by Ryan Meehan
Barry Rothbart is a comedian, actor and writer, who currently splits his time between Los Angeles and New York City. He was named one of Variety magazine’s “Ten Comics to Watch” in 2013. After starting comedy in college at Umass, Rothbart returned to New York City to perform improv and sketch at the famed Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in NYC, as well as tour nationally as a stand up comedian. In 2009 he moved to Los Angeles and began appearing in several national commercials. In 2010, he was featured as a new face in the Montreal Just For Laughs Comedy Festival and shortly after began landing television roles including: MTV’s Punk’d (cast member), TNT’s “Men of a Certain Age” and stand up appearances on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Conan, and the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. Rothbart played Peter Diblasio in the Martin Scorcese film The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), alongside Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill. In 2013 he was named one of the “Top Ten Comics to Watch” by Variety magazine and he’s our guest today in 7 questions.
RM: How were you able to land a part in “The Wolf of Wall Street”? Was being on the set of that movie as intense as one might expect it to be?
BR: I landed it the old fashioned way… by being totally clueless in a series of auditions and apparently doing one or two things correct. I was under the impression that being on a set like that would be very intense and orchestrated, but surprisingly most decisions by Marty (whom I call Scorcese) were made spur of the moment. Like he’d ask the actors what they wanted to say, then tell the DP to put a light somewhere and a camera somewhere else and boom, we’d be shooting. It was like a very very expensive web series.
RM: At the very top of your website it reads “Barry Rothbart Cares”. Why does Barry Rothbart care? And what is it that you care so much about?
BR: I care about America. Because it’s America.
RM: When did you first try your hand at sketch comedy? Were you a part of troupe in high school or college? Is there anything that you can take from what you’ve learned from the world of sketch comedy and apply it to standup, or are the art forms simply too far apart to draw a good number of paralells?
BR: I was in a sketch group in the seventh grade where my friend Danny and I got a helium tank, sucked in a bunch of helium then argued with each other while filming on a handheld camcorder. That’s where I honed my craft. Then I started doing improv at the UCB theater in 2004 and performed for three years, blah blah blah, had a sketch group called The Straightmen that performed live around NYC for several years, blah blah blah. But it was really those helium fight days that taught me sketch. Sketch and Improv teach you big character choices, which is invaluable for making a stand up bit funny.
RM: On which late night talk show did you feel more comfortable performing: Conan or Ferguson? Why?
BR: Ferguson because he’s so comfortable and loose that you almost feel guilty for having written jokes.
RM: You were recently featured in an episode of “Adam Devine’s House Party”…What was that whole experience like? That show looks like it’s a lot of fun to film…Do you have any good stories from the set of that show that you’d like to share?
BR: It looks fun to film because it was. But it was not a “party” the whole time. I think that’s the thing that makes that show amazing, I’ve had several people who are really knowledgeable in TV and filming ask me if there was just a real party and if they just filmed during the festivities. That would be -if it were true – probably one of the worst decisions ever made by a TV network. “Hey let’s just throw a party and shoot some scenes”. Nah, the party was faked and scenes were shot just like scenes in a movie with extras pretending they were partying. But it was still fun, and they allowed me to improv a lot. For the rehearsal for the scene where I’m giving Adam advice, I thought it would be funny to lay down seductively to make the director laugh. Then they liked it and that’s how we shot that whole scene, with my laying down holding a glass of merlot.
RM: When it comes to doing commercial work: What aspects of humor do you think are the most effective when it comes to making a really memorable spot?
BR: Being an average looking white guy, that’s key.
RM: With the popularity of such media increasing, do you think that digital shorts and online video clips will ever take such a significant chunk out of cable ratings that some of these individuals who run cable companies might have to look at changing the way people want to view a majority of their entertainment?
RB: Haven’t they already? I mean most TV shows try to write TV that will be sent around in three minute clips. The best SNL sketches of the last decade are the ones that went viral online. It’s the way comedy is changing. However I don’t think the thirty minute of feature film formats will ever disappear, they’re just too perfect for comedy storytelling.
RM: What’s up next for you in 2014? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
BR: Look for an album (currently untitled), a show in development with Comedy Central, a documentary about competitive eating that I made called “Hungry”, lots of shitty tweets, some weight gain and two more Scorcese movies.
Official Website: http://www.barryrothbart.com/
Barry on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/therealbarry
Barry on Twitter: https://twitter.com/barryrothbart
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