The Set with Jimmy Shubert


Philadelphia’s own Jimmy Shubert started out doing stand up at The Comedy Store and worked his way up to headlining all over the country from Vegas to New York City and all around the world.  He’s put out a DVD, three comedy CDs, a Comedy Central special, and when he’s not doing stand up, he’s had a long list of appearances on television and in film.   Our own RJ Waldron caught up with Jimmy Shubert right after he wrapped his tour of Asia to ask him some questions for “The Set,” our new series of original interviews with great comedians.

RJW: I know that you were just on a whirlwind tour of Asia, how awesome. What was that like?

Jimmy Shubert: It’s amazing as an American comedian that I can tour Asia. You don’t realize that they have these large expat communities over there that consist of Canadians, Australians, Irish, English, and American. These English speaking people that live in China for a myriad of reasons that teach English or are over there getting their masters in Chinese Philosophy or other programs. But, they are all over there working, and there is really nothing for them to do. You know, stand-up comedy, like Jazz music, is a uniquely American art form. It’s great to be a good ambassador to the art form of stand-up comedy and to go over there to perform and do it at a high level. You know, I made my living for the last twenty-five years as a stand-up comic. I’ve been all over America, Canada, the Bahamas, I’ve been to South Korea, Afghanistan, Ireland, Israel, Mexico and now China. It was quite the trip. In twenty days I did eighteen shows, in eight cities, five countries, and two continents. As you can imagine, it’s a pretty brutal travel schedule, but at the end of the day, you’re there to do stand-up. It was a hell of a lot of fun.

RJW: How were the crowds, was it all expats? What is the Asian scene like?

I felt like James Bond. I had a couple of suits made in Hong Kong. Went to Macau, Singapore, it’s rock and roll, man.

Jimmy Shubert: One show in Wuxi there was a kid from California who was over there doing his internship at a law firm in China and had only been there for six days. He said that he was so homesick and it was so great to see the show. Those are the kinds of things that you love to hear. But, you know there are a lot of young comedians over there. There is an open mic scene in Singapore, one in Beijing, in Shanghai; comedians are like cockroaches they are all over the place. They’ve all got about ten to fifteen minutes, but they are hungry. Just dying to know what the American comedy scene is like. It was really pretty spectacular. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I felt like James Bond. I had a couple of suits made in Hong Kong. Went to Macau, Singapore, it’s rock and roll, man. But you’ve got to be a professional traveler, you know?

RJW: Right, I mean you’re staying up late, sleeping all day, but still wanting to get up and see the sights.

Jimmy Shubert: Yeah you’ve got to get your rest because the jet lag is no joke. The second day that you are there it feels like you got sucker punched in the back of the head. Every couple of days you’re doing some sort of travel. I was in Shanghai for seven days, then basically everyday you’re on a bullet train up to Nanjing, then you’re going down to Hangzhou. Then another bullet train to Suzhou, which they like to all the “Venice of China,” but nobody who has ever been to Venice would say that. It’s fascinating because you read about these places, but it’s a completely different thing to see them. I loved Hong Kong, I thought Singapore was amazing, Macau was awesome, Shanghai is a very cosmopolitan city. I need a week to get back to normal. But, it really kind of makes you a citizen of the world.

RJW: You’ve had the opportunity to work with the best comedians and the best actors both in television and movies. Do you love the acting, or is it always comedy first?

it’s just not enough to be a great stand-up comedian, anymore. You have to do other things. You have to podcast, you have to act, you have to do stand-up, you have to write, you have to immerse yourself into all of it.

Jimmy Shubert: It’s always comedy first, but you have to give respect to acting. It’s completely another discipline and in this day and age, it’s just not enough to be a great stand-up comedian, anymore. You have to do other things. You have to podcast, you have to act, you have to do stand-up, you have to write, you have to immerse yourself into all of it. I’m very fortunate to have the life that I have and the opportunities that I’ve had and I don’t take them for granted, at all. Ultimately, I’ve almost done everything that you can do in stand-up comedy, as a performer. From opening up for Sam Kinison, doing big theater shows, headlining Las Vegas, to my own Comedy Central special, and being a very well-respected comedian that is probably in the top ten percent of my field of working comedians. I take it seriously, I love to do it, I have a real passion for it and I love to make people laugh. But, I also like the acting because it’s another way to be creative. It’s another way to stimulate your creativity and to really get into it and figure it all out. As you go, you realize that with the people like Tom Cruise or Cameron Diaz how incredibly hard it is to get to that level. You have to work your ass off, you have to work smart, you have to do your due diligence and you have to be incredibly lucky on top of it. You have to be at the right place at the right time and get the right break at the right time. Some people are incredibly lucky and they get that break real early. Some people go for twenty-five years – Rodney Dangerfield is a great example, Lewis Black is another example. Most comedians really don’t start doing their best work until they are in their forties because they’ve lived a little and they have something to say, now. When you’ve done the due diligence, put the time in, now you really have stuff to say and you’re not afraid to say it, either.

RJW: That’s such an interesting point because some comedians just starting out are really fantastic, but when you get the people on stage that have the life experience and the stories that’s really when it’s really great.

