I’ve learned that if I foul it up, if I pause wrong or stumble over a word, the joke doesn’t go as good, and sometimes it doesn’t even go at all. It’s so much about timing. If there’s a three-second gap and I don’t say the next joke, I can lose the whole thing.
It really is a lesson I realized early on: You better know what you’re gonna say and say it the right way. Even if I wasn’t doing one-liners, even if it more traditional, telling stories, I’d still have to say it in the exact right way. It’s just how my brain works. I’m lucky all of this just meshed, you know? I didn’t decide to talk like this or sound like this. The surreal jokes and the voice just worked together. It was all by acci...
I’m really used to being onstage now. Next year will be 40 years. But being onstage, it’s not normal. It’s not a normal place. Because everyone is watching you, it’s all heightened. Everything that goes good goes great and everything that goes wrong goes horrible. So that has changed over the years. I’m not as nervous. But I still feel the tension of it.
One time at some old theatre somewhere I was holding a dude's phone to read his text messages and it slipped from my hand and fell through a crack in the floor and went into some deep, deep basement and broke. (I bought him a new phone).
I’ve definitely seen some crazy shit. I saw this one show where a guy goes up and somehow picks himself up in a plastic garbage bag. It was so upsetting. I’ve also seen a guy in L.A. jump up and land on thumbtacks. Someone from Chicago, Ian Abramson, did sort of break the mold of a stand-up comic—he found himself performing on Conan, and he did his bit where he wears a shock collar.
I started to take improv classes with Washington Improv Theater at the exact same time I started going around to open mics in DC to watch and if lucky perform. Took about a month of watching before I really got to get on the microphone at any of the shows. So that month of foundations of improv learning with the great Dave Johnson really influenced my approach to standup. Not that I wanted to get up and improvise but the moments of not being funny on stage was easier to cope with after having learned to relax and build from nothing in class.
It’s a weird balance of listening to yourself, so you can kind of be driving the car, but also listening to the audience so you can also see the road. Whenever I have a bad set it’s usually because I’m not doing one of those things at all. I’m either not paying attention to the crowd or I was over-confident with what I was going to do. Whenever there’s a night where I’m dialed in and I have the most fun, it’s usually because I’m right fifty-fifty on listening to the crowd and myself.
I think just reminding myself to quit thinking that there’s some kind of perfect show to capture; to remind myself constantly that it is comedy and mistakes are funny. Anything that is too perfect—it kind of becomes too sterile and then it does not feel genuine. If it doesn’t feel genuine then there’s no possible way people are going to feel they saw you.
The tricky part about answering this, is that it is a bit of both. It was totally not set up. And was I mad, yes and no. I was mad that he wrecked my desk, but I was happy that he gave me an excuse to get mad at my guest on TV. I am always nice to my guests. But I love it when things go wrong on television. So I was kind of playing the character of the angry TV host. Because it is funny watching somebody get mad. People don't understand what happened there and give me some grief about it, saying that I should have just let him cut the desk and smiled. But the thing is, that would not have been nearly as funny.
When I talk about my cancer on stage, doing standup, it is a cathartic experience. And it is important to be honest and talk about things that matter, even dark and scary things. The special that we shot about my cancer helped a lot of people. Early detection is the key to survival. So if you ever feel sick, or that something may be wrong with your body. Go to the doctor, don't be afraid. It could save your life.
It's slightly annoying. I've been high on camera ONCE in my entire career and it didn't work out well at all. besides that, the most I've had before being on TV is one or two drinks. It's weird when people just ASSUME that I'm high because I'm not yelling. I've never been high on Eric Andre show. It was just one episode of Broad City where I was pretty stoned. I kept fucking my lines up. If you've seen me on the road doing stand up, I've never been high. I've done stand up high a couple times in NYC and that's it.