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An Interview with Jordan Brady, Director of I AM COMIC

Years ago, when I met the woman who became my eventual wife, when describing me to her family she stated quite matter-of-factly that I was a Stand Up Comedian.  Her mother, bless her heart, responded with a curious confusion: “Well that’s nice.  What does he do for a living?”

At my 20th high school reunion, many of my former peers were intrigued by my profession, and somewhat wistfully wondered whether or not they had chosen the right life path by getting a standard, nine-to-five job.

I mention both of those moments because each shows how little the outside world knows about the world of comedy, or the life a comic lives. The stand up comic is a rare breed of person that if not validated by the television, doesn’t seem to exist to people. Regarding my (now) wife’s mother, as I was not famous, she didn’t believe it was possible to survive by slinging jokes from the stage. Regarding my once classmates, they were not aware of the amount of effort it takes to both hone your craft and get work doing it.

Stand up comedy is rarely seen as an art form; a musician may garner respect for his songs, but many people believe that all you have to do in order to become a comedian is just stand on stage. Charlie Sheen recently discovered the error of that assumption with the failure of his Torpedo of Truth tour (the natural irony being his tag was “Failure is not an option,” and yet the tour was been considered a failure on near every level).

Fortunately, Jordan Brady is out to change the preceding stereotypes of comedy, and is doing so in the form of a documentary. I Am Comic is a film that exposes the masses to a glimpse behind the wizard’s curtain; from the unknown to the famous, comedians are interviewed and share insights into their lives and world. A former (and perpetually part-time) comic himself, Jordan wanted to show the world what comedy meant to him and how at times being a comic felt like being in the mafia (“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in…”).

Rooftop set interviewer Nathan Timmel to dig into Jordan’s brain, and after several trips to the dentist (by Nathan, damn my feeble teeth) waylaid plans to speak on the phone, they were finally able to connect via email.

NT: How much footage did you shoot; meaning how much ended up on the cutting room floor?

JB: I shot over 200 hours of stuff.  It pains me that some great young comics are didn’t make it.  Sean Patton, Anthony Jeselnik. Even the always funny Kathleen Madigan didn’t make it, but she’s on the DVD.  The first assembly of material was 2.5 hours long.  I was riveted, but that’s really obnoxiously indulgent.

NT: I saw the movie streaming on Netflix; does (or will) the DVD/Blu Ray have extra scenes/interviews?

JB: YES! The DVD is out and has killer bonus stuff.  Todd Glass & Larry Miller sharing a hell gig at a Prom (which is free on iTunes now), More Sarah Silverman & Kathy Griffin, and a song about “Merch” sung by yours truly.

NT: How long did you travel and shoot footage?

JB: I spent 8 months shooting.  After 5 months, we edited as we went.  I made the film between directing commercials, which is my trade.

NT: How much time did you spend with each interviewee?

JB: Anywhere between 10 to 20 minutes.  Some bigger names were longer.  Jeff Foxworthy was so gracious to have us in his studio.  Sarah Silverman had me to her set.  And Roseanne, one of the most intriguing comics, went for an hour.  Louis CK on for a while too, just chilling and chatting with us, which was very cool.  On a sad note, Bobby Slayton, who always kills, spoke one run-on sentence for 24 minutes.  He’s in the film for 8 seconds… but he gets a laugh.

NT: Who was your biggest “get” that you may or may not have expected to land, and who would you say your biggest miss was?

JB: My biggest “get” for comedy fans has got to be Louis CK.  He shared his process and it was insightful and unique.  Funny thing, I’ve not heard from him since that cherished interview.  Personally, I’m a huge Wayne Federman fan, so watching him write behind the scenes for Jimmy Fallon was a treat.  Wayne also played “Ronnie the Roster” in my flop “Waking Up in Reno.”

I also cherish the fact that Phyllis Diller is in the movie.  She’s a comedian to her core.

The biggest “miss” was Dave Chappelle.  I stalked him, and knew him before he blew up.  Aziz Ansari was going to let us go backstage at his Comedy Channel taping, but it got pulled the day of.  Do they still call it the Comedy Channel?

[Interviewer's note:  nope, it's Comedy Central]

NT: Ritch Shydner’s return to the stage became the accidental narrative arc to the documentary; what theme did it supplant? What was your intent going in?

JB: By the way, I love your questions.  Ritch’s arc is so emotional for anyone that’s done comedy.  Inititally, I wanted to do “Build-A-Comic”: a spoof of “Last Comic Standing” sorta.  We were planning a showcase for a newish comic.  The winner would get two weeks of gigs all over NYC, some cash and a place to stay.  I’d end with a showcase for “The Late Show with David Letterman.”

Comedian Eddie Brill, who is also in the film, books comics on “Letterman.”  He allowed us to shoot his showcases, which was great footage.  But when I saw had badly Ritch Shydner missed performing, giving jokes to comedians, I knew that was a unique storyline.  I gave Ritch 6 weeks to write a new 6 minutes.  Just before his first time up (at the Liquid Zoo Open Mic – a true Hell Gig!)  I said, “Ritch, if you kill it will be good for the doc… and if you bomb, it’ll be great for the doc.”  He did great!

NT: Is Ritch still performing today?

JB: Absolutely! Ritch Shyder is headlining clubs, and has ever since we wrapped.  He lives and breathes stand-up and clawed back to the top faster than anyone could dream of.  He’s one of my favorite comics to watch live, because he always goes off on a mad riff. And by mad, I mean madcap.

NT: During the explanation of Steve Royce’s Comedy Evaluator Pro, the line “Listens Politely” showed up on screen. Was anything edited? I’m wondering if the machine was showed to any comics, and then discussed/debunked?

JB: You are a clever one. Ritch Shydner wanted to lambaste Steve’s invention!  I asked Ritch to be polite.  You can see him biting his tongue.  It’s a pretty goofy program, but I must say, it’s Comedy Evaluator Pro – a step up from Comedy Evaluator Lite.

NT: The awkward question: Seeing Giraldo and Schimmel… Was there a sense of unhappiness from Giraldo? His Larry the Cable Guy roast was a true moment of honesty and pain.

JB: Schimmel knew what he was battling with, and you can see it in his eyes.  He’s so calm.  Greg I’ve known since he got his first deal.  My first wife was his agent, she took him to Montreal, so I have followed his career since then.  He was so nice and gracious.  Troubled?  Not that much more than many comics I know.  Obviously he was struggling.  He is missed.

NT: How did you determine the mix you were going to use of celebrity and (relatively) unknown comics?

