2004_12_jeffsinger_big.jpgVital Stats:

- Jeff Singer
- 35 years old
-Co-Producer Eating It at Luna Lounge. Producer and consultant for television shows and live comedy events, most recently Talent Producer for Comedy Central's Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn.
- Grew-up in Montreal; now lives in Hell's Kitchen

Jeff's World:

How is Eating It different from other comedy shows and showcases around town?
This show is about experimentation. That was the whole point of naming the show Eating It – to encourage performers to bomb and take chances. It’s about taking risks, trying out new material and styles of comedy without the pressures of having to entertain a 2-drink minimum paying audience. We certainly don’t want comedians to take the title of the show literally. Ten years ago the audiences comprised mostly other comedians so it became a comedy support group for trying out new stuff. Over time the show has evolved into a creative arena for performers to mix a bit of the old with some new. Performers are always encouraged to come with new material, especially since spots are so few and far between.

How did you get started in comedy, and did you ever want to perform yourself?
I first got involved as a teenager, working as a production assistant for the Montreal Just For Laughs Comedy Festival. That was back in the day when Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld were well-known stand-ups before their TV fame. I never really wanted to perform myself. Once you see it done right and what it takes to reach a high level, you have second thoughts. I always wanted to write but lacked the discipline to pursue it seriously. I wrote and edited a college humor newsletter, and have dabbled in it since. I like to collaborate with performers in writing jokes, bits, sketches and concepts. But as far as performing goes I generally remain behind the scenes.

What does it actually mean to "produce" comedy shows? As long as you have a venue and some promotion, is your job basically done once you've chosen the comics?
Wow, when you put it that way I guess my job is pretty irrelevant. Actually there’s a lot more involved than just having a venue and doing some promotion. Both those tasks in themselves are extremely time consuming and difficult to accomplish. Even for an established long-running series like Eating It, the work is non-stop. Booking the talent is harder than it looks. You want to find the right balance for a show, and try to be consistent for a full season. Viewing tape submissions isn’t a day at the movies either, trust me. The behind the scenes work of a producer often goes unnoticed. If all goes well without a hitch then hopefully that means you’re doing a good job.

Is picking the right mix of comics important? Or is it better to try to have diversity of styles?
Picking the right mix of comics is important as far as it relates to putting on a good show. For a show like Eating It, it’s customary to see a variety of comics with different styles. However if I’m putting together an industry showcase at one of the mainstream comedy clubs, I’ll have less latitude with the bookings. A good showcase type of show (one with let’s say 5 to 10 comics) is paced well in terms of the performers’ energy levels. Nobody is going to have patience for 10 comics in a row with an energy level similar to Steven Wright. The trick is to keep the audience interested the whole way through so that the last performer can take the stage before the audience gets bored or exhausted.

Just as its current home Luna Lounge serves relatively unknown musicians, Eating It seems to be a good showcase for up-and-coming talent. How do you choose your comics? Can any funny person get a shot?
There are no set rules as to how much experience you require, but generally speaking a first timer will have been performing consistently for at least two to three years. Lately we’ve been getting many requests from comedians who regularly work clubs across the country, both feature acts and headliners, who normally never travel below Houston Street but want to try out new material. And once in a while some celebrities will pop in. This tends to raise the bar in terms of quality. Not everyone is suited for the room no matter what their experience, but we’re pretty open-minded. Eating It is not an open mic show, nor a bringer show. We can tell when someone says they’ve been doing stand-up for three years but in reality have only performed four times a year in front of friends and family.

We book new comedians based on our personal taste. Sometimes for no other reason than they’re nice, polite, work hard and show potential. We’ve made mistakes and continue to do so, but booking is an imperfect science, just like comedy itself.

Eating It is also closely watched by industry types - agents, managers, casting directors, festival scouts - because it’s a breeding ground for promising young talent.

You and co-founder Naomi Steinberg both have ties to Comedy Central and most of the acts seem to have appeared on various Comedy Central programs and/or VH1 specials/series. Is it an obvious pool to draw from or is the business just that incestuous?
I’ve never worked directly for Comedy Central but have been associated with some of their productions. Naomi is a talent executive for the network. So yes it is an asset for a comic to get a spot at Eating It, but there’s no direct correlation. It’s a two-way street so some comedians have actually been recommended by Naomi for Eating It after they’ve taped a show such as Premium Blend, but we never book our show based on what will work for Comedy Central. They are two separate, mutually exclusive entities like the space-time continuum or some other theory that went over my head in physics class.

