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.
Comedian Erin Judge will be quick to tell you she has mixed feelings about Whole Foods Market. While she undoubtedly falls into the young, urban liberal demo that the supermarket courts religiously, Erin is in her comedy zone when poking fun at the store and its Singles Night events (a real thing hilariously recounted by Erin). Erin’s debut comedy album, So Many Choices, is available today and is already getting some greatreviews from critics. We chatted with Erin in the midst of The Pink Collar Comedy Tour to talk about her love for Chris Rock, her performance on the Live at Gotham Comedy Central series, Mitt Romney’s comfort zone, and more.
Rooftop Comedy: You recorded your album at the Broadway Playhouse in Santa Cruz, California—a community-focused black box theater. Why did you decide to tape your album there?
Erin Judge: I had done a two-woman play a couple years ago, called The Meaning of Wife, with my best friend and we had a run at The Broadway Playhouse and it was one of my favorite experiences performing ever and I loved the audiences there and I loved the vibe, so I thought it would be the ideal place to record my album.
RC: How did you start out as a performer?
EJ: In college, I did improv comedy. I was part of my college improv comedy troupe. From there, I hosted a variety show, my senior year of college, which was more of a stand-up-type environment to be performing in and then after I graduated, I decided to start doing stand-up, because I had always loved stand-up growing up. All of my favorite comedians were stand-ups; I watched Comedy Central religiously as a kid. So I started with improv, but I think I was destined to end up in stand-up because it’s what I loved as a child.
RC: Who were some of your favorite comics growing up?
EJ: I remember Janeane Garofalo and Margaret Cho. Chris Rock was my favorite growing up and I remember seeing so many people and memorizing so many routines. I also remember watching the show The A-List, which was hosted bySandra Bernhard—she’s amazing.
RC: Do you think there’s a growing comedy scene at Wellesley College?
EJ: Yeah there really has. It’s pretty cool. Wendy Liebman, who’s a pretty famous stand-up, she graduated from Wellesley before me. And then, she and I have had many opportunities to perform together. Since I left, I’ve noticed a lot of Wellesley graduates going into the comedy world. Many work at UCB [Upright Citizens Brigade] and do sketch and improv. One recent graduate was just on an episode of 30 Rock. It’s pretty cool to see arts and entertainment coming into more of a focus at the college.
RC: Last year, you were featured in The New York Times magazine, proving to know very little about Twilight. Are there any pop culture franchises you guiltily or maybe not-so-guiltily adore?
EJ: I’m a huge fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and I love True Blood. True Blood and Buffy are the limit of my vampire interest. Those are my addictive pleasures—no matter how absurd True Blood gets, I will always be loyal to it. It’s extremely campy and just gets campier. As the mythology expands, it’s gotten bigger than it can be contained. It’s fun and it can be ridiculous. I also love Girls. I think the show is really funny and I like that it’s brave and I like that the female protagonist doesn’t have to be loveable, huggable, wacky, goofy. She can just be obnoxious and actually somebody you might not like and I think that’s something brand new that the show is doing. I guess that’s the one show I’m really on the bandwagon for right now.
RC: As a writer, what did you make of the internet kerfuffle when the show premiered?
EJ: I always think it’s a missed opportunity whenever a show lacks diversity in the cast and I personally, if I ever had the opportunity to put together a team of people, I look around the world of comedy and my friends that I would hire and it’s a diverse group of people. If you look at the people W. Kamau Bell is putting together for his show, you can see that there’s just amazing, talented, diverse people out there and it always surprises me when people don’t tap into that. That said, Girls is going for a very specific angle, which is basically what Lena Dunham knows and feels comfortable writing about and I don’t think anything that anybody does creatively should have to represent anything except exactly what it represents. She’s really funny. She’s really brave and she is doing a lot of things that I think are different and new. She’s just not doing absolutely everything one could possibly do to forward women in television.
RC: You’ve also performed on Comedy Central’s Live at Gotham series. What was that experience like?
