To record her debut stand-up album, Beth Stelling wanted to go back to Chicago, where she got her comedy chops and became a local favorite. The trip was somewhat of a homecoming, after moving to Los Angeles and having a very busy and exciting year. Call it intervention by the comedy gods or just bad luck, but shortly before Beth took the stage at Chicago’s Comedy Bar, her joke book was stolen from her boyfriend’s car. Refusing to let this bring her down, Beth managed to weave the whole story into her material, with a healthy and hilarious dose of deadpan delivery. Watch Beth tell the story below and be sure to check out Sweet Beth, her album which comes out tomorrow.
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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 great reviews 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 by Sandra 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 Party on 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.
In many ways, Andy Woodhull is just a comedian with a degree in geology and a dream. Yet he’s come a long way from juggling his 9-to-5 lab job and the demands of being a comic always on the road. Andy’s garnered some considerable cred as a comedian, appearing on Comedy Central’s Live at Gotham, performing at the renowned Montreal Just For Laughs festival, and winning the Best of the Midwest competition at the 2011 Gilda Radner-honoring Gilda Fest. Rooftop is happy to announce the release of Andy’s second album, Lucy, showcasing his ventures into manliness, dating, and more. We recently chatted with Andy about the Chicago comedy scene, his writing process, Butterfinger’s sneaky corporate loopholes, and more.
Rooftop Comedy: What was it like getting your start in the Midwest?
Andy Woodhull: Well I started in St. Louis, right after college at The Funny Bone there. I took a couple comedy classes and then moved to Chicago about a year later. I went to some of the open mics in Chicago, but I got most of my stage time at Zanies in downtown Chicago. I did a couple clubs in the suburbs and I would go back to St. Louis a lot and I just tried to do comedy as much as I possibly could. I was working in a laboratory—my degree is in geology—so for the first five years I was in Chicago I was working in a lab and then trying to be on the road as much as I could. It was crazy. Sometimes, I would drive to gigs and then drive back to Chicago, sleep in my car in the parking lot, and then work in the lab. Then I would drive to the show again the next night.
RC: I imagine that lifestyle reached a breaking point after a certain time.
AW: I did it for about five years and eventually it got to a point where I was on the road a lot and I was getting super drained from all the driving. It almost comes out to be two full-time jobs when you’re doing it that much. The last year I did it I was on the road probably 45-50 weeks a year, somewhere in there. I was working almost every weekend.
RC: The past few years have seen an influx of stand-up clubs into the improv/sketch-heavy city of Chicago. Do you think this is affecting the comedy community there?
AW: I think that lately there have been a lot of successful comedians coming out of Chicago, like TJ Miller, Kyle Kinane, Kumail Nanjiani, and Hannibal Buress. All of these guys are coming out of Chicago and then at the same time, Chicago is the third-biggest city in the country and there has been only one club downtown for maybe 30 years. So I think it makes more sense that more stand-up clubs are moving in. I think it’s going to be great for comedy in Chicago too.
RC: Was there a specific moment or show in your career that really pushed you to pursue comedy full-time?
AW: I think I wanted to do it fulltime from the beginning and that was always the goal to not have a job and just to do stand-up. It was just so fun and I loved it right away out of St. Louis. I didn’t quit my job until I won the Butterfinger comedy competition in 2008, where I wrote a joke about candy bars and ended up winning this contest. I quit my job right after that. They gave me 365 Butterfinger coupons and I was like, “I don’t need to work anymore”.
RC: Have you redeemed all the coupons?
AW: Yeah they’re all expired—the ones I didn’t use. I don’t even like Butterfinger that much, but I gave a lot of them away. The funny thing about the coupon is that you still have to pay tax. So each Butterfinger wasn’t exactly free—it was 9 cents.
RC: Last year you won the “Best of the Midwest” title at Gilda Fest. How was it performing at that event?
AW: It was very cool. This year was a lot bigger than it was last year. Last year, when I won it, I really didn’t hang out that much. To give some levity to my win, when I won, the Best of the Midwest was on a Wednesday and I had a show in Sioux Falls, South Dakota on Thursday. After the contest, after I had won, I got in my car and drove overnight to Sioux Falls—13 hours in the car or something like that. That’s a good way to not get a big head about a contest win.
RC: Your new album is titled Lucy, after your beloved black Labrador. Do you think Lucy appreciates the honor?
