We sat down with Rus Gutin stand up comedian at the New York Comedy Club.
RUS GUTIN Interview for BEST COMEDY TICKETS
Questions by Joseph Santiago (CEO of BCT)
(Filled out by Rus on Wed. May 17th, 2017)
1.What do you wish someone had told you about show business before you entered it?
RUS: Hurry up and wait.
2. What was your process in developing this special?
RUS: When I did LEGAL GUARDIAN for Comedy Records at New York Comedy Club a few years ago, it was the first time someone else besides me would be releasing something I did. SO it was an attempt to take all the material I had written since my son Rocco was born, dealing with all my anxieties towards being a father. and get it all in one place. I was very proud of it and how it all turned out….After I taped it though, my wife and I also decided to stick with the idea of having just one child. Our goal was to, “raise ONE Supreme Court Justice and be done with it.” But life had other ideas and my beautiful daughter Sofia arrived not too long after that. So while I had originally intended to move on to telling a different story as a follow up; my fatherhood pressures and anxieties doubled and so now I’m getting ready to tape all of that material as LEGAL GUARDIAN Vol. 2….
RUS: As far as my process, I approach each set (or monologue in my case) as a long song or section of an arrangement, that always has to have a beginning, middle, and end. I like to build them 15 mins at a time and after working each of the ideas for a year or so; I combine it all like Voltron with some retro-fitted transitions added. And I want to especially thank my manger Emilio Savone and New York Comedy Club for giving me the opportunity to work this way the last few years. They’ve given me plenty of room to run and experiment there. I’ve been very humbled by all their support.
3. Do you think stand-up has changed a lot over the years? (*I didn’t see the “YOUR” in this question the first time. So I answered what I THOUGHT the question was too. Haha!)
RUS: Incredibly so, in that it’s everywhere now. When I dreamed of being a stand-up as kid and even when I started out in 1999 when I was attending AMDA, the main scenes were only NY and LA with vibrant scenes in Boston, Philly & Chicago too. But really that was it as far as I knew. But then the internet, social media, podcasting, you name it; made it so that there is a stand-up and comedy scene everywhere now. Like there’s literally Igloo’s in Antarctica starting up an open mic as we speak. I like it so much on one level because it pushes the genre and the comics to be more awesome… BUT it can feel over-saturated at times; so you really have to seek out and continue engagement with your fans.
*3.5 Do you think YOUR standup has changed alot over the years?
RUS. Yes, ALSO incredibly so. I always had the high-energy monologue style, BUT it was crass and unrefined when I started for sure. After 9/11, I then became very politically driven and angry on stage. My goal was more to really push the audience to think and maybe even get upset. Eventually, I learned that neither I nor the audience was getting anything positive out of it at the end of the day though. And right around the time I realized nobody cared what my opinions about big subjects were anyway, I had my son. That is when my material really became laser focused on who I was and what my fears and pains were. I felt a shift in how the crowds reacted to me and I simply liked how I felt after the show better too. I felt like I actually was connecting with people as opposed to lecturing them. I still do love to write jokes about politics, but more for my own amusement or podcast appearances..
4. What happens if they don’t laugh?
RUS: For me, it depends. Because I really go pretty fast and get pretty intense once I get going. So IF the crowd isn’t into it, SOMETIMES I enjoy that there’s nothing that I or the crowd can do to stop the freight train and I take it all the way to the end and leave very loudly and awkwardly. But so long as long as I knew I went for it, did what I rehearsed and left it all on the field, I enjoy going out in a blaze of glory… BUT that said, because my style is so smashmouth, I’ve also been known to just stop mid-sentence and say “sorry for getting so upset, goodnight.” and just walk off. Haha!!
5. How often do you perform comedy per week?
RUS: About twice a week right now because my kids are so young. As they get older it’ll get easier, but I truly enjoy being a big part of their day-to-day while they are this young.
