Keith Alberstadt Interview
Interview by Nathan Timmel.
Comedy is an interesting business of strangers. You cross paths with someone, become tight, good friends for a weekend, and then forget about them Monday morning as you head off to the next town. That encapsulates the relationship I had with Keith Alberstadt. I remembered meeting him, remembered liking and getting along with him and having a lot of fun, but for the life of me could not remember where all this occurred or when it happened.
When I called Keith to catch up and discuss his new CD, It’s Pronounced “Jenkins”, he was at a car wash in Tennessee, getting ready for a week at Zanies. Sadly, he couldn’t remember where we met, either.
NT: Let’s start with the title.
KA: It’s Pronounced “Jenkins” will make sense to anyone that sees my act or buys the CD, and I called it that because it’s indicative of my smart-ass personality. The bit is: I called a customer service rep, and she was having problems with my name, so at one point I said, “It’s pronounced Jenkins.” She replied, “It says here Albert…” and I said, “Yes, I know it says Alberstadt, it’s pronounced Jenkins.” She bought it, and called me Mr. Jenkins for the rest of the conversation, which I found hilarious. It became a story that I used in my act, but honestly started out as a sort of throwaway when I first told it. It kept getting huge laughs, and ended up becoming a staple.
NT: How many shows did you record?
KA: We actually didn’t do a whole lot of editing; it was pretty much recorded in one night. I know a lot of comics like to splice together—I’m not going to throw any comics under the bus, because I’m guilty of doing the same thing in the past, where you take a bunch of shows and splice together bits from different nights—but this time I just picked one night, one show, and just ran with it. Didn’t do a whole lot of editing at all.
One thing I’m really happy about with this CD is the military tracks. I was able to record my shows overseas, I think it was in 2007, and we were able to use the footage. Not all of it, of course, but snippets. One from a show at Doha, Qatar, two from Iraq, and one from an aircraft carrier, where we did a show for the sailors. It’s military specific material, from that environment, so anyone in uniform is gonna get it. Civilians probably aren’t, but that’s what makes this CD unique, those four bonus tracks, for the people in uniform. It was from my third tour to the Middle East.
NT: So by that time you had learned some of the military lingo, and were sort of planning ahead by brining the camera and recording the shows, because you could do jokes specific to that crowd and knew it was a special event to be participating in.
KA: Absolutely. That’s exactly what happened. I knew I would have another CD coming out, and I wanted something to make it special. I went out and did my research and got a quality hand-held recorder from a guitar shop and just recorded everything.
NT: You said you wanted to make this one special; what number CD is this for you?
KA: This is my third CD. My first one was in 2003, it’s not available anymore, and the second, One Night Stand was in 2004. As you can imagine there was a lot of overlap between the two. This third one, “It’s Pronounced Jenkins,” is completely new and different, so I’m keeping One Night Stand in print so people can buy both and not bitch about hearing the same jokes. [Laughs]
NT: You sort of hit on my next question; I was going to ask how long it took you to come up with the material for this disc, but if the last one was 2004, are we looking at six years of writing and honing bits to perfection?
KA: For the most part, yeah. I’d say 90% yeah. But there’s always a joke or two that comes out that isn’t as crisp as it will be a year from now, but when you’re having fun with the moment, you keep it genuine.
NT: So, here’s the tough one: describe your comedy to someone who’s never heard you? Are you an observationist, a storyteller… what sparks your creativity? What compels you to write or be original?
KA: I’m pretty much a mix. I observe weird and quirky things my friends say to me, and use them in personal stories. I talk about my mom having cancer…
NT: Always a funny topic.
KA: [Laughs] Well, I talk about how you have to laugh at life, and that tomorrow is never guaranteed. It’s not a topic that people like to laugh at, but it open things up, and engages people… [pauses].
NT: It’s honest, and from the heart.
KA: Yes, but it’s also me. It’s me being a smart ass in the face of something that’s not supposed to be funny. Like a story I tell about when my mom had a black eye. She slipped she slipped and fell, and was skipping Mass because she was embarrassed. I told her she should go to Mass, and when people turn to one another to exchange a peace offering: “When dad turns to you, flinch like he’s gonna hit you again.” It’s a funny way of looking at a bad situation, and people can appreciate that in light of something so tragic, its good to have a sense of humor about it. And she’s beating it, the cancer, so there’s a very positive ending to all that.
But I’m getting off track here; to answer your original question, my style of comedy is pure, genuine smartass. It’s not antagonistic, it’s a “guy next door” sort of… [pauses]. It’s a smartass with a mischievous grin attached to it, not bare-knuckled aggression.
NT: Going back to cancer, were you aware with how Robert Schimmel dealt with it? He did a whole segment at the end of his act where he wasn’t telling jokes, he would talk about his experience in very open and honest terms.
KA: I’m very familiar with that. He would give people hope, and that’s what makes people appreciative of what we do. You let that wall down, you open yourself up a little bit, and you let them see beyond the stage. I think people walk away with that with good feelings, having seen someone allow themselves to become vulnerable.
It’s Pronounced “Jenkins” is available at itunes, on Amazon.com, and in our very own Rooftop store.