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.
Saturday, May 7 at 8pm will be the third anniversary show of We're All Friends Here at The Creek. Bringing back some of our fave guests to the hot seat: Ted Alexandro, Yannis Pappas, and Jesse Popp. (If you have Aerosmith's "Back in the Saddle," play it now.) (Also, why do you have that song?)
Remember the OJ bit on Bring The Pain? "Now I'm not saying he should have killed her...but I understand."
Well OJ called up Chris Rock after it aired and left a voicemail saying, "You dogged me in your last show...but I understand."
Rock discusses it and plays the clip in this video: Chris Rock's Top 5 Funniest Oprah Show Moments (OJ thing starts :55 in). Rock laughs it off but says it was a little scary: "What do you understand? Do you understand where I live?"
Gaffigan is a subversive voice, for the reason others consider him so middle of the road: He’s able to talk to everybody, and that puts him in a position to affect more societal change than the trio of “on edge” comedians mentioned above.
Comics “on the edge” tend to have edge or fringe followings. Stanhope is fantastic, but he’s a niche performer. Cross may be offensively poignant, but he’s preaching to the choir. Same goes for Garofalo; as much as she is able to rally the left, she’s not changing any Republican minds.
Now, take Gaffigan: he’s less vitriolic than the aforementioned comics, but he’s certainly found a way to criticize people to their faces—and because of his wide appeal, he’s been able to accomplish this on a larger scale.
In the comments there, Gaffigan's inside voice is brought up by someone named Roped:
what you’re missing here is Gaffigan’s strange voice that talks back to his jokes from the perspective of a confused (possibly female) audience member. This tic makes him more subversive than any of the other comics you’ve mentioned because he is able to play with our responses by responding to this voice. Through this he goes beyond simply stating what he thinks in the way you’ve mentioned. Like, he’s not just going “I HATE OBESITY AND CRITICIZE IT” but he can display both sides of the conversation. It is wizardry.
Good point that. I've heard Gaffigan refer to it as his "inside voice." But to me, it always seemed more of an "outside voice" — him acting out the thoughts of a conservative, easily offended, female audience member.
And that's the beauty of it. It shows he's completely aware of how he's being perceived, which lets him get away with saying on-the-edge stuff. It's like a bumper that minimizes any damage. Plus, it also shows the silliness of those thin-skinned soccer mom types.
And one more thing worth mentioning on the topic: Sometimes Gaffigan is just outright subversive. Take this chunk he does on religion where he tackles the virgin birth, pearly gates, people who talk a lot about Jesus, the burning bush, etc.
I don't think the Jesus stuff is why he's so popular. To keep up his mainstream appeal, this kinda thing needs to be sandwiched between bits on bowling and Hot Pockets. But sometimes it takes some sugar (or bacon) to make a pill go down.
A good attitude for any performer I think. Put on the kind of act that you'd want to watch. If you don't want to watch someone read jokes out of a notebook, then why would you ever inflict that on others?
I'm pretty bad at being phsyical onstage. Most of the time I just stand there. Some hand motions occasionally. Maybe I'll add in some more physicality to a bit after doing it for a while. But that's about it. While I don't think I'll ever be a Jim Carrey type (or really want to be), I do think it's an area where I've got plenty of room to improve. You get more mileage when you engage people's visual sense too.
It doesn't need to be an over the top, hump-the-stool thing either. Take a look at this Ted Alexandro clip.
I think of Ted as being very laid back/zen onstage and not a physical comedian at all. Yet here you can see all kinds of subtle movements that accentuate his jokes — fixing his hair and looking at his nails in the woman president joke, acting out crunches during the Buddha/Jesus joke, looking like a pigeon during the gym bit, etc. Subtle stuff yet really adds to the mix. It's a good example of how a comic can add physicality to an act without it seeming forced.
Talking animals = yawn most of the time. But Marcus and I were talking about a couple of fun animated talking animal shorts that are great. Mostly because they're so human. He turned me on to this one...
...and I mentioned how it reminded me of this old Nick Park animation:
Steven Wright once described his act as "a view of the world through the eyes of a child, but described in the words of an adult."
I thought of this while watching Norm Macdonald's new (terrific) standup special on Comedy Central. Norm constantly seems to be looking at the world through the eyes of a little kid and pointing out how silly it all is. But what takes it to another level in this special is the topics he's discussing: mortality, heart attacks, addiction, murder, graves, etc. His innocent-seeming approach combined with the heavy topics makes it something else to watch.
