by Ryan Meehan
Brett Druck is an American comedian and and writer known for his dry wit and sharp tongue. Brett’s jokes have been shared millions of times across the web. The first ever winner of The Martin Grant, he has been featured in countless comedy festivals including TBS’s Just for Laughs Chicago, the Charleston Comedy Festival, and as a finalist in The Andy Kaufman Award. Brett has been heard on Raw Dog Sirius XM Radio and mentioned in Rolling Stone for his advocacy to credit comedians and artists that have been plagiarized for profit. Brett is also a cast member of on Laughs TV Show and has been featured on 12 episodes, and we are delighted to have Brett Druck as our guest today in 10 questions.
RM: What was your first interaction with stand-up comedy from the perspective of somebody who was getting to sit back and enjoy it for the sole purpose of being entertained? What was so special about that moment which made you want to actually think about doing it yourself?
BD: In high school I’d taken a small old TV from my garage and hooked it up in my closet, so I could watch Conan after bed time without my parents knowing. I loved it so much, but I hadn’t seen live comedy until I was in college. I saw Stephen Lynch and it blew my mind. I’d never had such a universal experience of laughing so much with a big group of people other than friends. My friends told me afterwards that Stephen reminded them of me, and that sent my ego through the roof. I knew I was funny, but being compared to a professional comedian was a crazy amount of validation. I was also studying communication at William Paterson University where they offer The Fundamentals of Writing and Performing Stand Up Comedy as an elective, and I obviously signed up for it.
RM: Now flash forward to the first time you actually had to step on stage, do five minutes, and get the light…What was so different about the way you looked at comedy after you got done with that first set, and why did you want to continue doing stand-up?
BD: My first time “on stage” was just the front of a class room in front of my classmates, but that didn’t stop the grandiose hysterical performance of my funny ideas I had in my head from devolving into an awkward and nervous grunt of jumbled words. I felt like my brain was malfunctioning with brief moments of lucidity.
RM: One of the great things about some of these theme comedy shows that are popping up all over the place is that it gives comics who are more reliant on punchlines the opportunity to really hone their chops at storytelling…How would you grade yourself as a storyteller on stage at this point in your career? When somebody contacts you about one of these opportunities, how often is the subject matter already a bit that you have used in your stand-up; and how do you go about editing those jokes for an audience that is focused on hearing about that topic and only that topic for an entire evening?
BD: I’ve done a few of these shows and they really are great. The crowds are supportive, and it’s a totally different vibe from a stand-up show. With that said, I am extremely out of my comfort zone when I’ve done them. My whole act revolves around pretty short and to the point jokes, without a lot of extra words to spare or lingering on the subject. At this point in my career I wouldn’t grade myself as a storyteller at all, so if it were a report card I’d give myself an N/A. I pretty much can’t use any of my jokes at these shows, which I kinda like because it makes me write in a different way.
RM: It seems like you perform at Q.E.D. in Astoria quite a bit…For those of us who have never been there before, how would you best describe the vibe of that room? What are some of the other New York venues where you seem to have some of your better sets?
BD: I’ve actually only done a handful of shows at Q.E.D. they all seem just to be close together recently. It’s a great venue…Kambri Crews really fosters a great environment there, and the vibe feels low pressure and friendly. The audience seems to be there because they like experiencing live comedy. The best sets I’ve ever had were in the Richard Pryor main room at Broadway Comedy Club. It’s got nice low ceilings and the audiences can really pack in there tightly. When its packed it feels like you’re doing a theater. My favorite casual venue is the Grisly Pear, it’s a lot of barked in shows (no reservations, just newer comics pulling people off the street so they can get some stage time) which kinda keeps you on your toes if it’s chaotic or allows you to work on new material with little pressure if it’s normal. I like Gotham a lot, and I love Dangerfield’s because it’s like walking into a time portal. There are a lot of clubs I still want to perform at but haven’t had the chance to just yet.
RM: In an industry where accusations of plagiarism can ruin a comedian’s career, why do you think certain comics are willing to risk that stigmatization by stealing regardless of how detrimental it could be to their career? How would you best define the term “parallel thinking”; and how often do you think that happens compared to a comic who is just straight up ripping off somebody’s bit?
