What makes a joke GREAT? Hmm. I kinda feel like I know it when I hear it. Tough to define. But let's try...
First of all, it's gotta be funny. Really funny. Then other stuff comes into play: how much of a point there is to it, how much it reveals something about the comedian, how well it's executed, how it's performed, and how unique it is.
There are things that I laugh at a lot but that I don't think are really "great" jokes. Sometimes they're just silly. Nothing wrong with that but, to me, the best standup is hilarious AND has a point too.
To go back to that list, these were jokes that all made great points: Chris Rock's Black People vs. Niggaz, Louis CK's Why?, George Carlin's God, and Doug Stanhope's Fuck the Jews.
But not every bit on the list was making an important point. Sometimes it's more the craft that turns me on. In Bernie Mac's You Don't Understand, the attitude, rhythm, and performance of it is incredible. Paul F. Tompkins' Peanut Brittle is great for how deep he goes into such a silly topic and how he acts the hell out of it. Jim Gaffigan's Hot Pockets is like a clinic in how to get all the comedy meat off the bone. He just hammers every possible angle. Andy Daly's Knock It Off perfectly deconstructs the silliness of typical hackery by going for minutes on end without ever actually saying anything.
I guess for those bits it's the artfulness of 'em. Same thing with a guy like Hedberg. He's not saying anything important but it's the way he sees the world and how he expresses it that makes his stuff so amazing.