This episode was taped prior to Ari Shaffir’s controversial tweet about Kobe Bryant
Ari Shaffir is a stand-up comedian. He is producer and host of the Skeptic Tank podcast. He also co-hosts the podcast Punch Drunk Sports, and he created and previously hosted and produced the television series This is Not Happening, an adaptation of his monthly stand-up show.
Listen to Episode #91 here
Unverified with Ari Shaffir
My guest is Ari Shaffir. Ari is a stand-up comedian. He’s the producer and host of the Skeptic Tank Podcast. He also cohosts the podcast Punch Drunk Sports. He has created and previously hosted and produced the television series, This Is Not Happening, an adaptation of his monthly stand-up show. Welcome, Ari.
If you weren’t working as a comedian or doing all these other things for money, what would you be doing?
I’ll probably be a lawyer if I didn’t go into it at all. Most of it involves class.
Ari and I have a mutual friend. A guy I’m close with and you were classmates at Princeton?
No, Jewish Day School in high school. It’s small with 100 people in class. It was great in high school. Maybe we’re 120 and he is one of the Israelis. Jewish Day School in Rockville, but everybody there is smart and professional.
How do you think you’d feel about being a lawyer?
I’d be okay with it if I never got into comedy. You don’t know any different. People talk about Bonnaroo Music Festival, Glastonbury or any of those camping festivals. We go there sometimes as comedians and we’d look at Tent City where everyone is camping all night. We got a hotel and like, “I can never do that.” There are 80,000 people doing it. Of course, you could. You just get dirty. Once you do it, it’s not a bigger deal.
If you’re doing enough drugs, you don’t care too much at all.
Lawyer would be different, but with the drugs and the wet nap showers, it was fun.
My take on this has always been that if I had showed up in graduate school and on the first day they said, “No Pete, you’re not in the psychology program. You’re in the political science program.” I’ll be like, “I guess I’m going to do political science. I’d be a happy political scientist.”
You wouldn’t know what you’re missing. Sliding doors theory is that you don’t know what is behind the door, you’re missing it.
If you were a factory worker, your life would be radically different because you would have given up the creative side to your life. As a lawyer, you’re solving problems every day making and creating jokes and so on.
Probably a slightly funnier lawyer than most. There’s always a bit of a sense of humor.
You’d be a trial lawyer, I bet. This is perfect because there might be some way that your life is different. You and Joe Rogan are friends. You’ve been on his podcast a bunch of times. I was once on it. I was watching an episode. I’ve learned something about you that impressed me and I think Joe envies it. You’re like the freest man alive. I want to talk to you about that. If you were a lawyer, you probably would be less free.
Far less free. I’m assuming also that would go with kids and a wife.
You’re doing a more traditional lifestyle.
I am sure I would be happy but freedom is another thing. You can’t even understand it.
I have a lot of freedom in my life. I’m a bachelor and don’t have any kids, ex-wife or anything.
Congratulations, you lived your life. You’re the prime, you’re making money, time and there is no sieve.
This is something I’ve noticed about myself which is when given a choice between power and freedom, I’ll choose freedom. I call it autonomy, it sounds fancier.
It does, but autonomy also is like, “I can work on whatever project they want for Google. I have complete autonomy.” It’s like, “No, you’ve got to show up every day. You’ve got to clock in and you’ve got to work on Google.”
Your pursuit of freedom, where did it come from?
I don’t know. It was given to me because I failed for so long in this industry. I was able to build up immunity to the effects of poverty. I have safety nets of parents I can always move back in with, so it’s easy to develop. I don’t have enough time and start taking mushrooms. You get the pressure where you’re like, “I’m fine.” If it goes bad then it’s done. It’s is no big deal. I saw some of my friends get more famous and successful and then lose some freedom. Everybody I saw there was ever in a sitcom, which is an enviable position. I would have taken one of those in the first three or four years.
Would you take one now?
There is so little chance. It would have to be so funny. For me to give up that level of anonymity to be on massive sitcoms where people would recognize me more in the street, I would have to be in a project that I would like to really want to do to pay that price. Imagine Ray Romano gacked out on the lawn in the Delaware Music Festival. There’s no way.
I’ve always thought that these comedy writing jobs were sweet gigs because the pay is pretty good. The work is steady and it’s a vibrant atmosphere. They are usually fun rooms. You’re making comedy and no one knows who you are.
I watched a pilot of Marin live podcast at South by Southwest. He had somebody from the State at Sketch Group. He was the writer of those things. Wet Hot American Summer, that was them. Those guys have done a lot of different things. He’s in occasions like small parts, but he is mostly the chief writer. He was talking on how much he loves it because he gets to be creative every day. He has a movie or two a year. He goes to the supermarket and nobody bothers him. He gets to be an observer which everybody wants to be, so we could channel stuff to write about. If Brad Pitt is standing in line behind you at the supermarket, you’re not going to have the fight you’re going to have with a lady in front of you. He gets to be all that. Ben Garant is his name and I was like, “Interesting.”
I’ve always felt that, just an outsider looking into the industry.
Writers seemed like the way they go, but then you’ve got to keep writing.
If you’re pursuing the purest freedom in your way, the writer’s room is not great because you’ve got to show up by 10:00 AM and you’ve got to stay until 7:00 PM. What you’ve done, it sounds like you’ve lowered into an economic term, we call your burn rate. My guess is you live a simple life.
