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Dylan Brody Interview

Dylan Broody has been in the comedy game for decades. So long, in fact, he had fans in legends such as Robin Williams and George Carlin.  To promote his first release on the Rooftop label, Nathan Timmel shot an email of questions Dylan’s way, and the answers are absolutely worth reading…

 

NT: So where is home? I ask because Mill Valley is an interesting choice of location for recording a CD. Many comics pick the big cities—LA, Chicago, NY—to record. You went tiny. Do you have a relationship with the Throckmorton Theater, or a whimsical history with Mill Valley?

DB: I live in Sylmar. It’s not a crap neighborhood, really. It’s crap neighborhood adjacent in the L.A. area. I went to Mill Valley because I love the Throckmorton. It’s one of my favorite venues on the planet. Also, I wanted to be close enough to San Francisco that it would be easy for Rooftop people to get there to record the show. Also, there are dogs everywhere in Mill Valley so that ensures that I’ll be having a good day before any show I do there.

NT: Gay issues: you speak very rationally about gay rights—I’m thinking of the joke involving soldiers in Afghanistan—do you ever have anyone come up to you after a show and say, “You changed my mind” or, in the least, “You gave me something to think about?”

DB: Not really, no. Though I always hope that I am persuasive. I started doing a lot of that anti-homophobia humor years ago when I was still a straight-ahead political comic. This was in the eighties and early nineties when a lot of road comics were doing horribly homophobic material. I knew if I wanted to get my point across and get laughs, I had to be sharper with the writing than people getting shock-value laughs about anal sex and limp-wristed stereotyping. I was writing to change the zeitgeist, rather than to pander to it. When I was the feature act and a headliner was doing fag jokes, I would bring out all my sharpest material about how homophobia was an accepted form of bigotry. The joke you reference, though it wasn’t about Afghanistan then, always killed. It often got an applause break. If the headliner didn’t bother to watch what I was doing in the feature spot, he’d often be baffled to find that material that usually went down very well for him was getting little or no response. My work was serving to inoculate the audience against the contagion of hate speech. I suspect none of it was every consciously processed that way by the audience, but it had an effect. Whether that lasted beyond the duration of the evening for much of anyone, I couldn’t say, but when it took the impact out of material with which I disagreed for a night or a week’s worth of nights, I felt pretty good about what I was doing with my stage time.

When I started headlining, it became a whole different thing, and the piece grew and became more powerful because now I was the one taking the stage with authority.

Now, homophobia is really recognized as a form of bigotry. Now these ideas are far more comfortable for an audience to absorb and agree with and I’m very happy to have the current turning my direction. I’m also glad I got this good recording of a live performance of that material. It frees me to move on to whatever my next issue is. You know, when I figure out what it is. Then I’ll move on to it.

NT: Was this a one-off recording? Many comedy discs are cobbled together from two or more shows over the course of a weekend. This sounds like a one-take shot from the hip; no saying, “Well, I think I can tag that joke better tomorrow night…”

DB: Yeah. This recording was one night, one take. I flew up, did the show and flew home the next morning.

NT: Your bio (website) has many recent accomplishments listed, starting in the 2000s. When did you begin performing, and how long do you feel it took you to find your voice?

DB: I started doing open mics in New York in the summer of ’81. In ’82 or ’83 I became a “developing regular” at the Improv there. I wasn’t old enough to drink in the club, but I got two or three spots a week on the stage. I didn’t really start to feel relaxed and at home on stage doing stand-up until ’84/’85 when I worked the London circuit and figured out how I was funny. It took me another year or two to start doing the sort of material a really wanted to be doing, which was political, topical stuff.

Around ’94, when Carson announced his retirement and the comedy boom ended, shutting down a lot of clubs that I loved, I sort of dropped out of the business for a while.

The stuff I do now, the long-form story-telling, started with KYCY radio in San Francisco running stuff that I recorded badly on my laptop. When I found myself jonesing for the stage again in the early 2000s, I figured this stuff might work and started taking it out. I found out that not all of it works in comedy clubs. It took me a while to get my footing again, to figure out that I could do funny stuff in clubs and more poignant stuff in theaters; it could all work as long as I kept true to my own voice and my own ideas regardless of the environment. Now I just try to choose the right stuff from the repertoire to fit the circumstance.

NT: I got wrapped up in your story, what felt like an intro to me, to Hollywood. Where you were meeting with a producer to discuss a screenplay you had written. Your few jokes on the subject were dead on regarding how the town operates, and it seemed like you were going to continue down that path, because you began an aside regarding being a straight male in West Hollywood…

…but you never went back to Hollywood and the producer. I’m assuming that was intentional, but sometimes I start one story and forget to go back, so I have to ask if there’s more to the Hollywood angle.

DB: I have a lot of stories about pitch meetings and meetings with producers. In this case, though, it’s just a soft way of getting into the hard material that comes afterward. The couple of lines about the meeting are just to get me into West Hollywood, dressed for a meeting to set up the time in the coffee house. Remember that the whole thing is an explanation of how I came to write the poem with which I open the set. That’s the thing I need to circle back to.

NT: You’ve been compared to David Sedaris and Spalding Grey, both powerhouses. Ever bump into Paul F. Tompkins? There’s the similar storytelling vein in the two of you; you’re more interested in the craft of telling a fascinating story than setup-punchline.

