Ryan Stout is a comedian who has appeared on CONAN, HBO’s Funny as Hell, Comedy Central’s @Midnight, and his own half-hour special: Comedy Central Presents… Ryan Stout. He was also a regular panelist on E!’s Chelsea Lately. He most recent comedy albums is Man in the Suit.
Listen to Episode #94 here:
Man In Comedy Suit With Ryan Stout
Our guest is Ryan Stout. Ryan is a comedian who has appeared on Conan, HBO’s Funny as Hell, Comedy Central’s @midnight and his own half-hour special, Comedy Central Presents Ryan Stout. He was also a regular panelist on E!’s Chelsea Lately. His comedy album is Man in the Suit. Welcome, Ryan.
Thank you. I like the vibe because it feels important. I don’t know why. It feels like we’re in this quiet room. We’re going to talk about you. It’s not like I’m in Marc Maron’s garage, where I’ve been. We talked about my life but also, you’re in a garage.
I also was in that garage. I make my people feel more important than Marc does. At least he made me feel.
I certainly felt honored to be there, but there’s a vibe with the space. Some people want it to be a laid back space and other are people like, “We should talk about business. I want to get your bio correct. I want to tell my audience what you’ve done and where you’ve been.” I like both.
Obviously, you’re not going to pick up the same number of Twitter followers as a result of I’m Not Joking.
I was on WTF before the president. The show wasn’t as popular then as it was.
It was an inside baseball show.
It was and it was important that I did it because my peers went, “Episode 302. Look at you.” I do like when there’s a straightforward professional setting. It always reminds me the first time I was in Australia, I was working at the Comedy Store in Sydney. The phone rang and they answered and they’re like, “Comedy Store.” “Our artist is Ryan Stout.” Whereas comedy clubs in the United States, they’re like, “Hang on. Who’s headlining?” “Ryan Stout.”
I’m going to hold off my first question because you are on-brand. I’m going to talk about the different ways you’re on brand. The fact that you appreciate a professional atmosphere and a level of professionalism, which I hadn’t completely shown. I was trying to print things off a printer and I didn’t have the water ready. We had set this up for 3:00 and you said, “I’ll be there at 2:55.” That’s one example. Even the way you dress, you’re casual, you’re in a polo. It’s sharp and it fits.
If the wife bought it, I know it’s a good one.
You perform in a suit and tie, hence the Man in the Suit. Why don’t you talk a little bit about that? Why does this professionalism resonate with you? Obviously, you have it but also you seem to appreciate it than others, what’s the background?
There’s a level of reverence I have towards stand-up comedy and treating it like a job. I hear it out of Seinfeld’s mouth when Seinfeld talks about comedy. He’s another guy that dresses up for work. It’s a lot of, “You do the work, your job, and you focus.” It’s not about, “I’m going to get drunk and get on stage and talk and see what comes out.” I’m trying to craft something here. I’m in a long process that hopefully at the end, I will have something and I don’t know how to get there just bumbling my way through it.
The suit started off because I wanted people to sit and listen and know that I would be talking. You take the stage and you haven’t even said anything yet. I’m not going to be doing cartwheels. I’m telling the audience by how I’m dressed. This is the vibe you’re going to get. You sit, you listen, I talk. You should be used to this because your boss probably wears a suit. Some of your professors probably wore suits. This is not enough. I had this one professor in college, he wore the full three-piece suit, hat, cane, and he was serious about it. He was probably 65 when I was in his class.
I wear a suit to say to my students, “This is important.” I’m treating this as something important.
Most people who do TED Talks, they dress up because they go, “I’m talking to important people about important things.”
This came up in the episode with Jake Kroeger, who dresses dapper dresser. It says to the world, “This is important.” The other one is when you’re performing, whether you’re on stage as a stand-up or me on stage as a speaker or professor, people have to look at you for 7, 20, 30, 45 minutes, or 3 hours. I teach a Saturday class for six hours. You should make it aesthetically as pleasing as possible.
Make it easy for the listener.
You shouldn’t be wearing distracting clothing. You should be working with what you have.
I’ve been out on the street with comics at festivals and they’re walking by a window and they see a jacket and they go, “Let’s go in here quick.” They put it on there like, “Can I wear this on stage?” They’re asking me because they want to know, “Is this distracting? Is it too flashy or is it not enough? Does it look bland?” We’re all thinking, “What is the message we send when you look at us?” First impressions are crucial, especially when you get into the debate, which I can’t even weigh into. Somebody tried to interview me about how women dress on stage and I just throw my hands and I go, “It’s too complicated. I don’t know how they do it.” You wear something that’s too low cut, you’re deemed slutty. You wear something that covers you up too much and people go, “She’s a prude.” You go, “That’s not fair at all.”
The comedy uniform is traditionally cargo shorts and a T-shirt like, “I don’t give a crap.”
I blame Comedy Central for that because Comedy Central was shooting for a specific demographic of men, 14 to 34. They started grabbing these comics that they’re like, “He would appeal to young men. She would appeal to young men.” Especially in the ‘90s when you’ve got grunge music and you think about how people were dressing to be like, “AIDS is here. We’re all going to die so I don’t give a crap.” That’s what took over Comedy Central and inspired a brand new generation of comics. Once that generation was dressed down, the upcoming generation thought, “That’s how you dress.”
There is a tradition of stand-ups performing in suits. You have clearly embraced that.
I did embrace it. I joke and say that it’s autism because it’s easy for me to do the same thing over and over again and I don’t have to think about it. I can pack three white shirts, two suits and I’m ready for the weekend. We’re done. I’m not window shopping going, “Can I wear that? What shoes do I have that goes with that?” I’ve had the same polished black dress shoes since 2004.
It’s your uniform.
They’ve been around the world. I’m proud of them. It’s a European way of looking at wealth. Wealth means, “I bought that thing a long time ago. I still have it. It still works great.” Versus the American wealth which is, “This is new. Isn’t it great? I’m going to get rid of it in two months.”
You have a good suit and good shoes. You may spend a lot of money upfront. Not only does it look good, but it also lasts long. You get what you paid for.
As I’ve gotten older and everybody knows what aging is like, your face doesn’t have that elasticity that it once did and you’re soggier in certain parts and you’re like, “What happened to me?” When you’re wearing a suit, all that stuff is covered up. If you’re looking at old stand-up tape, there are people who will see me from years ago and go, “You look exactly the same. You look great.”
This came up in a previous episode, if you’re tall and lean like you are, you look great in a suit. If you’re short and pudgy, you don’t look bad in a suit. It disguises a lot in terms of the male body, the way it’s set up in a way like a polo shirt. A short, pudgy guy in a polo shirt looks short and pudgy. A guy with hairy arms and the hair sticks out, but a suit gives you those clean lines.
