Comedian Ari Shaffir is having a big month, and no, it’s not because of the kiss cam video that went viral with Duncan Trussell last week. This Friday at Midnight Comedy Central Presents Ari Shaffir: Paid Regular, Ari’s one hour special which was filmed in the original room at the world famous Comedy Store in Los Angeles, and then later this month, his new series “This is Not Happening” debuts on Comedy Central on January 22nd. TiNH may be new to Comedy Central, but it’s not new to anyone who loves live comedy. Shaffir’s series which has funny people telling funny stories has been performed for two years now as a web series, and live at clubs and festivals since 2010. Ari’s podcast, Skeptic Tank also had the distinction of being named one of our “Podcasts You Absolutely Have to Listen To.” In honor of Ari Shaffir month, writer Amy Hawthorne talked with Ari about his upcoming special and his comedy.
There’s no one in this generation of comedians who I associate more strongly with The Comedy Store more than Ari Shaffir. The place has been such an integral part of Ari’s comedic development and personal life, it’s impossible not to think of The Store when you think of Ari. So it’s incredibly fitting that Ari’s latest Comedy Central special is called Paid Regular and is one of the elite few that have been filmed at The Comedy Store.
The IBang: For those who haven’t heard your podcast episode where you made the announcement about this special, can you sum up the significance of filming it at The Comedy Store?
Ari Shaffir: You know how it is there, it’s home. It’s where I’ve been on stage more than anywhere. I talked to [Joe] Rogan about it it afterwards and he goes, “You’re probably better off doing it there just because of the comfort level of being on that stage.” And I was like, “Yeah man, that was the thought process.” This is where I’m comfortable. Forget the fact that it’s a really cool room and this where comedy IS. But I’VE been here. It’s not the same as [Kurt] Metzger doing it there – and it would be a cool place for him to do one, too – but it’s not his home. I know that stage. I know where to stand, I know where the light hits me, I know when they’re going and when they’re not going, how to talk to the crowd, how to not ignore the people on the side.
That gets overlooked a lot in filming standup. I always compare it to filming at The Taj Mahal. They want to have these grand things and that’s Dane Cook garbage. That’s not what real comedy is. It’s not about showing off what a giant location you can do. Just show the comedy, forget about the name. If you want, say you filmed it at the Taj Mahal. Say it’s just a side room at the Taj Mahal.
Joe Rogan asked me, “Remember that venue we did in Alaska? Because some people are saying that would be a cool place to do it [Rogan’s recent special Rocky Mountain High].” I said, “I don’t really remember what that room was like. I remember we went fishing. I remember the back parking lot where we smoked pot… but why do you want to do it there?” and he said, “Well, it’ll be cool to call it Live From Anchorage or Live From Alaska.” But how much of that is your special? Calling it that? 5 percent, 10 max? Mostly, it’s the comedy. And he was also looking at Denver Comedy Works and that’s like the best club in the country. Wouldn’t you rather do it at the best club in the country and make it better for the 90%, rather than cooler for that 10%?
Then I got a call from his manager, “Ari, you ruined everything!” But TV never came through to me, I just don’t think in those terms. It was just like, “What would I want to see?” And what I always want to see is a comic in his home environment. There’s a joy on a comic’s face when they’re killing and I don’t see that in these theaters. People don’t kill theaters, they just do well.
IBang: Well, and since you did Passive Aggressive independently, you got to say all that stuff, like “I don’t care if you can see an exit sign, that’s not important.” Did you have to change anything now that you’re working with Comedy Central? Were there things you had to give in on?
Ari Shaffir: I didn’t have to give in, it was just a longer process in order to get… I don’t want to say “my way” but… OK, when somebody says “Comedy Central didn’t want this” or “HBO didn’t want that” that’s what the comics think they’re saying, but what it actually boils down to is some lighting guy they hired said this is the way to go. It’s not the brass at Comedy Central who want to add a spotlight in. Or the editor makes a choice. It’s not “Oh, Comedy Central wouldn’t play this bit on my Premium Blend” it’s that there’s some guy in the editing bay going, “We’ve got to go this down from 7 minutes to 4.. okay, that’s a good edit.”
