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Dylan Brody Interview

Dylan Broody has been in the comedy game for decades. So long, in fact, he had fans in legends such as Robin Williams and George Carlin.  To promote his first release on the Rooftop label, Nathan Timmel shot an email of questions Dylan’s way, and the answers are absolutely worth reading…

 

NT: So where is home? I ask because Mill Valley is an interesting choice of location for recording a CD. Many comics pick the big cities—LA, Chicago, NY—to record. You went tiny. Do you have a relationship with the Throckmorton Theater, or a whimsical history with Mill Valley?

DB: I live in Sylmar. It’s not a crap neighborhood, really. It’s crap neighborhood adjacent in the L.A. area. I went to Mill Valley because I love the Throckmorton. It’s one of my favorite venues on the planet. Also, I wanted to be close enough to San Francisco that it would be easy for Rooftop people to get there to record the show. Also, there are dogs everywhere in Mill Valley so that ensures that I’ll be having a good day before any show I do there.

NT: Gay issues: you speak very rationally about gay rights—I’m thinking of the joke involving soldiers in Afghanistan—do you ever have anyone come up to you after a show and say, “You changed my mind” or, in the least, “You gave me something to think about?”

DB: Not really, no. Though I always hope that I am persuasive. I started doing a lot of that anti-homophobia humor years ago when I was still a straight-ahead political comic. This was in the eighties and early nineties when a lot of road comics were doing horribly homophobic material. I knew if I wanted to get my point across and get laughs, I had to be sharper with the writing than people getting shock-value laughs about anal sex and limp-wristed stereotyping. I was writing to change the zeitgeist, rather than to pander to it. When I was the feature act and a headliner was doing fag jokes, I would bring out all my sharpest material about how homophobia was an accepted form of bigotry. The joke you reference, though it wasn’t about Afghanistan then, always killed. It often got an applause break. If the headliner didn’t bother to watch what I was doing in the feature spot, he’d often be baffled to find that material that usually went down very well for him was getting little or no response. My work was serving to inoculate the audience against the contagion of hate speech. I suspect none of it was every consciously processed that way by the audience, but it had an effect. Whether that lasted beyond the duration of the evening for much of anyone, I couldn’t say, but when it took the impact out of material with which I disagreed for a night or a week’s worth of nights, I felt pretty good about what I was doing with my stage time.

When I started headlining, it became a whole different thing, and the piece grew and became more powerful because now I was the one taking the stage with authority.

Now, homophobia is really recognized as a form of bigotry. Now these ideas are far more comfortable for an audience to absorb and agree with and I’m very happy to have the current turning my direction. I’m also glad I got this good recording of a live performance of that material. It frees me to move on to whatever my next issue is. You know, when I figure out what it is. Then I’ll move on to it.

NT: Was this a one-off recording? Many comedy discs are cobbled together from two or more shows over the course of a weekend. This sounds like a one-take shot from the hip; no saying, “Well, I think I can tag that joke better tomorrow night…”

DB: Yeah. This recording was one night, one take. I flew up, did the show and flew home the next morning.

NT: Your bio (website) has many recent accomplishments listed, starting in the 2000s. When did you begin performing, and how long do you feel it took you to find your voice?

DB: I started doing open mics in New York in the summer of ’81. In ’82 or ’83 I became a “developing regular” at the Improv there. I wasn’t old enough to drink in the club, but I got two or three spots a week on the stage. I didn’t really start to feel relaxed and at home on stage doing stand-up until ’84/’85 when I worked the London circuit and figured out how I was funny. It took me another year or two to start doing the sort of material a really wanted to be doing, which was political, topical stuff.

Around ’94, when Carson announced his retirement and the comedy boom ended, shutting down a lot of clubs that I loved, I sort of dropped out of the business for a while.

The stuff I do now, the long-form story-telling, started with KYCY radio in San Francisco running stuff that I recorded badly on my laptop. When I found myself jonesing for the stage again in the early 2000s, I figured this stuff might work and started taking it out. I found out that not all of it works in comedy clubs. It took me a while to get my footing again, to figure out that I could do funny stuff in clubs and more poignant stuff in theaters; it could all work as long as I kept true to my own voice and my own ideas regardless of the environment. Now I just try to choose the right stuff from the repertoire to fit the circumstance.

NT: I got wrapped up in your story, what felt like an intro to me, to Hollywood. Where you were meeting with a producer to discuss a screenplay you had written. Your few jokes on the subject were dead on regarding how the town operates, and it seemed like you were going to continue down that path, because you began an aside regarding being a straight male in West Hollywood…

…but you never went back to Hollywood and the producer. I’m assuming that was intentional, but sometimes I start one story and forget to go back, so I have to ask if there’s more to the Hollywood angle.