JB: The film is about working comedians.  So I felt compelled to cover the spectrum fairly with the access I had. And I’m proud of the balance.  I could edit an entire film comparing & contrasting Sarah Silverman & Jeff Foxworthy. And it’d be funny!

NT: What has been the comic reaction to Carlos Mencia admitting flat out he will steal?

JB: It’s odd.  Carlos had some interesting views on being a stand-up, but the stealing thing overshadows it all.  Marc Maron saw the film when we screened up at the Bridgetown Comedy Festival, and then had him on his popular WTF podcast.  When anyone puts the “I Am Comic” clip of Carlos on youtube, it instantly gets 40,ooo hits.  Some think he’s bullshitting, some think he’s admitting to it.  I see him as wanting to move on.  Joe Rogan made it his mission.  I just asked Carlos if he wanted to address the accusations out there, and you see his response.

NT: Marijuana was a fairly prevalent theme across many comics; some people seemed to be joking uncomfortably about their use; others were unashamed.  Did you find more comics using drugs/alcohol as a muse, or as a method of maintaining the high of the stage after their performance had ended?

JB: Marijuana (aka Mary Jane, Refer, Weed, Pot) can fuel creativity as well as keep a high going.  I quit smoking pot altogether… because the pot-cookies are readily available.  Yes, the pot & the booze keep the high going.  I did a mere 7 minutes at a benefit the other night, and was rev’d up from the high of getting laughs.  The tendency is to keep the buzz going, get higher baby.  With a dark mind, comes dark habits.

Pot also quells ADD and OCD, I find.  That said, many top comics abstain and have the disipline to write & perform without anything.  God Bless them.

I Am Comic is indeed available for purchase, and can be found HERE.

Enjoy.

Mike Merryfield Interview

Mike Merryfield is a man at ease with who he is.  A father of two—four years for one child, seven months for the other—Mike is no longer trying to impress anyone; he’s just interested in being honest when on stage. This approach, combined with a likability factor that lets the audience in on his jokes, has allowed Mike to excel in the world of comedy.

Nathan Timmel dialed Mr. Merryfield up and they chatted about his third CD, “Cupcakes & Potpourri,” now available on the Rooftop label.

NT: How many years has it been since your last CD?

MM: It’s been at least five years since I’ve put anything out; the last release was a double-album, where I crammed like two hours of material on to the disc. In the past two years, I’ve written like a ton of new stuff, and when Rooftop approached me with the idea of putting out a new disc I was just ready. I think this one is right around forty-five minutes, and while it’s the same style as the last release, you know how it is, the longer you’re a comedian, the better you get at it. Your skills improve. So, the two hours I have out there on itunes I’m proud of, but this new release is what I really think represents who I am as a comedian. It’s more my “comedic voice.” You know how they say you’ll find your voice as a comedian? I think I’ve found it.

NT: How would you describe your voice and how it has changed over the years?

MM: I think in the beginning I was acting how I thought a comedian should act on stage. I was being all “quirky” and “clever” and just trying to be this character that wasn’t me. It was kind of an extension of me, but it was more or less acting. Even the way I wrote, to re-tell those old jokes really took acting. I wasn’t writing for myself, I was writing for the type of comedian I thought I wanted to be, which didn’t make any sense because the whole reason I got into comedy was to just be me on stage. I probably spent the first seven/eight years of my career trying to be a “funny comedian,” but in the past four years I’ve given up on that and am just myself on stage, which is what I should have been doing all along. I wish someone would have told me in the beginning, “Hey, just be yourself.” Because now that I get that, it makes it easier to write. I don’t have to add anything to what I think; I just get an idea, take it up on stage and start working it out, and if it’s not funny, it’s not funny. But the point is, as I test these ideas, I’m real to the audience, because I’m not doing these over-rehearsed bits that have to be said in the same order, with the same inflection, just to get a laugh. I think comedy crowds can tell the difference between something rehearsed and something honest.

NT: OK, now I want to challenge you, because of a conversation we had years ago: I know Doug Stanhope influenced you, not in content of material, but in the delivery of it.  You told me that after you saw him the first time, you walked away from it just blown away because you believed he made the entire act up on the spot, because it sounded so natural and fresh. Then you heard him again a few months later and it was the same exact bits, but they still sounded natural, fresh, and made up entirely on the spot, because he did use the exact same inflections and stuttering pauses.  Then you buy his CD, and it’s again the same material, with the same pauses, but it still sounded like the very first time he’d said any of it.

MM: I think he’s so good because of the way he words everything. There’s your standard, “set up/punchline” jokes that the old-school comics—Jerry Seinfeld and so on—tell. Doug, and Louis C.K. is another one who has inspired me, is more a storyteller. Neither of them is doing “bits,” they’re telling stories. And maybe they’re telling them the same way each time, but that’s the genius of it. I mean, I had been doing comedy for two or three years by the time I saw Doug, so I knew the game, I knew guys went up on stage and did the same old crap over and over, because that’s all I had seen at that point.  And then I saw Doug and, yeah, was blown away, because it looked and sounded so natural.  Again, I thought he had made it all up, the whole hour. With Louis C.K. it was the same thing; the first time I saw him was on Conan. I didn’t know who he was back then, but he was sitting on the panel, being interviewed. I had turned it on in the middle and was drawn in because he was hilarious. At the end, Conan said, “Comedian Louis C.K.,” which I thought was cool. Four months later, I was working at the Comedy Café in Milwaukee, with Louis C.K., and there he was on stage, and he’s doing the same stuff as he was on Conan. I was just blown away, because I thought the stuff on Conan was just made up for that; interview material. He performed it so fluidly and flawlessly that it looked like it was off the top of his head each time; both on Conan and then months later on stage. So, both of them inspired me to just be more myself, and to tell stories more than do “bits.” Be less rehearsed, be less set up/punchline, don’t try to be more clever than anyone in the room—[laughs]—because I’m not a clever person, but I think for a while I was trying to act clever on stage.

NT: So would you say then you have become a storyteller comic because of them, or that they made you realize you could talk about your thoughts and ideas more than just sitting down and saying, “OK, I need to write a bit about the president, or whatever is in the news right now”?

MM: Oh yeah, I’m way more personal now than I ever used to be. Which is something the greats say all the time, that if you write about yourself, because then you can’t be accused of stealing, and no one can steal from you, because they’re your thoughts, and your ideas. And sure, these days I’m talking more about my kids than ever before, but that’s my life and where I’m at. I do try not to do all kid or all family shows, because I know there are people in the audience without kids and who don’t give a shit about my kids, though. My thing is, I try to take each show as an individual event. I don’t necessarily have a forty-five minute set I do each time, where each joke has to go in a specific order. I do that because it challenges me, and makes everything seem more fresh. If I don’t even know what joke comes next, that makes the show more interesting; less rehearsed.