AW: She has always been a big fan of my comedy. She used to come out on the road with me sometimes. Maybe it was overly sentimental to name the album after her, but I’m not really good at making up names. I knew I’d never be sick of that name and also I have a joke on the CD about Lucy.
RC: That one is a stand-out for sure. Listening to it, you get the sense you’re having a lot of fun telling the story, adding embellishments and tags here and there to fully paint the picture.
AW: That’s kind of how all my bits evolve. I’ll write something or I’ll have an idea and I’ll do it once and then they’re pretty fluid. I don’t normally have jokes that are done and then they’re always that way. I have a couple short ones that are like that, but the longer jokes I’ll often try to add to and take them in different directions—it keeps them kind of fun.
RC: Why did you want to release an album now?
AW: I guess it’s because you kind of want to graduate material—for me, anyway. It’s probably different for everyone. You also want to make that money! I started having jokes that I wasn’t wanting to tell anymore. When you get to that point, I like to make a CD or an album or whatever, because then those jokes serve a purpose. They’re there forever. They’re not just forgotten—if that makes any sense.
We were thrilled to hear the news that Dave Waite would be making his TV debut this week. The Cincinnati native did not disappoint when he took the Late Night with Jimmy Fallon stage. We’ve got Dave’s full set after the jump, in which he talks about his (lack of) skills with the ladies, substitute teaching, working for Delta airlines, and more. Great job Dave! Be sure to follow Dave @DaveWaiteComedy and check out his Rooftop album.
Mike Brody is a very easy-going guy, but make no mistake: if you’re an AC/DC cover band and you pick a fight with him, he will fight back (on Facebook at least). Mike is a hilarious Minneapolis-based comic with a palpable on-stage energy that makes him a pleasure to watch. Mike is the official comic for the SyFy network’s Ghost Hunters and regularly headlines clubs and college campuses across the country. We recently chatted with Mike about his new album, his love for punk music, spending a very comfortable night on Alcatraz, and more.
Rooftop Comedy: How did you get started in comedy?
Mike Brody: I did my first year of comedy in Iowa in a town called Cedar Rapids. I was going to school in Iowa City—the University of Iowa. Cedar Rapids is about 20 miles north of that. There was a comedy club called Penguin’s Comedy Club and that’s where I started. I went and watched an open mic and then I decided I should try it. Actually, a friend of mine had gone up and done comedy and he killed and he wasn’t funny at all. So I thought I could do that. Because it’s Iowa, there was maybe one open mic a month in that area. So I did that for about a year and there just wasn’t that much stage time. I actually moved to LA first. I don’t think I was naïve thinking I was going to get famous after doing it for a year, but I just wanted to do something crazy. I moved there, ran out of money. I saw a commercial on TV for paper towels and I literally thought, “Who can afford paper towels?” and I was like, oh, that’s not good.
RC: Then you moved to Minneapolis. That seems like a really supportive, talented community of comics.
MB: It’s always been that way—from Louie Anderson in the ‘80s to the Mystery Science Theater 3000 guys in the ‘90s. There’s just a long history of really good comics in Minneapolis. Same with music and everything. There’s just something about the arts in Minneapolis that just pervades everything and is pretty cool.
RC: Do you have a favorite track on your album?
MB: You know, my favorite one on that is the ADD/C story. [Laughs] That one is the most me, the most neurotic, not spending my time well—getting into a fight on Facebook with a tribute band. That story is 100% true. I transcribed what they wrote to me on there. That joke sums me up best as a person: just putting my energy into the wrong things and overblowing everything. It’s kind of cool because ADD/C is a real punk band and they’re not that big yet, but they’re really awesome. So I like talking about them. It makes me feel cool.
RC: Did the band show any appreciation for you defending their cause on the merciless battleground of Facebook?
MB: They did. The drummer friended me on Facebook. They must have been Googling themselves because I put up a blog post a long time ago when it first happened. He emailed me and was like “Hey, you don’t know me, but I’m the drummer for ADD/C and I just wanted to say thanks. We read it and thought it was hilarious. Thanks for sticking up for our honor”. Now, when the CD comes out, I’m going to send them a copy. They talked about me in the punk scene too. “This guy Mike Brody—he did this”. I thought it was so awesome. I’ve never felt so cool. I’ve been a dork my whole life. I got name-dropped by a punk band. That’s the pinnacle for me.
RC: As the official comic for the SyFy network’s Ghost Hunters, you got to stay overnight on Alcatraz. What was that like?