6. What are you favorite comedy clubs that you perform at?
RUS: It’s a 2 part answer, but 1.) Quite simply, NEW YORK COMEDY CLUB. Emilio Savone and Scott Linder, along with Andrew, Kristina, Oz and the whole staff have completely re-invented this amazing room that was a relic even when I stared out 18 years ago. Back then if you leaned on the bar too heavily you were afraid part of it might come right off! And beyond the physical transformation, it was their passion for comics and creating a positive environment to work on material and hang out. That’s what I think really brought the scene right to them. AND THEN, they added the amazing AMY HAWTHORNE as the booker, who is my old friend from The Comedy Store, which was their most clutch move yet. She has had her finger on the pulse for a long time and she always knows exactly what shows and comics to have on. Whenever I am on my way to NYCC, while I’m excited to perform my set, I’m even more excited to see the line-up she has for the night. Heavy hitter after heavy hitter, so you gotta bring your A game. She loves comedy and it shows.
RUS: Part 2 of the answer though has to be about LA though, because it was FOR SURE my show at the The Comedy Store in The Belly Room upstairs AND being on “Comedy Juice” at The Hollywood Improv in the Main Room where I believe I truly came into my own as a comic. I try to get back once or twice a year and hoping to be there again in the Fall.
7. How often do you write jokes?
RUS: Sometimes, I feel compelled to write a joke off of something I saw in the news or on TV, but mainly I just try to track my initial anxious and fearful reactions to people, my kids and everyday situations. So it really depends on what kind of week I’m having, but every few days or so I do something irrational and I scratch it into my notes. Then I exxagarate from there I guess. Haha!
8. When did you feel like you were a pro comedian?
RUS: Even though I’d been around a few years at that point in NY, not until I moved to LA in 2005-ish and eventually had a weekly show at The Comedy Store in The Belly Room called, “FRIDAY NITE LIVE”. The Store taught me very quickly that everyone there was really funny and could write killer jokes, but it was the comics that you left feeling like you actually got to know them that made it big every time. And when I and my wife were expecting my first kid, I felt safe there to share all of those fears on stage. Whether it worked or not. As long as it was honest. That’s where it clicked for me. I’m eternally grateful to The Store and that particular era of comics who adopted me into their “comedy collective” for teaching me to stop writing jokes and to start writing my own story.
9. How did you know you wanted to be a comedian or did it just happen?
RUS: I have wanted to be a comedian since I was about 4 or 5 years old. My life’s work has always been going towards the goal of having my own hour specials on HBO like George Carlin did.
10. Who would you say are your influences in the comedy world?
RUS: Of course my list includes all the usual suspects I listened to on cassette or saw on HBO as a kid, a la Carlin & Pryor, Robin Willams and Eddie Murphy. BUT I also LOVED Sam Kinison, Billy Crytstal & Andy Kaufman for being so singular and unique. I liked Sinbad too, because my parents laughed at his stuff as much as I did… In addition to stand-up, I really love music and comedy together like Spinal Tap, Tenacious D and Flight of the Conchords. PLUS, I also thought Pro-Wrestlers and Phil Donahue yelling at people on his old show were hilarious growing up; so I took some cues from some weird non-comedy places too.
11. What is one of your more embarrassing memories from childhood?
RUS: I was a pretty difficult kid growing up for my parents to deal with. I had alot of emotional problems. SO I used to think the most embarrassing thing was getting sent to and then unceremoniously kicked out of a summer camp for kids with ADHD; that I lovingly refer to as “SPAZ CAMP” on stage. I thought it wouldn’t bode well for me in society that I was kicked out a camp full of the crazy Ritalin-Rockets for being TOO crazy of a Ritalin-Rocket to handle. However, audiences seem to really enjoy my stories of it over the years, so I’ve since found a way to empower myself about it.
12. What are the most important rules you live by?
RUS: Notorious B.I.G’s “The Ten Crack Commandments”
13. What was your favorite book as a kid, and what does that say about you?
RUS: When I was a kid and even now, I was a ferocious reader of any comic book I could legally get my hands on. I also LOVED The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars novels too. But maybe my favorite reading “experiences” when I was kid were Stephen King’s “Misery” and “IT”. I was WAY too young to be reading those books and am not sure why no adults thought to stop me. BUT holy shit, did they freak me out in the best of ways. And I found “Misery” totally hilarious, which is pretty disturbing on SO MANY levels. BUT I guess it does explain my style of humor a bit too, now that I think about it.