NT: Back to the CD: did you record one or multiple shows?

MM: I actually bought recording equipment about a year ago, all the mics and everything needed for a professional release, and I would play it back and edit it on my mac. So I’ve actually been recording all my shows for the past six or eight months with the full intention of putting something together, and I did have one great show set aside that I planned on using. Then I was in Appleton and had a really, really good set on Saturday, the early show. I wasn’t too dirty, I wasn’t too clean, it was like the perfect set, and I got every bit in that I wanted to, so the CD then turned out to be that one show, in one take. I maybe chopped off five or six minutes; jokes I didn’t want to repeat from the other disc, and you have to take out the merch pitch, but other than that I got really lucky.

Cupcakes & Potpourri is available for download now.

Hari Kondabolu Interview

Comedian Hari Kondabolu has appeared on John Oliver’s New York Stand-Up Show, Jimmy Kimmel Live, and Live at Gotham, but on February 11th, he’s hitting even bigger marks: his very own Comedy Central Presents.

Nathan Timmel shot Hari some questions via email, and after snafus involving spam filters, received these insightful answers…

NT:   You have a strong educational background; what pulled you towards artistic expression, specifically comedy?

HK:  I’ve been writing jokes since I was 16 and I first did stand-up at my high school when I was 17, so comedy has been a part of my life for quite some time. Making people laugh was always the biggest rush I got as a kid and since I wasn’t athletically gifted or had any musically talent, comedy seemed like the only reasonable thing for me to do given my skill set. I dabbled in poetry for a bit in high school too, but when people started laughing at my heartfelt scribbles about teenage longing and unrequited love…my direction was clear. I mean, as I got older and my world view started to develop, I started seeing the power of standup as a way to express frustration and create a unique experience for myself and the audience that was not only funny, but potentially powerful for those who could relate to what I was talking about.

NT:  How would you describe your comedic style to someone who has never seen you?

HK:  I like to play between the space between discomfort and laughter. I like long set-ups that build to something. I’m most interested in the big topics like racism, religion, sexism, colonialism…etc…and the ways even small day-to-day things could have larger implications and a history. Actually, as I type this, I realize that this will not help anyone who has not seen me perform to imagine what I do on stage. Don’t they have e-mail? I’ll just send them a clip of my stuff. Probably the bit about Cocoa Butter or the ridiculousness of Mexican stereotypes.

NT:  Did you bring an overall theme to your Comedy Central Special, airing on Feb. 11th?

HK:  I think the special I taped didn’t have a clear theme, but did show my range. There was definitely a lot of discussion or race, religion and the environment and some weirder stuff too. Again, no firm theme, but I felt it was a strong collection of material. I’m looking forward to seeing how 40 minutes of tape was edited for television.

NT:  You keep a blog; is it for comedy, other thoughts, both, or neither?

HK:  The blog on my webpage (http://www.harikondabolu.com) does a little bit of everything. It used to be primarily for essays and rants, but it’s turning more into a place where I post pictures and videos I’ve made. I do sometimes use the space to write about things I find funny or interesting and want to discuss in greater detail than jokes generally allow.

NT:   You’ve written/produced a short film—Manoj. Is writing/acting where you see your career heading?

HK:  I’m definitely interested in film and television, especially the writing aspect. I don’t get too many opportunities to act, but I’m collaborating with someone whose on the same page, it can be extremely rewarding. I don’t know where my career is heading exactly, but I definitely plan to keep writing a variety of things and performing.

NT:  What are the best and worst aspects about performing live?

HK:  When you have an audience that gets what you are doing, it’s pretty incredibly. Your frustrations feel validated. You feel like all the work is paying off. You feel like you’re not alone in the world and people are seeing what you’re seeing and are appreciating what you’ve just contributed to their lives. You feel free up there and are able to talk off the cuff and let the jokes fall where they may. When there is a disconnect with an audience, either because your point of view and style is not connecting…or they are extremely drunk, and it’s a struggle up there or 20, 30, 40 minutes…you being to ask yourself existential questions like “What am I doing? Why am I here? Am I living a life worth living? Socrates felt “an unexamined life is not worth living.” All I do is examine my life and then share it on stage. This is a good thing? Didn’t they kill Socrates for doing this? I bet, no one in this little basement knows who Socrates is.”

The Beards of Comedy Tour

Four comics. One van. Twelve shows in twelve days. The Beards of Comedy have an ambitious start to their 2011. Starting January 19th in Portales, New Mexico and ending January 30th in Seattle, Washington, they will cover nearly 3,000 miles over those twelve days. Not bad for a troupe based in the south.

Rooftop is helping sponsor the tour, and therefore had Nathan Timmel speak with Joe Zimmerman about beards, comedy, and life on the road.

NT: First off, we met in Duluth, Minnesota, years ago, correct?

JZ: Yeah… I think there were two nights to the run; one night in Wausau, Wisconsin, and then Duluth. We may have done a Thursday, but I don’t remember.

NT: Neither do I, really. Good times. You said you just got your first Mac, and are excited. I’ve edited two CDs on my Mac; did you get one to start doing your own production?

JZ: Absolutely. I can do more with video, audio… scriptwriting.  And I really want to get into podcasting. Marc Maron’s podcast really got me hooked.

NT: Now, generally when you see a packaged tour—The Pot Smokers of Comedy, the Latin Comics, and so on—you get a series of comics who go up and speak redundantly about the same topics. I’m not sure anyone expects four comics in a row to go up and promote beard humor, so give me a quick rundown for the four different comedic styles of the members of The Beards of Comedy.

JZ: The overall concept is basically that of an indie music tour, because we’re sort of DIY and not always playing traditional comedy venues. That being said, we don’t pride ourselves on alternative comedy or anything. Andy [Sandford] is very smart, quick witted and sarcastic. A lot of good one liner type stuff, if you like Shane Moss type humor, but Andy does have his own voice.  Dave [Stone] has got a sort of this “flavor of the South, who hates being from the south,” so he has a very interesting perspective on growing up in Georgia. He’s a people’s favorite, as his material is original and unique, it appeals to people of all gender and race. TJ [Young] is clever; he’s the wordsmith of the group. If you ever have a conversation with TJ he’s bound to throw a bunch of puns at you, which then everyone makes fun of him for, but he’s just about as good as it gets when it comes to wordplay. Me? I’m just a goofy, silly, happy-go-lucky/absent-minded professor type.  I always come out and open the show with some banter, then come back later and actually do a set.  We all basically try our best to be original, and stay on the intelligent side of the spectrum.