EJ: It’s pretty cool. I think a lot of us, a lot of my friends and I who are in comedy have that as our first credit, which is just a cool memory to have. I remember Myq Kaplan and Baron Vaughn both called me up around that time and told me that they did too. So it was a very exciting time for all of us. It was just out of a competition that we did called Open Mic Fights that Comedy Central used to run around the country and I was still living in Boston at the time. But they had seen me do their competition and decided to put me on the show. Tommy Davidson was the host and I got to meet a bunch of really cool other comedians as part of performing on that show. It was just a lot of fun and I still get people following me on Twitter and emailing me through my website who see the video on ComedyCentral.com so it has wide reach too.
RC: What stories from your album do you especially like to perform?
EJ: The thing that is really one of my favorite things to talk about right now is when I was bullied. On the CD it’s called ”Erin Solves Bullying Forever”. It’s a story about me getting bullied in high school and it’s a fun story right now because bullying is so relevant and in the news and I think it’s an inspiring story and a funny one. People can take it as inspiration and motivation to overcome that stuff.
RC: Speaking of your teenage years, you have some great stories about your experience with Sex Ed in Texas public schools. It doesn’t seem like things have progressed much since then.
EJ: It’s amazing how little things have changed and it’s amazing how it’s still this “teach you to be afraid of your body” attitude—even though there’s cable. Even though these kids can go on the internet and find out this information. That’s why the show on MTV called Savage U—I think Dan Savage is a genius and he has this show where he answers sex questions on college campuses. I think that’s really providing a really great platform for Sex Ed outside schools for kids.
When people can’t find out about information at school, they look on the internet. And the last place you want people finding out about Sex Ed is the internet. If you don’t know what “69” is and you ask the internet, it won’t give you a subtle answer.
RC: As you discuss on So Many Choices, you’re openly bisexual. Do you ever feel pressured as a performer to incorporate that into your act?
EJ: A lot of people do ask me questions about bisexuality after I get offstage. They’re like, “So, are you really bisexual?” and I’m like, “Yeah”. [Laughs] I don’t mind talking about it. I think it’s interesting and I find a lot of my experiences in life that are both funny and have to do with that and have to do with people’s confusion and ambivalence toward it. I just read an article today about Mitt Romney and a Sex Ed pamphlet in Massachusetts and it was about bullying. He didn’t mind the word “gay”, but he wanted them to take out the word “bisexual”, because it was too racy for him. I find that kind of stuff fascinating and I love talking about my personal life and my own experiences and I think that one of the things that makes my story a little bit different is I’ll talk about my ex-girlfriends and then I’ll talk about my ex-boyfriends. Through my stories I like to make myself a bit more normal, because it is normal to me. It’s something I’m really happy to talk about and some of my best material comes from that subject matter.
RC: I agree totally. One especially memorable track recounts you attending your ex’s wedding. Not to spoil anything, but the story ends with the line “I was up to my snatch in porch”—if that’s not an amazing tag, I don’t know what is.
EJ: [Laughs] I’ve had somebody tell me to put that on a t-shirt. “You might be a redneck, if you’re up to your snatch in porch”.
The nice thing about writing for a blog is: you don’t have to have any of that pesky “journalistic integrity”. This means writing for a blog, is just like working for Fox News.
But I digress.
For the sake of fairness, I will state that I love Danny Bevins(Comedy Central’s Premium Blend, HBO’s Comedy Arts Festival). I don’t have to tell you I am biased, but am doing so anyway.
I met Bevins over ten years ago, and even got to travel to Iraq with him in 2004. (Shameless whoring: Bevins is the “Danny” in my book, I Was a White Knight… Once.)
Bevins doesn’t know this, but he helped shape who I am as a comedian. When I was just starting out, I learned early on that my favorite comics were those I felt I learned something about when their set was finished. Instead of gesturing wildly on stage and having no point to their set—“Men and women, different, right?! Am I right?! High five!”—I enjoy comedians that dig beneath the surface and discuss who they are as people, and how they came to think the way they do. That describes Bevins in a nutshell. It has been said that the stage is therapy for a comedian, and you get the sense that Bevins is constantly working out who he is as a person while casually speaking into a microphone. What makes it work is: unlike some performers, Bevins isn’t lashing out at the audience, he’s drawing them in. Listening to Bevins’ new release, Inappropriate (available 6/12), is like listening to a conversation Bevins is having with himself; he’s trying to describe himself, but without lecturing.