DB: I have a lot of stories about pitch meetings and meetings with producers. In this case, though, it’s just a soft way of getting into the hard material that comes afterward. The couple of lines about the meeting are just to get me into West Hollywood, dressed for a meeting to set up the time in the coffee house. Remember that the whole thing is an explanation of how I came to write the poem with which I open the set. That’s the thing I need to circle back to.

NT: You’ve been compared to David Sedaris and Spalding Grey, both powerhouses. Ever bump into Paul F. Tompkins? There’s the similar storytelling vein in the two of you; you’re more interested in the craft of telling a fascinating story than setup-punchline.

DB: I love Paul F. Tompkins. There’s also a similarity, I think, in our style of presentation, our neo-dapper appearances. I’ve also worked with his brilliantly talented wife Janie Haddad who used to do voices for us when I wrote regularly for The David Feldman Show on KPFK.

NT: You pause mid sentence during your bit involving breast-feeding, and at the end of the pause you let the listener in on what the whole audience knows: someone is leaving the theater. You make a crack that “he’s” an offended Republican; it turns out to be a woman who just went to the bathroom, but how do you deal with folks who might not appreciate your take on politics, gay rights, and the like?

DB: If they want to debate me after a show, I try to avoid engagement. If they want to debate me during a show, I ask them to leave. I don’t like to get involved in heckler control during a performance. The truth is, I like to make the points I believe in during my stage time. People can agree with me or not as they please, but I’m not all that interested in getting into arguments with people. I want to make my case as clearly and as strongly as I can and let it stand on its own. If I’m doing my job right, people laugh at the jokes and don’t know that their minds are being changed a little bit by what I’m saying, by the pull of the crowd, by the clarity of the premise or the lucidity of the prose. That’s the real secret to art of any kind. The craft offers a beautiful spectacle of whatever sort and disguises – or at least makes palatable – the complex, nuanced ideas that the artist truly seeks to communicate. People who might not agree with me over coffee, find themselves laughing at a thing that I couch in a joke on stage and can never quite think about that thing the same way again. The effect is marginal, incremental, but valuable nonetheless.

Also, sometimes, I mock them behind their backs.

 

Buy Dylan’s album, Dylan Goes Electric: Live At The Throckmorton, now. 

Alvin Williams Interview

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Rooftop has yet another hilarious release for all your giggling needs: Alvin Williams, I Hope You’re Happy.

Rooftopper Nathan Timmel talked to him about the disc.

Read on!

NT: Where did you record your disc, and why did you choose that location? Is it a special venue for you?

AW: I recorded the album at Tacoma Comedy Club. It’s a phenomenal club and the audiences aren’t uptight or afraid to laugh about subjects that tend to be controversial in some regions. Plus it’s a huge venue so you can really feel the laughs reverberate when you’re onstage! There is something special about the city of Tacoma in general. Seattle gets all the love and sometimes people who live there tend to rag on Tacoma. Not sure why, I mean you all share the same airport, be cordial. It’s a blue-collar town that doesn’t always get the respect it deserves and that’s something I believe most of us can relate to in this industry, which in my opinion is why I’ve always had some of my best shows there because I feel like I connect with them really well.

NT: Do you prefer traditional comedy clubs, theaters, or, do you have a favorite type of venue that doesn’t include either of those?

AW: I’m a comedy club guy. If you look at my tour schedule that’s pretty much all you’ll see on there at any given time. I’m a natural homebody so to speak, so I like being settled in one location for an extended period, and by extended I mean a week. I really like gradually easing into a new setting, and getting to know the area where I’m performing. The sites, the people, restaurants and movie theaters. It keeps me on my toes and I will never be complacent, because just when you get comfortable it’s time to pick up and leave for another city to do it all over again! I’m at a point now where none of the areas I perform are new to me anymore, so I’m really comfortable in most places and I feel like that reflects in my shows.

NT: Was it a one-shot take, or is it a series of shows edited together?

AW: This album was recorded over a 2 day stretch of shows.

NT: You use personal segues to talk about pop culture, and vice versa. Overall, would you describe your comedy as personal, observational, a mix of each…

AW: Truthfully? I never know how to answer that one. Comedy comes from everywhere. When you talk about pop culture, often times you can make it personal, because they’re just people like you and I. But when you’re talking about something personal in your life, isn’t it still observational? I can’t really describe myself too well. I just see myself as someone who can relate to damn near anybody on some level. I know I’m funny, I just have to convince you within the first two minutes and we’ll be good!…So I guess “a mix” to answer your question?

