by Ryan Meehan
Taking comedy audiences by storm since 2004, Ben Roy brings an unparalleled energy and unique voice to stage. Roy cut his comedic teeth in Denver at the legendary Comedy Works. Since then, he has been selected to perform at the Montreal Just for Laughs Comedy Festival, LA Riot Comedy Festival, Boston Comedy Festival, Austin’s South by Southwest festival, and many more. He’s also been featured on HBO’s Funny as Hell series; in the John Wenzel Book Mock Stars: Indie Comedy and Dangerously Funny (alongside comedy greats like Patton Oswalt and Fred Armisen); and on the Comedy Central Show Adam DeVine’s House Party. Roy’s debut stand-up album, I Got Demons, was released in 2012 and ranked one of the “10 Best Comedy Albums of the year” by Laughspin. His second stand-up album, No Enlightenment in Sobriety, was released 2014. Most recently, Roy recorded his third stand-up album in March 2015 at Comedy Works. Roy and fellow Denver Comedians Adam Cayton-Holland and Andrew Orvedahl (who collectively perform as The Grawlix) recently moved to LA where they are shooting 10 episodes for their new TruTV series Those Who Can’t, which is expected air in early 2016. Following that announcement, Variety named The Grawlix trio one of their “Top 10 Comics to Watch in 2015”. In addition to stand-up comedy, Roy is a prolific musician, currently the lead singer of SPELLS and I am very lucky to have him as my guest today in 10 questions.
RM: Which came first: Your pursuit of the ability to create good music or the desire to be funny? Who was the first stand-up comedian you saw on television that just completely blew your mind; and who was the first musician or group of musicians that really captivated you to the point where you had to know who was responsible for what was coming out of the speakers?
BR: Wow! This is hard right out of the gate. Let’s start at the top. My desire to create music came long before comedy. Although, according to my parents, I’ve been trying to make those around me laugh since I was born. And I didn’t get involved with theater until my freshman year, a few months prior to first having picked up a microphone, but I’ve always just loved music. When I was six or seven years old my parents gave me my first radio and I cried so hard. Being allowed to choose what station I got to listen to was a special type of freedom. I’d just put on tapes of The Beatles or The Monkees or listen to WROR and sing. It didn’t matter what it was. I remember the lyrics to so many sappy love songs because of that.
Truthfully, I hated stand up well into my mid twenties. I should say I hated what I thought stand up was. It wasn’t until my wife got a job at the Comedy Works in Denver as a door staff person that I was introduced to what comedy truly is. I can’t think of any one person who blew me away, but a combination of quite a few. I remember being exposed to a wide range of voices and styles. Perhaps seeing a schedule like, Kathleen Madigan, Jim Gaffigan, Joe Rogan, and Sean Rouse in one month or something, that really opened my eyes that this wasn’t an art form of just one trick ponies.
The first musician that really captivated me was Cat Stevens. I’m still a fan of his music to this day. And then I had to learn about who he was. And, obviously, by the time I was young he had already given it up. And that made the whole package for me. I remember listening to his tapes being struck by how sad, and yet somehow uplifting, it all sounded. His range as a songwriter is important. ‘Trouble’ is one of the most underrated songs in music history. There, I said it!
RM: What do we need to know about Adam Cayton-Holland, Andrew Ovredahl and the Voltron-like tripod monster that is Grawlix? How long have three of you been performing together; and why do you think you work together so well?
BR: There’s a lot of podcasts and interviews about how we got together out there, so I don’t think anyone needs to know that. I think most people don’t realize how close of friends we are. We work together for that reason. We started doing comedy together eleven or so years ago, and it’s stuck because of a similar work ethic and a belief in compromise. It’s hard at times, and we all snap here and there, but for the most part we operate really well as a unit.
RM: You’re currently doing this TruTV show “Those Who Can’t” with those two individuals, as well as a host of other comedians who are both writing for and appearing on the show…What has been the most challenging aspect of that whole production thus far? Have either the producers or the network received any sort of emails or communication from any teachers’ unions complaining about the way that educators are portrayed on that show; and do you really give a fuck either way?
BR: Good questions. I think the most challenging aspect is how grueling production can be. I didn’t fully expect that. First off, we’re not putting shingles on a roof in a 104 degree heat or fighting a war in another country, so it’s not that type of hard. But it’s definitely exhausting and stressful. I thought it would all move at a much faster pace, but it’s a lot of standing around and waiting and then shooting takes over and over again and then waiting some more. That process is repeated twelve to fourteen hours a day, five days a week, for fifty or sixty days.
Knock on wood, no complaints from unions or teachers. Mostly teachers have come forward to say they liked it. If you watch the show you quickly learn it has zero ax to grind. I had great teachers in high school. I had some awful ones too. That comes with any profession. I respect how tough the work they do is. We just like the environment for jokes. That’s it. That being said, if anyone does come forward we could give two fucks. Eat shit. Worry less about a small show on cable and more about how an ever-widening wealth gap in this country, as well as cripplingly low capital gains taxes, is forcing your district to be so poor it feeds prison food to our children.
RM: As comic that is usually classified as a “ranter”, do you ever find it difficult to convince those around you that you aren’t always “on” when you are going off about a particular subject in everyday conversation? Do you think of yourself more as a ranter that stays committed to a certain structure – in the style of Lewis Black – or more of a free-form-fly-off-the-handle guy such as Bill Hicks or Lenny Bruce that just says whatever comes to your mind?
