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 Three: The Host
From the start, Ari took on the role of host, including opening every show by giving his own take on that night’s theme. Although already a decade into comedy, this new role as host/storyteller had a significant impact on his comedy career.
Joe DeRosa: I liked him before I did that show. And then I didn’t like him for a while after we did that show. I was new to LA and writing for The Pete Holmes Show, and he brought me on stage by saying “he’s a writer for the soon to be canceled Pete Holmes Show.” And I got mad at him and wouldn’t talk to him for a while. And then we made up and became dear friends.
Sam Saifer: More than anything else, I noticed an improvement in Ari. He loved doing the show so much and wanted it to be this special thing, so he held himself to an almost impossible standard as a host and as a storyteller. If he’s going to ask others to be vulnerable, he has to be vulnerable too, and he has to do it on stage first. He took his hosting responsibilities very seriously and in return, doing the show made him a much better comic.
Eric Abrams: He started doing a really good job of setting a room. He wasn’t just hosting. There’s the side of hosting that’s crowd-facing, the form we all kind of know. But there’s also the subtler side that’s comic-facing. He’s getting up first, telling a story and being vulnerable with his peers. To give them a set of expectations about what the show can be.
Steve Simeone: The toughest thing in comedy is going first. He fixes any problems which might be in the room. This is a business where egos are out of control. Ari’s the opposite of that. He won’t let you go on until he feels the room is perfectly set for you to succeed.
Greg Fitzsimmons: Hosting’s like being the conductor, you are responsible for keeping the audience going so the comic can nail their solos. That might mean doing crowd work or telling a short story. You have to bring them up if they’re starting to fade and if the last comic crushed you have to bring them down a little bit for the next comic.
Sean Patton: I know he’s gotten shit from some people for going on between stories and kind of bringing the audience back down before the next comic. Ari might have even said on stage, “there I go, bringing the show to a halt.” But I like that he does that, because he’s constantly resetting the room for the next comic and they’re not just bring the emotion of the last story to your story.
Bert Kreischer: Ari always takes the bullet for the show. In the beginning, he knew he loved stories, but he knew he wasn’t great at telling them yet. But as he got better, he’d go up, tell his story, and the audience learned to trust him. They knew in the beginning that they were still figuring this show out, but they went along with it. And as he got better, he’d wrap around your story or would come up after your story and ask questions before you left. It made the stories better, it made the show feel interactive and loose. But that’s also Ari’s nature.
Joey Diaz: Ari makes it seem like he’s hosting without hosting, he would never play the role of a host, he was always just Ari on stage. He never wanted to outshine the other comics, so he’d go first, tell a great story, and give everyone else an equal playground. If he’d gone up as the host and then told the story, it wouldn’t have worked.
Steve Rannazzisi: About 10 years ago, a lot of comics still felt like they were either a Comedy Store comic or an Improv comic, and we were just starting to get away from that mindset when this show started. And this was a show that encouraged comics from all these fractions to come together. You wouldn’t see Joey Diaz and Andy Kindler on the same line up ordinarily, but you could do that with these shows. And as the shows grew Ari became more comfortable mingling within those different fractions of the comedy community.
Ari Shaffir: The cool thing was, I stopped being elitist about stand-up once I started doing the show. I had this thing that unless you’re a Store comic you aren’t a real comic. But I started seeing this great stuff from comics who did my storytelling show. And I realized, there are a lot of good comics out there I don’t know. And I dropped that and just started loving comedians.
Eric Abrams: Dig up an Ari Shaffir set from 2008 and compare it to any set he does now. Yes, he’s had 10 years to improve as a comic. But the stuff he was doing before he started doing the show wasn’t nearly as good, but it was also superficial. He considered himself to just be a dirty comic. He wasn’t bad, he was funny, but people didn’t care. And I truly believe this show changed the trajectory of his career as a stand-up. It got him to start thinking deeper about who he is and what he wanted to say.
Sam Saifer: Before he started doing this show, Ari was primarily known for taking his dick and balls out on stage. If he wasn’t doing it physically he was doing it verbally. He said things which were shocking because even if you didn’t get the laugh, you got a reaction. And some people keep doing that and are good at it. But Ari’s magic as a comic is in his humanity, and you get to that by scratching beneath the surface of the shocking things. And when he started telling stories, he started connecting with the audience on a whole other level and started chasing that high. He wanted the high of finding that connection, not just the laugh.
Emilie LaFord: I was so proud of him when he found storytelling because you saw him find his voice. He was great before and made me laugh, but he clearly found himself once he started storytelling.
Ryan O’Neill: Ari was always a funny guy but you could never point something out as “his.” Now he has his niche carved out. And I think storytelling helped him find his voice, but also helped him really develop the jokes and bits he does in stand-up. They’re all extensions of stories and he developed a love of going on stage and always having theme or a story to wrap his stand-up around.
Kevin Christy: This was around the time that there was a switch flipped and Ari decided he was going to talk about what he wanted to talk about and not worry so much. He wouldn’t try to fit into the shape he thought he needed to fit to be successful, and started to think, I’ll do what I want to do and let my audience find me.
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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.