Comedian Bobby Tisdale has become a fixture of the New York alternative comedy scene. Along with comedian Eugene Mirman , Tisdale hosts and produces Invite Them Up , a popular weekly comedy show in the East Village.
When did you develop an interest in comedy?
Around seventh grade. I was with my friends at a Pizza Hut. I ripped up a napkin into little pieces, I threw the napkin into the air in front of everybody, and started screaming, "Graffiti! Graffiti!" Everyone started laughing like crazy. I seriously meant to say confetti but it came out graffiti. Then my friend Will said, "Bobby, you're a fucking trip. You should do comedy." That was the first time that I thought I should pursue comedy.
Were your parents funny?
My mom was a super herbal spiritual meditative woman and she was crazy fun. We had to meditate a couple of times a week, didn't have television, and had to take Yoga on Sundays. She used to open up my chakra by rubbing her hands together like Mr. Miyagi in Karate Kid. She'd rub up and down our backs to open up our charkas while doing this high-pitched squeal. I got my crazy energy from her. My dad is very smart and wry. Very quiet, but very funny.
What were you like in school?
I was a huge spaz. I was the one that people would dare to do stuff and I would do it. I was incredibly silly. I grew up in a small town and we didn't have the smartest teachers, but they were pretty blunt if you were acting retarded. Zach Galifianakis and I grew up in the same town, so he can vouch for that. I had a couple of teachers say, "Bobby, stop acting 'tarded." I was incredibly silly and I didn't care what anybody thought about it.
Did you and Zach Galifianakis go to school together?
We went to junior high and church together and then I moved to the big city of Charlotte and he stayed in Wilkesboro.
Did your silliness ever get you in trouble in school?
I used to get paddled a lot. It was called The Board of Education and after you got paddled you had to sign it. In the seventh grade, my friend Barry Rhodes and I wanted to see how many times we could get in trouble in the year so we could sign the paddle. We knew it would be one powerful lick and it would sting a bit, but then you got to brag that you signed it. In the end, we would wear two pairs of underwear because we knew we'd get paddled that day. You'd go to prison if you tried to do that now, but, back in the day, I used to get a serious paddling.
Were you doing any plays or talent shows at school?
I watched them. I had such weird, low self esteem that I was worried I would fail. I didn't know what I wanted to do. I wasn't that talented in anything except being a goofball. At that time, I don't think anyone did stand up in our town. I was too much of an insecure goofball to compete, but if we go back to the talent shows now I'd definitely kick everyone's asses.
Did you have an outlet for your goofiness, like writing stories?
The only thing I excelled at in school was creative writing. I wrote a lot as a kid. I used to write beginnings and endings of movies that I wanted to star in, but I had such ADD that I could never finish them.
Did you end up going to college to pursue creative writing?
I went to a small technical school in North Carolina to study fiber optics. I was a horrible high school student and my parents thought I should learn a trade. At that time, fiber optics were huge. I went for three years to this technical school and didn't do anything after that. I broke up with my girlfriend and moved to New York to do stand up.
What is it that inspired you to perform stand up for the first time?
Zach Galifianakis just started doing it when I moved to New York and I knew if Zach could do it I could do it. I'd probably never have the balls to do it if he didn't do it. We grew up together and had the same mentality. I went to Hamburger Harry's in midtown New York and that was the first time I did it.
And how did that first performance go?
The comedians liked it a lot. They liked how silly I was. I gave myself a stage name, Bob Frapples. I did terrible jokes. One of my big jokes was, "I hear that Mr. Microphone is engaged to, oh, I don't know, Mrs. Amplifier." And I'd tag each joke by saying, "Goodnight!" I didn't realize it, but every time I'd say a joke I'd take a small step backward. I didn't notice that I was slowly running away from the audience and in the middle of my set, I hit my head on the back wall. I was Bob Frapples for about three months and then I decided to get more serious.
What were the next couple of years like for you?
I teamed up with A.D. Miles. Zach, Miles, and I lived together for a while. Miles and I did sketch after that, which is where I started finding success. We did that for probably three years. We did a monthly show in a place called Stand Up New York. Miles and I finally did Luna Lounge, which was the big show at the time. We had a really good set and that's when people started recognizing us as a good duo. After that, each of us did our own thing.
When did you meet Eugene Mirman?
I was living in LA with Zach for a year and a half. I moved back to New York in 2001. Eugene and I had the same manager at the time and I didn't know it. Marla, our manager, said, "I think you'll really like Eugene." He had a show in the East Village for a while, which I did a couple of times. He liked me and I liked his style. Then he had a little show in RiFiFi , which I also did. I said, "I want to have my own show too." He did Wednesday night and I wanted to do Tuesday night, and he said, "Why don't we just team up and do Wednesday night together?"
How long did it take Invite Them Up to get a following?
About a year to a year and a half. We did new material every week, but at that point it was really hard cause we'd have eight people in the crowd and I would have this great bit and couldn't do it again. Once a month we'd have a big name and have a really big turn out and it started building from that. People knew we had a really solid show and concept. It was really experimental and fun.
What were some ways that you'd promote Invite Them Up?
Mainly word of month. We had an ad in Time Out New York, which is the only advertisement we've had. We never updated. I think still to this day it hasn't been updated. It was word of mouth, but we wanted it that way. We wanted to keep it on the down low and to slowly build the audience that we wanted.
Was the show ever cancelled because too few people were in the audience?
We came close around four times. That's eight people, which, in this business, is a huge crowd to some people. We never canceled it. We were lucky.
Is there any advice you could offer to someone that's just starting to produce their own show?
Be confident with the owner of the venue and fake it. Tell him that in a year you'll have the best show in the city or you'll give him a million dollars. The owner and I fought all the time. The owner has to make money and you have to be confident that it'll be a good show. Be patient, persistent, and, realistically, give yourself about a year before the show can take off.
What do you think of the term alternative comedy?
I have to get used to it. I don't really like it. It's a word I have to like because I'm technically doing it. I like the word experimental more. I'd rather call it good original comedy. It should be original and not alternative.
Are you noticing that comedian is a career that young people aspire to have?
There's a lot of young kids starting in stand up as a stepping stone to something else. It's growing tremendously. Last night, at our show, there was this young kid named Joe Mande , who just graduated from college. He's twenty-one and he's really good. He did it his whole college career. Comedy is incredibly popular right now.
Other than Invite Them Up, what are some places where people can see you perform?
I perform a lot at RiFiFi, which has turned into a comedy venue. More alternative shows around town. Hopefully, we're going to have an Invite Them Up tour if our CD gets more respect.
Can you tell me more about the tour?
We're working on it now. We're going to see how the sales of the CD go. Right now, it's doing okay. I would think that maybe next fall we'll try to set up some tour dates, but nothing sooner. That's my next goal. It's hard to corral a lot of comedians to do one tour together.
What are some places that you like to hang out after a show?
Invite Them Up is notorious for its after parties. I hang out at RiFiFi constantly, plus I get free drinks, which is a deadly combination. But now that I have a girlfriend, I hang out on her deck grilling and barbequing every night. To me, that's a whole lot better than hanging out with a bunch of desperate and single comedians.