It’s not because I had to do that in order to stay in this. All of that helps. It’s just that I don’t have the taste for it. I don’t have a taste for opulence. I never developed it and I like it. I’ll give you a good example. On a flight, I’ve been bumped up. It’s better in coach, but I don’t miss it when I’m not in first class. When I’m on a ten-hour bus because the flight breaks down, I miss being able to get on a flight. After enough time on bus if you’re travelling around the world, you’re like, “This bus is fine. It’s better than most buses.” It’s where you set your expectations and mine are so low that I’m not missing anything.
You have freedom in terms of your schedule.
I make it how I want now. Before, I could take the gigs that I could take when they offer it. Now, I’m going to Denver when I can ski or when I can hike and not in between. When it’s cold, I don’t want to do it. If there is no skiing there, I have no reason to go to a cold place in a cold time.
You don’t want to go to Denver on November 1st.
What a waste. I’ll stay in San Diego for the winter to get out. Something it was nice always. It doesn’t matter. Sometimes it’s nice there too.
Are you LA based?
No, I used to be in LA Comic, but I live in New York for the last few years. I’m born and bred here.
Your schedule is on what you say yes and on what you say no to. Clearly, you have the freedom to say what you want. You strike me as the type of comic who is not afraid.
Not at all. I have some clubs that would never betray me. They would always put me on. Even if they take all the money away, let’s say I can’t perform on the road for the money to live on, I could still go up here for $25.
We’re in some office upstairs at The Comedy Store.
This place, the stand, they could go out of business, but I can always do open mic.
I can’t imagine this place going out of business. It is bustling here.
You should have seen it a few years ago when you can’t start the show because we don’t have enough people.
That’s fair. I guess that’s the golden age.
I can always go up. They can’t take the ability to do the things I like doing. They could take the cash that goes along with it, but I don’t need the cash. It would be nice to get some, but I have so much more than that I need that they don’t own me.
This came up in the conversation with Rogan, you’ve had a vasectomy.
I can’t take second chances.
When did you do that?
A few years ago in August or September.
Was there a process to do? Did you heavily weigh it?
I was thinking about it more but I had a joke on my act on my special. I liked the way I said it, “Eight minutes away from getting a vasectomy. Once I did this special and recorded it, I was like, “What am I waiting for?” I’m thinking about the same for seven or eight years. There’s nothing holding me back, just get rid of it. I thought adoptions are better way to go anyway. It’s the more humane way to go anyway.
I had a conversation with a urologist and he said, “If you’re thinking about freezing your sperm, you shouldn’t get a vasectomy.”
My guy said that too. I was like, “Should I freeze this?” He goes, “Why? I thought you don’t want kids at all.”
He said, “If you think that you might want kids, you don’t want to go down the frozen sperm route. It’s expensive and it’s uncertain.” Does having it had a noticeable effect on your psychology?
No, there’s a small worry for a couple of months after you hook up with somebody that you shouldn’t. I got a girlfriend since then and it isn’t a problem anyway.
[bctt tweet=”Giving up a level of anonymity is the price you pay for being on a sitcom. ” via=”no”]
You’re still a young man and dating with a vasectomy. At what point does that come up?
It never comes up. Maybe something afterward like, “What did she do? It’s not a problem.” That will come up there. She’s like, “How did you know I was on birth control?” I’m like, “No, I’m on birth control.”
I know some of your stand-up, but something happened with the TV Show. Is it the TV Show is not happening like there is a messed up moment?
It’s already there. It was a second or third time we had it with them where they are like, “We’d rather do it this way.” I’m like, “I don’t want to do it that way.” They were like, “Then we’re going to take the show away from you.” I was like, “I will probably not do that, but what you’re proposing is unacceptable. Me doing my work in a way that I don’t want to.” Compared to this, because people can’t see it clearly. If they’re like, “We love to give you tenureship at this college.” I’m like, “I love that.” They’re like, “We want you to join our class.” I’m like, “Sure, I could do that.” If they go, “We wanted to kill your mother.” That’s not on the table. They’re like, “This is what you wanted.” I’ll say, “Yeah, but that’s not going to do that.” Doing my work not my way is absolutely no.
It is an interesting idea. I’ve been making this argument that comedians have moved from being entertainers to being politicians. As a politician, you expect half the people to hate and you accept it. As entertainers, if you’re Brad Pitt and people love Brad Pitt. There is not an equal number of people who hate him. They are indifferent about him, but now comedy feels more like politics than it does music.
Andrew Dice Clay said, “You don’t want people to like you. You want half the people loving you, half the people hating you and everyone is talking.”
This is an idea I’ve been working on with this new book. I call it Create A Chasm. That’s good comedy and is focused on the people in front of you making them laugh and not worrying too much.
Who’s not there? That’s the big thing that everyone is worried about who’s not going to like this? You worry about the wrong things. You should worry about who is in the room and who is going to like you. These people might see it later that they should never have. That’s the fault of whoever presented to them. If me and you are talking crap about your friend and then I tell her you talk crap about her, I shouldn’t have done that. You’re fine because you said it. You didn’t want her to hear that. For me to do that, I’d be an asshole. Whoever presents a Louis’ Parkland joke to the Parkland survivors it’s like, “What is wrong with you?” You would never have said that to them. If you heard what was in the room, you probably wouldn’t have done a joke that night. You’re an asshole for showing it to them.
I don’t want to go down this road too much because we’ve talked lots about it all. I do think that what would be neat to see is, could you give comedians tenure?
No, you can’t but some do. South Park guys, they have it. Bill Burr and Chappelle, they have it. You can’t take that away from them. Louis has it too. You could make it harder but they’ll be fine.
There are two forms of this. One is you make enough money in the world that you literally have, “F you money,” and those guys have that. There is also like, “You have tenure here at the Comedy Store, so you’re immunized in many ways.” You can do more here than I can do at my home university with tenure.