14. What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
RUS: When I got to LA, early on when I was still young and impatient, a great comic told me, “It takes 10 years to learn how to write, 15 years to find your voice, 20 years to have any real national success and 30 to be a household name.” Now even though this was before Twitter, the podcast boom, etc. I think it still holds true (give or take a decade). I’ve always liked the idea that you can do stand-up your whole life and never be perfect at it. There’s always a new bit to write, a new stage to hit and a new lifelong fan to make out of someone.
15. Given your feelings about the state of our culture, how do you avoid despair?
RUS: Avoiding taking in too much news on any given day. See what’s going on and then get on with your life. The news is so “WTF parallel dimension / fractured timeline” lately, it could drive anybody mad to look at it for more than 10 mins…. And obviously, I also do the things that have always worked for grown adult people such as myself looking to escape the world’s travesty’s: Weed, Tequila, Video Games and of course, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 in IMAX 3D.
16. What three things would you take with you to a deserted island?
RUS: So long as I had Zyrtec, Weed & Tequila (counts as one thing in my fantasy), and of course (this may be cheating), access to a PS4 containing a hard drive giving me access to 100s of my favorite movies like “The Big Lebowski“, “Goodfellas“, the entire Marvel and Star Wars catalogue, LOTR’s, Star Trek, etc. I’d be fiiiiiine!… However, please note, I do really hate beaches and the sun and the outside, SO can this island please be indoors too? Thanks.
17. Do you have any quotes that you live your life by or think of often?”
RUS: “Good looks will open doors for ya, but good hair will blow em off the hinges.”- Sam Malone (just kidding, I’ve been watching ALOT of old Cheers reruns on Netflix lately)… There are a few: (1). “The only regrets I have in life are the risks I didn’t take.” (2). “Luck is when opportunity meets preparation.” (3).”Drink when you wanna remember, not when you wanna forget.” and lastly, (4). “No one’s loved and lost like Frank has.”
18. How to handle hecklers from the stage?
RUS: Again, because my style is very fast and furious, I’m usually able to push through and drown out any hecklers. I also don’t leave too much room or places for them to chime in anyway… BUT I always have 1 or 2 things in my back pocket I try to figure out in advance in case that happens that will help me A.) defuse the situation BUT WILL ALSO B.) keep the crowd focused on whatever my story or point was. This way, the momentum of the set isn’t lost.
19. “What advice would you give your younger self?”
RUS: Shut up and listen more. I still have to tell my current self that everyday too.
20. What most important lesson you learned in comedy?
RUS: 3 THINGS.: 1). You are only in competition with yourself, so run your own race. 2.) Don’t try to be a comic, just try to be yourself. On stage and off. In my case that’s already enough to ask of people. And 3.) NEVER be funny with the money. Because it’s a small business and word of that kind of tomfoolery will always travel faster than any about some killer set you had.
21. Advice to your younger self just starting in comedy career?
RUS: You don’t need to do new material all the time. It’s okay to work on the same material for a while and let it grow. Make it better. Get it right. I left a lot of material behind for no good reason other than writing new stuff just for the sake of writing new stuff. Just like wine, you have to let a bit breathe a while. The audience won’t know if a bit is 10 years old or 5 mins old so long as you do it with honesty, gumption and precision.
22. How long do you spend developing new material?
RUS: About 2 years. I use a year and a half getting all the 15 min sections up to snuff, 3 months of running it as one piece, then I tape the set and edit it the final 3 months. During that time of post-production, I start working on new material for the next “cycle” or album.
