By Ryan Meehan
A native of La Crescenta, California, Taylor Ketchum’s journey into the stand-up comedy world has been anything but ordinary. A former football player, Taylor spent most of his twenties in and out of detoxes and various clinics around the Los Angeles area. After a fated meeting with another comedian in a drug rehab, Taylor lied his way onto a local comedy stage and never looked back. Since then he has brought his unique perspective to audiences around the country, using his unusual background and unique outlook as fodder. Ketchum’s comedy bridges the gap between the dark, dinginess of America’s underbelly and the everyday silliness of our conventional routine, “finding the balance between the only man and the every man.” Taylor’s writing and acting can be seen alongside comedians Andy Sandford and Steve Forrest as Stone Mountain Laser Show. Additionally, he has been featured in ad campaigns for Buffalo Wild Wings and Spike TV and will be performing on the upcoming season of Gotham Comedy Live on AXS-TV. He can be seen on stage nearly every night in his adopted hometown of New York City, and he’s also my guest today in 10 Questions.
RM: What are the biggest advantages and disadvantages to living with comedian Paul Hooper? Between the two of you, who is more likely to clean the dried piss that collects around the foot of the toilet?
TK: I get asked this question a lot, and to be honest it’s pretty dark. Paul is highly manipulative and an extremely calculated emotionless sociopath. Almost everything he says is a lie, and even when he is honest there is some kind of ulterior motive involved. He is prone to fits of rage, and is emotionally abusive to anyone that shows him the smallest bit of affection. When you call him on it, he will usually use your reaction to as a way to play himself off as the victim. His goal in any interaction is to make you question your own motives and sanity. Often times he will express a need for attention and then lash out in anger after it is given to him. The other day I texted him “Hey buddy, what you doing?” and he responded with “Just standing in the apartment.” Then I got home and realized he was actually in Kearny, Nebraska headlining The Howling Banana. I asked him why he made up such an unnecessary lie and he said “I had to teach you.” The most frightening thing about this is that these are some of his better qualities. Please don’t let him see this. He gets very violent with me as well.
I clean up his piss.
RM: Was your football career derailed by an injury, or some other kind of unforeseen circumstances that caused you to hang up the pads? Have you found that there are any discipline-based principles you developed during your time as an athlete which you have been able to apply to the practice of stand-up comedy?
TK: It got derailed by me not being good enough to keep going. I played for four years in college and I was a decent player but I knew going into my senior year that was going to be the end of it. One of my roommates in college had agents calling him every five seconds, and he didn’t even end up getting invited to a camp as a free agent. Just based on the interest of the league you can kind of get a sense of whether or not you’re in the mix. I played center…I was slightly undersized and just didn’t have the skill set. It’s funny because a lot of people will ask me “Why didn’t you play in the NFL?” as if I just chose not to. Sports will teach you nothing about being funny, but one thing I did learn was how to take criticism and how to show up. I didn’t come in to stand up thinking I was going to be famous in a year. I knew that it was going to take a long time to get good, and I also knew that even if I did get everything that I wanted out of comedy, it still wouldn’t make me happy.
RM: What does the show you’ve previously done at The Creek and the Cave called “Dark Spots: Addiction” have to offer to comedy fans who may not have a history of substance abuse? Who runs that show; and who are some of the other comics that you are friends with on the New York scene that also do guest spots on that show?
TK: That show is great. It’s run by Alison Zeidman, Shane Torres, and Nate Fridson who are all fantastic. The show covers all kinds of shit. They’ve done a cancer show, a show about losing a family member. I did the one based on addiction because that’s the particular issue that they covered that I’ve struggled with. I think what’s awesome about the show is that the audience walks in knowing that they are going to be hearing comedians make jokes about their mothers dying, or surviving rape, or cutting themselves, or in my case dealing with a drug addiction. The people that are there are excited to hear jokes about something awful. If someone gets offended or uncomfortable they can’t say “I just came here to have a good time and laugh with my coworkers.” It’s a show about cancer and you walked in. Maybe the audience might learn that you don’t have to be defined by your own pain. Your story is just your story and it doesn’t have to consume you. You can have an experience and let go and transition into another phase of your life. Maybe they don’t learn any of that. Either way they get to see a great show with comics talking about grizzly stuff.
