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.
Bruce Springsteen at Sixty-Two (The New Yorker) has an interesting passage on Bruce's attempt in the late '80s to talk about his real life in his songs.
Springsteen was aware of the comical contradiction: the multimillionaire who, in his theatrical self-presentation, is the voice of the dispossessed. Very occasionally, twinges of discomfort about this have leaked into his lyrics. In the late eighties, Springsteen played “Ain’t Got You,” which appeared on his album “Tunnel of Love,” for Van Zandt. The lyrics tell of a fellow who gets “paid a king’s ransom for doin’ what comes naturally”—who’s got “the fortunes of heaven” and a “house full of Rembrandt and priceless art”—but lacks the affections of his beloved. Van Zandt recognized the self-mockery but didn’t care. He was aghast.
“We had one of our biggest fights of our lives,” Van Zandt recalled. “I’m, like, ‘What the fuck is this?’ And he’s, like, ‘Well, what do you mean, it’s the truth. It’s just who I am, it’s my life.’ And I’m, like, ‘This is bullshit. People don’t need you talking about your life. Nobody gives a shit about your life. They need you for their lives. That’s your thing. Giving some logic and reason and sympathy and passion to this cold, fragmented, confusing world—that’s your gift. Explaining their lives to them. Their lives, not yours.’ And we fought and fought and fought and fought. He says ‘Fuck you,’ I say ‘Fuck you.’ I think something in what I said probably resonated.”
Reminds me of the argument about doing observational vs. personal comedy. Going personal seems like the right path in many ways but then again, maybe they want to hear about their lives instead of yours. Sometimes dwelling on yourself onstage feels a bit selfish. But other times, the personal seems like the best path to the universal.
There's also an interesting passage about being an isolationist, relationships, and creativity.
It took some doing to get Springsteen, an “isolationist” by nature, to settle into a real marriage, and resist the urge to dwell only in his music and onstage. “Now I see that two of the best days of my life,” he once told a reporter for Rolling Stone, “were the day I picked up the guitar and the day that I learned how to put it down.”
Scialfa smiled at that. “When you are that serious and that creative, and non-trusting on an intimate level, and your art has given you so much, your ability to create something becomes your medicine,” she said. “It’s the only thing that’s given you that stability, that joy, that self-esteem. And so you are, like, ‘This part of me no one is going to touch.’ When you’re young, that works, because it gets you from A to B. When you get older, when you are trying to have a family and children, it doesn’t work. I think that some artists can be prone to protecting the well that they fetched their inspiration from so well that they are actually protecting malignant parts of themselves, too. You begin to see that something is broken. It’s not just a matter of being the mythological lone wolf; something is broken. Bruce is very smart. He wanted a family, he wanted a relationship, and he worked really, really, really hard at it––as hard as he works at his music.”
As Springsteen sees it, the creative talent has always been nurtured by the darker currents of his psyche, and wealth is no guarantee of bliss. “I’m thirty years in analysis!” he said. “Look, you cannot underestimate the fine power of self-loathing in all of this. You think, I don’t like anything I’m seeing, I don’t like anything I’m doing, but I need to change myself, I need to transform myself. I do not know a single artist who does not run on that fuel. If you are extremely pleased with yourself, nobody would be fucking doing it! Brando would not have acted. Dylan wouldn’t have written ‘Like a Rolling Stone.’ James Brown wouldn’t have gone ‘Unh!’ He wouldn’t have searched that one-beat down that was so hard. That’s a motivation, that element of ‘I need to remake myself, my town, my audience’—the desire for renewal.”
On a recent Nerdist podcast, Fred Armisen talked about how some SNL sketches will hit harder with the at-home crowd than they do with the live audience. One example he mentioned: Unfrozen Cave Man Lawyer, which he calls his favorite SNL sketch of all time. Watch it.
"Louie would tell me not to curse so much," said Hannibal. "He'd say, "Take out the 'fucks,' you're six less 'fucks' away from being a millionaire."" Marquee names in NYC stand-up have crossed the bridge to perform at Hannibal's Knitting Factory show, including C.K., Jim Gaffigan and one of his biggest supporters, Chris Rock. When I asked Hannibal what advice Rock offered for his Gramercy Theatre taping he gave a dubious reply: "He said make sure it's a 'special' and not a 'normal.'"
