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Jason Downs’ Homecoming

After topping out on San Francisco’s local scene, Jason Downs skipped town to chase bigger dreams. Now he’s touring all over the nation, funnier than ever and he’s taken the time to tell us about his humble beginnings.

If you’re in San Francisco this Wednesday or Thursday, you can be a part of Jason’s debut album recording!  Buy your tickets HERE.

RC(Rooftop Comedy): When did you hit the SF comedy scene, how did you hustle and who were the big comics on the local scene at that time?

I started in the early 2000′s.  You could get a MUNI bus pass for like $35 bucks.

I lived in Monterey, CA, a small little tourist town two hours south of S.F.  My girlfriend and I would drive up on a Saturday for 5 minutes of stage time at a little place called Java N’More on Church Street and the Moch Cafe on Valencia.  After a two hour drive, we would exit on Vermont St., drive right to the Moch to sign up for 5 minutes, then drive to the Java N’More, do a set there, and then drive right back to the Moch and do my final set of the night.  Then we would drive back down to Monterey that night, wake up the next morning, then we would drive back up to San Francisco on Sunday to hang out at the Punchline for the showcase.

The big local comic at the time was Arj Barker.  Al Madrigal was always great to watch.  I would just watch and study his stage presences and how at ease he always was with the crowd.  Kamau Bell was just starting to become a phenom.  Kevin Avery was just a mad man with crazy energy that destroyed every set.  To this day, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Avery have a bad set.  John Hoogasion was this comic’s comic.  Just a really great writer.  Those were the local kings.

 

RC: Do you remember your weekly schedule of open mics? Any memorable shows?

When I finally moved to San Francisco, I became obsessed.  Mondays, the Rose Crown in Palo Alto.  Tuesday, the Luggage Store.  Wednesday was always hanging at Cobb’s or the Punchline.  Thursdays, the Brain Wash.  Fridays, the Java Source.  Saturdays was the Moch.  Then you would call every Mon-Wednesday to try and get a set at the original Cobb’s on the wharf.  It was just about hustling to get as much stage time as possible.

 

RC: What do you think was the most important lesson you learned in your early days of stand-up?

I learned where all the good parking spots are in San Francisco.  If you’re in the Mission there’s a great parking lot in between 22nd and 23rd st, off of Valencia.  If you’re in the business district don’t park on Clay.  Tons of car break ins.  Park on Washington; tons of parking and very little break ins.  If you’re in the Richmond, park on Clemente st. between 6th and 8th Ave.

 

 

RC: Did you have a group of cronies? Who was in your “class” of comics?

I started during that whole new wave comedy with Kris Tinkle, Louie Katz, Kevin Shea, Sheng Wang, Jasper Redd, Ryan Stout, Mosha Kasher, the Sirofs.  They took this whole stand up thing way more seriously than I did.  I took it as more of a party, get to hang out type of thing, don’t bother chasing success, it’ll come when it comes.  It took somebody like Louie Katz to break out and actually start achieving success before I realized,”oh, we actually have to pursue this.  We are actually trying to accomplish stuff.  Oh, okay.  I better get on it.”

 

RC: Do you think SF is a good place to cut your teeth? Why?

I think San Francisco is the best city start out in.  No bringer shows.  Although, I think that is just starting to change.  That’s sad.  I hope S.F. comics put a stop to that bringer show shit that’s starting to creep in from LA.  San Francisco has high standards.  People who go see comedy in San Francisco are comedy savvy.  They know what good comedy is.  You can’t get away with doing hack jokes.  You have to be original.  Yet, they’re forgiving and it’s far enough from LA and NY,  that you can make mistakes and the industry won’t hold it against you for the rest of your life.  When I am on the road and a newbie asks for advice I just say,” move to San Francisco”.

 

RC: When did you feel like you “found” your voice? Was there a specific moment?

I think I find it every six months.  Every six months I make a break through where I am like,” I found my voice.  This is it.”  Then six months later, I am like,”now this is it.  I think I found something new.”  Then it happens again six months later.

A big turning point was in 2010, at this huge club called the Stardome in Birmingham, AL.  It’s like a small stadium.  I made a rule to force myself to come up with new material.  I would open with new material every set, in order to force myself to build material.  No matter what, I had to open with new stuff.  For a couple of months I was building a ten minute chunk of material on pro Gay/marriage equality stuff.  You want to talk about tough, try opening your set with ten minutes of pro gay material in Birmingham, AL.  I didn’t bail on the material.  I stuck it out.  That was what I was working on at the time and I wasn’t going to let the location dictate my material.  I bombed horribly.  But the audience knew that although they might not agree with what I was saying, they could tell that I knew what I was doing.  I wasn’t a fraud.  It’s weird, it’s almost like you’re not a good comic until you can bomb with grace.  When everything is going wrong, the plane is crashing, but you keep your cool and you’re able to land the plane in the Hudson and everyone lives.

 

RC: How did you know when you were ready to leave SF? Do you have any advice for other comics on that note?

When MUNI bus passes got to 60 bucks I was like, it’s time to go.

But for real, I knew it was time to go when I did everything I could in San Francisco.  I built an act.  I pretty much honed my skills.  I was a regular at all the major clubs.  I had industry people telling me I have to move from San Francisco to Los Angeles.  I think most comics should leave when you’ve become at least a feature at all the major clubs in your area and there are people telling you it’s time.

 

RC: I know you’ve been opening for Michael McDonald for a couple years. How did that relationship come about?

This story is crazy.  Michael was performing at the San Jose Improv.  I got a call on a Sunday to middle for him, which is weird to just do a Sunday.  I have a rule that I never turn down work. I drive down to the club and I see another S. F. comic standing in front of the club.  I ask him why.  He says I’m replacing him because it wasn’t a good fit.  I was like,”I am not going to do the show.  I am not going to take money out of my friends wallet.”

That S.F. comic told me to go ahead and do the show.  So I did, but I was a total asshole to Michael.  I didn’t talk to him. As soon as the show was over I bounced without saying a word.  Then I got a call a couple of weeks later from the San Jose Improv.  They said Michael was coming back and requested me.  I said yes.  I was going to do it, but I wasn’t going to be cool to him at all.