RM: You recently shot a video called “Triggers” with fellow comedian Evan Williams…How often do you generally get the chance to shoot clips like that; and how often do you find yourself writing sketches with the intention of turning them into short YouTube clips such as that one?
TK: I’ve been trying to do more of that recently but I almost never sit down and write sketches by myself. I think I’ve probably shot 4 sketches in the last 6 months, which isn’t a lot. But when you compare it to the zero sketches I shot over the previous 6 years then I guess I guess I’ve been really crushing it. Usually I’ll sit down with Steve Forrest and Andy Sandford and we’ll just make each other laugh and see if something comes out of it. We did this one sketch a while back where they play these naïve guys moving to New York City and I’m their psycho craigslist ex con roommate. It was a lot of fun to do and we decided to do more of it. We’re calling ourselves “Stone Mountain Laser Show” after some annual event in Georgia where they project old civil war battles onto a gigantic rock.
RM: You said back in a 2013 interview with Recovery comedy that at one point in your life the idea of your comedy having a message was really important to you, but now you are more concerned with simply being “funny and original”…When do you think that transition in your approach to stand-up changed; and do you think that switch in direction was more due to the fact that you couldn’t quite define the message itself, or that you had become of the understanding that comedy was very much a pass/fail business and being funny and original were the most important aspects of achieving success within the medium?
TK: I think I just got bored with it. If your first thought when you’re writing comedy is to be “deep” I think you’re priorities are fucked up. I’m at a comedy show almost every night of my life, so I think it’s just natural, at least for me, to get kind of tired of hearing everyone’s point of view. That’s not to say I don’t like material with weight to it. I don’t want to hear people just talking about their dicks n puss’s all the time. I think what I meant by that more than anything is what my priorities as a comedian should be. If my main goal is to get laughs with unique stuff then the “message” or whatever you want to call it will just present itself.
The other thing is that you have to consider too is where you’re at in your career. When I was a kid my favorite comics were George Carlin and Bill Hicks . They’re great but they were doing hour specials 20 or more years into their careers. You don’t take into consideration what they had to do in order to get there. Before you start comedy you really have absolutely no clue what you’re about to voyage into. You are a complete moron but you don’t know that yet. And pretty soon you figure out that you can’t really do what they were doing in a ten or fifteen minute set. Not only are you not talented enough, you also don’t have the time. You have ten minutes to make an audience laugh. Nobody wants to sit around and listen to your “deeply meaningful perspectives.” My ideas on what my comedy should be about change a bit as time goes on so I’m sure I’ll have a different answer for you in 10 years.
RM: On average, how many times a week would you say you get on stage with the intention of testing out new material? Do you frequently do sets that are entirely composed of fresh bits; or do you usually keep a strong opener, a solid closer, and then work the new stuff in between those comedic tent stakes?
TK: That’s kind of the just the general rule. Open strong, close strong, and throw new stuff in the middle. There’s a lot of pressure in New York to always have new stuff. It’s good because it pushes you to write more and take more chances but it can also get to a point where you’re not developing the stuff you already have and making it stronger. It kind of comes in waves for me. Sometimes I have a ton of new material and sometimes I’ll spend a little while trying to perfect the stuff that I have. I used to write shorter bits and get in and out of subject matter really quick. Lately the stuff I’ve been doing has been a little longer and those kinds of bits take more time to develop. Having new stuff is what keeps me excited about going on stage though. So I always try to have something new, even if it’s just a new tag. It’s funny because I’ve been answering this question for 60 seconds and I’m already feeling like I don’t have enough new material and now I feel like a failure and I need to go write something new. I was fine two minutes ago.
