Top Five is a column in which we talk to stand up comics who have released their own album about their five favorite comedy albums of all time.
Jarrod Harris is very untraditional comic, which makes him the undeniably intriguing and fresh performer that he is. Before releasing his debut album with us, he made his appearance on the HOLY FUCK. Live Comedy. album where we put out with a track that had left an impression on this blogger even before he joined Rooftop Comedy. A line that sticks out to me is when Jarrod Harris proclaims that he’s “too weird for Conan” within the most delightfully odd three minute track I’ve ever heard. Keeping himself busy recently, he’s been producing his own webseries named “Ricky Erlando” featuring a patriotic, mullet-clad action figure, after his successful stint as part of the popular viral series “Action Figure Therapy” in which he was a writer and voice actor for. Doing things just a little off-beat and his own way when we asked him about his Top Five comedy albums he said “I see your comedy and raise you music.” Letting his album stand as a wholly unique testament to his wit with it’s release he shared music that has been important to him over the years like a shaman passing on wisdom.
1. The Sundays, Blind.
I have never really slept well. Since the age of 5 or so I’ve only really gotten about 3-5 hours of sleep a night. For about 2 years or so in middle school I would just sleep on the floor in the living room watching tv to fall asleep. I’ll never forget awaking to this beautiful girl’s voice after dosing off. I believe the show this video was playing on was MTV’s 120 Minutes. I was on a happy-high till the sun came up and I had to get ready for another day of ISS (in-school suspension) at school where i would sit in a little booger-filled stall with a teacher behind me for 7 or so hours. I would play this album in my head all day and it would keep me from punching things and people. There was a record store chain called Turtles Records next to where my mom took me to buy my school clothes. That’s where i found the cd. I wore that thing out fantasizing about not being in ISS and a girl I was too pussy to talk to. The Sundays is still on my iphone and gets played on the reg.
2. Sunny Day Real Estate – Diary
My friend and fellow BMXer was taking me to high school one morning after coming in late from a BMX National in some state that I can’t remember. Point being, a song from this album was playing on WRAS album 88 Atlanta. It really resonated with me. There is so much pain and torture in Jeremy Enigk’s voice. At the time I was in love, so I thought, with a girl that was fuckin around on me. She worked at Six Flags. Later I found out she was an actual ride at Six Flags. Fuck that bitch.
3. Waylon Jennings – Any album! It’s fucking Waylon Jennings!!!
This music makes me proud to be an American. Yeah I know our government is directly responsible for killing tens of millions of innocent people around the globe but 99% of us have no say so in that. Waylon Jennings did things his way regardless of what the industry thought he should do and that’s exactly how I will always live my life and do my comedy. Listening to Waylon inspires me to stop being a little twat and second guessing myself. We are responsible for the way we live our lives. So fuck what everyone else thinks.
4. Slowdive – Souvlaki LP
I fell in love with this band the first time I heard them and never looked back. The absolute BEST 90’s shoegaze band in my opinion. In 1996 I was a confused 19 year old. I loved building dirt jumps, riding my bmx bike and traveling but I was so wrapped up in trying to do what society thought I should do. Go to college or start a business and make a lot of money. I was so insecure I quit riding all together and focus on starting a business. Had a little success but I was fat, miserable and in a relationship I shouldn’t have been in. During that whole time I would often listen to this album and dream of a better life. I mean there’s gotta be more to life than 12 hour pressure washing days and Ruby Tuesday dinners, right? I finally got the balls to do stand up at 26, left my girlfriend, and opened myself up to better possibilities. I’m still a little fat but I finally ride again and have my own property to build dirt jumps on.
5. Real Estate – Days
My buddy and fellow hilarious comedian, Jake Weisman also loves this band. They are just amazing. Period. I mean if you don’t like this band, yer probably a terrorist. Actually I’m sure terrorists love this band too. This album is like the first time you got yer fingers wet in the woods behind your granny’s house. Maybe it was the second time? Either way it was still good. I wish you could smell mp3s. If you could I’d never wash it and I’d make all my friends smell it.
