Every month, Carl Arnheiter sits down with a famous comedian and discuss the art of comedy. Some of his past guests include Mike Myers, Stephen Colbert, and Dave Foley. For April 9th, Carl's arranged for an advanced screening of Hot Fuzz followed by a Q and A with Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright, and Nick Frost, the guys behind Shaun of the Dead. Gothamist spoke with Carl about how Inside Joke came to be, what he's learned about comedy during the process, and where he sees the show going in the future. And, don't worry, ticket information can be found here.
How did Inside Joke come to be?
I was a journalist when I started performing comedy and pitched a profile of Jon Stewart to a people-focused magazine. It was Jon’s first year on The Daily Show, just before their Millennium special, and the night after Bob Dole first appeared as a guest. And the magazine wanted me to ask questions like “When are you getting married and how does it feel to make a lot of money?” Instead, I asked how he made people laugh not realizing it’s practically unanswerable but realizing the questions they wanted me to ask were ridiculous. Jon paused for about two minutes and said “It’s sad you’ve asked me a question I should know the answer to but don’t.” So we spent the time exploring that, and I wrote a piece entitled “ Jon Stewart: What makes people laugh,” which was killed, it never ran, and that’s the last piece I wrote for that magazine. Inside Joke came from that afternoon, and I’ve been lucky to take the stage with amazing people, all of whom happen to be comedians in one way or another. That interview with Jon is on the Inside Joke Web site too.
How has Inside Joke evolved over time?
The format’s changed slightly, it’s more conversational now than an interview, and I’ve become more comfortable in my role as both host and comedian. It’s almost improv-like in a way, follow the follower, I just let the conversation go where it’s going, but the focus is always on the craft of comedy. Most of the evolution has to do with me more than the concept. But there’s a warm-up comedian before the show, which came about after the first year. Dave Thunder did that for a while, and Dave Hill’s been doing that a lot recently, biding his time before he’s a guest, really. He eases the audience into the frenzy of conversation.
How did you arrange for the Hot Fuzz screening?
This show may have been the easiest to arrange! I made one call to the right person to see if Simon, Nick, or Edgar would be in town to promote the movie. The show usually takes place at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, but when the screening was suggested, it could only take place in a movie theater. Some shows take months to arrange, this one took all of three minutes, and as a fan of both Spaced and Shaun of the Dead, I’m excited. They’re also the first British guests, which is great.
What is your own experience in the field of comedy?
I’m about three years away from being an overnight success. I started with improv, was on a house ensemble at the UCB and still occasionally perform with Mike Hagen in a duo called “Don’t Judge the Dragon.” I’m doing a lot less improv now to focus on scripted material.
Tell me about your past and present work in the realm of journalism.
I don’t write many features now, I just don’t have the time, and I’ve left that behind too to be a copywriter for an ad agency.
But I feel really fortunate that I’ve always made my living as a writer, ever since college. I started as a music journalist, was an editor for CMJ and wrote for publications wherever I could, Ireland, Australia, Belgium, the UK. Writing about music killed my love of music, though – it’s back after about five years - so I shifted to technology and science pieces, and from there shifted again to profiles. That was great, it gave me the opportunity to meet and talk with pretty much anyone I could think of, great writers, artists, scientists, politicians, Jon Stewart. And with Inside Joke, I combine journalism and comedy.
Why is it that comedy seems under-represented in the world of magazines?
Physician’s Money Digest is pretty amusing and it’s got solid circulation numbers. I realize that’s just one-niche publications, but it gives me hope
What are some parallels between comedian personalities and childhood that you've noticed?
The tears never disappear.
It’s not something I ask guests on the show, I only know the details of my own childhood. But I have heard people say it was a way for them to stand out in a big family or it was used defensively, and both are certainly true for me, when I think about it. My brother was pretty quiet and I’m fairly certain my personality somehow developed as a way to draw him out a little.
From a process standpoint, especially when writing or performing improv, being able to focus the playfulness, creativity, and curiosity – to just have fun - traits that somehow disappear along the way, are tremendously. Andy Borowitz was talking about this on the show just the other night, how childlike comedy is when you’re writing a joke or a show.
In your opinion, what sort of role does alienation and outsiderdom play in the life of a comedian?
Probably as much as happiness and acceptance. I don’t think you necessarily had to be an outcast to grow up to be a comedian, or a writer, or a performer in general.
I wasn’t an outcast in any way but I was picked on, beaten up, and rejected like every other kid. I doubt I chose this for vengeance on anyone other than myself though; I’m still my biggest target. I just wrote a piece about a photo of me from fourth grade. Why wouldn’t I have been made fun of, my ears were huge and stuck out only slightly less than my front teeth did. But in the photo I’ve got this huge smile and when you first see it you would rightfully think I’m mentally challenged, but I also feel like, despite the abuse I took – I’m calling you out Matt Harrington - I’m just full of life and excited to be 9! Having satellite dish-like ears definitely had an impact on me, but so did watching Monty Python with my father and doing imitations for my mother.
Having that unique perspective, that singular way to see and present things, is more important that what influenced that development, I think.
Are there any stages that comedians go through in their lives that you've noticed?
Puberty seems like a big one. I can’t wait for my growth spurt.
Outside of Inside Joke, what are some projects that you're currently involved in or contemplating?
I’m working on a cooking show hosted by someone who can’t cook but means well, and I’m really trying to finish some new pieces to do onstage so I can hopefully do three times the numbers of sets that I currently do.
Who are some future guests you'd like to have on Inside Joke?
I’m happy to take the stage with anyone! Looking back at everyone who’s guested on Inside Joke, I’m just amazed, they’ve uniformly been fantastic and there are a slew of people I’d like to see join the ranks - Bill Murray, Amy Sedaris, Dan Aykroyd, Robert Smigel, Ricky Gervais, Dave Chappelle, John Cleese. Four of those people have more or less said yes but we haven’t been able to schedule them. I think this is going to be a good year for the show.
Have you thought of podcasting the show?
Podcasting the show would be great, but I don’t ask the guests to release it in any way. And unlike this outing for Hot Fuzz, the show is never tied into a release, no one’s really used the show for promotional purposes. I think that’s one of the reasons guests do the show, actually, because it’s not done for commercial purposes, and I kinda like the fact that it’s a one-time event, it happens and it’s over, done. Again, improv-like.
That said, I think it’s a unique show, it’s an interview guests have never done before, it’s focused on the craft of comedy and the process of developing material more so than the final product. I’m really pushing for a conversation packed with things you wouldn’t read or hear elsewhere.
So for that reason it’d be nice to see it broadcast in some medium or another.
What's the deal with the Rice Krispy treats?
I just thought it would be nice to offer guests something to eat. Turns out Rice Krispy Treats are the most awkward/tasty food you can eat onstage. There hasn’t been a show since their introduction that’s failed to produce at least one good RKT joke, and if the guest has an improv background, like Dave Foley, it can be almost magical. Together we proved you can stretch that joke for 25 minutes. I’m really proud of that marshmallow-based snack food epic with Dave.
To find out how to get tickets to the screening, visit Inside-joke.com . Then make friends with the show on Myspace.