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An Inattention to Detail

An Inattention to Detail

A Comedian Lobs Jokes in Iraq

On August 31, 2010, President Obama addressed the nation. He declared combat missions in Iraq over and announced a troop drawdown would begin. One day later, comedian Nathan Timmel boarded a plane as a part of the first group of entertainers to enter the war-torn country under this new ‘mission.’

Telling jokes to soldiers who face death every day is a different kind of performance – no stages, microphones, or spotlights. Rec rooms, dining facilities, and courtyards become performance spaces, and comedians use their best stage voice to tell their stories without the benefit of a P.A. system. All the while, armed escorts scan the perimeter for signs of danger.

A most notable—and unfortunate—difference is: when playing a comedy club in America, you don’t tour the local emergency room and receive information about the customer who died there last week. While being shown a medical facility outside Basra, however, that’s exactly what happened. A quiet moment that brought home the true cost of war.

Thought-provoking, sentimental, and an unflinching critique of a seemingly lazy mainstream media, An Inattention to Detail is a reflection on the unique responsibility of delivering punch lines to those who need laughter the most.

Price: 99¢

Available for: Kindle

Buy This Book Now on Amazon

Don’t have an E-reader? Use Amazon’s FREE E-Reader Apps

The Four-Legged Perspective…

Hey, Rooftop readers…

Once again I am returning from a light sabbatical. Last time, I was working on the release of my first full-length book, I Was a White Knight… Once.  (Something you can check out by clicking the nifty link provided)

This time around, I was finishing up my second mini-book: The Four-Legged Perspective.

(Yes, that’s also a clickable link.  Go ahead, check it out.  You know you want to)

The tale is a split-story regarding the arrival of a new baby under my roof; half is from my dog Kitty’s point of view, half from mine.

Right now, it’s only available on the Amazon Kindle, but hopefully that will be changing soon.  If you don’t have a Kindle, they have plenty of free reader apps available, and guess what?  My download is less than a buck.  99-Cents is all it takes to take to read yourself to sleep at night, and keep this in mind: as it’s an e-book, no trees were harmed in the making of it.  Sure, plenty of Chinese slave labor went into making the electronics device you’ll be reading it on, but don’t think about them. Think about the trees. The carbon-dioxide absorbing/oxygen-emitting trees.

They weren’t harmed at all.

Below is an excerpt.

(Oh, and if family-friendly comedy isn’t your style? Check out my first mini-book, Touched By Anything But an Angel.  That’s about me getting a massage from a man.  Disgusting, isn’t it?)

From The Four-Legged Perspective:

On December 2nd, 2012, at 1:10 in the morning, I awoke with a start. Something didn’t feel right, and it was my belly and body. I was warm, and immense pressure was pushing up from my stomach into my throat.

I was going to throw up.

Maybe. Suddenly the urge to purge was more the sensation I was about to make liquid boom-boom.

(I’m not sure which exit strategy frightened me more.)

I left the bedroom and went to the living room to assess the situation; was this a false alarm, or was I really about to be sick? The hot cocoa I had before bed was burning in me. I wasn’t feverish or achy, so it wasn’t the flu. Food poisoning, maybe? I had been in Mexico ten years earlier; maybe a sleeper cell of Montezuma’s Revenge had taken root in my colon and was finally coming to fruition? No, that’s just silly talk right there.

Twenty minutes later, at 1:30, I heard Hillary fuss in her room. My ears perked, but I made no motion toward her; she often makes little pig noises as she transitions between sleep cycles. As a new dad, when I first heard them months earlier, I would lay in bed petrified, horrific new parent thoughts running through my head: “Do these sounds mean she can’t breathe? Is she getting enough oxygen? Is she about to wake up and start crying?” Should I get a bottle ready? Should I go pick her up? I should probably pick her up. When in doubt, always pick the baby up and let her feel Daddy’s warmth to let her know she is loved.”

(I know that’s in absolutely zero parenting books, but I thought it just the same. And I did, thankfully, just let her sleep.)

Very quickly, however, Hillary’s transition squeaks became comforting. Once we discovered they were natural, they were a sign all was well in Hillary-world, which acted as a sort of melatonin to us: “Ah, she’s good. Now I can sleep, too.”

But, snap back to the present, a few seconds after her initial peep, I heard Hillary gurgle, then choke and spit up. As I stood to check on her, she started crying.

Before I could get around the chair I had been sitting in, Kitty burst into view; he was headed from the master bedroom to Hillary’s room. Kitty saw me walking in his direction, and paused…

.

I can be found on Twitter @nathantimmel

Steve Gillespie – Get Stever Fever!

When Rooftop asked if I wanted to talk to Steve Gillespie about his new CD release, Stever Fever, I said “Absolutely yes.” I don’t know the man well, but I had bumped into him several times on the road and really enjoyed his comedy.

The last time I worked with Steve, it was at a bar in Iowa. At least, that’s what our itinerary said. Upon arrival, Steve and I discovered the location was a supper club, and a fairly swanky (by Iowa standards) one at that.  We looked at our clothes–we had each dressed our best for a dingy bar–and felt a little out of place. To make matters worse, the space was decorated for a wedding, one taking place the next day. The walls were adorned in white lace, and our “stage” was the altar.

Fortunately, the audience was in a laughing mood and not in any way confined or defined by our surroundings; they laughed with ease and the gig was a fun one.

With a wink to Justin Beiber, Steve’s new release is out now.

Here’s the story behind the CD.

Enjoy.

~nathan

 

NT:  Where’d the title and cover come from; was it a difficult process?

SG:  The name was the easy part. The cover art was challenging. I like taking goofy pictures, I have quite a collection, and deciding which one I liked best and fit with what I thought the title is conveying, was difficult.

With that said, I am really pleased with how it came out. I thinks its look sharp.

NT:  Any rejected titles you’d like to share?

SG:  I overheard a women in a restaurant say “I’m a badass girl in a tough ass world” and I thought for a moment that A Badass Girl in a Tough Ass world could work, but I’m glad I went with Stever Fever. It fits well with the tone of the album.

NT:  How long did it take you to write the material?

SG:  I think all of the material on the album has been written over the past 4 years. Some of it within a month of the release.

NT:  Is this your first CD?

SG:  Yes, and some are probably hoping its my last.

NT:  How long have you been performing; how long did it take you to find your voice?

SG:  My first time on stage was on Jan. 17th 2006, so just over 7 years.

Find my voice? That’s hard to pinpoint and in a lot of ways I think you never stop finding it. It should evolve as you evolve.

For the sake of the question, I would say I started to notice a definite direction around year 3-4.

NT:  Do you see yourself remaining in Minneapolis, or have you an eye on LA or NY?

SG:  The plan for me right now is to remain in Minneapolis for the next 2 to 3 years at the most and then move to Los Angeles.

I have spent the past two summers in Los Angeles and have been slowly prodding in that direction.

NT:  How has the Minneapolis comedy scene influenced you?

SG:  The “scene” (fucking hate that word), has made an enormous impression on my work. I’d put this city up against any other in the world as fast developing comics. I know the rebuttal, “(whining voice) but, but, but Steeeeeve, what about LA and New York?”

Those are the places you go when you’ve developed into a professional.

Of course there are always exceptions. I have performed pretty much all over the country and there are a few good and a lot of bad comics just about everywhere I have been.

