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.
Speaking of the west coast, there's been a big exodus of NYC comics to LA in recent months. Considering the "go west" path? Here's some advice on moving to Los Angeles by Derek Sivers.
2. Americans are already quite individualist, but Los Angeles is the most individualist part of America. Because so many people are employed by the entertainment industry, most people are self-employed freelancers. They’re very focused on themselves. People talk about themselves a lot because they feel they have to, for survival, for self-promotion. Just as you can’t fault anyone in the world for doing something for survival, try not to fault them for being so self-promotional. Learn to lovingly listen like you’d listen to an 8-year-old who excitedly tells you about their train set for an hour...
5. Every culture values different things. In some places, it’s your bloodline. In others, your university. In others, it’s where you live. In LA, it’s who you know. Since the entertainment industry is all about short-term projects, everyone survives by their next project, and these projects always come from a connection. So everyone is collecting contacts. (Again: it’s survival.) Friendships are pragmatic and often short. Don’t fault them for talking about who they know, the same way you wouldn’t fault someone from India asking about your family. Introducing people to eachother, people who could potentially work together, is the most valuable thing you can do, as it raises your value and theirs. LA people want (NEED!) to have powerful well-connected friends, to survive and thrive.
From there, I took the train up to Canada. While looking for the location of Seattle's train station, I found a bunch of Google reviews of the train station. They are very insightful. Example: "Trains are too mainstream. I prefer working on fishing boats."
Nice scenery on the train ride and I prepped for my encounter with customs. Those guys always have a good sense of humor so I like to put my prank hat on! I considered telling them I'm The Jackal. Or confessing I had a suitcase full of MDMA. Or telling them I was transporting nuclear secrets to Iran.
In the end, I told them I'm helping Iran build an MDMA bomb. With one of those, Iran would be able to turn Israel into a dubstep rave. It's the only thing scarier than being destroyed!
Speaking of drugs, I spent 4/20 weekend in Victoria, British Columbia which was almost redundant. Having a holiday to celebrate weed there is like having a holiday to celebrate plastic surgery in LA. Lovely folks though. And fun shows with Vancouver comedian Dan Quinn.
As for comedy, it was great to get on a roll of doing good shows and long sets in front of packed houses. Whole different animal than doing 8 mins at an East Village bar. Also, going to somewhere like Courtenay in BC made me think how there are places that are dying for comedy and don't get any while NYC is so saturated. Getting outta town to tell jokes really makes sense from a supply/demand perspective.
Great time at the Bridgetown Fest last weekend. Really stellar job by the organizers of putting on a fest. Big thanks and congrats for pulling it off. It was fun shows with mostly good crowds at a neat assortment of venues. (My conclusion from the trip: 80% of the buildings in Portland are abandoned theaters from the 1920s.)
I thought it was especially cool how the fest made sure to get almost every comic up in a variety of rooms. Neat to see people who usually do small shows get a chance to perform in front of hundreds of people, ya know? Best sets of the fest that I saw: Maria Bamford, Pete Holmes, James Adomian, and Amy Schumer. All killers. And I think my fave venue was the kooky Eagles Lodge, an Elks Lodge type place complete with ancient Bingo players in the lobby. I opened my set there by yelling "B-24" over and over again.
Also, the fest did a good job of keeping comics stocked with food, drinks, rides to/from venues, and stuff to do during the day. And of course it helps that Portland is pretty damn great. As a fan of Portlandia, it's tough to wander the city without constantly thinking of the show. I walked past a vintage mailbox that had "book exchange" printed on the side and a guy on a bike rode up, dropped off a book, and took another one. Precious! Also, strip clubs, food trucks, trees, and rain. Ya know, Portland.
Now I'm up in Seattle. Did a show up in Bellingham (small town 1.5 hrs north of Seattle) last night. Afterwards a gal came up to James Adomian and was trying to tell him where the gay bar in town is. He said he wasn't interested. The gal's friend said she understood because "the gay bar in Bellingham, WA is really just the place where straight people go to dance." Ha! I love it when an audience member has the line of the night.
More shows in Seattle tonight and then off to Victoria, BC to do shows for Canucks this weekend. Details here if you're in the area.
Comedian James Adomian Reggae Night! We all got dreadlocks before the show.
[Penn and I] made a solemn vow not to take any job outside of show business. We borrowed money from parents and friends, rather than take that lethal job waiting tables. This forced us to take any job offered to us. Anything. We once did a show in the middle of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia as part of a fashion show on a hot July night while all around our stage, a race-riot was fully underway. That's how serious we were about our vow.
Get on stage. A lot. Try stuff. Make your best stab and keep stabbing. If it's there in your heart, it will eventually find its way out. Or you will give up and have a prudent, contented life doing something else...
