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.)
Posters created by Kevin Christy @KevinGChristy
Part Two: February 18th, 2010
Eric Abrams: Even for the first show we decided we needed posters. I think Ari asked Kevin Christy because they were good friends.
Ari Shaffir: I went first, I always go first because I’m hosting it and because the host always does time, I figured if we’re doing stories I should just do my story upfront. Also at least two of the comics were headliners over me at the time. But even now I like doing it that way because I like to set the tone for the night and make sure the crowd understands this is going to be a storytelling show. So that first night I brought up my friend Pete Carboni and we told the story of the first time we did mushrooms.
Ari Shaffir: Then Dan Madonia, a door guy with me at The Store, told his story about doing mushrooms with our friend Benji.
Dan Madonia: I told the story of the time I took way too many mushrooms and was arrested naked in the center of Hollywood. And that story ends with a happy ending but there were many ups and down… The storytelling show was the very first time I’d ever told a story on stage. I was just doing stand-up then, I’d never been on a storytelling show before. I tried working out the story a couple of times beforehand on stage, just to work out the beats of the story.
Ari Shaffir: Then Dylan Brody and Steve Agee went up, I don’t remember the order. Steve told a story about the time he got dosed by accident and went to a concert.
Steve Agee: This may had been my first storytelling show. I think a lot of my friends knew the story because I told it backstage, but I don’t think I’d ever told it on stage before.
Ari Shaffir: Then it was Joey Diaz, and Marc Maron closed it.
Dan Madonia: I remember that when Joey Diaz got up on stage for his story, he referenced my story. He said, “I was going to tell one story, but I saw the story Dan told and thought oh no, I got to tell this story instead.” And then when Maron went up he also referenced back to me in his story. I ended up wishing I’d gone up later, so I could reference their stories.
Ari Shaffir: I didn’t know how to promote it, but I figured the Improv would help. We could fill a 40 seater.
Eric Abrams: I was a booker, not a promoter. And Ari’s definitely not a good self-promoter.
Ari Shaffir: We got 12 people to come, so less than half the room. BellaDonna was there because she was friends with Steve Agee.
Dylan Brody: I recall that Margaret Cho told me, “that was a great story.” And I’d been a fan of hers for so long so that was very meaningful to me.
Steve Agee: That’s a small room, so even 15 people means it’s a quarter full. I feel like a small crowd can work for storytelling, but I’d hate to go into a room with 10 people and perform stand-up. I could sit in a room with 3 people and tell a story.
Dan Madonia: It seemed they knew what they were doing in terms of putting the talent together. They knew they had great comics and that we had great stories. In terms of finding the right audience and getting the word out, that might have been an issue.
Eric Abrams: It was magic. At that point it was the most fun show I’d ever been to.
Ari Shaffir: Afterward Eric and I were like “that was really fun to watch.” I always watch those shows. It was going to just be a one off, so maybe a week later we decided to do another one, we called it “So I’m Fucking This Chick.” And that was also fun. A month later we did another psychedelic one and then it just became a thing we did once a month. Kevin Christy would make a poster for each show and we’d raffle it off at the end of the night after all the comics would sign it.
Sam Saifer: My husband and Ari did that show and I thought there was something there, pretty much from the start. I feel like where I excel in the business is developing things that have a nugget of magic and turning them into something a little bigger. I developed Broad City, had web series call Alternatino. And they all grew out of this sense that there was something magical about them from the start, and we just have to figure out a way to make a bigger version of what’s already there.
Ari Shaffir: At some point Sam Saifer offered to come on board and business up the show. She told us “you’re great with the creative but you don’t know what you’re doing in business.” And she was right. Steve Agee told us to come up with a name for the show that wasn’t just the storytelling show. So Sam came up with the name.
Sam Saifer: I think I came up with the name. I was an art history nerd and thought we should come up with a name to brand it. And I was trying to think of a name that would be interesting and relevant and was inspired by the painting This is Not a Pipe and I said, let’s call it This is Not Happening. Ari thinks he came up with the name and we’ve gotten into huge fights about it (during our interview, Ari Shaffir gave Sam Saifer credit for the name This is Not Happening).
Eric Abrams: We decided we should have different posters made for each show that we could raffle off. So instead of asking people to give us their emails, they’d give it to us during the raffle and they’d win the framed poster that all the comics had signed.
Kevin Christy: The reason I did so many posters was Ari never told me what I could do. I was willing to do them for free because he gave me that freedom. And Ari trusted me, he was just like “don’t make it so offensive the Improv won’t be able to put it up.” I really try to never work for free, but I’ve never been left alone the way Ari will leave me alone. I would just text him my ideas and he’d text back “cool, rad.” He would never say “could you do this?” When you let someone do whatever they want, they want to give you their best work.
Eric Abram: Third show we went back to psychedelics. Joe Rogan did the second and third shows. The first time he did it as a favor for Ari and I think he kind of failed, which is not okay with him, so then he insisted on coming back for the next show to try again.
Ari Shaffir: When we first started we charged $5. I’m cautious about not making money off of comedians, even using their talents to make money. So, we started doing the show for charity. We built up a pot for Planned Parenthood, because at the time there was talk of it being defunded.
Sam Saifer: They didn’t want to be associated with Ari. We sent them $2,000 and they sent the money back. I was like, no one has benefitted more from Planned Parenthood than Ari Shaffir. You should absolutely take this money.
Ari Shaffir: Maybe they misunderstood and thought we were putting on shows and using their name to advertise. But we already had the money to give them.
Sam Saifer: I will say it was a specific branch of planned parenthood, it wasn’t the overall organization that turned us down.
Ari Shaffir: They literally said, “we don’t want your money.” I was so shocked, I was like, what is my reputation over there?
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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.