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.
One of the greatest standup performances I've ever seen in my life was Greg Giraldo years ago at Crash Test at UCB (before I ever started doing standup).
A lot of the alt guys who performed on Crash Test were alt-y and got by with being clever. Giraldo was on a different plane.
He came out like a tornado. Stalking all over the stage, full of venom. He was really fucking smart. He was talking about important things. It wasn't setup/punch and then setup/punch. You couldn't even tell where one joke ended and another began. It all flowed together seamlessly. He was angry and right and hilarious and didn't give a fuck. It didn't seem preplanned or scripted. The words just seemed to tumble out of his mouth in perfect order. I was a comedy naif at the time, but I remember feeling that it was downright shamanic. He just pummeled the crowd.
This was right after I moved to NYC and I'd only just begun to watch live standup regularly. And that Giraldo set, along with a Patton Oswalt set I saw at Rififi right around the same time, opened my eyes up to the power and magic that live standup can deliver. There was something mystical about it. I was entranced. And that's when I decided I wanted to try it too.
When I think about Greg Giraldo, that set is what I'll always remember. I'm thankful I was in the room that night and grateful for the impact it had on my life.
The article is a good read. And I thought this part was interesting...
i. avoid the performance mentality. i know this sounds ridiculous in a performance based industry. but think about this. here is a recipe for disaster. my value = my performance + other people’s opinions. the reason why, is that someday, you are going to have an off day and/or someone is going to criticize you. if you put your value in the world like that, you are going to have a bad time of it. i speak from experience. i only learned this at the age of 46. finding my true value fixed this for me. [write me if you want to know what it is.] but establish your value outside of how well you did on the gig and what the papers said about you. otherwise you are going to be miserable and you are going to make everyone else miserable. somedays you play better than others. this doesn’t make you a great person. somedays you make lots of errors, this doesn’t make you a bad person.
...especially after watching Jon Stewart talk about people's reactions — "the reaction is not necessarily the barometer of the quality of something" — in this part of his Oprah interview.
If something is out of your control, don't worry about it. And that's why it's better to focus on process than results. Seems pretty Zen.
But then there's a little voice in the back of my head that keeps saying comedy is all about results. If they're not laughing, you're not doing your job.
It's odd that a light year is actually a unit of distance. Like we say, "That star is 1 million light years away." We're measuring distance with time.
But we never measure time with distance. If we did...
1) 1 light year is equal to 5,878,630,000,000 miles. 2) That means each mile is 0.00000000000017 of a light year. 3) So if someone asked you how old you are, you could respond "I am 0.0000000000051 miles of light old."
And then imagine if we combined light years with dog years somehow. Time would get old really fast. Or what if we combined light years with Miller Lite? Then you'd have Miller Lite Years – where time would just taste like water.
I'm a senior in college and over the past six months I've been considering becoming a standup comic following my expected graduation in May...I go to school in a city in Mississippi without any form of standup comedy scene. Thus, I have very limited standup experience. I perform at an annual comedy show at my college, and that's it in terms of my standup experience. Also, I'm planning on making a trip to NYC for this year's fall break, so as to experience the NYC standup scene, gauge my own abilities, and also visit a friend who lives there. Below are some questions I have regarding standup comedy, particularly as they pertain to my situation.
My fall break is Oct. 14-Oct. 17. Assuming I'm in NYC on those dates, will I have an opportunity to perform standup? Yes.
As an outsider I assume my performances would be limited to open mics only? You're right.
Also, could you recommend some venues for me to perform at? Slava's mic list is a good place to start. Identity Bar on Thursday and Woodshed on Saturday are two good ones in your date range.
Could you also provide some information I should know about performing standup comedy in NYC, such as what attire is appropriate, what length my act is limited to, etc.? Wear whatever you want. If you have something unusual, people will make fun of it. But secretly, many of them are just too scared to wear something their friends would never wear. So don't sweat it. Anyway, there are lots of other things that are more important. Like what cologne you wear.
Your act will be 5 minutes (or less).
Could you explain what it's like when you're first starting out? It's easy at first. And then it gets hard. For some reason, people tend to be funnier the first time they do standup than the 20th. That's when you really start to realize just how tough it is.
In regards to the launch of one's stand up career, do you have any tips? Try out different stuff. Don't fall into the funnel of what everyone else is doing. Perform a lot. Edit, edit, edit. Get to the point and get out. Read/listen to interviews I've linked to with pro comics at this site. Watch lots of standup too.
Realize you're going to suck for a while. Be delusional about being better than you are so audiences think you're confident. But still, be humble in the back of your mind and know there's miles of hard work to go if you wanna get good.
