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Rob Delaney Talks About Gratitude, Perspective, Spaceships And A Career With Teeth

Nov 21, 2012
Originally published on November 21, 2012 5:57 pm

Full disclosure: The first thing I said when I saw that Rob Delaney would be talking to NPR's Audie Cornish on today's All Things Considered was that I was curious to see whether he had ever said anything on Twitter — where he has almost 670,000 followers (including me) as of this writing — that they thought they could read on the radio. It's an exaggeration. But not by that much.

Delaney's Twitter feed is a firehose of gross jokes, politics, non sequiturs, sharply observed satire, links to very thoughtful pieces he's written (like a widely circulated one about sobriety and depression) and my personal favorite: bizarre, typographically inventive tweets addressed to companies or famous people that spoof, with depressing accuracy, the mundane, un-copy-edited tweeting that goes on all day, everywhere. ("@Walmart: r women mammals?" "@DrPhil: who invented raisins .")

Delaney has also done standup for years, and recently released the special "Live At The Bowery Ballroom" through his web site (using the self-distribution model also recently employed by Louis C.K. and Aziz Ansari). He's a weird, inventive, incredibly prolific writer, and exactly the kind of person who benefits from the new media advantage of having more than one outlet for the enormous number of ideas that are clearly careening around in his head that are, to use what is admittedly not a technical comedy term, moderately to extraordinarily bazoo.

He tells Audie Cornish that what makes sense on Twitter isn't the same thing that makes sense in standup. "On Twitter, I just want to make you laugh at all costs. I say things, routinely, that I don't believe, and that are satire, and the reason that you laugh — if you laugh — is that you're like, 'This person is ridiculous.' On stage, I'm me. I'm a husband, I'm a dad, I'm a guy, I'm a mess — but I am a cohesive thing that you recognize as one human entity saying these things that he generally believes. So I might make fun of Donald Trump on Twitter, 'cause that's fun and easy, and something for a lazy person to do while they wait for a sandwich at a deli. But then, that's not going to work on stage. Who cares? You want to get much deeper and talk about much more visceral concerns and fears — and also, that's where people are going to laugh the hardest, too."

There is, however, a link between Twitter and standup, in the sense that it's provided what he calls a different "entry point" for what he had been doing for a long time. "I was traveling through space in a handmade spaceship that was rickety and had parts of it that were made of wood and teeth," he begins, at which point Cornish clarifies that the spaceship made partially of teeth was his career. (See also: moderately bazoo.) And then something happened: "Twitter came along," he says, "and I thought, you know what? I'm going to give it away for free. And that began to resonate with people, and then Twitter has allowed me to begin to sell tickets to live shows. To the point now where I can go to a foreign country and sell a place out." So the means are new, but the end is actually a career doing the same thing that, as he points out, was once the same end in mind for young comics who did Johnny Carson's Tonight Show. There are simply more ways for people to get noticed. "It's not good or bad; it's what's happening," he says.

Cornish asks him whether it matters to him — whether it bothers him a bit — that Twitter has been so much a part of the expansion of his audience that he's often referenced as a Twitter-based comedian, or somebody people know from Twitter, as if he hasn't been doing standup for years. But Delaney says it's a matter of perspective: "I would maybe complain about that if I wasn't married to a wonderful woman and had a one and a half year old son and had another kid coming in a couple months, if I hadn't been in jail in a wheelchair ten years ago, if I hadn't fought like crazy to get where I am now, I would maybe care about that distinction. But I also know in standup, there's nowhere to hide. You get on stage and you deliver, or you are eviscerated and you are thrown into a pile of bodies at the bottom of a mountain."

And in the end, the guy with the tweets about the invention of raisins and whether women are mammals points out that it genuinely is all about the journey. "I don't really have any problem with the way that I got to where I am now," he says. "And I think I would be an ingrate and a silly burger if I complained about it."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

William Shakespeare famously wrote that brevity is the soul of wit. And comedian Rob Delaney is living proof. He's made a career out of being funny in 140 characters or less.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Reading) When I was a kid, Sunday was my least favorite day of the week. But now that I'm an adult, I know they're all horrible.

CORNISH: That's one of Rob Delaney's Twitter jokes. But that's not Rob Delaney. We fed his jokes into a text-to-speech reader with a British accent - our own little nod to Shakespeare.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Reading) Twelve-string guitars only have six extra strings, but they're 85 times as likely to be used in a song about wizards.

