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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.

Dan Finnerty Interview

Movies are made in order to elicit audience response; a good horror movie will make everyone jump at just the right points, a well-done romance will have women tear up as the end credits roll. While it is difficult to surprise the modern audience—people who have seen and heard it all—occasionally something so genuinely original can still startle and please even the most jaded person. The 2003 release Old School contained such a moment.

In the movie, Will Farrell’s “Frank the Tank” has just been married and is sharing the first dance with his new bride. The scene looks to be a throwaway; a cheesy wedding band in obnoxious tuxedos is playing Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart, and nothing interesting is taking place. Then, without warning, the mundane becomes hilarious. During the line, “Every now and then I get a little bit terrified and then I see the look in your eyes,” the singer added one simple word, and everyone’s ears perked. The look on Will Farrell’s face matched that of every person in the theater; “Wait, did I just hear that? No, I must be imagining things…” and almost immediately the joke was driven home: “And fucking every now and then I fall apart!” The entire audience laughed in genuine surprise and enjoyment.

Though others before him had done parodies, Dan Finnerty had the simple idea to add swear words to popular songs. Not only did Dan add swear words, but he did so while playing the songs straight, making the words somehow work, slipping in the vulgarities in a way that made it sound as if they had always been there.

In a word: brilliant.

The aforementioned Dan Finnerty is the founder and lead singer of The Dan Band. Once a Los Angeles staple, The Dan Band now tours America, and has just released a CD, The Dan Band Live.

Between stops on his current tour, Nathan Timmel was able to chat with the exceedingly affable Dan about singing, swearing, and marrying up.

NT: First off, I have a personal question: when were you at Emerson College, because I was right down the road at The Berklee College of Music from 1990 to 1992.

DF: Wow, I was there from ’89 to ’92, that’s crazy.

NT: Yeah, we should have hung out together more, had we actually known one another even existed.

DF: I would have met you at Newbury Comics.

NT: I went there a lot. I was actually at Newbury Comics one day when several New Kids on the Block showed up at a clothing store next door and started a teenybopper riot.

DF: The same thing happened to me. When I graduated in ’92, I went out to dinner to celebrate with family, and the youngest New Kid was there and turned the place into pandemonium. I couldn’t even enjoy my graduation celebration because of Joey Macintyre. [Laughs]

NT: What did you study at Emerson; you’re obviously fluent in music, as you went on to perform on Broadway, were you in theater?

DF: I was an acting major, and I almost majored in TV Production, but that became a minor.

NT: When I listen to The Dan Band, I hear great harmonies and arrangements; is singing something that came naturally to you, and when you put the band together did you use friends, or did you audition actual musicians?

DF: I was always musical, and probably always secretly wanted to start a band, but to me anyone who had a band seemed so legit. I grew up in farm town New York, so I never took the idea of being in a band too seriously. I would have felt too stupid trying to pretend I was worthy of pursuing music. After college, I was doing the show Stomp, and it was my last night with that production and the guys took me out to a bar that had karaoke. I just jumped up and sang I Am Woman, because I was drunk. The next day I moved to L.A., and a friend of mine had a band here, and she wanted me to open for her so it would look like she was headlining. [Laughs] She said to me, “Just sing anything, it doesn’t matter what.” I had just sung I Am Woman, so I did that again, because I thought it was pretty funny, and I added You Light Up My Life and Flashdance (What a Feeling). It was just bongos and an acoustic guitar, and at the end of it, this guy came up to me and he’s like, “Do you have a flyer?” I asked, “For what?” And he said, “For your next show. When is it?” I’m like, [surprised voice] “Fucking never.” He said he booked The Viper Room, and he’d love to book me if I could turn what I did into a thirty-minute set. So I found through friends someone to play keyboards, electric guitar and bass, and we played The Viper Room. After that, I started playing at Largo, which is this cool comedy club here in Los Angeles, and that’s when Tenacious D was just starting to take off, and Zach Galifianakis and Sarah Silverman were always there. From there, I played Largo for about a year before I even added backup singers, because I got to a point where the songs I was choosing needed harmonies, so I found two people to sing backup. After that, we just started putting any bad, ridiculous choreography I could remember from stupid ‘80s videos. So that’s probably how The Dan Band got started, with me just making fun of it all.

NT: You said you originally were singing songs by female artists for comedic effect. When did you have the simple brilliance, and I use those words on purpose, to add swearing? Was alcohol involved?

DF: I always swear anyway, which is a big joke with my friends. I was brought up a strict Catholic, and I couldn’t even literally do variations of swear words, because if it was even implied that I was trying to swear I wasn’t allowed to say it. So the minute my parents dropped me off at Emerson, as they pulled away I got Tourettes and was just like: “FUUUUUUCK!” Which is a good lesson to parents to not be so intense with your kids, because they’ll end up doing what you didn’t want them to do, but in front of the world. [Laughs]

NT: Like the Catholic girls who are so repressed at home that when they get to college they explode onto men.

