by Ryan Meehan
Solidly ensconced in the 30-40 demographic, comedian Todd Glass may now be considered ineligible to be labeled a wunderkind-but he certainly was one, having launched his career in comedy at age 16. Since that precocious start, the Philadelphia native has developed into a polished performer with a bent for inventive material that often mocks the conventions of stand-up. Todd’s comedy is often satirical, sometimes irreverent but always funny. His television appearances are many, including performances on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” “Late Night With Conan O’Brien”, “Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn”, “Politically Incorrect,” “The Dennis Miller Show” and “The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn.” With his unique delivery and divergent style of witticisms, Glass quickly becomes a host and viewer favorite. Since arriving in L.A., Todd has amassed an impressive list of credits. Appearances on such shows as NBC’s “Comedy Showcase”, “Late Friday”, and “The Test” quickly led way to guest appearances on “Home Improvement”, “Friends”, “Last Comic Standing”, “Married…with Children”, and HBO’s “Mr. Show”. Todd has also become a veritable fixture on Comedy Central, headlining own half-hour stand up special “Comedy Central Presents: Todd Glass.” He has appeared on numerous other shows on the network, including a special edition of “Win Ben Stein’s Money”, “Pulp Comics”, and “Comics Only,” and “The A List.” Demonstrating his unwavering innovation, Todd co-created “Todd’s Coma”, a hybrid of sketch, sitcom, talk and variety. The much-praised, slightly twisted talk show, in which Todd’s curious family conducts interviews with visiting celebrities while he lies in a coma, attracted such celebrity guests as Ben Stiller, Fred Willard, Herb Alpert, Ray Romano and Arianna Huffington. Todd is no stranger to working with talent. In addition to touring with David Spade, Todd has performed with Jack Black and Tenacious D earning high praise from Black himself. His live performances (including appearances at the famed Montreal Just for Laughs Festival and the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival) have generated rave reviews from major publications. The L.A. Times praised his “freewheeling style and quick wit”, while Variety noted Todd is “crafty and sharp-edged”, and that’s just one of the many reasons I am honored to have Todd Glass as my guest today in 10 Questions.
RM: When did you first begin compiling the stories that would eventually become your book “The Todd Glass Situation: A Bunch of Lies about My Personal Life and a Bunch of True Stories About My Thirty Year Career in Stand-Up Comedy”? How long did it take you to edit the final product; and can you see yourself writing another book in the near future?
TG: I had a ghost writer – Jonathan Grotenstein – and I couldn’t have done it without him, I really couldn’t have. I just sat around and talked to him about my life…personal, business, and everything, and then he just took a lot of notes. And that’s all, we would meet every day, and then he put it together and then he started asking me questions about specific things. I think it was good to have somebody to help me because sometimes you don’t know (if) what you do is interesting to others so you find yourself saying “Is this interesting”? because it’s common to you, and having another person listening was very helpful. He would ask me a very specific question about something that happened, and then I would send him a voice memo that night and then he would put it on paper. So I would say that the whole process of writing the book took about 2 years…about a year a half…Would I write another book? Yes, I would. I would rather not have to have a throughstory though. My friend said I should write a book called “I’m Right, You’re Wrong, Shut the Fuck Up”.
RM: While most people are familiar with how you came out back in 2012 as a result of a string of suicides among gay, lesbian and transgender youth, a lot of people don’t know that you struggled with dyslexia most of your life…How would you best explain that reading disorder to those who might not be familiar with its intricacies; and how did you go about finding a way to bring that discussion into your work?
TG: It’s not like “woe is me” or anything…everyone has their thing, it’s just easier to know what it is and then when you know what it is, you can deal with it. I’ve said this a million times before, a lot of times people say “Back in the day, not everybody had some term”…Well, yes they did, they just didn’t know how to deal with it. These things existed back then, and I always say that although yester might be people who are incorrectly medicated, are over-medicated, or don’t need medication – obviously that exists – I don’t really like having that conversation with those people unless they are willing to talk about and understand how many people found the right medication and the right dose of it, and have unbelievable lives because they were able to spot something that they had and deal with it. That’s a lot of people so, whenever people say “Back in the day, we didn’t have all that stuff”. No, you had dyslexia. You had problems, and maybe your parents punished you because they thought you were just being lazy. The best way to describe it in a silly way, what it’s like…One night I had a pot gummi bear, but I didn’t know that it was a pot gummi bear. And all night long I was like “What is wrong? I can’t even tell a story, it’s exhausting and I can’t remember anything.” Then when somebody said “We figured out that there was pot in the gummi bear” I was like “Oh my God”, nothing changed but I knew what it was and that alone – even though my memory wasn’t any better, it was still a little foggy – I knew what it was, and then that made me feel a lot better. And I think that’s the way it is with anything like that. You don’t know what it is, and when I was in high school, nobody knew what it was. I used to think that I couldn’t concentrate, but then I was like “Well no one wants to concentrate, you’re just not trying hard enough” so once I figured out what it was I said “OK, now I’ll be able to deal with it”…
RM: As a quick follow up on that, how does that work…do you see letters in a different order on a page, or how does that transpire?