Universities are more restrictive. I have teacher friends.
It’s not as much freedom as it made out to be.
You can smoke a cigar on campus and that’s about it.
You have a flip phone. Is that part of your freedom play?
Yeah, I was feeling too much of a pull with all the apps on the internet. All the intentionally addictive stuff that they are bringing you in. Once I realized they have engineers working to get you to look at it and I have no defense system. It’s a fool’s move to think of it. I just ignore it.
Are you not a big willpower guy?
I’m not. I’m an addict to things like that until I envy the few people who were like, “I look at Instagram once a week.”
I’m one of those people who barely look.
Those are the people who cannot have two cigarettes a week and two cocaine once a month, great. Everything I have to say about those issues has nothing to do with those people.
It’s rare and I still think my willpower is terrible. I have great willpower and I know it’s terrible.
Dr. Jud said, “Addiction is not a chemical addiction.” Addiction is when you let something get in the way of your life that you don’t want to get in the way of your life. If you’re smoking pot all day and not hanging out with your friends, then pot is addictive. It’s not chemically addictive, but you’re an addict.
You lost your wife over it, so how is that not a problem? The same thing with the phone. I wasn’t writing as much and I see my friends disappear in moments. They missed things in the outside world and I was doing it too. I’m experimenting and I switched to new phone numbers. I’m keeping the old number on for a month to put an iPhone on it and to see if I can handle it. The first few days is not going well. I’m starting a little bit to go like, “You already checked everything you have to check, email and anything social. You don’t have to check now.”
It’s been checked.
You can check that tomorrow or during the day. It’s done. Do your work, watch a video, watch Walking Dead, do anything else. That’s a waste, that’s bathroom crap, that’s toilet material.
I’ve done some things that make it easy. I took the email off my phone.
That’s good. Some people take apps off.
All the notices are off.
Some people go black and white.
I’ve heard about that. I’ve not done that.
That’s a weird chemical addictive thing.
There are these two guys in Brooklyn, they have invented what they call the dumb phone. The light phone too.
I ordered it. It’s coming. The picture messages kills me. They can’t get a picture message on your phone.
He was telling me about this. These two guys are not engineers. They are designers and they were in an incubator with mostly engineers and programmers. Everybody was making apps. The goal of the app is frequency and duration. You want people on the app a lot and frequently. When they’re on, they’re on there for a long time so you can collect data.
Those are evil apps. There are great apps like AllTrails which tells you good hikes in the area. They don’t want you on there all the time. They want you only when you’re looking for a trail and then they’re like, “You have no use here, get out of here.”
Anybody who is on an incubator wants to become a billionaire. They’re trying to do the evil side of it. It didn’t sit well with those guys, and they were like, “There’s our business idea. Let’s immunize people.” He was saying, “You don’t need a microcomputer to go to the Farmers Market,” but there is an interesting tension. They have happy customers. You’ve largely be happy with it, but they keep getting requests, “Could you add this one thing?”
I come up with a solution. You get to tell them ahead of time what apps you want on your own device and then to get any new app on there, you have to send your phone in and have them unlock it, add the app and send it back. Right away I want Uber on there. That’s going to help my life and small markets going to let me go on hikes in other places. I could do it on my computer to get out, but I want something there. I’m like, “I’ve got to figure this out.” Some maps app, not even Google maps. Maybe maps that’s something less usable because now that Google map is all ads now like, “McDonald’s near you. Go buy.” Whatever you want on there. I like Spotify in case. I’m sure someone else wants like, “I want something. I want to go an adventure and look for a thing.” I don’t Safari, someone else might but I don’t want that.
That’s a strong idea. Amazon has built on a store in front of one. Every storefront is designed to be unique based upon your needs, searches and so on. What you’re suggesting is these phones should become infinitely customizable, but in this weird, almost paternalistic way where your present self designs the phone for a future self.
That you know you can’t trust.
It’s the person who sets three alarms the night before because they know that the person in the morning will ignore the first two.
Some of these flip phones are like has Facebook. I’m like, “No, I can’t get that one.” I want it not possible because I’ll definitely check it in those quiet moments when I use my fucking brain.
Is your joke writing process analog? Do you have a little notebook?
I have a little notebook. It is my biggest weapon I have in stand-up comedy.
That’s the smallest one I’ve ever seen.
It fits anywhere in small pockets, big pockets, and then what I do before I go on stage, in the five minutes beforehand, I’m looking through because I used to have Evernote on my iPhone. The files you need access each one, so you’re not flipping through it. You can look for a specific one but this way, I’m like, “Traffic on a subway and people buying flowers. Maybe I’ll do people flowers now.” I’m like, “No.” I keep thinking about it over and over again and eventually I’m like, “I’m going to say something about it now.” I’ll say something about it and it’s there and then once I start doing it as a bit, I can rip the page out.
Where do you put the page once it was ripped out?
Throw it away. It’s done. It’s already in my act. I memorized it now. I write a set list sometimes and I’ll go like, “Flowers or add that to a long list of possible bits I already have.” It’s good enough.
I buy flowers. What’s the joke?
If I’m remembering correctly, the only joke I have for flowers was the idea in the movies. A man and a woman are walking down in New York, stops and he’s like, “Give me your bouquet of roses.” He hands them to the woman, but the reality is you have to wait for the person in front of you. The guys are going to make a change. She’s going to say, “Hold on.” It’s not nearly as romantic as the way they showed in the movies. She’s like, “What are we waiting for?” “I’m trying to surprise you.”
I buy flowers for my apartment every week.
You’re loving the place up.
It does. It’s a nice touch. You’re not verified on Twitter. How is that possible? I’m verified at Twitter.
