Mike Vecchione is a NYC based headliner who has appeared on Comedy Central’s Live at Gotham, Comedy Central’s Fresh Face Debates, Russell Simmons Presents: Stand Up at the El Rey Theatre, IFC’s Z Rock, NBC’s Last Comic Standing, The Tonight Show starring Jay Leno, Comedy Underground with Dave Attell on Comedy Central, Comics Unleashed with Byron Allen, Conan on TBS, Inside Amy Schumer and has his own Half Hour Special for Comedy Central.
Ben Rosenfeld creates smarter comedy for smarter people. Ben’s comedy blends his family’s experience as Russian Jewish immigrants in America with his philosophical beliefs, political observations and unique characters. Ben has appeared on FOX’s Laughs, CBS This Morning, National Geographic’s Brain Games, Rooftop Comedy and been featured as TimeOut New York’s Joke of the Week. He has twice headlined at Caroline’s on Broadway, hosted at the Lincoln Center and performs nightly in New York City. Ben’s comedy albums, Neuro Comedy (2012) and The Russian Optimist (2016), are available on iTunes, Amazon and other major digital music retailers. Ben also created the illustrated coffee table book, Russian Optimism: Dark Nursery Rhymes To Cheer You Right Up, an Amazon Top 5 Best Seller in Humor.
Today, in honor of the release of Ben Rosenfeld’s new album, Russian Optimism, Mike Vecchione asks Ben Twenty Questions.
Mike Vecchione: First of all Ben, what’s the album called?
Ben Rosenfeld: The album is called, The Russian Optimist.
Mike Vecchione: And is it true you have a book by a similar name?
Ben Rosenfeld: Yes, I have a book called Russian Optimism: Dark Nursery Rhymes To Cheer You Right Up. Since the book was doing so well, a top 20 best seller in Amazon’s dark humor section, and the kindle version a top 5 in humor, and it was a catchy title, I decided to make my album the same title, especially because I also have a bit called “The Russian Optimist” which is what inspired the book, and it’s on this album, so it made sense to tie together the brand.
Mike Vecchione: So for the readers, what is the album about?
Ben Rosenfeld: The album has three main sections. One deals with my upbringing as a Russian-Jewish immigrant in America. The second part is my dating life and the third is my political and philosophical viewpoints, all made funny, because those topics are hilarious.
Mike Vecchione: What’s your writing process?
Ben Rosenfeld: My writing process has a few steps. Whenever an idea pops into my head, I jot it into my phone. Then, I also have three main computer documents. One is jokes that work, another jokes I’m working on, and three, junkyard pile. Every day, I have my jokes I’m working on pile, and I either print it out and edit it on the train and then make notes and update that back into the file, or when a joke starts working, it goes into the jokes that work file, and when I’ve given up on a joke, it goes into the junkyard. And if I have a new version of the same joke, I put the old version into the junkyard.
Mike Vecchione: You’ve managed to take the fun out of comedy.
Ben Rosenfeld: Comedy isn’t about fun. It’s about saying things.
Mike Vecchione: It’s about results. Is that true Ben?
Ben Rosenfeld: Yes. Also I didn’t finish my joke process. I also have three or four friends that I meet up with on a regular basis, and we run our new jokes by each other, because it’s easier to fix someone else’s jokes than your own.
Mike Vecchione: What makes you laugh?
Ben Rosenfeld: Usually dark, horrible things. And good writing that says something.
Mike Vecchione: Is that why you wrote the book?
Ben Rosenfeld: Yes I created the book because those nursery rhymes made me laugh. So I translated them. Then I got an illustrator, and picked the darkest, most degenerate thirty rhymes.
Mike Vecchione: It’s dark, dark, humor. That’s what makes you laugh the most. Is that your thing or is it a Russian thing?
Ben Rosenfeld: I think it’s a little of both. I’m definitely on the darker side regardless of nationality. But I would say Russians have a darker sense of humor. I think it’s because Russia’s cold and miserable and full of premature death, dark humor is just a way of saying life is pointless anyway, so you might as well laugh about it. That’s my philosophy.
Mike Vecchione: A lot of bad things happen, so don’t get your panties in a twist, so to speak?
Ben Rosenfeld: Right. It could always be worse. That’s what dark humor is. It reminds you, yeah your life is a little shitty, but it could always be worse.
