Top Five is a column in which we talk to stand up comics who have just released their own album about their five favorite comedy albums of all time.
It’s not very often that you get to go on a first date with someone as accomplished as Joe DeVito. From his semi-finalist position on season five of NBC’s hit show Last Comic Standing to numerous late night appearances such as the CBS’ Late Late Show, and frequent other TV spots on roundtable shows like Fox News’ Red Eye and E!’s Chelsea Lately. He’s known for his generous doses of sarcasm layered on top of a observational wit that keep audiences engaged throughout the country and comedy festivals alike. Also he’s a former competitive powerlifter and holds the current world record for the Inverted Cat Press. So making conversation on our blind meet-up we asked him about his favorite albums, and now it’s your turn to meet the man and guess if that’s a high class cocktail you smell or if he bought a new cologne just for going out tonight with you.
Perfect combination of a clear comedy persona, killer material and dead-on timing – aside from a few topical references, this is just as funny as it was 40+ years ago. The Moose, Bullet in My Breast Pocket, Kidnapped were staples in FM radio stations’ “Sunday Funnies” shows for decades, and with good reason.
The first track “You Too and Stuff” must hold the record for shortest time between a comic’s introduction and when he has you wetting your pants. And Brian works squeaky clean, so you can play it for your parents when they insist that all comedians are degenerates.
How great was Bob Newhart? Well, this debut and its followup were numbers 1 AND 2 on the Billboard Pop Album chart – a feat no modern recording artist matched until Guns & Roses “Lose Your Illusion 1 & 2” (take that, Madonna). It’s amazing, when Newhart does one half of a phone conversation, you can actually hear the other half in your head (take that, Shelley Berman).
The first of Gaffigan’s self-produced CDs, now out of print. Another one that had me and my friends quoting lines and braying like jackasses. Contains an early version of the classic “Hot Pocket,” plus delightfully unexpected cursing!
Thank God Maria is so prolific because she gets better and more Maria Bamford-y with every release. Her character work has always been so good it’s scary (and sometimes so scary it’s good), but it’s the little things that kill me now, like the quick shoutout to Nerds candies in “Paula Deen’s Suicide Note.” I’m in awe because it’s the complete opposite of what I do; is it possible a bit like that starts with a pad and a pen?
Joe DeVito’s debut album, First Date With Joe DeVito, was released on January 13th, 2015 on Rooftop Comedy Productions. It is available on Amazon, Bandcamp, and iTunes.
Nore Davis is on fire. He’s been to the Just For Laughs Comedy Festival in Montreal, he’s been on Comedy Central, MTV, and Gotham Comedy Live on AXS TV. And now he’s acting, from comedy shows such as Inside Amy Schumer and Last Week Tonight, and dramatic roles like the Emmy award winning HBO series Boardwalk Empire.
Rooftop Comedy just released his latest CD: HOME GAME, and had Nathan Timmel discuss the craft of comedy with him.
NT: Discuss the use of voicemails as track bumps; who left them for you? What was the creative reasoning for adding the little bonus tracks to the beginning of the comedy tracks?
ND: I just didn’t want a ordinary comedy album. I wanted something unique and different. The voicemails are reminiscent of the ol’ school hip-hop albums were they broke up their albums with comedic interludes and sometime very violent audio sketches. Its those small settle gems that make an album full, fun and memorable. I think.
NT: Your humor stems from real life experiences; example, attempting to transfer credits between colleges. Are you always on the lookout for experiences to discuss from the stage, or does it happen organically?
ND: Oh yes, its definitely happens organically for me. I remember that particular situation back in 2005 and it seriously pissed me off. I was actually trying to attend FIT but it wouldn’t accept my credits from Delaware College and I called my cousin screaming “Why these colleges acting like two bitches that hate each other” and he laughed. So majority of my humor does stem from anger whichI hope the audience shares the same frustration by laughing at it together.
NT: You mention having had a small role in Boardwalk Empire. Is acting something you’re looking to get further into? Television, film? Or is the stage where you’d like to remain?
ND: Acting is great. For me it’s a whole other world that I would love to invest much more time into but I don’t have control. I was luckily casted. In stand-up comedy, I write, direct and perform my own material which is so freeing. Don’t get me wrong Boardwalk was a great experience and I learned so much but I can’t wait to write, produce and act in my own series one day.
NT: Describe the difference in preparation for acting, vs. taking the stage to perform a live set.
