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.
“That’s just how I talk,” he explains. “A Mexican accent isn’t necessary either, but if you have one, you’ll look fake and stupid trying to hide it. And there’s nothing more embarrassing than someone who doesn’t use profanity, trying to jam it into their set like that will help them. Just as awkward.”
I like the accent/cursing comparison. Either way is ok as long as it's legit and you don't come off sounding like a phony. When a British person sounds British, it's fine. When Madonna sounds British, it's like, "Wait a minute, aren't you from Michigan?"
My favorite topic to talk about on stage is whatever stream of conscious is happening. But sometimes, something hits you while you're on stage. Every day we have a thousand thoughts, and some of those thoughts we feel would be worth exploring on stage. And every once in awhile, we have one of those thoughts, WHILE we're on stage. And exploring those ideas in that moment, whatever the topic is, are my favorite to talk about.
I was at an outdoor show recently at a food festival. The type of show you roll your eyes at as a comic. Two in the afternoon, on the hottest day of the year. The whole point of the festival was for people to try foods they never had before, and I was supposed to perform in this comedy tent, for people to take a break from food. I asked everyone if they enjoyed all the unique foods, they all said 'YEAH!!!' What's been your favorite so far? And this very sweet old man in the front row, in complete honestly yelled, "Corn!"
And that killed me, that this guy had never had corn before. Every tent had funnel cakes, and pate, and sushimi, and this guy was blown away by the corn. And there is, for the next ten minutes I just get to riff about a guy who is blown away by corn, amazed by water, and was scared of the future technology of forks...those moments feel like you're just joking around with your buddies, as opposed to being on stage telling a joke that 'you're working on', or a joke that doesn't work because you can't recreate the moment when its circumstances occurred. And those spontaneous topics are my favorite.
A well crafted joke gets told over and over in front of lots of audiences. But a spontaneous one can only be shared by the people in that room at that time. I think that's a big part of why audiences respond so strongly to in-the-moment riffs.
I'll be performing at Caroline's on Tuesday's (9/27) Comics To Watch showcase. Call up the box office (212.757.4100) and mention promo code "CTW" and you will receive complimentary admission. (2 drink minimum still applies though.) More about the show:
COMEDY CENTRAL AND THE NEW YORK COMEDY FESTIVAL TEAM UP TO LAUNCH A SHOWCASE OF THE HOTTEST UP-AND-COMING COMEDIANS
‘COMICS TO WATCH’ TO TAKE PLACE AT CAROLINES ON BROADWAY AS PART OF THE 2011 NYCF, WHICH RUNS NOVEMBER 9 – 13, 2011 ‘”
COMEDY CENTRAL, the preeminent brand in comedy, is teaming up with the New York Comedy Festival, to produce ‘Comics To Watch,’ a live show featuring the best up-and-coming young comedians from across the country. The comedians, selected by the all-comedy network and the festival organizers, will be chosen for their unique strengths including writing, delivery to stage persona. The showcase will take place at the famed comedy venue Carolines on Broadway during the 2011 New York Comedy Festival, which runs November 9 – 13.
If there were a late-night comedy show completely run by comedy writers, without any interference from a host, producer, or network, that show would probably be called The Darkest and Most Impossibly Horrible Things You Can Imagine, Presented as Comedy. Every sketch would end with a gunshot or an infant’s stroller engulfed in flames, and the show would be canceled halfway through its opening titles. That’s because most comedy writers are so inured by humor that only the most shockingly toxic ideas can achieve the proper velocity to penetrate their indifference.
It's why using mics (or comics in the back of the room) as an arbiter of whether something is funny can be dangerous. What's funny to us ain't always the way the rest of the world sees it.
A Sandpaper Suit production — A hobo breaks an iPhone and has to make up for it. Starring Nick Vatterott, Alice Wetterlund, and yours truly. Written and directed by me. Shot and edited by Lars Rasmussen. Music by Kevin MacLeod.
The problem most New Yorkers have with Los Angeles is that it is fragmented and lacks a vital center. The people have no common experience. Instead, they exude a kind of bemused detachment that renders them intensely uninteresting. the West Coast experience is soft and peripheral, New York is hard and concentrated. California is a small woman saying, "Fuck me." New York is a large man saying, "Fuck you!"...
Most outsiders can't handle New York, so they wind up back in Big Loins, Arkansas, badmouthing The City for the rest of their lives. Actually, most of the people who run New York down have never been there. And if they ever went, we would destroy them in nine minutes. People hate New York, because that's where the action is, and they know it's passing them by. Most of the decisions that control people's lives are made in New York City. Not in Washington, not on Pennsylvania Avenue. In New York City! Madison Avenue and Wall Street. People can't handle that. Pisses 'em off. Fuck 'em!...
Concerning L.A. versus New York: I have now lived half my life in each of America's two most hated, feared, and envied cities, and you want to know something? There's no comparison. New York even has a better class of assholes. Even the lames in New York have a certain appealing, dangerous quality.
So why did Carlin live in LA? "Because the sun goes down a block from my house," he wrote.
One night I went to The Improv and saw a bunch of comedians and I thought, "Jesus these people seem just like me." They're complete losers who get up and do nothing but talk about how miserable they are. Are you kidding? I can do that.
That’s a tough question. I don’t have one all-time favorite. I’ll name a few I love. George Carlin’s rant about “The American Dream.” Bill Cosby’s rant about “The Dentist.” Louis CK’s rant about “Everything’s Amazing and Nobody’s Happy.” Dave Attell’s rant about “Love/The Lonely Bug” It’s not a rant per se but Woody Allen’s story “The Moose” is so brilliant and hilarious.