NT:  Your disc opens with self-depreciating humor. Is that done with intent, to set the audience at ease? “Look, I’m not taking myself too seriously here, so don’t get all sensitive when I get into slavery.”

SG:  In retrospect I wish I would have called the album Stever Fever Live, because that’s what the it is, a live show. I don’t really know how I’m going to open a show until I get in front of the audience and feel their vibe (for the lack of a better word). That material chunk was going to be used at some point and when I got on stage it felt like the audience was um….uneasy about my appearance, so I naturally worked into that piece. But I don’t always open the same way.

And yes, my material can get pretty dark but I like to keep it all silly and absurd.

NT:  Describe your comedy to someone who hasn’t seen—or in my case, worked with—you.

SG:  Personal and dark subjects delivered in absurdity.

NT:  You keep a road journal on your web page; is that for fans, or a way to keep track of your own career?

SG:  Its basically just something on my site people can look at if they’re interested. Its becoming more of a picture/news journal than anything.

 

You can follow Steve on Twitter (@epigillespie) or be his Internet friend on Facebook to keep up with his day to day activities and tours.

You can buy his release Stever Fever in the Rooftop Store.

Comedian Derek Sheen Talks About All Things Northwest and Metal

Rock and comedy mix more often than you might expect; many people in the rock world say they wish they had the ability to speak as coherently as comedians do, and many comedians wish they could achieve rock star status.

Derek Sheen loves rock, specifically the late heavy metal vocalist legend, Ronnie James Dio. His latest album, the Rooftop Comedy release Holy Drivel, pays homage to RJD in both title and cover artwork.

Rooftop sent author Nathan Timmel to chat with Derek as he toured the northwest with Patton Oswalt. They discussed finding your voice, playing alternative venues, and what geography–if anything–does to your comedic sensibilities.

Nathan Timmel:  Holy Drivel–how large a fan of Ronnie James Dio does one have to be to devote a comedy album to a sideways homage to his seminal album?

Derek Sheen:  I am a huge Ronnie James Dio fan! Originally, Mark Allender sent me the cover art as a joke, thinking I could use it as a poster somewhere down the road? The moment I saw it, I thought it was too cool to just use as a show poster: it was the inspiration for the album and the Kickstarter project. I wanted to make something that was, both, an homage to one of my heroes and that showed off Mark’s awesome skills. Also, in keeping with the metal pedigree, it was a huge “get” to have Matt Bayles (Mastodon, Minus the Bear, Isis) and Trey Gunn (King Crimson, TU) produce, mix and master the album. For a stand-up album, it sounds amazing and the material isn’t bad either.

NT: You’re from Seattle, and open the track with good-natured ribbing of Portland. Is there a genuine, if light-hearted, rivaly between the two cities?

DS: Not really. Portland knows it’s better! Both have a great comedy scene, but Portland is my favorite city; it’s like Seattle, if Willy Wonka designed it! Plus, they have the Bridgetown Comedy Festival! Some of my favorite comics are there: Ian Karmel, Whitney Streed, Shane Torres, Gabe Dinger, Anthony Lopez, Tim Hammer, Jimmy Newstetter, Xander Deveaux and Sean Jordan. Go check ém out! Also, check out Spicy News! It’s where comics have to eat a Habanero pepper and then deliver the news! Brilliant.

Oh, check out Bryan Cook, Travis Vogt, Mike Drucker, Barbara Holm and Rylee Newton too!!

NT: What kind of sensibility does a Pacific Northwest comedian have, when compared to a Midwest or New York or Southern comic? Do you notice differences in style when you travel to different regions of the country?

DS:  I think Northwest comedians are slightly more passive-aggressive than East Coast comics, but that’s probably because the pressure to succeed in the Northwest isn’t anything like it is in NY or Chicago or Boston? They also have all four seasons there? In Seattle we have two: Stygian, crippling, moist darkness and 30 days of some sun. I spend 8 months out of every year battling ‘Soul Rickets’.

NT:  Where did you record your disc? Do you have a history with the venue? Is it where you came up in comedy? One show, or multiple nights edited together?

DS:  I recorded my album at the Comedy Underground, in Seattle. It was the venue that I performed my first open mic, when I was twelve. I remember seeing all of the pictures on the wall, comics that I respected and admired, and saying “I want to be THAT good someday”. Still am not there yet, but it’s my home club and has always fostered young comics and provided a stage where they can grow. We did six shows, over a weekend, and I took one show for the album. I thought I might cut some things together depending on how the audience and the energy was, but Saturday (1st show) was the one we went with. All the pieces seemed to fall into place with that audience and it was my favorite.

NT: How long have you been performing? How long in did it take you to find your comedic “voice?”

DS:  I had an agent when I was 12; he took me to a couple of state fairs. It was/I was horrible. No one is funny at that age. I also suffered from crippling stage fright. I studied music and got into several bands, to help overcome it. Once I felt like I had a handle on it, I quit music altogether and got back to writing and performing stand-up. It’s been about 7 years of hitting every show, every night and I’m still not where I want to be, but I don’t think I ever will be? It’s quite a ride.

NT:  Talk about the Holy Drivel World Tour. Where are you going?

DS:  On the first leg, I’ll be hitting most of the Southeast: Louisville, South Carolina, North Carolina, Athens, Nashville, Chatanooga and also Chicago. Then Eugene, Oregon and Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

NT: I notice theaters and coffee shops—alternative venues—on your calendar; do you prefer non-traditional locations for comedy to comedy clubs? Or are some of these places known for sponsoring “underground” comedy shows?

DS:  I have always preferred small theaters and rock clubs. They seem like a destination location, where you have to know what you are seeing before you agree to go, can curate your own audience and they seem to be more open to fostering independent artists. Unlike comedy clubs, which I still love, where there seems to be more ‘walk-in’ traffic, that isn’t always prepared for what they’re about to see. But the money is always better and there is a built-in support system, most of the time. Clubs are a risk averse business model.

NT:  Talk about the Funny or Die series, Adventure Buddies. Is that something you’re a part of, or just a cast member in?

DS:  Seattle comedians Travis Vogt and Kevin Clarke, have been shooting comedy shorts for over a decade. In 2009, they wrote and directed their first full length feature; a Post-Apocalyptic-Science Fiction epic, titled Steel of Fire Warriors 2010 A.D. and cast me as the robot sidekick “Robobot”. We had so much fun, I stuck around and never left their side, in the hopes that they become famous Hollywood directors and don’t know any better than to just hire their one friend, for every part. Adventure Buddies was a great experience! It was shot in hi-def, digitally, and was a bigger budget production than anything they had ever attempted. It looks great, it’s weird and very funny and also utilizes every single comic in the entire world. I highly recommend it!

NT:  Once the Holy Drivel Tour ends, what’s next for Derek Sheen?

DS:  I have a feeling that this tour will never end. I am going to keep dragging this out until I have a completely new hour of material and hope that not everyone is sick of me by then. After that, I’ll try this all over again. I have been very luck (blessed really) to be surrounded by so many supportive, talented people and Rooftop has been absolutely amazing! Big thanks to Dominic Del Bene for being the coolest!

Holy Drivel is now available on iTunes, Amazon, and the Rooftop Comedy shop. Be sure to check out the deluxe version of the album, that includes exclusive video from Derek’s album recording!

Touched by Anything But an Angel

 

 

Ladies and gentlemen, boys, girls, and illegal Canadian immigrants of all ages: I’ve just released my very first Kindle Single, Touched by Anything But an Angel.