NT: Do you feel you’re more a storyteller or setup and punchline kinda guy?

AW: I’m a storyteller by nature. You can probably tell because every question you ask me could have been answered in about a third of the amount of words I use, but I’m working on that I promise! I steer clear of comedy competitions because the comics with the shorter jokes do better, and I’ve learned I’m not as funny when I have to rush. I’ve found my groove in long form jokes. I figure it gives the audience more chances to laugh that way!

NT: You cut your teeth in Chicago—how do you feel the comedy scene is there?

AW: What a lot of people don’t know about me is that I truly cut my teeth in the Pacific Northwest. Mainly Idaho & Washington. I’m from Chicago but when I started doing stand-up I was living in Boise, ID. I have since developed a strong performing relationship with my hometown and now I can say with full confidence that it is a great scene. I’ve been welcomed with open arms and given the same treatment as someone who never left the city. Which is something you don’t hear about in other big cities. I Love performing back home!

NT: Any Los Angeles or New York aspirations in the future?

AW: No. I’m from a big city and I love performing in big cities, but I live a super quiet life in Denver and I’m happy! I’ll take that over fame any day…Why’d you ask, did an agent ask about me???

NT: One thing I have in common with you: we both moved often as children. I take it comedy was a coping mechanism for you? Describe how you feel having moved often shaped you as a person, and comedian.

AW: Moving was always a positive thing for me. I got used to it after a while and I learned to love it. Every place was an opportunity to meet new people, and that’s the attitude I take when I’m on the road. I love traveling and I love meeting new people. Now if you consider money a void, then yes I am definitely filling a void. I wish I could fill it more! Otherwise I do comedy for two reasons: One, I have the ability to make people forget about their problems, even if it’s only for a little while. Two, I don’t have a boss or an alarm clock. When one of those changes I’ll probably reconsider this whole thing. But until then, I’m still enjoying the trip!

 

Buy I Hope You’re Happy in the Rooftop Shop.

Isaac Witty: Talkin’ Conan, People

 

Big night for Isaac Witty! Making his 2nd television appearance tonight on Conan.  We were thinking about what a comic can expect from a TV appearance and Isaac filled us in. Read on and check out his album “Zero Balance” but don’t miss him TONIGHT on TBS!

RC(Rooftop Comedy): Congrats on booking Conan! How did your last appearance on Letterman affect your career? Are you expecting the same thing from being on Conan?

Doing Letterman was about 10 years ago.  It allowed me to get a bunch of college, corporate and club work that never would have come my way without it.  It changed people’s perception of me, which mostly just freaked me out at first.  I do not want to have any preconceived ideas for what doing The Conan Obrien Show will do for me.  That’s how people fumble the ball.  Too busy thinking about what kind of endzone dance they’re going to do.  All I know for now, is that it’s really cool to be asked to do the show.

 

RC: Are you going in knowing that you’re going to crush it? What is your confidence level like?

I’d say I’m 95% confident, 5% of the time… earth trembling panic mode.  It all happens in waves.  I ran the set at Acme Monday night and crushed, but all I could think about for the next 2 hours was the fact that I went 15 seconds too long.   Of course, I’d like to do well, but I’m not trying to think about that.   Believe it or not, it helps me to downplay things like this.  When you start doing comedy, you think every set is make or break, but it’s not.  This thing is a marathon.

 

RC: Any reason in particular that you’re excited to be on Conan vs. other late night shows?

I’m excited to do Conan because his fans seem be smart.

 

RC: Describe your ideal experience of performing on the show.

My ideal experience?  Do the set, get laughs, exchange pleasantries with everyone.  I’m really not asking much here.

 

RC: Is what you visualized realistic?

I think I can do the set and get the laughs, but I’m not very well liked, so the pleasantries part is a stretch…

 

RC: Do you know any other guests that are going to be on the show? How could you harass them in a way that would amuse you?

Jeff Goldblum is also on the show!  Ideas on how to harass Jeff Goldblum?  What kind of insane prankster do you think I am?  I’m almost 40!  I’m not going to attempt any hijinks on a famous actor that I don’t know.  “Did you hear about Isaac?  He almost got to be on Conan, but he tried to freeze Jeff Goldblum’s underwear in the craft services room and was forced off the premises.”

 

RC: Are you taller than Conan and could you beat him in a street fight? What would be your plan of attack if he came after you?