Sunday: The debut of Hot Soup at UCBeast UCBeast, UCB’s long awaited East Village venue, is now open (lineup of shows) and I'm happy to say Hot Soup will be moving to Sunday nights at 9pm there. Lineup for the first one this Sunday (9/11):
Ted Alexandro Jared Logan Joe Mande and the Hot Soup players
HOT SOUP! at UCBeast 155 E. 3rd Street (at Avenue A) Sundays at 9pm - $5
Hot Soup is a weekly standup comedy showcase every Sunday at UCBeast. It's produced by David Cope, Andy Haynes, Mark Normand, Matt Ruby, and Sachi Ezura.
Saturday: We're All Friends Here The comedy chat show with boundary issues is back again on Saturday. The lineup:
Gary Gulman Josh Rabinowitz Kevin McCaffrey
Saturday, September 10 - 8:00pm FREE The Creek and The Cave (directions) 10-93 Jackson Avenue Long Island City, NY Just one stop from Manhattan and Brooklyn
Funny People at 92nd Street Y offers up audio interviews with Steve Martin, George Carlin, Richard Lewis, and more. A quote from from the Carlin talk:
Anything about religion and God and belief is good territory. You can hear the sphincters tighten as you begin. "Let's see how he's gonna handle this!" I try to sense and know where the line is. Where the line we're drawing these days is. And then I deliberately cross it. And I try to bring them with me across the line and enjoy the experience. I do it in service of ideas. It's not just for its own sake, to bother or annoy or shock. I have ideas and though the logic sometimes is nicely twisted, there's a good structure underneath it. I use the language or the topics to vent this personality of mine that's out of step and really doesn't buy all this stuff...If all I ever do for the rest of my career is fill up coffee houses on a Friday and Saturday night, I'll be happy. And when you're not reaching real hard for something — I think when you're not pursing something relentlessly, I think it may come to you a little more easily.
A couple of great examples of Carlin bringing people with him over the line: His "Fuck the Children" bit...
...and this great rant on Politically Incorrect post-Katrina.
Here's a great speech CK gave honoring Carlin [via Laughspin].
It’s one thing to be angry at something, like, “Oh, this is stupid,” and point it out. But then I think it’s important that I go, “Why would I, particularly, think this thing is stupid and get wound up about it?” and turn it back on me, which, to me, is just as fascinating. “Oh, this actually comes from this embarrassing thing, and that’s why I don’t like that.” Like the romantic-comedy [bit]. As disparaging as I’m being about romantic comedies, and how I know all of their beats, and especially how all the gay characters talk in these movies, all that comes from the fact that I still am a sucker and go see all these goddamn movies. I can bitch about it all I want, but I’ve given them my money. That’s why I’m so well-versed in this stuff. [Laughs.] I also bitch about all these stupid action movies, and I go to see every fucking one!
Advice I read somewhere recently that stuck with me: Start with the word "I." Begin a joke or premise with "I" and you're talking about you, how you feel, or something that happened to you. Immediately guides you toward the personal and self-examination as opposed to just pointing fingers at the rest of the world.
And here's Patton on building tension:
You want laughs! Silence, if you’re doing a comedy, or no reaction when you’re doing some other kind of movie, is really scary. And you want those. Sometimes you get fuckin’ greedy as a comedian. I know from the times when you just don’t know when to let go and you want to jump in over other people. It’s just fear. Fear and greed...
The show "Louie" is a master class of how to be a confident comedian. That’s really what it is. It’s a master class in, “We can go for a little while and then let this thing go ‘boom.’ We can string people along.” Because it’s never uninteresting. You know what I mean? People mistake no laughs for, “Oh, it’s boring!” No, no. People aren’t laughing because they’re listening. Seeing where this is gonna go. So let this fucking happen!
One thing We're All Friends Here has taught me is the value of tension and engagement. Yes, laughs is the goal. But if people are on the edge of their seats, no one's complaining. If people are engaged and can't wait to hear what happens next, you're still winning.
And then, if you can pierce that tension with something funny, you can get a truly deep, cathartic laugh out of 'em. You've taken them on a roller coaster ride instead of over a speed bump.
Caveat though: Those kind of laughs are addictive. After you get that deeper sort of response, it's tough to go back to, say, clever little misdirections. Once you've gone deep, those sorts of jokes feel like you're returning to the kiddie table.
If show business is war, agents have the guns. It’s your job to make ammunition. So while it’s great that you wrote that sketch show or have five tight minutes of stand-up or that you finally finished your Modern Family spec script — you have to make more. The guys with the guns may gawk at your one shiny bullet, but they’re not going to start firing unless they know there’s more where that came from. Because, well, war is hell and no one knows what they’re shooting at. So stop worrying about getting a gun you’re not ready to use and focus on making more bullets. Trust me — the guys with the guns need good ammunition. When you’re ready — they’ll find you.
2. Don’t be bitter. Be better.
Too many people seem to think that really wanting something is actually a reason they should get it. It’s not. As Steve Martin once said, the key for any aspiring comedian is, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” So sure, you could make a hundred excuses for why you’re not as successful as you want to be. And some of them may even be true. But the comedians who make it are the ones who keep pushing themselves and take advantage of every opportunity. The gatekeeper who rejects you may indeed be an idiot, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be better.
3. Be nice.
That intern taking out the garbage may be on SNL one day. And that guy in your improv class who you don’t think is funny may end up working in development at a studio. But more importantly this business is filled with rejection and it’s a lot less lonely if you’ve got a community of like-minded, supportive people around you who understand what you’re going through. Another person’s success is not your failure.