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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.

 

Dylan Gadino Interview

When Rooftop last talked to Dylan Gadino from Punchline Magazine, big changes were afoot. His baby had just received major backing from Salient Media, and with that everything was about to move forward with serious intent.

Well, it’s been almost a year and big changes did happen. Punchline moved under the Salient Media umbrella, brainstorming took place, and the new project—Laugh Spin—was created.

The essence of Laugh Spin is that of Punchline Magazine, but with bold new steps being taken. Nathan Timmel phoned up Dylan to discuss the events of the past eleven months.

NT: So, Punchline has become Laugh Spin, talk us through the transition.

DG: A little over a year ago now I made a deal with a company in Los Angeles called Salient Media. They are the digital arm of The Collective, which is a management agency that reps bands and comedians and the like. Salient Media is their production side; it puts out DVDs and CDs and they deal with websites, they have another popular website, bloodydisgusting.com, which is part of the horror film genre. Anyway, I teamed up with them, so they are essentially now the parent company of the website. They are mainly in charge of business development.

As we were going through the process of transitioning from Punchline being something I owned exclusively to having their backing, we decided it was probably a good idea to take the opportunity to reformat and re-brand everything, which I think is a good thing. For one thing, we wanted to make sure our new brand was singular, and that there would be no confusion with anything else. With Punchline Magazine, you have the Punchline comedy clubs and other Punchline branded entities. The other thing was the word Magazine; the word is becoming less and less relevant.

NT: I remember you talking about that last year; the problem with the whole magazine format, and that you went digital on purpose, because physical magazines are a dying breed.

DG: Yeah, in ten years, no one is going to even know what a magazine is. When I launched the site in 2005, magazines were already bombing. So I wanted to move away from that, and then the final thing is that punchline magazine dot com is a long URL to type, so we wanted to tighten that up, too. We wanted something short, punchy, and obviously relatable. Laugh is obvious, and Spin is a word that sounds active, and looks OK when smashed up against Laugh…

NT: Better than “Laugh Sneeze” or something like that.

DG: [Laughs] Right.

NT: What will be the new directions Laugh Spin goes in?

DG: Well, we’ll still be mainly editorial, but one of the new developments is we have a record label and we’re starting to put out records. We released something from a band from Australia called “The Axis of Awesome.” We’re also concentrating on getting a lot more video content on the website. We’re very interested in working with comedians and having them produce their own editorial content. We’re not looking to compete with Funny or Die or College Humor; we’re not looking to create funny web serials or that, we’re interested in editorial content. If a comedian is on tour, and wants to do a bi-weekly video diary of life on the road, that would be our angle. We’re also interested in getting into Podcasting.

NT: So who have you enjoyed talking to in the past year?

DG: I sat down with Colin Quinn when he was promoting the HBO version of his one-man show. I’d seen him on stage before, but I’d never actually talked to him, and it was cool because he was a super nice guy, very easy going… I’d heard from other comics that he was decent, and a caring guy, and yeah… very easy to talk to and laid back.

NT: Did he talk about his special being a tough sell, because that was historical comedy, and audiences don’t always like to think?

DG: He talked about it a little bit. He had Jerry Seinfeld directing it, so he obviously had a lot of power behind it with that name, but he talked about keeping it short. I think the tagline was “The history of the world in seventy-five minutes.” He wanted to make sure people knew what they were getting into, that it might be historical, but he was going to make it a tight set.

What I found interesting about that special is: live, Colin is a very divisive performer. Not because he’s controversial, but because of his style of performing; his stage voice is very ragged, he won’t push sentences, he’ll mumble, and some people really love that, but others just don’t like it. So what I found amazing about the HBO show was he was so polished; he was so disciplined. If you watch the show, it’s very George Carlin like, where every word is specific and has meaning.

You can find LaughSpin on the web, and follow them on Facebook.

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/