I am 2 inches shorter than Conan O’Brien.  Being that I’m the “little guy” in this fight, I’d have to use his height against him.  I haven’t been in a fight since I was 8 years old.  I imagine that if I did fight to win, I’d have to fight dirty, so I’d most definetly go for the kneecaps.  I learned most everything I know about fighting from the Cobra Kai.

 

RC: Besides stand-up, what have you been up to lately?

What have I been up to lately?  I’m in a sketch comedy group called The Turkeys.  We’re just about to release a bunch of stuff on the internet.  I’m really excited about it!   We’re all a bunch of rag-tag comics that got tired of waiting around for something to happen in our lives and careers so we decided to do force ourselves to create something.  The problem is, after about 2 weeks of writing sketches we realized that we’re all just lazy sacks of crap, and creating video sketches is really hard work.  We’re all good friends.  Over the last year, we’ve gotten it together and I’m just really proud of what we’ve come up with.  Check us out out: @The_Turkeys or facebook.com/theturkeyscomedy

 

Jason Downs Interview

 

www.jasondownsonline.comIf you looked closely, you saw Jason Downs while you were watching the Seattle Seahawks manhandle the Denver Broncos.

No, he wasn’t on the field, Jason was starring in one of the coveted Super Bowl commercials.

A comedian by trade, Jason is dipping his toes into the acting world in Los Angeles. But that doesn’t mean he’s straying away from comedy; no, that’s Jason’s first love.

Rooftop had Nathan Timmel chat Jason up regarding his new CD, Excessive Talking.

NT:   Let’s start awkwardly: when I listened to your disc, I popped it in without reviewing any of the promo material. When you started speaking, I created a picture in my head of what you might look like, and given your lovely almost-baritone, my immediate thought was “African-American.”  Then I looked you up, and… nope! Watching your YouTube videos, I began to question why I ever thought it in the first place.  You make reference to your weight on the new disc; do you believe weight gain and the addition of a beard has changed the tenor of your voice?

JD:  Yeah, I’ve heard I kinda sound black, which is why when I apply for college scholarships I do so over the phone.  But seriously, I guess I’m just a product of where I was raised.  My schools we’re mostly black and Hispanic with some white sprinkled in there too.

NT:    You have quite a bit of hilarious, self-depreciating jokes. Is that something done consciously, or do you write a joke, then look back and say, “Well, kinda busted on myself there…”

JD:    I don’t go out of the way intentionally to be self-depreciating.  Things just kind of happen to me and I report back.  When I first started stand up I would rant about bigger social issues.  Then one day I posted a super intimate blog post about my inner most thoughts and fears.   W. Kamau Bell was like, “that’s what you need to talk about on stage.”  So I did and things just started to click.  It wasn’t intentional.  It’s just kind of what happened.

NT:    Did you have a specific emotional arc you wanted the disc to take when you were lining up the bits, or did you free form it? Basically, describe the artistic process involved in creating a set for a CD recording.

JD:     Well, I’ve been on the road for a few years now featuring for Michael McDonald from MadTV and the Heat.  I’ve been able to develop my act opening for him.  He gives me complete freedom and he aways pushes me to try new stuff.  I don’t have to get off at a set time.  I can end on different bits.  I can rearrange my act.  I could bomb and then get the crowd back; total freedom.  So he gave me complete freedom and this is the act that I developed while on the road featuring for McDonald; along with performing in San Francisco which is where I started.

NT:    How much of your material is invented, and how much is real-life experience? Meaning: did you spend time testing racist Google auto-fills, and/or visit a marijuana expo?

 JD:     All of it is absolutely true.  I’m sure I’ve exaggerated something in there for comedic effect, but not much, if anything.  Yep, that Google auto fill bit is legit.  I really went to a bong trade show in Vegas.  I really saw a pilot lie about turbulence to get everybody to sit down on a plane.  I really saw a woman with no hands drop a coke.  At times I’ve tried to make things up, but the audience can smell it and it just doesn’t work. After a show an audience member might come up and talk to me about a joke and I’ll be like,”That really happened”.  They will be like,”Yeah, I know.  You can tell it’s true.”  I’m glad my material  rings true.

 NT:     You mention a two-night stand at the comedy club, Wed/Thursday. Was the CD recorded over those two nights, or is it more a one-and-done disc?

 JD:   Yeah it was done over two nights.  The actual recording is almost exclusively from the Wednesday night show.  It went pretty much perfectly.  There were a couple of jokes I forgot to do, so we just slide those in from the Thursday night show.