NT: Who dreamed up The Beards of Comedy, and, and I mean this with all due respect, how much marijuana was involved? Did you all get together and decided to grow beards, or did four bearded comics decide to band together as a unit?

JZ: It was more the latter. We were all friends, and three of them already had beards. We were all a part of the Atlanta scene, and about two-and-a-half years ago, I said purely as a joke that they should tour as ‘The Beards of Comedy.’ A few months later, I realized that these were guys I did want to tour with, and that I could probably grow a beard and join them. We didn’t use the name for marketing reasons; we don’t tend to market ourselves to beard groups or anything beard related like that. The name is more a front, and a way to name the tour.

NT: Well, this brings to mind two questions: are there beard related groups you could market to if you wanted to? And when you decided to grow your beard, did the four of you sit down and discuss the different styles of beard you would all represent? Meaning, did one person get assigned ‘The Amish,’ and another ‘The Grizzly Adams,’ and so forth. Do you present your tour as representing four unique, disparate, beard flavors?

JZ: See, that’s a great idea. We really have not capitalized on any beard marketing. Where TJ would be the ‘sweet’ beard, and Dave the ‘angry’ beard.

NT: Like a boy band, where they have the lover, the bad boy… everyone plays a role.

JZ: I almost feel like we should do that, so the people remember us individually, but I believe we’re all almost too self-conscious to actually be labeled like that. I mean, I would be the ‘sexy’ beard probably–*laughs*–and I would be too embarrassed to call myself that.

NT: Now, has the group ever been confused… has anyone ever heard “The Beards of Comedy” and thought, “Oh, this must be a group of women married to gay men?”

JZ: We haven’t been confused as that so much as we’ve had women who have gone on dates with gay men ask to be a part of the group, and we’ve had some of them sit in with us on occasion.

NT: Talk about the tour you’re embarking on; where can people see you this month?

JZ: This is our West Coast Tour, January 19th through the 30th. We’re going to be in ten different cities in twelve nights, cool venues with us stuffed into a van in between the shows. Rooftop is kindly helping sponsor us, and we’re hoping to see some of those folks in San Fran.

NT: Are you planning on recording the tour? Either a second CD for the group, or a DVD of shows and the trip; a documentary with comedy as a part of it?

JZ: We’re going to do a daily blog from the van, and a daily podcast from the van. If not daily for the podcast, frequently. We’ll have a journalist from Atlanta Magazine coming along with us and who is going to be writing up an article on us and the tour. Right now we don’t have any plans to record a CD or DVD, but I’d love to. I’d love to record and document what we’re doing, but right now it’s hard coordinating all the travel arrangements without having to think of recording on top of it.

You can find all the tour dates for The Beards of Comedy HERE.

Sebastian Comedy Retreat, Florida 2011

By Nathan Timmel


The Sebastian Comedy Retreat is a gathering of stand-up comics, managers, club owners, agents and entertainment industry professionals that takes place in Vero Beach, Florida January 9th – 15th, 2011. Participants can focus on their goals and objective of their careers in a peaceful and restorative setting. Workshops, parties, showcases, skill building conferences along with outdoor activities that allow attendees to gain priceless insight and spark more industry relationships. Rooftop correspondent and Iowa based comedian Nathan Timmel had a few questions for retreat director Victoria Jackson.

Rooftop:   How many years have you been offering this retreat for comedians?

VJ:   This is our first year for this retreat and we are working hard to make this first year a successful, entertaining, and worthwhile, so that we may continue to do this every year and grow bigger and bigger as the word and laughter spreads throughout the country.

Rooftop:   The retreat seems a generous mix of business and pleasure; what would you say the breakdown is between the two?

VJ:     Not only will this retreat break down the fundamentals for beginner comics or those veterans looking to gain and create new material but to meet others, network there talent and to have fun. You will get to showcase your work, talk to veteran comics and agents in the business. We have a lot of events throughout the week that comics can sign up for such as a Kayak River Tour, a day out on the beautiful Indian River and Atlantic Ocean for a day of fishing. We also offer a March Harbor, Bahamas Day Trip, which is a beautiful get away for those who live in the cold weather. We will have a Cocktail reception along with a party at Waldo’s Restaurant on the beach where the comics and residents of the area will get to mix and mingle.

Rooftop:    What can comedians expect to get out of their weekend in Florida?
Read more »

Keith Alberstadt Interview

Interview by Nathan Timmel.


Comedy is an interesting business of strangers. You cross paths with someone, become tight, good friends for a weekend, and then forget about them Monday morning as you head off to the next town. That encapsulates the relationship I had with Keith Alberstadt. I remembered meeting him, remembered liking and getting along with him and having a lot of fun, but for the life of me could not remember where all this occurred or when it happened.

When I called Keith to catch up and discuss his new CD, It’s Pronounced “Jenkins”, he was at a car wash in Tennessee, getting ready for a week at Zanies. Sadly, he couldn’t remember where we met, either.

NT: Let’s start with the title.

KA: It’s Pronounced “Jenkins” will make sense to anyone that sees my act or buys the CD, and I called it that because it’s indicative of my smart-ass personality.  The bit is: I called a customer service rep, and she was having problems with my name, so at one point I said, “It’s pronounced Jenkins.” She replied, “It says here Albert…” and I said, “Yes, I know it says Alberstadt, it’s pronounced Jenkins.” She bought it, and called me Mr. Jenkins for the rest of the conversation, which I found hilarious. It became a story that I used in my act, but honestly started out as a sort of throwaway when I first told it. It kept getting huge laughs, and ended up becoming a staple.

NT: How many shows did you record?

KA: We actually didn’t do a whole lot of editing; it was pretty much recorded in one night. I know a lot of comics like to splice together—I’m not going to throw any comics under the bus, because I’m guilty of doing the same thing in the past, where you take a bunch of shows and splice together bits from different nights—but this time I just picked one night, one show, and just ran with it. Didn’t do a whole lot of editing at all.

One thing I’m really happy about with this CD is the military tracks. I was able to record my shows overseas, I think it was in 2007, and we were able to use the footage. Not all of it, of course, but snippets. One from a show at Doha, Qatar, two from Iraq, and one from an aircraft carrier, where we did a show for the sailors. It’s military specific material, from that environment, so anyone in uniform is gonna get it. Civilians probably aren’t, but that’s what makes this CD unique, those four bonus tracks, for the people in uniform. It was from my third tour to the Middle East.

NT: So by that time you had learned some of the military lingo, and were sort of planning ahead by brining the camera and recording the shows, because you could do jokes specific to that crowd and knew it was a special event to be participating in.

