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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 Six: New York/Los Angeles
After their first two years of success at comedy festivals, the show which had helped vitalize his career was at risk of fading away when Shaffir decided to relocate to New York, despite hoping there little backroom show had multi-media potential.
Eric Abrams: We did start to have the notion of turning it into a TV show, but there just weren’t a lot of outlets for that type of show. I think Ari got an offer from Showtime but he turned it down because he’d rather keep doing the live show his way than do something their way. We pitched to this guy Adam, the person at Comedy Central Digital. And it went up the flagpole, but they were of the opinion, we don’t want to be in the Ari Shaffir business. So, we decided to just go back to doing local shows and festivals. But then Adam went away and Comedy Central started a new digital initiative called CC Studios. And I got hired to be the development guy there. I was a consultant for Montreal and doing the show with Ari and Sam. I’d invite my coworkers to the live shows. And then when we went back to Montreal and my boss Allison Kingsley came to one of those shows. And that show clicked. They wanted to find a different way of presenting stand-up and this was a storytelling show in a transsexual strip-club. It made perfect sense for this new platform. Allison felt the show should be filmed at an alternative venue. We weren’t specifically looking for a strip club at the time. But around then is when Ari moved to New York, at the end of 2012.
Emilie Laford: When I moved over to The Store, Sam and Eric did a lot of the vetting here. I’d only been here for maybe a year and I just suggested to Eric that they do it at the Belly Room. The Belly Room is a lot like The Lab because it’s super intimate space and made sense. We tried to keep them as much like a normal live show as possible. They wanted to capture that feeling. Yeah there are a couple cameras around, but we tried to capture the essence of the show as much as possible.
Eric Abram: We started doing sporadic shows, kind of showcases, at The Comedy Store Belly Room but Ari didn’t host those. Those were not particularly electric shows. They were shows we did because we wanted them to run a story to see if we could book them for the show. They were still fun shows but there was more of intention to those shows than just wanting to have a fun night.
Steve Rannazzisi: I hosted at least once, Joey Diaz did. Everyone had a great time, but the show was always better when Ari was there, but it was always a fun time.
Ari Shaffir: Right before we filmed the digital series I moved to New York, so we started doing fewer regular live shows. My career had started taking off and I was on the road more. It was easier to do the show monthly when it was the most important thing I had.
Joey Diaz: For so long, he didn’t have a lot happening. And then he had all these things blowing up at once. The Storytelling was catching on, his podcast and his guest appearances on Rogan were helping his career. And then he started to blow-up as a stand-up. He got to choose the path he would take his career. Ari choose to work with Comedy Central .
Big Jay Oakerson: It’s kind of a funny thing how much Ari moving to New York bridged the two comedy worlds. I find it so interesting because there were all these names I’d hear about, but no one seemed to be crossing over and becoming friends. Then when Ari moved to New York he kind of brought those worlds together. When he started traveling a lot between New York and LA we became very quick friends and started hanging out all the time and would just shoot the shit. I saw him at Montreal the year before he did the digitals and asked me to be on his show. At one point my set evolved into mostly storytelling. I love being able to tell a long, drawn out story with a lot of detail. So, I was kind of ready-made for the live shows he also brought to New York.
Ari Shaffir: When I moved to New York there was this whole group of comics on my level that I just didn’t know. I’d met Jay at Montreal and we became friends quickly. So, I got to New York and started to meet new people who were great. And I started to hear all these new stories. Joe List told me that shit shoe story backstage and I was like, you have to do a live show.
Joe List: Ari and I had mutual friends in New York and LA. So, I was aware of Ari and met him on Robert Kelly’s podcast, he was guest hosting. And he said something I always make fun of him for, he said “you’re an interesting guy. Everyone knows and respects you and thinks you’re great. But you have no career whatsoever.” And I kind of took that as compliment, well at least everyone respects me. But I wasn’t doing well at that point. So, he kind of knew of me and we had mutual friends, and I think we both thought, we’re going to become friends soon. And shortly after that I did one of the live shows in New York and we became fast friends after that.
Liza Treyger: I’m kind of lucky I guess because Ari and I share a manager. I knew of Ari, because we all know each other. But I got a call from Sam saying Ari thought I was great and wanted to take me to lunch. So we went out to lunch, ate a bunch of meat and talked comedy. And most of the stuff he said I would roll by eyes because I’m so annoyed by him. The thing with Ari is sometimes I’m really into him and think he’s the best. And somedays I’m appalled by his behavior and opinions. I hate him so much and he knows it and doesn’t care. But I doubt we would have hung out without Sam. I did one of the storytelling shows at Union Hall.
Bonnie McFarlane: I think I performed at one of the live shows, probably the Bell House. I think that was the first time I’d performed as part of a storytelling show. I’ve done things where you write and read a story, but this was different. It was a mix of both storytelling and stand-up and I was uncomfortable doing it. But Ari made me do it, and I love Ari and I loved the show. And I also had that fear of missing out. But I was intimidated.
Ari Shaffir: The first time we did This is Not Happening in New York, Bobby Kelly yelled “why are you charging $5, you’re in a different city now, charge $20 at least.” And I gave Colin Quinn $100 bucks and he said, “I guess I have to try tonight.”
Bonnie McFarlane: When we did the show at the Creek and the Cave, that show was so packed you couldn’t see the other comics and I had to push my way through from the back. You couldn’t watch the comics before you.
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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.