NT:    Did you move to LA to pursue comedy, acting, or both?  Are you leaning toward preferring one over the other, now that you’ve got some national acting spots on your résumé?

 JD:    I moved to LA for comedy.  But you can’t get any stage time in LA unless you’re on TV.  So I started taking some acting classes, I’ve landed a couple of things, and apparently I have this big white guy look that is pretty rare in LA.  It’s like me, Seth Rogan and Kathy Bates.

 NT:     I am neither smart nor Christian, but isn’t St. Peter the gatekeeper to heaven, not Michael the Archangel?

 JD:    Heathen!

 NT:     Were you at all tempted to name the CD “Monkey Pussy?” (which readers will understand when they hear the disc)

 JD:    I wanted to name this album so many different things.  Monkey Pussy was up there, so was Food Boner, and Allergic to Pussy.  I really like the way Food Boner sounds.  I went with Excessive Talking, because when I was a kid I was a horrible student, just goofing off too much.  Every report card I came home with had the term “excessive talking” written in the teachers notes section.  I just love the way those two words sound together; Excessive Talking.  As soon as I started comedy, I always knew that if I had a chance to get an album out, Excessive Talking would be the name.

 NT:     With bitcoins all the rage, have you considered trying to implement your taco-economy idea to the world? They’re tangible, which has to make them more valuable right off the bat.

JD:    Bitcoins!  I keep hearing about these things.  I don’t even know what they are.  They sound like the name of the coins you get in Super Mario Brothers when you jump and hit your head on the bricks with the question marks.

I guess bitcoins is some type of digital currency.  Which I always thought Internet porn was digital currency, but now that Internet porn is basically free they had to come up with bitcoins.

 

You can purchase Excessive Talking…

Nathan Anderson Interview

In 2012, comedian Nathan Anderson had an idea. Standup memes were floating around the Internet, but without structure. With the popularity of the website reddit skyrocketing, Anderson decided to create a centralized location for undiscovered comics to post material. People could get a quick laugh, and unknown comics could get exposure.

/r/standupshots, a subset of reddit, was a success. Comics saw their jokes going viral; some were reposted by George Takei on Facebook (5,000,000+ followers and growing), and some (like yours truly, a big fan of the outlet) had some jokes go viral, and others make it to The Huffington Post.

Unfortunately, Anderson wasn’t happy.

Using the meme format he championed with his creation, Anderson delivered a scathing review of the very site hosting his handiwork, seen here.

With that post, something interesting happened: his post made it’s way to the front page of reddit, garnered tons of exposure, and /r/standupshots exploded in numbers, currently topping 100,000 subscribers.

Rooftop used same-named comedian Nathan Timmel to discuss all things meme with Nathan Anderson.

NT: When you left, it didn’t look like burning a bridge, it looked like a demolition. How long at the idea of walking away from your creation been growing in you?

NA: I always knew I wanted to get away from it somehow. It was never something I really cared about; just something I set up because I was the one who knew how. Regardless of the subreddit, mods burn out eventually. Doing it well turns reddit into a full-time job for no money, subject to constant criticism. It was cutting into my real passion – telling dick jokes to drunk bachelorette parties.

NT: /r/standupshots popularity and visibility really increased because of your post. Do you feel this is a situation that went from negative turned positive, or do you believe the same problems exist that made you leave?

NA: I knew it would get some visibility, and in the short term it was definitely positive. But reddit has a short attention span, and the larger problems with the site remain publicly unaddressed. If those don’t change, reddit won’t die and may even grow slowly. But in terms of cultural relevance, it’ll turn into another early-decade web fad like somethingawful or 4chan.

NT: Any thoughts of returning?

NA: Only as a lurker, and only to look up specific information. Reddit is a huge site, so the fact that /r/funny sucks doesn’t mean /r/malefashionadvice or /r/fitness can’t be useful. It’s my go-to site for information on shoes.

NT: What sort of feedback have you received?

NA: Comics understand and supports me, even if they don’t post to the site. Those are the people I care about. There’s a few career moderators on reddit who are pissed at me, but they’re dicks so fuck ‘em.

NT: You were worried that fewer submitters would kill the site, but with your post there are more submitters and subscribers than ever; how do you feel about that?

NA: I’m glad it worked out. It’ll be fine as long as it keeps expanding, but it’s like a shark. If it doesn’t constantly pull in more people, they’ll move on to something else.

NT: Steve Hofstetter described the group as “An open microphone with 100,000 people in the audience.” Even without posts making it to the front page, do you think there could have been value in comics posting for other comics; a place for peer feedback on jokes?