It covers up all the flaws. Nobody needs to know how tan or not tan I am. It’s totally good. Maybe I do have a lot of ugly moles, you can’t see them.
For female comics, clothing is an excellent case study about the complexity and the challenges that they have.
We don’t have to confront it as far as that goes.
It’s the classic thing. A man doesn’t think, “How am I going to get home safely at 1:00 AM from this comedy club?”
You go, “I’m drunk. I’ll walk. I’ll be fine.” Men sleep in their cars on the road. You can find a billion feminist blogs saying, “Do you realize how dangerous that is for women?” If that’s a cornerstone of competing in the world of stand-up comedy, which is taking gigs where you’re not going to be able to make money but you take it to get in with the club, but then you don’t have the money to have a place to stay so you sleep in your car. The competition is geared toward taking these risks that you shouldn’t have to take, because nobody wants to sleep in their car, but are you willing to? Willing versus what is your level of danger are different questions. It’s almost unfair if you are a woman and you say, “That guy chose to sleep in his car, but if I make that same choice, I could be dead.” This is the thing that I get to ask the most and I picked it because I thought it would be easy and that was the main reason. I thought I’d send a quick message. Some of the results that came from it I found where I got heckled a lot less. We live in a society where people are accustomed to saying, “Don’t interrupt the guy in the suit.” That’s a preacher.
He’s “important.” There’s social psychology research on uniforms and it’s why security guards wear uniforms that look like police officers, why police officers wear uniforms so on and so forth. Doctors wear lab coats, they’re not in the lab.
They seem smart that way so I’ll trust them as a patient. I will tell you a quick story. I was at the UCB here in LA. Chelsea Peretti was doing a show and she invited me to be on. It’s her show and in the opening half-hour, which is all hers and she puts stuff on a screen and she talks. This is before she brings her guests out. There’s this woman sitting there, she and her friend come in late and then start heckling, and Chelsea deals with them. Then they continue on and the crowd moans and Chelsea is like, “You can’t do this. You already came in late. You have to stop or you have to go.” They kept on. The third time they did it, I came out from behind the curtain and buttoned my coat and I looked at Chelsea, raised my eyebrows and point to them. I go, “Those two?” She nods her head, “Yes.” I walked over to them and I make a gesture with my hand like, “Let’s go.” They slumped in their seats, they get up and they left because I said so. The crowd is delighted when Chelsea is like, “My next guest, you guys saw him earlier, Ryan Stout.” I come out and people are like, “You’re just a joke comic.” They believed that you could take them. What’s even more strange is I believed that I could take care of them. I thought, “This will fool them.”
It’s funny where confidence can come from. For some people, it’s not washing their socks when they’re watching their team play. People are superstitious, we’re these weird beings. I like that the arrow goes both ways. Suit or not, when you’re dressed well, when you have a good haircut, when you’re like, “I am put together.” You start to act put together and people treat you that way. Also, spontaneously, when people see someone who’s put together, they give them more respect. When people give you respect, then you stand up a little straighter.
I’ve launched this other show called Solo: The Single Person’s Guide To A Remarkable Life. I did a bunch of episodes at the beginning when it had a different positioning. It was positioned for bachelors. Solo is not for bachelors, it’s for men and women. It resonates more with women than men. In terms of, the world is a lot harder on women who are single than men who are single. The first episode was with my barber. I didn’t launch this episode number one for a good reason. The topic of it is, “Dude, get a haircut.”
I tell the story of the movie Limitless with Bradley Cooper. He takes this drug that makes him a genius. The first thing that he does is tidy up his apartment, cleans and organizes his apartment. The second thing he does, he gets a haircut. The third thing he does, he starts working out, and then he goes and gets some clothing. I know it’s fictitious. The first thing a genius does is get their life in order and get themself in order. I’m like that, I can be a little anxious. If things feel a little out of control, I make my to-do list, tidy up my apartment.
I’ve got control over these things and I’ve knocked them out.
I’ve accomplished some things.
In that area and also in the suit and tie area, I’ve told comics 1,000 times because they will listen to my act and over the course of the hour, they go, “How do you have so many callbacks? How do you find the way that all of these bits connect together? How do you create an arc that has a beginning, middle and an end, where many other comics get up and do 70 jokes and say goodnight?” As long as it’s funny in the beginning, the middle, and at the end, who cares? It’s random. There’s a flow, a point, you’re trying to send messages, you’re trying to get the crowd lathered up and then you say, “Good night,” and you get standing ovation. How do you bring a crowd on that journey? I tell them, “You know what happens? It’s an 8:00 show, I get there at 7:30. I like to be there watching people walk in. I like to watch the openers. My day starts at 5:30. I take a shower, shave my face, I’m ironing a shirt, and my body already knows, ‘You’re getting ready to go to that thing that you always go.’” I’m thinking about my act. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been ironing a shirt, thinking about what I’m going to do on stage three hours before the show. I’ve had these epiphanies, and you iron enough shirts.
It’s like cleaning the pool, going for a walk or taking a shower.
You’re busy, but your mind is working. I saw this study where they took people who were novice, intermediate and expert basketball players and had them shoot free throws. Do you know this study?
I don’t know yet.
They made them not shoot free throws for two weeks, and then they brought them back to the line and shoot, and they all got worse. They did it again and they said, “For the two weeks that you’re not shooting free throws, we’re going to have you imagine yourself ten minutes a day shooting free throws.” What they found was, everybody dropped a little bit but the expert level people dropped little. The intermediate people dropped some, and then the novice level, the people who had never learned how to shoot free throws, thinking about it a lot didn’t help them. Those neural pathways, if you can reinforce those, your brain retains a level of your skill. Ironing my shirt, thinking about my set, it’s like doing a set before I do the set.
It’s another round of practice.
I didn’t realize that was helping me as much as it was until it dawned on me after doing it for years. I’m like, “Thank God I made that choice to dress up and iron shirts every night.”
What I’m getting you saying essentially is it’s not doubly beneficial, it’s quadruply beneficial in all these different ways.
Especially when you compare it to the alternative, which is other comics were like, “I was playing video games until 7:30 and then I was like, ‘I’ve got to go to the show.’” They rush to the show, they give themselves a couple of drinks, they get on stage, they get off stage and they have some more drinks and I’m like, “When do you think about your act?” “I rut on stage.” Sure you do.
This level of professionalism, you had it in college?
A little bit.
You were doing 300 nights a year in college.
You got good enough to do something that rarely happens which is, you won the Boston International Comedy Competition at 22. That rarely happens. What happened? You’re bumbling along because you’re 22 in a stand-up, but you’re not bumbling along like the typical stand-up comic.
It was a lot of focus and effort. One of the things that also benefited me was knowing what I wanted to do while I was in college. If I’m taking a psychology class, I’m watching the class going, “How can I apply this to what I’m already interested in?” Anthropology, “How can I apply this?” History, “I’m doing it again and again.”