DF: Exactly. [Laughs] Exactly. The swearing was really just like a little, rhythmic interjection. I’d play just a little personal game, just to see if I could fit “motherfucker” somewhere in the lyric. Todd Phillips, the director of Old School, came to see me, and he basically said, “I have this scene where I need a wedding singer; what songs are you working on?” And I was working on Total Eclipse of the Heart, to put into my show, and Private Dancer, by Tina Turner, and Todd liked both of those ideas. I went to do the scratch vocal, pre-recording, in the studio, and I started singing Total Eclipse. I didn’t think I was allowed to swear, so I was just singing it straight. Todd stopped me like one verse in, asking, “Dude, are you going to swear, like you do in your show?” I was like, “Are you kidding? I can swear?” He said, “Yeah! Go crazy!” And I just said, “Buckle up, motherfucker!” [Laughs]

NT: You’re like psychic; whenever I ask you one question, you answer it, and then another question I have before I can get to it; Todd Phillips discovering you was something you knew would come up. Before that you talked about ‘80s choreography, which was something else I was going to talk about, specifically involving the video for Please Don’t Bomb Nobody This Holiday. Did you put the celebrities in that for fun, or was it an obvious throwback to We Are the World type songs and videos?

DF: I wrote that Christmas album two years ago. Originally they wanted me to do all covers of Christmas songs, because that’s what Christmas albums are, covers of classic songs. But all I ever do is cover songs, so I wanted to write my own this time, which, I don’t know how good an idea that was, because at the end of the day everyone just wants to hear fucking Jingle Bells [laughs]. I definitely wanted to write a We Are the World kind of plea, and mine is so stupid, too, because it’s saying you can bomb people the rest of the year, just take the one day off. Everyone who was in the video has seen my show at one time or another, so I knew there was remotely some good will. It was so ghetto, the way we shot it; I ordered a screen and two lights online, and we just went to their house and pop up this screen, and you could see in their eyes they didn’t realize how low rent this was going to be. I mean, the playback of the song was through my iphone, so they would put on headphones, which were just hooked up to my phone that I was holding in my hand. They would look at me like, “Seriously, this is it?” [Laughs] But it was a lot of fun, I mean, getting to hang with Christopher Guest, who is like a personal idol of mine, what with his mix of comedy and music, with Spinal Tap and Guffman—it was just a lot of fun.

NT: Let me toss an oddball question out there: while I make no judgment on your relationship, when your wife [actress Kathy Najimy] was named Woman of the Year by Ms. Magazine, aside from the obvious pride you must have felt, did you sort of stand there, feeling, “So my wife is Woman of the Year, and I put the word ‘fuck’ into popular songs”?

DF: [Excitedly] Oh, she reminds me of that every day. I mean, the other day at my show, on Saturday, I referred to her as “My Ho.” She was in the audience, and I just tossed out, “I want to thank my ho Kathy,” and afterwards someone was like, “Yup, Ms. Magazine woman of the year, and you’ve reduced her to your ho.” The irony is insane. What’s even crazier is: Gloria Steinem officiated our wedding, so half of my friends are sitting at our wedding saying, “What the hell?” I mean, I did feel unworthy, that there were people more deserving of having the distinct honor of Gloria Steinem at their wedding. Kathy certainly deserved it, and I kind of coat-tailed on there. [Laughs] There was one great moment at one of my shows early on at Largo when Gloria walked in just as I was starting the song Gloria, by Laura Branigan. People in the crowd were like, “WOW, Dan’s got it together, having Gloria Steinem enter during Gloria.”

NT: When all it was, was a happy accident. Nice. I looked at your tour schedule, and it’s a healthy mix of colleges and stand-alone theaters; which do you prefer?

DF: There’s definitely a demographic I attract, and it’s guys who looked like me at different ages and weights. Like, I’ll look at a guy and think, “That’s what I looked like ten years and ten pounds ago,” and then I’ll see another guy and think, “That’s what I’ll look like twenty pounds from now.” And then there’s the Old School and Hangover crowds, who see me in those movies. But what’s funny is I did this one-hour special that was produced by Steven Spielberg and was directed by McG, which was awesome. But then it ended up airing on Bravo, which maybe wasn’t so awesome, [Laughs] because that wasn’t like the perfect demo for us. What’s funny, then, is you could tell in the audience who had seen the show on Bravo. And then I did The Jay Leno show, which was a whole new demographic, and yeah, you could just see who in the audience knew what they were getting into, and who maybe didn’t.

NT: Ok, one last, stupid question: When do you think Inside the Actor’s Studio jumped the shark, Martin Lawrence or Bon Jovi?

DF: [Laughs] Bon Jovi.

Lachlan Patterson Interview

Lachlan Patterson hails from Vancouver, Canada, which bodes well for him, as Canada has proved exceptionally adept at churning out talented comics. He has performed on Comedy Central’s Live at Gotham, as well as at the Vancouver Comedy Festival and Rooftop’s own Aspen Festival.

Now, Rooftop is helping Patterson with a new milestone: recording artist. Patterson’s CD, Jokes To Make Love To will be released Tuesday, July 13th, 2010 on iTunes, Amazon, and through RooftopComedy.com

Patterson and Rooftop interviewer Nathan Timmel kept opposite schedules, but were able to improvise a chat via email.