The last time I worked with Bevins was years and years ago. He opened his set with the concept, “What is love?” Most comedians try and open big; maybe a shocking masturbation joke, or something with a punch line within 30 seconds. Not Bevins. He has the strength, skill, and confidence to pull the listener in by trusting their intelligence. In a day and age when The Jersey Shore is popular viewing, that’s placing a lot of trust in people that don’t always deserve it.
On Inappropriate, Bevins’ opening draws the listener in with meditations on the meaning of family, and what it is to both love your family, but also maintain a desire for independence. It’s neither fast nor flashy, but it’s honest, and captivating. When he does turn to worldly issues—say race or politics—he does so from the point of looking for laughter. Many comics in the same position either rant, rave, or simply ramble on, because they think having a microphone gives them free liscence to be opinionated and boring. Bevins knows that you are absolutely allowed to have an opinion, but people go to a comedy club to laugh. Thoughts must be wrapped in jokes, because if they aren’t, what’s the difference between a comedian and an Occupy Wall Street protester?
OK, too much babbling.
Without further ado, here’s what Danny had to say:
Nathan Timmel:You open Inappropriate by gently letting the listener know you’re a family man—with a wife and child—and then enter into the “Inappropriate” bit. Was this done with specific intent, to prepare the listener for anything to come? “Look, you already know that I’m a husband and father, and how I feel about passing judgment on ideas, so if you don’t like anything from here on out, it’s on you.”
Basically, do you open soft, so you can hammer an audience later?
Danny Bevins: Yes, but it’s totally by accident. When we were recording it, I had been opening my set with another bit, and I felt the audience wasn’t really coming along with me the way I wanted them to. I mean, they would get there, eventually, but it was taking a while. So, I had this conversation with my wife that morning—my parents were staying with her and my son while I was on the road, and she just needed to vent a little—and when I got on the stage that night, that’s what I felt like talking about: family, and all that goes along with family relations. I just started talking, and it worked. The audience laughed, and it made the transition into other material easier.
NT:Similar question: Your disc has an arc to it; you open by discussing your family, mentioning in passing your new baby boy, and close it discussing the kind of funeral you want. So you open with life, and end with death. Was this arc intentional, or accidental?
DB: Oh, absolutely intentional. To me, and this is just the way I write, if you can’t have a “theme” to your set… and I don’t mean I want it to be to the point where you’re like, “OK, enough with your little motto,” but I do want my set to feel like I’ve told a story. There is a start and finish point; it’s not random.
When I started getting the bits ready for this recording, in Edinburgh, the opening was about my birth, and the fact I was an accident. And then my set went from that to the natural close, my funeral. So that arc was absolutely on purpose. I had the “I was an unwanted child bit” already, and then was at a funeral where everybody was sad, and I knew the departed would absolutely hate that, and would have preferred a celebration of sorts. I mean, you and I are not going to want the standard “funeral package,” with crying and all that sadness. If you’re going to do that, I’d rather just not have one. Do something interesting. Be original.
NT:“Inappropriate” is a concept, because personal choice dictates what is or is not inappropriate to any single individual; why do you think moral crusaders feel the need to shove their personal brand of taste down the throats of others?
BV: Oh, that’s easy: because it makes them feel good. It makes them feel superior. If I don’t tell you how “good” I am, then how are you going to know? To me, that’s the whole point to the whole “inappropriate” theme; if you’re talking, it doesn’t mean anything, it should all be based on what we do, not how we champion ourselves. If you want to be a good person, you should be a good person because you want to be a good person, not because you think you’re going to get some candy or other reward. So they want to let you know all the things you do that are wrong, or “inappropriate,” because then they feel righteous. What they don’t understand is: when they say these things to me, I don’t think they’re good, I just think they’re a twat.