He's been hitting the press circuit lately and it's interesting to learn more about his approach. At Weekend Update, he said he was “doing a specific experiment, where I was trying to strip all cleverness from the joke and try and make it as blunt as possible. I always told everybody the perfect joke would be where the setup and punch line were identical.” Here's an example of that from his new Sports Show.
Not the best joke. But it's funny in its own way that the joke is him just saying the truth. Reminds me of one of my fave bits I've ever seen him do. It was back in the 90s during an interview and he was talking about Joe Camel:
So great. Next time Norm was on the show, Dennis Miller brought it up again and called Norm "a profane child."
NM: Kind of all-important. I’m not original, but I strive toward it as much as possible. I tried really hard on Weekend Update to do something that I considered original, which was, I tried to cut all cleverness out of the joke. I’ve always been very averse to innuendo, especially sexual. I find it cowardly or something. Like on Will & Grace, my mother will laugh at it, then I’m like, “You know what that joke’s about, right? Like, that one guy fucked that guy in the ass.” And then she’s aghast, and I’m like, “That’s what he just said when he talked about the tunnel! So why didn’t he just say it?” It always maddens me that people can laugh at sexual innuendo, then you say what it really means, and they’re like “Ah! I can’t hear that!” So on Update, the only real original thing was trying to take away the cleverness of the punchline and make it as blunt as possible. And then I tried to make the punchline as close to the setup as I could. And I thought that was the perfect thing. If I could make the setup and the punchline identical to each other, I would create a different kind of joke.
And lastly, Bill Simmons just interviewed Norm on his podcast too. Interesting discussion in there of how Wright, Hedberg, and Rodney are three guys he thinks of as having the ideal sync between performance style and writing.
The other week, I did an hourlong set at a community college in Maryland. It was at 11am. In a cafeteria. For a, er, light crowd: 10 people in front paying attention, six more in the back playing Magic the Gathering, and another dozen people — off to the side in a different room — ignoring me and eating their lunch. I thought that was strange enough. But then, about 15 minutes in, the mascot of the school entered. In full regalia. And sat in the front row. This is him:
Yes, he is a parrot that is a pirate. Not a pirate with a parrot on his shoulder. A parrot that is ALSO a pirate. Eye patch and all. Quite a hybrid of ideas.
I asked the audience what the name of the school mascot is. They said a skipjack. I just looked that up. A skipjack is neither a parrot nor a pirate. It is a tuna.
(Look, I'm just telling you the facts. Don't ask me to make sense of any of this. Maybe it is a tuna that is dressed up like a parrot that is dressed up like a pirate? Hmm.)
I tried talking to him (e.g. "What animal does a parrot pirate have on HIS shoulder?") but he had a giant mask on and couldn't speak. He just did this weird slow-nod thing because I think that's all you can do when you're in a giant mascot head.
I then talked about how, in a way, all birds are really pirates when you think about it. They live pretty similar lifestyles, ya know?
It was really fucking strange. He sat in the front row for a half-hour – laughing? I have no idea – and then got up and walked out. As he slowly exited through the back of the room, I said goodbye and he waved back at me. It felt like the fade out of some sort of Donnie Darko/Hunter S. Thompson/Pirates of the Caribbean fever dream.
Sometimes comedy is a pretty decent replacement for psychedelics.
Comedy is a very specific thing. It's a very aggressive, very masculine form. There's not a ton of straight female comedians that have been super successful because it's sorta like, "Hey, I'm the funniest one in the room! Everyone shut up and listen to me for an hour while I fucking tell you!" It's aggressive.
...and the "women aren't as funny as men" thing:
My theory: It's not that women aren't funny, it's that women get seen before they're ready. It takes a couple of years to get fucking good and to figure out what your point of view is. And I feel like the best managers of women just slow their women down. So [Cummings' manager] Barry [Katz], for the first three years I was doing comedy, he wouldn't let me showcase for anything. He wouldn't let me do anything. He said, "Just get good. When you kill 10 times in a row, I'll get you showcases."
Interesting take. Usually I hear women complaining about not getting opportunities because of their gender. But here's Cummings saying that gals get seen too quickly, which sounds like the opposite idea. (And can lead to negative comments from male comics when a gal does get something.)
When the Massachusetts Institute of Technology acknowledged 12 years ago that it had discriminated against female professors in “subtle but pervasive” ways, it became a national model for addressing gender inequity...Now, an evaluation of those efforts shows substantial progress — and unintended consequences. Among other concerns, many female professors say that M.I.T.’s aggressive push to hire more women has created the sense that they are given an unfair advantage. Those who once bemoaned M.I.T.’s lag in recruiting women now worry about what one called “too much effort to recruit women.”