[bctt tweet=”Addiction is when you let something get in the way of your life that you don’t want to get in the way of your life. ” via=”no”]
I thought it over. You’ve got to make yourself private and then make yourself un-private. The verify tag goes away.
You don’t want to be verified. Could you tell me why?
It seems elitist. I don’t agree with the fact that if you’re Brad Pitt, your opinion has more value than your friend.
I always thought that it was a matter of a way to make sure that people didn’t imitate you.
That’s the other one. I see a lot of divisive crap, so I don’t want any new source being able like, “This is verified opinion.” You can’t guarantee I said that. There’s no way you know that’s me, so you can’t use this in your story.
Is that more of the reason?
The first reason is the elitist thing. The second reason, I realized when I started to see my friends get quoted without their permission.
People say, “Opinions don’t reflect back the institution I work at,” or whatever kind of thing. I never thought about that one.
“A verified Twitter account said this and posted this.” It’s like, “You didn’t talk to the guy.”
I’m vanilla on Twitter. I’ve been on it for a long time. For me, if you went looking, I know the worst thing you’ll find is a deleted tweet. It was a bad joke I made about this sandwich shop at Whole Foods in New Orleans. I was pissed off and I wrote a tweet that said, “I thought that Katrina was a disaster. Until I went to the sandwich shop.” Whole Foods responded and said, “People have lost their lives and there were all these things.” What I basically did was I immediately apologized. I said, “I’m terribly sorry. You’re right. I’m deleting this tweet.” I deleted it.
That’s smart. No one deletes on tweets especially when there’s caption on it. That has value. Even if it’s wrong, it has value. That’s the thing. Sometimes, you’re mad for five minutes and be screaming and then you’re like, “I’m done. I’m not mad anymore.” They’re like, “We still saw what you said.” “I’m done with that.” They’re like, “It’s still here in writing,” and you’re like, “I don’t feel that way anymore.”
By the way, I’m not much of a joke writer. That’s not a bad joke.
That wasn’t bad at all. It’s good. I liked it.
It’s funny if you were not affected by Katrina. Unfortunately, people were. I know you have to perform in a little while and so I want to make sure I covered the one thing that caused me to reach out to you. I want to see if you can verify a funny story that I heard about the Nasty Show at JFL, Just for Laughs. I heard a story and I cannot remember who told me. It’s about a white host. For people who are reading, the Nasty Show has a bunch of white hosts. It’s a regular show at Just for Laughs.
It’s one of the most popular shows. It has been for a while. It’s dirty comedy and everyone goes out knowing they’re going to hear dirty comedy.
The comics are trying to outdo each a little bit.
Sometimes, it’s either people trying to be dirty or dirty comments going like, “This is all I got, so enjoy,” which I prefer. They’re like, “I’m so sorry you have to hear this, but it’s nothing else I can do.”
I’ve seen it once and I went because I knew Ben Roy was doing it. I thought it was clever. He did a funny bit about how much he loves his wife and about all the nasty things he does to her in the name of love, sexually and all these stuff. She was sitting next to me at that time which made it fun. The story goes something like this. Black Comic is performing for the week and he has a bit where he has this tag where he says, “Because I’m a crazy N-word.” The black guy is saying that throughout the thing. He has a bit where he is using this. The guy finishes up.
That same show by the way are three shows. One on Saturday, two on Friday and then two every day. It’s fifteen straight times you’re doing the same order on the same people.
Yes, so you get to know each other.
If you have a funny tag of somebody’s last joke like, “I probably do that a bunch of times.”
This older white comedian would walk out and he goes, “A round of applause for that crazy N-word.”
I know who it is. I haven’t heard that but I’m positive I know who it is.
You don’t know the story. Do you know where the story goes? Can you predict it?
It’s either the black guy got mad or it’s someone in the audience got mad on his behalf.
That’s even better than that. The black comedian gets tired of this old white cracker.
Did he punch him?
No, he stopped doing the joke, except the host was not paying attention. The guy finishes his bit and he goes, “Let’s hear it for that crazy N-word.”
I love a good comedy prank. That’s great. I never heard that one, but I know for sure who the old white guy is. He is a long-time host and it sounds like he always hates being Jewish even though he is Jewish. That’s fine. It gets tiring. It is not my time anymore, it’s their time, so say whatever you want.
I was hoping you would know because I know you’ve done the show.
I’ve done it a bunch of times. I hosted once but I wasn’t the greatest host for it. It’s been a while since I hosted a show and I forgot the rah-rah stuff we’re supposed to do and to do it well.
It’s such a funny story.
People would mess with each other on that show all the time. Somebody brought a motorcycle up on stage once and grab somebody in and then drove them off. It’s fun. One time I was on earlier. I was like, “Every newcomer is going to know where you are from.” One time, a long time ago, I was late. The show goes from 9:00 PM to 1:00 AM sometimes 2:00 AM. It’s straight. There were fifteen minutes per comic. You can stay as long as you want. You’ve heard fifteen comics if you stay the whole time.
I ask somebody, “Where are you guys from?” Somebody from the back corner, not the people I was talking to, goes, “They’re from Minnesota.” I was like, “Okay.” It’s like, definitely ten people have asked you and you had to say it over and over again. With that kind of stuff in mind, I said, “Everyone in the crowd is going to welcome you. I want you to do this not for the next comic because he might be here watching, but you can’t tell. It’s all dark. The lights are in your face. For everyone after the next comic get on, when they ask where you’re from or what you’re doing here, let’s pick out somebody who can do it right.” I coached them through how to say, “We don’t want to talk about it. It’s not important.” Try to keep a positive face. I would coach them through it. It’s fun and then eventually they go, “No, come on.” That would definitely get the next comic more enticed like asked. They go, “We’re here to bury our son.” I got Whitney Cummings on it. I got everyone to like, “You guys can’t laugh when somebody asks though.”