NA: It definitely has value for that, and long as comics are willing to sort the useful comments from the typical reddit jackassery. I just hope comics realize that a joke that does well on standupshots still has to do well onstage. The karma is nice, but it doesn’t mean anything if no one laughs in real life.

NT: You understood the power of the meme, and joked it was the future of comedy; do you feel it is the present of comedy now?

NA: It depends on when and where you are. If you’re a broke college kid, or living in a town without access to stagetime, it’s more useful than doing nothing. But I always felt the final goal was getting people to watch videos, or come to real shows. For comics, internet pictures shouldn’t be an end in themselves.

Scott Long: Good Dad, Not a Great Dad

“Scott

In November 2013, Rooftop Comedy put out Scott Long’s 2nd Comedy CD, Good Dad, Not a Great Dad.

On December 31st, Angie Frissore graded it an “A” for Under the Gun Reviews, stating: “I’ve listened to and reviewed 52 comedy albums in 2013, but Scott Long’s is probably the one that touched me most.”

Generally, Rooftop puts out an interview with the comic to push the release, but with Nathan Timmel penning the article, they got something a little different: Nathan and Scott are old friends, so instead of an interview, a conversation took place.

Rooftop was able to listen in as they waxed nostalgic, fought Nathan’s toddler, and even discussed the new CD.

NT: I suppose we should start with the fact we’ve known one another…

SL: Fifteen years.

NT: Fifteen years… and we met in St. Cloud, Minnesota, at a place that has gone to the comedy graveyard, Rum Runners. And it was around for… well over a decade.

SL: I’m guessing at least two decades.

NT: And the amount of comedians who passed through there over the years…

SL: Oh, yeah. It would be the usual suspects of the Upper Midwest, like Louie Anderson, Tom Arnold, K.P. Anderson… people who came out of that scene, the Minneapolis scene.

NT: Who all probably traveled to Grand Forks, that had a room for years and years. They hired a permanent host, who would move to Grand Forks and live there and host for 6 months to a year, like a comedy boot camp.

SL: My brother did that for ten months, and I think the most successful comic right now who went through that is Chad Daniels.

NT: And for a smaller town, it was a full-week club, Tuesday…

SL: Wednesday through Saturday. The Westward Ho. The owner, Chris, was a huge supporter of comedy. The best poster I’ve ever been on came from there. “Coming Soon” or “This Month…” it was Mitch Hedberg, Todd Barry, Mario Joyner… and me. It was like the Sesame Street “One of these things is not like the other.”

NT: You’re an Iowa native, is this where you started your comedy career?

SL: No… I graduated from the University of Iowa, got a job, didn’t like that, my girlfriend at the time moved to Indianapolis and I followed her… and now she’s my wife. So that worked out. Anyway, I started my comedy career in Indianapolis, and have just stayed there overall.

NT: What number CD is this for you?

SL: It’s kind of a complicated question, because it’s only my second CD, but I put out two DVDs earlier… so DVDs and CDs, it’s my 4th… and I also put out a book in 200… 2? So… that’s kind of where it’s at. But this CD is different from anything before it, because my act has changed, like my life has changed. I have no doubt in my mind this is the best stuff I’ve ever done, because it seems to reach the audience on a couple different levels. I’m always focused on what’s going to make people laugh, but this is more connective. I’ve always been very macro about the world, because my comedy was influenced by Carlin and Hicks, but then having a daughter with autism, and then twins… it really changed my perspective and focus… I don’t think I get bigger laughs than I used to, but I think when the audience leaves I’ve left more of an impression on them. I’ve reached them on a different level.

NT: Well let’s talk about that… I’ve watched you for fifteen years, and your act has changed numerous times… I’ve seen the version you just recorded, and this time around you used visual enhancement on stage, and I’m wondering how you translated that to an audio CD. Answer that as I run to get my daughter out of the dog food…

*leaves as Scott answers*

SL: I wanted to write a whole new show, and I knew that unlike Louie CK or Bill Burr, I couldn’t just show up at a club and start experimenting…

*loud, loud, loud crying erupts*

SL: Is she hurt?

NT: No, she just really wanted the dog’s food, and mean daddy just put up the baby gate. So you can’t show up and start doing new material…

SL: Right. I have to get good reports all the time, so I did the Indy Fringe Fest, where I could do a one-person show and not have to be funny 100% of the time. It was really freeing, and after doing six shows I felt really comfortable taking the more stand-up elements of it on the road.