23. Why is there so much sadness—depression, addiction—in the comedy world?
RUS: Ask me such a deep question, I will give a deep answer I suppose… Because you truly can’t have comedy without pain. Most people see a guy slip on banana peel, fall on his ass, and laugh. What a comics sees is that that guy who slipped cracked his tailbone and will require surgery and years of physical therapy afterwards. And that’s exactly what it is. You can’t have the laughs without the pain. And I think comedy attracts very ultra-sensitive and vulnerable people who have alot of pain in their past like me or maybe their present. And they simply can’t help but take in ALL the emotions and energy around them in the world, like a lightning rod. And we take that energy and deliver it to the crowd, and they laugh and we connect and we feel good for that 15 mins or so…. But then it’s over, the crowd goes home and you’re all alone again. BUT all the while, still taking in all those emotions and energy ALL the time. Everyday. Whether you want to or not. Whether you have a gig or not. Which can be VERY daunting emotionally and heretofore comes at a cost. The way Matt Murdock/Daredevil can hear every single thing around him ad nausaeum until he trained himself to block it out. I struggle with depression and panic attacks to this day even though I have a great wife, house, career and family. So I think this profession simply attracts a certain kind of “sensitive mutant” or “person” like me.
24. What’s your drink of choice?
RUS: I am allergic to wheat and yeast so most alcohol is a no-go for me. That said, all I really can drink is Silver Tequila on the rocks with some lime, lemon and salt. AND luckily, I truly enjoy it. It just FEELS like the drink a Mexican drug cartel leader would have after ordering a beheading OR after hearing of a successful beheading carried out on his behalf earlier in the day. Also, it tastes good too.
26. Greatest cartoon of all time?
RUS: That’s hard to say, as I love so much and so many different kinds of animated / anime properties. However, as far as TV the nerd in me will go with anything animated by Bruce Timm and Voice Directed by Andrea Romano for DC / WB. I.E. The Batman & Superman Animated Series(s) into Justice League and Justice League Unlimited (w/ Kevin Fn Conroy as Batman. Accept no substitutes.) I’m also a huge fan of the early Cartoon Network / Adult Swim shows, especially Space Ghost, SEALAB 2021 and Metalocapyse.
27. Let’s say you could live the life of any animal in the wilderness for one day: What would it be?
RUS: I would be Benji in Benji The Hunted. He was the dog equivalent of Ghandi meets Rambo in that movie. I would also NOT be opposed to being that Eagle that took swipes at Trump’s face with his talons. That fucking Eagle is a real deal badass American fucking folk hero who tried to warn humanity of this bleak future!! Take that, Kid Rock!* (*Kid Rock: Who is an animal in the wilderness I would NOT like to be for the day BTW.)
28. So the stereotype of comedians being horribly depressed and neurotic is true?
RUS: Would I be mixing alcohol and xananx just to work up the courage to fill out this questionnaire if it wasn’t?!
29. Do you ever get tired of being a comedian?
RUS: NO. Never. I hope they hand out flyers when I die, and they have a killer line-up and 2 drink min. at my funeral. BUT I think SOMETIMES my family can show signs of fatigue. As much as I understand the long haul and 30 year commitment this showbiz journey is going to be, I probably should’ve realized I was making that choice for them too. But I’m kidding obviously, because they’ve always had my back, especially these last few years, and without them I would simply not be able to keep my career going. It takes a village to raise my kids and I’m glad to be their locally sourced idiot.
30. So at the end of your day, what’s your ultimate goal?
RUS: My goal is be a well liked stand-up comic and a working character actor. I’m hoping to be able to bring my comedy to bigger audiences with the next few specials and albums I have planned.. And as a character actor, I really want find my way into great shows and projects in supporting roles, like Patton Oswalt, who is another huge favorite of mine. But my ultimate ultimate ultimate goal is to be in a Marvel movie / TV Show OR sci-fi property I would already nerd out for anyway. This way I would get free passes to Comic Con and all the dope-dopeity–dopest geek swag forever!
31. What would you say troubles you the most about the world today?
RUS: ONE, the unrelenting lack of empathy by Trump, the alt-right and the neo-cons to even attempt to see their fellow citizens as human beings and not just numbers on a quarterly earnings report spreadsheet. And TWO… CATS! I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, all Cats are snooty prick demons on Earth, and they must be stopped. At all costs. Especially urban feral Cat gangs taking over our city’s alleyways and our suburbs’s strip mall dumpsters. So, again, in short, Fuck Cats and Donald Trump forever and ever..