My therapist once asked me if I do standup comedy because my mom was funny. I replied, “No, I don’t think so. My mom wasn’t really that funny. In fact, come to think of it, she didn’t really smile much at all. So, I don’t think that’s why I do comedy. Actually, my mom was pretty depressed. Nothing I did would ever make her laugh. So that’s definitely not why I get up in front of a roomful of strangers every night and try to make them lau– Ohhhhhhhhhhhh, I SEE now. So, I’d say the journey started there. Once I tried standup, it felt like falling into a rabbit hole…”
“Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down a very deep well.”
Also, I really like telling the truth and I realized that funny people seem to get away with doing it more than anyone else. A lot of my comedy is me trying to figure out a funny way to say what I actually wanted to say anyway.
Q. What is your recollection of your first gig?
My first few gigs in front of real audiences went surprisingly well considering my inexperience. My guess is I had an enthusiasm and naiveté that went over well during those early days. I miss being clueless – it’s liberating to not know what you don’t know.
At that point, I was delusional enough to think I was kind of natural. It was only after a few bad sets that I began to see the actual path ahead of me and how much work it would require to be good. Then came the hard part: years of hanging out at open mics in dive bar basements in order to tell a few minutes of bad jokes while surrounded by unstable people because no one loves a microphone more than the mentally ill.
Q. How will you come up with your own version of a joke using the 3 beginning lines below?
To be honest, I would never reverse engineer my jokes in this way. I prefer when jokes arise organically rather than via assignment. But since you asked…
- What would happen to a guy in his 40s and has not been in a relationship
Sounds like he’s going to join Reddit and either storm the Capitol or leave angry replies to posts from female journalists on Twitter.
- I used to have a girlfriend with an obsessive-compulsive disorder
What happened with her? She washed that man (me) right out of her hair. And then washed him out again. And again. And again. And then she locked me out of the apartment. And unlocked it. And then locked it again.
- I have been studying the Bible a lot lately, but it is not because I have become a devout Christian
I’m starting a cult and I want to get some tips about the best way to do it.
Q. What is your way of delivering a joke?
My favorite way to come up with bits is to have conversations with friends and wait for something to come up that feels like a fresh take, gets me animated, or feels juicy in some other way. I carry a notebook (and use the Notes app on my phone) to capture those ideas in the moment. “Hang on, I gotta write that down.”
Later on, I’ll flesh it out as an idea and, if it feels like there’s something there, try it onstage. Most of the time, they’re not actually strong enough to work as jokes.
Every once in a while, a joke comes out fully formed; but that’s rare. Usually, you’ve got to chip away at it for weeks (or even months) before it’s solid. The audience teaches you via laughs which ones are worth hammering away at until they’re actually funny enough to stick in the set.
Q. There are many comedy clubs all over New York City. What are some of your favorites and what advice would you give to the first-timers to the city who are interested in catching a live stand-up comedy show?
I perform most frequently at the Comedy Cellar (including every Tuesday night at Hot Soup) and NY Comedy Club (including every Wednesday night on Good Eggs). Those are the best places to see a quality show that delivers a real NYC standup vibe.
Some tips: Get tickets in advance since shows frequently sell out. And weeknights are your best bet for bigger names to drop-in on a show since they’re often on the road during weekends. And if you sit in the front row, be prepared to answer if you’re dating the person accompanying you. That happens at about 80% of shows. (Note: If you’re with someone of the opposite sex and you say you’re just friends, the host will say one of you is trying to have sex with the other and everyone in the room will explode in laughter because for some reason unrequited love is the funniest thing to human beings.)
Q. You have performed throughout the US and outside of the US – England, France, Holland, Israel, Canada. What adjustments do you make to ensure your comedy approach stays relevant to the audience with different backgrounds and cultures? Will you do a show in Asia one day?
First off, I’d love to do a show in Asia. Asia, ask me to perform there (travel expenses included, please)! As for adjustments, I try to throw out anything that relies on pop culture/American references for foreign gigs because they’re likely to fall flat. And then I try to do material on universal topics like dating, technology, aging, etc. It’s a good challenge because it forces you to examine your material and figure out what’s relevant to everyone. Also, I make fun of the country that’s next door. Everyone always hates the people next door.