Mike Vecchione: What are your comedic goals?
Ben Rosenfeld: World domination.
Mike Vecchione: What do you like most about this album?
Ben Rosenfeld: For the month before I recorded the album, I wouldn’t allow myself to do any new jokes, and I could only do the jokes that I wanted to do on the album. And I’m someone who likes to at least always do one new thing in every set, otherwise what’s the point, that’s how I feel about it. So I had a backlog of new jokes, so the next day after the recording, I did ten new minutes. And a lot of it didn’t work, but it was so freeing to not have to do the same jokes. Sorry what was the question? I like how this album has ties together nicely at the end with a lot of callbacks from the beginning, so the listener gets rewarded for paying close attention.
Mike Vecchione: What do you want to work on improving for your next album
Ben Rosenfeld: I could definitely get better at acting and act outs. When it’s audio, you can’t see how shitty of an actor I am, which is nice. But I’d like to be stronger at act outs, and also, I’m competent at going off the script, and I do so a couple of times in the album, but I don’t really enjoy going off the script because I’d rather work on the jokes than be in the room. So I’d like to learn how to enjoy being in the moment, I can deal with the moment, but I don’t enjoy the moment. That would probably help my life overall too.
Mike Vecchione: Why don’t you smile on stage?
Ben Rosenfeld: Sometimes I smile. But a lot of time, I get so focused on the joke and getting the wording right, I forget some of the performance aspects that are probably more important than the wording.
Mike Vecchione: What in your family life has prompted you to become a comedian?
Ben Rosenfeld: There’s a few major things. First, we moved countries from Russia to America when I was four years old. AKA when I had just learned how to speak Russian, we got uprooted to a place where nobody spoke Russian. So as my dad tells it, I just stopped speaking for six months. Then I started speaking English. Two, my parents divorced when I was a kid. Three, I had a real job, and it was pointless and I didn’t like it.
Mike Vecchione: You came from the professional corporate world, where you were making a good living. What prompted you to leave that comfortable living to go into the world of heartbreak and stand up comedy?
Ben Rosenfeld: I didn’t want to wake up in the mornings. It was pointless. I felt like a monkey helping shareholders make an extra cent. And nothing I did felt like it made a difference. Like you could get any trained monkey in a suit to do what I was doing. Although I was doing it well.
Mike Vecchione: So you had a mid life crisis or an epiphany. But what guided you towards comedy? What was your first experience on stage?
Ben Rosenfeld: Yeah it was a quarter life crisis. So in college, I actually co-founded a parody website, Slutgers.com, which made fun of Rutgers, where I went. And my co-founder, he was doing stand up. And I’d always go around doing shows with him. And when I was working corporate, I started checking out open mics in Philly, where I was on a work project, so he could come and perform, I was checking out shows for him. And after two weeks of watching Philly open mics, I was like, “I could write this shit.” So I wrote some jokes, and sent it over to my friend, saying, maybe you could use some of these. And he said, it’s not bad, why don’t you try it? And I was like, “Why don’t I try it? I don’t know anyone in Philly if it goes horrible.” So the next week, I went up in Philly, and the jokes I did were bad, but I got some laughs, and someone remembered me the week after that, and I just liked the feeling of everyone shutting the fuck up and listening to you. Which I don’t feel happens anywhere outside of stand up. At least when it’s going well.
Mike Vecchione: So you have a book and two albums. What’s next?
Ben Rosenfeld: World domination. Umm. I’ve created a reality TV show. We shot the sizzle reel, we’ll be shopping that soon. And if that doesn’t hit, I’ll make something else. Cause I have no backup plan.
Mike Vecchione: You seem like a worker. What’s your philosophy behind stand up comedy? Some guys are party guys, some do it for girls, some are more into the performance aspect. What’s your comedy philosophy, or life philosophy, as those are kinda intertwined.
Ben Rosenfeld: My philosophy is: Shut up and do the work. The parts I enjoy the most, are when I have a new idea, and the first time a new idea works on stage, and just being on stage when everyone shuts up and listens. Everything else, you tolerate in order to be able to do those things.
Mike Vecchione: Ben it’s been a pleasure. Good luck with the album. Thank you for joining us.
Ben Rosenfeld: Thank you Mike.
Listen to a clip from Ben’s new album, and then order it on iTunes now!