It’s a mix of old and new; two chapters from my book I Was a White Knight… Once, and a preview of what’s to come in my next full-length release.

Four chapters in all.

Included are a story about performing comedy for American soldiers stationed in Afghanistan, as well as the tale of my professional massage at the hands of a burly man.

It only costs 99 cents, which is less than a cup of coffee at Starbucks, but more than it takes to sponsor a starving child in Africa.

(Coffee > Human Life. Take that, starving masses)

Right now it’s only available on the Amazon Kindle; if you own one, then please, take a look.

If you don’t own one, that’s OK: Amazon allows you to download Kindle Apps for free.

All you have to do is go to my Touched by Anything But an Angel page, and scroll down the right-hand side until you see the following picture:

See that link at the bottom?  It says “Free,” and it allows you to read Kindle books almost anywhere you please, even if you don’t own an actual Kindle.

Neat, ain’t it?

Since it’s only available on the Kindle, no trees were harmed in the making of this product. Sure, plenty of slave-labor went into making the electronics in China, but put that out of your mind; think of the trees. The oxygen-emitting, life-saving trees.

They weren’t harmed at all.

So there you go; it’s less than a dollar, it doesn’t kill any trees, and it’s got a picture of (and story detailing) me being touched by a tubby gentleman.

What more could you ask for?

 

 

Danny Bevins Interview

The nice thing about writing for a blog is: you don’t have to have any of that pesky “journalistic integrity”. This means writing for a blog, is just like working for Fox News.

But I digress.

For the sake of fairness, I will state that I love Danny Bevins (Comedy Central’s Premium Blend, HBO’s Comedy Arts Festival). I don’t have to tell you I am biased, but am doing so anyway.

I met Bevins over ten years ago, and even got to travel to Iraq with him in 2004. (Shameless whoring: Bevins is the “Danny” in my book, I Was a White Knight… Once.)

Bevins doesn’t know this, but he helped shape who I am as a comedian. When I was just starting out, I learned early on that my favorite comics were those I felt I learned something about when their set was finished. Instead of gesturing wildly on stage and having no point to their set—“Men and women, different, right?! Am I right?! High five!”—I enjoy comedians that dig beneath the surface and discuss who they are as people, and how they came to think the way they do. That describes Bevins in a nutshell. It has been said that the stage is therapy for a comedian, and you get the sense that Bevins is constantly working out who he is as a person while casually speaking into a microphone. What makes it work is: unlike some performers, Bevins isn’t lashing out at the audience, he’s drawing them in. Listening to Bevins’ new release, Inappropriate (available 6/12), is like listening to a conversation Bevins is having with himself; he’s trying to describe himself, but without lecturing.

The last time I worked with Bevins was years and years ago. He opened his set with the concept, “What is love?” Most comedians try and open big; maybe a shocking masturbation joke, or something with a punch line within 30 seconds. Not Bevins. He has the strength, skill, and confidence to pull the listener in by trusting their intelligence. In a day and age when The Jersey Shore is popular viewing, that’s placing a lot of trust in people that don’t always deserve it.

On Inappropriate, Bevins’ opening draws the listener in with meditations on the meaning of family, and what it is to both love your family, but also maintain a desire for independence. It’s neither fast nor flashy, but it’s honest, and captivating. When he does turn to worldly issues—say race or politics—he does so from the point of looking for laughter. Many comics in the same position either rant, rave, or simply ramble on, because they think having a microphone gives them free liscence to be opinionated and boring. Bevins knows that you are absolutely allowed to have an opinion, but people go to a comedy club to laugh. Thoughts must be wrapped in jokes, because if they aren’t, what’s the difference between a comedian and an Occupy Wall Street protester?

OK, too much babbling.

Without further ado, here’s what Danny had to say:

Nathan Timmel: You open Inappropriate by gently letting the listener know you’re a family man—with a wife and child—and then enter into the “Inappropriate” bit. Was this done with specific intent, to prepare the listener for anything to come? “Look, you already know that I’m a husband and father, and how I feel about passing judgment on ideas, so if you don’t like anything from here on out, it’s on you.”

Basically, do you open soft, so you can hammer an audience later?

Danny Bevins: Yes, but it’s totally by accident. When we were recording it, I had been opening my set with another bit, and I felt the audience wasn’t really coming along with me the way I wanted them to. I mean, they would get there, eventually, but it was taking a while. So, I had this conversation with my wife that morning—my parents were staying with her and my son while I was on the road, and she just needed to vent a little—and when I got on the stage that night, that’s what I felt like talking about: family, and all that goes along with family relations. I just started talking, and it worked. The audience laughed, and it made the transition into other material easier.

NT: Similar question: Your disc has an arc to it; you open by discussing your family, mentioning in passing your new baby boy, and close it discussing the kind of funeral you want. So you open with life, and end with death. Was this arc intentional, or accidental?

DB: Oh, absolutely intentional. To me, and this is just the way I write, if you can’t have a “theme” to your set… and I don’t mean I want it to be to the point where you’re like, “OK, enough with your little motto,” but I do want my set to feel like I’ve told a story. There is a start and finish point; it’s not random.

When I started getting the bits ready for this recording, in Edinburgh, the opening was about my birth, and the fact I was an accident. And then my set went from that to the natural close, my funeral. So that arc was absolutely on purpose. I had the “I was an unwanted child bit” already, and then was at a funeral where everybody was sad, and I knew the departed would absolutely hate that, and would have preferred a celebration of sorts. I mean, you and I are not going to want the standard “funeral package,” with crying and all that sadness. If you’re going to do that, I’d rather just not have one. Do something interesting. Be original.

NT: “Inappropriate” is a concept, because personal choice dictates what is or is not inappropriate to any single individual; why do you think moral crusaders feel the need to shove their personal brand of taste down the throats of others?

BV: Oh, that’s easy: because it makes them feel good. It makes them feel superior. If I don’t tell you how “good” I am, then how are you going to know? To me, that’s the whole point to the whole “inappropriate” theme; if you’re talking, it doesn’t mean anything, it should all be based on what we do, not how we champion ourselves. If you want to be a good person, you should be a good person because you want to be a good person, not because you think you’re going to get some candy or other reward. So they want to let you know all the things you do that are wrong, or “inappropriate,” because then they feel righteous. What they don’t understand is: when they say these things to me, I don’t think they’re good, I just think they’re a twat.

NT: Related question: even after discussing the cathedral of the comedy club being the one place humor shouldn’t be questioned, do you still get people lecturing you after shows?

DB: Not so much anymore; I think that bit helped a lot; I think it cut down about 80-90% of those kind of moments. I think there are still people that want to tell me what they didn’t like, but luckily there are usually people around me after a show telling me how much they enjoyed the act. That makes it harder for anyone that wants to come up and bitch about what they didn’t like. But, every once in a while, there’ll be somebody that just has to tell me what they thought. These days it’s more… I get people saying they didn’t like a certain idea I had. It’s not about language or something I said, but just the fact I talked about abortion, or people lecture me about my “Date Rape Joke.” That’s what they call it, “The Date Rape Joke.” To me, it’s “The Grandfather Joke,” because it’s about my grandpa. I had a woman tell me, “You can’t joke about rape.” But the joke isn’t about rape, it’s about my grandfather. If rape is the way you see it, if you take that catchword out of the theme of the joke and focus on it and not what I’m saying, then I’m probably not going to get through to you anyway.

