Self-proclaimed “slowest-rising comedian in America” Alex Pearlman may not be able to call himself that for much longer—he’s opening for Todd Barry at Urban Saloon this Sunday. Here’s him talking about that, and some other stuff!
WitOut: You’re opening for Todd Barry this Sunday at Urban Saloon! How did that happen?
Alex Pearlman: Mainly networking and a lot of grunt work. I like to call myself the “slowest-rising comedian in America” considering how long I’ve done this. But the number one rule is networking. You never know who’s booking shows or who’s doing what, so try to be polite to people’s faces, and keep your bitter tweets cryptic.
About a year ago, I met Corey Cohen, and we hit it off. I was a frequent guest on his stand-up/talkshow The Big Show and helped co-host the second-to-last final show that was cut short for a weird rave party (true story). Corey books independent shows for a lot of N.Y. and L.A.-based comedians, and sometimes he throws me a show or two.
Long story short: I sucked Corey Cohen’s dick.
AP: I like how calm his delivery is. It’s very understated and quiet. My delivery is the opposite of that. I won’t know if that combination will work until both shows are over.
My best friend is a huge Todd Barry fan, and this will be his favorite show. He called me and told me how excited he is to see me and Todd Barry on the same stage at different times.
WO: The show is part of Todd’s “Crowd Work Tour,” where he’ll devote his whole set to “riffing and bantering with the audience” (as the PR copy states). Will you be doing any crowd work this show yourself? What are your personal feelings on crowd work—is it something you like doing and/or something you typically include in your act?
AP: I don’t really plan on doing much crowd work, but if it happens it will be organic. Personally I love crowd work, it makes the audience feel like they’re part of the show and gets sections of my brain firing in a different way than written material. I use crowd work to bring the room in, get their attention, and then show them the material I’m proud of.
Now this is different than bashing a heckler, which is by far my favorite thing to do, but has been happening far less as my act has improved. If you go on YouTube, the most popular videos by far have crowd work or heckler-stomping involved in them. I think in the digital age, people want to see things they feel are more “real.” Also, I think a growing number of people don’t know how to behave at comedy shows (no phones, talking or yelling).
Then there are the hecklers that think they are helping the show. They can suck my dick.
AP: I host rap shows and battles sometimes. That’s all crowd work. The entire time. They don’t want to hear one thing that sounds written and will yell back. The first three minutes are always a little strange for both the audience and myself. It doesn’t seem like a natural fit at the beginning. When I walk out at the beginning of a hip-hop show, people check the flyer and the date to make sure they didn’t come to the wrong night. Also most music audiences aren’t used to having an MC between acts anymore. So I’ll start into my first joke and just wait for a heckle, then I switch gears and go on the attack. I win over the crowd piece by piece and get the crowd excited for each act knowing I’ll be back in 15 or 20 minutes to do it all over again. Sometimes they start by yelling “Ginger!!” but by the end of the show they are always yelling “Ginga!!!”
Also, there was this time I told an audience member to suck my dick. She declined.
WO: It’s really cool that such a well-known comedian is doing a tour stop not only in Philly, but at the same venue as one of the most-loved open mics in the city (Laughs on Fairmount). The room this major comic has chosen for his show is just as accessible to locals, every Monday night. What do you like about being a Philly comedian, and what do you see as some of the best opportunities other local performers should be taking advantage of right now?
AP: No matter what happens at the Sunday show, I’ll be back at Laughs on Fairmount on Monday. Not only is it a great place to try out new material and hang out with other comics at the front bar, but watching hosts Mary Radzinski and Carolyn Busa sigh and question their own sanity every time a first-timer says a porn, rape or vague racist joke reminds all of us that we are mortal.
Take advantage of everything. When I started there were two open mics in this city, Laff House and Northeast Comedy Cabaret, and they were at the same time on Wednesdays. Now you can get up every night Sunday through Thursday in front of audiences, do well and get booked to showcases, interviewed for blogs or podcasts, etc.
Also Philly has a wide array of talent with different levels of experience. A new comic seeing a veteran can see how jokes are crafted through repeat mic performances. Veteran comics get reminded that what we do is actually fun, and see that spark in new comics’ eyes that is slowly squeezed out of them by the crushing depression of seeking strangers’ attention to fill an empty void in our chests where our hearts should be.
But I think the biggest thing that we have is a large, robust, eclectic, supportive comedy community. New and veteran comics alike know that all they have to do is ask and someone will be there with advice, or in my case, when I’m hammered on Jagermeister, they don’t even have to ask.
For reals though, when I drink Jager I chase it with dicks.