Jimmy Shubert: Yeah, look at Louis C.K. he’s been doing this for twenty years and is just popping. Bill Burr is a guy who has been doing it for twenty years, you know. Doug Stanhope, Dave Attell, all these guys are in their forties now and they are doing really great work. It’s inspirational. I happen to be a huge fan of comedy, as well as being a comedian. I love to laugh and I love to watch comedians who do it at a high level, and those guys ALL do it at a high level. That’s the kind of group that I associate myself with.

RJW: Do any of those guys make you laugh more than you’d ever like them to know? Sometimes I feel like comedians don’t like to let other comedians know how funny they are, or do you let them know that they are killing on stage?

Jimmy Shubert: Comedians know how difficult it is, so I have no problem telling Dave Attell that he’s one of the funniest guys on the planet. I have no problem telling Doug Stanhope. My buddy Chris Porter just did a spot on Arsenio and I called him directly to tell him how great the spot was. I have no ego when it comes to this, I don’t. I root for my friends. A win for them is a win for me, you know. The funny thing is, because I read all of these things on the internet, “The Five Things That You Need to Know About Comedians,” “Why You Should Never Date a Comedian,” most of these people writing or saying these things have never done stand-up comedy. You can’t just paint with broad brushstrokes when it comes to comedians. Comedians are some of the most intelligent, aware, empathetic, knowledgable people I’ve ever met. It’s an interesting group to be a part of and my mind is blown everyday. They are just so aware of everything going on in the world because they have to be in order to make fun of it. I find New York comics to be extremely prolific. Colin Quinn and Jimmy Norton, you just try to keep pace with them because they are doing it every night. I probably write a new twenty to thirty minutes every six months, but it’s not a new hour every year, and a lot of these guys are doing that.

RJW: So tell me about the taping that you did with Dave Attell.

Jimmy Shubert: The Dave Attell show is an uncensored, unfiltered, late night show for Comedy Central. Dave is back on Comedy Central after a little hiatus from Insomniac. I love Dave Attell, I think the world of him. As a comedian, no one makes me laugh harder. I was happy to be invited to be a part of it and I had a great set. That should be coming out in April.

RJW: Do you like the whole social networking aspect? It gets you out there more, but it also really puts you out there more, you know?

Just shut the fuck up. These are just words. The “C word,” the “N word,” the other “F word.”

Jimmy Shubert: The game has changed. Before, you had to be an excellent comedian, now you just have to have a lot of followers on Twitter. But, I don’t mind it, I just find that I have a tough time taking it seriously. We live in an age where everybody likes to feign anger over something somebody said and they are all in the “hurt feelings business.” They’ve politically corrected themselves into some kind of douche bag corner of the room where they say, “Well, I just don’t think that’s acceptable at all.” Well, you know what, go fuck yourself. It’s funny, because you do this for a long time and you get to say and do your art with very little involvement, but the minute that you break that ceiling and become famous, now people are going to start saying, “Oh, that’s just horrible that he said that…” Just shut the fuck up. These are just words. The “C word,” the “N word,” the other “F word.” Do I have to start saying the guy is phallically-dependent? I can’t say fat, I have to say gravitationally challenged? Just so I don’t hurt anybody’s feelings. It’s bullshit, they are just words. Black people get upset when Paula Deen uses the “N word,” and yet if you listen to rap albums they use it every other word. To me, it’s like, hey if it’s offensive when Paula Deen says it, then it’s offensive when you fucking say it, as well. An ethnic group doesn’t own a word. Don’t act like something that I say is offensive when you watch the news and a woman cut a baby out of another woman’s stomach and murdered her. When the FDA is allowing companies like Monsanto to produce genetically modified food. Which is creating disease and fucking with the food supply. I’m just saying words, so don’t act like anything that I say is so offensive. I don’t do rape jokes, I don’t do jokes about cancer. But, I support people’s right to try to do that, I know better. But we live in a different age now and the job is getting tougher and tougher because everybody is so politically correct..

RJW: When you were growing up… I’m curious what kind of kid were you.

I actually feel like I had one of the last traditional American childhoods, believe it or not.

Jimmy Shubert: I did go to the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts. I transferred out of the Archbishop Ryan High School into this magnet school. It took me an hour to get to school on public transportation. I had to go down and audition to get into this school, they accepted me, and then I had three drama classes a day. I transferred back out of that school my senior year because I wanted to go to college and I wanted to be at a Catholic high school. But, I started doing magic when I was nine, when I was twelve or thirteen I joined a group called The Minute Men which was like a young Marines based program with the national guard armory 32nd infantry battalion. We were engineers, hooked up with the mesh unit and this guy Sgt Stockel — so I got my taste of the military, I was doing magic, I was fishing. I had a great life. I actually feel like I had one of the last traditional American childhoods, believe it or not. I have five brothers, there are six boys in my family, I don’t have any sisters. My father was a homicide detective for the city of Philadelphia and went to major crimes later in his career. My mom was a special educator for the Philadelphia school system. I had a very traditional upbringing in a suburb of Philadelphia called Northeast Philly, and since I grew up on the East Coast my sensibilities are East Coast. I grew up with a working class, blue-collar neighborhood, and by all accounts there is no fucking way that I should be in show business, but for some reason I am.

Visit Jimmy Shubert on the web at
Visit Jimmy on Twitter @JimmyShubert.
Listen to The Jimmy Shubert Show Available on iTunes

RJ Waldron
RJ Waldron
Desert dweller searching for the next rain. Extremely fond of laughter and Murphylove.