TG: You would think I would know more about this…they say that dyslexia affects your reading, and reading affects everything so dyslexia affects everything. I think you do flip things. Now, everybody does it a little…I’m pretty sure. A certain amount of it is normal, but dyslexia is an overwhelming amount of it…and I know that one of the things I realized as to how true it was…Some words I have trouble saying, like “domesticated” and I’ll go to say it wrong on stage to tell people how I say it wrong, and I end up saying it right. So I thought “Wow, I flip it back the right way when I’m trying to say it the wrong way”. Which I just figured out about a year ago, so you flip things and I think that’s what made me not be able to read very well. And then I stopped reading, so I just got bad at it. Because the dyslexia was part of it. If people that have dyslexia just read and work it out – and people that have dyslexia obviously read – It’s not that I can’t read, I read, but I can’t retain. I still can’t retain at all. It’s a very hard thing for me to retain things that I read. I can read it, and you might think I’m reading it, but I’m not retaining it.
RM: Back in April of 2010 you suffered a heart attack and even though the cause of the incident was attributed to genetics, you made some positive lifestyle changes such as smoking cessation and losing weight…How much have those decisions had an effect on you as a performer?
TG: Not much really. The only thing that affected me on stage a little is that I lost 30 pounds. It wasn’t like I was obese but I was thirty pounds heavier so I got winded a little, so the 30 pounds was good for that. Nothing major, it really didn’t change that much…I know that’s not the best answer in the world, but it didn’t really change that much consciously. It definitely made me think about being more open about who I was…That God forbid if I was to die, I would have died with an unnecessary lie. That sort of prompted me to maybe want to be more open.
RM: Technology set aside, what’s the biggest difference between the way the industry of stand-up comedy looks today as opposed to thirty years ago when you first started out?
TG: It’s all good…it’s all great. It’s like I said…You have to weigh out good and bad, and I think people don’t a lot. A lot of people say “You know, the problem with kids today is that they’re all looking at their cell phones”. Alright, I get it. And sometimes I even tell my close friends “Hey, put your phone away!”…But when history writes itself, all of the modern day media is not going to be what we perceive the problems were of this time. We’re in the middle of an information revolution, kids have so much information at their fingertips…and they do a lot of good with it. I look at Twitter, Netflix…things like that, people being able to do some really cool programming and camera equipment being cheaper…people can make their short films, there are so many niche TV shows on because we have so many networks, so there’s more outlets than there used to be and that’s good. Overall I think comedy is in a great place. I really shy away from being the person that says how good it used to be…Patton Oswalt said something that I really like when he said “Hopefully the best days of comedy are tomorrow”. Why would you want to think of the best days of comedy being back then? No, the best days of comedy are tomorrow…And part of that is all of the modern-day advancements of Twitter and all those other outlets.
RM: When you are doing a new bit for the first time, in the ten minutes before you hit the stage do you ever find yourself obsessively thinking about that joke and trying to make last second adjustments or are you the kind of comic that rarely makes edits in the eleventh hour?
TG: Everybody writes differently…I have an idea and then I just do it on stage. At first like maybe it’s thirty seconds and maybe if the crowd’s into it, it becomes three minutes, I write on stage, I write concepts offstage…I have a book of ideas and thoughts, but I work them out on stage and if they get laughs they get bigger and bigger – the bits get bigger and bigger and if they don’t, maybe the bit gets dropped. But I don’t write out bits, I write them on stage as I’m doing them. I try to talk about what I care about, and the thing about doing that is that I have endless material. If you talk about what brings you joy, what pisses you off, talk about what angers you and talk about what makes you cry then the material will just come…So as I’ve grown to do comedy longer, I think the writing process has become easier. Things I used to not talk about on stage…The podcast has really helped my stand-up because a lot of things I thought “Well, that’s just more of a podcast thing” but then my friends will say “No, you should do this in your act”…So the podcast has really helped my standup.
RM: I had the chance to interview Blake Wexler a while back and he told me that the most important thing he learned from watching you was earning the respect of your peers, hanging out with the other comics, and in general treating people with courtesy. Do you often run across comics in your line of work who have great material, but maybe aren’t where they should be professionally because of their attitude towards others in the business? If so, do you ever feel obligated to help steer them in the right direction by pointing out that character flaw?
TG: The way I’ve always said this is – and I feel comfortable saying this – that I’m a pretty insecure person…I need a lot of love when I walk into a room to make me comfortable, and I realized that indirectly that you have to give it to get it. It’s a two-way street. So I give it, I get it, and I’m happy. That’s what works for me. And I care about the respect of my peers, I really do. I want my peers to like what I do and laugh at what I do and…Yes, I want to be successful and I want the respect of my peers so that’s always meant a lot to me. And as far as hanging out with other comedians, that’s just what I love to do…nothing is more joyful than hanging out with your comedian friends on the road. The only thing I see a comedian do where sometimes I feel like maybe I can slap them a little bit and if I’m working with someone – and I think they’re really funny and they’re really a lot of fun to hang out with – but I notice that they’re blaming a lot of their downfalls on other comedians, like saying “Why did he get that?” and I’m like “Don’t fuckin’ worry about why he got that!” I forget who said it, but some comedian a long time ago who said “Compete against yourself, not other people…”
RM: It’s interesting you say that because recently I talked to a popular male comic based out of New York City and he talked a little about how one thing that frustrates him is the way most of the comics don’t stick around after their set. They either go to hit another mic, or end up leaving for whatever reason. Do you see that happen on the West Coast a lot?
