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.
Nakamora - not sure about the spelling of this one, but this is named for a line in a Taxi episode — “Paging Dr. Nakamora” — that got a huge laugh at the table read (for some reason beyond my understanding), so the writers added a bunch of callbacks to it throughout the script. At the taping of the show though, the first mention of Dr. Nakamora got no laugh, and every subsequent mention was increasingly painful for the writers, and the actors, and the audience. If your episode has a joke that dies immediately, but you know it has several callbacks yet to come, that’s a Nakamora.
Also included: bananas on bananas, hanging a lantern on it, and schmuck bait. Those all sound like good names for racehorses.
With my stand-up now, I’ve realized there are two types of jokes. One type is me talking about miscellaneous topics and getting laughs. That would be how I feel my first two stand-up specials come off. The second type is, you get a laugh, but you also get the feeling that the audience is saying, “Thank you for saying that!” I find the second type way more satisfying. I found it in Buried Alive, where after the show, so many people around my age said, “I’m glad you said that, I don’t feel ready to get married, I’m scared of my friends having babies, and yes, it is hard to meet someone you really like.”
With this new material about texting and stuff, this has been even more pronounced. So many people have come up to me and talked about how they and their friends have been going through this same shit. I almost write stuff with two goals now: to have it be really, really funny, but also have ideas that resonate with people. When people come up to me and say, “Holy shit, man, I can’t believe you said that, that’s exactly what I’m going through, and I hate that shit too.” That’s way more meaningful than, “Funny shit, dude!”
Love this video. Features astronauts talking about The Overview Effect, interconnectedness, and how going to space changes the way you see the world. Cosmic! Keep an eye out for whenever Edward Mitchell talks – he's a special guy.
I think talent is overrated. Talent's important but the real accelerant, the real coefficient that's the mystery number is hard, hard frickin' work.
And then Jack talks about reading Steve Martin's autobiography and why he feels like a standup comedian. He works with no set list and is very "off the cuff" onstage.
I've always felt about my stuff that I'm like a standup comedian onstage. I treat the scenario exactly like they do. Every time I hear a standup comedian talk about his craft or what he's doing, like that comedian was ripping off my jokes or taking my material or I did this joke and it bombed and I took it out of the set or the next joke i told murdered, I think, "That's exactly how I play music onstage."
Later on in the interview, they discuss Jack's favorite song...
...the lack of instrumentation reminds me of a White Stripes song that returns to my brain a lot as relevant to standup (or any creative thing really): "Little Room."
Well you're in your little room
And you're working on something good
But if it's really good
You're gonna need a bigger room
And when you're in the bigger room
You might not know what to do
You might have to think of
How you got started in your little room
Nice to see that everyone loves Louis CK now. I've been hitting readers over the head with CK quotes/articles/recaps here for years – way before his FX show hit the air. So I decided to search through the 'ol Sandpaper Suit archives (lots of microfiche!) and bust out a COLLECTION POST of choice cuts. Most of these are about CK's standup though there's a few pieces on the FX show thrown in. Lots of good, meaty stuff in here for folks who care about the nuts and bolts of standup. It's neat how frequently and openly CK discusses his approach. OK, enjoy. (Ya can click through on the links to read the full piece. Any unattributed quote is from CK.)
Highlights from the great commentary on Louis CK's "Chewed Up" DVD
"Now I tend to just keep glomming onto something and adding more and more layers and pieces and then taking away stuff that was weak...It's like the way they make Samurai swords. They fold a piece of steel and bang it until it's thin. And then they fold it again and bang it again until it's thin until it's just compact and all the air and impurities are just leaving and it's just this pure, dense steel. So that's what I try to do."
Great Louis CK interview on XM Unmasked
"When you bomb, it's like a murder happened to you. And you've got data. You've got evidence. It's like forensics. You walk around poking things with a pencil and go, 'Well, if you hadn't said this after that, it wouldn't have gone so bad.' And you learn. You have a huge wealth of information."
Louis CK on saying the things that are gnawing at his head
"I decided I'm not gonna come up with jokes anymore. I'm not going to try to think of funny things to say. I'm going to say the things that are gnawing at my head. Any thought that I've been having a lot, I'm just gonna say it. And all of a sudden, a huge amount of lifelong fear was just gone. I just didn't care."