And also live a life that's interesting so you become an interesting person with interesting points of view that will be interesting to others onstage.
From what I have gathered, it typically takes about one year of performing stand-up comedy in order to get paid. Is there any possible way to reduce that length, other than of course increasing the funnyness of the act? One year? Good luck with that. In NYC it takes a lot longer (if ever) to make a living as a comic. But I guess you could go the angle of appealing to one specific demographic (college crowds, urban crowds, gay crowds, or whatever – maybe you should be a gay urban college comic!) and that would make you more marketable in your race to get paid. Really, I'd advise not worrying about getting paid right now. Get a job that doesn't suck and lets you do standup at night.
Do you have any general advice for me, perhaps based upon things that you have learned over the years or mistakes you made as a standup comic? Most of what I've learned is here in this blog's archives. Start with the best of posts and work back from there if you really want to get into it.
Can you provide me with any details about the profession that I probably don't know that I should know? Do it because you love it. Otherwise, it ain't worth it.
What are your thoughts on NYC as my post-graduation residence? Is it better than any alternative (ex. LA)? I say yes. Move to LA if you've got something lined up. I think NYC is a better place to get good.
But you're prob even better off spending a few years in a city that's cheaper and has more stage time. Chicago, Boston, Atlanta, Seattle, Portland, DC, Austin, and SF all come to mind. Do a few years there and then you can see if you're ready for a bigger city.
What are the difficulties associated with having a fulltime job while also pursuing a career as a standup comedian? You need to stay up late and be out all the time. That can get in the way of, well, pretty much everything else in your life.
Ochi's Lounge now exists in the formative memories of a whole generation of New York City comedians. You will turn on Letterman and see comedians tell jokes that were spoken for the very first time on that stupid little mini-stage in the basement. In fact, I'm sure that's already happened. One of Ochi's many producers will one day have his or her own major television show--that's not a prediction, it's an inevitability. And for years to come, comedians will gather at bars or in TV writer's rooms or on movie sets and laugh hysterically about "that one time at Ochi's".
Re: "You will turn on Letterman and see comedians tell jokes that were spoken for the very first time on that stupid little mini-stage in the basement. In fact, I'm sure that's already happened."
It's true. I remember Kumail doing a set at the Ochi's mic a few months after he moved to NYC. He had recently gone to Coney Island and had a new bit about riding The Cyclone. I think it was the first time (or one of the first times) he did it because he was looking at a printout of the jokes he was trying before going onstage.
Cut to a year or two later. Kumail's on Letterman. 3:50 in is the Cyclone bit ("scariest experience of my life...and I grew up in Pakistan").
I'm still mystified why Paul thought "Born in the U.S.A." was the right song to play.
CB Radio is a comedy podcast run by Cameron Buchholtz, a comedian from Austin, Texas (prev guests include Todd Barry, Paul F. Tompkins, Kyle Kinane, and more). He was in town recently and the result is...
FRI 9/17 - Hot Soup @ O'Hanlons - 8pm 349 E 14th St (btwn 1st and 2nd Ave) in NYC
This week features: Glenn Wool, Molly Knefel, Giulia Rozzi, and Kevin Barnett. I'm going up early and then hopping on the train to go to...
FRI 9/17 - Too Cool For School @ Red Star - 8pm 37 Greenpoint Ave (at West St) in Greenpoint
(Let's just hope the L train doesn't have a power outage or dead body on the tracks or some other gruesome failure to deal with. What the hell do you Wburg/Bushwick people do to the subway lines over there? If it is somehow "ironic," I DO NOT get it!)
WED 9/22 - Castlebraid Comedy Festival @ Castlebraid - 8pm Rooftop show 114 Troutman St. in Bushwick Details
West Coast Dates 9/24 - 8:00pm - VICTORIA, BC: Hecklers Comedy Club 9/26 - 8:00pm - VANCOUVER, BC: Deuce Bungalow 9/27 - 9:00pm - VANCOUVER, BC: The Kingston 9/28 - 8:30pm - SEATTLE: Comedy Underground 9/30 - 9:30pm - SEATTLE: Parlor Live Comedy Club
“To me,” Mr. Allen said, “there’s no real difference between a fortune teller or a fortune cookie and any of the organized religions. They’re all equally valid or invalid, really. And equally helpful.”
Bill Maher discusses religion on Leno:
And a clip from the last Louie about religion:
Funny? Not really. But I think that scene is fucking beautiful.
And I love how comedians are the only ones who manage to say stuff like this yet still hold down a regular TV gig. OK, cable slots at 11pm...but still.