You have to all be on this and I’ve told somebody like “No, you’re out. You can’t do it. You’re not handling this well. Go to someone else.” We got her. It was exactly how it should go. She’s like, “What are you guys doing here?” They said, “We’re from Minnesota.” She’s like, “What are you doing here?” “It doesn’t matter.” They said, “We’re here to bury our son.” Her face drops and then everyone started laughing in the crowd. She was like, “You guys stop it. It’s not funny. Stop, I’m so sorry.” I was dying in the back. It was great. That crap doesn’t matter. It’s so fun. What a fun lifestyle.
I went to an improv show, the parallel to that, UCB, Upright Citizens Brigade. No offense, as a spectator, an audience member, I preferred improv. Let me tell you why. Because when I’m watching you, I’m watching you like you watch other comics. I’m analyzing. In improv you can’t dissect it while it’s happening because it’s being made on the spot. If you take a 101 improv class, one of the things you’ll learn is don’t pimp out your scene partner. Don’t put your scene partner in an impossible situation. One of the fun things about these elite house teams, these guys have been working together for five to twenty years. They pimp each other out all the time. It’s fantastic and fun to watch.
I heard a story about Will Ferrell who graduated from The Groundlings for their Sunday Company graduation or something like that. It was a big show. He bought the theater out, bought every ticket and then sat in the middle, six rows back, six rows from the front.
I’ve not heard that story.
It’s a fun thing to do with your money. Rogan is jealous of my freedom. That’s funny, but he probably is.
He is jealous of your freedom.
He is a free thinker.
The man has obligations to his family. He’s got schedule and he is routinized.
The family, that alone where it’s like as we do shows Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and time to go home on Sunday. We’re in Saint Louis, and suddenly it’s going to be 78 degrees and sunny and we’re like, “Let’s go hike in the Ozarks.” “I can’t. I’ve got to fly back to my kids.” I’m like, “I don’t.” I change my flight for $50 or $100. I’m going to do this fun thing.
When I was on his show, he talked about Colorado. He has this love affair. He dreams of moving to Colorado and escaping LA but he can’t because he doesn’t have this in Colorado. He can’t come and work on stuff.
That’s the biggest problem. That limits the number of cities I can live in. I think I’m moving again. I moved to New York a few years ago for new streets, new restaurants and stuff. Stand-up is much more often there and it’s cooler there. It’s counter-culture there.
I had this woman Claire Downs and she is a comedian writer. She had this saying, “New York comedy is comedy for comics and LA comedy is comedy for the world.”
New York comedy exists on basements a lot, literally downstairs. You’re going downstairs and you’ve got this vibe of like, “It’s some dark crap in here.” That’s what they’re going for. The people that’s such a fast pace, there are constantly homeless people all the time saying the worst depravity. I want to see more of the world and I think of which cities I could go to with non-stop stand-up. It’s LA, New York, London and maybe Toronto as well. Toronto doesn’t have quite as much. I think about going to other places and I’m like, “How can I do it?” I’m not sure I can, but I put my mind to it like residency somewhere and then Europe and then do a bunch of road gigs. You went performing for your fans and that sounds like a good test. It would help your material grow.
Do you think you’re a lifer?
Stand-up? It seems like it, but at this point I’ve seen enough people drop off and I’m like, “Who knows what my mind would bring?”
I don’t like the idea of trying to predict twenty years from now.
A lot of people got broken up in the last few years after Trump and they want to be an activist. They didn’t see that coming. Who knows what will happen?
It’s hard to predict. People always want you to predict and have it all mapped out.
It’s like the revolution is coming. Am I going to be drafted? It’s like one side of the other, “You’ve got to fight.”
There are times when I feel like that’s truer than ever. I’ll pick a side.
You’re either murdering a politician or you’re a politician getting murdered. Which one do you want to be?
I wasn’t getting anything quite like that, but I understand it feels that way at times. Let’s talk about something a little more fun. You are a basketball guy.
I’m Pelican’s fan from Charlotte.
I thought you were a Lakers fan.
I hate the Lakers. That is my actively number one team is F the Lakers.
[bctt tweet=”Your punchline should be natural progressions from your setups. ” via=”no”]
I mistook an unverified tweet of yours.
I would never put on that I like the Lakers. I hate them.
You don’t like front runners?
I hate the Lakers. It ruined comedy shows. The bandwagon fans always ignore comedy shows in LA and go to see the Lakers games. They have three to nothing in the first round in three games they’re playing and it’s like, “We’ve got to watch this game.” I’m like, “Why? It’s an eighth seed and they’re up three to nothing. You can skip this one. You have tickets.” I hate them so much.
How did you become a basketball guy?
I don’t know. I like all sports. I’m playing more baseball. I hate the Lakers. F the Lakers. I‘m so mad. I hate that they got in.
It made your team worst and the team you hate better.
At least we got a good draft pick. I hope he gets injured.
I thought we would lighten it up.
It went darker. I like it too much probably. I feel too much for sports. That’s a big problem.
Can I make a case for freedom for you?
Stop caring about sports.
What does that give me for freedom?
Let me make the case for it. I was an athlete. I work out, but I’m not an athlete anymore. I’m not competing, playing basketball or anything like that. I grew up as a sports spectator. It’s America, so of course you did. You’re a boy in America. What I realized was that I was giving too much of my time, energy and happiness.
