Ari Shaffir’s Renamed Storyteller Show: An Oral History
(Lessons in how to take a bar gig into one of the best nationally touring shows in comedy.)
Part Eleven: Ari Shaffir’s Renamed Storyteller Show
Duncan Trussell: Ari’s like an existential hero. The blows of life, when they fall on him, he won’t pretend to be happy, but his insanity gets translated into his stand up. If there was a nuclear apocalypse and Ari survived, I image it would take a few months before he’s started doing a comedy show in the rubble.
Ari Shaffir: I toiled over it for a while. It was the darkest moment in my career. This thing I’d created was taken from me through corporate pressure. Losing it was hard. But then I thought, I’ll never let people tell me what I can do on stage, I’ve been doing the live shows the whole time. I don’t want to stop doing those live shows. And I just had to come up with another name. I thought of having angry names that mocked Comedy Central, like This is Still Happening. But I wasn’t interested in fighting anymore, I just wanted to move on. And the show’s almost identical, the show they fell in love with and wanted to put on air is the show I’m still putting on. I’ve done the show on the road and all over the world and it always does well. I have my audience now and this show has its own audience. And they think it’s something special.
Steve Simeone: I was so excited that it was still happening. I got to do the first Renamed Storyteller show in the Main Room. Whether he’s doing those shows as a road trip, a vacation, at a festival, he’s turning those shows into summer camp for adults.
Ryan O’Neill: I feel like the Renamed Storyteller Shows feel even more like an Ari show, I think I like it even more than This is Not happening.
Joe List: They aren’t over produced. They feel like they’re just Ari, although I’m sure his agent and manager help. But it is easier because we’re doing a big show but it isn’t a big production. If you have an issue, you can just talk to Ari. So it makes it more comforting. I toured with Louis C.K. and he has his team around him, and you only see Louie here and there. With Ari, it’s just him. I can just call or text him, we travel together, we’re staying together. He plays the role of a producer but he’s also just your friend putting on a show.
Gary Vider: I’ve only done one storytelling show, ever. But I did me first on last month and everybody drove to DC together, in the same car, and we were just telling stories and laughing the whole time. Even if they don’t realize it, audiences like when they can sense when comics are friends with one another. And they like it. They want to listen to people they think they could be friends with.
Sean Patton: Doing Ari’s road shows are so great because he just has the most attentive audience. They don’t heckle, they don’t lose focus, they’re just there to actively listen to stories. I almost get a little depressed when those weekends are over because those crowds are so rare. He has the best, most diverse fanbase I can think of.
Ari Shaffir: Denver’s a big market for me, it’s important I play there every year. And I brought the Renamed Storyteller Show, we did a ski trip and performed 8 times, last year and they told me, a year later, that’s the best show we’ve ever had here. Multiple members of staff told me that.
Joe List: We only had to do two stories, but then people started coming to multiple shows. So I threw in a third story. And you’re on a show with comics who kill as storytellers. Ari and Sean Patton are great storytellers and the audiences are so great and open to whatever you’re bringing them, because Ari brought you to them. Denver was the most nerve-racking because I had to tell two stories a night and all the shows were sold out.
Al Jackson: The important thing at the end of the day is the curator of the show, and that’s Ari, and the comics he picks to be on the show. It’s like whoever’s watching, they’re a fan of Ari’s. And they’re trusting him the way someone would trust a restaurant recommendation from a great chef. You just know you can trust their palette. If you go see Ari, you know he hasn’t been pressured to put comics on the show and can trust that he believes in the comics he’s putting up.
Steve Simeone: When I do clubs, most people don’t know me. When I do Denver Comedy Works, I have some fans who come out to support but most are just coming out to see an evening of stand-up comedy. And I have to win them over. When I do the Renamed Storyteller Show, they’re all coming to see this particular kind of show. So, you can take your time and be a little more vulnerable, make people laugh and cry within 20 minutes. And I think that’s the kind of comedy that can become a part of your life. It’s the kind of comedy you will remember.
Ryan O’Neill: He insists that we have two new stories for those ski trips. Because he knows there are fans who come to both nights and he never wants them to feel cheated. Sean Patton does a different story each show so in Salt Lake City, he did four different stories. I think people do up their game when you’re working with comics they respect. You want to show them what you’re capable of doing. They feel more like a team effort than something competitive though.
Steve Rannazzisi: Here is the injury report from the last Renamed Storyteller Show. Ari broke his wrist, Ryan broke his wrist, I think Sean Patton suffered a concussion, and I got a bacteria rash from the hot tub, Mark Normand injured his pride falling down a lot. And Bert filmed the entire time with a Go-Pro. It’s a great time and then you pay for the whole thing by putting on some fun shows.
Ryan O’Neill: I think it helps to do the show in that environment because you’re in the midst of creating new stories with these people, while coming up with the story you’re going to be telling. It creates this adventurous vibe that gets your brain working a little differently than when you’re coming up with stories at home.
Sean Patton: Doing those trips on the road make me wonder if this is how people in the circus or vaudeville felt, traveling together and then putting on a show in the next town. You’re all acting like lunatics together, hanging out in the hot tub together.
Ari Shaffir: We were all sitting in a hot tub in Salt Lake, me, Sean Patton, Bert Kreischer, Ryan O’Neill, Steve Rannassizi, and Mark Normand. And we’re all telling stories as friends. And then I got up to go to the doctor because I’d broken my wrist the day before. And they started talking about the stories they were going to do that night. And I came back and they were all helping each other. Imagine that happening in the business world.
Bert Kreischer: That’s fun as shit. We skied all week. Friday was the first day people worked on their stories. And Saturday, over coffee, everyone was going over their stories for the next night. Some people write them out on their computers, some people are practicing out loud. The process is very collaborative, like you’re in an artist commune for a weekend retreat. Everyone wants everyone else to do a great job and everyone’s willing to help everyone else out.
Ryan O’Neill: I didn’t really have a beginning and Bert Kreischer helped me find a way to start my story. On the way to the club Mark Normand said “I don’t have an ending.” So we were all throwing out ideas the entire way. And he ended up using one I gave him. We worked with Steve in the kitchen, just throwing out details we as an audience wanted him to address. It was one of the most collaborative experiences I’ve ever had in comedy.
Steve Rannazzisi: The Renamed Storyteller Shows have kind of been a catalyst for me talking about things I never thought I would talk about on stage. And we knew the theme on Saturday would be lying, so I told them I was going to tell the story about when the New York Times article came out about my 9/11 lie. And I was so nervous that telling that story could fuck up the show for everyone else. And Ari said, don’t worry about that, I’ll take care of the audience, you just need to worry about telling your story. And I was petrified to do it, but when it was done it went great and the experience was so cathartic, I got to take this big exhale. I would never have done it if Ari hadn’t planned that show and that theme and said, “you can tell any story you want to tell, but you know the story people want to hear.” He needed to tell me that out loud, and I’m so glad he did.
Bert Kreischer: I have to be honest with you, I think that Saturday my story did the worst of any of the guys on that show. I had to follow Rannazzisi’s 9/11 story.
Ryan O’Neill: I want to start planning the next one. We could used Bert’s tour bus and take his name off it. I would happily do these shows for weeks.
Ari Shaffir: Sean Patton wants me to do Ari-Palooza and just do a month at different ski resorts
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Lesley Coffin is a feature editor for FF2media and has also written the books Lew Ayres: Hollywood Conscientious Objector (2012) and Hitchcock's Stars (2014), and currently writing a third book. Follow on twitter @filmbiographer for thoughts on movies and cat pictures.