BR: I am kind of always on. It’s how I deal with my nervousness. My anxiety is through the roof at nearly all times of day, so I’m always jibber-jabbering about something. It just doesn’t always tend to be about anything of real substance. Just talking. But I don’t mind the label of rant comic. But I always say I’m more of a monologist. I’m very structured with what I do. Improv and free-form comedy scares the hell out of me. I know what I’m going to say, and exactly how I’m going to say it, every time I get on stage.
RM: You had the opportunity to perform on Ari Shaffir’s Comedy Central show “This is not Happening” where you told a story about masturbating to a pretty uncomfortable situation…On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate yourself as a storyteller onstage at this point in your comedy career? Did you ever have a “Eureka!” moment when you realized any basic adjustment to the method of your oration was going to make you much better, or was it just a series of developments in your act that happened over several years?
BR: I did do This Is Not Happening…Ari was kind enough to have me on his show, which is fan-fucking-tastic by the way. But man do I hate that story. I guess it’s fine, but it’s just old. I told it because it fit well with the theme, but it’s not really what I do on stage anymore. I do think I’m a better story teller than what I put forward on that taping. Thankfully he made me look good with the way he edited it. Yeah, I love storytelling…It’s in my blood. Being from Maine, it’s what we do. We tell long-winded stories or anecdotes for dramatic effect. In fact, that should be on the Maine state license plate. “Maine: We Tell Long Winded Stories or Anecdotes For Dramatic Effect.”
RM: What kind of music are you currently making with SPELLS? Is any of the humor that might come across in some of your lyrics intentional in any way, or if people find them funny would you simply chalk that up to the fact that as a comedian you are always trying to write things with the goal of making people laugh?
BR: We’re making the best fucking music in the world. Hahaha. We call it vacation rock. It’s garage-y, poppy, kind of punk rock n roll. There’s definitely a fair share of humor in it. I mean, we’re not Tenacious D, but there’s a lot of fun stuff. But I tend to write dark and so does our guitarist Chuck. This new album that’s coming out in the fall is all about my struggles with my panic and anxiety disorder. So, because of that, a lot of it is a bit more serious. But, when we play live, we still perform every song as if they’re about tacos.
RM: You quit drinking back in 2010, and you have been very vocal about your struggle to stay sober ever since…Was there a single instance of bottoming out that was a total wake-up call for you, or was it simply your body’s inability to tolerate the amount of abuse it had suffered up until that point? Which aspect of your stand-up has improved the most after making such a positive lifestyle change?
BR: I definitely had a bottom out moment. I was at a friend’s house drunk and got into an argument with my sister-in-law and her boyfriend. My wife was pissed at me for how I was acting so I left and walked home. When my wife got back home shortly after, she found me chugging vodka. Then I just snapped. I said a lot of awful shit and was yelling and being terrible. I don’t remember much, but I do remember coming out of my blackout and seeing my five year old son standing in the doorway watching it all. I passed out that night and woke to find my wife and son gone. Now by this point in my life, my addiction had taken me everywhere. I’d been hospitalized five times. I had lost friends, lost relationships, been to jail, and I had never quit. Hell, my wife had even left before. But that morning was different. I was just tired. I couldn’t apologize anymore. It, in all truthfulness, made me sick to even try. I had no more “sorrys” in me. I called my work and told them I needed treatment for an alcohol problem. My boss at the time, a great guy who I still call a close friend, let me have some time off to figure it out. I went to some rehab and then counseling. Mostly I’ve just white knuckled it since that day.
Honestly, it made my comedy more pointed and focused. I was covering up my anxiety. Which, at times, has been good for me. It allowed me to talk about my problems rather than covering them up. My comedy career took off almost immediately after that decision. I felt more vulnerable.
RM: Since you are based out of Denver, I feel like I should probably ask you about this article which states that the Denver Comedy Works locations are now permanent “no-phone zones”…What’s your take on this whole ordeal? Do you have any close friends within the comedy community who disagree with your take on the subject; and if so, can you see things from their side of the argument given that technology is now such a huge part of everyone’s life?
BR: Fuck phones in the showroom. No comic I have ever met disagrees with that. Good on Comedy Works. Get rid of them.
RM: Speaking of technology, it seems like these days there is a very fine line between what’s defined as “free speech” and what is viewed as “simply being a dick”…How would you best describe the difference between those two things; and when was the last time you were doing one of them and ended up getting accused of doing the other?
BR: Man, this is a tough one. I don’t know what the defining line is. I guess that’s in the eye of the beholder(s). I do believe that outrage is quickly becoming currency in our culture, and if we’re not careful, in our effort to cultivate more of it, we’ll create what it is we’re trying to prevent.
Two instances jump to my mind with things I’ve said. To the people it offended it was real, so I’m not going to piss all over them by defending or attacking it. Both instances I did my best to explain why I said or wrote what I did, and then I moved on.
RM: What are the worst character traits a comic with plenty of good material can have that may hinder their ability to take their career to the next level? How often do you see that in the clubs; and have you ever been the type of guy to go over and possibly mention to them they need to make an adjustment to the way they approach the business?
BR: Ego. It’ll kill your comedy. Just do your best to put your ego aside and be honest with yourself. I see it all the time in comedy. Most people are great, but there’s always a few. But I never go over and say anything…I usually just ignore the person. They’ll fall off the face off the planet soon enough.
RM: What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2016 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
BR: Just finishing up Season Two of Those Who Can’t. Then trying to get back on the road as a stand up. I’ll also be playing a bunch of shows with SPELLS. We have a new full length coming out this fall called, “Staying in Is the New Going Out”.
Ben on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ben.roy.1804
SPELLS on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/spellsrules/
Ben on Twitter: https://twitter.com/benroy00
Once again thanks for visiting First Order Historians and enjoying more of the internet’s finest in user generated content.