by Ryan Meehan
Rob Little’s outlook on life can be summed-up in two words: Pure Optimism. At a young age, he developed and nurtured an upbeat philosophy about life. Rob’s ability to see things in a positive light, coupled with his desire to make people laugh, has served him well. While working in a lucrative position as a computer programmer for IBM, he decided to take a huge risk. The Detroit-born comic sent out an ALL-company e-mail that read, “If you aren’t happy here, quit your job and follow your dream.” IBM promptly gave him his walking papers, but getting fired was a blessing for Rob and comedy lovers nationwide. He now enjoys an incredibly successful career as a stand-up comedian and with an impressive and growing portfolio of television and film appearances, he is quickly earning national recognition. A sketch comedy player on the Fox Sports Net Show “The Best Damn Sports Show Period” and “Last Call with Carson Daly,” Little uses his training from the world famous Second City Comedy Club to create routines that are inventive, funny, spontaneous, and completely unique. He headlines clubs and colleges all over the country, has appeared in national television commercials and on such shows as Comedy Central’s “Distraction,” Fox News’ “Red Eye with Greg Gutfeld” and SiTV’s “Latino Laugh Festival.” He also earned a role on the CBS network summer hit series, “Fire me Please.” Rob’s recently released 3rd comedy DVD/CD, is another testament to his talent and status as a comedic force. The Detroit Free Press selected him as the “Best up and Coming Comedian,” and he earned the title of “finalist” in both the Seattle and San Francisco International Comedy Competitions. Rob was also selected as a feature performer at the Chicago Comedy Festival along with the Boston Comedy and Movie Festival. Recently Rob was named Maxim Magazine’s “Real Man of Comedy”. Last Comic Standing on NBC named him, “The Happiest Comic in America”. Campus Activities Magazine named him “College Comic of the Year” and you have also seen him on the Comedy Central sketch comedy show “Nick Swardson’s Pretend Time”. Don’t let the “Little” name fool you. With a grin on his face, a gleam in his eye, and a passion for comedy that is larger than life, he’s the biggest thing to happen to comedy in a long, long time. We share that joy as we welcome comedian Rob Little as our guest today in 10 questions.
RM: Who was the first comedian you saw on television doing stand-up when you were younger that really drew you towards the medium? Was there any specific joke you remember from that performance which extracted a feeling inside of you that you hadn’t previously experienced?
RL: Well the very first comedian was George Carlin. I was around 5 years old. We were on vacation staying in a hotel and my parents thought I was asleep so they turned it on and were laughing so hard. I don’t remember a word he said but I knew right then and there that, that was what I wanted to do. So there has never been a time I didn’t want to be a comedian. And I was always the funny kid trying to make my parents friends laugh. It was easy to make my own friends laugh but if you could get adults to laugh that seemed like more of an accomplishment back then.
RM: In the moments after you sent that initial email out which would eventually lead to your termination from IBM, did you have any sense of regret or was that something that you had been thinking about doing for some time? At that juncture, how long had you been dissatisfied with your profession?
RL: No, I didn’t have any regrets! I knew when I took that job that I would be quitting eventually because I had already been doing comedy for a couple years and I had worked at many other computer companies. Actually that last year I worked at IBM, I had taken 54 sick days off due to “migraines”. I even got a doctor’s note, but the real deal was I was somewhere on the road doing shows! I wanted to go out with a bang when I left IBM so I came up with the idea to hack into the email system and send out a not to everyone even in other countries telling them they should quit their jobs and follow their dreams. I never really ended up getting fired. They let me take a leave of absence even after the email. After that I got named “Michigan’s Best Up and Coming Comedian” by the Detroit Free Press. I emailed that to my IBM boss and he said, “Oh, you aren’t coming back are you?” I told him I wasn’t coming back if they named me “Worst Up and Coming Comedian”. I can’t imagine ever going back to that life. I was miserable!
RM: Your website describes your work as “silly and adorable” comedy…Do you ever worry those descriptions will scare away potential comedy fans that are expecting a much dirtier and more flagrant show, or is that not something that you are especially concerned with?
RL: I’m not concerned with it. I’m more concerned with comedy bookers thinking I’m dirty or flagrant. Any comic can be dirty, it’s much harder to be versatile. I’ve done shows for churches with little kids in the front row and in that same weekend I opened for a porn star at a swingers club. I’ve played strictly urban shows and all Latin shows. I pride myself on being very versatile and being able to adjust to any crowd. I’d rather be known for silly and adorable than filthy and flagrant.
RM: You’ve performed in just about every corner of this great nation of ours…Have you found that crowds in the Midwest differ from crowds on the coasts with regards to what they think is funny at a comedy show; and do you ever adjust your set depending on where you’re performing? In other words, would you do the same set in Phoenix that you had done in Milwaukee the week before?
RL: Well yes I could do the same set that I do in Phoenix and Milwaukee. But NO I don’t do the same set in L.A. or NYC as I would in Omaha. The actual coasts aren’t as much fun to play! REAL people are in the middle of the country. They are much more appreciative of comedy. I lived in Los Angeles for ten years and I always felt like it was a struggle with the audiences out there. Midwest folks come to laugh, hell they can’t wait to laugh. East and West coasts audiences come to have you make them laugh almost as if you have to prove yourself first. Does that make sense?
