After two decades of doing comedy, Gary Gulman is one of the most respected comedians in the county. His recent appearances on Conan are some of the most watched and loved late night sets among comedy fans and comedians alike. His slow and thoughtful delivery of intelligent, slightly off-center observations belies the fact that he is always building to a tremendous crescendo that can bring down a whole room. His latest special, It’s About Time, debuts Sunday on Netflix. New Yorkers can also catch Gary live at The Gramercy Theater May 21 and he will be touring throughout the country this summer and fall. We met up with Gary at The Stand Comedy Club in Manhattan to nerd out about the ins and outs of comedy, itself.
Watch It’s About Time on Netflix or order it on iTunes now.
The IBang: Boston has created so many great comics, what do you think is the magic there?
Gary Gulman: This is my theory: the best comedian on the show would host the show and the audience would fall so in love with that host that the guys who went up in between were taking away from their time with this guy so you had to be really strong. Those hosts were typically very fast and energetic so it was very difficult to hold the audience’s attention [after]. And the year before I started, I would go to open mics to see who was performing and I saw Patrice O’Neal, Dane Cook, Robert Kelly and Bill Burr, those were the guys I admired when I first started and now they’re admired all over the world so it was intimidating. But at the same time, you knew where you belonged, you didn’t get any ideas that you were better than you were because there were these greats. Sometimes you can end up being a big fish in a small pond, but here you were comparing yourself to some of the best guys to ever hold a mic. It was humbling.
The IBang: When did you decide to fly the coop?
Gary Gulman: I initially flew the coop to Los Angeles, I lived there from 2000 to 2006. It was the era of comedians getting development deals and I got a few of those, so it made sense to live in LA at the time but it probably set my comedy back. I would have been better off staying in Boston or coming to New York in terms of stage time. There was one year I got more spots on The Tonight Show than at The Laugh Factory. It was brutal.
The IBang: That’s so weird to even think of because you are so quintessentially a New York comedian in most people’s minds.
Gary Gulman: That’s a great compliment!
The IBang: Now you’re one of the most respected in the city and the country, both by audiences and comedians. Your vouch or who you take on the road with you goes a long way. What’s your philosophy on younger comics who you work with?
Gary Gulman: I generally like people who I think my audience will like. So usually that’s someone who is fairly clean, you don’t need to not swear or anything, just try not to be vulgar. And just somebody who I get along with a respect as a comedian. You know, sometimes you work with people and you have to hang out with them and be nice to them but you really feel like they’re setting back comedy by years with every set they perform. So when I get to pick who comes with me, I like guys like Joe List, Sam Morril and this newer guy Alex Edelman. I also like to work with somebody I can watch and learn from, who will inspire me and motivate me.
The IBang: Do you watch a lot of comedy still or do you avoid it so you don’t accidentally osmosis jokes?
Gary Gulman: When I was writing the last special, I tried to avoid watching stand-up and even comedy shows or sitcoms, but lately I’ll watch the comedians on before me when I’m on the road and my friends at The Comedy Cellar. And in New York, they’ve been showing old episodes of Johnny Carson on this channel The Antenna Network so I watch stand-ups from the 70s and 80s and it’s like anthropology, it’s really cool. Some of the jokes don’t always hold up but what does hold up is the guys who are great own that stage – Bill Maher, Garry Shandling, Richard Lewis, Paul Reiser – they were so confident and so strong, it was really impressive.
The IBang: There have been all these different eras where at one time Carson was the thing, for example, but now there are so many different ways to get out there and reach an audience. Has that changed any of how you work or market yourself?
Gary Gulman: I think it’s put more pressure on comedians to generate more material. I’ll go back to places year after year and feel really guilty bringing them anything I did last year. Louis C.K., Patton Oswalt and those guys who are doing a new hour a year have really made a lot of people less lazy. The old business plan was to just tour on your material forever and have just like two or three hours of material and no one would even notice you hadn’t written anything new. I think this is better. It’s something to work on a joke over a few years if you can improve on it, but not doing the same stuff year after year is helpful to creativity.
The IBang: It’s so funny how that’s the opposite of music, where you always want to hear the old stuff you love.
Gary Gulman: Yeah, at the end of my show I’ll usually ask if there’s anything I didn’t do that somebody wants to hear.
The IBang: How quickly do you get bored with your old jokes?
GG: I think most of the stuff on the special, I’ll be happy to move on from.
The IBang: You filmed this one in New York City. Did you like doing it on home turf or did you think about going to a city that wasn’t full of people that had seen you in 15 minute increments as you worked on it?
Gary Gulman: I didn’t really think about how much people might have seen me, I just always do my specials where I was living at the time. But this one was the first time I didn’t have to use a seat filler service, I filled the room just by selling actual tickets to my fans so that was cool. Maybe they had seen some of the jokes before, but at least they had the same sense of humor as I do.
The IBang: Did you know you were going to air your special on Netflix or did that come afterwards?
Gary Gulman: I didn’t know where they were going to sell it, but I knew eventually I wanted it to be on Netflix because that’s where it gets the most views. There’s no time slot, so anybody can watch it at any time. It might have been nice for my ego if it were on a network that I could tell people to watch it at a certain time, but as far as practical and people actually seeing it, I think it’s ideal to have it on Netflix. And it is really great I didn’t have to worry about commercials or getting it down to 45 minutes.
The IBang: Have you had any issues with people taking secret cell phone videos and putting stuff out before you wanted them to?
Gary Gulman: I haven’t really had that problem and I’m at the point in my career where if a million people watched some bootleg of me at The Comedy Cellar online, that would actually be a good thing.
[Pete Lee briefly joined us to ask a special guest question]
Pete Lee: Gary, what kind of hair products do you use in your luxurious, salon quality hair?
Gary Gulman: [laughing] Well, today it is something from John Freida, but I normally use Fructis, it’s good quality.
Pete Lee; Well it looks great!
Gary Gulman: My hair is a gift and I don’t fuck with it.
The IBang: I don’t know that people buy into this as much anymore, but is being attractive a detriment in your career?
Gary Gulman: First of all, thank you and I don’t see it, but probably the only downside is that I’m very tall so that has precluded me from getting some roles. I will say that my act doesn’t match my face, I don’t think people expect odd observations to come from somebody who looks like a former sports person or something. You saw Horshack on Welcome Back Kotter and you knew he was the nerd right away, if Barbarino had been the nerd, it would take a couple minutes to go “Oh, okay” you couldn’t pick up on it immediately. So that’s the only drawback, you don’t know what you’re getting from me when I start out.
The IBang: Where did the name come from?
Gary Gulman: I called this special It’s About Time for a couple of reasons, it’s actually really meaningful. One, because I had been ready to make a special, I had the hour in 2013 but I didn’t get to shoot it until 2015 so I was really jonesing to make this special. And two, I shot it when I had been doing comedy right around 20 years, which I think is an important milestone and when you’re at your best. Then the other thing is that “time” is what we call our act, “How much time do you have?” so that was another side.