DB: I love Paul F. Tompkins. There’s also a similarity, I think, in our style of presentation, our neo-dapper appearances. I’ve also worked with his brilliantly talented wife Janie Haddad who used to do voices for us when I wrote regularly for The David Feldman Show on KPFK.

NT: You pause mid sentence during your bit involving breast-feeding, and at the end of the pause you let the listener in on what the whole audience knows: someone is leaving the theater. You make a crack that “he’s” an offended Republican; it turns out to be a woman who just went to the bathroom, but how do you deal with folks who might not appreciate your take on politics, gay rights, and the like?

DB: If they want to debate me after a show, I try to avoid engagement. If they want to debate me during a show, I ask them to leave. I don’t like to get involved in heckler control during a performance. The truth is, I like to make the points I believe in during my stage time. People can agree with me or not as they please, but I’m not all that interested in getting into arguments with people. I want to make my case as clearly and as strongly as I can and let it stand on its own. If I’m doing my job right, people laugh at the jokes and don’t know that their minds are being changed a little bit by what I’m saying, by the pull of the crowd, by the clarity of the premise or the lucidity of the prose. That’s the real secret to art of any kind. The craft offers a beautiful spectacle of whatever sort and disguises – or at least makes palatable – the complex, nuanced ideas that the artist truly seeks to communicate. People who might not agree with me over coffee, find themselves laughing at a thing that I couch in a joke on stage and can never quite think about that thing the same way again. The effect is marginal, incremental, but valuable nonetheless.

Also, sometimes, I mock them behind their backs.

 

Buy Dylan’s album, Dylan Goes Electric: Live At The Throckmorton, now. 

It’s OK to Talk to Animals (and Other Letters from Dad)

NathanTimmelAfter selling tens of copies of my first book, I had at least three people ask, “When is the next one coming out?”

Three years and two months later, boom: new book.

Here’s the back cover description:

First steps, first word, first time pooping in the bathtub… as a stand-up comedian, Nathan Timmel missed numerous milestones during the first year of his daughter’s life. Traveling from town to town, he spent his night slinging jokes while his daughter Hillary discovered the world around her.

As she turned one, Nathan vowed to be a part of her life even when far from home. Writing a letter a week, Nathan tells his toddler where he is and tries to give context to her world: why Daddy travels, why a baby brother or sister isn’t the end of the world, and the importance of dismantling the pharmacy section at Target.

It’s OK to Talk to Animals (and Other Letters from Dad) is a touching, funny, and introspective glimpse into a comedian-turned-father’s hopes for—and apologies to—his baby girl.

Read a sample letter.

Pre-order the Kindle Version.

Like the old fashioned feel of a paperback?

Buy one now; it’s already available.

Alvin Williams Interview

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Rooftop has yet another hilarious release for all your giggling needs: Alvin Williams, I Hope You’re Happy.

Rooftopper Nathan Timmel talked to him about the disc.

Read on!

NT: Where did you record your disc, and why did you choose that location? Is it a special venue for you?

AW: I recorded the album at Tacoma Comedy Club. It’s a phenomenal club and the audiences aren’t uptight or afraid to laugh about subjects that tend to be controversial in some regions. Plus it’s a huge venue so you can really feel the laughs reverberate when you’re onstage! There is something special about the city of Tacoma in general. Seattle gets all the love and sometimes people who live there tend to rag on Tacoma. Not sure why, I mean you all share the same airport, be cordial. It’s a blue-collar town that doesn’t always get the respect it deserves and that’s something I believe most of us can relate to in this industry, which in my opinion is why I’ve always had some of my best shows there because I feel like I connect with them really well.

NT: Do you prefer traditional comedy clubs, theaters, or, do you have a favorite type of venue that doesn’t include either of those?

AW: I’m a comedy club guy. If you look at my tour schedule that’s pretty much all you’ll see on there at any given time. I’m a natural homebody so to speak, so I like being settled in one location for an extended period, and by extended I mean a week. I really like gradually easing into a new setting, and getting to know the area where I’m performing. The sites, the people, restaurants and movie theaters. It keeps me on my toes and I will never be complacent, because just when you get comfortable it’s time to pick up and leave for another city to do it all over again! I’m at a point now where none of the areas I perform are new to me anymore, so I’m really comfortable in most places and I feel like that reflects in my shows.

NT: Was it a one-shot take, or is it a series of shows edited together?

AW: This album was recorded over a 2 day stretch of shows.

NT: You use personal segues to talk about pop culture, and vice versa. Overall, would you describe your comedy as personal, observational, a mix of each…

AW: Truthfully? I never know how to answer that one. Comedy comes from everywhere. When you talk about pop culture, often times you can make it personal, because they’re just people like you and I. But when you’re talking about something personal in your life, isn’t it still observational? I can’t really describe myself too well. I just see myself as someone who can relate to damn near anybody on some level. I know I’m funny, I just have to convince you within the first two minutes and we’ll be good!…So I guess “a mix” to answer your question?

NT: Do you feel you’re more a storyteller or setup and punchline kinda guy?

AW: I’m a storyteller by nature. You can probably tell because every question you ask me could have been answered in about a third of the amount of words I use, but I’m working on that I promise! I steer clear of comedy competitions because the comics with the shorter jokes do better, and I’ve learned I’m not as funny when I have to rush. I’ve found my groove in long form jokes. I figure it gives the audience more chances to laugh that way!