Q. One thing you wish you had learned earlier in your life?
I wish I had realized the interconnectedness of the universe and that ego death is essential for becoming an enlightened human being. That and you should buy one of those trays that makes big ice cubes. They’re super cheap and people are irrationally impressed by large ice cubes.
Q. Tell us about the stand-up show that you co-produce – Hot Soup at Comedy Cellar in Manhattan. How did the Hot Soup name come about and why is it a show not to be missed?
The other show producers and I were at a diner spitballing name ideas and one of us ordered soup and then someone said, “How about Hot Soup?” And we all agreed because there’s something about diners and comedy. It’s now the longest running independently produced comedy show in NYC. We always book hilarious lineups with some of our favorite comics. Plus, we encourage comics to try new material and take chances so it’s a great show for comedy nerds who like to see the process and can handle a few clunkers.
Q. If you have your own stand-up master class, what would be your tips to a beginner?
Well, I wrote a blog during my first few years all about standup and lessons I learned so I recommend checking that out: SandpaperSuit.com. Some tips: Perform as much as you can, watch/listen to great comedians, align what you talk about onstage with what you talk about offstage, make friends with your peers, think like a craftsman, figure out a healthy relationship with alcohol (because you’ll be surrounded by it), don’t be afraid to take a harder/longer path instead of seeking shortcuts, and don’t be jealous of other people’s success because everyone’s on their own path.
Q, Tell us about your life outside of stand-up ?
My life outside of standup involves writing (see: My Rubesletter), art, video production, music, meditation, psychedelics, photography, travel, and just trying to be a seeker in general. The challenge is talking about any of that without being too annoying.
Q. Some of the most unforgettable memories from your travels?
I once went on a trek outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand and we visited a hilltribe community in the middle of nowhere. They were dirt poor but seemed very happy and it was a fascinating look at how most people around the world probably live. They woke up at dawn when the roosters crowed. And before they went to bed at night, they gathered round a campfire and drank moonshine whiskey and passed a guitar around. I remember being surprised that, despite knowing no English, their song choices were western staples like “Wonderful Tonight” and “Country Roads.” What really blew me away was how every one of the locals sang beautifully. Like *gorgeous* voices. And that got me thinking about how, in the west, we think you should learn how to sing. But perhaps the real problem is that we’ve forgotten how to sing. Maybe we’ve gotten so far away from our circadian rhythms, we’ve lost our ability to harmonize. Our voices are pitchy because our lives are pitchy. The other thing I learned: Moonshine whiskey really packs a punch.
Q. One big breakthrough you are looking for?
Big breakthrough? Well, I’d love to careen through a brick wall while carrying a large pitcher of a juice-like drink while screaming, “Oh yeah!” And then I’d also love to get another 100 subscribers to my weekly newsletter (subscribe here!) because it’s really good and I’m a fan of attainable goals.
Matt Ruby is a standup comedian from New York City. His comedy has been filmed by Comedy Central, MTV, NBC/Seeso, and Fox. His two albums, Feels Like Matt Ruby and Hot Flashes are in regular rotation on Sirius and went top 10 on the iTunes Comedy charts.
He is a regular at the legendary Comedy Cellar and co-produces Hot Soup, one of NYC’s longest running independently produced comedy shows. He also performs all over the country and internationally (England, France, Holland, Israel, Canada, etc.) and has appeared at festivals including SXSW, Bridgetown, NY Comedy Festival, and the Boston Comedy Festival.
I’m ready for a comedy night soon!
Chin Liang Teh says
InOnIt Blog says
Thank you so much for your help. It really saved a lot of time for me. I couldn’t figure it out all by myself.
Comedy is harder than drama because people will find the same thing sad but not always find the same thing funny. And standup comedy is even more difficult I imagine because it is just you and the audience.
And for anyone who hasn’t watched it, check out The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and her development as a standup comic.
Chin Liang Teh says
Thanks InOnIt Blog
Yes I agree with you Kenneth, being a comedian is much more than telling jokes and takes a measure of innate talent that many people don’t have