How does the New York comedy scene rank among the rest of the country? What's the difference between New York and L.A?
The New York comedy scene is number one in the country, hands down. The L.A. comedy scene is centered around three clubs, with maybe two others within a 50 mile radius. From what comics tell me, stage time is very difficult to come by unless you’re an established name or have an "in." I always hear complaints about L.A. crowds. I think those clubs cater more to tourists versus the New York clubs where locals will return on a regular basis. New York is easier to break into because there’s much more going on. Not only do you have the mainstream comedy clubs but you also have weekly and monthly shows at alternative venues around town including bars, clubs, and cabaret rooms. This holds for stand-up, sketch, improv, plays, readings – you name it. New York is the live entertainment capital of the world so it only stands to reason that the comedy scene will be the best in the world too. Comics come from all over, (but) if they want to make it, they eventually have to choose between New York or L.A.

With the rise of cable TV, and especially Comedy Central, is there a Holy Grail of success for a comedian now?
The days of the Holy Grail are long gone. Ten to fifteen years ago many say it was Letterman, after the peak of Johnny Carson. Get Letterman, do well, and the next day your phone would ring off the hook. But with the onslaught of cable TV and a 500 channel universe, the viewing audience has become overly segmented and diluted. A Leno, Letterman, Conan, Carson Daly, Jimmy Kimmel (can I be the first to say, a Ferguson?), it’s more or less all the same in terms of how it can or cannot boost your career. An HBO special ranks higher these days. That’s where all the good programs are. HBO hasn’t done comedy specials in years the way they used to, save for the occasional Chris Rock, Dennis Miller or Bill Maher special. I heard they’re about to start a new round so that’s good news.

I think Comedy Central has been good for comedy. It’s provided avenues on different levels for comics to achieve personal goals on television. The national exposure is nice and it gives young comics a chance to gain TV experience. That’s a big deal for most.

You were most recently the talent producer of Tough Crowd With Colin Quinn which seemed to have a very dedicated following. Was it’s cancellation a surprise? Why didn’t it catch on with a wider audience?
The cancellation came as no surprise to the staff at the show. I can’t put my finger on exactly why it didn’t generate a wider audience, but the consensus around the office was that the network didn’t do enough to promote the show. Other than brief promo spots at the end of The Daily Show, you never saw a newspaper article, subway billboard, print ad or even a regular commercial spot during other Comedy Central primetime shows. Meanwhile I’d be walking to work and see giant ads on every corner garbage can for Shorties Watchin’ Shorties. It’s too bad because Tough Crowd was truly starting to develop a loyal fan base and the comedians were just starting to get noticed from their appearances. It was a great laboratory for comics to come on, be real, and play to their skills as funny writers and performers.

With Luna Lounge having to move locations this coming year, what are your plans for Eating It?
As of right now I have no definite plans for Eating It. I can’t really say whether or not I’ll move with Luna. It depends on where they go and what the new physical space is like. Rob (Sacher) and Diane (Galliano), the owners of Luna, haven’t told me details of their move. I don’t think they know themselves yet. But I won’t be leaving Manhattan so if they cross a bridge or tunnel, that’s the end of our business relationship. It’s possible I may even make a move before they do. I’m currently exploring other options, not only regarding a change of venue but possibly a change of format and schedule. Hopefully I’ll have this all figured out by the end of the year.

Has there been an instance of a bit you thought brilliant, that so completely died that even the audience was uncomfortable?
I wish I could give you a precise answer but my memory stinks. I can tell you the kind of comedians who are capable of doing that. They’re the innovative ones who take risks with highly original material and are usually very funny - the so called “alternative” ones. Guys like Jon Benjamin, who once staged an entire mock Bar Mitzvah party for his nephew; Andy Blitz who does this character Peanut Butter, a jive talking pimped-out looking street hustler who tells hacky jokes; Patrick Borelli, Jon Glaser, Demetri Martin, Kristen Schaal; and in days past Slovin & Allen (who once did an entire show with their heads submerged in a fish tank), Ron Lynch and Zach Galifianakis. I hold all these comics in high regard, yet for me personally I’m sure they’re all capable of pulling off the instance you describe. I’ll laugh to myself and the audience members are scratching their heads wondering what the fuck just happened.

What are your feelings/impressions of the recent first New York Comedy Festival? Was it just another excuse for big acts at big prices?
I wasn’t impressed. A true New York Comedy Festival would have included other clubs and comedians in the comedy community, not just the biggest or most famous ones. By the way, prior to this there was a little something called The Toyota Comedy Festival which ran in New York for 10 years. It had its problems too but at least it was all-inclusive. This Festival completely ignored the essence of what makes this city the best comedy town in the world – the up and comers, the alternative venues, ticket price variation, creative diversity. I don’t mind the big names. I like many of them and it’s good that they came. But I think they could have executed it better by including all levels of the comedy hierarchy.