NT: You cut your teeth in Chicago—how do you feel the comedy scene is there?

AW: What a lot of people don’t know about me is that I truly cut my teeth in the Pacific Northwest. Mainly Idaho & Washington. I’m from Chicago but when I started doing stand-up I was living in Boise, ID. I have since developed a strong performing relationship with my hometown and now I can say with full confidence that it is a great scene. I’ve been welcomed with open arms and given the same treatment as someone who never left the city. Which is something you don’t hear about in other big cities. I Love performing back home!

NT: Any Los Angeles or New York aspirations in the future?

AW: No. I’m from a big city and I love performing in big cities, but I live a super quiet life in Denver and I’m happy! I’ll take that over fame any day…Why’d you ask, did an agent ask about me???

NT: One thing I have in common with you: we both moved often as children. I take it comedy was a coping mechanism for you? Describe how you feel having moved often shaped you as a person, and comedian.

AW: Moving was always a positive thing for me. I got used to it after a while and I learned to love it. Every place was an opportunity to meet new people, and that’s the attitude I take when I’m on the road. I love traveling and I love meeting new people. Now if you consider money a void, then yes I am definitely filling a void. I wish I could fill it more! Otherwise I do comedy for two reasons: One, I have the ability to make people forget about their problems, even if it’s only for a little while. Two, I don’t have a boss or an alarm clock. When one of those changes I’ll probably reconsider this whole thing. But until then, I’m still enjoying the trip!

 

Buy I Hope You’re Happy in the Rooftop Shop.

Are You There Xenu? It’s Me, Nathan.

“NathanTimmel”Rooftop contributing writer Nathan Timmel is at it again:  another 99-Cent mini-eBook is out.

This time Nathan is writing about his minor experiences with Scientology.

What’s he have to say?

Read an excerpt…

In 1989 I moved to Boston, MA, to attend the Berklee College of Music.

(Motto: “For just $40,000 you get a degree that makes you unemployable.”)

Newbury Street—a happening little avenue filled with many nifty little shops—was close by, and when bored my friends and I would often meander the length of its eight blocks. We would pop in and out of eclectic stores and coffee houses, and when the weather was nice be politely harassed by well-dressed people asking, “Would you like to take a personality quiz?”

For the better part of two years, our answer was “Nope,” but one day a trio of idiots out carousing—my friends Barrett, Peite (yes, that’s how he spells it), and I—were bored enough to say, “What the hell: Yes.”

We thought it would be a quick, five-minute process of being asked silly questions while standing on the street corner, but the cute young woman—and of course she was a cute young woman; you think we would have stopped to talk to a man?—told us to follow her lead and headed north. Well, shit. This was going to eat up more time than we had initially planned, but decided to Prefontaine it across the finish line and followed along.

We walked several blocks to Beacon St. where a Scientology Center awaited us. It was a magnificent, old school converted-home, made of brick and with a castle-like rounded spire on the corner—a tower from which Rapunzel could drop her lockets and be rescued, so to speak. Little was known about Scientology back then, and the Internet didn’t exist for anyone to simply Google-up and Wikipedia an explanation. Basically, we had no clue what we were getting into.

We were shown in, and immediately two things happened: first, our recruiter was greeted as if Norm from Cheers. Everyone knew her; everyone loved her. Everyone was happy, smiling and ready to shake your hand.

“Angela! So happy to see you! Who’s this with you? Nathan? Nice to meet you Nathan, I’m Bob! We’re happy to have you with us today…”

It was a neat trick used to make lonely people feel welcome and relaxed; “Wow, everyone here is like one big happy family. I should hang out with them, and then I’ll be popular, too!” Personally, it made me wonder what Kool Aid everyone was drinking. There’s naturally friendly, and overly friendly. This was the latter by a mile, and I became suspicious.

The second thing to happen was the most important event of the day: divide and conquer. Like a wingman removing the fat chick from her delicious friend, we three traveling companions were separated from one another and taken to different sections of the main room. Once isolated, we were introduced to the person who was going to administer (or monitor) our “Personality Quiz.”

(Naturally, we were all left thinking, “Wait… we came here on the whim of talking to the pretty girl… Where is… Hey she’s leaving…” Very bait and switch classic; use beauty to bring in the gangly and awkward college student lacking self-confidence, then have said beauty skedaddle her pear-shaped heinie away. Kudos, Scientology. Kudos.)

Buy Are You There Xenu? It’s Me, Nathan now.

In Memory of Harold Ramis

“HaroldFor reasons I can’t explain, when I was a child I began doing something most adults don’t even do: reading the credits during (and after) a movie. I found it fascinating one could be set in Detroit, yet say “Filmed in Los Angeles” at the end.

Within the span of a few short years, I noticed the movies I enjoyed the most had one thing in common: Harold Ramis. His name would pop up all over the place.

It started innocently enough, when I saw Animal House. “Written by” was something I liked taking note of; who was behind the hilarity I was seeing? Then he directed Caddyshack… wrote and starred in Stripes

(Side Note: I remember seeing Stripes and being enthralled when John Winger’s girlfriend entered her scene while topless. I had the thought, “Is that what a relationship is like? Full of awesomely casual nudity?” It looked like the best thing ever… until she dumped him one minute later.)

