by Ryan Meehan
John Roy began his comedy career in Chicago, where he studied Improv at Second City, and the Annoyance Theater. He moved to Los Angeles in 2004. Roy has appeared on numerous television programs including Conan, The Tonight Show, The Late Late Show, Last Comic Standing, and CBS’ Star Search, where he was the first comedy champion. John is a regular performer on the most prestigious independent shows in comedy, including Meltdown Comedy at The Knitting Factory and Whiplash, as well as the best comedy clubs in North America, such as the Laugh Factory, The Hollywood Improv, and the Comedy Attic. John has performed in the Just For Laughs Festival in Chicago, the HBO Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, the Limestone Festival, and the Bridgetown Comedy Festival in Portland, OR. Together with James Adomian, John wrote and performed, along with Marc Maron, in the web series “Maron In Space” for Funny or Die and IFC in 2013. He is frequently heard on satellite radio and his AST Records release “Alexander Hamilton” was named one of the Ten Best Comedy Releases of 2013 by the LA Weekly. John’s podcast “Don’t Ever Change” has comedians talk about their high school years and has featured Dan Harmon, Kumail Nanjiani, and Kyle Kinane. In the summer of 2014, John will perform at the Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal, and he’s our guest today in 7 questions.
RM: How many comics would you estimate were on the open mic circuit in Chicago when you were just starting out? Which of the comedians did you really hit it off with during that time period; and how many of them are still doing comedy today?
JR: Maybe twenty five? If an open mic got thirteen people on the list in 97-98 that was pretty good. It began to grow each year after that, but at the start it was scarce. Three open Mics, maybe four. One club. One booked independent show. That was it. My first friends in comedy were my best friend, Mick Betancourt, who I knew before and still see all the time, and a lot of people who have quit for the most part. Although within a few years I had met Matt Braunger and Kyle Kinane, who both remain friends that I see whenever I am home. My Los Angeles friend group contains a lot of Chicago transplants, and a lot of people who just seemed to fit in, even though they were from somewhere else.
RM: What’s more difficult: Being in a band that writes great music; or being a standup comedian that has top-notch material? Which art form do you think is more appealing to members of the opposite sex?
JR: A band is hard because you aren’t the only one who gets a vote. Especially if you have to split the band’s recordings with other songwriters. You need people who are going to do it your way, or a really satisfying split of control to make it work long enough for anyone to hear that material. A comedian is in charge of every step of the process, so we have it a little easier. No one was threatening to quit if Chris Rock didn’t cut his gun control bit. I think music is more appealing just because it’s more appealing to humans. Bono doesn’t need the filter of language to be felt on a human level. A hundred thousand people in Argentina can enjoy Soundgarden even if they can’t understand Chris Cornell’s lyrics, because music affects you more viscerally than that. Standup doesn’t. It’s most definitely speech, dependent on context and culture and language and thus I think just less inspiring of passion in the human heart.
RM: What were the details of the development deal that you won after Star Search? What kind of ideas that were tossed around for that project, and how did it eventually end?
JR: It never really happened. I think there was resistance in the other departments of CBS to some contest winner from Chicago being taken seriously because the boss said they have to. It was basically a meeting and a “no.” But the show we pitched was me teaching English as a Second Language to immigrants.
RM: Why did you decide to name your 2013 disc “Alexander Hamilton”? Could you briefly talk about the relationship that you have with A Special Thing Records; and how you feel about the way that album turned out?
JR: I have known Matt Belknap since 2006. I was kind of lost in the then very high energy world of L.A. mainstream comedy clubs, not really doing what I wanted, and I went to the UCB Christmas Party because Matt Braunger told me that’s where I could meet the then mysterious “alternative comedy scene” and Matt booked me for See You Next Tuesday, which was my very first L.A. alternative show, late night Tuesdays at UCB. I have always been a fan of their label. I had a record I submitted that they weren’t interested in, and I re-thought my material and wrote another 30 minutes in New York, and then after a set at a San Francisco comedy fest, Ryan from AST said, “Let’s do the album.” This was exactly the material they were looking for from me. I wanted to name it after something from the album, but I find it cheesy when albums are clearly punchlines from jokes chosen for their maximum wacky value. “Alexander Hamilton” won when I got the idea to shoot the CD cover as the soundtrack for a fictitious biopic of the late Treasurer. Listen to the album to hear what it means – I don’t want to ruin it. It’s on the first track.
RM: What are some examples of topics that you try to avoid during the writing process? Is there any particular reason that you stay away from those subjects?
JR: I try not to write any more “I saw a dumb sign and here is why it’s dumb” jokes. Those were a big staple of my act starting out because they are easy. They also are boring and say nothing about me to the audience. Any comedian can tell them. My only exceptions are when the sign is a local oddity of the city I’m performing in. Then there is value in the connection to the audience it brings. But in general, these aren’t worth charging money for, in my opinion. I do the same with “I heard a dumb song and here is why the lyrics are dumb.” for the same reason – it’s easy and bland. And I used to have a ton of those because they hit hard and hit pretty much every audience. But nobody remembers them, and they don’t make your act stand out from other comics.
RM: What are some basic pointers that can be learned by taking your complimentary comedy class? Is teaching stand-up something that you can see yourself doing twenty years from now as opposed to being on the road forty plus nights a year?
JR: I would never teach standup for money. That’s the whole point of the free class. I got all my instruction in comedy for free from other comics. One of the beautiful things about standup is there is no price to entry, which is why so many great comics can come from impoverished backgrounds. You just show up and do it. And no amount of classes can reduce the amount of hours you will still have to spend learning it. I may write a book that included the free comedy class material AS WELL as an equal amount of new content, but I will always keep the class free and on line and I would never profit off of it. I made it specifically to offer a free alternative to these classes that pop up everywhere.
RM: I’ve noticed that you tend to use Twitter a lot to converse with your fans and colleagues as opposed to using it as a palette to create jokes…Are you cautious about how you use Twitter in the sense that you don’t want to Tweet too many jokes that you could eventually end up performing on stage? Or do you not really view it from a strategic angle because you feel your act speaks for itself?
JR: I tweet a lot of jokes actually. I am pretty prolific at the hashtag game for @midnight for example. And I just tweeted four jokes today. If I don’t put a lot of tweets in my act, it’s not for any fear of blowing them on the Internet, the amount of people that see a tweet is too small for that, and I have tweeted a couple things that ended up in the act. But in general I use Twitter to put things out that work best in the Twitter form. “The pig that built the straw house is still a PIG WHO BUILT A FUCKING HOUSE” is one of my tweets. It got a good response, but doesn’t really fit in the act. Another, “Good Unfollowin’ Weather”. Only makes sense as a tweet, and wouldn’t on stage. Another thing I like to do on twitter is make jokes about things I could not fairly assume the crowd would be interested in. Onstage I might hesitate before making a Grant Morrison, Guided By Voices, or highly specific West Hollywood joke, but on Twitter, why not? It’s free and if two people got it, it was worth it.
RM: What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2014 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
JR: I am close to set approval on another late night television set, but not far enough along that I can name it. James Adomian and I have some more videos and a cool project to announce. I will perform for the first time at the Just for Laughs Festival in Montreal, and we will have more great comedians talking about High School on my podcast. It’s called “Don’t ever change” and it’s on feralaudio.com. We have so far interviewed Dan Harmin, Kumail Nanjiani, and Howard Kremer, among 40 others, and coming up we have TJ Miller, Ian Edwards, Nick Thune, and more.
Official Website: http://www.johnroylive.com/
John on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Comedian-John-Roy/144178545600770
John on Twitter: https://twitter.com/JohnRoycomic
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