CORNISH: All this week, we've been talking about how the Internet has given comedians new ways to reach audiences. Today, Rob Delaney and the Twitter effect. He has more than 650,000 followers and has parlayed his comedic brevity into sold-out shows across the U.S. But Delaney wants to be clear: While his tweets may sell tickets, fans at those shows still hold him to an old-school standard.

ROB DELANEY: If I don't bring it according to the classical stand-up parameters of working hard and sweating and forcing you to laugh, then they would walk out 10 minutes after the show began. If I just read tweets or relied on that, that would be suicidal for me.

CORNISH: Do you have any examples of things that - because people may not realize your stand-up is very different.

DELANEY: Yeah, it is. I mean, I would say this about my stand-up. On Twitter, I just want to make you laugh at all costs. I say things routinely that I don't believe - in other words, satire. And the reason that you laugh, if you laugh, is because you're like, this person is ridiculous. On stage, I'm me. I'm a husband, I'm a dad, I'm a guy, I'm a mess, but I am a cohesive thing that you recognize as, you know, one human entity saying these things that he generally believes. So I might, you know, make fun of Donald Trump on Twitter because that's fun and easy and something for a lazy person to do while they wait for a sandwich at a deli.

(LAUGHTER)

DELANEY: But then, that's not going to work on stage. Who cares, you know? You want to get much deeper and talk about much more visceral concerns and fears. And also, that's where people are going to laugh the hardest too.

CORNISH: Now, at this point in our series, we've talked to people about YouTube and podcasts and how they've changed the industry. But how would you say that Twitter has, if at all?

DELANEY: Well, you know, I'll speak personally. It functioned as sort of a wormhole. I was traveling through, you know, space in a handmade spaceship that was rickety and had parts of it that were made of wood and teeth, I don't know, for some reason. And I...

CORNISH: This is your career you're describing or...

DELANEY: Exactly, yeah. And I was just rambling along, being like, oh, God, you know, putting in the legwork, submitting writing packets to TV shows, you know, headlining at tiny clubs around the country. Sometimes it would be a net loss for me to go to a place and perform. And then Twitter came along and I thought, you know what, I'm like, give it away for free. That started to resonate with people, and then Twitter has allowed me to begin to sell tickets for live shows to the point now where I can go to a foreign country and sell a place out.

And so for me, it has allowed me to do something that I was doing the old-fashioned way and continue to do it the old-fashioned way. But now I have sort of a new entry point to get to a lot more people than I would have had to.

CORNISH: Do you think there's this sense that all of this has sort of allowed you guys to bypass that path, I mean, that you don't have to wait for a network executive to back it or for a late-night host to bring you over to the couch to be successful?

DELANEY: Yeah, that's not even a question anymore, you know, and - not that those opportunities aren't fantastic and wonderful, you know, I watched the show about Johnny Carson the other night on PBS and I was crying, just the majesty of that experience. But the fact is, is you did the Carson so that you could be, quote, "made" and then sell out around the country and make a living, you know? I went an alternate route, a route that has really just been forged. So, yeah, it is different now. There are more options. The same ones still exist. Now there are more. So that's just how it is. It's not good or bad, it's what's happening.

CORNISH: Is there a downside to people being familiar with you from Twitter, especially now that you're going out and really selling out shows? Do people treat you like a Twitter comedian?

DELANEY: As opposed to like a real comedian?

CORNISH: Yeah, like - when I went to do sort of research on you, there were a lot of people writing about, well, Rob Delaney, the guy you know from Twitter, is now doing a show.

DELANEY: Right. It would be easy - I'll tell you what, I would maybe complain about that if I wasn't married to a wonderful woman and had a one-and-a-half-year-old son and had another kid coming in a couple of months. If I hadn't been in jail in a wheelchair 10 years ago, if I hadn't fought like crazy to get where I am now, I would maybe care about that distinction. But I also know in stand-up, there's nowhere to hide. You get on stage and you deliver or you are eviscerated and you are thrown into a pile of bodies at the bottom of a mountain.

So I know I've been measured. I know what I'm capable of on stage. There's plenty of room to grow and a lifetime to do it. But, you know, you have to have ego and bravado, but you also have to have humility to do stand-up and to be any good at it. So I don't really have any problem with the way that I got to where I am now, you know, and I think I would be an ingrate and a silly burger if I complained about it.

CORNISH: Well, Rob Delaney, thank you so much for talking with us.

DELANEY: Thank you for having me.

CORNISH: That's Rob Delaney talking about how Twitter helped launch his career in stand-up comedy. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.