by Ryan Meehan
An only child with OCD, Paul Hooper channels his dysfunction into a cathartic harangue. He has an undeniable likability that he plays to the hilt through his bullet proof rants. This native of Charlotte, North Carolina, now residing in New York City, has been featured at the HBO Comedy Festival in Vegas, the Boston Comedy Festival, Michael Moore and Jeff Garlin’s Traverse City Comedy Arts Festival, the Vancouver Comedy Fest and was a finalist in the 30th Annual Seattle International Comedy Competition. A seasoned headliner, Paul has performed in forty two states and ten countries, including two armed forces tours. His debut solo album, “Tense and Uncomfortable” was released in October of 2013 with Stand Up! Records, and is available on iTunes. We are excited to have comedian Paul Hooper as our guest today in 7 questions.
RM: How would you best describe the formative years of your life and how you became a fan of all things funny? When did you first see the art of stand-up comedy on television; and which comic led you to believe that this might be something you’d be good at doing yourself?
PH: Sometime around the 4th grade I became obsessed with comedy when I saw Eddie Murphy: Delirious. I loved watching older guys like Jonathan Winters, Tim Conway, Bob Newhart. I don’t think there was one single comic that pulled me into standup. It was more of an overall passion for comedy. Every 2 years I would get hooked on a comic or a TV show that really made me laugh, and that comedy obsession followed me into adulthood.
By the time, I was 18 years old I started seriously contemplating the idea of doing comedy. It took 4 years before I had the nerve to try it. At 22 I went onstage for the first time and it became my entire life.
RM: What are your top five favorite comedy venues in New York City; and which unique characteristic of each one of them allows for a performer such as yourself to try out new material on stage?
PH: The Creek and the Cave was one of the first places that took me in as a new comic to NYC. It’s still my favorite place to go and try stuff. Rebecca Trent (owner) encourages comics to experiment and push new ideas onstage. Shows run 7 days a week. Everything from standup, panel shows, podcasts and all kinds of theme shows. I just did a week at the Creek, which is where you’re free to do 45 minutes to an hour of whatever you want. You have the freedom to build a new hour, warm up for an album recording or just stretch out. That’s unheard of in this city. The Creek has kept me in NYC.
Comedy as a Second Language show – One of the first great shows I was able to get on when I moved to NYC. I usually do it a couple times a year. It’s so much fun to go there with new material that’s just starting to come together. I’m able feel it out and get a good read on each joke in that room. The show has given me a confidence boost in a lot of new jokes. I love that show and everyone connected to it.
The Knitting Factory – every Sunday they draw a large crowd of comedy fans with strong hosts and lineups. The show is run by a really solid group of people. They’re also doing a Wednesday show now. Incredibly fun room.
The independent/bar shows produced by comics all over the city. There are tons of shows in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens. All built and promoted by comics determined to make a place for themselves within the scene. Throwing a show together in this city is no easy proposition and I have an immense amount of respect for the comics that do it. Those rooms help us to stay busy and continue growing
I don’t know if that counts as 5 venues, but those are the places that have been good to me and have allowed me to keep going in this city.
RM: As a comic who does his fair share of traveling, have you noticed any tendencies with regards to how audiences in certain geographical regions respond to pockets of material within your act? Which area of the country has the most “tough” rooms, and which region seems to have the most rooms that are least critical of the comedian in front of them?
PH: I started in the Southeast, which I still think is the toughest part of the country. There are just so many ways to offend them. However, I’m not sure if there is a region where people aren’t critical of the comedian. The South may be the most extreme, but every region of the country is capable of being hypersensitive and taking jokes way too seriously. Sure the word “goddamn” can make Alabama cringe, but the sheer mention of “domestic violence” can shut down a crowd in a more liberal area. I no longer gauge it by the region, but by the people in the seats that night. You can tell a few minutes into a set what you’re dealing with or up against. I still believe you can get a great comedy audience in any part of the country if the show is promoted well. Except maybe Dothan, Alabama.
RM: How often do you listen to “Tense and Uncomfortable” now that the album has been out for almost two years? If you could have done anything different on that record – be it the material, or the way you approached some of the jokes – what would it be and why? What target date do you have set in the back of your mind for when you’d like to put the next one out?