RM: You’re participating in one of the Roast Battles at The Stand NYC on September 22nd where you’ll take on Evan Williams, and the night will also feature a battle between Anthony Devito and Megan Gailey…For those who might not be familiar with the difference between a roast and a roast battle, how would you describe what the roast battle format has to offer when compared to a traditional roast? How long have you known Evan; and when you found out you’d be battling him what type of material came to mind first?
TC: Well the roast battle is just two people taking turns shitting on each other, as opposed to a regular roast where there’s a dais and you jab a little at everyone on the panel before you get to the main person. I think that the roast battle is the closest you can get to experiencing a conversation between two friends that are tearing each other apart. A traditional roast feels more like a production. I’ve known Evan for about three years, and he’s one of my best friends in the city. He’s not the easiest guy to write jokes roast about because he’s extremely likable, in good physical condition, and happily married and sober. I’ll probably have to address the fact that he got married at 19 after proposing in the middle of a church service from a podium.
RM: What is so special about The Stand NYC, and what makes it such a great venue for the style of comedy that you’re known for? Outside of that establishment, which other clubs around the five boroughs are your favorite to perform at; and what makes those rooms so conducive to hosting good stand-up sets?
TC: The Stand is great. Part of what makes it special is that the guys that run the place really love comedy. You would think that loving comedy would be a prerequisite to owning a comedy club but it isn’t. The other thing that I like about the club is that they actively make it a goal to attract audiences made up of locals. Tourist shows are great and I got no problem performing for them, but it’s nice to have a couple places where everyone speaks English and is going to understand what you’re trying to communicate. Sometimes you’re on stage in the city and you get up there and realize that half the audience is from Germany and they thought they were coming to a Kraftwerk concert. Other than that, there are tons of great shows all over the city. Caroline’s is awesome. I love The Knitting Factory. It’s packed every week with people that are stoked to be there. Comedy as a Second Language which is now at Pyramid in Alphabet City is always really fun. The Creek and the Cave is a really amazing and unique venue. There are tons of different shows every night of the week. Panel shows, live podcasts, naked shows. Recently my friend Brad Austin wrote a play, asked me to do it, and a couple weeks ago a bunch of other comics and I finally performed it in front of an audience. I think out of the ten or so people that were in it, maybe only two of us had ever been in a play before. I was absolutely fucking terrified, but it ended up being one of the most fun things I’ve ever done on stage. That’s why I appreciate The Creek. It’s a venue where you can really take chances. I don’t think there’s another place like it anywhere. I’ve had a lot of fun at QED in Astoria lately as well. It’s right down the street from my apartment and all the crowds have been really good. There is comedy everywhere in this town. That’s why I came to this hellish nightmare.
RM: Are you the type of comic who goes about quantifying future checkpoints of success that you hope to achieve in the entertainment industry, or have you found that it’s best to just let the chips fall where they may? From a professional standpoint, how would you best describe the manner in which you set goals for yourself as a comic?
TC: I try my best to stay away from thinking about it in those terms. It’s hard sometimes. You want things to happen at a certain pace obviously…You don’t want to struggle financially forever. But if I’m constantly thinking “I’ve been doing it this long so that means that I should be at this point” I’m just setting myself up to be absolutely miserable. I set goals week to week. I write them down and put them on my stupid corkboard. “Finish this bit.” “Email this person.” “Update this thing.” I don’t just throw it out there randomly and let the chips fall where they may but I try to keep it short term and manageable. My hope is that if I just work on getting funnier and do what’s in front of me the results will take care of themselves.
RM: What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2015 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
TC: Definitely more sketch and short film stuff on the way this year with Andy Sandford and Steve Forrest. Trying to get this goddamn podcast off the ground and just looking to write and perform as much as humanly possible.
Official Website: http://www.taylorketchumcomedy.com/
Taylor on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/taylor.ketchum
Taylor on Twitter: https://twitter.com/taylorketchum
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