So basically, I was a total dick to him for an entire weekend.  I had a “total fuck this guy” attitude.  At the end of the week, Mike walks up to me before he leaves and says,”Hey, I’ve been doing this for a while and you’re the best feature I’ve had.  Would you like to open for me on the road?”

Without a second of hesitation I was like,”Okay!”

That was four years ago.  I’ve been opening for him ever since.  Now I consider him one of my closest friends.  He is one of the nicest, most generous guys I’ve ever met.  He’s taught me so much about the business aspect of comedy that I would never even thought of.  Moral of the story, don’t turn down work, be a dick, and screw your friends.  Actually I found out way later that Mike had nothing to do with the friend getting replaced by me.  Basically I was dick for no reason.  I have a history of overacting.  I’m working on it.

 

 

RC: What does the Punchline SF mean to you? What are your favorite things about that particular venue?

I hold the Punchline sacred.  The way the farmer looks down at the earth and holds it sacred.  The way Christians look at the bible and hold it sacred.  The way people hold their marriages sacred….Okay, that was totally a line from Sam Kinison in Back to School.  But seriously, it is  special.  It really does feel like home to me.  All the memories, hanging out all night, the NYE parties, going to the Sunday showcases, opening for everybody there, from the late Mitch Hedberg to Dave Chappelle.  There is a reason the best comics want to headline that club, because it’s a great club.  The standards are high.  Most people who run comedy clubs just care about how many baskets of chicken wings they sell.  At the Punchline, it’s comedy first.  I go on the road and talk to M.C’s. and they’re like,”yeah, I’m the waiter.  They needed somebody to open so they just asked me.”  At the Punchline, before you M.C. you’re doing comedy for four to five years.  Before you even get on the comedy showcase, you’re hanging out watching the Sunday showcase for 9 months to a year.  At the Punchline, the comedy is first, which is rare.  So when they are allowing me to come back and record my show there, it means a lot to me.

Good luck, Jason! You won’t need it. To follow Jason and stay up on all things Downs please…

Checkout his website: http://jasondownsonline.com/

Follow on twitter: @DownsAndOut

Relish in Jason’s facebook

Album Interview: Rob Cantrell – “DREAMS NEVER DIE”

 

NYC based stand-up comic, Rob Cantrell, has released his newest comedy album, DREAMS NEVER DIE! Only knowing Rob for his stand-up, I had no idea what to expect. By the end, I was shopping for Adidas warm-ups and shell toes. The high quality production is impressive but you’ll probably be too busy having fun to notice. This album is a great time!

RC(Rooftop Comedy): This sounded like it was a ton of fun to make. Did you enjoy the process? What was it like?

Loved it, rhyming and tweaking beats is happy cake and dream cream to me, but doing a whole album is hard work. We really didn’t waste any time, just one song after the next. We had a hard deadline to finish, because I booked the album release party with the “New York Funny Song Festival” three months after finishing the first few songs on the album, that only gave us about two months to finish. The pressure was on leading up to mastering of the album, the work gets super tedious and very detailed. Making an album that doesn’t suck is no picnic, it’s more like a huge awesome BBQ, super fun at first, good potato salad, hot dogs, badminton, drunk friends stopping by with cool dogs, but then you have to clean up days afterwards. We pushed hard to make every little thing sound the best to our ears and to be funny.

RC: I was really impressed with the production quality. It sounds like you hired session players/producers and really went all out. How did you manage all that?

My producer Andy Barlow aka Tiger vs. Cobra is a beast musically, and very smart in the studio. He is a full time DJ in NY, grew up playing in bands and he got a scholarship to college for playing the violin. He comes from an indie-rock and electronic music perspective and I am an old Hip-Hop head who does stand-up comedy for a living, the music just gelled together really well. The studio space was small and Andy would track most of the live instruments in there. I played acoustic guitar for the finale song “S’mores Sunset”. We had a band from DC called “LIONIZE” that I have been friends with for years now, record a instrumental with a 4-track in their rehearsal space, we then turned that into a fake LIVE-SHOW sounding track with random crowd noise for the “Coffee and Weed (DC Go-Go Remix)” song. The whole album wasn’t just one dude on a lap-top making beats, we worked every angle we could to have a pro and original sound..

RC:  From our site, I know you for stand-up. Is the music/rapping a passion that’s taking center stage? Do you perform your album live?

I am Stand-Up comic at the end of the day and perform it constantly in NY, but always had some type of music project going on through-out all the years I have done stand-up. I had a improv-jazz band in San Francisco, where I first started performing comedy in 1999, with a couple other comics called the “Jazzman Mega Band of Power, Love and Cheap Thrills”. We opened for a few bands and got a couple paid gigs. My music pursuits were always just for pure fun and was always cautious about them because I never wanted to take too much focus from performing Stand-Up. Stand-up is the impetus to everything I do in comedy, it has made me who I am as a man in so many ways. These days, I feel comfortable enough in my stand-up that I can take the music more seriously right now. I am performing Stand-Up in clubs but doing music comedy in select rooms. I am workshopping a solo show at the “CREEK and CAVE” theater in Queens, NY this upcoming month. I will be performing stand-up and doing songs off the album DREAMS NEVER DIE, August 1, 2, 3. I will build up a project combining both art forms from there, that I will take on the road.

RC:  How long have you been working on this album and when did you decide that was in fact what you wanted to do?

I decided I wanted wanted to do a whole music album right after I finished my first stand-up record in 2009, where I had four rap songs as a bonus at the end of the album. This album has been building inside of me for several years. It took about 6 months to get it all done.

RC:  What is your favorite track and why?

The first song on the album “Heavy Weather” is an exciting track to me for many reasons, it has a pounding electric beat and a tight heavy rock guitar riff, that sounds like early RUN DMC musically, which I dig. It is a rock track that we rap with weatherman terminology in a very cocky manner. I really get a kick out of how badass it sounds and look forward to shooting the video as corny “Weather Men” in lame brown suits rocking rhymes about the weather.

RC:  Babies N’ Shit was an interesting track against the others. Has your life changed significantly during the time it’s taken to make the album?

