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 Angeles — New 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.’
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.