I grind my teeth at night. That's because my brain wants to sleep but my body wants to destroy itself. So I have to wear something called a chewguard that prevents my teeth from touching while I sleep. It pretty much looks like I'm wearing a retainer. So if you see me wearing it, know that means I either 1) completely don't care what you think or 2) we are totally in love. (Luckily, in my brain there is little room for a scenario that is not one or the other of these.)
Also worth noting: I clean the chewguard with denture cleaner. I've found it challenging to explain this to women. "Yes, I have Efferdent. But it's not because I'm old. It's because I'm filled with repressed rage! Don't worry, I can't control it and it only comes out in the bedroom...Wait, where are you going?!"
I'm a bit over-the-top with hand-washing too. I think that's because my father used to inspect my hands before I could eat dinner. He'd actually smell my hands to make sure I had washed them. That's a parent's way of saying, "I've got this problem...and now I'm handing it over to you!" He would also take a bath and a shower every morning. This is a man obsessed with eliminating filth. Which seems to me the filthiest thing of all.
So, uh, yeah: Clean hands, crushed teeth, open mind!
Most leaders think that telling people the truth makes that leader vulnerable - either to the public or their opponents. They are wrong.
"The most important part of telling the truth is that it actually binds you to people," explains Seidman, "because when you trust people with the truth, they trust you back." Obfuscation from leaders just gives citizens another problem - more haze - to sort through. "Trusting people with the truth is like giving them a solid floor," adds Seidman. "It compels action. When you are anchored in shared truth, you start to solve problems together. It's the beginning of coming up with a better path."
Feels like onstage advice too. That telling the truth will get people to trust you and take your side.
“Now I want to explain about getting into tortoise mind. The enemies of tortoise mind are anxiety and interruptions. The moment you get anxious or interrupted you go back into hare brain. What you have to do is give yourself a place where you’re not going to be interrupted for about an hour, because it takes time for your thoughts to settle. You have to create boundaries of space and then you have to create boundaries of time. You need to give yourself the time to let these ideas come up because it deals in the confusion and images and very subtle things.”
I got stung by a bee on Monday night. No big deal you say? This bee flew into my mouth and stung me on the lip. And do you know what happens when you get stung on the lip? It starts inflating like an air mattress. Here, look at this pic. It looks like I had a collagen implant done by Stevie Wonder. Y'know, like the kind Meg Ryan gets. Oh, that's where I cross the line with you? What? You think Meg Ryan looks good these days. C'mon. Let's get real. People, let's just learn to age gracefully. That's what I say when I look at the bags under my eyes each morning. Seriously, they're getting outta hand. I look like the last season of Friends when Joey had those bags under his eyes that were so big I'm convinced an airline woulda made him check them. Look at me talking about celebs! So this is what I've been missing out on. Let's chat about cellulite and beach photos next! Anyway, I'm getting off track here. The good news is that my lip has recovered. The human body is an elastic thing. Phew. Strangely enough, this actually happened to me once before. I was drinking a beer and a bee flew into it as I drank and then stung my lip. Apparently, my lips are delicious to bees. Beelicious? If you own a line of lip gloss, feel free to steal that name.
Re: Tosh/Tracy/rape/gays/etc...Everyone is a supporter of free speech. Until someone says something disgusting. That's when it gets interesting. Some people bail. But the true believers know vile things are the ones that most need defending. Like when the ACLU argued on behalf of the Nazis who wanted to march in Skokie. When you defend the rights of someone who says stuff you hate, that's when you show you truly believe in freedom of expression.
Saying something is off limits for discussion on a comedy stage is dangerous to the artform. That stage is one of the few remaining public forums in our nanny society where people can still express themselves without a filter and without censorship. And that's what makes it a holy place where the truth often emerges. If you want the garden, accept the weeds. They grow together.
Despite the old adage, sometimes it is good to beat a dead horse. You may have come to a few cursory conclusions and found some good-enough solutions, but that's not good enough. Early solutions often aren't the strongest--and they've probably been thought of before. Your job is to go deeper. Putzier calls it looking for the second right answer. "It takes a little bit of discipline because we tend to jump on the first, obvious solution to a problem."
Same thing is what often makes a punchline funny. The first right answer can be obvious to an audience. But the second (or 3rd or 200th) is often the one that takes 'em from A to C and sparks laughter.
Also, it's a good reason to stick with bits for longer periods of time. I've been doing that more lately and noticing it's often months down the road that the right punchline or tag will hit me. Of course, you've gotta have something funny enough in there at first to justify doing it over and over again.