Harold Ramis was the complete package: he could write, act, direct, and produce. And not only could he do each of those things, he could do them well. It wasn’t like a movie star saying, “I want to direct” and creating some haphazard mess; Ramis was a master across the board.

For a while, it seemed like he could only get better. He followed movies like Vacation and Stripes with Ghostbusters, and then followed that with Groundhog Day, which may have been his plateau.

(I’m fully aware he didn’t direct all of those films; I’m discussing anything he had a hand in.)

I enjoyed his later work—Analyze This! and even Multiplicity—but he will always be remembered for his classic work of the late 1970s and the decade known as the 80s.

Sadly, I didn’t even know he had fallen ill. To find that at one point he had to learn to walk again was tough to read.

It is a sad day for the planet when Justin Bieber, Chris Brown, and Lindsay Lohan are still alive, and Harold Ramis is not.

Jason Downs Interview

 

www.jasondownsonline.comIf you looked closely, you saw Jason Downs while you were watching the Seattle Seahawks manhandle the Denver Broncos.

No, he wasn’t on the field, Jason was starring in one of the coveted Super Bowl commercials.

A comedian by trade, Jason is dipping his toes into the acting world in Los Angeles. But that doesn’t mean he’s straying away from comedy; no, that’s Jason’s first love.

Rooftop had Nathan Timmel chat Jason up regarding his new CD, Excessive Talking.

NT:   Let’s start awkwardly: when I listened to your disc, I popped it in without reviewing any of the promo material. When you started speaking, I created a picture in my head of what you might look like, and given your lovely almost-baritone, my immediate thought was “African-American.”  Then I looked you up, and… nope! Watching your YouTube videos, I began to question why I ever thought it in the first place.  You make reference to your weight on the new disc; do you believe weight gain and the addition of a beard has changed the tenor of your voice?

JD:  Yeah, I’ve heard I kinda sound black, which is why when I apply for college scholarships I do so over the phone.  But seriously, I guess I’m just a product of where I was raised.  My schools we’re mostly black and Hispanic with some white sprinkled in there too.

NT:    You have quite a bit of hilarious, self-depreciating jokes. Is that something done consciously, or do you write a joke, then look back and say, “Well, kinda busted on myself there…”

JD:    I don’t go out of the way intentionally to be self-depreciating.  Things just kind of happen to me and I report back.  When I first started stand up I would rant about bigger social issues.  Then one day I posted a super intimate blog post about my inner most thoughts and fears.   W. Kamau Bell was like, “that’s what you need to talk about on stage.”  So I did and things just started to click.  It wasn’t intentional.  It’s just kind of what happened.

NT:    Did you have a specific emotional arc you wanted the disc to take when you were lining up the bits, or did you free form it? Basically, describe the artistic process involved in creating a set for a CD recording.

JD:     Well, I’ve been on the road for a few years now featuring for Michael McDonald from MadTV and the Heat.  I’ve been able to develop my act opening for him.  He gives me complete freedom and he aways pushes me to try new stuff.  I don’t have to get off at a set time.  I can end on different bits.  I can rearrange my act.  I could bomb and then get the crowd back; total freedom.  So he gave me complete freedom and this is the act that I developed while on the road featuring for McDonald; along with performing in San Francisco which is where I started.

NT:    How much of your material is invented, and how much is real-life experience? Meaning: did you spend time testing racist Google auto-fills, and/or visit a marijuana expo?

 JD:     All of it is absolutely true.  I’m sure I’ve exaggerated something in there for comedic effect, but not much, if anything.  Yep, that Google auto fill bit is legit.  I really went to a bong trade show in Vegas.  I really saw a pilot lie about turbulence to get everybody to sit down on a plane.  I really saw a woman with no hands drop a coke.  At times I’ve tried to make things up, but the audience can smell it and it just doesn’t work. After a show an audience member might come up and talk to me about a joke and I’ll be like,”That really happened”.  They will be like,”Yeah, I know.  You can tell it’s true.”  I’m glad my material  rings true.

 NT:     You mention a two-night stand at the comedy club, Wed/Thursday. Was the CD recorded over those two nights, or is it more a one-and-done disc?

 JD:   Yeah it was done over two nights.  The actual recording is almost exclusively from the Wednesday night show.  It went pretty much perfectly.  There were a couple of jokes I forgot to do, so we just slide those in from the Thursday night show.

NT:    Did you move to LA to pursue comedy, acting, or both?  Are you leaning toward preferring one over the other, now that you’ve got some national acting spots on your résumé?

 JD:    I moved to LA for comedy.  But you can’t get any stage time in LA unless you’re on TV.  So I started taking some acting classes, I’ve landed a couple of things, and apparently I have this big white guy look that is pretty rare in LA.  It’s like me, Seth Rogan and Kathy Bates.

 NT:     I am neither smart nor Christian, but isn’t St. Peter the gatekeeper to heaven, not Michael the Archangel?

 JD:    Heathen!

 NT:     Were you at all tempted to name the CD “Monkey Pussy?” (which readers will understand when they hear the disc)

 JD:    I wanted to name this album so many different things.  Monkey Pussy was up there, so was Food Boner, and Allergic to Pussy.  I really like the way Food Boner sounds.  I went with Excessive Talking, because when I was a kid I was a horrible student, just goofing off too much.  Every report card I came home with had the term “excessive talking” written in the teachers notes section.  I just love the way those two words sound together; Excessive Talking.  As soon as I started comedy, I always knew that if I had a chance to get an album out, Excessive Talking would be the name.