NT: Changing gears: you discuss ethnicity in Scotland—homogonous—but not comedy; did you find cultural differences at all hindering to your sets, or as you are very personal, did you escape that? Did you notice any comics who tend to be too generic having problems translating?

DB: Overall it went really well. There were a couple things that I didn’t expect, like, they didn’t understand “mulligan…”

NT: [Interrupting; incredulous] The country that invented golf didn’t know what a mulligan was?

DB: [Laughs] Yeah, that’s what I’m saying. It took me by surprise. It was in a review of my show, “Bevins doesn’t explain what a mulligan is,” so there are little things you’ll discover about your act. In America, people will laugh at one part, and in Europe they’ll laugh somewhere completely different. They’ll still laugh, but they find the humor in different places, and I love that. I find that in Europe they want a point to whatever you’re saying, and I think they really enjoy storytelling over just “setup/punch line” comedy.

NT: Your last disc contained material with you poking fun at the Republican party while performing in a red state. Given that we’re in an election year, how political will you be this summer?

DB: Eh, some stuff, but for me… I’m just too beat up by the whole process these days. I mean, overall, I just feel sorry for all of us. It doesn’t matter what side you’re on, we all suffer in the end because of the idea of taking sides. I know I’ll be in Washington D.C., and I’ll pull politics out then… I mean, you and I could sit down and debate shit one-on-one, but we know each other and it’s OK.

I do, like you pointed out, like going in front of a group of people, and if I know how they stand on a certain issue, making fun of it. It’s a good to see people challenge themselves; can you let go of your position for a second and see that what I just said is a funny joke, or are you just going to get mad and pout?

NT: How much of your writing takes place on the stage? How much do you write, say, using a notebook, and how much of it is… while not exactly “free form,” is you going on stage with an idea or concept, and working it out with people listening?

DB: I basically go up with a concept, and an outline. I have an idea of what I should say, and where the bit should go, but the stage will determine where it ends up. The audience lets you know what’s funny.

I have a bit right now that I’m working on, and when it started it was about suicide, but over the past few shows it’s drifted into being about a toll bridge, the location of the suicide more than suicide itself. It takes me a little time on stage to really figure a bit out, and where I’m going to take it.

My wife really helps a lot in that process; she is a great barometer.

NT: My mom used to be that way for me; if I said something and she made a lemon face and went “tisk-tisk,” I knew it was a great bit.

DB: [Laughs] No, I don’t mean like that… my wife actually really helps… keep me honest, is the best way of putting it. When I bounce ideas off her, and then she hears me working through them, she’ll remind me, “That’s not where this started,” or “I thought you really wanted to make this the focus of what you were talking about.” If I stray too much, and… I don’t want to say pander, but if I start just going for the easy laughs, my wife will challenge me to go deeper.

Inappropriate will be available tomorrow, June 12 on iTunes, Amazon, and the Rooftop Comedy shop. Be sure to keep up with Danny on Twitter @MySmartAss

Nato Green Interview

In 1991, Tom Morello, Zack de la Rocha, Brad Wilk, and Tim Commerford came together to form Rage Against the Machine. The focus was inspirational, educational music; music with a purpose. Encouraged by the idea art didn’t have to be mindless, in 2008 Nato Green joined forces with comedians W. Kamau Bell and Janine Brito to form Laughter Against the Machine, a comedy troupe with the implicit design to challenge audiences to “laugh and think at the same time.” Nato will continue collaborating with Bell as a writer for Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, a new Chris Rock-produced series coming to FX in August.

Nato Green has been a staple of the San Francisco comedy scene for years, and Rooftop Comedy is proud to be releasing his CD The Nato Green Party on Tuesday, June 5.

Rooftop sent interviewer Nathan Timmel to talk to Nato about his new disc, intellectual comedy, and parenting.

NT: Easy questions first:  Where was the CD recorded? Tell me a little about the venue.

NG: The shows are taped at the New Parish in Oakland. My group Laughter Against the Machine has been doing runs there twice a year for the last couple of years. It’s mostly a music venue, although more comics are checking it out now. Moshe Kasher taped his tv special there in January. One night after a Laughter Against the Machine show, after the audience had left, we were walking out as Too Short was coming in. Some of the most explosive comedy shows I’ve ever done have been there, so it was a natural for me to go back there to tape the cd. Also, as San Francisco gets intolerably expensive to live, both the diversity and the arts community are being pushed out to Oakland.

NT: What is the CD called, and where does the title come from?

NG: The title is The Nato Green Party. There’s not a lost of mystery to that title, is there?

NT: You open your new CD with a play on your name, followed by an examination of your religion, Judaism.  How important is your self-identity to your comedy? Is it your specific intention that audiences get to know you as a person through your comedy, as opposed to talking about traffic, or another “topical” subject: “Airline peanuts, who’s with me?”

NG: Hugely important, for two reasons. First, the comedy that inspires me the most is the comedy that carries an honest and personal point of view, that uses humor to search for personal truth. Second, I get called a “political comic” a lot, but a lot of political comedy is comedians writing jokes about things they see on the news. As someone who grew up on the left and was a labor activist for most of my adult life, I talk about politics because that’s my experience. It’s important to me to talk about political and social issues not only as an observer but as a person who is implicated in them.

The discipline that we spent the last four years cultivating in Laughter Against the Machine is only talking about things we sincerely care about. So occasionally, I think of observational premises, but they don’t really fit in my act because I don’t have strong feelings about them. “Why do we call people who take care of things caretakers, but people who take care of people caregivers?” They get shelved, or tweeted, until I can figure out a reason to talk about it onstage.

NT: How important is it to you to have an educated audience when it comes to political humor?

NG: It’s a different thing. When I’m in front of a very educated audience, I can go farther, cut out the exposition in the jokes, trust that people will catch all the references and understand what I mean by them. On the other hand, the best thing is a diverse audience. More diversity keeps everybody honest. It’s very satisfying to figure out how to make a nightclub audience laugh about thorny political issues, after they’ve been hearing dick jokes all night. (Not that there’s anything wrong with dick jokes per se.)

NT: Do you craft your political jokes in a way that allows people who do not follow the news to keep up?

NG: I try to write ripped from the zeitgeist more than ripped from the headlines. If I’m writing about something in the news, if I need more than one sentence to explain it to someone who doesn’t know about it already, it usually doesn’t make it into the act.

NT: Topics such as slavery and abortion make their way into your show, and are handled with confidence.  Do you ever run into audiences that just aren’t willing to go down such paths with you?

NG: All the time. I don’t know a lot of other white comics who talk as directly about whiteness and white privilege as I do, and talk about race in that context. I have ended up writing material that is continually digging me in and out of holes with the audience. Walking people through why they reacted negatively to the jokes. Sometimes I feel like I’m facilitating a discussion more than performing. People don’t so much heckle me as participate in the conversation.

NT: Regardless of what you are saying, do you feel certain audiences just hear the topic and have a knee-jerk reaction?

NG: My audiences tend to react negatively to things, or want to quibble with things, but it’s not always what you’d expect. Someone came up to me after the CD taping show and said, “I love the show, but you shouldn’t drink bottled water onstage.” Someone else emailed me after the show to say that they loved the show but felt I “uncritically accepted the concept of Jewish whiteness” rather than placing it its historical context.

