by Ryan Meehan
Comedian Aaron Berg makes his home in New York City where he works most of the top comedy clubs in the five boroughs. In 2013 he shot thirteen episodes as Floyd in the groundbreaking TV series “24 Hour Rental” on the Superchannel network. He has appeared at the Boston Comedy Festival, the New York Comedy Festival, and performed a nationally televised gala set for the CBC Winnipeg Comedy Festival. His first solo show “The Underbelly Diaries” ran off-Broadway at Theatre Row in NYC where it was chosen as “one of three shows you can’t afford to miss” in the New York Daily News. The show has been adapted as a feature film and is being produced by Timshel Pictures. Aaron also appeared off-Broadway in Jeremy Levy’s one act play 21 Days and was a subject in the documentary “A Universal Language” about six Canadian comedians who traveled to Israel to perform for diverse audiences in the Middle Eastern region. He will also be featured in Alan Zweig’s new film “When Jews Were Funny”. Some of his most recent television guest appearances include KING, Breakout Kings and Murdoch Mysteries. He has also been heard on CBC’s “The Debaters”, and he’s also my guest today in 7 questions.
RM: Over the course of your lifetime, how many hack jokes would you say you’ve had to endure that suggest you were responsible for the death of Alexander Hamilton?
AB: Very Few. But Dan Naturman still does it to me. Never onstage though, only to my face. So I consider it conversation more than a hack joke.
RM: What was your first on-stage experience like, and what was the first joke you told that really killed? How much of the desire to get up and do it again was based on the feedback you received from the audience, and how much was due to the fact that you personally knew you had nailed the delivery?
AB: I was nervous and wound up. I was supposed to do a duo with a friend of mine who went on to become a famous commercial actor. He bailed and I went up and did the set alone. The first joke that killed was a parody of a beer commercial that I did. Hacky premise, but great sell. Applause break! Almost all of the desire to get back up was based on the roar of the crowd. I bombed the next show.
RM: Your new album is entitled “Comedy Coltrane”…How long did it take you to put together the material on that disc? At which venue did you record that album; and why did you choose that particular club?
AB: There are only about 3 or 4 jokes in the hour long CD. It’s all jazzy freestyle and working the room. It took me the last three years to get present/confident enough to exist on crowd work alone. For the past three years, I have never had any idea of what I was going to do and I let the audience inspire the entire set via interaction, improvisation and any news issues that were on my mind. It is almost entirely a crowd work CD.
We recorded it at Yuk Yuk’s in Toronto. It was my home club before I moved to New York 4 years ago. It always felt like home to me and the crowd can get aggressive on some shows, which I like.
RM: What was the central focus of your one-man show “The Underbelly Diaries? What’s the most significant difference between doing a one-man show and performing stand-up comedy?
AB: I used to be a competitive bodybuilder at the National Level and I fully lived that life for a few years. The life of a bodybuilder involved being a personal trainer, a raging narcissist and a male stripper for a year and a half. The Underbelly Diaries was a philosophical bent on my time in that world. I grew up in a solid middle-class household and to delve into that world of “entertainment” gave me so much perspective on the notions of class, race and sexuality. It was an intricate world that I thought needed expression through performance.
One-man shows as embraced by the festival circuit currently are basically elongated stand-up sets. However, from the purist point of view a one-man show has a through-line, peaks and valleys, a dramatic denouement and doesn’t need to adhere to a laughs per minute formula. One-man shows also let a comic work outside of their comfort zone and incorporate other artistic forms into the performance.
RM: In what ways is Aaron Berg like Floyd Berger, and in what ways are you two nothing alike? What was the best part about being involved with “24 Hour Rental”; and why do you think you were chosen to play the part of Floyd?
AB: 24 Hour Rental was a groundbreaking TV show in Canada. It was filthy, violent, sexy and funny. It was my first time shooting a series as one of the stars of the show instead of being someone who showed up for day work. I had an arc.
I am like Floyd insofar as we both have filthy mouths but good intentions. I’m a big softie until you give me a reason not to be. Floyd is the same way. Floyd drove hookers around and had a degree in philosophy. I have a degree in Philosophy and dated a hooker once. Also, I’m better than Floyd because I shave my head and Floyd has male pattern baldness and is 30 pounds heavier than me.
I had to fight to get the part. I was chosen because of the Philosophy degree, experience around the sex-industry and my ease in utilizing four letter words.
RM: How would you best describe the way that comedy is received in the Middle East? Did you have an increased level of fear telling jokes in a region that is traditionally known for its politically instability?
AB: They didn’t like me for the most part. People thought I talked too much about genitalia. I would grab large pockets of the crowd, but never had a feeling of killing over there. But I guess there was too much killing already over there (HEY-O). I have never felt any fear over there; just a sense of wonderment. You do feel like bombs may explode at any time but hey, that’s comedy!
RM: What’s the most bizarre thing that’s happened to you at or near a comedy club in all of your years doing stand-up? Looking back on that moment now would you have handled it any differently than you did; and if so, how?
AB: I received fellatio on stage as a performance art piece. First time I headlined in Toronto. I put a girlfriend as a plant in the audience and did a fake improv bit and then for the closer, she did what some priests refer to as “First base”. If I could have done it differently, I would have practiced with some transcendental meditation so that I could focus better on climaxing in a room with 300 onlookers. I don’t do the bit anymore because most sets in NYC are only 15 minutes.
RM: Which aspect of the writing process to you tend to struggle with the most and why? Conversely, which aspect of writing jokes would you consider to be your specialty; and why do you think you excel at that particular component of the practice?
AB: Joke writing is tedious is to me. I excel at writing onstage through the guise of long-form stories that blend in topical elements.
RM: What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2015 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
AB: My second book “American Etiquette: Failing Upwardly in a Fox News Nation” will be out before summer. It will be for sale on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. I will be breaking the record for most sets in a night in NYC (going for 20 sets). I will buy a Harley Davidson motorcycle. I have another CD coming out in August.
Official Website: http://www.aaronberg.com/
Aaron on Twitter: http://twitter.com/aaronbergcomedy
Aaron on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/aaronbergcomedy
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