 NT:     With bitcoins all the rage, have you considered trying to implement your taco-economy idea to the world? They’re tangible, which has to make them more valuable right off the bat.

JD:    Bitcoins!  I keep hearing about these things.  I don’t even know what they are.  They sound like the name of the coins you get in Super Mario Brothers when you jump and hit your head on the bricks with the question marks.

I guess bitcoins is some type of digital currency.  Which I always thought Internet porn was digital currency, but now that Internet porn is basically free they had to come up with bitcoins.

 

You can purchase Excessive Talking…

Green Gravel Comedy Festival

When you hear Toledo, many things cross your mind: Corporal Klinger and his devotion to the Mud Hens.  Ohio. The decades-long run by the now-departed Connxtions Comedy Club, or maybe the current reign of The Funny Bone. It would, however, be hard pressed to find someone hear “Toledo” and respond, “Do you mean the one in Iowa?”

The founders of the Green Gravel Comedy Festival hope to put a change to that. With three members having strong ties to the Hawkeye state, a miniature town in the middle of Iowa was chosen to play host to a new type of comedy festival.

Rooftop’s Nathan Timmel—a fella participating in the Bomb Shelter Showcase that weekend—fired off an email full of questions, and the kindly Lee Keeler (Festival President) sent back answers.

NT: I apologize for the first question, because I’m sure it’s the one you’re getting the most, but: Why Toledo? I mean, I see all the Iowa connections in the organizers biographies, but those are for Iowa City (college town) and Des Moines (capital; largest city). So… Toledo?

LK:  That’s a great question! We’ve been getting that from day one. I am from Sioux City originally, and growing up there was always this belief that a person usually had go into a city to experience a comedy show. We’d like to turn that on its head. This is our opportunity to curate a completely fantastic experience in a charming little town and have something we can completely call our own. Those cities that we’re from have built comedy scenes that are amazing, but we aim to add on to that culture and bring some attention back to small-town Iowa. Geographically, it’s smack-dab in the middle of the greatest populations of young adults in Iowa: Ames, Iowa City, Des Moines and more. Our greatest inspiration has been the Nelsonville Music Festival in Ohio, which has been happening for a few years at a rural opera house and has brought in acts like Wilco, John Prine, Cat Power, etc.

NT:  Over the course of the 3-days, how many shows do you plan on producing? Will there be multiple shows at any given time, giving people the option to see Improv, stand-up comedy, or the recording (or broadcasting) of a Podcast?

LK:  At this point, we’re looking at something between 15-20 shows throughout the weekend. We are modelling much of scheduling around that of the Limestone Comedy Fest in Indiana (they’ve been amazing mentors, by the way), which usually staggers the appearances of their headliners and the type of comedy to see so everybody has a chance to see a little bit of everything. So if you can’t see Jackie Kashian at the big opera house on Friday night, she’ll be doing a five dollar podcast taping the next afternoon in the Legion Hall.

NT:  Define “Alternative Comedy Festival” for people who may not know exactly what you’re presenting.

LK:  We want the “alternative” to be in the DNA of every aspect of Green Gravel. Staff/performers will be staying in heated cabins at this great camp on the edge of town with crazy fire pits that’s next to a casino. In that sense, just coming to Green Gravel is meant to be kind of a retreat from the usual “club and motel” rut that performers deal with all the time. As I mentioned before, we want the audience to leave their cities and re-examine what it means to have fun in a small town. In terms of content, we are going to be giving priority to oddball/unique performers that might not have the political know-how to break into some of the existing comedic institutions in the region. We also want tickets to be affordable; our festival is bringing in top talent and will be charging low prices to see them.

NT:  Your website says you’ll be offering workshops; are you looking for people interested in getting into comedy/Improv, performers looking to brush up their skills, or both?

LK:  The festival will feature classes for both novices and experience performers. They will have an opportunity to learn from some of the best instructors in comedy, including a sketch workshop being taught by Kids in the Hall alum Kevin McDonald! We’re going to be hosting a free Q&A with Kevin so anybody who is curious about the process of comedy can be inspired. There’s also going to be a free class on the history/evolution of stand-up via Mat Alano-Martin. We want Iowa performers and kids to be given the chance to empower themselves with this information so they can go back home and strengthen the comedy scenes within their communities. I’m pretty tired of running into kids from the midwest that have moved out to LA and are taking classes at UCB among a zillion other kids. We need to keep those people in Iowa and grow something there.

NT:  You just added your third venue; how many venues do you think you’d like to have running for the festival?

LK:  The Wieting Theater will feature some of the larger crowds, we will also have a venue for smaller performances, and a venue for podcasts and classes. We have some overflow venues in mind depending on the amount of submissions.

NT: Your promotional video has some pretty heavy hitters in it—Marc Maron, Jimmy Pardo; any of them making the trek into the heartland?

LK:  We’re still a new thing, so it’s hard to get performers of that magnitude right out of the gate. The fest is going to have multiple headliners that will be very well-known to those that follow alternative comedy and sketch comedy. We have already announced that Jackie Kashian, who hosts The Dork Forest podcast, will be making the trip from LA. We will also have some of Chicago’s very finest up-and-comers: Junior Stopka, Mike Lebovitz and Martin Morrow. Also Mat Alano-Martin is coming in from Indiana, he’s amazing. We’re also proud to take this opportunity to announce that Kevin McDonald from The Kids in the Hall will also be a headliner!