BD: Can it ruin a career? One of the most famous plagiarists in all of stand up is still selling out theaters across the country. Let’s not forget Josh Ostrovsky, the most untalented blatant rip off artist the world has ever seen but no matter how many expositions are written on him, Instagram and Twitter still allow him to blatantly violate copyright law because its worth the risk for them. When someone’s got 8 million followers they’ve got more exposure at their fingertips than a lot of television stations and that exposure isn’t going off of an outdated/innacurate Nielsen ratings system, it comes from analytics. Wanna know how many 22 year old dudes that like video games will see Josh Ostrovsky’s post about Coors Light at 3 PM on a Thursday? Josh can tell you, just ask him while holding a fat enough check. He’s too big to fail, he’s worth the legal risk of the platform being sued for hosting “his” content which they know is stolen. What are the chances of a broke, unknown comedian working a day job just to make rent while they fight for unpaid stage time being able to copyright their material and having enough money and time to pay for a lawyer to take legal action? Pretty low. That’s why comics are willing to take the risk at stealing jokes, because it doesn’t matter if you get caught as long as your stolen goods have already gotten you far enough to become famous. My friend Maura Quint (@behindyourback) got harassed for weeks on twitter by Josh Ostrovsky’s followers because she took a heavy handed role in calling out his plagiarism. That’s absurd. That’s like if Batman called out the joker for being a villain and everyone was like “Okay” but then a few of his henchman just followed him around for a while going “FUCK YOU BATMAN!!!” This is America, if it makes us happy and it makes us money, we don’t really care about the backstory.
As far as parallel thinking, that’s very real and its never been more apparent than now with how many people are putting their funny thoughts out into the universe via Twitter. In order to really understand it you need to understand what a joke is, how a joke works, and what goes into making a really good and unique joke. There are definitely gray areas but it’s usually easy to tell which one is which even without knowing all that stuff. Is it extremely topical and from two comedians who are constantly writing jokes about whats trending? It’s probably parallel thinking. Is it the exact same misspelled words as a tweet from @jonnysun about a concept so absurd you don’t know how anybody would think of it? It’s probably lifted.
RM: We obviously live in a time where everybody is extremely dependent on their electronic devices, and although usually most people are respectful of performers there are still a few people who are constantly texting and tweeting during shows…What does that look like from the stage; and have you ever called somebody out during the middle of your set for doing that?
BD: Oh yeah, I’ve definitely called people out for it. I mean…if it’s a 300 person show and one guy is in the back with his face lit up while everybody else is having a blast it might not be worth my time, but if I’m doing a cafe and there’s only four people there for the show, I can’t afford to have one of ’em check out, so I’m gonna draw attention to you and that’s gonna force you to focus back on the show. I actually think it’s one of the coolest things about stand-up is that it’s an interactive experience, so the format actually forces you to be there in the moment. If you’re not, the comic will probably call you out and if it’s a well run venue the staff will too. If it’s disrupting other people’s experience I will always say something.
RM: Other than your Ibanez Brett Druck Unfavorable Signature Series, what other guitars do you like to use live? How would you respond to an audience member or another comic that says they hate it when a comedian picks up a guitar; and do you tend to get a lot of blowback from traditional comics for doing that?
BD: You must be going off of some older clips, as it’s been a while since I used any kind of instrument on stage. I started using it when I was a year in and it was unique, in that I was singing jokes with a punchline that hit on a resolving chord, but I wasn’t building a real stage presence. It got me into the Andy Kaufman Award which got me into Just For Laughs Chicago, but it was keeping me disconnected from audiences so I dropped it and went back to bombing. I’ve messed around with it a couple of times but my act outgrew it, so it doesn’t really fit anymore. I understand the bitterness from other comics. So much of the difficult growing process in stand up is learning your own rhythm on stage and how to adapt it to each audience, but when you have a guitar it’s a forced and established rhythm that most audiences will just get on board with regardless of your actual chops as a comic. It kind of seems like you’re almost cheating. At the same time if somebody is killing and they’re doing their own unique material, who cares how they’re doing it? You’re obviously in a bad place if it makes you upset. Focus on other people less, and then you’ll spend more time improving your own act to the point that you wont care if somebody else is doing well.