"Coming from stand-up, I think female comics get on stage for a very different reason than male comics do. This is a huge generalization, but I think guys get on stage to get laid, and women get on stage to get heard," Kilmartin explains. "For female comics, it's such a personal thing. I hardly know any female stand-ups who talk about generic stuff: It's always really what happened to you. It is sort of a big switch to go from that to writing for someone else. And I think that that stops a lot of female comics from making that jump over."
It's incredible that the room is so balanced. There are four women, including myself, that work in the writers pool, which is only eight or nine people, maybe ten people tops, that you would call writers on our staff. And four of them are women. Those are insane numbers. But it works really well for sitcoms; I don't know if it would have worked as well at a place like The Onion. Because The Onion is more straight joke writing, where Community is more about telling stories and character dynamics and what do we want to say about these characters and how are they going to grow and evolve. And, not to generalize, but I can tell you this specifically about the Community writers room, it's really nice having women around to talk about that stuff. Because they're interested in being true, for instance, to Annie's feelings about Jeff and how she reacts as a girl who is nineteen years old and very headstrong, but hasn't had a lot of experience yet. So I feel like women really come in handy in that respect.
After working in technology for 17 years now, I can assure you: constantly being the only woman in the room stinks. Since I usually am, one of my career goals is to surround myself with capable women technologists as well as men. It's not easy, but it's important—and not just because I'm lonely, but because I make stuff, and creations reflect their makers. The tech industry is by and large a boys' club, and that's a shame, because homogenous teams turn out one-dimensional products. Diverse teams are better-equipped to make things that shine because they serve a wide range of people.
At Lifehacker I learned something important about creating a productive online community: leaders set the tone by example. It's simple, really. When someone you don't know shows up on the mailing list or in IRC, you break out the welcome wagon, let them know you're happy they're here, show them around the place, help them with their question or problem, and let them know how they can give back to the community. Once you and your community leaders do that a few times, something magical happens: the newbie who you welcomed just a few weeks ago starts welcoming new folks, and the virtuous cycle continues.
So if ya wanna transfer that idea to comedy, it'd seemingly be important for lady comics to welcome newbie females into the fold. And by newbie, I mean new at comedy, not new at being female. (How best to welcome tranny comedians into standup will have to be dealt with in another post.)
And that reminds me of a time I was in Chicago and realized there is an all-female comedy class at Lincoln Lodge. Never heard of anything like that in NYC. Though a step in that direction seems to be Glennis McMurray's new GLOC site.
I admit it—I’ve been bitten by the bug of envy. I’ve looked at another lady and silently raged over her accomplishments. I’ve dogged, catted and birded my way through her wardrobe, hair, mannerisms and material. Somehow I thought doing so would make me feel better, but I always ended up feeling worse in the end. Not to get all after school special on your asses, but what really felt great was starting this blog to recognize the awesome in each and every one of us...
So look to the successes of the ladies around you and let it fuel your own. Because if we can’t bond over a shared comedic sensibility, can we at least get along because we’re all women fighting the good fight together? I think so.
What's the conclusion to all this? Dunno. But yeah, let's all get along. U-N-I-T-etc.
Woooooeeee! We're back and we've got a fun one this week. After finally coping with last months show we eventually got up enough strength to do another one of these puppies. And boy do we have some fun stuff on these jews!
Here we go:
George Gordon (Non Jew) Zach Broussard (Handsome but not gay) Harrison Greenbaum (Handsome)
Eternal questions will be answered and truths will be told!!! This is gonna be a doozy!! See you then. 10pm at Creek after Monsters!
WED 4/6: WE'RE ALL FRIENDS HERE 10pm - Free The Creek and the Cave 10-93 Jackson Ave. in Long Island City
Bill Simmons is joined by Roastmaster General Jeff Ross to discuss the Donald Trump roast, classic and untelevised roasts, Greg Giraldo's death and more.
Really interesting stuff, esp if you care about roasts at all. Cool to hear what a good sport Shaq was about this roast (below).
Ross met him that afternoon and asked if he'd be a good sport. Shaq said, "Nobody ever told me to hold back on the basketball court, I don't want you to hold back on the dais." Now that's the attitude ya wanna see from a roastee.
Here's a good Ross quote about "crossing the line": "There is no line. There's funny and not funny." After that, he compared the Michael Richards incident to the Flava Flav roast:
As soon as you do the same [racial] subjects in the hands of professional comics, it was a slam dunk home run. Hilarious show...These things can bring people together. As much as they can separate people like Michael Richards did, the same subjects, the same words can make people better friends. And that's what being a professional comedian is for.