When asked in 1999 whether they would consider voting for a woman for president, 92 percent of Americans said yes, up from 76 percent in 1978; 95 percent of respondents would vote for a black, a gain of 22 points since 1978; Jews were up to 92 percent from 82 in the votability index; even homosexuals have soared in popularity, acceptable presidential fodder to 59 percent of Americans today, compared with 26 percent in 1978. But atheists, well, there's no saving them. Of all the categories in this particular Gallup poll, they scraped bottom, considered worthy candidates by only 49 percent of Americans, a gain of a mere 9 percent since 1978. "Throughout American history, there's been this belief that our country has a covenant with God and that a deity watches over America," says Michael Cromartie, vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington. Atheism, in other words, is practically unpatriotic.
Gay Black Jewish woman for President? America: "Sure!" How about an atheist? "Hell no!"
That was Saturday at the Woodshed mic. Yes, Ray showed his dick. Also, he dropped the n-word repeatedly. Yelled at the only audience members too. Called people gay and bad comics and (mock) hit on girls too. Did big chunks of time between comics. Got choked after the show by a black guy who didn't like the n-word stuff. Yes, choked. Also, he made it almost impossible for any comic to actually do material.
Just a normal mic hosting session by Ray Combs, Jr. Say what you want about his technique, but he manages to do something really hard: He makes NYC open mics fun. Mean as shit, but fun.
He doesn't give a fuck about "making it." He's trying to get to something real instead of honing a tight 5 or trying to get on TV (there's a little self-sabotage at work too). The twist is how he takes that attitude and then challenges all the comedians in the room too. On Saturday, he said something like: "You all say you like Louis CK so much but then you get up here and you do the same stupid jokes that are nothing at all like what Louis CK does."
After Ray does his thing, telling little, clever jokes seems like a cop out. He creates an environment where you have to bring something real or authentic or honest or else you're doomed. It's a shitty place to try out certain kinds of jokes. But it's a good way to try to get to something more genuine in your act. There are so many comics who are just really unfunny when doing jokes. But when they drop that bullshit and start just talking it's at least interesting — and usually winds up funnier anyway. For me, that's the real magic of what Ray does at mics.
Recently, I did a show where I said I do not believe 9/11 was an inside job. Apparently that's a controversial opinion in Long Island City. Here was the scene after the show:
Four guys circle around me telling me how naive I am. "There's no way Tower #7 could have fallen that way on it's own! You gotta look at who benefited from 9/11. Don't be so naive!"
I look at these four guys carefully. Hmm. How come the only people who know the truth about 9/11 are unemployed soundmen? Why's that part of it? Why do I need to have a wallet chain and really good weed to know it was some kind of false flag operation? And what the hell is a false flag operation?
Then I realized what else these four had in common. Apparently the secrets to 9/11 are being revealed at Wrestlemania. I should have known Vince McMahon's got the inside scoop.
My favorite part is the "You gotta look at who benefited from 9/11. Don't be so naive!" Listen, just because someone benefits from something, doesn't mean they CAUSED it. I can benefit from dating a girl with low self-esteem, that doesn't prove I'm her father.
It's also weird to me that conspiracy theorists tend to be so opposed to religion. Because conspiracy theories are their religion. There's still a higher power running the show, it's just a slightly different version.
"Those morons actually think some guy with a beard and a robe is up in the sky controlling everything! Ridiculous!! 'Cuz clearly it's a cabal of the Defense Department, Halliburton, and the Jews."
As H.L. Mencken once said, "The central belief of every moron is that he is the victim of a mysterious conspiracy." But wait, did Mencken REALLY say that? That's probably exactly what The Illuminati want us to think!
Woooeee! We're back for another installment of the chat show with boundary issues. It's 9/11 so we are having our sad show. You are not gonna want to miss this one, Tom might actually cry. So come out and support your country at We're All Friends Here.
