INTERVIEW: Stephen Lynch
Musician/Comedian/Tony nominee/whiskey drinker Stephen Lynch takes a break from his international “3 Balloons” tour (in support of his album of the same name) to answer our probing-yet-well-lubricated questions. When it was all over, we held each other and wept.
[Want to see Stephen live? Who can blame you? Click here for upcoming tour dates in the U.S. and the U.K.]
ROOFTOP: You’re in the middle of what seems like an exhausting tour. When you’re touring, how do you keep your on-stage energy up and keep your material feeling fresh? Not only for yourself, but for the sake of the audience?
STEPHEN LYNCH: It’s easy for me because I have the overwhelming fear every night that the audience is going to hate me and everything I do. I literally want to puke before I start. Sometimes I have. This nervousness gives me energy and makes me try harder. You know how they say an unattractive girl will be better in bed because she has to make up for her unattractiveness? I am the unattractive girl of comedy. Plus, these people pay a shitload of money to see my show, so I’d better make it worth it.
ROOFTOP: Do you ever worry that, when touring in other countries, your material won’t translate, cross-culturally? How do you address that potential problem?
LYNCH: I had that fear the first time I played in Scandinavia, but quickly realized that they speak fluent English there. Even more better than we do! Everywhere I’ve gone, actually, language has not been an issue. I just skip the places where it would be. That is why I will never tour Japan, Brazil, or Alabama. As for cultural references, the rest of the world has become so Americanized that almost nothing gets by them. That’s good for me, because it means I don’t have to change any part of my show, which I am far too lazy to do anyway
ROOFTOP: Is there generally a rule to your songwriting? In other words, do you tend to start with a joke or a funny idea and try to write a song around it,or start with a melody and then incorporate funny lyrics?
LYNCH: I do both. It’s hard to sustain a funny thought or premise for three or four minutes, so the challenge becomes weaving that thought into a little story, something with a beginning, middle and end. And keeping ahead of the audience is challenging too. As for music, my head is full of ideas; chord progressions, melodies, harmonies. It’s pairing those with an appropriate lyric that is so difficult. For me anyway. Lionel Ritchie makes it look so easy. Son of a bitch.
ROOFTOP: What’s the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you onstage?
LYNCH: I played a comedy club outside of Chicago once that booked a group from a retirement home to come see me. That was the whole audience. About 50 octogenarians, not laughing. At one point I said “This ain’t no Perry Como show” and got a huge laugh from my brother, who was there to “support me.” He loved that I bombed that night. Very embarrassing. That’s why I never played comedy clubs.
ROOFTOP: Are there any particular things (clothes, mementos, snacks, etc) that you absolutely must take with you on tour?
LYNCH: I have my lucky jeans. Also, three or four t-shirts I can’t live without. My ipod. A book. You know, things to occupy me on long flights. I need to have five guitar picks in my back right pocket for every show. We do a ceremonial shot of Jack Daniels or Jameson whiskey before we start a show too. What else… oh the most important thing of all: earplugs. I can’t sleep without them. Especially when I can hear random hotel noises like the elevator, the ice machine, or the extra-loud prostitute I have in my room.
ROOFTOP: 3 Balloons was your first studio album. What does it feel like to play, live, songs that you recorded without an audience? Are you touring with a full band?
LYNCH: I had been playing most of the songs on 3 Balloons live without a band before I recorded the album, so I’m used to it. I did do a live band show at Carnegie Hall in October though, which I will admit is much more fun than being onstage by my lonesome. I hope to incorporate the band into more live shows. And I plan to record my next album live, but with a band. Sort of best of both worlds kind of thing. Did I mention I played Carnegie Hall?