ND: In my opinion, It’s the same difference between Clark Kent and Superman! Acting, I’m preparing to become someone else and bring someone else’s lines to life. Stand-up is ALL me. I know Nore Davis cause I’ve been him for 31 years now. Im myself on stage. I’m Superman. Meaning I’m me minus all the super powers. On Set I’m in a controlled environment and the role really doesn’t allow me to be ME.
NT: When Jason Collins came out of the closet, the first thing I did was look at his stats and say, “Those aren’t that great… but no one will be allowed to say that now, because of his orientation.” Yet you jumped right in. Is that the role of a comedian, to say what everyone wants to, but is too afraid to?
ND: I believe a comedians role is to just make people laugh. That’s it. A comedians role is to give the audience a break from their reality. Personally I like to take taboo topics and find the funny in them which leads to a very interesting show. Makes it fun for the audience and for me. Plus comedians have the liberty to say whatever we want! We live in this socially sensitive world where everything offends people and I think a comedians job is to make sure it’s just knee-slapping funny.
NT: You recorded in NY, but where specifically? What venue? Did you have a personal relation to the venue; e.g., is it your home club, or the first place you ever hit the stage?
ND: I recored at the World Famous Comic Strip Live on the upper east side which for sure is my home club. It’s where I started 8 years ago. I actually took a class there with D.F. Sweedler as teacher, and this is early 2000 when older comics actually cared about helping young talent and not hurting your bank account. D.F and that club taught me how to fish and then I went out to sea to catch as many big fish as a I can. Still fishing and loving it.
NT: How long have you been performing, and how long do you think it took you to find your voice?
ND: I’ve been performing for 8 years now. My voice? Well, I consider myself still young in the game and have a lot to learn. Im very hungry and never thirsty. Meaning I will continue to push myself creatively but being famous or being the center of attention isn’t my goal. My goal is to give audiences a break from their reality thru laughter, hopefully build a demand and I can tour making the world laugh! Especially its the only thing, so far, I’m good at. And when I say “good’ I mean I’m actually paying bills and making living. I made it into a career. I used to be a shitty graphic designer and my artwork sucked. Never felt like I was scratching the surface or could actually make a living but with comedy I feel like I finally found my medium. Yes!
Top Five is a column in which we talk to stand up comics who have just released their own album about their five favorite comedy albums of all time.
Davon Magwood is a pop culture-savant from Pittsburgh making waves by marrying his love of the 90’s while playing around with controversial topics. With the release of his new album, I’d Rather Be Napping, he talks about job pursuits, a child’s tantrum, and the best OKCupid date ever. Davon, in preparation for the release of his new album, shared his top five comedy releases of all time that helped shape his impression of the comedy world at large.
A teenager who owns over 300 exotic pets? Looks like this young man has a future behind bars…Animal enclosure bars! Oh goo! When I was a teenager, all I had to do was take out the trash and to get me to do that it took two older brothers putting me in a double-chicken-wing. “Twist my arm why dontcha!”
In November 1972, the Ms. Foundation for Women released Free to Be… You and Me, an album and book geared toward children, championing self-acceptance and rejecting societal gender norms. Actress Marlo Thomas, who came up with the idea for the project, hoped to fill what she saw as a void of progressive children’s entertainment. Singers on the album included Thomas, Alan Alda, Diana Ross, Cicely Tyson, and Carol Channing.Forty years later, Joel Levinson (The Tonight Show), Stephen Levinson (Channel 101, Funny or Die’s Noah’s Ark), and Rob Kutner (Conan) decided to do a comedic send-up of the classic album they listened to so often as kids. Turning the album, titled It’s OK to Do Stuff, around in an incredibly short two-week period, they invited actors and comedians like Lizzy Caplan (pictured),Eddie Pepitone, Fred Willard, Samantha Bee, and Colin Hanks to lend their vocal talents. It’s OK is a light-hearted and funny take on the original, mixing songs and skits to pay tribute to Free to Be. We chatted with Joel, Stephen, and Rob to discuss theirmusical comedy inspirations, the songwriting process, and more.
Rooftop Comedy: So what, if any, exposure did you have to Free to Be…You and Me while growing up?
Stephen Levinson: My parents, who were also Joel’s parents, bought it on vinyl and I played it until it was battered. It was one of those albums, as a kid, I made them play it over and over and over again. It’s funny because I probably haven’t listened to it since childhood, but when Rob approached me with the project, I re-listened to it and it was just—amazing. When you haven’t listened to a song in so long, you listened to it so much back then, you instantly remember so much.