NT:Related question: even after discussing the cathedral of the comedy club being the one place humor shouldn’t be questioned, do you still get people lecturing you after shows?
DB: Not so much anymore; I think that bit helped a lot; I think it cut down about 80-90% of those kind of moments. I think there are still people that want to tell me what they didn’t like, but luckily there are usually people around me after a show telling me how much they enjoyed the act. That makes it harder for anyone that wants to come up and bitch about what they didn’t like. But, every once in a while, there’ll be somebody that just has to tell me what they thought. These days it’s more… I get people saying they didn’t like a certain idea I had. It’s not about language or something I said, but just the fact I talked about abortion, or people lecture me about my “Date Rape Joke.” That’s what they call it, “The Date Rape Joke.” To me, it’s “The Grandfather Joke,” because it’s about my grandpa. I had a woman tell me, “You can’t joke about rape.” But the joke isn’t about rape, it’s about my grandfather. If rape is the way you see it, if you take that catchword out of the theme of the joke and focus on it and not what I’m saying, then I’m probably not going to get through to you anyway.
NT:Changing gears: you discuss ethnicity in Scotland—homogonous—but not comedy; did you find cultural differences at all hindering to your sets, or as you are very personal, did you escape that? Did you notice any comics who tend to be too generic having problems translating?
DB: Overall it went really well. There were a couple things that I didn’t expect, like, they didn’t understand “mulligan…”
NT:[Interrupting; incredulous]The country that invented golf didn’t know what a mulligan was?
DB: [Laughs] Yeah, that’s what I’m saying. It took me by surprise. It was in a review of my show, “Bevins doesn’t explain what a mulligan is,” so there are little things you’ll discover about your act. In America, people will laugh at one part, and in Europe they’ll laugh somewhere completely different. They’ll still laugh, but they find the humor in different places, and I love that. I find that in Europe they want a point to whatever you’re saying, and I think they really enjoy storytelling over just “setup/punch line” comedy.
NT:Your last disc contained material with you poking fun at the Republican party while performing in a red state. Given that we’re in an election year, how political will you be this summer?
DB: Eh, some stuff, but for me… I’m just too beat up by the whole process these days. I mean, overall, I just feel sorry for all of us. It doesn’t matter what side you’re on, we all suffer in the end because of the idea of taking sides. I know I’ll be in Washington D.C., and I’ll pull politics out then… I mean, you and I could sit down and debate shit one-on-one, but we know each other and it’s OK.
I do, like you pointed out, like going in front of a group of people, and if I know how they stand on a certain issue, making fun of it. It’s a good to see people challenge themselves; can you let go of your position for a second and see that what I just said is a funny joke, or are you just going to get mad and pout?
NT:How much of your writing takes place on the stage? How much do you write, say, using a notebook, and how much of it is… while not exactly “free form,” is you going on stage with an idea or concept, and working it out with people listening?
DB: I basically go up with a concept, and an outline. I have an idea of what I should say, and where the bit should go, but the stage will determine where it ends up. The audience lets you know what’s funny.
I have a bit right now that I’m working on, and when it started it was about suicide, but over the past few shows it’s drifted into being about a toll bridge, the location of the suicide more than suicide itself. It takes me a little time on stage to really figure a bit out, and where I’m going to take it.
My wife really helps a lot in that process; she is a great barometer.
NT:My mom used to be that way for me; if I said something and she made a lemon face and went “tisk-tisk,” I knew it was a great bit.
DB: [Laughs] No, I don’t mean like that… my wife actually really helps… keep me honest, is the best way of putting it. When I bounce ideas off her, and then she hears me working through them, she’ll remind me, “That’s not where this started,” or “I thought you really wanted to make this the focus of what you were talking about.” If I stray too much, and… I don’t want to say pander, but if I start just going for the easy laughs, my wife will challenge me to go deeper.