It is a follow up to a song I did on my stand-up album called ‘Married n Shit’, it is just how your friends talk about you when hanging out, like, “What going on with Rob””, “Oh, he’s got baby and shit, he can’t go to ‘Burning Man’ ”. “Babies N Shit”, has a double meaning, because if you have a baby get ready to deal with some real shit, on all levels.

RC:  If you wrote a recipe for how to properly enjoy this album for the first time, what would it be?

Alone, naked, mesh lawn chair, in a plum orchard by a lake, headphones, reliable audio device, push play.

RC: What’s up with the recurring pelican reference?

Pelicans, GO IN… with zero hesitation. They dive from hundreds of feet in the air to grab a fish from underwater they can barely see but instinctually know is there, which blows my mind. They are awkward, funky and secretly bad-ass. That what I wanted this album to be like.

RC:  How much of this album was drug fueled?

None, unless you think coffee and weed are drugs.

RC:  The featured artists on this album, how do you know them?

I met them all at a greek yogurt festival/orgy… they are all friends from the “New York” comedy scene. We choose people because we thought they would fit the vibe of the song and were available with the hard deadline that we had to keep.

RC:  Did you exceed your own expectation with your final product?

Yes, I am very proud of the album. I think it is going to win the Superbowl.

So do we! Thanks, Rob!

You can buy DREAMS NEVER DIE on iTunes and Amazon

Follow him on twitter @RobCantrell and visit his website www.RobCantrell.com

Paul Mecurio interviews Jay Leno!

“Very psyched to have interviewed up and comer, Jay Leno for my podcast. Jay got me started in stand up when he bought a joke of mine for The Tonight Show. We talked about stand up–how he got started, his early hell gigs- got some great stories — and how he views stand up today–I think what comes through in the interview is at his core he still sees himself as a stand-up first and foremost — it was a really fun conversation that went in some unexpected directions–he was cool and has no idea I keyed his vintage Alfa Romeo … it should buff out.”
-Paul Mecurio

Steve Gillespie – Get Stever Fever!

When Rooftop asked if I wanted to talk to Steve Gillespie about his new CD release, Stever Fever, I said “Absolutely yes.” I don’t know the man well, but I had bumped into him several times on the road and really enjoyed his comedy.

The last time I worked with Steve, it was at a bar in Iowa. At least, that’s what our itinerary said. Upon arrival, Steve and I discovered the location was a supper club, and a fairly swanky (by Iowa standards) one at that.  We looked at our clothes–we had each dressed our best for a dingy bar–and felt a little out of place. To make matters worse, the space was decorated for a wedding, one taking place the next day. The walls were adorned in white lace, and our “stage” was the altar.

Fortunately, the audience was in a laughing mood and not in any way confined or defined by our surroundings; they laughed with ease and the gig was a fun one.

With a wink to Justin Beiber, Steve’s new release is out now.

Here’s the story behind the CD.

Enjoy.

~nathan

 

NT:  Where’d the title and cover come from; was it a difficult process?

SG:  The name was the easy part. The cover art was challenging. I like taking goofy pictures, I have quite a collection, and deciding which one I liked best and fit with what I thought the title is conveying, was difficult.

With that said, I am really pleased with how it came out. I thinks its look sharp.

NT:  Any rejected titles you’d like to share?

SG:  I overheard a women in a restaurant say “I’m a badass girl in a tough ass world” and I thought for a moment that A Badass Girl in a Tough Ass world could work, but I’m glad I went with Stever Fever. It fits well with the tone of the album.

NT:  How long did it take you to write the material?

SG:  I think all of the material on the album has been written over the past 4 years. Some of it within a month of the release.

NT:  Is this your first CD?

SG:  Yes, and some are probably hoping its my last.

NT:  How long have you been performing; how long did it take you to find your voice?

SG:  My first time on stage was on Jan. 17th 2006, so just over 7 years.

Find my voice? That’s hard to pinpoint and in a lot of ways I think you never stop finding it. It should evolve as you evolve.

For the sake of the question, I would say I started to notice a definite direction around year 3-4.

NT:  Do you see yourself remaining in Minneapolis, or have you an eye on LA or NY?

SG:  The plan for me right now is to remain in Minneapolis for the next 2 to 3 years at the most and then move to Los Angeles.

I have spent the past two summers in Los Angeles and have been slowly prodding in that direction.

NT:  How has the Minneapolis comedy scene influenced you?

SG:  The “scene” (fucking hate that word), has made an enormous impression on my work. I’d put this city up against any other in the world as fast developing comics. I know the rebuttal, “(whining voice) but, but, but Steeeeeve, what about LA and New York?”

Those are the places you go when you’ve developed into a professional.

Of course there are always exceptions. I have performed pretty much all over the country and there are a few good and a lot of bad comics just about everywhere I have been.

NT:  Your disc opens with self-depreciating humor. Is that done with intent, to set the audience at ease? “Look, I’m not taking myself too seriously here, so don’t get all sensitive when I get into slavery.”

SG:  In retrospect I wish I would have called the album Stever Fever Live, because that’s what the it is, a live show. I don’t really know how I’m going to open a show until I get in front of the audience and feel their vibe (for the lack of a better word). That material chunk was going to be used at some point and when I got on stage it felt like the audience was um….uneasy about my appearance, so I naturally worked into that piece. But I don’t always open the same way.

And yes, my material can get pretty dark but I like to keep it all silly and absurd.

NT:  Describe your comedy to someone who hasn’t seen—or in my case, worked with—you.

SG:  Personal and dark subjects delivered in absurdity.

NT:  You keep a road journal on your web page; is that for fans, or a way to keep track of your own career?

SG:  Its basically just something on my site people can look at if they’re interested. Its becoming more of a picture/news journal than anything.

 

You can follow Steve on Twitter (@epigillespie) or be his Internet friend on Facebook to keep up with his day to day activities and tours.

You can buy his release Stever Fever in the Rooftop Store.