I had that too.
I already sit too much. Why am I going to sit even more and watch sports? If I am going to consume a form of entertainment, why am I going to consume something that half the time I’m disappointed by the result of? This is football focused.
Baseball is not as bad if you lose.
Football, that was the first one I gave up and then I’ve given up a bunch of other stuff.
Every game matters.
The morality associated with football is impossible to ignore.
Let’s say you can write off some minority of the ones who will beat their wives or anything like that, but they’re all damaging themselves. I like these guys and they’re hurting themselves like they shouldn’t be doing it.
It has been a slow burn for me. It started with me giving up football. I still watch a little bit of basketball here and there, but I watch it more for the process because it’s a fun game to watch. It’s a highly entertaining game to watch, but in terms of freedom from the caring of it all, I realize it was so stereotypically American.
I don’t care as much as I used to. It used to give me depression. That’s my problem. I’m not like that anymore, but when my team starts to make a run, I get more into it. If I go to a Yankee game and they lose, I still drink a couple of beers.
I know people who live and die about it. I just think there are much better things to do on a Sunday afternoon.
I do like though the camaraderie of a Cowboy’s fans going to a Cowboy’s bar in New York. I was like, “All these guys are rooting for the same team. Finally, chicken wings along with these people.” It’s like going to a comedy movie opening week when it’s packed. It’s more fun. You feed off each other. That thing is fun. It is stereotypical, but you can’t hate everything about America.
There’s a lot I like about America. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could shift some of the focus from athletics to other artistic endeavors? How much richer would the culture be?
I figured I’d put that time in museums.
Think about what some of these boys do. I did it. I’m a competent athlete, but thank God I was able to keep that as the traditional prep school like you do another sport because it rounds you out. I felt like athletics rounded me out. I was a kid who went with my mates down to the basketball court and played basketball for a few hours, and then we walked home and talked crap with each other. I have a buddy, he’s got a son that plays soccer, “We’ve got to get him on this team. It’s an hour drive, It’s X thousand dollars.” I’m sure your kid is a good player. He is not getting the scholarship and he wouldn’t need a scholarship if you took the thousands of dollars you’re spending and put it into an index fund. What are you working on?
I’m working on specifically a special about Judaism, but more like a step back way to look at it. I’m working on a way to have the Edinburgh heady theme style hour with the laughs of an American Club. I’ve gotten there. I did it. That will be my next special. It took way longer than I expected and way longer than any special took.
What does the usual special take you and how long does this take you?
I aim for one year and I bleed a year and a half. My first special was everything and then try to go faster. This will end up being three years plus now that I’m trying to find a venue.
Do you want a Jewish audience?
No, I like to tackle this from every point of view. I make sure to do this hour in cities like New York where there are tons of Jews, Jerusalem with more.
There are a few more there.
There are places like Minneapolis where there are some and then places like Perth where there is zero. They have barely heard of it from the movies only somewhat.
Have you seen Schindler’s List?
Yeah, like they know about the Holocaust but barely anything. I don’t want to make it work as well for them as for anybody, so I’ve gotten that. Now it’s like it doesn’t matter.
That said, but you get to pick.
When you tape it? What kind of audience are you going to choose?
I can’t do Jerusalem. I had an idea of doing Jerusalem, but when I perform there for a small show on purpose, it was like, “I don’t want to use up on my draw in case I do want to film over there.” They’re for 80 people and 40 of them were still religious. It’s about Orthodox Judaism and the other 40, half of them pretty much had been religious. Most of my jokes I have punchlines in the setups, to them it sounds like, “We know about this.” It’s almost like explaining Catholicism. Somebody’s like, “There’s this main guy, he is called the priest and he runs his place where everyone gathers.” “Stop making jokes about this, we already know this.” I was on my heels all the time is way different than I expected, but I want to do it in New York which is the home of Jews in America.
That or where I grew up outside in DC. I would love to have done it in Sixth & I, but they’re saying no to holocaust jokes. It’s a former and still sometimes synagogue to a performance space. People like Norah Jones play there. They had talks there as well and I’ve done a comedy show there. People like the comedy show. It works well there. It wouldn’t be an over the top like look at all this Jewish crap behind. It’s like it happens here because it’s already here. I didn’t say no holocaust joke, but at first they were like, “There won’t be any holocaust jokes.” I’m like, “What do you mean? How am I going to talk about Judaism? It’s America did not cover the holocaust. It’s the biggest historical effect in the last 100 years.” It’s not like I’m going to make fun of it. It’s not going to be like the guys are going to get serious now, there is no way. You can’t do that. They said they don’t know another rollout schedule.
You didn’t get a hard no. You got a, “We’ll have to think about this.”
I think New York, but it’s a Union House, it is going to cost me way more. Anyway, I’m done dealing with them right now. It’s frustrating.
Do you have a title for it?
You know what you’re getting.
These UK guys, in stand-up they’re about ten to fifteen years behind America. It’s like setup punchline and clear characters they have, we don’t do that here anymore. We did it. We had an act like ‘80s and ‘90s like, “What’s your point of view?” He was like, “You meet me.” Meet your friend for a while. You don’t know his point of view, just know what he is probably into. If I knew you in high school I’d be like, “Do you like sports?” You don’t have to portray this specific point of view and they are doing that. They’re doing these themes, what you end up doing is having this lessen at the end of your stand-up. The kind of South Park made fun of really hard. I’ve learned something and then they will joke about it.
It’s an annoying thing about a lot of TED Talks which they get super preachy at the end where they want to tell you how you should live your life.
