ACN: What was the purpose of starting your blog Sandpaper Suit? How has your blog changed or adapted since then? Why do you think blogs have such a bad reputation, especially among comedians?
Ruby: I wanted to share what I learned about standup as I was doing it and thought it’d be a good way to promote myself along the way. In the past few years, I’ve started posting less at the blog and more on social media (Facebook, Twitter, and Medium). Bloggers are a punchline because they seem to be folks who are afraid to get in the arena but like to critique from afar. I think the general impression of them is they’re a Greek Chorus of Wesleyan post-grads who read too much Noam Chomsky and lack a sense of humor.
ACN: Your yearly Halloween show Schtick or Treat was featured in an episode of Seeso’s The Comedy Show Show this past year. How is taping a show for television different from a live audience?
Ruby: Well, we taped it as a live show in front of an audience so it wasn’t TOO different than the usual show. However, we learned the comedy equivalent of Chekhov’s gun at the show…
“One must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn’t going to go off. It’s wrong to make promises you don’t mean to keep.”
“One must never bring a watermelon and a hammer onstage if you’re not going to smash it. It’s wrong to make promises you don’t mean to keep.”
-Everyone at Schtick or Treat during Jim Tews’ set as Gallagher
We promised the producer he wouldn’t smash the watermelon. Then we promised again. Then Jim went onstage. And it had to happen. The room wanted that melon smashed. The room needed that melon smashed. That promise needed to be kept. We are promise keepers! (Note: It’s amazing how much liquid is stored inside a watermelon.)
ACN: I’ve noticed you surround yourself with with talented people like Mark Normand and Gary Vider (who you work with on Hot Soup and Schtick or Treat).. .how much of that is intensional? How do you find the right people to work with creatively?
Ruby: I’d rather be around talented people than untalented people. Also, it’s not just talent – it’s people who get things done. How you do one thing is how you do every thing. Reminds me of quote that I love: “If you need something done, ask the busiest person you know.” As for finding ‘em, the good thing about standup in NYC is you get to see great folks prove themselves onstage night after night. Then it’s a question of reaching out/asking for help/offering something. I’m not always great at that but I’m trying.
ACN: You taped your stand up album this past fall at Comedians You Should Know, one of the biggest comedy shows in Chicago. What’s something difficult about planning an album taping that most comics don’t realize?
Ruby: There’s a whole art to structuring an hour set. In NYC, you’re usually limited to shorter sets. So for me, it was very helpful to go on the road before taping and do longer sets so I could figure out how to make it all work as a cohesive piece instead of a series of random jokes. One thing I learned: Split up your Jew material when you’re doing shows in Canada.
ACN: In addition to stand up, blogging, and hosting/producing, you’re also the creator of the web series Vooza, which pokes fun at start up culture. Is there a through line in how you approach your creative projects, regardless of the medium? A philosophy or perspective on how they should get done?
Ruby: I think there’s real value in starting small. Put something out in the world and get feedback a little bit at a time. Planning big may help you feel ambitious but I don’t think it’s always the best way to get results. Build it, release it, see what works, tweak, try again, rinse, lather, repeat. It’s what works in standup and the rest of the world too. Otherwise you can get stuck in your head which can be fantasyland.
ACN: With a hand in so many projects, how do you decide what’s important and what should take a back seat at any given time?
Ruby: I’d rather not do stuff. I’m lazy and busy. Well, at least I always feel busy but maybe that’s because I’m lazy. When I can’t let an idea go, that’s when I know I have to do it. Or when someone pays me. I do stuff when someone pays me. Also, deadlines. When I’ve got a deadline, that’s when I deliver something. Until then, it’s a lot of thumb twiddling and “wouldn’t it be nice?” thinking.
ACN: What makes something a good idea?
Ruby: Ideas are overrated. Execution is everything. Explained well here.
So a good idea is something you really want to execute. If you’re excited to do it and willing to follow through on it and will be glad you did it regardless of the outcome, then it’s a good idea.
ACN: You’ve been featured in Timeout, The Huffington Post, Splitsider, etc. How do you get important people to notice you and, more generally, people to care about what you’re doing?
Ruby: Put yourself in their shoes. What’s exciting to you isn’t always exciting to them. I get more excited about my standup act while the rest of the world gets excited by something like Schtick or Treat because it involves community, costumes, celebrities, impressions, and is a unique event. I think the more you can give things a hook or make them new/newsworthy, the more the world will pay attention. Also, making stuff for a specific audience instead of for everyone is often a good way to grab people’s attention. I’ve seen this with Vooza. People in the tech world like it because they feel like it’s made just for them.
ACN: Would you consider any of your projects a failure? What have you learned from your mistakes?
Ruby: Many projects I’ve done have been less successful than I would have hoped. But at least I learned a lot along the way. Mostly that I’m too selfish and too precious about my art and that I need to collaborate with others more and be less of a control freak.
ACN: Do you have any great stories from hosting Hot Soup, Schtick or Treat, or just doing stand up around the city?
Ruby: It’s all a story. I do tons of shows for hipsters and tourists. And I do shows for dudes who work on an oil rig. I do jokes in London and Alabama. I travel alone a lot. I take a train to Canada to do jokes there. I get a ride from a stranger from Nashville to Chattanooga to do jokes there. I take a Greyhound bus from Portland to Seattle. I realize they call it Greyhound because that’s the only animal that’s been abused as much as the passengers. The guy who runs the show in Seattle hangs himself in the alley a year later. I follow a comic who explains why white people suck for ten minutes. I’m introduced by a host who talks all about a dead soldier friend who died in Afghanistan before bringing me up. I perform in a college cafeteria at noon in front of six kids playing Magic The Gathering and the school mascot. I do shows for black people in Harlem. I do shows for Jews in a synagogue. I do show for Christians in a church. I do shows for gamblers in a casino. I do shows where there are little kids in the front row. I’m constantly talking to people I would never talk to in “real life.” It drives me crazy and keeps me sane.
ACN: What’s the best comedy or life advice you’ve ever gotten?
Ruby: “Everything in moderation, including moderation.”
This post was written by Stu Melton, a NYC comedian and creator of ACN. You can find him on twitter @tellsjokes.