Inappropriate will be available tomorrow, June 12 on iTunes, Amazon, and the Rooftop Comedy shop. Be sure to keep up with Danny on Twitter @MySmartAss
In 1991, Tom Morello, Zack de la Rocha, Brad Wilk, and Tim Commerford came together to form Rage Against the Machine. The focus was inspirational, educational music; music with a purpose. Encouraged by the idea art didn’t have to be mindless, in 2008 Nato Green joined forces with comedians W. Kamau Bell and Janine Brito to form Laughter Against the Machine, a comedy troupe with the implicit design to challenge audiences to “laugh and think at the same time.” Nato will continue collaborating with Bell as a writer for Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, a new Chris Rock-produced series coming to FX in August.
Nato Green has been a staple of the San Francisco comedy scene for years, and Rooftop Comedy is proud to be releasing his CD The Nato Green Partyon Tuesday, June 5.
Rooftop sent interviewer Nathan Timmel to talk to Nato about his new disc, intellectual comedy, and parenting.
NT:Easy questions first: Where was the CD recorded? Tell me a little about the venue.
NG: The shows are taped at the New Parish in Oakland. My group Laughter Against the Machine has been doing runs there twice a year for the last couple of years. It’s mostly a music venue, although more comics are checking it out now. Moshe Kasher taped his tv special there in January. One night after a Laughter Against the Machine show, after the audience had left, we were walking out as Too Short was coming in. Some of the most explosive comedy shows I’ve ever done have been there, so it was a natural for me to go back there to tape the cd. Also, as San Francisco gets intolerably expensive to live, both the diversity and the arts community are being pushed out to Oakland.
NT:What is the CD called, and where does the title come from?
NG: The title is The Nato Green Party. There’s not a lost of mystery to that title, is there?
NT:You open your new CD with a play on your name, followed by an examination of your religion, Judaism. How important is your self-identity to your comedy? Is it your specific intention that audiences get to know you as a person through your comedy, as opposed to talking about traffic, or another “topical” subject: “Airline peanuts, who’s with me?”
NG: Hugely important, for two reasons. First, the comedy that inspires me the most is the comedy that carries an honest and personal point of view, that uses humor to search for personal truth. Second, I get called a “political comic” a lot, but a lot of political comedy is comedians writing jokes about things they see on the news. As someone who grew up on the left and was a labor activist for most of my adult life, I talk about politics because that’s my experience. It’s important to me to talk about political and social issues not only as an observer but as a person who is implicated in them.
The discipline that we spent the last four years cultivating in Laughter Against the Machine is only talking about things we sincerely care about. So occasionally, I think of observational premises, but they don’t really fit in my act because I don’t have strong feelings about them. “Why do we call people who take care of things caretakers, but people who take care of people caregivers?” They get shelved, or tweeted, until I can figure out a reason to talk about it onstage.
NT:How important is it to you to have an educated audience when it comes to political humor?
NG: It’s a different thing. When I’m in front of a very educated audience, I can go farther, cut out the exposition in the jokes, trust that people will catch all the references and understand what I mean by them. On the other hand, the best thing is a diverse audience. More diversity keeps everybody honest. It’s very satisfying to figure out how to make a nightclub audience laugh about thorny political issues, after they’ve been hearing dick jokes all night. (Not that there’s anything wrong with dick jokes per se.)
NT:Do you craft your political jokes in a way that allows people who do not follow the news to keep up?
NG: I try to write ripped from the zeitgeist more than ripped from the headlines. If I’m writing about something in the news, if I need more than one sentence to explain it to someone who doesn’t know about it already, it usually doesn’t make it into the act.
NT:Topics such as slavery and abortion make their way into your show, and are handled with confidence. Do you ever run into audiences that just aren’t willing to go down such paths with you?
NG: All the time. I don’t know a lot of other white comics who talk as directly about whiteness and white privilege as I do, and talk about race in that context. I have ended up writing material that is continually digging me in and out of holes with the audience. Walking people through why they reacted negatively to the jokes. Sometimes I feel like I’m facilitating a discussion more than performing. People don’t so much heckle me as participate in the conversation.
NT:Regardless of what you are saying, do you feel certain audiences just hear the topic and have a knee-jerk reaction?