RM: Would you consider the type of comedy that you do to be more of an art or a science if you could not say that it is equal parts of both? If I had asked you that same question five years ago, do you think that your answer would have been the same?
RL: I think what I do is an art and a science. I don’t think a lot of guys can do what I do on stage. I try to write clever jokes but I also write interactive jokes. I hate the term crowd work because when I hear that it sounds like a comic fishing for material. The way I do it is it complements the joke I’m doing. Allowing the audience to be a part of what I’m doing whether I’m making it up or that I’m leading them in to what I want them to say it feels inventive and very personal to the audiences. I constantly get compliments from them saying that they loved how I incorporated the crowds into my act. I started out doing improv with Second City, so to do that type of comedy just seems 2nd nature. There are times you really have to just allow yourself to welcome in whatever happens and free your mind to have fun with it. And I love doing that because you never know what might come out of it.
RM: What was the first opportunity you were given where you got the chance to write with other comedians; and what is the most important thing for younger comics to remember when writing in a group setting for the first time?
RL: Well I tried writing with a bunch of comics almost from day 1. I was in a comedy class and the guys I graduated with we would try to write together. What I found was if you came prepared with multiple options or ideas to play off of you could get the other comics interested in what you were trying to talk about. If you just came with a broad idea most guys don’t necessarily know where you would want to go with it. Give them options! And be open to any idea they may share. You don’t want to make them feel dumb if they pose an option that you definitely are against using. Have you ever noticed the happier you get when writing a bit the more ideas start to flow and maybe something great will come out of it. But don’t shoot down ideas. That person didn’t have to say anything and just wait for his turn to pitch his idea.
RM: When you watch clips of yourself performing, what is the first thing you notice about your mannerisms; and why do you think your first visual instinct tends to gravitate towards that characteristic of your act?
RL: I’m not one of those comics that don’t mind watching themselves perform. I have got rid of lots of weird things I was doing that I didn’t even realize what I was doing before. I also have seen things that I didn’t even realize I did but it got a big laugh so I went back and watched it and it could have just been a face expression or an inflection in what you are saying. The bigger the show the more I seem to show more arm gestures or try to be bigger. The smaller the show I try to pull back so I don’t overwhelm the audience.
RM: Which aspect of the writing process do 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?
RL: OMG, I struggle with the WHOLE process. I am definitely an idea man so I’m constantly coming up with ideas but when I try to actually sit down and write I use every trick in the book to come up with ideas. But they always feel so forced and almost like I’m writing a thesis. My style works best as a stream of consciousness. I like it to feel like I’m just making it up for the first time when I’m telling a story. So that’s almost how I have to write. I just come up with ideas then I go find a stage and improv the idea. I actually started out in improv at Second City so it’s very comfortable for me to just force myself to come up with something on the fly. I feel my best stuff comes from that. I wish I was one of those awesome writers that can just write clean clever jokes but I have to play with the bit and hear it out loud to come up with things. I do bounce ideas off of other comics all the time. Ones that are great joke writers and they come up with ideas or routes to a joke that I never even thought of. That’s when it gets fun for me. I wish I could afford a bunch of writers and just have us all sitting in a room hashing out a bit. I get so excited to work with other guys. It’s real time and the energy I get from other comics gets my creative juices flowing too!
RM: What is the most bizarre thing that’s ever happened to you in all of your years on stage; and how did you respond to that incident at the time? If it happened tonight do you think that you would respond in the same fashion; and what was the most important thing that you learned from that whole experience?
RL: One time in Milwaukee, WI was introduced and as I walked up on stage I noticed this beautiful girl in the front row. I don’t think I got 5 words out and she stood up, looked extremely drunk and then proceeded to fall and take out like 5 tables in front of her. No one moved to help her so I jumped off stage to hear her friends say she hasn’t even had 1 drink yet. She had low blood sugar and we needed to call 911 immediately. After about a minute she came to and wanted to get up but I didn’t let her. I made her lay there as the paramedics and fire department were already on the way. Remember there is probably 300 people at this show watching me tend to this girl. It seemed like we were down on the floor for like 15 minutes before anyone showed up. You could tell she was feeling better and quite embarrassed. I still had the mic in my hand and proceeded to flirt with her the whole time. Saying things like her butt looked amazing in those jeans, and that I have never had a girl fake a faint to try to get my attention. It totally changed the room for sheer panic to huge laughter. She was cracking up so hard by the time the fire department came that the crowd was standing and clapping. They put her on the gurney and started to wheel her out the comedy club. I was yelling things like, Our hearts will go on and on! I love you, please don’t leave me! And I think even at the end I said, “see you at home honey!” After she was gone I made fun of myself like I even had a chance with her after the shirtless hard bodied fireman came in to get her.
I wouldn’t have handled that situation any other way and that girl and I are now friends and she still comes to my shows even to this day!
RM: What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2015 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
RL: Well I’m working on 2 shows that I created. One is a History/Comedy show. No, not Drunk History. The other is a wedding type show but both are still not quite finalized. I’m going out to NYC for a couple months in Aug and Sept to do some work and other than that I’m still touring like crazy! I’m not sure where my career is going to end up but I’m happy just touring and meeting tons of cool people and see places that most people only hear of.
Official Website: http://www.roblittle.com
Rob on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/roblittlefans
Rob on Twitter: http://twitter.com/roblittlecomic
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