NT: And when I saw you, you were using an easel to show the different acts in the performance, and I was wondering how that translated to a disc…

SL: Right, right… it’s gone. I used that for about a year, but after getting to know the material inside and out I brought it back to pure stand up comedy. I enjoyed the “art” aspect to it, the “one-man-show” concept, but with that you’re talking at people, and I wanted to re-incorporate interacting with the audience. I actually hadn’t even planned on recording the CD when I did, to be honest. Rooftop had recorded my shows, and I was watching their videos and Dominic [from Rooftop] contacted me and said, “I think we could make a CD out of this. I think we could make a great CD out of this.” I said, “Really, you could make a CD out of video clips?” So he sent me some of the audio and it sounded fantastic. Better than some of the things I’ve heard on satellite radio…

NT: Oh, I’ve heard some awful things played by people who said, “I spent $2,000 on a sound engineer…”

SL: Right. And in the end I was really happy with the way things turned out.

NT: I want to go back a second to something you said at the outset of developing the act, an inability to do too much new material at a club because you need good reports… I don’t know if casual fans of comedy will know what that means. They might think comics get graded on originality, or if a club sees you’re constantly writing…

SL: The art. The craft. You’re not getting graded on the art of stand up comedy.

NT: I asked an owner once, “What are you looking for out of me?” and was told, “I just listen for laughter; I don’t have time to listen to what you’re saying.” Which really told me where I stood, and that weekend the opening act went up and did the most base, “Hey, who’s drinking tonight, Taco Bell makes you poop” material that you’ve heard a million times, but it didn’t matter because the audience liked it… So in your case, the owner wouldn’t be thinking, “Oh, Scott is bringing new material to my club, he’s working shit out,” they’d think “I don’t hear enough laughter, he’s not coming back.”

SL: And I’ve been doing this a long time, and some of these venues I’ve been to five or six times, which might make you think you’ve earned enough cache with these people to work out material like that, but that’s just not how it works. And look, part of that is on me. If I could sell enough tickets, sell out every show for $25, then would the owner care what the audience sounded like? They’d know people were there to see you.

NT: And I don’t want to make it seem like it’s not our job to get laughter, because it absolutely is, but you’d think that after a few visits you’d get some leeway, but it really can come down to one bad show preventing you from getting invited back.

SL: Which is a big reason why so many comics who have been in the business for a long time don’t really do anything new. They’re afraid; they know what they do works. And the other element of that is that pressure of knowing you have to do well… it really is a “What have you done for me lately business?”

NT: I remember a club owner who isn’t around anymore who would dictate exactly what the comedian was supposed to do to them. If someone showed up with a new closer, he would tell them to do the one he liked.

SL: Look, you really are a dancing monkey unless you can draw, and that’s the one part to this business I’ve never been bitter about. I’ve made certain decisions in my career not to be a Los Angeles or New York comic…

NT: I remember that. You had specific management interested in you, but…

SL: This was one of the most stand up agents in the country at the time, one of the most powerful, and he was legitimately interested in me… as long as I moved to LA. And I couldn’t disagree with anything he said, I get it, but I couldn’t do it. Stand up comedy, entertainment in general is a “me first” business. Everything has got to be “me,” and pushing me out there… but that’s what the new CD is about. I’m a dad, and I have to put my kids first, and it was a quality of life decision. Did I want to raise my kids in New York or LA, or did I want to raise them in the Midwest, where I was raised.

NT: Do you have trouble doing predominantly family-oriented material in front of varied audiences?

SL: No, because I’m not—and no disrespect to these people at all—I’m not doing Ray Romano or Bill Cosby family material. I still have these neurosis, these inappropriate thoughts that I use to write jokes, and that way people who have no kids can still relate to my act.

NT: One of the best compliments I got after a show was when a 21-year-old kid came up to me and said, “I don’t have a kid, I’m not married, and you didn’t talk about anything in my world… but I really loved your set. You were hilarious.” Which made me happy that I was presenting my point of view in a way that was universal, not demographically challenged, to use politically correct language.

SL: Exactly. I mean, I’m very cognizant of trying to stay relevant to the youngest people in the audience. I’m not going to talk about Justin Bieber or Katy Perry and pander, but I do have the thought, “What would twenty-five-year-old Scott think of this joke?” Because ultimately I want everyone to relate to my jokes. I’m not one of those guys who says, “Oh, fuck twenty percent of the audience.” I want the old guy and the hipster to relate to me.

 

Download Scott’s disc, Good Dad, Not a Great Dad, now.