You can submit your stand-up, podcasts, sketch or improv comedy troupe using the Green Gravel Facebook Page.

Nathan Anderson Interview

In 2012, comedian Nathan Anderson had an idea. Standup memes were floating around the Internet, but without structure. With the popularity of the website reddit skyrocketing, Anderson decided to create a centralized location for undiscovered comics to post material. People could get a quick laugh, and unknown comics could get exposure.

/r/standupshots, a subset of reddit, was a success. Comics saw their jokes going viral; some were reposted by George Takei on Facebook (5,000,000+ followers and growing), and some (like yours truly, a big fan of the outlet) had some jokes go viral, and others make it to The Huffington Post.

Unfortunately, Anderson wasn’t happy.

Using the meme format he championed with his creation, Anderson delivered a scathing review of the very site hosting his handiwork, seen here.

With that post, something interesting happened: his post made it’s way to the front page of reddit, garnered tons of exposure, and /r/standupshots exploded in numbers, currently topping 100,000 subscribers.

Rooftop used same-named comedian Nathan Timmel to discuss all things meme with Nathan Anderson.

NT: When you left, it didn’t look like burning a bridge, it looked like a demolition. How long at the idea of walking away from your creation been growing in you?

NA: I always knew I wanted to get away from it somehow. It was never something I really cared about; just something I set up because I was the one who knew how. Regardless of the subreddit, mods burn out eventually. Doing it well turns reddit into a full-time job for no money, subject to constant criticism. It was cutting into my real passion – telling dick jokes to drunk bachelorette parties.

NT: /r/standupshots popularity and visibility really increased because of your post. Do you feel this is a situation that went from negative turned positive, or do you believe the same problems exist that made you leave?

NA: I knew it would get some visibility, and in the short term it was definitely positive. But reddit has a short attention span, and the larger problems with the site remain publicly unaddressed. If those don’t change, reddit won’t die and may even grow slowly. But in terms of cultural relevance, it’ll turn into another early-decade web fad like somethingawful or 4chan.

NT: Any thoughts of returning?

NA: Only as a lurker, and only to look up specific information. Reddit is a huge site, so the fact that /r/funny sucks doesn’t mean /r/malefashionadvice or /r/fitness can’t be useful. It’s my go-to site for information on shoes.

NT: What sort of feedback have you received?

NA: Comics understand and supports me, even if they don’t post to the site. Those are the people I care about. There’s a few career moderators on reddit who are pissed at me, but they’re dicks so fuck ‘em.

NT: You were worried that fewer submitters would kill the site, but with your post there are more submitters and subscribers than ever; how do you feel about that?

NA: I’m glad it worked out. It’ll be fine as long as it keeps expanding, but it’s like a shark. If it doesn’t constantly pull in more people, they’ll move on to something else.

NT: Steve Hofstetter described the group as “An open microphone with 100,000 people in the audience.” Even without posts making it to the front page, do you think there could have been value in comics posting for other comics; a place for peer feedback on jokes?

NA: It definitely has value for that, and long as comics are willing to sort the useful comments from the typical reddit jackassery. I just hope comics realize that a joke that does well on standupshots still has to do well onstage. The karma is nice, but it doesn’t mean anything if no one laughs in real life.

NT: You understood the power of the meme, and joked it was the future of comedy; do you feel it is the present of comedy now?

NA: It depends on when and where you are. If you’re a broke college kid, or living in a town without access to stagetime, it’s more useful than doing nothing. But I always felt the final goal was getting people to watch videos, or come to real shows. For comics, internet pictures shouldn’t be an end in themselves.

Scott Long: Good Dad, Not a Great Dad

“Scott

In November 2013, Rooftop Comedy put out Scott Long’s 2nd Comedy CD, Good Dad, Not a Great Dad.

On December 31st, Angie Frissore graded it an “A” for Under the Gun Reviews, stating: “I’ve listened to and reviewed 52 comedy albums in 2013, but Scott Long’s is probably the one that touched me most.”

Generally, Rooftop puts out an interview with the comic to push the release, but with Nathan Timmel penning the article, they got something a little different: Nathan and Scott are old friends, so instead of an interview, a conversation took place.

Rooftop was able to listen in as they waxed nostalgic, fought Nathan’s toddler, and even discussed the new CD.

NT: I suppose we should start with the fact we’ve known one another…

SL: Fifteen years.

NT: Fifteen years… and we met in St. Cloud, Minnesota, at a place that has gone to the comedy graveyard, Rum Runners. And it was around for… well over a decade.

SL: I’m guessing at least two decades.

NT: And the amount of comedians who passed through there over the years…

SL: Oh, yeah. It would be the usual suspects of the Upper Midwest, like Louie Anderson, Tom Arnold, K.P. Anderson… people who came out of that scene, the Minneapolis scene.

NT: Who all probably traveled to Grand Forks, that had a room for years and years. They hired a permanent host, who would move to Grand Forks and live there and host for 6 months to a year, like a comedy boot camp.

SL: My brother did that for ten months, and I think the most successful comic right now who went through that is Chad Daniels.