KA: Absolutely. That’s exactly what happened. I knew I would have another CD coming out, and I wanted something to make it special. I went out and did my research and got a quality hand-held recorder from a guitar shop and just recorded everything.

NT: You said you wanted to make this one special; what number CD is this for you?

KA: This is my third CD. My first one was in 2003, it’s not available anymore, and the second, One Night Stand was in 2004. As you can imagine there was a lot of overlap between the two. This third one, “It’s Pronounced Jenkins,” is completely new and different, so I’m keeping One Night Stand in print so people can buy both and not bitch about hearing the same jokes. [Laughs]

NT: You sort of hit on my next question; I was going to ask how long it took you to come up with the material for this disc, but if the last one was 2004, are we looking at six years of writing and honing bits to perfection?

KA: For the most part, yeah. I’d say 90% yeah. But there’s always a joke or two that comes out that isn’t as crisp as it will be a year from now, but when you’re having fun with the moment, you keep it genuine.

NT: So, here’s the tough one: describe your comedy to someone who’s never heard you? Are you an observationist, a storyteller… what sparks your creativity? What compels you to write or be original?

KA: I’m pretty much a mix. I observe weird and quirky things my friends say to me, and use them in personal stories. I talk about my mom having cancer…

NT: Always a funny topic.

KA: [Laughs] Well, I talk about how you have to laugh at life, and that tomorrow is never guaranteed. It’s not a topic that people like to laugh at, but it open things up, and engages people… [pauses].

NT: It’s honest, and from the heart.

KA: Yes, but it’s also me. It’s me being a smart ass in the face of something that’s not supposed to be funny. Like a story I tell about when my mom had a black eye. She slipped she slipped and fell, and was skipping Mass because she was embarrassed. I told her she should go to Mass, and when people turn to one another to exchange a peace offering: “When dad turns to you, flinch like he’s gonna hit you again.” It’s a funny way of looking at a bad situation, and people can appreciate that in light of something so tragic, its good to have a sense of humor about it. And she’s beating it, the cancer, so there’s a very positive ending to all that.

But I’m getting off track here; to answer your original question, my style of comedy is pure, genuine smartass. It’s not antagonistic, it’s a “guy next door” sort of… [pauses]. It’s a smartass with a mischievous grin attached to it, not bare-knuckled aggression.

NT: Going back to cancer, were you aware with how Robert Schimmel dealt with it? He did a whole segment at the end of his act where he wasn’t telling jokes, he would talk about his experience in very open and honest terms.

KA: I’m very familiar with that. He would give people hope, and that’s what makes people appreciative of what we do. You let that wall down, you open yourself up a little bit, and you let them see beyond the stage. I think people walk away with that with good feelings, having seen someone allow themselves to become vulnerable.

It’s Pronounced “Jenkins” is available at itunes, on Amazon.com, and in our very own Rooftop store.

Help Bob’s Kids


I met Robert Schimmel by happy happenchance. I was booked to middle for him at the Chicago Improv, and because Robert was a fearless man, the date stuck. I say that because more often than not, when a big name comedian performs, they use an opening act they are familiar with. Sometimes this is done as a kindness to friends; often it’s because they want to make sure the person in front of them is good enough to get a few laughs without showing them up. Robert didn’t play such games. He was confident in his abilities, and knew he could follow anyone in front of him.

Robert was going through some tough times when we met; he had just discovered his wife’s infidelity, she had filed for divorce, and he’d been both arrested and gossiped about on TMZ after his wife filed assault charges (falsely) against him. Robert talked about these problems on stage in front of hundreds of people as easily as if he were having a one-on-one conversation. Unfortunately, at times like that, the stage can be like a drug. For a moment you are the most important thing in the world, but when the show ends the crash comes harshly. People go home with their wives or girlfriends, and you go back to your hotel and stare at the walls, thinking about your problems.

During that weekend in Chicago, Robert and I went out to eat after the Friday performances. Afterward, I drove him back to his hotel. I got out to help him with a bag, and the conversation we had been having continued. Despite all he was going through, Robert was focusing on the positives in life: his children. He spoke of them with warmth in his voice and love shining through in his eyes. Forty minutes later, I realized we had been standing in the parking lot, my car running the whole time. I turned it off, and we went into the lobby. We didn’t part ways until 4:30 a.m.

After that weekend, Robert would call me from time to time, checking in to see if I could work with him here or there. Sometimes I was able to; sadly I had to turn many of the weeks down, as I was already booked. Today, I wish I had spent more time with him.

I was in Iraq when the news hit the wire services: Robert had been in a car accident and was in critical condition. He passed on September 3rd. To have survived cancer and then taken out by a random event seemed too cruel for such a good person.

I recently discovered the charity Help Bob’s Kids, created for his children. When I found the website, I was heartbroken, but not surprised. I knew how much the divorce had cost him, how he had lost work over the assault scandal (which found everything ending in his favor, as he was the furthest thing from an abusive or angry person you could find; Robert was a gentle soul), and how hard he needed to work to remain solvent every month.

Charity and compassion are two of the greatest acts we can bestow upon others. This is trite, but important to point out: anything you can give to another makes a difference. Even if all you have to offer is one dollar, should ten thousand other people offer but a dollar, $10,000 is raised.

Give what you can, for any reason you choose: for karma, in the hope that someday you’ll be helped when in need, or because generosity simply feels good.

One of the most striking things Robert said to me was something you hear from many cancer survivors: “I’m blessed to have had the experience.” Though it left his body ravaged, survival was Robert’s opportunity to celebrate life, and he took nothing for granted.

He will be missed for many years to come.

Help Bob’s Kids

http://helpbob.wordpress.com/

Dylan Gadino Interview


Dylan Gadino founded Punchline Magazine in 2005 because he saw a void; stand-up comedy seemed to have no professional outlet or voice. Music had Rolling Stone and a multitude of other magazines; Movies and Television had Entertainment Weekly (and a multitude of other magazines). But no one had focused on comedy.

To celebrate Punchline Magazine’s fifth anniversary, shows are being held in New York and Los Angeles. Top-notch talent including (but not limited to) Christian Finnegan, Michael Ian Black, Greg Proops, and Maria Bamford will perform at either show, and tickets can be purchased via the web:  Los AngelesNew York

Rooftop had Nathan Timmel discuss all things Punchline with its founder, Mr. Gadino.

NT: What got you interested in comedy, and then pushing it via the magazine?

