I did an interview last weekend with comedian/writer Nathan Timmel in conjunction with my recent standup cd release on the label.
For those of you that want to get an insider’s look at the standup comedy world I think you will find this conversation interesting. Both Nate and I have been in the game for well over a decade and have a unique understanding of the business.
Here is the link for the interview or you can read my copy and paste job below.
In November 2013, Rooftop Comedy put out Scott Long’s 2nd Comedy CD, Good Dad, Not a Great Dad.
On December 31st, Angie Frissore graded it an “A” for Under the Gun Reviews, stating: “I’ve listened to and reviewed 52 comedy albums in 2013, but Scott Long’s is probably the one that touched me most.”
Generally, Rooftop puts out an interview with the comic to push the release, but with Nathan Timmel penning the article, they got something a little different: Nathan and Scott are old friends, so instead of an interview, a conversation took place.
Rooftop was able to listen in as they waxed nostalgic, fought Nathan’s toddler, and even discussed the new CD.
NT: I suppose we should start with the fact we’ve known one another…
SL: Fifteen years.
NT: Fifteen years… and we met in St. Cloud, Minnesota, at a place that has gone to the comedy graveyard, Rum Runners. And it was around for… well over a decade.
SL: I’m guessing at least two decades.
NT: And the amount of comedians who passed through there over the years…
SL: Oh, yeah. It would be the usual suspects of the Upper Midwest, like Louie Anderson, Tom Arnold, K.P. Anderson… people who came out of that scene, the Minneapolis scene.
NT: Who all probably traveled to Grand Forks, that had a room for years and years. They hired a permanent host, who would move to Grand Forks and live there and host for 6 months to a year, like a comedy boot camp.
SL: My brother did that for ten months, and I think the most successful comic right now who went through that is Chad Daniels.
NT: And for a smaller town, it was a full-week club, Tuesday…
SL: Wednesday through Saturday. The Westward Ho. The owner, Chris, was a huge supporter of comedy. The best poster I’ve ever been on came from there. “Coming Soon” or “This Month…” it was Mitch Hedberg, Todd Barry, Mario Joyner… and me. It was like the Sesame Street “One of these things is not like the other.”
NT: You’re an Iowa native, is this where you started your comedy career?
SL: No… I graduated from the University of Iowa, got a job, didn’t like that, my girlfriend at the time moved to Indianapolis and I followed her… and now she’s my wife. So that worked out. Anyway, I started my comedy career in Indianapolis, and have just stayed there overall.
NT: What number CD is this for you?
SL: It’s kind of a complicated question, because it’s only my second CD, but I put out two DVDs earlier… so DVDs and CDs, it’s my 4th… and I also put out a book in 200… 2? So… that’s kind of where it’s at. But this CD is different from anything before it, because my act has changed, like my life has changed. I have no doubt in my mind this is the best stuff I’ve ever done, because it seems to reach the audience on a couple different levels. I’m always focused on what’s going to make people laugh, but this is more connective. I’ve always been very macro about the world, because my comedy was influenced by Carlin and Hicks, but then having a daughter with autism, and then twins… it really changed my perspective and focus… I don’t think I get bigger laughs than I used to, but I think when the audience leaves I’ve left more of an impression on them. I’ve reached them on a different level.
NT: Well let’s talk about that… I’ve watched you for fifteen years, and your act has changed numerous times… I’ve seen the version you just recorded, and this time around you used visual enhancement on stage, and I’m wondering how you translated that to an audio CD. Answer that as I run to get my daughter out of the dog food…
*leaves as Scott answers*
SL: I wanted to write a whole new show, and I knew that unlike Louie CK or Bill Burr, I couldn’t just show up at a club and start experimenting…
*loud, loud, loud crying erupts*
SL: Is she hurt?
NT: No, she just really wanted the dog’s food, and mean daddy just put up the baby gate. So you can’t show up and start doing new material…
SL: Right. I have to get good reports all the time, so I did the Indy Fringe Fest, where I could do a one-person show and not have to be funny 100% of the time. It was really freeing, and after doing six shows I felt really comfortable taking the more stand-up elements of it on the road.