TG: Some comedians don’t hang out, but I notice that the majority of them do…Unless they have another show to do, but that’s understandable…Most comedians hang out. The expression I love – and I don’t know where I heard it – Your perception is your reality…that’s all you have. Your reality is your perception. Whether it be tainted or not, your reality is your perception. When people say “You know, comedy’s a real cut-throat business” I go…“Oh, you’re probably cut-throat and you don’t realize it…” Cut-throat means “not supportive” (you know what it means) but cut-throat sounds so vicious…like “everyone’s out for themselves”. When people say that, I used to not know what to think. I used to think “Well, that’s not my experience, maybe your city is different than where I started…” But it’s not, your perception is your reality. You’re going to draw those people if you’re not supportive. Every scene that I’ve ever gone to, I’ve found stand-up comedians to be incredibly nurturing, but I think you’ve got to give it to get it. So if someone doesn’t think it is…It doesn’t mean you can walk into an isolated situation and run into negativity and it has nothing to do with you…In an isolated situation, obviously…but overwhelmingly if you find that the majority of the time, that stand-up comedians are cut-throat or all into it for themselves, and not supportive I think the majority of the time that’s what you’re giving out. Whether you realize it or not, that’s what’s going on.
RM: How do you know when it’s time to stop doing a particular joke or set of jokes in your act? Is there any sort of criteria you use to evaluate bits that might be nearing the end of their life cycle?
TG: I usually just drop bits when I’m bored of them subconsciously. I don’t ever think it’s time to get rid of it. The opener and the closer are things that I have every once in a while stopped myself and said “Come on Todd, it’s time to get rid of that opener” and the closer the same thing, because they are two hard things. There’s definitely times where I’ve done the same opener way too long, or when I’ve done the same closer way too long…but as far as everything in between, when I’m bored of it slowly gets out of the act and new stuff slowly comes in. I’ve always said – and I hope this is true – that if somebody saw me a year later, I would have at least half new material. And that just happens naturally: That’s the natural flow of what’s going to come in and what’s going to come out.
RM: So of that half that you keep, how much of that material is usually there in your act a year later?
TG: You know I don’t even know, I would imagine out of the half that I keep a year after that…maybe at least half of that’s gone…
RM: So you just kind of quarter it off.
TG: Yeah…Like I said, not consciously but subconsciously. And the material that I still do is not the same, it’s changed, it’s taken on a different life, or I’ve added stuff to it.
RM: What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2015 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
TG: I just shot a pilot for a late night show – not a talk show, just something that I think would work late at night – it’s called “The Todd Glass Show” and we’re editing that right now. It’s based off my podcast but it’s not in the podcast studio…We made a set, and it’s almost like a playground for comedians. I have a guest come on, and it’s something to do late at night. Someone’s gonna have to come on and do something different on the late night landscape, and I hope that it can be me. Because I like the connection that you make with people late at night, and I want to do something a little different than what’s out there for late night with the current talk shows. It’s hard to take that format that’s been around for so long and freshen it up. To me the guys who are doing a great job of it are Kimmel, Conan…You know, to tell you the truth, everybody is doing a pretty good job…It’s just not a job I would want because it’s just so difficult. So I have the late-night pilot that we shot, so I’m doing that right now and then I’m doing a Netflix special in September which will be about 40% of my podcast and 60% of my stand-up. It won’t be the part of the podcast where I have guests on, it will just be more of the serious stuff with the close-ups of me complaining…Almost like what Bill Burr does, only me doing that. Me talking about something that bothers me or upsets me or brings me joy, and then you’ll watch the transformation from a close-up of me on the podcast, and then you’ll watch that segue into my stand-up routine. So it’ll be like “Here’s something that I was talking about” and then it turns into material and you’ll be able to watch that process throughout the hour special…It will be maybe five or six minutes of the podcast and then go over to ten minutes of stand-up, back to the podcast for maybe six/seven/eight minutes and then back to the stand-up for ten minutes.
RM: Have you chosen a venue for that?
TG: I’m going to probably shoot it in an art gallery…I want it to be like a really cool small jazz room in New York City. Martin Scorcese used to use the phrase “tablecloths to the floor”…that’s a certain look…Once you say “tablecloths to the floor”, you know you’re in a fancy place. I want it to be like a cool jazz room…forty people, five piece band…Just really cool like Scorcese would set a nightclub in the 1950’s.
Official Website: http://www.toddglass.com/
Order Todd’s Book: http://www.amazon.com/The-Todd-Glass-Situation-Personal/dp/147671441X
Todd on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/toddglassshow
Todd on Twitter: https://twitter.com/ToddGlass
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