You have your school notebook and then you have your comedy notebook.
I would schedule my classes so that I would have a break in the middle of the day where I could get lunch and then write for an hour or an hour and a half. That forced me to write. Many comics are like, “I can’t find time to write. I sit there and nothing happens.” I go, “I sit there and nothing happens sometimes, but I keep sitting there and then something happens.” It has taken me as long as 45 minutes to start writing, and then usually I will start the clock and say, “Now you write for an hour.” You have to suffer through it. The consistency of the writing and going out and trying new things and also I was in San Francisco during a time where I was surrounded by brilliant comedians.
I was talking to Guy Branum about that who’s the host of Talk Show the Game Show on TruTV. You can also see him all over Comedy Central. He’s a brilliant comedian, he was studying law at Berkeley when I met him, but we’re in coffee houses at nights. Moshe Kasher is around. Ali Wong is around. Sheng Wang is around. Louis Katz is around. We’re all getting up and we’re all doing different things. Brent Weinbach is doing this absurdist humor that’s nothing like any of us are doing and we’re like, “If I were to do something absurdist, what would I do?” Someone starts talking about pop culture, I don’t do that, but if I did, what would I do? It was like a taffy pull, stretching your talent, being like, “What can you do?” That’s been throughout history, people have noted the best violins were made by three violin makers within a few miles of each other during the same time period. To be influenced by other artists is crucial. One of the heartbreaking things about people who want to be stand-up comics, you can’t tell them, “I hope you come up with a good group. I hope your peers are inspiring and drive you to do better.” I can’t promise that for you.
The generational effects matter. I have this book coming out called Shtick to Business: Serious Lessons from the Masters of Comedy. I have some stuff and idea that I’m editing is coming out of your mouth. One of the chapters is called Work Hard or Hardly Work. It’s about scheduling the time to do your creative work. Doing it on a regular basis, ideally every day and then at some point, releasing yourself from that grind and enjoying your life. The next is called Take a Bigger Stage. One of the ideas is to go to a bigger place, and that would be a place where there’s good comedy. New York and LA are the obvious ones but it doesn’t have to be. Why is that? It’s because of the competition. Not only are they competition, who you’re competing against, but they become your friends, inspirations and they help you punch up jokes.
Those moves are thrilling when you know what you’re looking for. After being surrounded by so much great comedy in San Francisco, when I moved to Los Angeles, all of a sudden, I’m surrounded by these people who I had never heard of before, who were coming from other places and you go, “I’ve been competing against you the whole time. I didn’t know you, but here we are.” You’re not battling each other, you’re in the same fight together.
It’s a big pie. Having a zero-sum perspective is not good. A little bit of healthy, “Allie has taken a leap. What is she doing?” That thing is inspiring. When I was a grad student, I had a saying which was, “Cooperate and graduate.” When there’s a big exam, I put together a group of four people, we did a study group. These are people who I always made sure were smarter than me. We work together. We’re not competing on the local level. We’re competing on the global level to get jobs, to get postdocs, to get papers and so on. Admittedly, I’m a competitive person and it’s in my nature. I would pick people that I admire the work that they did, who were a little bit ahead of me and I would look at their CVs, I would look at their curriculum vitae. What have they published? Where are they giving talks? What are they doing? I look at it like, “How can I get my CV to that place by that time?” It was good and it helps.
You have to set goals for yourself. It’s important to know the goals that other people have set for themselves. It’s one of the things that threw me into a bit of a depression when I moved to LA, which was, I moved here and one of my first auditions was for MTV, hosting a game show and I got it. I hadn’t even been in LA for several months.
You’re like, “This is going to be easy.”
That show didn’t go anywhere. We did a pilot, but then MTV gave me another game show pilot, and then another. I did the remake of Singled Out but it never got on TV. We did all these contracts and then all of a sudden I’m being offered, “You’re going to do this thing, it’s going to be on TV. You are going to host MTV’s Spring Break. You are going to do this thing.” I did all this television work and then I ended up doing a Comedy Central Half-Hour and then I was like, “Things are okay,” but then I went, “What’s next?” In my head, “What am I supposed to do now?” It’s been such a clear cut ladder up to that point. You open at comedy clubs, you feature comedy clubs. You headline. You get on TV. You do your special and then there’s no answer. I collapsed. I didn’t know what to do and I was like, “I don’t know my agents are telling me that I should be patient and see what comes along. They know better than I do.” They did not know better than I do.
Also, the other thing is they don’t care as much you do.
They’re short-term. They want to squeeze you for money. When you’re not making money they go, “It’s not working out.” As far as my mental health went, to be able to say, as an eighteen-year-old, “What did you want out of this?” As a 28-year-old, “What do you want?” That answer should change.
The average person doesn’t ask that question. They keep doing what they were doing. They keep doing the same thing. I’m older. I got a full professor. It’s the mountaintop, and most people never get there. You start out wanting, as a psych undergrad, thinking you’d become a professor. There’s this incredible attrition. It’s a grind. It will grind you up. Lo and behold, I did it. The natural thing is, for the average person, they’re like, “I’m going to keep on doing this. I complain a lot about it, but I like it enough. What else can I do? I’ve got these bills. I’ve got this mortgage. I’ve got these tuitions.” The typical full professor, this is how far they’ll push themselves, “Do I want to keep leaning into the research? Do I want to start doing some new innovative teaching-related stuff? Maybe I’ll become more of an administrator. Maybe I’ll go into the dean’s office. I’ll become the department chair.” Those are the three ways you’ll change a focus. Of course, I’m thinking about those things but I’m also letting myself think beyond that. You owe yourself to do it.
You have to keep changing things and hope that you’re interested in whatever it is you’re doing. When I was going to school, there weren’t many colleges that taught anything about stand-up comedy. I was forced to study performance arts and then that moved over into creative writing a little bit. Being interested in how people make stuff. I was looking at photography a little bit. I was looking at the history of painting. You get in this mindset of, “This is people making things.” What’s funny in the world of art is colleges, where a lot of artists think like, “I’m going to study art then I’ll go out and be an artist.” Colleges create a lot of artists, but it’s also a place where a lot of artists go, “Maybe I can teach art.” They start teaching art and then they don’t have time to make their own. While colleges are creating artists, they’re also cannibalizing artists. It’s this fascinating place where some artists get away with it, where they go, “I teach art and I make my own.” They end up being able to make their own because in the college environment, they’re not the best professor. They don’t go to faculty meetings. They’re not responsible for stuff in their department. People stop asking them to do things.
They’re artists. To finish that thought, there are a lot of resources about comedy.
I wouldn’t say there are a lot but I’d say there’s certainly a lot more. There are a lot more schools where you can take a class, where the title of the class is Stand-up Comedy.
There are more books. I know you do this because you’re one of the few people who read The Humor Code and even took some notes on it.
