By Ryan Meehan
Brian Fischler is a blind comedian and writer whose blindness gives him a unique perspective about the world. After all, an asshole is still an asshole, and even a blind guy can tell. Brian performs his stand up all over the country accompanied every where with his sidekick Nash who often steals the show. After all, Nash is a lot furrier, cuter, and better behaved. Brian has been on Top Gear U.S.A., the Today Show, and featured as Maxim Magazine’s Comedian of the Month. He currently writes a column for The Dog Whisperer’s website interviewing Celebrities about their biggest fan, their dog – and he’s our guest this week in 5 Questions.
RM: Who was the first standup comedian that you heard where you said to yourself “I have to do this”? And what was your first experience on stage like?
BF: I actually started out as a writer in Hollyweird after college. I thought I was going to write the great American screenplay. This of course was way before everyone and their cousin became a writer. Back in the days we used prodigy, not to date myself too much. When I started going blind I moved back to NYC, and I was working in Corporate America. The money was great but I hated the job and the people. Hopefully none of the people will be reading this and say, “Hey didn’t that blind guy place me in my job?” I was an Executive Headhunter, yeah and I hated it, and the only thing I miss is the money, oh the money was fantastic. To keep the Hollywood writing dream alive I started with Second City Improv, but not the famous one out of Chicago, their sister company out of New York. It was great and a nice outlet for the corporate America frustration. The only problem was I have a progressive eye disease and was going blinder by the day. Improv is such a visual art, and while I thought I was really good at it, I felt like I was cheating my scene partners as I would miss a facial expression or reaction. I then took a stand up class through Caroline’s, and just started hitting the open mics around NYC. With stand up, you just have to get out there and do it. You can be taught a little of the process, but doing it is where you learn your timing, delivery, and presence. All of which I am still working on. And you thought this was going to be a simple short answer. My inspirations for getting out there and doing standup at the time was a great little show that Comedy Central really screwed up in canceling, Colin Quinn’s “Tough Crowd”. That show was fantastic, not sure if it is on DVD or Netflix, if it is you should check it out, as Colin had all of the best comics on who were making headlines and talking about important social issues. The guys who really struck a chord with me were of course Colin, Greg Giraldo who I deeply miss, Nick DiPaolo, Rich Vos, Lewis Black, and of course Robert Klein who has come to be a mentor to me. Just like back in the 70’s NYC will always have the best comics, and unlike L.A. you can do six to 8 shows a night in NYC and really hone your craft. I think the first time I got on stage I must of had 6 jack and cokes prior to going on. It was at the Hamburger Hamlet I think that was the name of the place at an open mic put on by Gladys where a lot of us got started. Thanks to the six jack and cokes, I don’t remember much of it. I think I might have even forgot to turn my handheld recorder on.
RM: How did you go from selling pencils in Times Square to doing standup for a living?
BF: Well, I still wouldn’t say I am earning a living from my stand up solely. Very few comedians make their living from doing just their stand up. There are probably a billion comedians in NYC alone. I can’t tell you how many times someone has said to me oh, you’re a stand up you must know so and so, and of course I have no clue who they are talking about. Which I imagine is the way most people react when they hear my name. My name isn’t exactly putting asses in the seats. With the benefit I run, Laugh For Sight, I like to say, if your name sells less tickets than mine, I am not sure if I can have you on the benefit. Hey, we are trying to raise money for a good cause here, and we do appreciate how much of the comic world wants to be involved, but we need to put the asses in the seats. So pop on over to Times Square and come by my pencil stand. What do you mean you don’t see me?
RM: This year’s “Laugh For Sight” festival is May 7th at the Hollywood Improv and features Greg Proops, Bryan Callen, Paul Rodriguez, Harland Williams, Greg Fitzsimmons, Daryl Wright, and Rebecca Corry. For those who may not be familiar with the cause, what’s Laugh For Sight about and how did you get started with organizing that festival?