DG: I’ve never been a comedian, but I was always a huge fan of stand up comedy. Ever since my senior year in college I did a lot of freelance writing for music magazines; I had a lot of experience interviewing musicians, and writing reviews of rock albums. When I started getting sick of that I thought, ‘why not take all my experience in the entertainment industry and cover stand up comedy the same way we’ve seen music, movies, and television covered?’ That’s basically it. So, huge fan of stand up, and a huge fan of creative writing, and I just wanted to combine the two.

NT: Your background in music; do you find the saying “every musician wants to be a comedian, and every comedian wants to be a rock star” to be true?

DG: I think all that means is that rock stars are starved for attention and want to be famous, and so do comedians. I don’t know how many rock stars literally want to be comedians or how many comedians want to be rock stars, but they all want to be well respected and well liked.

NT: I sometimes wonder if it isn’t more literal; you get comedians who say ‘Oh, musicians can write a love song that gets played over and over, but no one wants to hear my masturbation joke on the radio, and I can’t dedicate a joke to a woman…” I was lucky enough to meet Dave Attell once, and when he found out I used to be in a band he said flat out, ‘Then what the hell are you doing comedy for? If I had any musical talent I wouldn’t be doing this shit.’

DG: [Laughs]

NT: Did technology play into your desire to have a comedy presence; where traditional print might not have worked, the web allowed you an opportunity?

DG: Yeah, I wanted to go online because it’s just so much easier and less expensive. There’s not as much overhead, and even five years ago it didn’t seem like a great idea to make a print version of a consumer driven magazine that covered stand up comedy.

NT: How much has your enterprise grown in the past five years?

DG: Basically, I launched the site in 2005 with a childhood friend named Bill Bergmann. We grew up on the same street, and we played in bands together. He does all the tech stuff, and always has. When we first started it was just the two of us, and maybe once in a while one of my friends would contribute a piece or two. It’s definitely grown since then, but not in a way that would provide an awesome contrast between then and now. Today it’s still me and him, plus a lot of great people I know across the country who will interview comedians and write reviews which is great, having fresh eyes and minds doing the writing and interviewing. I’ve tried to now shift my focus to managing and work on the business end of things: maintaining relationships, working with other sites, marketing… everything behind the scenes.

One big recent change is a few months ago, Salient Media, in Beverly Hills, acquired the site. I’m still running everything from an editorial side, but now there’s a bit of a machine behind the business, and hopefully within a year that will be apparent, that we’ve got some push now.

NT: You mentioned partnerships; how did your friendship with Rooftop Comedy develop?

DG: That was all MySpace. Years ago… [Pauses] Annie at Rooftop likes to say we “grew up” together. Which is true, in that we were starting around the same time, and looking to form alliances with like-minded websites. I think Will contacted me through MySpace, and we started emailing, which led to a phone call, and then five years later we’re both trying to champion stand up comedy. We’re not competitors, each site has its own focus, where they collect and disseminate the art form, and we critique and feature comedians. Today we try to cross promote one another, simply to push comedy.

NT: Which brings us to your anniversary shows, the cross promotion. You have two shows coming up to celebrate your milestone, October 5th in New York and October 11th in Los Angeles. What kept you from having multiple shows on one day, like Live Aid?

DG: [Laughs] That would have been awesome! The main thing that kept me from doing that, though, was that I wanted to be at both shows. It’s not like we have a giant office, with a bunch of people—I don’t have an assistant or anything like that—so I wouldn’t want one of the shows to happen without me there to handle complaints or problems.

NT: You’ve got a great line up; was it pretty easy to get people, just asking them if they were interested?

DG: Yeah, I mean, after doing this for five years I’ve established some good relationships, so it’s not a giant undertaking. I don’t have to go through managers or agents.. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m friends with these people; I wouldn’t want to trade on their names like that. But you meet them, exchange an email or phone call every so often, a “How’re you doing?” And then when something like this comes up you can just ask if they’re interested, and luckily a lot of them were.

NT: Talk about A Tight 5, your interview segments. The segments are edited; was there ever the thought to tell the comics up front, “This is going to be 5 minutes, so stay focused”?

DG: Well, we wanted to keep it to five minutes, because not many people are going to watch more than that online. Sure, there are probably a couple comedy nerds out there who would watch twenty-minute interviews, but generally keeping it to five minutes holds the viewers attention. I never wanted to say, “Let’s do a live five minutes, and keep it to that,” and there are a couple reasons for that. This is going to be online forever, so I wanted them to have a feel of timelessness. When you do a live interview, you’re usually really focused on what they’re promoting that week, that show or that album. What I wanted to do was give people the depth of a twenty-minute interview, in five minutes.

NT: You do sometimes post uncut interviews, and recently did with Robert Schimmel, whose loss was… just tragic.

DG: Yeah… I got to meet him twice; once at his book party, and once at the interview, and he was a nice, Zen, extremely soft-spoken person. I was surprised at how thin and frail he was.

NT: I think that was the cancer, sadly. I could never say this definitively, as I only met him after his bout with it, but I would say his Zen-like nature came from having battled that disease. He used to say that amazing phrase which was, “It was horrible, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything in the world.”

DG: I really liked him; he was gracious, and seemed genuinely interested in the interview.

NT: Do you feel like going on record and saying who your best and worst interviews were?

DG: [Pauses, laughs] Um…

NT: You don’t have to.

DG: [Laughs] No, it’s OK. I would have to say that it was Kevin Nealon, from a few years ago. I was purposely asking him open-ended questions that couldn’t just be answered with a yes or no, but he wasn’t giving me anything. I’m not saying he’s a horrible guy, or that he’s not funny, maybe he just didn’t feel like doing an interview, or was sick. But he wasn’t a jerk or anything like that.

NT: You didn’t have a Russell Crowe moment with him.

DG: [Laughs] No.

NT: And the best?

DG: From a professional point of view, like if I were to send out a tape as an audition to get an interviewing job, I’d have to say Jeff Dunham. I found him extremely nice, extremely professional, and the fact that he’s a bajillionare and extremely famous didn’t matter to him. He was seamless; we had some laughs, got some good information… he’s just a pro at giving interviews.

NT: One stupid thing to finish: I logged on to Twitter this morning and saw you verbalizing my thoughts on the news today, that George Lucas is going to release all the Star Wars films in 3D, showing that he hasn’t had an original idea since Howard The Duck.

DG: I rarely make any sort of editorial comment on the entertainment industry, but you have that childhood connection… I mean, I’m compulsive about certain things, where I’ll put Empire on in the background and let it run repeatedly while I do things around the house, because it just makes me feel good, and I guess it just [pauses] pisses me off that he just keeps re-releasing these things. [Laughs] It’s a stupid complaint…

NT: But a legitimate one.