What makes CK so good?
He gets off on walking that line. And those provocative topics and setups get people paying attention. Tell an audience that your young daughter is an asshole, and they're really gonna want to hear what comes next. When an audience is locked in like that, it's a lot easier to get laughs.
Louis CK at Comix = most impressive standup show I've ever seen
At one point, he lost his place (maybe intentionally?) and went in reverse describing the last 6 topics he'd discussed in order to remember his point. The crowd burst out in applause. His response: "People will clap at any list." And then that smirk again. Great.
The pros to writing onstage
"An audience is a target, it's a guide. You can't really generate stand up material without an audience. They gotta tell you how to say it. And then once it's been said in front of an audience, it lives. And every time I say it, it changes, develops or gets worse."
The fascination with hecklers
"I usually respond sincerely to hecklers. It doesn't happen to me very often but when someone yells something out, I usually grind the show to a halt, focus on them, and I say very seriously 'It really makes it hard for me to do the show when you talk. will you please stop?' They usually get very very embarassed and stop talking."
Louis CK tees off on heckler
CK says, "When you talk, I hear it in my ear and it fucks up my timing and it makes my job hard. So could you not talk during my act please?" Guy decides to go back at him. Big mistake. CK rips him. Crowd boos the guy. CK: "People that don't know you hate you. That can't feel very good."
CK on writers’ rooms
"'Everybody wants to improve the material, so they will comb over it, take out abnormalities,' he says of the traditional writers’ room. 'It’s like certain kinds of food: You like them to be chunky and irregular. And they’ll just keeping puréeing and puréeing till it’s perfect, and who the fuck wants it?...They get to this place where it gets really madcap, and I just smell a roomful of writers getting off.'"
Louis CK on "brushback pitch" jokes
"I like jokes that are brushback pitches. There's a mix of laughter and people going, 'Oh, Jesus!' But that turns into laughter. I like taking people to an area in their minds or their culture that they don't think they should be thinking about or laughing at, and then getting them to laugh there. That's a great thing to be able to do that. Take people to a place they're afraid of and say there's something funny here."
Chuck Klosterman on Louie's 'brilliance"
Klosterman: "What’s so distinctly compelling about this season of Louie is how everyone seems to collectively realize that what C.K. is doing is not only cool, but also authentically artful and unnaturally profound."
Behind the scenes as Louis CK films a new TV pilot
He did some Q&A with the crowd while cameras were setting up. I asked him what the narrative of the show was and he replied, "You want me to tell you the entire story now, you motherfucker?" Oddly, that word seems almost like a term of endearment coming from him.
A highbrow justification for telling dick jokes
Adam Wilson: "If you can stomach the scatology, you’ll see that these jokes are meant to make you laugh, but more so to open a candid investigation into corporeality; into what it’s like to live in a body that disobeys, decays, and will one day cease to exist."
Tapping into shame and indefensible ideas
"I’m fucking around with a lot of big ideas, and I don’t have the authority to seriously talk about them. So when I make a joke about a baby with a tree branch growing out of its head being the same thing as a Chinese baby, I don’t expect you to believe any of this. I’m just being a dick."
Chatting with CK after one of his sets
It was striking to me because so many comics seem so obsessed with hierarchy BS that they won't even talk to comics who they think are "beneath" them. Or they'll just crack on them. Yet Louis, who's got HBO specials, didn't give a shit. He just came over and said hey and was a regular guy willing to talk, even though we're just three comics starting out.
There's a kerfluffle in the lit world about whether writing is just an awful pain in the ass not worth the effort or something to be celebrated (Elizabeth Gilbert says writing allows you to “get to live within the realm of your own mind”).
It all began when Philip Roth told a young writer this:
“I would quit while you’re ahead. Really. It’s an awful field. Just torture. Awful. You write and you write, and you have to throw almost all of it away because it’s not any good. I would say just stop now. You don’t want to do this to yourself. That’s my advice to you.”
Similar convos happen around comedy. My take on it to folks who ask: I think it has to be a calling. If you can do something else, do it. Trying to do standup is such a grind that it just ain't worth it unless you just HAVE to do it. It's for people who have no choice. But if that is you, there's a deep, meaningful satisfaction that you can get from it. (Thx Lawson for the link.)