NT: And for a smaller town, it was a full-week club, Tuesday…

SL: Wednesday through Saturday. The Westward Ho. The owner, Chris, was a huge supporter of comedy. The best poster I’ve ever been on came from there. “Coming Soon” or “This Month…” it was Mitch Hedberg, Todd Barry, Mario Joyner… and me. It was like the Sesame Street “One of these things is not like the other.”

NT: You’re an Iowa native, is this where you started your comedy career?

SL: No… I graduated from the University of Iowa, got a job, didn’t like that, my girlfriend at the time moved to Indianapolis and I followed her… and now she’s my wife. So that worked out. Anyway, I started my comedy career in Indianapolis, and have just stayed there overall.

NT: What number CD is this for you?

SL: It’s kind of a complicated question, because it’s only my second CD, but I put out two DVDs earlier… so DVDs and CDs, it’s my 4th… and I also put out a book in 200… 2? So… that’s kind of where it’s at. But this CD is different from anything before it, because my act has changed, like my life has changed. I have no doubt in my mind this is the best stuff I’ve ever done, because it seems to reach the audience on a couple different levels. I’m always focused on what’s going to make people laugh, but this is more connective. I’ve always been very macro about the world, because my comedy was influenced by Carlin and Hicks, but then having a daughter with autism, and then twins… it really changed my perspective and focus… I don’t think I get bigger laughs than I used to, but I think when the audience leaves I’ve left more of an impression on them. I’ve reached them on a different level.

NT: Well let’s talk about that… I’ve watched you for fifteen years, and your act has changed numerous times… I’ve seen the version you just recorded, and this time around you used visual enhancement on stage, and I’m wondering how you translated that to an audio CD. Answer that as I run to get my daughter out of the dog food…

*leaves as Scott answers*

SL: I wanted to write a whole new show, and I knew that unlike Louie CK or Bill Burr, I couldn’t just show up at a club and start experimenting…

*loud, loud, loud crying erupts*

SL: Is she hurt?

NT: No, she just really wanted the dog’s food, and mean daddy just put up the baby gate. So you can’t show up and start doing new material…

SL: Right. I have to get good reports all the time, so I did the Indy Fringe Fest, where I could do a one-person show and not have to be funny 100% of the time. It was really freeing, and after doing six shows I felt really comfortable taking the more stand-up elements of it on the road.

NT: And when I saw you, you were using an easel to show the different acts in the performance, and I was wondering how that translated to a disc…

SL: Right, right… it’s gone. I used that for about a year, but after getting to know the material inside and out I brought it back to pure stand up comedy. I enjoyed the “art” aspect to it, the “one-man-show” concept, but with that you’re talking at people, and I wanted to re-incorporate interacting with the audience. I actually hadn’t even planned on recording the CD when I did, to be honest. Rooftop had recorded my shows, and I was watching their videos and Dominic [from Rooftop] contacted me and said, “I think we could make a CD out of this. I think we could make a great CD out of this.” I said, “Really, you could make a CD out of video clips?” So he sent me some of the audio and it sounded fantastic. Better than some of the things I’ve heard on satellite radio…

NT: Oh, I’ve heard some awful things played by people who said, “I spent $2,000 on a sound engineer…”

SL: Right. And in the end I was really happy with the way things turned out.

NT: I want to go back a second to something you said at the outset of developing the act, an inability to do too much new material at a club because you need good reports… I don’t know if casual fans of comedy will know what that means. They might think comics get graded on originality, or if a club sees you’re constantly writing…

SL: The art. The craft. You’re not getting graded on the art of stand up comedy.

NT: I asked an owner once, “What are you looking for out of me?” and was told, “I just listen for laughter; I don’t have time to listen to what you’re saying.” Which really told me where I stood, and that weekend the opening act went up and did the most base, “Hey, who’s drinking tonight, Taco Bell makes you poop” material that you’ve heard a million times, but it didn’t matter because the audience liked it… So in your case, the owner wouldn’t be thinking, “Oh, Scott is bringing new material to my club, he’s working shit out,” they’d think “I don’t hear enough laughter, he’s not coming back.”

SL: And I’ve been doing this a long time, and some of these venues I’ve been to five or six times, which might make you think you’ve earned enough cache with these people to work out material like that, but that’s just not how it works. And look, part of that is on me. If I could sell enough tickets, sell out every show for $25, then would the owner care what the audience sounded like? They’d know people were there to see you.

NT: And I don’t want to make it seem like it’s not our job to get laughter, because it absolutely is, but you’d think that after a few visits you’d get some leeway, but it really can come down to one bad show preventing you from getting invited back.

SL: Which is a big reason why so many comics who have been in the business for a long time don’t really do anything new. They’re afraid; they know what they do works. And the other element of that is that pressure of knowing you have to do well… it really is a “What have you done for me lately business?”

NT: I remember a club owner who isn’t around anymore who would dictate exactly what the comedian was supposed to do to them. If someone showed up with a new closer, he would tell them to do the one he liked.