Bobby Joe Ebola and the Children Macnuggits Mix Pointed Satire with Eclectic Music

Bobby Joe Ebola and the Children Macnuggits–it’s certainly a mouthful for a band name. Dan Abbott and Corbett Redford, the core members of Bobby Joe Ebola, take on a whole variety of musical genres: doo-wop, death metal, punk, good ol’ acoustic guitar sing-along, to name a few. Bobby Joe Ebola has produced a bunch of music videos–with the help of crowd-sourced funding and their talented, filmmaking-inclined friends–that showcase their skills for mixing sharp satire with catchy melodies. One of their most recent videos, “Life is Excellent”, plays like a campfire sing-along meditation on what it means to be blissfully ignorant in today’s world. Watch “Life is Excellent” below (filled with SF comedy scene cameos) and you can read an interview with Dan and Corbett over at PopMatters. On December 18, Rooftop Comedy Productions will release Bobby Joe Ebola’s new album, Trainwreck to Narnia, which is available for pre-order now.

Comedian Derek Sheen Talks About All Things Northwest and Metal

Rock and comedy mix more often than you might expect; many people in the rock world say they wish they had the ability to speak as coherently as comedians do, and many comedians wish they could achieve rock star status.

Derek Sheen loves rock, specifically the late heavy metal vocalist legend, Ronnie James Dio. His latest album, the Rooftop Comedy release Holy Drivel, pays homage to RJD in both title and cover artwork.

Rooftop sent author Nathan Timmel to chat with Derek as he toured the northwest with Patton Oswalt. They discussed finding your voice, playing alternative venues, and what geography–if anything–does to your comedic sensibilities.

Nathan Timmel:  Holy Drivel–how large a fan of Ronnie James Dio does one have to be to devote a comedy album to a sideways homage to his seminal album?

Derek Sheen:  I am a huge Ronnie James Dio fan! Originally, Mark Allender sent me the cover art as a joke, thinking I could use it as a poster somewhere down the road? The moment I saw it, I thought it was too cool to just use as a show poster: it was the inspiration for the album and the Kickstarter project. I wanted to make something that was, both, an homage to one of my heroes and that showed off Mark’s awesome skills. Also, in keeping with the metal pedigree, it was a huge “get” to have Matt Bayles (Mastodon, Minus the Bear, Isis) and Trey Gunn (King Crimson, TU) produce, mix and master the album. For a stand-up album, it sounds amazing and the material isn’t bad either.

NT: You’re from Seattle, and open the track with good-natured ribbing of Portland. Is there a genuine, if light-hearted, rivaly between the two cities?

DS: Not really. Portland knows it’s better! Both have a great comedy scene, but Portland is my favorite city; it’s like Seattle, if Willy Wonka designed it! Plus, they have the Bridgetown Comedy Festival! Some of my favorite comics are there: Ian Karmel, Whitney Streed, Shane Torres, Gabe Dinger, Anthony Lopez, Tim Hammer, Jimmy Newstetter, Xander Deveaux and Sean Jordan. Go check ém out! Also, check out Spicy News! It’s where comics have to eat a Habanero pepper and then deliver the news! Brilliant.

Oh, check out Bryan Cook, Travis Vogt, Mike Drucker, Barbara Holm and Rylee Newton too!!

NT: What kind of sensibility does a Pacific Northwest comedian have, when compared to a Midwest or New York or Southern comic? Do you notice differences in style when you travel to different regions of the country?

DS:  I think Northwest comedians are slightly more passive-aggressive than East Coast comics, but that’s probably because the pressure to succeed in the Northwest isn’t anything like it is in NY or Chicago or Boston? They also have all four seasons there? In Seattle we have two: Stygian, crippling, moist darkness and 30 days of some sun. I spend 8 months out of every year battling ‘Soul Rickets’.

NT:  Where did you record your disc? Do you have a history with the venue? Is it where you came up in comedy? One show, or multiple nights edited together?

DS:  I recorded my album at the Comedy Underground, in Seattle. It was the venue that I performed my first open mic, when I was twelve. I remember seeing all of the pictures on the wall, comics that I respected and admired, and saying “I want to be THAT good someday”. Still am not there yet, but it’s my home club and has always fostered young comics and provided a stage where they can grow. We did six shows, over a weekend, and I took one show for the album. I thought I might cut some things together depending on how the audience and the energy was, but Saturday (1st show) was the one we went with. All the pieces seemed to fall into place with that audience and it was my favorite.

NT: How long have you been performing? How long in did it take you to find your comedic “voice?”

DS:  I had an agent when I was 12; he took me to a couple of state fairs. It was/I was horrible. No one is funny at that age. I also suffered from crippling stage fright. I studied music and got into several bands, to help overcome it. Once I felt like I had a handle on it, I quit music altogether and got back to writing and performing stand-up. It’s been about 7 years of hitting every show, every night and I’m still not where I want to be, but I don’t think I ever will be? It’s quite a ride.

NT:  Talk about the Holy Drivel World Tour. Where are you going?

DS:  On the first leg, I’ll be hitting most of the Southeast: Louisville, South Carolina, North Carolina, Athens, Nashville, Chatanooga and also Chicago. Then Eugene, Oregon and Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

NT: I notice theaters and coffee shops—alternative venues—on your calendar; do you prefer non-traditional locations for comedy to comedy clubs? Or are some of these places known for sponsoring “underground” comedy shows?

DS:  I have always preferred small theaters and rock clubs. They seem like a destination location, where you have to know what you are seeing before you agree to go, can curate your own audience and they seem to be more open to fostering independent artists. Unlike comedy clubs, which I still love, where there seems to be more ‘walk-in’ traffic, that isn’t always prepared for what they’re about to see. But the money is always better and there is a built-in support system, most of the time. Clubs are a risk averse business model.

NT:  Talk about the Funny or Die series, Adventure Buddies. Is that something you’re a part of, or just a cast member in?

DS:  Seattle comedians Travis Vogt and Kevin Clarke, have been shooting comedy shorts for over a decade. In 2009, they wrote and directed their first full length feature; a Post-Apocalyptic-Science Fiction epic, titled Steel of Fire Warriors 2010 A.D. and cast me as the robot sidekick “Robobot”. We had so much fun, I stuck around and never left their side, in the hopes that they become famous Hollywood directors and don’t know any better than to just hire their one friend, for every part. Adventure Buddies was a great experience! It was shot in hi-def, digitally, and was a bigger budget production than anything they had ever attempted. It looks great, it’s weird and very funny and also utilizes every single comic in the entire world. I highly recommend it!