So, it wasn’t like I had to give in, I just had to go over everything I wanted to do that was different from how it is in a big theater. Honestly, I think that’s part of why they wanted me. I’m a guy who is used to doing comedy in clubs and has a real theory about comedy and they want that expertise. They were almost like, “Well, tell us!”
They wanted to have the stars on at The Comedy Store because it would look cool and I was like, “Yeah, it would look cool, but that’s not what I’m going for.” You just have to keep pushing for what you think is necessary. But not be unreasonable. Like, in screenwriting. If the main character drives a Camero but then they say, “Hey, we couldn’t find a Camero, but we got a Trans Am,” fine, same difference. But if you get a station wagon, that’s not something you can use.
And they have good ideas too. I’m still learning. We had this guy Steve on the first series of This Is Not Happening and the lighting is perfect on that. Then we’re doing this one and we had to color correct it a little to match. So I asked [Jeff] Tomsic [the director] why it didn’t match and he said, “This guy Steve. He’s just a brilliant lighting guy.” And they have people that do that, that know how to do all this stuff. That’s their expertise. And if you ask them, they’ll tell you, “Oh, you use LED lights to get this look” or whatever, but that’s not something I know about. So you take that expertise.
You just listen and really have to think if their ideas are better or not. My own ideas, too. Am I just being a little bitch? You’ve got to have someone you can trust to ask that, or ask your friends, or go with the majority. If everyone I ask says you smell and have bad breath, don’t hold on to the two guys who say they haven’t noticed it when eight other people say “yeah, you stink.” It doesn’t mean you don’t smell, it means you stink, you just haven’t walked close enough to these other people yet.
The IBang: I know you’ve asked people to do This Is Not Happening who couldn’t because of scheduling or other logistics, but is anyone scared to do it?
Ari Shaffir: Some people just don’t do stories, it’s just not their strength. I always disagree with them, I think they can do it, but I get it. I mean, Harland Williams is a riffer, an improv guy, but he did it and it was great and afterward he said it was so much fun. Or like Natasha [Leggero] said she wouldn’t do it recorded, but she’d do it in a live situation first to get comfortable. That’s totally fair. And other guys don’t like opening up and telling embarrassing parts about themselves and always have to be the hero.
The IBang: You’ve also mentioned that you’re worried about getting flack for not having enough women. Was there one chick in particular you’re dying to have but haven’t snagged yet?
Ari Shaffir: [Maria] Bamford won’t go to strip clubs. I think it’s a germ thing. Possibly related to women’s rights, but I think it’s germophobia. I would love to get her. She did a live one at The Purple Onion [during SF Sketchfest] and she was really good.
Women are actually the hardest to get. The ones that are getting pretty good just don’t need to do this, they have other stuff going on already. Like Big Jay [Oakerson], if Big Jay were a woman he’d be a superstar, he’d be above doing this. It got bad, we’d have meetings about it. But people would throw out names, like a Nikki Glaser, and she’d already be busy with something else. Schumer’s gotten too busy, Chelsea Peretti’s gotten too busy, some other people didn’t even get back to me. Oh, but Ms Pat, she was glorious.
You have this crisis. Same thing with black comics, I was like, “Do I not know any mid-level black comics? Am I a racist?” It’s like when Seinfeld said, “Who cares, I book funny people!” on Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee, but I think that boils down to it’s not his fault, it’s the bookers from when he was coming up. Don’t blame Seinfeld, blame whoever was booking Caroline’s 25 years ago. Though now in New York, it’s way better than LA. The black comics are more integrated in the club scene – Greer Barnes, Sherrod Small, Mike Yard – they’re all in the mainstream scene. LA, they’re way more separate scenes.
The IBang: On that note, let’s settle an argument I keep having. Do you consider yourself an LA comic who lives in New York now or are you a New Yorker now?
Ari Shaffir: Right now I’m in San Francisco. I’m an LA comic. That’s where I was “born.” I’m an LA comic. If I were an American living in China, I’d still be a fucking American.