I remembered a lot because I was connected to it.
We met at coffee and you were talking about stuff in the book. I was like, “I think that’s in the book.”
I do remember going through it, a quick pass being like, “If I’m going to meet with Peter, I wonder if he can answer some of these things.”
You had some questions. There are obviously YouTube videos. Steve Martin has a masterclass and so on. USC has a minor program.
There’s a lot more than there was when I was interested.
Not in the same way that there are creative writing classes at every single university.
You can study poetry maybe at all 4,000 universities. In our culture, poetry is one of those mysterious things that everybody knows is out there. The average person, you ask them questions about poetry and I like the idea that they put their hands in there and go, “I never got it.” That’s how I feel people should be with stand-up comedy. They should put their hands in there and go, “I’ve seen some of it. I like some. I didn’t like some. It seems it’s this crazy thing.” That’s what people should do. Instead, people have this need to go, “Let me tell you who’s funny.” You go, “You’ve got a lot of confidence for somebody who I’m sure doesn’t know anything.” I say that because I’ve studied a lot and I don’t think I know a lot about it.
The more you learn, the more you realize you have a lot to learn.
That’s the Dunning-Kruger thing that the internet loved.
You sit back and you assess and have you come to some decision, conclusion about what to do next?
It was hard for me because things got ugly, probably around the end of 2015, 2016. I was up for this another game show for a different network and it looked like a big, blinking green light. It was the only time I’ve ever done a game show pilot where I walked off the set and I was like, “We sold a game show.” The way the audience responded, the way we got to that final ending where it was like a horse race and it’s electric in the air and the funny lines that I had that day, it was explosive. I was like, “If this doesn’t sell, people are crazy.”
Everybody’s excited and then it got quiet. My manager was like, “I don’t know what’s going on with that.” He calls over and their network is like, “We still like it. We’re trying to make some decisions.” We hear through the grapevine, while the network likes me and while they have a contract with me, somebody raised their hand at a meeting and went, “Maybe we should get a woman to host it.” They went doing this talent search for women. My manager called once he found that out. He was like, “That’s not how a business works. You can’t keep him under contract if you’re out there looking for other talents. You have to let him out of his contract. You’re not going to find the talent and then you have to crawl back on your hands and knees and pay a lot more money. That’s how this works. You either stop your talent search and give Ryan the job under the contract we have or you let him out of his contract.” They all went, “We’ll let him out of his contract.”
Their search for this mythical woman they wanted to host didn’t reveal any results. It didn’t come to fruition. This is an element of diversity that people aren’t considering in our culture which is all of the women who were capable of doing the job, the network went, “We’d love you for this job.” That woman’s agent would go, “She’s expensive because she gets a lot of offers.” The network went, “We don’t have that money. We’ve only got this much money.” The agent goes, “You’re only going to get white guys to work with that amount of money.” The network goes, “We have to find a white guy, but we can’t crawl back to Ryan. He’s going to ask for more money because we’ve already dipped him over.” Who ends up getting the show? Some white kid who’s never done a game show before. The whole situation crushed me.
It’s a big break.
I put a lot of effort into getting that show on its feet. We had started that show in a conference room and then got them interested in buying a pilot. We got them interested in paying for that and then we did it and succeeded again. You have many milestones along the way of getting a show up and running, to have them go, “We’re going to pick the show but not Ryan anymore.” I’m like, “I’ve been with you, guys, for months. Why would you turn on me?” That happened and at the same time, my writing partner and I, we sold the show to the Esquire Network and then Esquire Network fold it. Those happened at the same time and my head hung and I was like, “What am I going to do? How am I going to get through this?” I had to reevaluate, “What do you want?”
I realized I hadn’t released a comedy album in a while so I released my second one, and then I released my third one. It was one of those things that I had to realize what I wanted out of show business was what I saw as a kid, which was me sitting on my bed, thumbing through a big binder of comedy CDs and putting them on and listening to them and loving them and I was like, “I want to create that.” Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of money in doing that. I don’t think there’s a lot of money in pottery, and people give their lives to pottery. There’s not a lot of money always in painting and people give their lives to that. You go, “If we’re going to pick this artist lifestyle, let’s understand why we’re doing it and reconcile the fact that you didn’t get into this to be a millionaire. You got into this to create stuff. Let’s do that. Let’s stop doing crappy game shows that you don’t want to do, that you’re doing hoping for a paycheck.”
I want to ask you a counterfactual question. Ryan, congratulations, you’re the first person who’s been able to put off the first question for 38 minutes, which is, if you weren’t working as a comedian, what would you be doing?
I’ve thought about that again and again and I have no answer for you. I would probably be depressed in some terrible job. I’ve always said Enterprise Rent-A-Car.
I always say that too, “I should be managing an Enterprise Rent-A-Car.”
I heard you say that at one point, I was like, “That’s weird,” because that was always my answer and poor enterprise.
It’s not a bad company.
Enterprise sounds big and important. In our head, what we associate that big thing with is this grueling, boring job behind a desk.
That’s such a stand-up comic observation. The background for readers who haven’t known me talk about this, I’d like to express gratitude for how good my life has turned out. It’s a mix of skill, hard work and luck. I can point to moments of luck that if it didn’t go that way, it would have undone all of the hard work and skill. What I say is, if you had plugged all of my attributes from my family, from everything you know about me, if a scientist made a spreadsheet, intelligence and this and that and all the things. You plugged it into an algorithm that predicted someone’s career, I would be managing an Enterprise Rent-A-Car. I would be doing a good job. I wouldn’t be a crappy manager and it wouldn’t be a crappy location, but that’s what I wouldn’t be doing. Let’s assume we’re living in a simulation. You run to that static prediction in a simulation, there’s a good error and bad error and then there’s probabilistic stuff that happens. The good luck goes your way and some iterations and it goes against you and other iterations.
In your story about the hand that goes up that says, “Why don’t we get someone else?” You run that iteration 10,000 times and maybe 60% of the time, the hand goes up. 40% of the time, the person has food poisoning that day and they’re not in there. What that can do for you is, especially if the world has turned out well, it can give you a bit of appreciation. This was not faith, it wasn’t destined to be. I recognized that in this particular iteration of the simulation, things have broken my way a lot, coupled with enough skill and a lot of hard work and here I am living this remarkable life.
I do get this little idea of alternate universes sometimes, where I go, “I’m suffering greatly in another universe, but this one I’m doing good.”
We are dead. In some of those, you are a miscarriage.
All of the probabilities have to be there.
You should be marveling at the fact that you are alive. When I say you, I mean anyone.
That’s partially why I always encourage people to engage in some creative activity, where you have to make something. I don’t care if you’re making paintings, pottery or jokes. When you sit down and look at what you’ve created, a lot of times with enough distance, you go, “I have no idea how I got all that done. That’s incredible that I did all of that.” Look at all these notebooks that are on my shelf that I filled up with words. Isn’t that weird that I was able to do all that? I can’t even imagine.