Check out Jarrod Harris’ debut standup album, Present and Talkative, for sale on Amazon, iTunes, and Bandcamp released on Febuary 17th, 2015 on Rooftop Comedy Productions.
Top Five is a column in which we talk to stand up comics who have released their own album about their five favorite comedy albums of all time.
It’s been a while since we here at Rooftop got to welcome Jason Downs back home to San Francisco! We last got a chance to catch up with him when his album, Excessive Talking, was released and he’s been a busy man ever since! Moving and shaking in the City of Angels now, he’s getting his generous share of acting work, from Super Bowl and other NFL commercial spots to performing on NBC’s Last Comic Standing! He continues to keep stand up part of world though, including being featured in our city’s premiere comedy festival, SF SketchFest! His brand of enthusiastic energy circling around real situations he comes across has made him a desired act for any show! You can catch him during SF SketchFest performing with the likes of Mike Lawrence and Dan St. Germain on February 5th and in the lineup to the fantastic Rude City Comedy Show on February 6th! While giving him the warm hello he deserves he shared a list of his favorite comedy albums and specials to our blogger-in-residence that helped shape the state of the modern stand up world.
Every ten years or so an iconic comedy album is released that demands the public’s attention, that’s Roll with the New. After the boom and bust of the comedy golden age of the late 1980’s/early 90’s, stand up was slowly dying, then came this masterpiece. After his brief stint on S.N.L., many considered him a flop and Rock’s career was in trouble. Rock’s HBO special Bring the Pain and this album version, Roll with the New was his comeback. The now classic bits Ni**as Vs. Black People to O.J., I Understand, Rock wrote, rewrote, performed, and honed this act to create the last iconic comedy album of our time.
Bring up the greats of stand up comedy and you will hear names like Kinison, Pryor, and Carlin. But, Jerry Seinfeld’s name is often unjustly left out of the conversation. I’m Telling You for the Last Time is the first attempt by a stand up comedian to walk the tightrope, while at the same time, striping the rope to make the rope thinner and thinner by recording and broadcasting it live on HBO. Seinfeld is an absolute craftsman, master of his domain, and that domain is stand up. There are many masterful jokes on this album, but the Olympics bit is one of the greatest well-finessed bits ever performed. Seinfeld proves that to get laughs you don’t have to be a self-deprecating goofball (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but rather you can be hilarious by using your sheer wit and cleverness.
Maria Bamford does what everybody else simply cannot do. On the Burning Bridges Tour, Bamford uses her remarkable talent for characters and scene development and organically takes us to an abstract, gooey world: a bent reality, all without breaking our suspension of disbelief. Many wonder why Bamford was never cast on S.N.L., the simple answer: she is just too big, too much, too intense for S.N.L.
Doug Stanhope: part philosopher, part prophet, part twisted human being; a modern day Hunter S. Thompson minus the gunshot wound to the head. Stanhope’s talent is taking taboo subjects others can’t seem to mine for gold, walk into the mine empty handed, and walk back out covered head to toe in a gold-plated suit of armor. On Deadbeat Hero, everything is funny, nothing is off limits, and swearing is nothing to shy away from. Stanhope taught me a lesson in comedy I’ll never forget; never trust a comic who doesn’t swear, i.e. Bill Cosby.
George Carlin’s Classic Gold is really three albums, AM:FM, Class Clown, Occupation: Foole, in one, packaged together as a double disc. Classic Gold displays Carlin’s talents not just as a master of stand up comedy, but a master of many different forms of stand up. On the first album, AM:FM, Carlin performs, by today’s standards, an alt comedy set, weaving in and out of one man sketches. With the second and third album, Carlin begins to evolve into the socially conscious comedian we would recognize before his passing. Class Clown’s, Muhammad Ali is one of the best single jokes ever told, full of dense words, rebellion and injustice. Finally, Occupation: Foole features the famous 7 words you can never say on television chunk that would later become the subject of a Supreme Court ruling, making this collection not just funny but part of United States history.
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