Sometimes it’s the audience and sometimes it’s me. Audiences always get very tense if I talk about Israel and Palestine, regardless of how carefully I tread. On the other hand, I tend to be pretty dark in my perspective on things, and want to talk onstage about whatever I’m upset about. Sometimes it’s too raw and I haven’t figured out a way to make it funny enough. I check my set list to make sure there’s not too much death and suffering clumped together. I have ideas all the time that I think are interesting and funny, but I need to let marinate until I get enough perspective to make it work for the audience without just rubbing their faces in anguish.

NT: While you are unabashedly left-leaning regarding politics, you do skewer your own political leanings as much as, if not more so, than you attack the right. Does this ever confuse audiences? Do people ever tell you they felt insulted by anything you said because it conflicted with their personal beliefs?

NG: Years ago [National Public Radio's] Fresh Air ran an interview with this Israeli who organized a Jewish anti-semitic cartoon contest. You’ll remember that a Danish newspaper ran a cartoon of Mohammad, and in a non sequitur retaliation an Iranian newspaper called an anti-semitic cartoon contest. This Israeli guy said, “Anyone can make fun of the other guy. It takes real confidence to make fun of yourself.” That really inspired me.

I spent years as an organizer, and still stay close to the progressive/radical social movement activist world. While it’s plenty fun to mock the stupidity of the right, I am firmly convinced that my side’s biggest enemy is ourselves. We love to smirk about how stupid and hypocritical and paranoid the Tea Party is or whatever. Meanwhile, we manage to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory every chance we get.

Certainly, there are people on the left who come to my shows who realize they didn’t actually want to see a comedy show–they just wanted to hear things they agree with. I’m not for them. Mostly I get away with making fun of my own side because the other people on my side can recognize the motivation, even if they don’t agree with the particular conclusions.

NT: You are a father—twin daughters—does that hinder, help, or have no effect on your touring schedule as a comedian?

NG: There are a lot of things I could do that comics do to build my career if I didn’t have a family. Instead, I have to be focused and disciplined. I hear other comics say, “I spent the day watching all of Battlestar Gallactica” or something. That’s not an option for me. My family is making sacrifices so I can pursue this dream so I want to have scraps of progress to show for it every single day.

NT: Did becoming a father re-calibrate your focus as an entertainer?

NG: Being a parent raises the stakes on every choice you make, because every choice affects another person. Every choice–from how many nights I’m away from home to how long I sit on the toilet. At the same time, my daughters are the greatest joy in my life. As much as I go onstage and talk about painful, confusing, scary, controversial topics, I’m basically hopeful. I’m happier now than before I had kids, because I no longer waste as much time on nonsense.

NT: I have an advance copy of your CD, and by that I mean “un-edited.” It contains some visual cues; will those remain on the full release? How much of your overall act is cerebral, and how much is physical?

NG: Mostly they will. If the joke has an act-out, it stays. Let the listening audience have a reason to come see me live.

NT: What’s next for you; what are your comedic goals? Touring, acting, writing…

NG: My most immediate next step is that I’m going to New York to work on the writing staff of Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, the new Chris Rock-produced late night show premiering on FX August 9. Beyond that, I want to blast this CD out widely to a non-comedy audience. The folks who might like The Daily Show but would never go see live stand-up. I plan to finish and find a distributor for the Laughter Against the Machine documentary I did with Kamau and Janine, and then tour behind it in the fall. After we get through out first 6 episodes of Totally Biased, release the LATM doc, and promote the CD, I’ll evaluate where I’m standing then. And I want to keep logging my Malcolm Gladwell 10,000 hours to become a great stand-up comedian.

The Nato Green Party will be available June 5 on iTunes, Amazon, and the Rooftop Comedy shop. The album will also be available to stream through Pandora, Spotify, and Last.fm.

Be sure to follow Nato on Twitter at @NatoGreen. Learn all about Nato at his website: http://www.natogreen.com/

ANDY HENDRICKSON INTERVIEW

Andy Hendrickson is a burgeoning powerhouse in the comedy world. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because you’ve probably heard him on either the Bob & Tom Show, or on Sirius/XM Radio. Not only is he a showcase winner at HBO’s U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, Andy has performed at TBS’ The Comedy Festival in Las Vegas and was a finalist at the Great American Comedy Festival.

He’s calling his newest release, Underacheiver, his first “real” CD. Underacheiver will be released March 13 wherever fine comedy is sold and streamed.

Rooftop had Nathan Timmel dial Andy up and chat about the disc, comedy classes, and finding your comedic voice.

Nathan Timmel: Easy question first: where did you come up with the title Underachiever?

Andy Hendrickson: A friend suggested it, actually, because I have a chunk of material about my family, and how every one of them is an overachiever. My oldest brother is exceptional; he went to the Naval Academy, became a Navy Seal, and went to Harvard.

NT: So you are the Black Sheep of the family then; you are the underachiever.

AH: Yes, I would be the slacker of the family.

NT: Where was your album recorded, and over how many shows?

AH: I recorded it up in Ottawa, Canada. There’s a great club up there called Absolute Comedy. I had two shows on a Friday night to record the material, and luckily I got it all on the early slot because the late crowd was a little drunk and rowdy, so I didn’t use any of the audio from that take.

NT: What kind of set up did you use?

AH: I hired a local sound engineer who works with bands and theaters. He used a simple three-microphone setup: he wired the stage mic, and then a left and right mic to capture the audience.

NT: How many years in the making was the material for Underachiever? Is this your first CD? 

AH: [Laughs.] Well…there’s a CD that exists from three-years into my career, when I was desperate for money, that if I could buy back every copy and burn it? I would.

NT: [Laughs.] We all have one of those – a “starter” CD. Every comic gets way too excited early in their career and records something, then pushes because they’re so proud of themselves: “I’ve got a CD! I’m a real comic!” Then years down the road you give a listen and you shake your head and say, “Holy shit, what was I thinking?”

AH: Exactly. At the time, it made sense. I had just started doing comedy full-time, and was only featuring, and needed money desperately. So I put out a 25-minute disc and tried to keep my head above water by selling it. So that one doesn’t count.

I put out one in 2005 or 2006 called It’s Ready, and I have a little 25-minute sampler on my website that I give away… so to me, this is my first real CD—it’s the first one I’m truly proud of. It has all my best material, and I have my voice now… I’m really excited about this one. Which is weird, because as a comedian you generally beat yourself up over everything, but I’m really proud of how this turned out.

NT: Talk about your voice: how far into your comedy career are you, and how long did it take you to figure out who you wanted to be on stage?

AH: I went through many stages; imagine your teenage years. You’re trying to fit in, and you don’t know if you’re going to be a skateboarder, or a heavy metal guy, or a jock. The same thing applies to trying to figure out who you’re going to be on stage. I used to… [laughs] I used to do a “dumb stoner guy” character when I first started out. Then I was really silly, acting out on stage a lot.

I’ve been doing it about 13 years now, and I think it took 11 years to just be me on stage, which is a dry, sarcastic guy. And that’s who I am, it’s what I am off stage. I just had to go through all the trying-on of personas just to be myself at the end of it all. Some guys are lucky, and they find it early, but it took me a while to figure out.

NT: Did you go through that phase where you’d work with someone, really like what they were doing, and accidentally adopt their quirks?