PH: I haven’t listened to it in over a year. I felt like I went too fast on the album, but that was my pace at that time. I have since slowed down which allows me time to build a story and makes the whole experience more fun.
I recorded a new album last year but have yet to release it. I like to procrastinate, put it out late and by the time it’s released, I’m doing different stuff onstage. Through my laziness I have created a system that I am happy with. Hoping the new album will be out before the end of the year.
RM: If you had to rate the “dirtiness” of your comedy on a scale of one to ten where one is Brian Regan performing in front of a bunch of junior high school students and ten is Andrew Dice Clay in 1990, where would you fall on that number line? When you first write a joke that’s a little blue in context, do you ever find yourself attempting to write a “B” version that’s cleaner but still retains the concept of the original bit?
PH: I would probably rate myself a 6. I have a handful of vulgar bits. I feel like I was a lot dirtier in my younger days. I never made a conscious effort to change my approach. It just naturally went that direction. If a bit comes out dirty I would never think to clean it up. If I believe it’s funny and original, I will say it. The concept of cleaning something up just to appease a prudish audience nauseates me. I’m hardheaded and refuse to write around other people’s intellectual shortcomings. I never set out to offend anyone. My aim is to make people laugh. However, watching someone complain about a joke being too dirty or offensive is always entertaining in a sickening sort of way. I have a never-ending fascination with human beings and their nonsense.
RM: Looking at your Twitter and Facebook feeds, it seems as if you use those sites mainly to promote shows as opposed to testing out new jokes…Is that something that you do consciously because you don’t necessarily want to “waste” material on social networking sites, or because you’re more interested in utilizing those websites for free promo?
PH: I say something slightly humorous on Twitter twice a year. The main reason is that I don’t do a lot of current event/pop culture stuff and when the whole world is talking about any one topic it bores me. I’d rather find something unique or personal to talk about. I’ve never felt the need to make everything funny. There are so many things I truly don’t care about and that seems to be 95% of the subject matter on Twitter. I do want people to know where I’m at and come out to live shows. Maybe I should step it up and throw some funny stuff on Twitter. I guess I could make a quarterly quip or two. Anything more than that and I will throw my phone into the street.
RM: Which portion of the writing process would you say you struggle with the most and why? Conversely, which aspect of constructing new bits would you say is your specialty; and why do you think you excel at that particular facet of your craft?
PH: I’m always looking to speed up the whole process without sacrificing originality or punchlines. I like writing when I’m totally alone. I’ve never liked writing in a coffee shop. I’m unable to focus with people on top of me. I need to be alone and zone out a few times a day to find something good, whether it be a brand new premise or a tag line. I glance at my notes before I leave my apartment, get in the car or take a nap. Searching and jotting ideas in a short burst. I can usually feel when I hit a wall with writing and I lay it down. Then I’ll come back to it a few hours later.
Once I have an idea going, the tags seem to come pretty easily. Then it’s just a matter knowing when to end the bit and move on. I tend to obsess on 1 big idea and write 3 or 4 bits around that. If I can get a couple big ideas going at the same time I’m excited.
RM: Do you have any sort of criteria in place when it comes to evaluating bits that could potentially be nearing the end of their life cycle? How do you ultimately decide when it’s time to completely remove a joke from your set?
PH: I think it’s when I consistently drift off during the bit. I’ll go back and listen to recordings to determine whether I’m doing it wrong or it has just run its course. Sometimes I’ll drop it for a couple months and bring it back as a part time joke. I do it on a case by case basis. I don’t like to assign any blanket rule or lifespan to each story. It all comes down to how it feels when I say it. If it seems forced, I drop it. If it still flows, it can stick around for a while.
RM: What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2015 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
PH: Another album with Stand Up Records, more road dates and more NYC shows. All I want is to build a following, make those people laugh with interesting ideas and see more of the world.
Official Website: http://www.paulhoopercomedy.com/
Paul on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/paulhoopercomedy
Paul on Twitter: https://twitter.com/paulhooper
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