PunchlineMagazine.com’s 5th Anniversary Show with Michael Ian Black, Christian Finnegan, Todd Barry, Hannibal Buress and more goes down tonight at Comix Comedy Club in New York City. Click here for tickets.

Jessi Campbell Interview

I met Jessi Campbell in Minneapolis several years ago, though I do not remember this. I was working at The Joke Joint, and she was a Minneapolis resident. At some point between shows I meandered out to the lobby to find a gaggle of comedians sitting around, chatting amiably. I said some hellos, and then wandered my way back into the showroom. In all, I may have met six people within a total of two minutes. I would remember nothing of this meeting, being that six people within two minutes is too much for my feeble brain to absorb.

Jessi, however, remembers every single person she meets. “It’s creepy,” she explained. “I will remember details of a conversation from years ago, things no one else will ever remember.”

Jessi would make an excellent stalker.

When she reminded me of our meeting, I naturally brought up the Twin Cities, and was informed of a very important change in her life…

NT: When did you move to Los Angeles?

JC: We moved here at the beginning of June. (2010)

NT: A newbie to the city. How do you like it so far?

JC: So far, I actually really like it. I haven’t been here too much yet; when we moved here, I immediately went out on the road for five weeks, so I’ve kind of been in and out, but the last two weeks I’ve been home and really enjoying it.

NT: Wait until winter. You’ll go home to Minnesota and say, “Hey, I don’t have to deal with this shit anymore.”

JC: I actually just threw out the jug of de-icer I had in my car. Won’t be needing that anymore!

NT: You said, “We moved”; who’s the other person in that statement?

JC: I’m married.

NT: Ah, so lack of research on the interviewers part. Who followed who? Was it his career, your career, both?

JC: It was sort of my decision. I was feeling a little stagnant in Minnesota, and figured at some point it’s “now or never.” If you’re going to make a lateral move in comedy, it’s either New York or LA, and this is where we came.

NT: In choosing LA, do you hope to get into acting? What nudged that city into the winning circle when it came to moving?

JC: Patton Oswald has a quote, “People ask me if I did stand up, but I act to be able to do stand up.” It’s all about putting butts into seats. I took a commercial acting workshop, because… I mean, if Flo from the Progressive ads did stand up, she’d be making so much money. So while all I really want to do is stand-up, I want to do other things to help that. If I were to get a small part on a sit-com, I could absolutely work more. So I’m taking some Improv classes, because I want to stay in the world of comedy, under that umbrella.

NT: That makes me so happy, because I lived in LA for a while and the most frustrating thing was meeting people who would say, “Oh, I’m an actor, model, comic.” And I would think, ‘Why don’t you just pick one and do it well?’

JC: I did this showcase with a girl, who was really, really nice, and she’s a commercial actress, and she said, “Wow, you’re really funny.” And I said, “Thanks, I’m a stand up comic,” and she said, “Yeah, this is a really good way to just get your face out there.” She didn’t get it when I explained, “No, I mean this is what I do, this is what I really love doing.”

NT: I had a similar experience once at a showcase, where they introduced a guy who was in a really popular series of commercials at the time, and in my mind I went, “Oh, he’s gonna be good; he obviously got the commercial…” and he was awful, just awful. He wasn’t a comic, he was an actor just, like the girl you mentioned said, “getting his face out there,” and that was when I realized that LA is all about “a look.” It doesn’t matter if you have talent or not, if they need “that look,” you’ll fit their slot and they’ll use you.

JC: [laughs] Yeah, it kills me, and I take offense to that in a way, because this is my livelihood. I’m not doing it to “get my face out there,” this is what I love. But, I’m taking a commercial workshop…

NT: Which means there’s probably someone out there judging you the exact same way.

JC: [laughs] Right. [Adopts a snooty voice] “I do commercials for a living; you comics just do them for quick money…”

NT: When did you start doing comedy?

JC: I’ve been doing comedy for ten years, and moved to Minneapolis about four and a half years ago because of his job at the time. I’ve been doing it full time for about four or five years.

NT: Where did you get your start?

JC: I started in Arizona, in Tucson.

NT: Compare the Tucson and Minneapolis comedy scenes; how did each influence you?

JC: Well, I think they’re really, really different. Now Minneapolis has like five clubs; Tucson has always just has one. When you start out in comedy, there’s always that first little circuit you run, and back then there was a club in Arizona, a club in New Mexico, and a club in Colorado, and you’d do those. When I moved to Minnesota, in the Midwest there’s just so much to do; there are one nighters, so many clubs… when I moved I started working a lot more, which helped me develop. In Tucson, you could only go up one night a week, where in Minneapolis there are just so many more opportunities, and you can find an open mic every night of the week if you want.

NT: So Minneapolis really helped develop you.

JC: Yeah, I was just able to get on stage a lot more.

NT: The CD we’re about to promote, is this your first one?

JC: It’s my first real CD. I made one myself a long time ago, one I would pay people today to get back.

NT: There’s no shame in that, I think we all do it. I have one like that, and even Doug Stanhope has written about watching video of his first few years of comedy and then feeling bad for ripping on people just starting out today that he has ripped on.

JC: When you’re just starting out, you hear that you need one to sell when you go out on the road, and you realize later that was the worst idea ever.

NT: Because you’re putting something out that represents you poorly, leaving people with a bad taste in their mouth. What’s the title of the new CD?

JC: Winner Winner.

NT: The material you used on it: was it an accumulation of your entire ten years?

JC: There’s nothing in there that’s older than four or five years. I get bored really easily, and I don’t like doing the same material over and over, so I’d say there are probably three or four jokes that are four or five years old and the rest is within the past few years. I’m trying to think… there are a couple bits on there that are brand new, which I should have given more time to develop, but I get too excited and just want to do them.

NT: How long is the disc?

JC: I think exactly forty-five minutes, or just a little over.

NT: Break it down for me: what style of comedy do you perform, how many tracks are there… what can the listener expect?

JC: My comedy is a lot of stories, which made it hard to break down the CD. There are twenty-one tracks, and I had a tough time splitting up bits. I have a chunk of hunting material, where I talk about hunting and animals for about five or six minutes, but now I have to break that down and think, “OK, maybe these two jokes work together…” Same thing with my marriage material, which is eight minutes long, but will break down to four or five different tracks. I wasn’t sure exactly how to break them down, or how long the tracks were supposed to be, so I just did the best I could. Tracks three through six all fall within my block of “hunting material,” and it was really hard to break down the story into individual tracks. I think most of the bits I ended up with are around one or two minutes long, but there are a couple tracks that are four minutes, which are each one story I just couldn’t break down any further.