It’s too bad you’re married because you’d be a great person for Solo. Jordan Peterson has his twelve principles for life. I feel I should come up with the principles for a remarkable life, but one of those principles is to create more than you consume.
Create more than you consume is something that I’ve said in therapy a lot. It’s one of those things that is difficult. When you’re sitting there eating a sandwich and you’re like, “I’ve already lost.”
I was thinking more like Netflix, YouTube, Instagram, etc.
It’s easy with a lot of the apps on the phone. I think that my next step to creating more than I consume will be getting rid of a smart device. Scroll through all those things, it lights my brain up and I like it.
They’re engineered to be that way.
It’s a complete waste of a day sometimes.
Creating is difficult but rewarding. Consuming is easy but shallow. It’s why I’m not as anti-Instagram as a lot of people are if you make stuff on Instagram. You can become a storyteller on Instagram and that’s the creation process. You’re using a different muscle.
Writing on Twitter and reading on Twitter are two different things.
I’ve pulled back my Twitter use a lot. God knows how many tweets I’ve sent in my life, let’s say it’s been 20,000. I fell in love with Twitter early. That was my go-to social media. To take 20,000, let’s say the average tweet has ten words, probably more than that, maybe twenty.
I’d say 25 because some of the tightest jokes are nineteen words and a lot of people are going way beyond that.
Let’s say it’s twenty words and you go, that’s 400,000 words.
How long does it take to write 400,000 words?
You take 400,000 words and that becomes two pretty tight 60,000-word books.
You could have made something and instead you made the shallow stuff.
I threw it into the ocean.
The leader of the free world has tweeted 33,000 times since taking his position.
Is that right? I didn’t know it’s that much.
I seem to remember that number. It might have been something else. Whatever the number was, let’s pretend it takes a minute to write a tweet. How long has the President used up writing tweets? If his job was to go in and work eight hours a day, how long has he been tweeting? He’s been tweeting for fourteen workweeks, and you go, “Is that true?” How long has he been playing golf on top of that?
Here’s what I like about your logic, the golf stuff is obvious but it’s the comic perspective that comes up with the fourteen weeks. My compliments to you. You said something about moving away from the smartphone. I have Ari Shaffir who came up on the show.
He’s a guy that got away from the smartphone. I always admired him for doing that.
He has a flip phone. He vacillates, sometimes he goes back but we talked about it. There isn’t a good solution yet. There’s this thing called the dumb phone, the Light Phone 2 that’s designed to be a basic phone. You do text, calls, alarm, navigation and so on. Someone is going to come up with the ability to customize your phone. Ari was saying, he wants Uber and Lyft. It’s either you have this completely stupid device or you have this incredibly smart device. When you have the incredibly smart device, you get everything and it assumes willpower. There’s this world where you have this thing that’s in between. There’s not going to be any social media on there. I took email off my phone years ago, it was revolutionary. It’s incredible.
That was the thing with Ari, if you needed him, you could call him or you could get ahold of him on email. Whenever he checks his email during the day, he would see it. That was the end of it. As far as website stuff or social media, he would log in, post and get out.
Ari is a great crossover guest for the two episodes because he’s a solo guy and living this free life.
I haven’t talked to him in a long time because he’s running around doing stuff, but I’m aware.
The theme in Shtick to Business is this idea of comedians isn’t afraid to pick a fight. They’re not afraid to polarize. I write about Anthony Jeselnik and how whenever there’s a tragedy, his friends and family text him, “Don’t do it.” They know that he’s going to send something out there that is going to cross the line to many, it’s going to be funny to some. It’s funny to him and it’s his perspective. Kobe Bryant died.
Unexpectedly and tragically. Living in Los Angeles and not even being a huge basketball fan, you could feel the vibe in this city that day.
LA is reeling.
People were baffled. Anytime a legend dies young, you almost go, “That can happen to them. I can’t imagine what can happen to me.” Ari Shaffir for years, when somebody dies, he puts out a nasty tweet. Ripping into them, talking about how worthless they were.
As an aside, what’s fascinating is, Ari keeps his Twitter account unverified. He does so for two reasons. One, he believes that it’s elitist to have a verified account. It’s like, “There are these people who are important and then there’s the rest of you.”
Which ignores something else. It’s is the third group, which is the completely anonymous trolls, you don’t know their name, you don’t know their handle, there’s no way to track them down. You have to take those people to account too. It’s not just normal people and then the elite. There’s a definite third group.
The other reason he does is strategic which is, he can never be quoted because it’s not a verified account. No one can ever say, “Ari Shaffir said this.” I never thought that. I have a verified account. I didn’t think much about the elitism part of it either because it doesn’t feel that way for me. I carefully choose my words on Twitter. I make some mistakes, for the most part.
Ari is not verified and he’s not worried about being quoted so he tweets with what he thinks is impunity to say whatever he wants and then it turns out it’s not true. When celebrities die, he has historically ripped into them and said something nasty about them. Even if it’s celebrities that he knew, people that he had a personal relationship and liked. People like Mitzi Shore, who owns the Comedy Store, she died and he rips into her. Ralphie May, he’s a funny comic.
He’s a beloved comic too.
Kobe Bryant dies, people are reaching out to Ari to be like, “Where’s your Kobe Bryant tweet?”
He hates the Lakers.
That’s the other thing.
I know I spend all the time talking about Ari, but it’s fun.
It’s important to give people the back story because it’s the setup to the joke. The setup is, he does this all the time. He does it with Kobe Bryant. People lose their minds. People are giving him death threats. It is a huge controversy. People are also saying, “Any comedian who defends Ari Shaffir is complicit in this thing and they’re disgusting and ugly.” You go, “Wait, timeout. He’s done this forever. You missed the first half of the joke. Are you going to blame me for what he’s doing?” The internet is in an outrage, as you can imagine. They like to do that. They like to blame comics for things.
It’s easy. The other thing is, I’d like to say, “Difficult to create, easy to criticize.” The thing about Ari is he doesn’t care. It’s striking, in a way that is inspiring to me. You think about what leads people to comedy is that they are often misfits. They don’t fit in. They question the status quo. They see through the bullcrap. This is not just comics, there are a lot of artists. Rappers and punk rockers have this.
The consistency is you say, “I’m going to be a rapper. I’m going to be a comedian. I’m going to be whatever.” Society goes, “No, you’re not.” We’re told no instantly from day one. You can’t do it. You won’t do it. There’s no way to do it. As we get deeper and deeper into it, people go, “You’re not a comedian. You’re not a rapper.” You’re releasing your first album, making money, your bank account is full, and they’re like, “You’re not popular. People don’t know who you are, so it still doesn’t count.” People are telling us no, the whole time. We’ve got really thick skin when it comes to no.