NT:  Once the Holy Drivel Tour ends, what’s next for Derek Sheen?

DS:  I have a feeling that this tour will never end. I am going to keep dragging this out until I have a completely new hour of material and hope that not everyone is sick of me by then. After that, I’ll try this all over again. I have been very luck (blessed really) to be surrounded by so many supportive, talented people and Rooftop has been absolutely amazing! Big thanks to Dominic Del Bene for being the coolest!

Holy Drivel is now available on iTunes, Amazon, and the Rooftop Comedy shop. Be sure to check out the deluxe version of the album, that includes exclusive video from Derek’s album recording!

Paul Morrissey Interview

We’re very excited to release the latest album from Paul MorrisseyPaul Morrissey‘s Back. After finishing his college basketball career and falling just shy of the NBA draft, Paul went westward to California to pursue a career as a sports news anchor. While sports has always been a passion of Paul’s, he also greatly enjoyed injecting his broadcasts with healthy doses of comedic commentary. This launched Paul on his stand-up path and he’s been busy ever since, performing several times on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, Comedy Central’s Open Mic Fight, and Comics Unleashed. We recently chatted with Paul while he was performing in Montreal, getting his take on political comedy, making his act personal, producing a good-quality TV set and more.

Rooftop Comedy: The Just For Laughs Festival is obviously a huge draw for comedy in Montreal. As someone who regularly headlines clubs there, how are the crowds during the rest of the year?

Paul Morrissey: It’s kind of funny. I’ve never done the festival, but I’ve been performing here for six years. Whenever they want to do a showcase for Montreal that’s like five minutes. I do an hour here every eight months. There’s definitely some nuances you have to know. I don’t really talk about politics or religion too much. There are a lot of differences, especially in the political arena up here. So I usually don’t end up talking to that. Most of my stuff is observational and personal experiences and stuff. You just have to find a way to make a connection and I find I do that pretty well up here.

RC: Are you talking about French-Canadian politics in particular or are you inclined to stay away from politics altogether?

PM: It’s not even staying away from it. I feel like my strength is my personal, observational stuff. There are some guys that just talk about, “Hey, what about coffee?” They keep it kind of impersonal. I think the best way to speak about something like that is—and I have nothing against doing simple subjects. I love doing common subjects and then making it my own. You know what I mean? “This one time I got coffee, you gotta hear about this.” So you make that funny. I think that’s the way I make that extra step and I find that with people, it doesn’t really matter where they’re from, if you’re telling them a personal story, they usually connect a little bit better than if you just speak about a subject. And politics—I have no desire to speak about that. I know that everyone has an opinion so it just seems like a minefield to go through. When people agree with you, I’m sure it’s like preaching to the choir. And if people disagree, I’m sure it’s an absolute nightmare. So it’s not something I even have to deal with, luckily. One of my other favorite comedy cities is Washington D.C., because I find it has very smart crowds and it’s not connected to show business at all.

RC: It can be refreshing as an audience member to not hear another bad Mitt Romney joke.

PM: The guys who do it really well—there are some bad political comics as well—but there are guys who do it great, like Jimmy Dore and guys like that. When some of those guys talk about it, it just makes me depressed. I’m like, “Oh you’re completely right, but now I’m sad.”

RC: You’ve enjoyed several appearances on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. What has that experience been like for you as a comic?

PM: Well, obviously, for me, that’s always been one of the goals of doing stand-up. I felt my material was kind of really perfectly suited for TV. That wasn’t something I went out to try. When I first started doing stand-up, I just wanted to be funny in the club. Then the more I did material, people were like, “You have some really well-written, cleaner jokes,” and that’s really my strength. I always found that when there were nights where you had to be cleaner, I always ended up having the best sets. It just seemed that my comedy kind of developed toward that end. If there was a contest or a five-minute thing, because that’s basically what you have to do on TV—you have five minutes. I got to work with a lot of those guys who are really good at doing those five-minute spots. I toured with Jim Gaffigan for a long time and Tom Papa. Both of those guys work on the cleaner side. It’s not that they’re against swearing, but if you’re talking about food or if you’re talking about certain things you don’t need to swear or say “F*ck” in the middle. [Jerry] Seinfeld is kind of famous for saying that swearing is like cheating. It’s lazy. I still have dirty jokes in my act, but there are some jokes—let’s say for the TV appearance—I had to make it cleaner and I would maybe use the thesaurus a little bit. It’s a challenge that I enjoy. A five-minute TV spot is like writing a hit song almost. You want it to be funny and unique but you still want it to be relatable. The first thing you find out is if you try to write one of those things, it never works out. So you have to use the best material that’s best suited for the show. If you watch the shows, you’ll see on Letterman where they’re shorter, stronger jokes. Whereas some other TV spots, you can do longer stories. There are all kinds of different ways to attack it. So that first appearance, I think I showcased two times and literally, I think this was when Louis CK was filming a movie. He was supposed to be on the show and then something happened and that spot opened up and I got called and that’s how I got my first appearance. I got called the day before or something like that. That first appearance—I think at that point I had been doing comedy for seven or eight years. The funny thing is that as soon as you’re done doing it, I felt like I went pretty well. I wasn’t that nervous, surprisingly, because it was a TV studio and I used to be a TV sports anchor.

RC: Was it tricky adjusting your delivery and timing from a club setting to a television studio audience?

PM: With Gaffigan, like his Hot Pocket joke, he’s probably got 30 punchlines and so for Letterman, he uses the best four. That’s the thing: when you’re in a club, you can tell a joke and you can tag it or say “Hey, look at that guy’s shirt.” On TV, you’ve got to stay within those restrictions. The jokes have to stand on their own, basically. When you’re going through your set, you’ve got to know “Hey, this is a strong TV joke. This is a perfect TV joke.” And you can feel that. Even if I do a joke in a club that doesn’t necessarily do incredible in the clubs, but I know it’s just an original, strong, short TV joke. I don’t write towards that. Sometimes, it just happens. There are times when I really enjoy just playing around. I love doing the clubs because you can play around and say a lot of things and then I know what I got to trim down when I’m making a TV set.