AH: Oh, absolutely. I was middling for Daniel Tosh years ago in Cleveland, and I really enjoyed his stand-up. I was watching every show, and on the last night found myself delivering my jokes with the same kind of tempo Tosh had. I remember catching myself and thinking, “What the hell are you doing?” It was still my material, my jokes, but his delivery had rubbed off on me.

NT: I’ve heard a lot of people do that after working with Attell; his voice is so distinct, his delivery so unique, that after a week with him you’ve picked up his cadence.

AH: I guess it’s similar to spending a couple months in the South, and after a while you just start slipping little colloquialisms they use into your own speech patterns.

NT: Let’s talk about you’re becoming a comedian: was there a light bulb moment in your childhood where you said, “I want to be a comedian,” or is it something you discovered later?

AH: I was exposed to stand up at a really early age. I used to live in Hawaii, and there was a comedian named Poi Dog my family would listen to. He did a lot of jokes about Hawaiian culture… I would have been around eight. I didn’t really know that’s what I wanted to do at the time, but I guess I was always a cut-up. I eventually moved to Atlanta—after college—took a comedy class, got my first taste of the stage and getting laughs, and loved it.

NT: Every comic out there seems to have a passionate opinion about comedy classes; would you say they helped you, or that you wouldn’t recommend them?

AH: To be honest, I thought it was very helpful. It all depends on your personality, and I was petrified by the idea of getting on stage. So to invest my money in a six-week class, and knowing at the end of it I had to get on stage, which is something I was very frightened by, the class was very helpful. I mean, I had financially locked myself into it; it was like skydiving. Once you’re up in the plane, you gotta jump. Taking a class also gave me a sense of structure as well. Some guys, like me—underachiever—need that push. Other’s don’t. I also knew that at the end of it I’d have that 5-minute set I could take with me to open microphones.

Andy currently resides in New York City. You can follow Andy @AndyHendrickson.

Underachiever comes out March 13 and will be available on iTunes, Amazon, and the Rooftop Comedy Shop. You can also stream Underachiever through Pandora and Grooveshark.

I Was a White Knight… Once

In 2011, I took some time away from my duties as a Rooftop blogger/interviewer because I was finishing up a project;  I wanted to devote my time to its final touches.

That project was my first book, titled I Was a White Knight… Once. It is a memoir that discusses my upbringing: ten cities, ten schools, and ten sets of friends within the first decade of my life, and parents whose volatile marriage sparked more than one horrific memory (including my mother’s ride on the hood of the family car to keep her estranged husband from taking the kids). It moves across the country and around the world, telling tales of performing for American soldiers stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

One life-story takes place in the mid-1990s, when a female stalker entered my life. We discovered one another via an email list of a mutual friend, Pete. Remember, the 1990s were a time before Facebook, MySpace, or any other form of social networking. Email was the hippest thing being online had to offer, so when you met someone new, it was pretty nifty. The fact you were chatting up someone of the opposite gender made it all the more enticing, as this was a time of Internet ignorance; long before Chris Hansen showed us that the thirteen-year-old girl a pervert thought he was talking to was actually a cop, people naturally assumed the person you were interacting with was exactly who they said they were.

In retrospect, we were indeed very naïve.

The following passage is about my time being stalked, and it takes place within Chapter Eight: An Attraction to the Idea of Me

The segment has been edited for length, and picks up as I begin to understand just exactly what I have gotten myself into regarding the mysterious woman from the Internet…

*  *  *

Two weeks later I received a female condom in the mail. If you’ve never seen a female condom, it’s akin to a windsock at an airport; like a Magnum condom times twenty. This makes it very big, and therefore very intimidating… until you realize you do not wear the condom. No, it goes inside her, meaning every thrust you perform will involve rubbing against plastic. Basically, you’re going to be making love to a Hefty bag, which is neither enticing nor romantic.

I thought it was an odd gift, as our interactions had never been anything more than friendly. We got along easily, but never discussed any sort of sexual attraction and had never even exchanged photos. A note was attached to the condom; it read, “Save this, I’m coming to visit.” In my imagination, should this woman happen to look like, say, Jennifer Aniston, I would be in heaven. No being dummy, I did not believe fortune would smile upon me so and became cautious. I asked Pete if I should be afraid. His single word reply was, “Yes.”

[Note: in the mid-1990s Jennifer Aniston was exceedingly desirable; she had yet to wear the stench of John Mayer.]

Jean manned up first and asked for a picture of me. Playing off Pete’s chillingly brief warning, I sent a photo of me skydiving. My head was bowed and the protective, centimeter-thin helmet—a helmet obviously designed to protect my skull if my chute didn’t open and I fell 8,000 feet to the ground— this helmet hid my face in the picture. I gave no indication of my looks and did so half as a joke, half for identity protection. Jean emailed me that she loved the picture and that she had hung it in the middle of the living room she shared with four roommates. They told her I was “something special,” which scared me more than Pete’s warning. Not only did I have no idea how I was being described to deserve such a compliment, but I hadn’t really told anyone about her. There was nothing to tell. I was exchanging emails with a random woman, big whoop. To me, she was a neat correspondence with a hint of “could-be” fantasy and nothing more. But I was common knowledge to her friends? Creepy.

The condom was followed by a string of erotic messages left in my email account, each more graphic than the one before. They began to detail what she wanted to do to me and how her visit was going to be “the best night of my life.” Though several weeks had passed since I sent my picture, the favor had not yet been returned, a definite cause for alarm.

I immediately cut the number of messages I responded to in half. Where to this point I had always dropped a decent reply every time she contacted me, I now began sending short notes to roughly every third one. A detailed account of actions she was going to perform on my body would receive, “Just got home from work, got your letter, am too tired to write” in response. She used my shying away as a sign to double her efforts, and began sending two or three emails a day. Some would be violently angry, complaining about her life or job or boss, then mid-paragraph she would make the most bizarre switch into how I would rescue her from her mundane existence.

“I hate my job! Everyone I work with is stupid! I need a vacation. Can you perform oral sex for several hours in a row?” is a direct quote.

I was told my picture was masturbation material and I received a second package in my physical mailbox. Nothing sexual this time, thankfully, but instead several small, peculiar, gifts. According to the accompanying note, she thought of me when she saw each item and decided to buy and send them. One trinket was a bizarre looking plastic mug shaped like a cartoon vampire, another was a Frankenstein refrigerator magnet. As I didn’t have a particular affection for old horror movies and had never hinted to her I might, why these reminded her of me I do not know.

I decided I needed to stop being a pussy and just get everything out on the table. Where was she going with all of this, what did she look like, and what did she think we had going on?

Her reply was hesitatingly honest, and I felt somewhat ashamed.

“I am a little self-conscious because I am surrounded by women who eat red meat all the time and never exercise,” she wrote. “It wears off on me and makes me lazy.”

At the end of the note, she dropped a mini-bomb; “By the way, I’ll be visiting friends in Wisconsin in two weeks, and on December 28th we’re going to road-trip to Milwaukee to meet you. You better be home, or else…”

The “or else” was probably meant playfully, but my reaction was immediately the opposite; I felt a little threatened and told her I was going to be out of town. At the time, it was a true statement. There was a photography exhibit at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art by Andres Serrano, and several friends and I had plans to spend several days visiting the Windy City.