There’s a crossover point. This is what I find striking, people get to a point. The money is good, they’re relying on this stuff and then it’s like, “Don’t rock the boat. Behave.” What happens is these people who are counterculture suddenly assimilate. It’s why I love Kanye so much. Kanye is like, “I don’t care what you think.” You might not like Kanye but I’m like, “At least that guy is consistent.” It’s hard to say he’s a full sellout. He’s not afraid to rock the boat. He’s not afraid to lose money.
Doug Stanhope moved to a small house in Bisbee, Arizona and went, “I’m going to continue doing whatever I want because I have nothing to lose.”
What I think is fascinating is sometimes the world rewards that. Dave Chappelle walks away from a $50 million contract and makes more money in the long run because of that. He puts out Sticks and Stones and the critics hate it but the audience loves it. That’s fascinating.
This is something I was thinking about that people struggle with, which is the difference between art and entertainment. They have a hard time defining it and I get upset when comedians are asked, “Stand-up art or entertainment?” They give the worst answer which is also true, which is they say, “It’s both.” You go, “That doesn’t help us. You’re not helping people. We can all go home. You’ve answered the question.” It’s almost, in my mind, the beginning of the Super Bowl, they flip a coin and they go, “Heads or tails?” you go, “It’s both.” I’m not asking you about quantum superposition, I’m asking you heads or tails.
To ask a comedian, “What makes it art? What makes it entertainment?” They have a hard time answering it. If comedians have a hard time with the thing they do every day, the audience has a hard time. I always defined it as entertainment is simple. It’s shallow. It’s, “Did you like it? You did? It’s entertainment.” The second question, “You didn’t like it? Did a whole bunch of people like it? They did. It’s entertainment.” The third question, “You didn’t like it? They didn’t like it. What are we talking about for? We should be done here.” There’s no point in ripping into it because nobody liked it.
We get to the art portion of it and you don’t matter at all. The audience hates that, because the art portion is, what did the artists create? How did the artists create it? Talk about them. You talk about the person on stage, how did they execute? It doesn’t matter how you felt about how they executed. What did they put into it? What was the work behind it? What were the choices that the artists made? A lot of people don’t have the vocabulary. You, on this show, talked to Jesse David Fox, and he brought the vocabulary thing regularly. How do you describe what somebody’s doing? A lot of people don’t have the vocabulary because they didn’t learn it in school. The same way they did for poetry. The same way they did for painting. All of these other things, they never learned it so they assume that it doesn’t exist.
You get into this problem and then there’s the issue of, what do comedians want? Do you want the audience to look at what you’re doing as entertainment or do you want them to look at it as art? Do you know what the answer is? It’s both because we’re hypocrites, but there’s a way to do it and I always try to push this on to the audience. If you’ve never seen the comic and you don’t know the jokes, we want you to sit there, relax and respond. It’s just entertainment. Don’t try picking your way through the poem before the poem is even finished. Enjoy it. If you have the opportunity to go back and watch again, go through with a fine-tooth comb, go through it 3 or 4 times.
If we’re live at a club, we’re not done yet. The thing hasn’t been created. We’re in the process of creating it. Sit there laugh or don’t laugh, that’s all we need from you. Don’t rationalize why you should or shouldn’t laugh, just respond. For all you know, that joke that you hated, that’s the sixth time that joke is bombed and I’ve already said, “We’re not going to do that ever again.” If somebody puts out a special, you get to rewind. You get to watch again and again. You can go through the bits and treat it like art and we’re done with it. We’ve put ourselves in a position to be like, “We put it out so we said it’s ready.” Feel free to tear into it, but don’t tear into our live performance that you’re watching for the first time. You’re a lunatic.
Thankfully, heckling is rare but it’s common relative to other performance.
It’s relegated to stand-up.
No one heckles improvisers.
Nobody’s watching the painter paint, going, “Don’t use that color. That sucks. How tacky. Your lines aren’t straight.”
Let me defend the heckler for a moment.
I didn’t attack the heckler but go ahead. Defend the heckler.
You’re criticizing the person who’s in the audience.
They’re heckling based on something that they just saw.
We all agree hecklers are bad. What happens is, you put people into a club and then you require them to order two drinks.
A lot of them are already on opioids, where an epidemic.
You comics, make this job look easy, which is the job. Because it looks easy, people think it’s easy and that they can do it.
Why not? What’s the problem? I don’t think they’re bad people. They don’t understand why they shouldn’t. It’s like the first time the kid is caught eating cookies and candy before dinner, you go, “What are you doing?” The kid goes, “I was hungry and this stuff looks good. Why are you yelling at me?”
“What have I done wrong?” There was no trade-off.
You weren’t taught any social decorum about heckling and not heckling, so you just did it. That’s the other issue with stand-up comedy, and people hate when I say this, stand-up comedy is for poor people. It’s not for rich people, because rich people don’t care about anything they can’t make money off of. They get into art, but do you know why? They can put the painting in their collection and sell it later for a profit. There’s no way in to stand-up for rich people. Everybody looks ugly when they laugh. They don’t want to look ugly and they don’t know how to make money off of this so they’re not interested. Who’s going to see stand-up? Poor people.
Do you know who’s poor? Young people.
Hard-working who wants to have a nice time. They don’t want some intellectual show. They’re like, “I paid money to be here. Make me laugh. I don’t want to think too hard about this. Who are you to make me do that?” Their feeling is, “I’m not even here for you.” The comedian on stage is like, “What do you mean you’re not here for me? My name is on the marquee. This is my show.” You’ve got this conflict.
They’re here because it’s 9:00 on a Saturday. They’re not here for Joe Schmo.
There’s this conflict of, what do you want out of this? Both sides are right, so the conflict will always remain.
When professors are complaining about whatever they complain about, and then when comics complain about the stuff that they complain about, part of me goes, “This is what you signed up for.” You job craft around some of this stuff, but some of it is, this is the water you’re swimming in.
Most people will gladly agree that timing is important in comedy, they will gladly agree to that, but then they’ll say, “Heckling is okay.” I go, “You’re ruining the timing. You can’t have both.” Even the people who are heckling know that they’re wrong in some regard but also they’re like, “It’s not important. I don’t have to deal with it,” which is upsetting. My parents always taught me that performance is a gift. You have to receive the performance the same way you would receive any gift. You don’t knock it out of somebody’s hands and go, “What is that thing? I don’t need this.”
You don’t criticize once you’re opening it.
I won’t even criticize a movie in the movie theater. I will wait until we get outside, out of reverence for the look. You have to accept that people worked on this and you have to accept that they tried.
I do think that the person who’s a creator, on one hand, has a more license to criticize because they know what it’s like to do it but they often are more appreciative because they know what goes into the creating process.