RC: You used to be a sports news anchor. Do you have any interest in getting into the sports-comedy world?

PM: It was a weird thing because when I got into comedy, it was all the stuff I couldn’t do while I was working as a TV sports anchor. I basically lost my job because I thought I was being funny, but it was just at the expense of the viewers. I was doing Daily Show stories on a real news station. And this was in 1999 or 2000, so it was almost like the beginning stages of The Daily Show. So when I started doing stand-up, I just got as far away from that as possible. I think there’s definitely some room for that. You can develop some stuff and just have fun with it, instead of just analyzing it from a serious standpoint. You’ve got to be able to have fun with it. I think it’s still missing. They’ve been trying to do a really good comedy sports show for a while and I think Norm MacDonald’s probably was the one that came closest to it. I think they only gave him six episodes. I think that would be a fun thing to do, a fun thing to get involved in.

RC: Why did you choose to include light heckling and crowd interaction on your album?

PM: I think the fun kind of stuff, especially for people who listen to a lot of comedy, is the spontaneous stuff. It’s a live show, so the audience is a lot more a part of the show than the comedian would like. I guess if you listen to Ray Romano at Carnegie Hall, you’re listening to all these jokes in the ideal circumstance. And that’s almost like watching someone on a Letterman appearance. This is the perfect surroundings. I wouldn’t put out a CD where the jokes aren’t going well and people are yelling the whole time, but, in the average show, there’s going to be a little bit of that in everything. There’s going to be two idiots in the back who everyone hates and you tell them to shut the hell up and then you get an applause break. Those are all those skills you get when you start and you’re doing all these shows in bars and in laundromats. People would rather do everything but watch a comedy show, but now all that stuff seems really easy.

RC: You also keep the audience interaction pretty light-hearted and funny, rather than showboating how  you can take down someone who’s being obnoxious.

PM: Yeah, even when I’m at a show now, and somebody’s talking, I wish somebody would tell them to shut the hell up. Anybody who knows me knows that I’m a pretty happy-go-lucky dude. But everybody has their moment where they’re like “Alright. Enough’s enough.” It can feel a lot like you’re a substitute teacher but after doing comedy for so long, you figure out the right way to say “Shut up.” I don’t have to insult their mother or anything like that but it’s distracting the show and I thought that was an interesting peek into what you deal with in a live comedy show. I guess I didn’t want it to be the perfect perfect circumstances. I wanted it to be a unique kind of recording, you know?

Paul Morrissey’s Back is now available on iTunes, Amazon, and the Rooftop Comedy shop. You can also stream Paul’s latest album through Pandora, Spotify, Rdio, and other services. Be sure to follow Paul Morrissey @PaulMorrissey 

Tig Notaro Recaps Her Intense Year and Announces an Album on “Conan”

As comedy enthusiasts have known for a while, it’s been one heck of a year for Tig Notaro. Last night, she stopped by Conan for an interview and a full recap on everything going on in the world of Tig. After battling some serious health issues (including pneumonia and breast cancer), going through a tough break-up, and losing her mother, Tig powered through to give a hugely-acclaimed show at The Largo in Hollywood. Louis CK was so impressed with the show, he is working with Tig to release the audio version of the performance through his own websiteLive (as in “to live”), will be available for $5 starting October 5. You can watch Tig’s full chat with Conan and Andy Richter below.

Adam Norwest Interview

Seattle-based comic Adam Norwest is quick (and hilarious) at putting himself down. Yet no matter how often he points out his alpha-male shortcomings, his comedy remains confident, tight, and focused. Rooftop is thrilled to release One of a Kind, the debut album from Adam, who recently won the title in CMT’s Next Big Comic. We recently chatted with Adam about his love for Seattle culture, navigating “offensive” material, and more.

Rooftop Comedy: Your album cover is a nice twist on the iconic Nevermind album from Nirvana. Why the homage?

Adam Norwest: For a couple reasons. One being that I’m from Seattle and I thought that it would be cool to have a Seattle reference on my album. Two: I think being naked is funny in general—especially me being naked, for some reason. It’s never a sexy thing. It’s just supposed to be hilarious—especially considering the fact that I don’t have a penis on the CD cover.

RC: Are you still pretty active with the Seattle comedy scene?

AN: Yeah, this is where I’m from, so it’s my home. I perform here as often as I can. Tacoma Comedy Club is my home club now, but I’ve worked all over the Northwest. I owe a lot to the clubs here—especially Tacoma and Laughs Comedy Spot for all the stage time they’ve given me to help develop who I am now as a comic.

RC: What sort of changes have you seen in the Northwest comedy scene?

AN: It’s interesting, because, when I started, obviously, I was the newest person. Then, within three or four years, I was in the top ten percent of people who had been doing comedy the longest. It’s just amazing how often people either move away or just drop out and stop trying. That’s probably the biggest change I’ve noticed. [In terms of comedy], I don’t think a lot’s changed. A lot of people are still trying to follow an alt-scene or trying to work the road. Seattle is a great town for comedy. Anytime a bigger name comes through and they may play a theater or they may play a large club in another town, just because Seattle is so supportive of the arts and of stand-up.

RC: So there are some smaller rooms where comics like to work out material?

AN: Seattle’s a great scene as far as that goes. Our open mics have good audiences and then there’s different bar shows and little theater shows. There’s tons of stage time. It’s a great place to do comedy and develop comedy.

RC: Do you have any pre-show routines?

AN: I have some sort of set routine—it’s not very exciting. An hour before I have to be at the club, I finally go, “Oh crap—I have to get ready”. I take a shower, drastically try to figure out if there’s anything new I want to try out. I write it on my hand or a piece of paper. Then, right before my set, I’m ridiculous. I stretch and jump and shadowbox and try to get my energy up and then I go on stage and stand in the same place for an hour. It’s very deceiving, if you’ve never seen me perform, watching me before my set, because you’d think I’d be doing jumping jacks and cartwheels and juggling. Then I just stand there and deliver words.