Winner Winner is available through itunes and Amazon.com.

Nathan Timmel was the fella who yapped at her over the phone and typed this little segment up.

Mike Sacks Interview

In his 1994 autobiography, The Kid Stays in the Picture, Robert Evans explained his desire to become a producer was in seeing the power they held; producers worked behind the scenes to make everything on the silver screen come alive. Mike Sacks had similar wonderings while growing up in Washington D.C. While many people dream of being on David Letterman or hosting Saturday Night Live, Mike wondered who wrote all the jokes and sketches he was enjoying. Following his inquisitive nature through college led Mike down a path of freelance writing humor pieces and eventually landed him an editorial position at Vanity Fair. From there, he became a member of The Pleasure Syndicate, a humor writing group consisting of Scott Jacobson of The Daily Show, Todd Levin from The Tonight Show, Jason Roeder of The Onion, and Ted Travelstea, a writer for Esquire.

Rooftop had Nathan Timmel give Mike a call to discuss his interest in comedy writing.

NT: What made you pick New Orleans/Tulane University?

MS: Mostly just the weather, quite frankly. I didn’t get into too many schools, and Tulane was just one that happened to accept me. I wanted to head down south rather than up north. I used to vacation down south when I was a kid, so that’s what I was used to.

NT: What did you study while there, journalism?

MS: English Literature.

NT: Which is actually my background, too, only you took your degree and write with it, where I stand on stage and talk about my penis.

MS: Well, it’s not too different, really. I never did take any journalism courses, actually.

NT: Really? That’s interesting. How did you take a background in English and translate it into what could be considered a journalistic trade, working in the editorial department of Vanity Fair?

MS: I just needed jobs to support myself while I was freelance writing, and the way it worked out kinda was lucky. I was working in retail for four or five years—I worked in a record store—and then I got my first editing job for an association in D.C. From there I went to Knight Ridder, which is a wire service, from there I went to The Washington Post, and after that ended up at Vanity Fair. Nothing was really planned, it just happened that way. And I never considered myself a journalist, what I wanted to do was just to write humor. But to support yourself doing that is really tough, so this is just what I ended up doing rather than working at a record store.

NT: On that note, do you then feel you should sue Nick Hornby for using your character in the book (and then movie) High Fidelity?

MS: I actually get a lot of questions about High Fidelity; people think that my retail days were similar to that movie, where I’d hang out with a couple buddies and go down top ten lists of my favorite things. In reality, I worked in New Orleans and later in Maryland, and in Maryland the record store was behind a government housing project and we’d get robbed about once a month. It was really very bleak; it was nowhere near as interesting as the movie.

NT: I think what’s interesting is no one usually thinks of a record store when thinking of robberies; banks and gas stations get all the attention. But when you’re looking for money for drugs, anything will do. Plus, record stores are probably really easy to hold up, I would suspect.

MS: Yeah, it’s very easy. We were making a lot of money at the time off the soundtrack to The Bodyguard, with Whitney Houston, so we always had a lot of cash, and I think people knew that. A path led to our store in this mini-mall, so the record store was one of the first places they would hit as they made their way around the mall.

NT: You’re part of The Pleasure Syndicate, a humor-writing group. People hear a lot about sketch comedy, or improv troupes, but humor-writing groups are less common. Give me a little background on the Pleasure Syndicate.

MS: Well, the group writing process for humor is done a lot when writing for TV and for movies, and I always wondered why that couldn’t be done for print. What I discovered is one of the reasons it’s not done is because there’s very little money in print. But, if you can pull it off, if you can get a good deal, and get a group of writers that work well together, then the product is going to be better for it.

We had worked together, not all five of us, but at one time or another two or three of us, for projects for Esquire or The New Yorker. Ultimately we worked on a back-page humor piece for Radar, which was a monthly list, just 101 jokes, like “Worst Places to Die,” or “Things Not to Say at a Job Interview.” We worked really well together on that, and decided to work on a bigger project, which was a book project. We were only going to do it if we could sell it for enough money to be worth it, and we were lucky as it hadn’t been done before, and was interesting enough to various publishers. There was a bit of a bidding war, which Random House ultimately won, which gave us four months to write it.

Because we had all worked together before, everything went very smoothly, and I do think the book turned out better because of the group process. If it had been just me writing, or me and one other person… we had the benefit of going with the best jokes among the five of us, rather than just settling for something than just one of us might have come up with. We’re actually in the process right now of pitching a second book, which is an employee manual for a Wal Mart type company. It’s something you’d receive on your first day, and exposes what the company is about, its history and the rules for working there. So hopefully that will sell, and we can start working on that.

NT: And what was the title of the first book?

MS: Sex: Our Bodies, Our Junk is the one that’s out right now.

NT: You also have a book of your own out, a book of interviews.

MS: Right, that’s called And Here’s the Kicker: Conversations with 21 Top Humor Writers. I interviewed about forty humor writers, and twenty-one made the cut. Although, the electronic version has twenty-five, I think. Those are lengthy interviews with humor writers about the process, how they made it, and what they would recommend to those just starting out or those wanting to improve their careers.

NT: Did you want to talk to these people specifically to write a book, or was there an amount of simple personal interest in just wanting to talk to them?

MS: A little of both, I mean, it was an excuse to talk to these guys, who I grew up admiring. I was always much more interested in behind the scenes, wondering who the writers were for Saturday Night Live or David Letterman, and how did they get there. I couldn’t find any books from the viewpoint of writers; books were always from producers, or actors, or directors, not from the writer’s standpoint. I thought it would be interesting to see how one becomes a writer for late night TV, or becomes a humor writer. So it was partly realizing that viewpoint wasn’t out there, and partly just wanting to talk for five to ten hours a day to David Sedaris, Merril Markoe of Late Night With David Letterman, and Harold Ramis, and Larry Gelbart. It was a fun thing to do, and if I were young, and in high school now, it’s the kind of book I’d be interested in reading, to see how one makes it in this crazy business.

NT: And you also have a book coming out next year, a compilation of your writings…

MS: Yeah! This a collection of short humor pieces from New Yorker, Esquire, Vanity Fair, Time, Radar and other places. They’re all independent humor pieces, which is surprisingly difficult to get published these days. Editors and publishers are always looking for a link between stories, an over arching theme. So I was lucky to have sold this to Tin House, out in Oregon.

NT: And what’s the title?

MS: Your Wildest Dreams Within Reason, and that comes out in March of 2011.

And Here’s the Kicker: Conversations with 21 Top Humor Writers, and Sex: Our Bodies, Our Junk are both available in bookstores nationwide as well as on line.