MB: Yeah I got to spend a night in a cell. True story: I was a bachelor at the time and the bed I slept on Alcatraz was an original bed and it was more comfortable than the bed I had in my apartment in the Twin Cities.
The thing about the Ghost Hunters thing is I didn’t even mention it in the CD because a lot of it is very specialized. A lot of time, when I do these conferences, I’ll go do 45 minutes on ghosts and then I’ll go and help them lead the tours and see the whole event. They’re like ghost trekkies, if that makes sense? I’ll go up on stage and be like, “Remember in Episode 38, at 45 minutes…” and they’ll be like “Oh yeah!” If I did it during a regular set, people might go, “What the hell is he talking about?”
RC: I feel like that genre tried to inch into the mainstream, with shows like Fear on MTV.
MB: There’s a lot of them that are really popular. They keep getting more and more extreme. It started off with Ghost Hunters. Then there was Paranormal State. Then there was Ghost Adventures, where they’ll yell at the ghost. They’ll go in and be like, “Who wants to rumble?!” There’s Extreme Paranormal, where they go to witch doctors and they’ll cut heads off chickens and stuff. Pretty soon it’s going to be UFC Ghost Fighting. I don’t even know what it’s going to get to, but it keeps getting weirder and weirder.
RC: How are the crowds at these events?
MB: They’re super enthusiastic. They love it. You get a lot of repeat customers at these events across the country, but often you’ll get completely new people. You can always tell the new people right away because they’re not sure what’s going to happen. They’re not a comedy audience per se. They’re there to see ghosts and stuff like that. It always goes super well. The minute I get up there, they’re all super into it.
RC: There’s a funny video circulating of you pulling a prank on a bachelorette party that showed up two hours late to your show.
MB: I was headlining the Comedy Caravan in Louisville, KY. It was probably halfway through my set—I was the last comic of the night and a bachelorette party came in. You know how sometimes in music, people will skip the opening bands? It doesn’t work that way in comedy. Comedians are a team: the opener, the middle, and me. It’s our show. We’re not against each other so it kind of offends me that people don’t show up to see everybody. I thought it was disrespectful, so I found out they were in the parking lot. I heard that they were coming in. I told the whole crowd, “OK, here’s what we’re going to do. Don’t tell anybody when they walk in, don’t even let on, but I’m going to say a password”. I think the password was “farfegnugen”. “I’m going to say farfegnugen to signify that they’re coming in and I’m going to wait until they all sit down and then I’m going to say ‘Thank you! Good night!’ and then walk off stage as if the show’s over, the minute they all sit down”. It worked perfectly. I started laughing halfway through it, but it was fun. The crowd loved it. They were so excited to be a part of it.
RC: You also mention on your album that you’re neighborhood gives out weather warnings called “Small Dog Wind Advisories”.
MB: I live in downtown Minneapolis, which, if I had to make a comparison, it’s kind of like the West Hollywood of Minneapolis. It’s very gay-friendly, very quaint, and a lot of little dogs blowing down the road. It really does paint the picture, doesn’t it? It’s not bad enough for humans, but if you go outside with a little dog, you might lose it.
[Photo courtesy of Shannon Porter Photography]
That’s Not What I Meant is available now at outlets including iTunes, Amazon, the Rooftop shop, Pandora, Rdio, and more. Mike will be hosting his official CD release party on May 17 at the Joke Joint Comedy Club in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Rooftop comics just keep popping up on late night TV and we’re certainly not one to complain. On Friday night, Keith Alberstadt stopped by the Late Show with David Letterman. Enjoy Keith’s full set after the jump, in which he talks about time-traveling in a wine store, getting through a bad break-up, learning some new dating tricks, and more.
Keith has been one of our favorite comics for a long time. In 2010, Rooftop Comedy Productions released Keith’s album, It’s Pronounced Jenkins. The following year, Keith went on to be one of the finalists in CMT’s Next Big Comic. Be sure to catch up with all of his Rooftop clips and follow him @KeithAlberstadt. Great job Keith!
Comedian Nick Griffin is somewhat of a machine. He’s really in his element when he’s on the road, headlining everywhere from Mason City, Illinois to San Francisco and back again. Along the way, he’s managed to wrack up an astounding 16 late night television appearances, bringing his salty, cynical, and hilarious material to the national stage. The idea of downtime is somewhat lost on Nick, so he fills his days writing TV pilots and working on his horror movie screenplay. On April 3, Nick will release his second album with Rooftop, Shot in the Face, building off the success of his previous title, Bring Out the Monkey. We recently chatted with Nick about his work ethic, love of horror films, and being called “less happy” than Marc Maron–by Marc Maron.