RC: How did you transition from improv to stand-up?

AN: Somebody who I did improv with, Jim Kellner, wanted to try stand-up. There was another actor that had done stand-up and he used to tell us jokes all the time backstage. We thought it was the coolest thing, but now I realize he was just using us as his open mic. I had no idea we were being used. So we decided to go to open mics. It was tough. I was 19, so there wasn’t a whole lot of stage time I could get. I went to enough open mics to the point where, when I was 21, I was able to go to some random bar and road shows and start doing work. I like stand-up because it’s only me I have to rely on. With improv, it’s a team: I can let them down or they can let me down. With stand-up, it’s all my fault.

RC: One of a Kind shows you have a talent for talking about “manliness”, or lack thereof, while always remaining tight and confident. Would you say that’s always been your comedic voice or has that evolved?

AN: When I started comedy, I was pretty much willing to say anything I could that could get a laugh. I used to do a bunch of material that made people think, “Is he straight? Is he gay? What’s going on? He has jokes about his girlfriend, but then he talks about that guy” I was saying anything I could to get a laugh. It didn’t matter. Then I started working to develop little, short stories. Now, with One of a Kind, I’m finally able to deliver a mix of “This is who I really am. This is really my life. Obviously there are some twists and things that aren’t real. Also, here are some random observances that I’ve seen that I think are weird from my perspective. The album now is very me. The only difference between my album and the actual stage show is the album is all material. It’s just joke after joke after joke. Whereas, at my live show, I like to be a lot more in the moment.  Not necessarily making fun of people, but things happen and I ask questions and people have different responses. I like to make every show different—I just don’t think that can come across as well on the CD. If you like the jokes, you should definitely come see the live show because it’s that material and then more.

RC: In keeping the live club shows more spontaneous, do you find yourself censoring certain topics depending on where you’re performing?

AN: In regards to audience, obviously the venue could say it should be clean or whatever. You can really tell with the audience. If the audience tenses up on anything questionable, then I know I can’t push the limit, but if they’re laughing at everything, I know I can take it further and be more vulgar and they’ll like it even more. I don’t want to be just blunt and dirty, but if I can think of a clever dick joke, I’m gonna use it.

RC: Do audience members make it known if they think you’ve gone too far?

AN: All the time [Laughs]. I mean, maybe not all the time, but I’ve definitely had moments where I’ve had people come up to me after shows and said, “I really don’t think you should have called that lady’s daughter a whore. I don’t think she was OK with it. I don’t think they found it very funny”. Whereas, they could have been laughing and this person didn’t even see it happen. It just bugs them the wrong way. And I never want to upset anyone. That’s never my intention. I truly believe that it’s comedy– you’re obviously there because you want to have a good time. Don’t take anything too seriously or too personally. I think a lot of times, people just have other stuff going on in their lives. She may have had a bad last hour at work or she may have had a bad personal experience of someone calling her that. Or just some other trigger-pulling thing. That’s out of my control, unfortunately. Besides talking about Jell-O for an hour, there’s nothing I can do.

RC: Does one track or joke stand out as a particular favorite?

AN: I guess I have a few favorite jokes. I talk about sting rays and I like it just because out of nowhere, I go, “OK, let’s talk about sting rays”. It really throws people off-guard because no one else does that and it’s after I’ve told a bunch of personal stories. With sting rays, I take actual true facts, which shows, technically, I’m educating people and making them completely ridiculous. So I really like that, just because it’s fun to watch people’s reactions to those jokes.

RC: How many weeks in typical year are you out on the road these days?

AN: It’s become more and more as the years go. Three years ago, I may have done, I don’t know, 20 weeks and last year I may have done 35 or 40 weeks. I’m exhausted. I was half-tempted to call this album my debut and retirement. For me, that’s one of the big reasons I’m excited about putting this out. I think it kind of marks the end of a specific era of my career. It’s my way of saying goodbye to this material. This is where my life’s been at for the past few years. I’m going to take some time in Seattle to write a new act about more where I’m at now and go from there.

RC: I can’t imagine traveling that much for work.

AN: We’re the hardest working and the laziest people at the exact same time. I have the ability, if I want, to work five hours a week and do nothing else. I’m not going to progress that way. Or I have the ability to work 90 hours a week and do everything I can. I have had moments where I’m like, “OK, where am I at again?” Onstage, I’ll be like “Thank you Cleveland—I mean, Indianapolis”. I’ve had that moment. The audience normally thinks I’m joking so they laugh.

RC: Down the road, do you ever see yourself taking on more script-based comedy?

AN: I just like entertaining and being creative in general. So I’m working with wherever that takes me. Steve Gillespie, who’s another stand-up, and I wrote a pilot this year and we’re going to start writing another one and regardless of what happens with that, it was a fun process for me. I’d love to be a part of some writing staff or end up with a clean act and doing cruise ships. I just enjoy making people happy. It sounds cheesy, but it’s true.

One of a Kind is now available on iTunes, Amazon, and the Rooftop Comedy shop. You can also stream the album on Spotify. Be sure to follow Adam @AdamNorwest.

ERIN JUDGE INTERVIEW

Comedian Erin Judge will be quick to tell you she has mixed feelings about Whole Foods Market. While she undoubtedly falls into the young, urban liberal demo that the supermarket courts religiously, Erin is in her comedy zone when poking fun at the store and its Singles Night events (a real thing hilariously recounted by Erin). Erin’s debut comedy album, So Many Choices, is available today and is already getting some great reviews from critics. We chatted with Erin in the midst of The Pink Collar Comedy Tour to talk about her love for Chris Rock, her performance on the Live at Gotham Comedy Central series, Mitt Romney’s comfort zone, and more.

Rooftop Comedy:  You recorded your album at the Broadway Playhouse in Santa Cruz, California—a community-focused black box theater. Why did you decide to tape your album there?

Erin Judge: I had done a two-woman play a couple years ago, called The Meaning of Wife, with my best friend and we had a run at The Broadway Playhouse and it was one of my favorite experiences performing ever and I loved the audiences there and I loved the vibe, so I thought it would be the ideal place to record my album.

RC: How did you start out as a performer?