BF: You keep asking these questions that don’t have short answers. Well, I guess if someone has an upset stomach my interview will make for good reading material. When I started out in stand up, after doing it for a year it just popped into my head one night, a lot of comic’s put on their own shows, why not put on a benefit to raise money for retinal degenerative eye disease research? We have been doing the benefit for 8 years now, and it truly blows me away the generosity of comedians. All of the comedians who perform at Laugh For Sight donate their time. We’re still struggling to get the corporations involved, as it seems like every corporation has their own cause, and for some reason blindness got left out. It amazes me, as several years ago I remember a Gallup poll where the number one fear in the world more than aids or cancer was blindness, yet blind causes get ignored and don’t even get me started on how weak our lobby is. We decided instead of going with just a headliner, Featurer, and Opener to go with an All Star lineup that an audience would never get to see together in one power packed night of comedy. I think we lucked out as at the time I was looking to start Laugh For Sight, Gotham Comedy Club was moving from 22nd to 23rd street. At the time I was performing at Gotham a lot, so I met with the club’s owner about putting on a Laugh For Sight, and just like in comedy, timing is everything, as the very first Laugh For Sight was the very first show at the new Gotham Comedy Club on 23rd street. I’m not sure if it was the people who were involved with putting the first Laugh For Sight together, or just dumb luck, but our first lineup was amazing, as it was Eddie Brill, Adam Ferrara, Tom Papa, Nick DiPaolo, Colin Quinn, Godfrey, Greg Giraldo, and Lewis Black. Kind of funny that the first Laugh For Sight had all these comedians who got me started in comedy. Ironically, I had nothing to do with booking any of the first Laugh For Sight Benefit, but have booked every comedian for each show since then. With the second Laugh For Sight, Robert Klein was available and Robert has done every NYC benefit since then, and has really helped make Laugh For Sight into what it has become. A few years ago, we got lucky again and a sponsor helped us expand Laugh For Sight to L.A. We are now doing a yearly benefit in NYC and L.A. We have thought about expanding to other locations, and even did a benefit at the Ritz-Carlton in South Beach, but doing shows in cities that don’t have a big comedic talent base living there gets complicated as you now have to deal with flying talent in and getting the hotels on board, never a fun task. With NYC and L.A. you have huge talent pools to draw from, as we have had about 48 nationally headlining comedians perform at our Laugh For Sight benefits, and I like to think of them as Laugh For Sight Alums.
RM: Could you tell us a little bit about Nash? Has he ever relieved himself during a gig?
BF: I guess you only saw the YouTube version of our Top Gear appearance. As for some reason the very final moments of the show were edited out in that one, but the one that aired on The History Channel, Nash walked right over to the Top Gear logo and peed on it as we were closing out the show and they kept it in. Adam, Rutledge, and Tanner were laughing so hard I thought they were going to have a heart attack. I was more mortified than anything as guide dogs are trained not to relieve themselves in their harnesses, and let’s just say the good people at Guiding Eyes weren’t thrilled with it, but it was something that was completely out of my control, and how many guide dogs actually go up in front of studio audiences? I am happy to say Nash has not done that since, and no he hasn’t peed on stage ever, but he has fallen asleep and started snoring during one of my sets, hey he has heard the material a million times.
RM: How does your writing process work when it comes to developing material for your set?
BF: This is one of my favorite questions to ask comedians, as everyone’s writing process is different. It’s a weird thing, as I can’t sit at a computer and write jokes. I can flush an idea out but all of the best bits come to me when I’m on the subway or in the shower, never when I am sitting at a computer. And for those people out there who think they are funnier when they drink, no you’re not, and never has an idea that I came up with when drinking and emailed to myself ever made it into a show. I’m more like “What the hell is wrong with me, and what was I thinking?”
RM: What’s up next for Brian Fischler in the twelve months to come? Anything big in the works?
BF: You haven’t heard about my sitcom? Hey FX, I’m available. Hopefully our upcoming Laugh For Sight L.A. will go smoothly, as you never know how the benefit will turn out until it is over. Usually the day before I am always like I am never doing this again, and questioning why I put myself through this. So, assuming everything goes well, we will be doing a Laugh For Sight NYC in late October or early November back at Gotham, I will continue interviewing Celebs for my dog column, and hopefully some more writing gigs, as you never know what is going to pop up. I am also working with Gotham Comedy Club launching their first podcast called Gotham Comedy Radio, we have recorded the first two episodes but are still working on all the logistics. Other than that Nash and I will just keep on making them laugh. Speaking of which…I have to go and walk him.
Brian’s Official Website: http://www.brianfischler.com/index.htm
Brian on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/#!/brian.fischler.7?fref=ts
Brian on Twitter: https://twitter.com/blindgator
Guiding Eyes: http://www.guidingeyes.org/
Laugh For Site Event Site: http://hollywood.improv.com/show.cfm?cart&id=242112
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