NG: My audiences tend to react negatively to things, or want to quibble with things, but it’s not always what you’d expect. Someone came up to me after the CD taping show and said, “I love the show, but you shouldn’t drink bottled water onstage.” Someone else emailed me after the show to say that they loved the show but felt I “uncritically accepted the concept of Jewish whiteness” rather than placing it its historical context.
Sometimes it’s the audience and sometimes it’s me. Audiences always get very tense if I talk about Israel and Palestine, regardless of how carefully I tread. On the other hand, I tend to be pretty dark in my perspective on things, and want to talk onstage about whatever I’m upset about. Sometimes it’s too raw and I haven’t figured out a way to make it funny enough. I check my set list to make sure there’s not too much death and suffering clumped together. I have ideas all the time that I think are interesting and funny, but I need to let marinate until I get enough perspective to make it work for the audience without just rubbing their faces in anguish.
NT:While you are unabashedly left-leaning regarding politics, you do skewer your own political leanings as much as, if not more so, than you attack the right. Does this ever confuse audiences? Do people ever tell you they felt insulted by anything you said because it conflicted with their personal beliefs?
NG: Years ago [National Public Radio's] Fresh Air ran an interview with this Israeli who organized a Jewish anti-semitic cartoon contest. You’ll remember that a Danish newspaper ran a cartoon of Mohammad, and in a non sequitur retaliation an Iranian newspaper called an anti-semitic cartoon contest. This Israeli guy said, “Anyone can make fun of the other guy. It takes real confidence to make fun of yourself.” That really inspired me.
I spent years as an organizer, and still stay close to the progressive/radical social movement activist world. While it’s plenty fun to mock the stupidity of the right, I am firmly convinced that my side’s biggest enemy is ourselves. We love to smirk about how stupid and hypocritical and paranoid the Tea Party is or whatever. Meanwhile, we manage to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory every chance we get.
Certainly, there are people on the left who come to my shows who realize they didn’t actually want to see a comedy show–they just wanted to hear things they agree with. I’m not for them. Mostly I get away with making fun of my own side because the other people on my side can recognize the motivation, even if they don’t agree with the particular conclusions.
NT:You are a father—twin daughters—does that hinder, help, or have no effect on your touring schedule as a comedian?
NG: There are a lot of things I could do that comics do to build my career if I didn’t have a family. Instead, I have to be focused and disciplined. I hear other comics say, “I spent the day watching all of Battlestar Gallactica” or something. That’s not an option for me. My family is making sacrifices so I can pursue this dream so I want to have scraps of progress to show for it every single day.
NT: Did becoming a father re-calibrate your focus as an entertainer?
NG: Being a parent raises the stakes on every choice you make, because every choice affects another person. Every choice–from how many nights I’m away from home to how long I sit on the toilet. At the same time, my daughters are the greatest joy in my life. As much as I go onstage and talk about painful, confusing, scary, controversial topics, I’m basically hopeful. I’m happier now than before I had kids, because I no longer waste as much time on nonsense.
NT:I have an advance copy of your CD, and by that I mean “un-edited.” It contains some visual cues; will those remain on the full release? How much of your overall act is cerebral, and how much is physical?
NG: Mostly they will. If the joke has an act-out, it stays. Let the listening audience have a reason to come see me live.
NT:What’s next for you; what are your comedic goals? Touring, acting, writing…
NG: My most immediate next step is that I’m going to New York to work on the writing staff of Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, the new Chris Rock-produced late night show premiering on FX August 9. Beyond that, I want to blast this CD out widely to a non-comedy audience. The folks who might like The Daily Show but would never go see live stand-up. I plan to finish and find a distributor for the Laughter Against the Machine documentary I did with Kamau and Janine, and then tour behind it in the fall. After we get through out first 6 episodes of Totally Biased, release the LATM doc, and promote the CD, I’ll evaluate where I’m standing then. And I want to keep logging my Malcolm Gladwell 10,000 hours to become a great stand-up comedian.
The Nato Green Party will be available June 5 on iTunes, Amazon, and the Rooftop Comedy shop. The album will also be available to stream through Pandora, Spotify, and Last.fm.