Jean was furious. “ASSHOLE MOTHERFUCKER BASTARD SHITBAG ASSHOLE MOTHERFUCKER” was left in my inbox the very next day. “I AM COMING TO MEET YOU WHETHER OR NOT YOU WANT ME TO, SO YOU BETTER FIND TIME FOR ME TO DO SO BEFORE I LEAVE ON SUNDAY!”

Her “How to Win Friends and Influence People” response sealed the deal. I told her my schedule was full and that there was nothing I could do about it. Because of that, I received another thrashing. I also received an oddly timed surprise. On the same day her second email of anger and spite found its way into my inbox, my actual mailbox received an envelope from her, something obviously mailed before I told her I wouldn’t be around for her visit. Gathering up great courage, Jean had finally sent her picture. The note with it read, “Just wanted to send something so you’d know who was knocking at your door when I get there.”

The picture was only her face, which was enough. As cruel as it sounds, it was a face that created the phrase, “Only a mother could love.” As much as I knew I was dealing with an easily wounded ego, I was also concerned with the tone of her emails and entirely sure I didn’t want to end up in a room alone with her.

Two weeks passed quickly, with Jean continuing to insist she was going to meet me no matter what. Unfortunately, my plans to visit Chicago fell apart, and I couldn’t think of any way to get out of town for the weekend. I picked up a couple bartending shifts at work and figured that in the least I just wouldn’t answer my door on the 28th.

As if on cue, at one o’clock that very afternoon, I was home alone, sitting in my room reading when the door buzzer went off. Someone was in the lobby. I closed my book and frowned; no one ever visited my apartment.

The door buzzed again, and as I got up cautiously the door buzzed a third time. I decided against answering, and instead walked into the living room and sat down behind a plant next to the window. From this vantage point I could see the front porch; my apartment was on the first floor, and when the person left I would know who it was. If a friend, I would knock on the window, bid them back and explain my childish behavior. If not…

The door buzzed. Two minutes had passed since the first time, meaning this person was persistent. I remained seated. Two more minutes passed filled with intermittent buzzing. I became irritated. When calling someone, how many rings do you wait before deciding no one is home? Twenty? Fifty? This was absurd. What was running through this person’s mind? “Hey, maybe someone’s home, but they’re in the shower. If I keep ringing, they’ll get out and come to the door!” I have no idea the person in the lobby was thinking.

After six minutes, the front door to the building opened. My mystery woman from South Dakota stepped out, shook her head, and walked away. As cruel as this is to say, her description of being “lazy” told only half the story. She was roughly 5’4″ and topped 250 pounds easily. I could see where the self-esteem problem came from, but the aggression that went with it is what had me on edge.

I went back to my bedroom, and moments later the door buzzer went off and was held for ten seconds. While not a long time in most cases, when listening to a door buzzer it is an eternity. I wondered if she had somehow seen me step away from the living room window?

Three short bursts filled the air, followed by silence. I began reading again and after several hours took a peek out the window. I didn’t see her waiting for me, so I made my way to my car went to work undisturbed.

After my shift, I went out with co-workers and finally returned home and went to bed around 6:00 a.m. At 9:00 a.m. my alarm went off; I was driving North for the day to visit a friend. I got up from my three-hour nap and called him, checking to make sure he was awake when the door buzzer went off. I excused myself from the phone and hung up.

Something didn’t feel right.

I took my hidden seat by the window, and waited. The door buzzer sounded repeatedly over three minutes, then paused. Moments later, I heard my neighbor’s door open; the lobby security door soon followed suit. Two seconds later the other apartment door closed and a knock came upon mine. This was not a knock used to wake a person sleeping in on New Year’s morning, but a cautious one, almost too quiet to be effective. Tapping, if you will.

It was repeated several times over the minute it took me to gently tiptoe across my creaky living room floor in order to reach the door. Once I arrived, I looked through the peephole. As sunlight was pouring in behind the figure, all I could see was a dark silhouette. It was very large, and though I couldn’t be 100% positive, who else could it be?

I stood bent over, watching every move, listening to every knock resound a mere inch from my head.

My breathing was light. The figure leaned over. It looked into the peephole from the outside and we were now watching each other separated only by two inches of wood. I had to fight back laughter over the absurdity of the situation, and I stood frozen, so no movement could be seen as she peered inside.

And then, the doorknob turned.

I looked down as it twisted…

Slowly.

Quietly.

Methodically.

This wasn’t a person casually entering a room. Someone was testing waters here, easing their big toe in to check for warmth. The knob reached its crescent and paused. Gentle pressure was applied, and the door creaked in my ear. Someone wanted in. The door moved a millimeter, was halted by the lock, held in place a moment, then relaxed. I returned to the peephole.

The figure stood with slumped shoulders, a defeated pose. Its head looked up and to the side, as if in thought. It retreated into the light and was exposed; though there had been little doubt, it was indeed Jean, and I watched as she looked out the lobby door, back at my apartment, and ultimately left.

I got dressed in twenty seconds and left out the back, un-showered and unconcerned by that stinky fact.

*   *   *

Interested in reading more?

I Was a White Knight… Once is available on the Amazon Kindle, the Barnes & Noble Nook, as a Paperback, and in iBooks.

www.nathantimmel.org

HAL SPARKS INTERVIEW

Rooftop Comedy Productions is proud to announce the release of Hal Sparks’ Escape from Halcatraz. Recorded at the legendary Cobb’s Comedy Club in San Francisco, Halcatraz showcases Hal’s knack for hilarious voice work and takes you on a whirlwind tour from Ozzy Osbourne’s stint on American Idol to the very non-sexy appeal of a man with a Kentucky accent. Rooftop pal Nathan Timmel interviewed Hal to talk Peter Gabriel, the best comedy venues, and the greater role comics play in society.

If you understand the world of promotion, the spark behind an interview is tied to a product or pitch from the interviewee. The interviewer is supposed to mention the product (or pitch) as much as possible in order to drill the thought “Must purchase” into the reader’s head.

That stated, I, Nathan Timmel am a very bad interviewer. Instead of talking exclusively about his new CD release—Escape from Halcatraz—I spent most of my time talking with Hal Sparks about the concept of art, the role of comedy in society, and wandering down needless tangents involving Bloom County and the Billy and the Boingers single placed in one of the old books. In fact, when he not only played with my Peter Gabriel reference in the first question, but took it one step further by referencing Peter Gabriel live stage performances, I knew I was going to enjoy our time on the phone.

So, instead of saying repeatedly “Go buy the Hal Sparks CD!”, this interview is an end-around. Hopefully, by offering a bit of insight as to who Hal Sparks is as a person, there’s a good chance you’ll obtain a sense of who he is on stage, what his comedy is like, and therefore want to buy the CD after all.

Hopefully it all works out in the end.

NT: Your new CD release, Escape from Halcatraz, has the same title as your 2008 DVD release. Are you employing the Peter Gabriel method of artistic expression, where your product will all have the same name in order to confuse outsiders? [Peter Gabriel named his first 4 CDs the same]

HS: Yes. [Laughs] Actually, this is the first time that special has been available on CD, so I’m not actually putting out multiple projects with the same title, it’s just the CD of the DVD. I’m sorry it’s not more complicated than that, because, ironically, most of the things I do are to be as much like Peter Gabriel as possible. In fact, my next special will be done through a phone receiver as I walk on a treadmill.

NT: And then you’ll bring your daughter in to harmonize with you as you tell your jokes.

