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Danny Bevins Interview

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

But I digress.

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

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

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

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

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

OK, too much babbling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guest Editor: Special Ed

What’s so “special” about Special Ed? For one thing, the man can eat an entire burrito in less than a minute. Sorry, ladies. He’s taken.

One-quarter of Boston’s beloved morning show sausage fest The Sandbox on 101.7 WFNX radio (92.1 in New Hampshire, for the yokels), Ed — also the show’s producer — is super picky about the funny. (He does like a good fart joke, but it has to be well-crafted. Finessed. Seamless. Did you know there’s a fart art?)  Ed has bantered on the mic with some of the country’s best comedians, so we trust his judgment.

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GUEST EDITOR: MYQ KAPLAN

Myq Kaplan does not spell “Mike” that way to be a gimmicky wackadoo comedian; he changed his name to Myq as a pre-teen at summer camp, and never looked back.

Well, he may have looked back. But he never stopped spelling his name that way.

However you spell it, you should commit his name to memory; pretty soon, it’ll be all over the place. Featured as a “New Face” in the 2009 Montreal Just For Laughs festival, Myq is about to tape his first half-hour Comedy Central special, and can be seen stumping for Pizza Hut and Subway on a series of Comedy Central promos. (Even more impressive when you consider that he’s been a vegan since college.)

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THIS WEEK’S GUEST EDITOR: DAVID NADELBERG

David Nadelberg is one of the bravest men in comedy.

As the creator of Mortified, a hysterical smorgasbord of teenage angst wherein real people share their real childhood artifacts (such as diaries, letters, poems, songs, etc), Nadelberg has hit the nail on the painfully nostalgic head. Audiences go nuts for the stage show, and the press has, too; the show has received countless accolades, including Day-Glo raves from Entertainment Weekly, Newsweek, and “This American Life” on NPR.

Can you imagine hopping up on a stage and reading, aloud, to a group of strangers, your most intimate and, yes, embarrassing, teenage thoughts?

We told you it was brave.

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GUEST EDITOR – GIULIA ROZZI

Giulia Rozzi isn’t afraid of anything. Stand-up comedian, writer, actress, and co-creator of the wildly raunchy and side-clutchingly side-splitting show Stripped Stories, Giulia and her comedy partner/college best friend Margot Leitman bare all onstage, telling their most intimate and hilarious stories of sexual escapades. (Upcoming dates in Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Click here for more info.)

Giulia’s wink/nudge adorable antics are also the star of the show in two short films directed by Anya Garrett; “Pizza Day,” and “We.”

Wanna get inside Giulia’s…head? We do too, which is why we asked her to pick her fave Rooftop clips.

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Slated for stardom?

Jenny Slate Fucks Her Way to Stardom

by guest editor Joshua Neuman

I’ve been a huge fan of Jenny Slate for about 5 years so I was overjoyed when she was recently cast on SNL. That she dropped the F-bomb on her SNL debut has probably brought a great deal of chaos to her life, but more than anything, it’s an indication of someone who has been honing her craft in spaces with limitless creative boundaries. And please mark my words: Slate will be to Nancy Grace what Tina Fey was to Sarah Palin. Long story short, four years ago a bunch of comics and I were on a van driving through the countryside in Georgia to perform at a national conference of Jewish student leaders (sort of like performing on SNL except with intense suicidal thoughts after), and she virtually channeled Grace for the 2-hour ride. Fucking brilliant.

The 10 Funniest Jews

by Guest Editor Joshua Neuman

Each year, we announce our list of 100 Jews you need to know about, 10 of which from the field of comedy. This year’s list, which we announced this week, featured writers, stand-ups, performers and a couple who I can only categorize as performance artists. Of particular note is Dave Nadelberg, founder of the Mortified stage show, in which performers revisit embarrassing childhood moments in front of sloshed audiences. If you haven’t seen the show, it is a must-see. The accompanying photograph of Nadelberg will appear in the forthcoming edition of our magazine and is part of a traveling portrait exhibit, which opens in NY at the 92Y Tribeca.

This Week’s Guest Editor – JOSHUA NEUMAN

As the authority on all things Jewish, Heeb publisher Joshua Neuman is, therefore, the authority on all things comedy. (Come on. We’ve got Mel Brooks, Gilda Radner,  Jerry Seinfeld, and Sarah Silverman in our camp. We win. L’chaim!) Since the “new Jew review” just included Rooftop comedian Moshe Kasher in its annual “Heeb Hundred” roundup of all things hot (or is that chot ?), we’re doubly honored to have Joshua as this week’s Guest Editor.

Joshua has a cool life. A proud member of the ubiquitous Friar’s Club, he’s an author, a writer, a lover. And, of course, he’s hilarious. Otherwise…why bother? Here, just see for yourself.

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UN-Believable

by Lance Gould

As they usually do in the autumn, most of the heads of the world’s countries came to the United States last week to address the United Nations. There was the usual mix of terrifying white guys and terrifying people of color. Sadly, Gabonese dictator Omar Bongo — long the head of state with (to immature Westerners) the planet’s most ridiculously amusing name — was not among them, as a result of his having passed away three months earlier.

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THIS WEEK’S GUEST EDITOR – LANCE GOULD

Even though he’s a “serious journalist” with a “masters degree” from “Columbia,” Lance Gould knows “the funny.” As the editor of the award-winning alt-weekly, The Boston Phoenix, Lance could spend his days making simpering writers dance at the crack of his verbal whip, but, instead, he wiles away the hours perfecting vaudevillian puns and daydreaming about that stand-up career in the Catskills that could have been…

Lance jumped at the chance to guest edit for Rooftop [and i jumped at the chance to edit my former editor, and exact my revenge! – SFA] and we’re pleased as a donkey punch that, besides giving us his kick-ass stand-up picks, Lance will be doing some guest blogging this week, too. He writes good.

But first, the picks!

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