This month we've got:
Tom Sibley - Sob Story Jonathan Powley - Asian loving weirdo Calise Hawkins - Asha
Sean Patton, Nate Bargatze, Jarrod Harris and Rory Scovel have embarked on The Southern Comedy Quartet Tour. These guys are all terrific. If you're in any of the following cities, check 'em out:
September 9th, 2010 - Aiken Brewing Co. - Aiken, SC. (9PM) September 10th-11th, 2010 - Theatre 99 - Charleston, SC. (10PM) September 13th, 2010 - Buffinton's - Milledgeville, GA. (10PM) September 15th, 2010 - Warren City Club - Atlanta, GA. (9PM) September 16th, 2010 - The 40 Watt - Athens, GA. (9PM) September 17th-18th, 2010 - Nutt Street - Wilmington, NC. (9PM) September 21st, 2010 - Tremont Music Hall - Charlotte, NC. (9PM) September 22nd-25th, 2010 - Stand-Up Carolina - Myrtle Beach, SC. (8PM & 10PM) September 26th, 2010 - Warehouse Theatre - Washington DC (8PM) September 27th, 2010 - Whiplash at UCB - New York, NY. (11PM)
It's gonna be a movie too:
Here we find at the point of no return in the stand-up comedy business. They've been performing long enough, they all have television credits and are making just enough money to get by but are still living hand to mouth. The time to turn it off and pursue something else with their lives and careers has passed. The more they push, the more they sacrifice, the more attention they get, the better their odds are of achieving ultimate success in such a cutthroat industry. The heartbreak and stress that exists in such a fun job has never been seen in such an honest light...These four comics truly represent the forefront of the next generation of Southern stand-up comics.
NYC → LA transplant Matteson Perry suggested this blog topic in an email:
One of the most interesting things about comedy is the disconnect between how much everyone loves laughing, and how little respect comedy gets on the whole. No one would ever say "I hate laughing" but plenty would say "I hate comedy". The Moth Attracts 150+ people every week in NYC, and the funniest story usually wins and yet it's a struggle to get 30 people to a great stand up show. Mysterious.
Hmm, not sure it's that mysterious. First of all, there's only a handful of storytelling shows compared to the dozens of standup shows available every night of the week in NYC. So I can see how supply/demand might favor storytelling shows.
Also, from what I understand, The Moth is huge. Hit podcast, mentions on This American Life, big name drop-ins, etc. I'm sure there are storytelling shows that struggle to get attendees too, right?
As for people who "hate" comedy, I think people hate certain things about live comedy. First of all, it forces you to pay attention. At a bad rock show, you can talk to a friend or hang in the back and tune out. Comedy demands 100% rapt attention. And that's why it's so grating when it's bad. You're trapped in a painful performance prison. (A bad play is also an awful experience. John Mulaney has a great bit about that.)
Also, I'm reminded of something a civilian friend told me about a visit to a comedy club. He went with his girlfriend and the person seating audience wanted to sit him and his gal in the front. He asked not to be seated there. He said he didn't want to have any interaction with the comics, he just wanted to watch the show. The person seating him told him not to worry, it wouldn't be a problem.
Sure enough, the first comic comes out and starts fucking with him and his gal. He hangs in for a minute, but the comic keeps it up so he gets up and walks out.
He's mentioned it a couple of times to me. It really pissed him off and he felt lied to and doesn't want to go to another comedy show. He doesn't discern between club and alt shows. He just thinks comedy shows involve that kinda assholery and he doesn't feel like dealing with it. And I understand that.
From a comedian's perspective, it's always painful to be at a show where everyone sits in the back and leaves the front rows open (I often open up in a room like that by calling it "the prevent defense" of crowd formations). But y'know what? I think those people are smart to avoid the front. I never want to sit at the front of a comedy show either. Seems like there's some sort of fundamental problem when the best seats in the house are the last place people want to sit.
This happened months ago: I'm at a "booked" show that's really more of a good mic since almost everyone in the room is a comic. It's fun. Then one of the guys in the room gets onstage and starts listing off the names of all the female comedians in the room he's masturbated to.
It's supposed to be funny. But instead feels creepy. Very creepy. The air leaves the room.
Wish I could say that kinda thing is a rarity but it ain't. A normal scene at a shitty show/mic: It's in the dark basement of a bar. The ratio is way more guys than girls. Some dude gets up who is either bitter, creepy, or just doesn't get it and he starts spitting out misogynistic shit. Bitch this, cunt that. Unfunny jokes about rape, hos, cock, etc. And then people don't laugh and he gets mad at them for "being a shitty audience." Later on, same guy feels the need to point out that "girls aren't funny."
Now I realize I'm no perfect angel here, either. I talk about girls negatively at times. But I talk about everyone negatively at times. And I try to at least maintain a sense of self-awareness that it's very easy to come off like a prick when you go down that path. I think a good test to keep in mind: Would you tell that same joke if your sister/mom/girlfriend was in the crowd?
A thing I've heard before: The smartest people in this country almost never run for President. What sane person would put themselves through that process? I wonder if there's a parallel here. Maybe a lot of girls who are smart enough to be good at standup are also smart enough to not want to marinate in the cesspool environment that's part of the standup scene and instead decide to go into improv — or forget about performing comedy entirely.