HS: While riding a bike upside-down on the ceiling, yes. For the record: Peter Gabriel concerts? Awesome. I think the Cirque Du Soleil people ripped him off. They were sitting around, thinking, “Can you sing? I can’t sing, but I can do all the theatrical stuff!”

NT: [Laughs] Well, since this is a re-release, that makes me ignorant of many of the specifics. Talk about the special you recorded, and what buyers are getting.

HS: This is my first special; I self-produced it. It was recorded at Cobb’s Comedy Club in San Francisco, which is one of my—if not my single favorite—club in the country. I’ve been going there for years, and the audiences are just so smart there that I knew if I needed to tape something, there would be no delay between the smart punchlines and the laughter. Like, if you do the same joke in another room, they’ll still laugh at it, but there’s a delay between the punchline and the laughter, because they might not get it right away. Taping a special, you need the audience to be right there with you; you can’t wait around for them to figure it out.

NT: Unless you wanted to hire a very precise editor: “OK, we need to take out 3 seconds here, 3 seconds here…”

HS: Exactly, too much work.

NT: Since you mentioned having a favorite club, let’s talk about that. Now that you have a name for yourself, do you prefer working clubs—“This is where I got my start, it’s real and raw comedy”—or do you like theaters, where there’s no last call or a check being dropped during a punchline?

HS: There are still certain clubs I love to do because of how they’re laid out, and how they treat the performers… Obviously Cobb’s, Flappers in Burbank is that way… but truthfully, I do prefer the 800 to 1,000 seat theaters, because the audience is there for a reason; they’re invested in the show. No one dragged them there, they didn’t get a free ticket or it just happens to be “comedy night” at a place; they’re there because they bought the ticket, and they know what I’m about. In so far as being able to experiment as a performer, and go out on a limb, it’s much better when you have a room full of people who aren’t trying to flag down a waiter and who are already interested in what I’m going to do.

NT: God, we could go off on such a tangent here that I probably wouldn’t put in the interview [I have, but I’ve edited it like a TV movie: for time, space, and content], you talk about going out on a limb and experimenting: how do you feel about the fine line between experimenting and getting your words and thoughts out there vs. the fact people have paid to laugh and not hear someone rant their beliefs into a microphone?

HS: That’s actually a “conflict” I’m very comfortable with. Laughter is the dynamic that makes stand-up special, because otherwise you’re just a philosopher hoping people are interested in what you’re saying. If they’re not, you’ll lose them. That’s why I think that if you’re doing stand-up, comedy is job one; it’s not a compromise to go for laughs. If you’re doing something else, it’s performance art, which is totally cool, but it’s not comedy. I enjoy the concept of going, “OK, here’s an idea I have, and here’s an important point socially that I think needs to be made… how do I make it funny?”

It’s like being an artist, and saying, “I paint paintings, and within the ‘confines’ of this canvas, I can do anything I want; I can go anywhere.” I think the same thing goes for comedy, except the canvas is laughter. As long as I’m getting laughter, it allows me to go however deep I want into any psychological or spiritual area and hold on to people. Where if you’re just philosophizing, their minds will wander.

NT: Or they’ll start to think about why they disagree with you, or why you’re wrong…

HS: Exactly. In the most recent show I did in Edinburgh, Scotland, I ended the show with a bit about a Jewish person and a Palestinian in a cave coming to the conclusion, “You know, we’re a lot alike.” And I almost wanted to avoid the joke because the conflict has been going on so long, and on a socio-political level the joke could be the equivalent of “Dogs and Cats are different” or “Men and Women are different.” But, at the same time, is there a responsibility on the performer to gain a new perspective on it? Obviously the conflict hasn’t been solved, so if you create a bit that doesn’t take one side or the other and you make jokes that ridicule the whole thing you actually do help—in a way—to chip away at the reasons for the fight.

NT: I would agree with all of that, and go one further that even if you are re-treading old ground or doing a “Men and Women are different” joke, as long as you bring your personality and perspective to it, you can give the bit some vitality and originality.

[Interviewers note: I brought up Doug Stanhope much earlier in the interview, and then Hal and I went down what would be several pages of transcribed paths were I to have included all our ramblings about him, Carlin, Eddie Izzard, and comedy with commentary.]

HS: Exactly, you brought up Doug a while ago—and while I should be promoting my own stuff, I love the art of stand-up comedy so I don’t care and love talking about this—Doug has a bit about politicians running on getting the unemployment rate down, and wondering where the guy running on 100% unemployment is. Where’s the politician saying “Let robots do it! Spend more time with your family!” And while a lot of comics are talking about the economic climate right now, that’s Doug bringing his own unique voice to it. And I talk about economic and job frustration in my act and on Halcatraz, and do so from my point of view and using my voice.

NT: Which goes all the way back to the idea of the comedian as the court jester, who poked fun at serious subjects and at the king in order to get a message across, but with a feather-touch, so to speak.

HS: Yes, and it’s becoming clearer and clearer that in America, a vast majority of people are not seeking democracy; they’re seeking individual kingdoms. They want to sit in their TV-chair thrones, with their remote control scepters, and change channels, going: “Off with his head, off with his head” until they find something they like, then watch that until they grow bored and “Off with his head…” As a stand-up comedian, it’s your responsibility to call attention to that so it doesn’t grow out of control. You get people to laugh at themselves, that they not take themselves too seriously.

NT: I would agree with everything you said, except for one part where you said it’s becoming more and more obvious, or clearer and clearer about how “Now this is happening…” I think people have a tendency to say “It’s worse now than it’s ever been,” when in fact it was probably fairly bad in the past, we just tend to gloss over the negatives in history and paint it as a shining example of “When things were better”.

HS: Oh, sure. I’m not a big believer in “The past is better than the present.” I just think that because of the comfort level we have today, there’s a good segment of society that says, “Well now I can have everything I need, I don’t need anyone else.” They fail to remember how inter-connected we all really are.

NT: OK, that I agree with; I think I confused your point of “We have more access to apathy now than before” with what I thought you had said.

HS: Because we live as “kings” more than we ever have… I mean, 600 years ago, ice cream was a near-impossibility for over 80% of the populace. Now you can barely drive a block-and-a-half without seeing some form of it. A lot of life is the normalizing of experiences; we take it for granted.

NT: And to take your historical example and modernize it: 10 years ago having a plasma-screen TV would mean you were rich; today everyone has one. So, let’s try and take the fact that how we’re speaking right now will give people a good sense of who you are and how you think—now that they have that foundation, describe your comedy to someone who hasn’t seen you. You’re obviously intelligent and well-spoken; take the “armchair king” we’ve been talking about, someone who might think you’re just going to be speaking over his head, and draw him in.

HS: Well, that’s my job, isn’t it? I take things that are of “higher concept” and boil them down to their most palatable and understandable version. It’s not my job to be the encyclopedia, I’m the Cliff’s Notes; I don’t end the conversation, I start it.  While my stand-up isn’t political in nature, it can’t not affect politics, and while I’m not sociological in nature, it can’t not have a sociological effect. I’m basically deconstructing your life in a way that if somebody else did it, you might get mad at them. But in the way I do it, you go, “He’s doesn’t mean any ill will.” So I’ll go from the sublime to the mundane, all in order to progress the conversation a little bit.  A lot of what Halcatraz is about is ego; about how completely full of shit we allow ourselves to be, myself included—when you see the opening and ending, and how they tie together, that will make more sense.

Escape from Halcatraz is currently available on iTunes.