There is one thing that is severely lacking from a stand-up comedy audience and critics’ point of view which is, my friend, Alexis, she’s a painter. She can stand in front of a painting to tell you all the reasons why it’s a good painting and then you say, “Do you like it?” She goes, “No. I’ll never see it again. I’d be more than happy if it left my life forever.” When it comes to stand-up comedy, if somebody doesn’t like the stand-up comedy, they can’t say why it’s good and that’s common. Instead, they rationalize all the reasons why their feelings are correct and that’s the majority of criticism on the internet, even when it comes from “professional comedy critics.”
This is not a new phenomenon. The only thing new is that everybody has a microphone.
Everybody has a microphone and little education.
People were criticizing comedy in the same way in the ‘90s, ‘80s, ‘70s, and ‘60s even when it was getting going. Luisa Diaz has this great Instagram post where she’s uncovered all these newspaper headlines criticizing comics of being tone-deaf.
Kliph Nesteroff does some old things too. You were talking to Jesse David Fox on this show talking about Kevin Hart talking about how the criticism never got to us before. There was always criticism but we could ignore it. People are tweeting at us so it’s at our front door and we have to confront it. I didn’t think that was accurate. I started comedy in 2001. People would gladly come up to me after a show at a coffee house. I’ve been doing comedy for four weeks and they’re telling me why what I did was awful and I’m like, “Who are you? I’ve been coming to this open mic for four weeks. I’ve never seen you before. I don’t know why you’re allowed to criticize me.” The critics have never had any problem walking up to our faces and be like, “Here’s why you’re awful.”
Let me turn this around on you. When I write an academic paper, you’re inviting criticism.
You are, but the criticism for your academic paper, if it’s entertainment-based, if it’s like, “You wrote about something. I thought it was boring.” That’s not valid criticism in the academic world.
It’s because every paper is boring.
That’s the real definitive thing between art and entertainment. If somebody is telling me about their feelings after a show, here’s why I think it’s boring, I go, “The audience didn’t think that. Don’t talk to me, go and talk to them.” That’s what I’ve always thought was the saving grace of stand-up comedy. As soon as one person says it’s bad, if there’s anyone else on the planet who’s willing to say, “I thought it was great.” You two argue. I get to go home.
I always say you can’t say something’s not funny. You have to say, “It’s not funny to me.” That’s when it goes down.
People want comedians to defend ourselves.
I think that’s a mistake.
My argument is I don’t have to because of all these people laughing. What’s strange is this phenomenon where critics are trying to take the position where the audience laughing doesn’t matter.
That’s what happened with Sticks and Stones.
What I’m saying is, yes but bombing matters. You can’t say that if the comedian bombs they failed, but then they get laughs and they also failed. You can’t treat those like they’re the same. People will do it. As a matter of fact, Hindsight is amazing. You can go back and look at all of the outrage that was happening in 2011, 2012, 2013 about comedians allegedly telling a ton of jokes about rape. You read all these articles about rape jokes. They never acknowledge that a rape joke could bomb. They won’t do it because as soon as they acknowledge that, they would have to acknowledge the difference between a joke that bombs and a joke that kills. Going back, I don’t know if that was a blind spot for many authors who wrote about rape jokes. They could not even set up a situation where a rape joke would bomb. They instead lumped all the jokes into one pile and they said, “All these jokes kill all the time.” You go, “That’s not true at all. Not even close.”
The issue is, it’s hard to make a good joke.
It’s also people believing this foregone conclusion that because somebody suffered some trauma that they cannot laugh, and you go, “That’s not true at all.”
It’s a fair assessment. One of the neater findings in the behavioral sciences, I have a few pet findings that I like a lot. Everybody knows about post-traumatic stress. It’s a real phenomenon. It’s mediated by lots of things and moderated by lots of things. Some people are more predisposed. Not every soldier who goes to war comes back with post-traumatic stress. It interacts with certain things, with personality and with the context.
There are levels of it.
What’s fascinating is there’s something called post-traumatic growth. There’s a class of people in a class of things that happened in the world where you suffer some great loss, some devastating tragedy, some traumatic event. As a result, you become better for it. It’s not studied as much. Obviously, it’s not popular to talk about how bad things are good.
It’s probably hard to study too.
You can do it in the same way that you study post-traumatic stress. You have to do it differently because people don’t go to clinics for it. They don’t become alcoholics because of it and they don’t start having to take pain or depression medication.
They might not be open to the idea, “That thing that you’re doing well, it’s because of that horrible thing that happened to you.”
What you can do is point to moments in time, people losing their jobs, people getting cancer, people losing a spouse, losing a child. These are things that are life-changing. These things are still somewhat of a puzzle of why it happens to some people, but they quit jobs that they were unhappy for and they pursue their art. They reunite with long lost parents who they haven’t talked to in many years. They start nonprofits. All of a sudden there’s this tremendous psychological, emotional, relational growth that happens as a result.
You bring up this traumatic thing and they go, “That happened to me. It was hard.” That’s not the end of it.
I don’t like to say this but it was one of the best things that could ever happen.
One of the things when it comes to trauma, comedy and joke topics, I had a strong chunk of material that I would do on stage about suicide. This was not an anti-suicide rant by any means. It was like, “We’re going to tell jokes.” These are jokes. This is the topic. I’m going to craft a joke around it, probably multiple jokes. This woman comes up to me after a show in Minneapolis and she comes over and she says, “Excuse me, you were on stage just now. I wanted to talk to you because my son, he attempted suicide. He survived and he lives at home with me. We tell him, ‘You survived for a reason.’ I always told myself that if anybody ever joked about suicide, it’s not funny. You were on stage and you were joking about suicide and I found myself laughing. I wanted to thank you because you gave levity to the one thing that I never thought I would ever have levity for. Maybe I never will again, but to have that little bit of hope is meaningful to me.”
What a bigger compliment can you get as a comedian than, “I never thought I would ever laugh at this topic, but then you made me.” If it can happen with suicide, we can’t say that it can’t happen with any other topics. It’s about execution. It’s about your skillset. Because somebody suffered a tragedy, it doesn’t make it a foregone conclusion that they won’t ever laugh again. You want to surprise people. That’s the other thing that gets left out a lot of these controversial topics. A lot of the critics pretend like, “No. This is the way it is. People suffered so you can’t talk about it.” You go, “You’re not giving me the opportunity to help them heal either. You can’t talk about accountability. I’m only accountable for their pain but you won’t let me be accountable for helping them?”
That’s a good point. If I could do a quick primer on comedy and coping, there’s a bunch of theoretical and empirical work on this idea. The first one is, laughter has some therapeutic benefits. They’re mild. For example, you’re better off exercising than laughing.
The joke is penicillin. Penicillin works better.
