by Ryan Meehan
Lebanese-Palestinian-Syrian-Italian-American, born in Oakland, California, Sammy Obeid is best known for his 1,001 day streak of consecutive comedy performances. It began on December 26th, 2010, and concluded on September 21st, 2013– four days after an appearance on TBS’s Conan. Breaking the old work record on Day 731, Sammy set the new one at 1,001 Arabian Nights of Comedy. Over the course of the streak, he appeared on NBC’s America’s Got Talent and advanced to the Las Vegas round, and became the first comedian to perform on The Food Network. Splitsider conducted an exclusive interview with him entering the home stretch. LA Weekly praised Sammy’s “sheer force of will” in performance and lifestyle, and LA Mag recommended his show highly. He was profiled (not racially) in TIME Magazine, followed soon after by an article in the New York Times. Published on his final day, it describes his material as “full of wordplay” and “clever misdirection.” Chunks of his streak were spent as youngest member of both the CoExist Comedy and Axis of Evil: New Generation national tours. Capping the streak, his debut album, Get Funny or Die Trying, was named a Best Comedy Album of 2013 by iTunes. Not slowed, Sammy has now embarked on a national college tour performing for hundreds of students a week. Sammy has founded his own comedy enterprise, KO Comedy and he’s our guest today in 7 questions.
RM: For those who might not be familiar with the term, what is “pilot season” in the entertainment industry? As far as auditions go, what transpired for you during this year’s pilot season; and why do you think the failure rate is so high when it comes to television pilots?
SO: I’m pretty sure that pilot season is January-April, the time of year when TV networks create new shows. In these months, actors/actresses get a lot of auditions, or, as I see them, opportunities to embarrass ourselves in small rooms with strangers. Sometimes the people we audition for look at us in shame. But sometimes you land a line and make them smile, and you feel like a god. Or goddess. This year, one casting director told me “Wow, that was perfect” and another asked “Is this your first pilot season?” But anything is better than the time I put out my hand to shake with a casting director, and she looked at it in disgust and said “I don’t shake hands!” I was caught off guard so I just laughed awkwardly and said, “Ahaha, neither do I.”
RM: What originally gave you the idea of doing a thousand straight days of comedy? Were you ever sick during that period and what was the closest you came to not performing during that stretch? Where did you do shows on holidays?
SO: The original idea was to just do as many days in a row as I could, then the goal became 365. Then on Day 365… My FINAL day… I found out that another comic once did two years in a row. I vomited, washed my hands, and then decided if I didn’t do 1,000 days straight I would go down in history like the guy who ran 5k before finding out he was at a 10k. My body got sick maybe ten times, from flu to food poisoning, but every other part of me was sick of comedy about 50% of the time. There was a night I couldn’t get on a show in San Francisco, and I had to beg a local bar owner to turn off the music at a St. Paddy’s Day celebration so I could tell jokes. A drunk guy punched me in the stomach, grabbed the mic and threw it on the ground, but I had already done my five minutes so the punch line was really on him. There are a lot of bar shows on the holidays, including Christmas, but Thanksgiving I had to perform in a family’s (not mine, thank god) living room, and Fourth of July at a county fair in the small town of Vallejo, home of rapper E-40. I had to follow the mayor getting booed off stage.
RM: What is the story behind your new assistant Brian who happens to share the same name as the comedian Brian Regan? Was this something that was done as a strategic business decision so that people that were involved in phone calls or email exchanges would think that this individual was the “real” Brian Regan and therefore it would give you more credibility in the comedy community? Am I kind of a dick for asking that question?
SO: He happens to share the same name because he is the same Brian Regan. The rumors are true. Regan, or the Reganator as I call him (it’s kind of condescending, but he takes it from me), wasn’t satisfied with being a millionaire in comedy and always had the dream of being an assistant to an up-and-coming comedian. He says I remind him of a young him, just more Middle Eastern. Great guy, thanks for asking. The only reason you should feel like a dick is for digging for gossip on the personal life of my celebrity assistant.
RM: Which “Food Network” show did you appear on; and how did that gig come about? Since you are of Lebanese, Palestinian, Syrian, and Italian descent; what type of food do you like to cook when you have dinner guests?
SO: I was on Throwdown with Bobby Flay. My friend Victor owns a burrito business in San Fran named Papaloté and he asked me to come roast him and his brother for the special. Personally, I like to cook my dinner guests; that is, their bodies. Saves money and time since I don’t have to go out and buy meat! My cultural heritage comes in when I drench them with extra virgin olive oil and use tons of garlic. (Why worry about your breath when you’ve killed all of your guests?)
RM: What can you tell us about both the documentary and the book that you are working on about your three-year journey? And what was the most bizarre thing that happened during that trek?
SO: The documentary and book should be released at the same time this year so that nobody can say they saw the book or movie first. The book will tell stories illustrating my decline, while the documentary will make me look like a hero. Different stories, both depressing, but after what I went through you’ll feel even worse if you don’t buy it. The most bizarre moment was getting a shoe thrown at me, I wasn’t even doing a Bush impression. It was at an Irish bar, the same place I got punched a year later. Fool me once, shame on shoe, fool me twice, I got punched in the f&*cking stomach.
RM: When you’re preparing new material, how much of your time writing do you spend on just the brainstorming aspect? Which part of the process do you enjoy the most; and which do you find to be the most tedious? Why do you think that is?
SO: 5% on brainstorming. I don’t care for it. I don’t like to have to think about what I’m writing, thoughts are painful. That’s why they call it brainstorming, because it’s a natural disaster for your brain. I do enjoy getting high and thinking I’m a genius for discovering things like the fact that lymph nodes sounds like nymph loads. Why do I get high? Why does life hurt? I can’t answer that, only you can. Emu band is another pun I thought of. Like a bunch of emus with instruments.
RM: You told an interesting story on your blog about getting heavily booed at Tommy T’s in Pleasanton – a club that you grew up working. Do you think younger comics should view situations like that as a challenge when it comes to handling a difficult audience such as you did; or do you think that it’s to be used as a learning experience as to decide whether or not to throw in the towel? Overall, is it mostly situation (or comedian) specific?
SO: I wouldn’t advise anyone to actively get into a situation like that as a personal challenge. At the same time, if you naturally attract people’s booing and hating you, that might be a sign from the heavens to quit. Just take my advice: stop when you see a shoe.
RM: What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2014? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
SO: I’m just trying to party man. Let me know where the party’s at? Just kidding, it’s right here: http://sammyko.com.
Sammy on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sammyobeidfans
Sammy on Twitter: https://twitter.com/SammyObeid
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