RM: What do you think is the biggest mistake comedians make today with regards to networking? How do you go about avoiding that blunder yourself; and what advice would you have for younger comedians looking to connect with other comics without becoming an annoyance?
BD: It’s hard to give advice because there are so many different paths to success, and how you identify success is completely relative. Some thing I say is a mistake might be somebody else’s bread and butter or their ticket to success. I guess I would say “Accept your timeline.” Comedy is a great equalizer: It’s a crazy mixture between artistic creativity and psychological experiments with large groups of people. That takes a crazy amount of time to fully understand both intellectually and instinctively, so its going to take a really, really, really long time to get good at. You’re not special. If you try to fake it til you make it, you will expose yourself as a fraud every time. I’ve done it. I’ll probably do it again by doing something I’m not ready for, but I hope not. On the one hand I say wait until you’re ready, on the other hand I can’t deny that having success online with my jokes hasn’t lead me to a bunch of opportunities that have helped make me a better comic. I will say, I have made a few friends through Reddit and Twitter, some I feel very close to, but I find that the relationships built in person are the ones that usually become the most meaningful and real.
RM: Is there any sort of quantification you use for phasing older material out of your set? How many chances will you typically give a bit that is struggling to work itself back into your good graces?
BD: I don’t have any set rules. If it’s working and I have fun doing it, I’ll use it. I don’t have enough exposure or an album out to justify having to let any material go just yet. One of my jokes went completely viral and has been getting millions of views every time it’s shared from a big page or website for the last two years and it still works in every room I play. The worst that happened was two people accused me of stealing it from myself.
As for jokes that aren’t working or ones I don’t like anymore the cycle is usually to drop it when I write something stronger, forget about it completely, wait until it comes up when discussing bits with another comic and then retry it with a fresh look at it. It’s really hard to see why something isn’t working when you’ve been doing it a while, as you lose all of your outside perspective. You gotta just drop it until you forget it. I just put a joke in my act that I couldn’t quite get working four years ago and when I tried it again having become a better writer, I was able to turn it into one of my strongest jokes.
RM: Thinking ahead to the future, what changes do you see happening to stand-up comedy over the next twenty-five to thirty years? Do you think those changes we be predominantly technology-related, or that they will have more to do with the evolution of the art form as a whole?
BD: Here is my logical but also baseless projection: I think comedy is in a boom, and I don’t think that boom is going to collapse. We’ve already seen what podcasts have done for comedy as a whole. When I was working at Trader Joe’s I talked to a customer who knew more about road gigs than I did, because she listened to so many comedy podcasts and I didn’t listen to any. I was just doing shitty bar shows in New York and working at Trader Joe’s. I think comedy is going to become a cultural staple the way philosophy used to be in Greece. I also think we’re going to see some insanely talented people coming out of places other than New York or LA, and the regional importance of those places – while remaining huge – will greatly diminish. There are so many scenes where you can get on stage multiple times a night in front of actual crowds, so if you’re doing the right work, writing and you have a good work ethic, you can develop just as well as you can in NYC but also have money left over to live a life. Once talent fully realizes they don’t need a middle man to find their audience, that they can find them and build a true collaboration of support from an audience that gives them the freedom to create I think we’ll be in an incredible renaissance. I think technology will help all art and I think with stand up we’ve already seen the world start to turn its consciousness from “Oh, another guy talking about marriage…” to “Cool…these comedians speak about every day stuff in non-hackneyed funny/forward ways.”
RM: What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2016 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
BD: I am hitting the road a lot this year for the first time, and that’s really exciting. Next week I’m at The Laughing Derby in Louisville, Kentucky from the 26th to the 28th, and then I’m at Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club in Las Vegas, Nevada from the 30th to June 6th. Getting my podcast up and running is at the top of my list, but mostly over the next year I’ll just be putting together more material that I really like and getting closer to my first album. I have a few TV pilots I’m working on, but I don’t want to put anything out there unless I really love it. I’d love to get a late night set in but that may be a lot further down my timeline then next year, but who knows? I’m not rushing anything.
Official Website: http://www.brettdruck.com/
Brett on Facebook: http://facebook.com/brettdruckcomedy
Brett on Twitter: http://twitter.com/brettdruck
Once again thanks for visiting First Order Historians and enjoying more of the internet’s finest in user generated content.