There are these emotional benefits. That construction worker who goes to the club on a Friday night and laughs for a couple of hours, there’s a lot of positive emotions that are accompanying that. Those positive emotions are good for our well-being generally. People who laugh a lot have more positive emotions in their life. They’re better off than the person who experiences less comedy. There’s a relational benefit to comedy, especially if you can create it well. Funny people have more support. It’s easy to like a funny person. It’s hard to like a morose person or an angry person. It’s easy to like a happy-go-lucky, funny person.
What’s fascinating about that is, when things go down, when things are bad, a funny person is able to maintain more levity. What happens is, you lose your job, you’re depressed and you’re complaining about everything. Your friends and family want to support you and they start supporting you, but you’re always down about it. It’s hard to spend time with someone who’s always down. These are not professional therapists. They’re not being paid to be there. What they’ll do is, for their own well-being, they’ll start to pull back. A person loses their job and they can make jokes about it. That person is still fun to hang out with. They’re easier to support. Comedy can be this glue that keeps the social support network around you.
The last one and this is most related to what you’re talking about, which is the act of making a joke about something. Hannah Gadsby talks indirectly about this in her special, Nanette. She doesn’t use my vernacular benign violations. She takes these violations in her life. She finds a way to make them benign and the audience laughs about it. The act of taking something that’s a tragedy and being able to joke about it or be able to hear a joke that you find funny about it can rob that thing off its scariness, of its teeth, of its terror. It’s about execution because it has to be done well. Being able to joke about a tragedy, to be able to joke about terror, to joke about cancer, robs that thing of the thing that makes it scary. To be honest, many of the things that we suffer in our lives is not the pain of chemo, it’s the fear of cancer. The problem with comedy is it’s sloppy, it’s arbitrary. Not everybody is good at it. Even the jokes that you told that moved that woman, they weren’t always that good.
They weren’t in that order. I wasn’t confident about them. Because I always hate when a comedian is like, “I had these magical jokes.” You go, “Can I hear them?” If people are interested, go on YouTube and the name of the clip is Entertain the Thought. It’s about 30 minutes long. It’s almost all suicide jokes. It’s Ryan Stout – Entertain the Thought. That was one recording that I did of them. It was one of those situations where people always say that the audience is going to laugh because they’re being polite and I go, “You’ve never seen a comedy audience if you think that’s true.” “They’re only laughing because they’re uncomfortable.” You go, “Audiences don’t laugh in unison every twelve seconds because they’re uncomfortable. You have to craft it.” When I had this successful evening and it was a tiny little room and everybody got on board and everybody stayed on board, I was like, “Let’s put that on YouTube. Why not? We’ll throw it out there.”
What’s been the reaction to it?
Insanely positive, except from a few people who are like, “No, because I believe you can never joke about suicide.” You go, “You haven’t defended that topic other than saying it.” I’ve been approached by people after I was doing those jokes. I don’t do them anymore. I’ve moved past them. Tons of people who were like, “There was a woman in the Bay Area, she said we come to the show tonight because my fiancé, the love of my life, killed himself five years ago. We wanted to get away from that bad thought. When you were up there talking about suicide, I thought I was going to lose it. It was funny.” There’s a guy in Tempe, Arizona, who’s screaming at me, “I hope nobody in your life ever commits suicide because you would know better.” He’s being dragged out of the club and you go, “Sir, you didn’t let me finish the jokes. You’re interrupting something that was incomplete.”
It’s an interesting thing. We were talking about smartphones. The ideal smartphone is before it gets mailed to you, you have a checklist and you’re like, “I would like this app. I don’t want that app.” You are Ulysses, deciding what you can tolerate. The ideal scenario is the person’s like, “I would be open to hearing about this.”
A lot of people, now more than ever, have that option with stand-up comedy. You can look up the performers before you go in a lot of situations, especially if you’re in the middle of the country and there’s one headliner at your local club for six shows.
You can curate your experience much better.
That’s important too because I would hate for somebody to come to my show and be upset. When I could say, “You could have looked up that joke online before you got here.”
The thing is I don’t go and see random bands. I only see bands that I like the music.
If somebody’s playing reggae, you don’t go, “Play country. This sucks.”
I want to ask my final question. I’m sure you’re prepared. What are you reading, watching or listening to that stands out? Not run-of-the-mill good but it’s good, 1 or 2 things.
Malcolm Gladwell has a book called Talking to Strangers.
I’ve heard it. I don’t know anything about it.
It’s interesting because he talks about how throughout our lives, we meet people and you have to engage with them. He talks about Ana Montes. She was a Pentagon official who was a Cuban spy. She was up at the top of the ranks and nobody suspected her for years. Even when they would bring her into the investigator to be like, “We feel like you’ve done some things that are a little shady.” She’d always be able to convince them that, “No. You know me. It’s fine.” People who had conversations with Adolf Hitler and he would convince them, “I’m not interested in invading Poland.” Sure enough, he does it. Why do we believe them?
Also, judges. They have to sit there on the bench and say, “Should I give this person bail or should I lock them up?” Especially if it’s in a situation like that person’s mother is in the room and the mother is crying, like, “How do I work my way through this?” You don’t know anything about this person, other than what’s on the docket in front of you. How do we make decisions about how we treat strangers? It’s a fascinating book because my job is standing on stage and talking to strangers. It’s almost always that for me. I’m always looking for a way to be like, “How does this relate to what I’m doing?” Strangely enough, when I go through my audible cue, there are so many books that I would never guess where stand-up comedy would come up. Sure enough, there it is. There was a book called Deep Work, I’m sure you’ve heard of it.
It influenced the thinking about work hard and hardly work. It’s Cal Newport’s book.
I was listening to Cal Newport, and sure enough, he’s talking about Seinfeld making a calendar.
I talked about then Shtick to Business. Don’t break the chain.
I end up downloading all of these different books. I’m not expecting stand-up to be mentioned at all. It comes up frequently because it is such a strange job for people. You’re standing on stage in front of strangers and everybody expects this magical thing to happen. I don’t know why anybody would ever own a comedy club. That seems like this weirdest business to go into. “I’m going to put these funny people on stage,” and people would show up and listen and laugh. It will be great. “We’ll give them drinks.” You’re out of your mind.
Ryan, thank you so much for coming in.
Thank you. It’s my pleasure.
I hope I met your level of professionalism. I appreciate the time.
- Ryan Stout
- Man in the Suit
- Episode 302 – WTF podcast
- Solo: The Single Person’s Guide To A Remarkable Life
- The Humor Code
- Solo – Podcast
- Jesse David Fox – previous episode
- Ryan Stout-Entertain the Thought – YouTube video
- Talking to Strangers
- Deep Work
About Ryan Stout
Ryan Stout is a comedian who has appeared on CONAN, HBO’s Funny as Hell, Comedy Central’s @Midnight, and his own half-hour special: Comedy Central Presents… Ryan Stout.
He was also a regular panelist on E!’s Chelsea Lately. His most recent comedy album is Man in the Suit.
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