The Moth did that a lot for the storytelling show. I like them off but I’m not looking for that line at the end where I was making fun of, its this for the Edinburgh and for The Moth, “That day was not just the day that I lost my watch, it was the day that I lost my innocence.” It’s like, “Get over yourself. It’s so much forced all the time. A few times is not forced. Mike DeStefano had a bit about his aunt. There has been a few I’ve seen where it’s not forced serious. It was like a natural progression, the way Woody Allen talks about your punchline should be a natural progression from your setups. You shouldn’t be aiming for your punchlines. It should be like a course that goes in.
There is this fun research paper on this. These are old jokes. This is Phyllis Diller and Bill Cosby bits back in the day where they played the setup and then they ask participants in the study to predict the punchlines. What they found was that people could do it. The more predictable the punchline typically, the funnier the joke was. We tend to overrate surprise in comedy.
It seems like a funny thing, but then not necessarily.
It’s that natural progression. There is actual data that suggest Woody Allen was correct in that intuition. Where are you going with this?
In the UK stand-up comes from a place of theater. I heard of a video artist, Ragnar Kjartansson. I saw one of his pieces in Phoenix. He’s Icelandic and it was in a house every different room had another person playing an instrument with headphones on and they could all hear what everyone else is playing around the room. As you move, each screen was their own person. As you get closer to each screen, they’ll think it’s louder and then other people jump off. Someone in a bathtub is playing the guitar and you can’t hear the bathtub, but as you get closer, you can hear the water moving. It’s so cool.
They played this over and over again and he likes melody over and over again for fifteen to twenty minutes and then they all kept playing and then moved down. All the screens are empty and as you move to the same room. They walked off together and then Ragnar or somebody, one by one went in and you see a guy turning off each screen. It blew me away. He had a thing at the Met. I saw him speak beforehand. My friend, Ari Eldjárn, an Icelandic comic and he was like, “He got me or one of his friends got me. In Iceland and in Europe or maybe Scandinavia, music comes out of art school.” You go to art school to become a musician, rock star and he goes, “In America, musicians come of the soil.” It is the street raps and then country. It is like, “Give me a guitar, let’s play. You don’t train for it. You become it.”
Jimmy Page went to art school. Robert Townsend was a design student or something like that, whereas Bruce Springsteen just didn’t fit in.
Stand-up here is like that, of the soil, and there it comes out of the theater. They have these reviews and they try to have this theme or whatever. I’m not even against the theme. I went to Edinburgh a few times and I learned something from them like, “These are interesting. It does hold your attention.” The pompousness they have of like, “Maybe Americans are funnier, but we have this heady thing.” I’m like, “No, we can do that. We choose not to.” We rather be a Van Halen album versus Pink Floyd, which is better. That’s way richer, but at the same time not everyone prefers it. You ignore that as if it is bad. Van Halen is not bad, it’s just not dark side.
It’s easier to like Van Halen as a regular everyday person.
I was like, “This is fun. Next song please.” I’m not like I have to hear the whole album or forget it. It’s not like The Wall, it’s not one song.
The Wall is hard to listen to.
I know, but when you listen to it all the way through, it’s like this is supposed to be listening all the way through. What they do is they stop the comedy part for this theme. Even in their club sets. Eighteen minutes they go, “We’re all people and no matter what race you are, you have to get along.” I’m like, “What is this?” It enraged me and I’m like, “I get why you want to have a theme. Why are you not being funny? Why are you talking about your dad abandoning you?”
Your argument, it shouldn’t be mutually exclusive.
[bctt tweet=”Seek perfection in your own way. ” via=”no”]
Ms. Pat, she’ll do stuff about her uncle stunk or his breath was awful. She did this Dangerous Comedy. It was on Netflix documentary and she was the only American. I like that she doesn’t wallow in her victimhood. She does this bit about her uncle had shitty breath. You’re laughing along and then afterward you think about it like, “Was she talking about how her uncle raped her when she was thirteen?” She was and she’s not like, “I was raped.” She doesn’t do that because she is a comedian.
If she is a dramatic novelist, then absolutely wallow in it, but stand-up comedy is supposed to be funny. People go there and laugh about 9/11, the AIDS epidemic, rape, anything. We want to laugh. We want to let loose. She is getting laughs at her dark crap. She is not belittling it. She is not making it worth nothing. She not being held back by it because crap happened to me. It’s the same thing like I got suspended in high school was a bad moment, but I’m not going to be “Woe is me.” They do that crap there. I want to prove to them that they could do that without giving up laughs.
The Jew does this?
Absolutely, and spite is a great motivator and I’ve used to my advantage.
Let’s go back to basketball. Jonathan, our mutual friend, we had this ongoing joke, it’s a weird joke. It’s out of context so it won’t be that thing. It’s like that he was the Jewish genius and I was the Irish dumbass, that thing. I’m a state school kid. He went to Princeton and these private schools. I’d always go to state schools and all this stuff. His dad is a medical doctor and mom is an academic. My identity has always been that of the overachiever. I don’t have natural abilities. I don’t have the background, but I’ll outwork you. I’ll be in the lab earlier and I’ll be in the lab later, like the classic thing. Some of that, my success came from the, “I’ll show you.” That’s Michael Jordan.
Michael Jordan fueled arguably the best career in NBA history through slight perceives, slight real, fake. Anything he could do to prove people wrong, even once he was the best. Anger works, there is no doubt about it, spite works. The problem, and I have the therapist helped me realized this, I didn’t come to this on my own, is that it poisons you. Watch Michael Jordan’s retirement speech. He could be magnanimous in thanking people and reflecting positively. What he did during the retirement speech was point out all of those people his whole career who never believed in him. What you realize is, “This man is a 50 whatever year-old poisoned soul.” This therapist is pointing out to me, acknowledging how anger works. There is no doubt about it that anger works and he goes, “What if you decided to not use anger?” I almost burst into tears. I said, “What would I use?” I didn’t even know. I’m 40 at this time. This was career stuff mostly as you might imagine. I couldn’t come up with the answer. He said, “You do it because you want to do it.”