Tom Simmons: Bitcoin and Comedy

Stand-up veteran, Tom Simmons approached Rooftop about making his titles available for purchase with bitcoin, as you can see,  on bitlaughs.com.  How will Bitcoin change the way we buy things? Should comedians be exploring this currency more? Let Tom get you up to speed.

 

RC(Rooftop Comey): How long have you been a stand-up and how have you seen technology change the landscape of professional comedy?

I have been doing comedy since before jokes. You kids today with your punchlines and premises… we had to tickle the audience. I used pens and notebooks instead of computers. I remember many bookers and industry not wanting to book via email. It was all phone calls (land lines) and mailing people video tapes and 8×10’s from ABC photos.  So technology has changed a lot. But it is still about writing jokes and telling them to crowds, all the rest is promotions.

 

RC: Why is now a great time to be a comedian?

Hmm, is now a great time to be a comedian? Who told you that bullshit? It is always a great time to be a comedian, the hard part is remembering that.

 

RC: What is the hardest thing about being a comedian now?

I don’t know how to answer that, so right now answering this question is the hardest part. The hardest thing about being a comedian is the times when the business of it feels hard or hopeless and when the shows are not flowing naturally.  Everything feels stale and flat and I think I am never going to be funny again… then I write a few new jokes and the world is wonderful again.

 

RC: Where did your interest in Bitcoin come from and how do you think it will impact how we buy things?

I have been reading about money and trying to understand it for a few years now. I don’t want to. It is boring. But since money is important and the world revolves around it, I became interested in it. I am sorta into the concepts of human beings live in illusions of our own creations and mass perceptions. Money is an example of this and that fascinated me. It is not backed by anything, it is just made up basically out of nothing. Those were striking enough facts to me, but then I became aware that the Federal Reserve is a private corporation that makes up the money out of nothing and then sells it to the nation at interest. Most of the people who are on the money were against the Federal Reserve system. Franklin, Jefferson, Lincoln, Jackson… they were all against it. That is an insult to the their legacies. Like putting Mother Theresa’s picture on condoms and passing them out at Planned Parenthood.

 

So, the long answer to where did my interest in Bitcoin come from is that I was at an impasse on what the answer was. There is this entire monetary system that is made up and based on nothing but faith and ignorance in and of the system. It is owned by a small group of people and basically runs the entire country. But what choice do we have? Bitcoin caught my attention in that it reminds me of an old school local currency. Benjamin Franklin once commented when asked what led to the rise of the colonies success. He said some version of, “The ability of the people to create their own money without the built in debt.” I just jacked that quote up, but you get the gist.

 

I am not saying that Bitcoin is the answer, I haven’t done enough of the research, but my hope is that if we are just making up a system anyway- why not support the one that is fair and seems more genuinely free market. I think more and more people as they learn about the monetary system will begin to lose faith in it. I believe Bitcoin is here to stay and all it needs is more and more people to accept it and use it in commerce. I want to support that and be a part of it.

 

 

RC: Alan Greenspan says that bitcoin is a bubble and has no intrinsic value. How would you respond to that and why do you think there’s a need for it?

I don’t know how to respond to that. I actually think it’s a bubble too. The problem is people are holding it like stock instead of using it for day to day bill paying. When that really starts happening on a grander scale the price will settle to somewhere that makes perfect sense.  What Greenspan doesn’t seem to get is that a growing number of people see his money as having no intrinsic value.

 

There is a need for Bitcoin because a small group of people who own the federal reserve bank hold a monopoly on the product of money. They have slowly taken more and more control of the country through debt and dictating economic policy…. that is too much power for a group of people who we don’t even know the names of and who can’t be audited.

 

This is what the Federal Reserve says about BitCoin. “Although some of the enthusiasm for bitcoin is driven by a distrust of state-issued currency, it is hard to imagine a world where the main currency is based on an extremely complex code understood by only a few and controlled by even fewer, without accountability, arbitration, or recourse.” (Senior economist François R. Velde of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago)

Haha. You just described the Federal Reserve System.

 

 RC: Do you think the government is threatened more by comedy or Bitcoin?

HaHa.  The government isn’t threatened by either. They control the media outlets, the overall message, and the military machine. I don’t think Raytheon accepts bitcoin.

Plus, if they ever want to end bitcoin all they have to do is shut off the internet.  By the way. I have used the word ‘they’ way more times than I am comfortable with in this interview.

 

RC: Do you think it’s important for people to know about bitcoin? Why?

I do think it is important for people to know about Bitcoin and to use it. The only way to make real change in this country is with our dollars. When people come together and the money shifts, so does the power structure and the voices that we listen to and follow.

 

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