Phil Davidson is a comic who lives up in Vermont and runs some fun shows there. I got to do a set with him in Burlington recently and beforehand we were discussing some of the interviews with comics he does at Splitsider. Subjects include Ted Alexandro, Rory Scovel, Anthony Jeselnik, Patton Oswalt, and lots more. They're worth checking out. Smart, detailed interviews that dive deep on standup and the process.
With your stand-up, a lot of the material is personal stories. Is that something that evolves over time? It seems like the personal stuff is common among the more established comics. As a comic, is that where you eventually want to get to?
Yeah. When I started off, I was very premise-based and I would say an outright lie about my life just to get to a joke. I would do that kind of stuff at open mics. A couple things happened. One was I realized I’m not a great pure joke writer like a Dan Mintz or Anthony Jeselnik, let alone like Emo Philips or someone. So I was like “well, I can’t sustain this.” And more, I have things that I think are funny and it’s more of my take on them that appeal to me. I knew I wasn’t going to write an hour of very tight, impersonal jokes. The second thing was I was opening for Mike Birbiglia a lot. He took me on the road in 2005 and I opened for him on and off for like two years. Opening for him was huge for me cause I was going across the country every week. He and I did 30 days on the road together straight on a bus. I had to do stand-up every night, sometimes two shows a night. I was doing 30 minutes in places like Columbia, MO and I wasn’t ready to do a half-hour. Those things were big for me. Watching him and how he was able to dissolve mining real life for comedy, I just liked it. And then watching Paul F. Tompkins at Bumbershoot in 2006, I remember seeing him tell just three stories from his half-hour set and how many jokes he pulled out of those stories. Just the amount of jokes from the set-up to the whole story, it was packed. That really appealed to me. So I just started doing that. And then it becomes just more comfortable on stage because you believe what you’re saying and it doesn’t feel as detached. I still talk about TV shows and bullshit, though.
Where you do want to go with stand-up? Do you have an end goal in mind?
I would like to do theaters. That’s my goal. I said this to [Parks and Rec creator] Mike Schur, who’s an old friend of mine, when he asked why I was performing so much. I said “Cause I’d rather make Bring the Pain than The Hangover.”
Why is that?
It’s more personally satisfying. Bring the Pain means more to me than The Hangover does. Raw and Delirious mean more to me than 48 Hours and Trading Places and The Nutty Professor. The other thing with movies is, if George Carlin’s act was a movie, it would be a dystopian post-apocalyptic thriller. There’s something about movies that’s so cooperative and so fake. There’s something about movies where they’re upholding Judeo-Christian values that I just think is corny. I like movies, but with stand-up you can really affect people’s thought process. You’re not just an entertainer, you’re a writer, you’re a philosopher, you’re a pastor, you’re so many things. Dave’s act, Chris Rock’s act, Billy Burr’s act, Stanhope, Attell, shit is dark, man. But it’s a real reflection of the world that you just don’t get anywhere else. So that’s what I like about stand-up. If someone said to me you could be a really successful comedian or you could be a really successful TV and filmmaker, I’d pick stand-up every time…I just think stand-up’s the coolest thing ever. That’s the bottom line. I love Chappelle’s Show, but I think what I love most about it is how much it’s like stand-up. Stand-up’s just really interesting. So hopefully I’ll be in theaters based on this mixtape.
Next HOT SOUP is on Wed at Ella. Hmm, Wed at Ella...Maybe we should call that Wella. As in wella, wella, wella, ugh, tell me more tell me more...like that song in Grease. Maybe not. Anyway. Great venue, funny comics, & 1/2-off drinks. C'mon.
Frank Conniff (Mystery Science Theater 3000)
Nick Vatterott (Conan, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon)
Emily Heller (Comedy Central)
Joe List (Comedy Central)
RSVP to confirm your spot:
If you RSVP with 4 or more people, everyone in your group will get a FREE DRINK at the show.
Show: 9:00pm sharp
9 Avenue A (between First and Second Street)
Produced by Mark Normand, Matt Ruby, Gary Vider, and Sachi Ezura. (Can't make it? Our next show after this one is at Ella on Wednesday, Feb 20 at 8:30pm.) Sign up for Hot Soup email list.