Ten Things to Know About Jeff:

What's the best thing you've ever purchased/salvaged off the street?
A copy of Life magazine from the week I was born.

Gotham Mad Lib: When the ____________ (noun) makes me feel _____________ (adverb), I like to ___________ (verb). (Strict adherence to "Madlib" rules is not required – answer however you wish.)
When the cheese blintz makes me feel shpilky I like to evacuate the scene immediately.

Personality Problem Solving: Would you consider your personality more hysterical or more obsessive, and have you changed since living in New York; has "New York" become a part of you?
Probably equal. I waste too much time sweating the small stuff and even more time obsessing over meaningless things. I guess that’s the same thing.

NYC Confessional: Do you have a local guilty pleasure?
There’s a strip club I’ve been known to frequent. I won’t divulge the name, but it’s higher than 9, lower than 11. It’s a “perfect” escape.

When you just need to get away from it all, where is your favorite place in NYC to be alone, relish in solitude and find your earthly happiness? (We promise not to intrude.)
In my living room with my TIVO

Assuming that you're generally respectful of your fellow citizens, was there ever a time when you had to absolutely unleash your inner asshole to get satisfaction?
Recently I took the bus to New Jersey for Thanksgiving. The Port Authority is the last place in the world I want to be on a quiet day, let alone the busiest travel day of the year. After missing our bus and waiting an hour for the next one, this guy cut in front me and my wife and everyone else standing in line behind us. When I finally boarded the bus, I told my wife I was going to say something to him. She agreed, provided I do it calmly and reasonably. I must have missed her saying that last part. I unleashed on this guy like a raging bull. Words were exchanged, one of which he didn’t particularly like. I then discovered he was much bigger than me as he stood inches from my face. But I didn’t care. It had to be done. Luckily for me the bus driver prevented a fight from breaking out, and I later ate my turkey dinner with complete satisfaction.

Describe that low-low moment when you thought you just might have to leave NYC for good.
I’ve had low moments when I’ve wanted to leave my various apartments for good: a bitchy roommate who spelled out ground rules on when I could watch the television; discovering police tape on my young neighbor’s apartment and learning he died; repeated domestic disturbance calls to the police for another lunatic neighbor constantly fighting with his girlfriend – but I’ve never wanted to leave New York for good. It’s too exciting.

Besides more square footage, what luxury would you most like to have in your apartment?
Central air conditioning. I like the cold, being from Canada and all.

311: Help or hoopla? Have you ever put it to use?
I’ve never tried 311 but I’ll start thinking of reasons I should. 911 Rocks. 411 is overrated. 011 is great for international calls.

There are 8 Million stories in The Naked City. Tell us one, but try to keep it to a New York Minute.
Ten weeks before my wedding after invitations were already mailed, the venue called to pull the plug on our plans. They claimed to have “accidentally” double booked our date with an optometry conference, but would help us find an alternate space. We had already scoured the city and done our homework, knowing this was the best wedding space within our budget. Things started to get ugly after we rejected their second tier offerings. I decided to resolve this “the old school” way.

I called my friend Steve Schirripa, an actor who plays Bobby Baccala on “The Sopranos”. I finally reached the owner and arranged a sit down but didn’t tell him who I was bringing. I figured he would take Steve for a real Mobster and settle the dispute quickly, or recognize him as a celebrity actor and settle to avoid bad publicity. It’s a win-win either way. I arrive at the meeting and introduce myself, my wife and my advisor, Mr. Schirripa. Turns out Steve had shot the cover of his book at one of the owner’s other photography studios, so a connection was made. We sat around the table and hammered out an agreement. Steve was in control the whole time. The owner apologized profusely and eventually agreed to pay the difference for a larger more expensive venue we had found on our own. The wedding was amazing and everything worked out great. The owner has since gone missing, but we figure he took a long vacation and didn’t tell anyone.

Eating It will have its final two shows of 2004 tonight (12/13 MC'd by Christian Finnegan of VH1's Best Week Ever) and next Monday 12/20 (MC'd by by Todd Barry) at Luna Lounge (171 Ludlow Street btw. Houston & Stanton). Shows start at 8 PM; admission is $8 and includes one drink. For more information, visit their web site at www.eatingit.com.

Jeff Singer continues to produce other comedy shows including Dating It (comedians engage in speed dating with the audience), Confessing It (comedians spill their deepest, darkest secrets), and Reading It (comedians reading from their own written works). The next Dating It will take place on Jan. 20 at The Stress Factory in New Brunswick, NJ, followed by a three-day run in Minneapolis for Valentine's Day.

-- Interview by Aaron Dobbs and Lily Oei.