Have heroes outside of magic. Mine are Hitchcock, Poe, Sophocles, Shakespeare, and Bach. You're welcome to borrow them, but you must learn to love them yourself for your own reasons. Then they'll push you in the right direction.
Here's a compositional secret. It's so obvious and simple, you'll say to yourself, "This man is bullshitting me." I am not. This is one of the most fundamental things in all theatrical movie composition and yet magicians know nothing of it. Ready?
Surprise me...Here's how surprise works. While holding my attention, you withold basic plot information. Feed it to me little by little. Make me try and figure out what's going on. Tease me in one direction. Throw in a false ending. Then turn it around and flip me over...Read Rouald Dahl. Watch the old Alfred Hitchcock episodes. Surprise. Withold information. Make them say, "What the hell's he up to? Where's this going to go?" and don't give them a clue where it's going. And when it finally gets there, let it land. An ending.
It took me eight years (are you listening?) EIGHT YEARS to come up with a way of delivering the Miser's Dream that had surprises and and ENDING.
Love something besides magic, in the arts. Get inspired by a particular poet, film-maker, sculptor, composer. You will never be the first Brian Allen Brushwood of magic if you want to be Penn & Teller. But if you want to be, say, the Salvador Dali of magic, we'll THERE'S an opening.
Even if Emily were rudely heckling every single comedian who went up before her (and it doesn't seem like she was), one person heckling one other person seems a benign act compared to a room full of mostly men attacking a woman who was clearly so nervous to do comedy that she had to get drunk first. (Note to those who want to try comedy: never drink first.) The behavior of the comedians in the audience is at best childish (big surprise!) and at worst barbaric. This should be viewed as the hazing incident it is, meant to intimidate and harass a newbie female who dared disturb the balance of power. Some have argued that a male comedian who behaved in the same way would have been met with the same response, but that's doubtful. Female hecklers are notoriously reviled by male comedians, which is not to say that other female comedians there weren't bothered by her behavior, but rather to draw attention to the latent sexism behind the act of embarrassing this girl online. Putting her in her place, as it were. This is the first video of its kind as far as I know (of an open mic-er being attacked by an audience of fellow comedians) and it's no coincidence that the subject is female.
I often wonder how many female comics with potential wind up steering away from standup because they don't want to navigate the open mic scene. Yes, it's tough for everyone. But it's gotta be even tougher if you're a woman who has to travel to dark basements (or rooms in the back of a bar) that have a 12:1 ratio of guys:girls telling a stream of unfunny jokes that frequently touch on rape or some other aggressive topic. If it makes a numb-to-the-world geezer like me feel uncomfortable, I can only imagine how it might make a young female comic feel.
“I’ve never been afraid of silence,” he says. “Silence and listening in comedy are big things that are overlooked.” If you don’t get the joke, he can wait. Like a musician (it’s no accident his films are filled with musical numbers), he thrives on changing the beat and riffing on a theme, letting the gag go on “and on and on and on and start to dip, but then because it’s going on so long it starts to get funny again.”
The approach goes back to his long stint on Saturday Night Live, where he’d double down on sketches that were dying in front of the audience—unlike some of his plainly miserable co-stars. “If something wasn’t working, the tendency would be to speed up and get through it,” he says. “But I would slow way down, and I would have this thing—I don’t know why, I love the audience, I want them to laugh, and yet something would kick in like, ‘Okay, you don’t like it, I’m going to make sure you really hate it,’ so I would just take my time. I don’t know, it was like a perverse joy in the agony of it being so painful. I can’t explain that.”
It's that level of commitment to a bit and the confidence he brings that, in my mind, sets Ferrell apart from other comic actors.
The article also talks about how he and Adam McKay shoot their films.
He and McKay work with actors who can free-associate on-camera. McKay says that after three or four takes to get a scene down as scripted, he’ll tell the cast to go for it and do the next five or six with four cameras rolling. “That’s the part you’re waiting for,” he says. “All of a sudden you see six other jokes you can do, and then sometimes the actors are tired and I’ll throw out lines—‘Play that angrier,’ or ‘There’s something there, you can find it,’ and Will at this point just knows instantly what I’m talking about, and, yeah, that’s the best.”
“You’ll find a little tangent,” says Ferrell, “or an avenue to go down, and Adam will be writing in his head and say, ‘Maybe talk about the fact that … ’ and that will trigger you, and it’s process, you just learn not to judge what you say, and it’s this whole back-and-forth until we run out of film.”
Of course, running out of film isn't a thing anymore. I wonder how much the switch to digital (and how that removed film costs so people could shoot endless takes) has changed movie comedies in the past decade.
Loved this bit from "How Ya Livin Biggie Smalls?" It's Dan Smalls' (former intern at Uptown Records) account of when Biggie and Tupac met. It involves weed, a cypher, playing with guns, and cooking steaks. So yeah, basically the coolest day that's ever happened.