Rooftop Comedy: When did you record Shot in the Face?
Nick Griffin: I did it in 2004. It was in Columbus, Ohio. I wasn’t even planning on recording, but I think another guy on the bill said he was recording and he said, “You know, if you want to, you can just record after me”. It ended up being a really great show and I really was happy with it and I didn’t have a CD at the time. I was one of those geniuses that didn’t think selling CDs after shows was cool, so I waited until CDs had pretty much gone out of fashion before I started. Anyway, the show went really well and I had all this new material I really wanted to get out, but I really hadn’t spoken to any record labels. So the reason I wanted to re-release was I recorded it myself and I sold it after shows. So people haven’t had access to it unless they were at one of my shows. So I thought it was a good idea because I was really happy with the way Rooftop did my first one and how they worked with me.
NG: I think there’s a lot of parallels going on. I think being a comic or an entertainer or whatever you want to call it, it’s always hard to keep relationships together, so there’s a lot of that in there. I think I did this CD probably two years after my divorce, so there’s a lot of that in there that was kind of the material that really helped me elevate my game. It’s sad that getting divorced had to happen, but the divorce material is what got me on my first Letterman spot. They just really liked how I framed it in my act and so there’s a lot of relationship material. I think it’s a little bit angrier than Bring Out the Monkey. I don’t know if I’m just more medicated now than I was, but it’s definitely a little angrier.
[Nick Griffin’s most recent Letterman spot, from February 2012]
RT: Some 16 late night appearances later, that first Letterman spot did you a lot of good.
NG: Yeah, like I said, I did that first Letterman spot and it went really well. I actually got a little development deal with Letterman’s company right after I did my first Letterman spot and then I just started getting a lot more people interested. I was probably 17 or 18 years into the business before I got my first TV spot. I had a lot of stuff saved up and that’s still the most fun for me. I love clubs, but when you’re in the middle of Boise, Idaho on a Thursday, you’re wondering why you’re doing this. When you get to go on Conan or Letterman, it really makes it worthwhile.
RT: Any pre-show rituals before you go on stage?
NG: I always check my notebook and write out two or three of the newest jokes and make sure to remind myself to get through them on stage. You can get lazy on the road and not work on your act as much and I’m just trying to prevent myself from doing that even as I continue to go on after all these years. Just reminding myself to do the new material is one thing I do.
RT: You’re also somewhat of a horror movie enthusiast.
NG: I am. I unfortunately haven’t sold any [screenplays], but I’ve written four or five movies. I had an older brother, who’s only three years older than me and when we were kids, there was a late night show on Fridays that they called Friday Fright Night and they had a host and they would introduce these movies. We’d watch them all the time and it just got into my DNA. With all this time on the road, I’m just trying to figure out what the hell to do and I just thought, you know, as a goof, let’s try to write a horror movie and I did and it was just fun to do it. I haven’t sold it or anything, but I continue to write them and someday hopefully something will happen.
RT: Do you have similar writing practices for comedy and horror? Or are they completely different monsters?
NG: It’s kind of a completely different monster. I mean, I can’t start a screenplay until I have a beginning and an ending and that’s what I’m always looking for. It’s rare that I come up with just a little scene or something. I do come up with horror ideas, just walking around.
RT: Marc Maron once called you possibly the only comic that’s less happy than he is. That’s quite an honor?
NG: Yeah I’ve done WTF a couple times and I moved to New York when I was 22 or 23 and he was there. I just have a horrible walk-around face. My daily walk-around face does not look particularly happy and it’s often misconstrued as being depressed or whatever. I get as depressed as the next person, but I don’t think Marc Maron knows me well enough to make that statement, but we’ve spent some time together and chatted about getting divorced and struggling and all that. I did a live WTF in Brooklyn and that’s where that came from.
RT: Do you like doing podcasts?
NG: I’d like to do more. I haven’t done a ton of them. I spend so much time on the road. I get asked, but I don’t end up doing them just because I’m always on the road when they’re doing them, but I love doing them. I think they’re a blast and they’re cool and it’s a great way to get your material out there.
Shot in the Face will be available on April 3. You can pre-order the album and get 15% OFF at the Rooftop Comedy Shop with the discount code: ShotInTheFace. Shot in the Face will also be on iTunes, Amazon, Pandora, Grooveshark, and wherever you can find good comedy.