I’m not just getting to stand-up to prove these guys wrong. My friend said the same thing when he was trying to give up drinking. He goes, “What do I do if I’m in a party, it sucks.” You don’t want to be there. You need beer. I’m like, “No, you leave. The party sucks.” He was like, “I didn’t even consider that.” That by part is mostly dropped away. It is when I think about why I’ve started, “It’s because of this.” It’s mostly I’m putting on a great show and trying to entertain people.
I’m not trying to drop a lesson on you, but for someone I get that idea of, “You guys think you are hot crap.”
“You’re not, why are you acting so good? We all look down on you here.” When we come to America, there was an article written. My first full year at Edinburgh, I did a storytelling show one year and then I went back for a full year. Michelle Wolf was there, Joe DeRosa, a few comics were there. They’re like, “These Americans are coming in and trying to do their side of comedy.” I was like, “It’s hilarious. I’m having a great time. Get out of here you upscale writers.”
The issue is this. Let’s be honest. People want to laugh. You don’t go to stand-up comedy to learn life lessons. They go to have a great time. I understand that.
I would do a dig during the Edinburgh run and I’ll be like, “This is an Edinburgh style hour and the American style which means we’ll be funny.” The audience has seen five shows that day and twenty that week and they’re like, “We get the difference clearly.”
I don’t like when Ted Talks gets too preachy. I don’t like when storytelling gets too preachy. I certainly don’t like it when the stand-up stuff gets too preachy.
Did you see that Ted Talk about the crows? This guy did ten years of research on crows and how crazy intelligent and vindictive they are. They have memories of researchers on campus that have been captured a few to test on them. Every time those researches will go on campus, they swooped down on them. These guys left, four or five years later, they came back and they got swooped again. No one else has gotten swooped, just those guys. They figure out how to drop nuts on roads so cars would run over them so they could crack it for them. They learned how to bend metal to use as a hook to get shit out. They are crazy smart, but that’s one of my favorite TED Talks. There’s nothing like, “We need to research to save these crows. It’s like, “Aren’t they cool?” I see other people like, “They are cool.” I was like, “See you guys.” That’s it.
I had a guy on the podcast, his name is Josh Kinal, he is an Aussie and his favorite TED Talk is a five-minute TED Talk about how to dry your hands using one paper towel. It’s maybe three minutes. I could save you the time. How you do it is you wash your hands, then you shake them twelve times. You take a paper towel. You fold it once and twice, then you pat and you throw it out. That’s a great TED Talk. You’re about to perform, so we’re going to get going. I want to ask one last question. I always ask this question, what are you reading, watching or listening to that’s good, not run of the mill good, but outstandingly good?
Adbusters, the magazine. It fucking changes the way I look at the world.
That’s the first. No one said that before.
It goes from a place of like, “Democrats are right. Republicans are right” to “This whole system is broken.” We had to get advertising out of our face and let them stop controlling our governments. We have to worry about the environment and bring art back and wild lines back. It helps me a lot.
Are you a subscriber?
I am. Some lady found me in a line of Whole Foods. She was reading it and she got called next. She turned around and looked me in the eye and she goes, “Read this and give it to me.” I never had a recommendation like that, so I got it and I read it. I brought it with me to Southeast Asia. I got to read it, it’s not like I’ll read this article and that article like the New Yorker. It’s page to page. There is one article about the problem with ads and next article is stolen ad about Gucci. It’s so good. Overall the best book that had ever help me is The Fountainhead, that’s the one that set me free creatively. The Fountainhead, mushrooms and depression, that’s what gets me going.
I found out right after depression, but it lets you know it’s about the artistic process and everything. The money, the fame, all that is way second to what Franny and Zooey says, “My work, my way.” That’s the idea. It’s seeking perfection in your own way of doing it which is cross art forms, which is anything. Visual art or whatever you do, jazz anything. Somebody says, “Jazz should play this note instead.” You’re like, “No, you do that, it’s your thing.” It describes everything. It describes, whatever year it’s written, all these back flashes coming right now. It’s what newspapers are doing as opposed to blogs, but it’s all the same. The people from the art form turning to try to get more publicity. She predicted it so well. I know people rant and I used to also. It hit me like, “I’ve never even read her, never read this.” I was like, “Wow.” It shows up the most artistically free person. It’s 100% godliness that you can’t reach but you can aim for.
I haven’t got that answer either.
Somebody told me it’s Donald Trump’s favorite book and I’m like, “Nonetheless it still has value.” I’m sure Hitler like snow cones. It doesn’t mean snow cones don’t have value.
I knew this would be a lot of fun. I appreciate you doing this. This is great.
I like how a lot more college stuff is like tackling comedy.
It turns out to be a bit of a thing. Thank you.
- Skeptic Tank podcast
- Punch Drunk Sports
- Joe Rogan
- The Comedy Store
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- Claire Downs – Previous episode
- Josh Kinal – Previous episode
- Sixth & I
- The Moth
- The Fountainhead
- Franny and Zooey
About Ari Shaffir
Ari Shaffir is a stand-up comedian. He is the producer and host of the Skeptic Tank podcast.
He also co-hosts the podcast Punch Drunk Sports, and he created and previously hosted and produced the television series This is Not Happening, an adaptation of his monthly stand-up show.
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