Read more »

Kevin Camia Interview

Kevin Camia is a staple of the San Francisco comedy scene. A storyteller by trade, Kevin doesn’t resort to the cheap laugh to draw an audience in, he uses tales of his life and experiences. Its worked out well for him, as Kevin is a regular up and down the California coast, playing at all the clubs it has to offer.

Rooftop was so impressed by Kevin, we decided to release his first CD, Kindness, on our label.

To promote it, we had interviewer Nathan Timmel chat with Kevin about the CD, its recording, and the musical instrument they share a fondness for.

NT: Tell me about the title of your new CD, Kindness. It has a very positive connotation to it, which is not something I think of when I think of stand-up comedy. Was that done on purpose?

KC: Well, I pretty much came up with the title because of one of the early bits I do on the CD. I say, “I know when somebody is trying to take advantage of my kindness.” It’s sort of a throwaway line, not even a punchline, or anything like that. It’s just, I realized a lot of my bits are kind of, not totally mean spirited, but it’s not nice. There’s a chance somebody could get offended, that’s kind of the idea. It’s not lilywhite, one-size-fits-all comedy. Basically, it’s supposed to be a little ironic.

NT: That’s funny, because as I said, I didn’t think “kind” and “comedy” went together.

KC: Yeah, and the cover of the CD is me riding on my cat, and smiling, which is not so super sweet.

NT: I’ve seen that; did you draw it yourself? And how did you come up with it?

KC: My friend Aiyana Udesen drew it. She used to work at The Punchline in San Francisco, and she went to an art school, so I figured if I ever made a CD, I’d have her do the cover. As far as riding a cat, that was an idea… [pauses] I dunno, [laughs] I guess there’s not really much to it; I just really like cats. I almost made it me riding a panda, because I have a couple panda jokes, but I just really like cats.

NT: Nothing wrong with that; I have two of them.

KC: Me too. [laughs]

NT: You mentioned a friend that was an artist; do you get inspired by other art forms outside of comedy, and does that help you with your comedy?

KC: Oh absolutely. My girlfriend is a playwright; she has masters in play writing, so we go to the theater a lot. And I used to play in several bands, so I see a lot of live music, and I still play a little bit. At The Punchline, there always seems to be a group of people who are in art school, or they’ve been to art school, so they just seem to “get it,” the creative lifestyle, which is nice.

NT: What instrument or instruments do you play?

KC: I play a Filipino instrument, called a bandurria, which is a fourteen-string instrument…

NT: Take that Tony Levin.

KC: [laughs] Yeah, the bandurria is kind of like a mandolin, but there are some strings that are in sets of three. It’s a traditional Filipino instrument, and in the band I would dress up as this sort of ‘fake rock star’ persona, and we would play traditional Filipino music, but rock it out [laughs]. One guy I used to play bass for, Sean Hayes, ended up getting pretty big. He’s a singer-songwriter kinda guy, and now he has all these albums out and plays all around the world, and I stopped playing with him just before he hit it big.

NT: It’s good to hear you play the bass. A damn fine instrument; I went to The Berklee College of Music for a couple years and studied and played jazz bass.

KC: That’s really cool. I’ve been getting into Mastodon lately; their bass player was really good and played intricate, melodic lines.

NT: You’ve mentioned The Punchline a couple times. Is that where you recorded Kindness?

KC: Yeah, I did it in one show, where I performed for about an hour and ten minutes, and then we cut it down to about fifty minutes. There are probably a couple little things I would have done differently, but now I can take notes for the next one. I was just looking forward to recording it so I could sort of ‘retire’ some of the bits, and look forward to writing new material. I was definitely nervous recording it, because I get really weird when I listen to myself perform, which made editing a trick, but I like how it turned out.

NT: I know what you meant about ‘retiring’ certain bits, but I think it was Doug Stanhope who said that once you put out a CD, that’s what the audience wants to hear. Like, you perform, and you sell them a CD of that show, those bits. So, not to challenge what you just said, but what are your thoughts on that?

KC: I get that. I mean, depending on where I am, I’ll do different parts of the CD. Like, if I’m where nobody knows me, I’ll do more of it, but back home at The Punchline, I’ll do less, because they’ve heard it already, and I always like writing and creating new material. I guess I’m looking at someone like Bill Burr, who every year has a new special, and new all new material. He’s one of my favorites, so I look at that and it’s something to shoot for. I want to challenge myself to come up with another forty-five or fifty minutes as soon as I can.

NT: Is San Francisco still your home? Are you considering a move?

KC: I’m still in San Francisco, but I plan to move at some point. All my friends, the people that started at the same time as me, have either moved to LA or New York, but I figure that when you move to LA you better have everything ready, you have to have your screenplay, your monologue jokes and all that. It’s so hard to do comedy in LA that you have to be more rounded. If I just wanted stage time, I can get that here.

NT: And New York?

KC: Yeah, a lot of my favorite headliners come from New York, but even they eventually move to LA. I dunno, I just like San Francisco… it gets a little crowded in LA and New York, and I like seeing things like trees, and nature.

Pick up Kevin Camia’s “Kindness” on iTunes.