So Big is talkin’ and Tupac is like “Yo what else you gotta do today?” And Big looks at me, and I knew at that point, cancel anything else we had scheduled. It was gonna be a wrap. Pac’s like, “Let’s go to my house.” So Tupac and Big, Greg Nice, myself and Groovey Lew [Big’s stylist], we all go to Tupac’s house. Pac had this bag, I mean, a clear, big freezer bag of the greenest vegetables I’d ever seen. Big was so happy!
We went back to Pac’s house and they just rolled up: Big was rolling, Pac was rolling, Greg was rolling, Groovey Lew was rolling, it was just going back and forth. Next thing you know, they started a cypher. We sitting at the house, Big is flowing, Pac is flowing, Greg is flowing, and me and Lew is just sitting there like, Yo, the moment of hip-hop for us has reached its high.
After the freestyle session, Pac went into his room and pulled out this green army bag, and dumped it onto the floor. And it was, like, 25 guns. Handguns, machine guns… So now, here we are, in this backyard running around with guns, just playing. Luckily they were all unloaded. While we were running around, Pac walks into the kitchen and starts cooking for us. He’s in the kitchen cooking some steaks. We were drinking and smoking, and all of a sudden Pac was like, “Yo, come get it.” And we go into the kitchen and he had steaks, and French fries, and bread, and Kool-Aid and we just sittin’ there eating and drinking and laughing. And you know, that’s truly where Big and Pac’s friendship started.
So this needs to be made into a movie, right? Hollywood: Frost/Nixon that shit. Also, Groovey Lew is one sweet nickname.
A comic I know told me he thinks someone else is ripping off one of his jokes:
I have had jokes stolen before but this is my signature joke and he is using it as his opening. What would you do? How would you handle it? My videos with that joke are all over internet as early as 2007, what would you do?
Made me think about my own history in this area. I've been on both ends of joke thieving accusations. And it's not fun.
A couple of times I've been approached by comedians who accused me of taking a joke from them. Both times it was via email. Both times it was from a comedian who I had never seen and never heard of. Both times the emails sent were threatening in tone. Both times the accuser assumed guilt before even contacting me. Both times they were 100% wrong. Both times I explained that I 1) had never seen them before and 2) don't steal material.
For one guy, that was enough. He backed off and apologized and I never heard from him again.
For the other guy, this riled him up even more. He pointed out that we shared a bill in 2010 and that he felt I did steal the joke. I told him that I didn't even remember doing that show with him and didn't recall any of his material. And then I sent him clips of me doing the joke in 2009 and 2008. His response to that: "Well, I'll just have to get it on TV first."
(I get why that used to be the litmus test for a disputed joke. Whoever got it on a televised set could claim to "own" it. But that seems a bit old fashioned in the wake of YouTube. If someone can prove they did a joke first on YouTube, shouldn't that give them dibs on it?)
Then there's the "someone else has a bit like that" note that other comics will give you. I've gotten offstage after telling a new joke and had people tell me, "Hey, Robin Williams has a joke like that." Something like that's happened a few times. No harm, no foul. I moved on.
Then a couple of months ago, I was on the other end of all this. I heard a comic do a bit really similar to one of mine. My first reaction: Is he stealing from me? But then I reflected on it a bit. It occurred to me that the premise of the joke wasn't super unique or anything. It's totally possible that someone else could come up with it. And while there definitely were similarities, it wasn't a word for word rip.
Still, I sent him a note about it. It was gentler than the ones I received. I didn't come out of the gate accusing him. I just told him I have an extremely similar bit and that I'd been doing it for a while. He replied he'd also done his version for a while too. I couldn't recall him seeing me perform the joke before (but that's a tough thing to recall).
At that point, we were both willing to chalk it up to parallel thinking. Still sucks though, knowing someone else is doing material similar to yours. So I rarely do the joke anymore. Ideally, I'd rather be doing material that could only come out of my mouth and from my point of view. If someone else can do the same bit, it feels to me like I'm not being unique enough. I try to use it as motivation to write more jokes that are so Ruby that no one else could ever do 'em.
Getting back to the email up top, here's part of my response to that comic:
If you're 100% sure this guy is stealing (i.e. you know he's been able to see your bit before and it's a word for word ripoff), I'd ask him to stop doing it. If you're not 100% sure, I'd start off with a non-confrontational email (or call) and see what he says in response. Tell him you've got the same joke and show him clips of you doing it from years ago. See what he says. Sometimes this stuff is just parallel thinking and both people come up with a similar joke. But if you know he's ripping you off, you have a right to be mad.
FYI, I think the tone can shift if you're positive that someone else is plagiarizing you. Another comic I know faced that. He found out a guy in a different city was doing one of his jokes verbatim onstage. He sent him a nasty email telling him to stop and the guy apologized and pledged not to do it again.