Rob Kutner: I have a four year-old daughter and, pretty recently, I was playing it on CD for her after not hearing it for a really long time and almost every one of those tracks opened up a well of memory. And I remember at the time, it was kind of this mind-blowing album for what it is—there’s nothing else out there like it. Not only are there all these empowering things about boys and girls and what you can do, but also so entertaining and so charming. It wasn’t at all ideological, even though it’s highly ideological now.
RC: In planning the album, did you guys intend to coincide with the 40th anniversary of Free to Be’s release?
SL: That was the original impetus, I think.
RK: I saw that story being listed. I have a twisted mind so my immediate thought was, “What if there was this bizzaro version of it? What happens in the recording studio that we can do sort of like an ultimate history of it? And then I remembered that I knew Joel and Stephen and they’re amazing. [Joel laughs] I have a string around my finger to help me remember. I was like, “Oh, that can actually exist”.
Joel Levinson: Yeah, ultimately, it was driven by the 40th anniversary so it was kind of like, “We’ve got two weeks. Let’s see what we can do”.
RK: My wife had a baby a few weeks ago, so literally there was this biological ticking clock going on, where Joel and I were like in this creative frenzy trying to get this thing going. And then we brought Steve in because Joel and I are incapable of actually taking something into the real world.
SL: My baby’s not born until January, so I had a little bit more breathing room than they did.
RC: Did you listen to any musical comedy growing up?
SL: Stan Freberg in particular. Stan Freberg was one of those albums that we listened to it as music, before we even knew it was comedy.
JL: You’re right! [Laughs]
SL: Our parents played those albums for us…
JL: Before we had any chance of getting a joke. We just knew that people in Allan Sherman’s audience were losing their shit. They couldn’t get enough of Allan Sherman.
SL: I was going to say Tom Lehrer also. I think also, the musical songs that Monty Python does. They do these amazing dark and twisted songs that sound very light and upbeat. No one else does songs about the things they do, like “Finland” and things like that.
RK: I was just going to say, I’m the youngest of the bunch of us and the music I listened to growing up, I think, the line between comedy and real music blurred a lot. If you look at Poison and Billy Idol and the videos I was watching. When Steve was watching them in high school, I was watching them as a five year-old and it’s much harder to see whether or not they were joking.
RC:I wanted to ask you guys if you could tell me about what went into writing some of these songs and what the process was.
JL: Rob brought about the general idea then he threw some titles at me, I threw some titles at him and we tried to get a laugh and whichever one did was our pick. It was all done via e-mail.
RK: There was one point at which Joel just sent a list of potential song & album titles – I remember one was “Friends Of Friends” and I just immediately starting writing the song in my head. I could instantly hear this whole story of awkward people who didn’t really know each other and were stuck in a room together… things like that would be like a little spark and explode and other songs grew into something.
JL: Musically it’s born out of the original Free To Be… The music they wrote and performed on the original album is actually really great music. Those songs had a lot of rhythmic changes though, and with comedy you kind of want to stay away from that but it was basically pretty major chord-heavy and simple so we could lay the jokes over it. The whole point on this musically is to stay out of the way as much as possible.
SL: And Joel, for a living, enters online video contests and most of his entries involve songs, so he’s great at just whipping out a song and then forgetting about it – and it’ll be stuck in my head for the next month.
RC: Do you think Free to Be holds up today as a relevant, useful piece of entertainment for parents to share with their kids?
RK: I do think that, like with the Doll thing, Disney has sort of set up this empire that every girl is indoctrinated into princess school, starting at age three and a half. Our daughter is already obsessed with unicorns, just because the culture is there.
SL: Our parents bought me a doll, I think because of this album. I was not into it. They tried.
JL: The Free to Be album also went with this amazing Free to Be book. Some of those Shel Silverstein poems are just as worthwhile today as they were when they were written. Same with “It’s Alright to Cry”. That one is totally timeless. It’s totally beautiful.
SL: And how many times does that get quoted and people don’t even know where it’s from?
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.
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 Drivelis 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!
We’re very excited to release the latest album from Paul Morrissey, Paul 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 severalappearances 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
To record her debut stand-up album, Beth Stelling wanted to go back to Chicago, where she got her comedy chops and became a localfavorite. 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.
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.