by Ryan Meehan
Keith Alberstadt grew up the son of a Vanderbilt professor and a craft artist. The result . . . a very clever comic with sharp perception, unmatched creativity, and a treasure trove of unique material. His likable personality and down-to-earth charm invite people into his brand of humor—one that is smart but not brainy and relatable but not hacky. While performing, Keith takes pride in laughing at himself and his “inner dork”, which he attempts to prove is something in all of us. Current events, popular trends, personal details… Keith shares his witty insight on everything, all the while doing it with a mischievous smile that quickly becomes infectious. A regular performer for the U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, Keith has been described as “absolutely hilarious” by Armed Forces Entertainment and “a hidden gem” by the Boston Globe. He’s also a contributing writer for Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update, National Lampoon as well as other various online magazines and he’s our guest today in 7 questions.
RM: You’ve said that your childhood was “truly Rockwellian if Norman Rockwell painted scenes of family torture”…How did that environment foster an interest in humor from such a young age? Who was the first comedian you saw that you felt you really connected with? What was the reason you were able to identify with what they were doing?
KA: Haha!! That quote is from my blog on gift giving. I was referring to the “torture” of waiting for my turn to open another gift as a kid (within a large Catholic family, it was brutal). I actually grew up in an incredible household, and I’m still very close with my family. I was, however, the youngest of four and the smallest kid in the neighborhood. So I grew up getting picked on a bunch, if that counts as torture. That certainly helped fuel a sense of humor. I learned that laughing and making people laugh were a good way of coping. God that sounds so sad. But it was true. I would pout and lose my temper like a good American, but I always found a way to joke about it eventually. Suddenly being the last pick in wiffleball didn’t seem so horrible.
For the record, I’m very good at wiffleball now, but nobody from my childhood seems to have time for a rematch. I think they’re dodging me.
First comedian I saw who I connected with — That’s a tie between Brian Regan and Jerry Seinfeld. They both had a sense of bringing brilliance to the absurd, all within a unique and goofy persona. It was the kind of humor I wanted to do.
RM: When did you experience your first realization that the people you saw telling the jokes on late night talk shows weren’t always the individuals who were writing them? That early on, did you still want to be the guy front and center or did you have a thought along the lines of “Hey, I might want to be one of the guys behind the scenes”?
KA: I knew the late night guys were the mouthpiece early into the process. I knew even before I started stand up, of course. I co-hosted a talent show in high school, and my buddy and co-host Justin asked if we should get other people to write jokes with us. I said no because I wanted the two of us to be the only engines. I liked having that ownership. I really enjoy the thrill of the whole creative process — the writing and the execution of a joke. So yes, I wanted then and still want to be front and center, expressing what I think is funny, in my own words. Most comedians are like that, I think.
RM: You were one of the Final Four of CMT’s nationwide search for “Next Big Comic” … Does part of you ever feel like you didn’t win that competition because you were too much of a “city boy” so to speak; even though you’re from Nashville? What was the most important thing that you took away from that show?
KA: Ha!! I’m sure most of New York City would not label me a city boy, while a lot of Tennessee would. I’m in stereotype purgatory. Truthfully, I never really thought about it like that (with CMT), especially since the winner was from Minneapolis–not exactly hayseed country. I was actually thrilled to be in the final four of a nationwide search. It was a blast.
The most important thing I took from it was that funny is funny. Nowadays it seems like everyone is trying to find a hook, a niche. But overall, some of the best kind of humor is universal and has mass appeal. CMT has the “country” and “blue collar” labels attached to it but none of us in the finals fit that bill. We came from all over and made everyone laugh.
RM: How many of the jokes that you post on your weblog actually make it to Weekend Update? Do you write just for that segment specifically? And is Lorne (Michaels, producer) the one who makes the final decision regarding which jokes get used and which jokes get shelved?
KA: What a ride that’s been! I remember the first time I saw one of my jokes get on the air. Pretty cool moment. I was actually in the audience during dress rehearsal when Seth did it. I felt like nudging everyone around me… “Hey. I wrote that bit. Seriously.” Yes, I only contribute to Weekend Update, which is the part of SNL that I’ve always gravitated towards. I love writing topical jokes for them because it’s different from my normal routine. It’s nice to mix it up for the sake of variety, especially when it’s in another person’s voice (Seth or Cecily). Like I said before, I prefer being a part of the whole process — the writing and the execution. So this isn’t ideal, but it’s still fun. It’s difficult to write sometimes in a certain week if the news isn’t giving you much to write about, which is why I’m lobbying to have Rob Ford leave Toronto and run for mayor here.
Not being in the writer’s room, I have no idea if Lorne has final say. I imagine it was Seth (and now Colin Jost) and Cecily, because they’re the ones doing the material.
RM: You perform at a variety of comedy clubs in New York City…What would you consider to be your “home club”; and is the idea of having one still even relevant in a city that has so many different places to perform?
KA: I would say The Comedy Cellar is my home club. That’s the one where I perform the most often, and it’s the one that really has that “home” feel to it. I do believe that having a “home” club is relevant even in a city like NYC, because comedians like having a place not just to perform but to hang out, talk shop, and tell stories. The Cellar seems to be the best place in the city to do that. Plus it’s cool to listen to guys like Louis, Todd Barry, Colin Quinn, etc. Not only are they hilarious but they have invaluable insight on all sorts of stuff–comedy, life, current events. I love it there.
RM: What is the most memorable moment that you experienced performing for the troops overseas? Why do you think that had such a profound effect on you; and how often do you get the opportunity to go over there?
KA: I really do love those trips. I go over about once every year or so. It’s indescribable to be a part of their lives while they’re away from home.
I would say the most memorable moments were getting mortar attacked at a couple of different bases. The first time for me (I’ve been in four) was at FOB Falcon just outside of Baghdad. One of the mortars hit our ammo dump and all of our artillery stored there caught fire and began exploding. The explosions lasted for hours while we hunkered down on the other side of the base. The building we were in was shaking; windows were blown out; I even overheard an officer suggest it may have been a coordinated attack in order to create a distraction (implying that insurgents could attack again while our troops were fighting the fire). It was such an eye-opening, harrowing experience that made me take notice (up close) of the hell our troops go through. It’s imperative we don’t forget them, not now and not when they come home.
RM: Out of all the cool things that you’ve done up to this point, what has been the pinnacle of your career so far? Do you think about that a lot when you get discouraged and need something to look to for added motivation?
KA: I would say the military tours, by far. Not as prestigious as Letterman, at least in the eyes of most, nor would it qualify as a “pinnacle” to most comedians. But to me it’s top of the list. I made a lot of new friends over there and I was a part of something special–that is, making an unpleasant situation a little better for a bunch of people. I also got to personally see what most Americans only read about–the bravery and sacrifice of our military. For that I’m forever grateful. If I need motivation, I take out the combat action badge they gave us from FOB Falcon and I remind myself that the lows of show business aren’t nearly as bad as I think they are.
RM: What’s up next for you in 2014? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
KA: Yes–Wiffleball!! I actually have a ton of stuff going on, including my favorite thing to do–touring across the country. Check out my tour schedule and come check out a show. I also hope to have a new CD out by the end of the year. It’s going to be called “Country City Boy: My Time in Stereotype Purgatory”.
Official Website: http://www.keithcomedy.com/
Keith on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KeithAlberstadtComedian
Keith on Twitter: https://twitter.com/KeithAlberstadt
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