SL: Look, you really are a dancing monkey unless you can draw, and that’s the one part to this business I’ve never been bitter about. I’ve made certain decisions in my career not to be a Los Angeles or New York comic…

NT: I remember that. You had specific management interested in you, but…

SL: This was one of the most stand up agents in the country at the time, one of the most powerful, and he was legitimately interested in me… as long as I moved to LA. And I couldn’t disagree with anything he said, I get it, but I couldn’t do it. Stand up comedy, entertainment in general is a “me first” business. Everything has got to be “me,” and pushing me out there… but that’s what the new CD is about. I’m a dad, and I have to put my kids first, and it was a quality of life decision. Did I want to raise my kids in New York or LA, or did I want to raise them in the Midwest, where I was raised.

NT: Do you have trouble doing predominantly family-oriented material in front of varied audiences?

SL: No, because I’m not—and no disrespect to these people at all—I’m not doing Ray Romano or Bill Cosby family material. I still have these neurosis, these inappropriate thoughts that I use to write jokes, and that way people who have no kids can still relate to my act.

NT: One of the best compliments I got after a show was when a 21-year-old kid came up to me and said, “I don’t have a kid, I’m not married, and you didn’t talk about anything in my world… but I really loved your set. You were hilarious.” Which made me happy that I was presenting my point of view in a way that was universal, not demographically challenged, to use politically correct language.

SL: Exactly. I mean, I’m very cognizant of trying to stay relevant to the youngest people in the audience. I’m not going to talk about Justin Bieber or Katy Perry and pander, but I do have the thought, “What would twenty-five-year-old Scott think of this joke?” Because ultimately I want everyone to relate to my jokes. I’m not one of those guys who says, “Oh, fuck twenty percent of the audience.” I want the old guy and the hipster to relate to me.

 

Download Scott’s disc, Good Dad, Not a Great Dad, now.

Go Home Happy: The Serious Side of Comedy

nathan timmel Go Home Happy” width=“You’re a comedian? That must be awesome!”

It’s a familiar response from people who’ve just met someone that calls comedy their full-time job.

On the surface, it’s glamorous: laughter, bright spotlights, and traveling the world. But like sausage-making, the real action is far from pretty. What goes unseen is the struggle undertaken by comedians to perform on that stage.

In his new mini-eBook, Go Home Happy, stand-up veteran and Rooftop contributing blogger Nathan Timmel leads the reader through a funny, pride-swallowing journey navigating the minefield of club owners, booking agents, drunken hecklers, and unexpected friends.

Part fun and games, part sobering insight, Go Home Happy takes the stand-up comedy fan behind Oz’s curtain to reveal the tedious struggles—and rewarding moments—that come with this spotlighted territory.

Here’s an excerpt:

When people cannot handle a particular performer or joke, they sometimes feel the need to offer their opinions loudly, and in the middle of a show. Hecklers, as they are known. These people are instant critics. Hecklers have something to say, and in an age of Twitter and Facebook updates they can share feelings instantly and constantly. They forget what discretion is and demand their opinion be heard, even if it is in direct opposition to the 200 audience members surrounding them, people who happen to be enjoying themselves.

The most odd moments of my act bring out objection in people. Three of the strangest events are:

  • Upon the birth of my daughter, I commented on the fact I’d rather have a gay child than one with a food allergy. I happen to love peanut butter, and I’ve always been a friend to the gay community, so I’d rather my daughter be attracted to the same gender than have to give up my vice. Because of that statement, a woman handed in a note stating their son had a food allergy and that she didn’t find my thoughts on the subject funny in the slightest.
  • After visiting Iraq and performing for American soldiers stationed in a dangerous war zone, I made the suggestion that to keep the people we care about safe—our mothers and fathers, sons and daughters in uniform—we should bring them home and use prisoners and gang members to fight our wars. My specific punchline was: “If they win, great. If they lose, fuck it, great! Either way, no one we care about gets hurt.” From the back of one comedy club, “Prisoners have rights too, asshole!” was shouted and an angry man stormed out. The crowd was stunned; someone was defending murderers and rapists at the expense of the American military?
  • While in the middle of a pro-immigration joke, I was interrupted by a Hispanic woman who began shouting that immigrants were hard-working people, and didn’t deserve to be made fun of. When I pointed out that I had just said exactly that, and that I was making fun of racists who believed otherwise, she went on a five-minute tirade about how wrong it was of me to be talking about immigration when immigrants built America. We were on the same side of the issue, yet she was too drunk (or dim) to understand that. I could barely get a word in edgewise as she babbled on incoherently.

The worst thing about people who cry “Offensive!” at any given topic, is they are generally only offended by their one, personal pet fetish. A comedian can say what they want about any subject, as long as it isn’t the one that “hits too close to home.”

Look at the movie Ted, for example. If you are unfamiliar, it’s a film by Seth MacFarlane, creator of the television show Family Guy. The humor is politically incorrect to say the least, and lewd, rude, and crude to say the most. I loved the movie and laughed to the point of tears throughout it. The film contained jokes about religion, gender roles, drug use, 9/11, and of course, one line involving Lou Gehrig’s disease. In a complaint that made national news, a patron with ALS stated he was enjoying himself up to the point Marky Mark’s character wished the disease upon Joel McHale, but that particular line went “too far.”

Examine that thought process: the man wasn’t upset by jokes about race, religion, 9/11, or homosexuality, because they didn’t apply to him. But when a joke invaded his personal space it was suddenly over the line. Hypocritical? Absolutely. But rarely do people take a moment to scrutinize the whole of any situation; they only understand what angers them, because that’s all that matters.

 

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