NT: And when I saw you, you were using an easel to show the different acts in the performance, and I was wondering how that translated to a disc…
SL: Right, right… it’s gone. I used that for about a year, but after getting to know the material inside and out I brought it back to pure stand up comedy. I enjoyed the “art” aspect to it, the “one-man-show” concept, but with that you’re talking at people, and I wanted to re-incorporate interacting with the audience. I actually hadn’t even planned on recording the CD when I did, to be honest. Rooftop had recorded my shows, and I was watching their videos and Dominic [from Rooftop] contacted me and said, “I think we could make a CD out of this. I think we could make a great CD out of this.” I said, “Really, you could make a CD out of video clips?” So he sent me some of the audio and it sounded fantastic. Better than some of the things I’ve heard on satellite radio…
NT: Oh, I’ve heard some awful things played by people who said, “I spent $2,000 on a sound engineer…”
SL: Right. And in the end I was really happy with the way things turned out.
NT: I want to go back a second to something you said at the outset of developing the act, an inability to do too much new material at a club because you need good reports… I don’t know if casual fans of comedy will know what that means. They might think comics get graded on originality, or if a club sees you’re constantly writing…
SL: The art. The craft. You’re not getting graded on the art of stand up comedy.
NT: I asked an owner once, “What are you looking for out of me?” and was told, “I just listen for laughter; I don’t have time to listen to what you’re saying.” Which really told me where I stood, and that weekend the opening act went up and did the most base, “Hey, who’s drinking tonight, Taco Bell makes you poop” material that you’ve heard a million times, but it didn’t matter because the audience liked it… So in your case, the owner wouldn’t be thinking, “Oh, Scott is bringing new material to my club, he’s working shit out,” they’d think “I don’t hear enough laughter, he’s not coming back.”
SL: And I’ve been doing this a long time, and some of these venues I’ve been to five or six times, which might make you think you’ve earned enough cache with these people to work out material like that, but that’s just not how it works. And look, part of that is on me. If I could sell enough tickets, sell out every show for $25, then would the owner care what the audience sounded like? They’d know people were there to see you.
NT: And I don’t want to make it seem like it’s not our job to get laughter, because it absolutely is, but you’d think that after a few visits you’d get some leeway, but it really can come down to one bad show preventing you from getting invited back.
SL: Which is a big reason why so many comics who have been in the business for a long time don’t really do anything new. They’re afraid; they know what they do works. And the other element of that is that pressure of knowing you have to do well… it really is a “What have you done for me lately business?”
NT: I remember a club owner who isn’t around anymore who would dictate exactly what the comedian was supposed to do to them. If someone showed up with a new closer, he would tell them to do the one he liked.
SL: Look, you really are a dancing monkey unless you can draw, and that’s the one part to this business I’ve never been bitter about. I’ve made certain decisions in my career not to be a Los Angeles or New York comic…
NT: I remember that. You had specific management interested in you, but…
SL: This was one of the most stand up agents in the country at the time, one of the most powerful, and he was legitimately interested in me… as long as I moved to LA. And I couldn’t disagree with anything he said, I get it, but I couldn’t do it. Stand up comedy, entertainment in general is a “me first” business. Everything has got to be “me,” and pushing me out there… but that’s what the new CD is about. I’m a dad, and I have to put my kids first, and it was a quality of life decision. Did I want to raise my kids in New York or LA, or did I want to raise them in the Midwest, where I was raised.
NT: Do you have trouble doing predominantly family-oriented material in front of varied audiences?
SL: No, because I’m not—and no disrespect to these people at all—I’m not doing Ray Romano or Bill Cosby family material. I still have these neurosis, these inappropriate thoughts that I use to write jokes, and that way people who have no kids can still relate to my act.
NT: One of the best compliments I got after a show was when a 21-year-old kid came up to me and said, “I don’t have a kid, I’m not married, and you didn’t talk about anything in my world… but I really loved your set. You were hilarious.” Which made me happy that I was presenting my point of view in a way that was universal, not demographically challenged, to use politically correct language.
SL: Exactly. I mean, I’m very cognizant of trying to stay relevant to the youngest people in the audience. I’m not going to talk about Justin Bieber or Katy Perry and pander, but I do have the thought, “What would twenty-five-year-old Scott think of this joke?” Because ultimately I want everyone to relate to my jokes. I’m not one of those guys who says, “Oh, fuck twenty percent of the audience.” I want the old guy and the hipster to relate to me.
Download Scott’s disc, Good Dad, Not a Great Dad, now.