EJ: In college, I did improv comedy. I was part of my college improv comedy troupe. From there, I hosted a variety show, my senior year of college, which was more of a stand-up-type environment to be performing in and then after I graduated, I decided to start doing stand-up, because I had always loved stand-up growing up. All of my favorite comedians were stand-ups; I watched Comedy Central religiously as a kid. So I started with improv, but I think I was destined to end up in stand-up because it’s what I loved as a child.

RC: Who were some of your favorite comics growing up?

EJ: I remember Janeane Garofalo and Margaret Cho. Chris Rock was my favorite growing up and I remember seeing so many people and memorizing so many routines. I also remember watching the show The A-List, which was hosted by Sandra Bernhard—she’s amazing.

RC: Do you think there’s a growing comedy scene at Wellesley College?

EJ: Yeah there really has. It’s pretty cool. Wendy Liebman, who’s a pretty famous stand-up, she graduated from Wellesley before me. And then, she and I have had many opportunities to perform together. Since I left, I’ve noticed a lot of Wellesley graduates going into the comedy world. Many work at UCB [Upright Citizens Brigade] and do sketch and improv. One recent graduate was just on an episode of 30 Rock. It’s pretty cool to see arts and entertainment coming into more of a focus at the college.

RC: Last year, you were featured in The New York Times magazine, proving to know very little about Twilight. Are there any pop culture franchises you guiltily or maybe not-so-guiltily adore?

EJ: I’m a huge fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and I love True Blood. True Blood and Buffy are the limit of my vampire interest. Those are my addictive pleasures—no matter how absurd True Blood gets, I will always be loyal to it. It’s extremely campy and just gets campier. As the mythology expands, it’s gotten bigger than it can be contained. It’s fun and it can be ridiculous. I also love Girls. I think the show is really funny and I like that it’s brave and I like that the female protagonist doesn’t have to be loveable, huggable, wacky, goofy. She can just be obnoxious and actually somebody you might not like and I think that’s something brand new that the show is doing. I guess that’s the one show I’m really on the bandwagon for right now.

RC: As a writer, what did you make of the internet kerfuffle when the show premiered?

EJ: I always think it’s a missed opportunity whenever a show lacks diversity in the cast and I personally, if I ever had the opportunity to put together a team of people, I look around the world of comedy and my friends that I would hire and it’s a diverse group of people. If you look at the people W. Kamau Bell is putting together for his show, you can see that there’s just amazing, talented, diverse people out there and it always surprises me when people don’t tap into that. That said, Girls is going for a very specific angle, which is basically what Lena Dunham knows and feels comfortable writing about and I don’t think anything that anybody does creatively should have to represent anything except exactly what it represents. She’s really funny. She’s really brave and she is doing a lot of things that I think are different and new. She’s just not doing absolutely everything one could possibly do to forward women in television.

RC: You’ve also performed on Comedy Central’s Live at Gotham series. What was that experience like?

EJ: It’s pretty cool. I think a lot of us, a lot of my friends and I who are in comedy have that as our first credit, which is just a cool memory to have. I remember Myq Kaplan and Baron Vaughn both called me up around that time and told me that they did too. So it was a very exciting time for all of us. It was just out of a competition that we did called Open Mic Fights that Comedy Central used to run around the country and I was still living in Boston at the time. But they had seen me do their competition and decided to put me on the show. Tommy Davidson was the host and I got to meet a bunch of really cool other comedians as part of performing on that show. It was just a lot of fun and I still get people following me on Twitter and emailing me through my website who see the video on ComedyCentral.com so it has wide reach too.

RC: What stories from your album do you especially like to perform?

EJ: The thing that is really one of my favorite things to talk about right now is when I was bullied. On the CD it’s called ”Erin Solves Bullying Forever”. It’s a story about me getting bullied in high school and it’s a fun story right now because bullying is so relevant and in the news and I think it’s an inspiring story and a funny one. People can take it as inspiration and motivation to overcome that stuff.

RC: Speaking of your teenage years, you have some great stories about your experience with Sex Ed in Texas public schools. It doesn’t seem like things have progressed much since then.

EJ: It’s amazing how little things have changed and it’s amazing how it’s still this “teach you to be afraid of your body” attitude—even though there’s cable. Even though these kids can go on the internet and find out this information. That’s why the show on MTV called Savage U—I think Dan Savage is a genius and he has this show where he answers sex questions on college campuses. I think that’s really providing a really great platform for Sex Ed outside schools for kids.

When people can’t find out about information at school, they look on the internet. And the last place you want people finding out about Sex Ed is the internet. If you don’t know what “69” is and you ask the internet, it won’t give you a subtle answer.

RC: As you discuss on So Many Choices, you’re openly bisexual. Do you ever feel pressured as a performer to incorporate that into your act?

EJ: A lot of people do ask me questions about bisexuality after I get offstage. They’re like, “So, are you really bisexual?” and I’m like, “Yeah”. [Laughs] I don’t mind talking about it. I think it’s interesting and I find a lot of my experiences in life that are both funny and have to do with that and have to do with people’s confusion and ambivalence toward it. I just read an article today about Mitt Romney and a Sex Ed pamphlet in Massachusetts and it was about bullying. He didn’t mind the word “gay”, but he wanted them to take out the word “bisexual”, because it was too racy for him. I find that kind of stuff fascinating and I love talking about my personal life and my own experiences and I think that one of the things that makes my story a little bit different is I’ll talk about my ex-girlfriends and then I’ll talk about my ex-boyfriends. Through my stories I like to make myself a bit more normal, because it is normal to me. It’s something I’m really happy to talk about and some of my best material comes from that subject matter.

RC: I agree totally. One especially memorable track recounts you attending your ex’s wedding. Not to spoil anything, but the story ends with the line “I was up to my snatch in porch”—if that’s not an amazing tag, I don’t know what is.

 EJ: [Laughs] I’ve had somebody tell me to put that on a t-shirt. “You might be a redneck, if you’re up to your snatch in porch”.

So Many Choices is now available on iTunes, Amazon, and the Rooftop Comedy Shop. Listen to two free tracks from the album and be sure to follow Erin on Twitter @ErinJudge