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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!

Moshe Kasher’s New Stand-Up Special Available on Netflix

We nearly spit out our morning cup o’ joe in excitement this morning when we found out Live from Oakland, Moshe Kasher‘s new stand-up special, is now streaming on Netflix accounts everywhere. Filmed at The New Parish in his hometown of Oakland, CA, Moshe’s new special is another example of how comics are exploring all options for getting their content to directly comedy viewers. As Moshe mentioned in an interview with Laughspin, distributing his special on Netflix allows viewers to tune-in whenever, wherever they find convenient.

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 

Sean O’Connor Learned Everything in Life at Magic Camp

Comedian Sean O’Connor is a source of wisdom. He knows the benefits of quitting karate, the best recreational uses of Adderall, the keys to a solid screenplay, and more. Sean performed on Conan last night, sharing these bits of wisdom along with some reflections on his time at magic camp. Watch his full set after the jump and be sure to follow Sean @seanoconnz. Great job Sean!

Beth Stelling Gets Her Joke Book Stolen, Makes Comedy Lemonade

To record her debut stand-up album, Beth Stelling wanted to go back to Chicago, where she got her comedy chops and became a local favorite. The trip was somewhat of a homecoming, after moving to Los Angeles and having a very busy and exciting year. Call it intervention by the comedy gods or just bad luck, but shortly before Beth took the stage at Chicago’s Comedy Bar, her joke book was stolen from her boyfriend’s car. Refusing to let this bring her down, Beth managed to weave the whole story into her material, with a healthy and hilarious dose of deadpan delivery. Watch Beth tell the story below and be sure to check out Sweet Beth, her album which comes out tomorrow.

Comedian Jamie Lee Loves Her Sketcher Shape-Ups & Jewish-Texan Heritage

Jamie Lee is awfully proud of her roots–both Texan and Jewish. With a little help from her Sketcher Shape-Ups, they’ve helped mold (dare we say “shape”?) the funny person she is today. Jamie stopped by Conan last night to do a funny little set for you to enjoy. We’ve got the video after the jump. Give it a watch!

One Expert. One Chicken. Only One Can Win

If you work in an office that organizes betting pools, we’ll save you some time and say “You’re welcome”. We’re happy to present our newest original series, Expert vs. Chicken. In EVC, which you can find over on Bing, we help you make the right choices when it comes to casual gambling.

Each episode poses a question on the likelihood of a certain pop culture-related outcome: will Rhianna show up Chris Brown and his new neck tattoo and win big at the VMA’s? Will Mad Men take home the award for Best Drama at this year’s Emmys? (No one said we were going to softball these). To answer each question, we turn to an expert, like TV Line‘s Michael Ausiello, as well as a, well, chicken. The latest episode tries to predict Mad Men‘s fate at Sunday’s Emmys. Who are you siding with? Watch the Expert vs. Chicken and let us know who you think will win and who’s just chopped liva’. [Swish]

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.

Please Rise for the Comedian’s National Anthem

Comedy duo Myq Kaplan and Micah Sherman bring their musical stylings to their new album, Please Be Seated. Included on the CD is “Comedian’s National Anthem”, sort of a who’s-who homage to famous comics and their most signature jokes. You can watch the the track below, set to animation, and see if you can name all the comics. Be sure to check out the album! Myq and Micah are two awfully funny guys.

Watch Two New Clips from T.J. Miller’s New Show “Mash-Up”

As loyal T.J. Miller fans, we’re very excited to see his new Comedy Central series Mash Up. Combining sketch, stand-up, and a healthy dose of T.J., Mash Up is set to premiere October 9. Watch two clips from the show after the jump.

First up, “Word Mash Up”, a sketch segment that combines two random words, like  ”S.W.A.T.” and “auto-tune”, to form something new altogether. Ladies and gentlemen, “S.W.A.T.-o-tune”:

 

 

Next, a taste of how the show will integrate performance stand-up with scripted footage. Here’s to hoping you’re lucky enough to be on a flight with T.J. in the near future: