Ari Shaffir’s hour-long special, Passive Aggressive, was released in February by new digital distributor Chill, hot on the heels of the site’s exclusive deal with Maria Bamford. He was named (by this writer) one of LA Weekly’s “10 Comics to Watch,” in 2012 was the host of Comedy Central’s This Is Not Happening storytelling Web series, and has built up a rabid podcast following for his ever-questioning, often abrasive views on social and spiritual matters on Skeptic Tank. So, how did Shaffir capitalize on his success? He ditched Hollywood and the industry there for the dingy clubs of New York City.
Most comics move from New York to L.A. at a certain point in their careers, and two months ago you did the opposite.
It’s just because I’m a stand-up. I wanted to work out more between the road. I was talking to my friend [L.A. comic] Duncan Trussell, and his goal was to get up to 100,000 downloads an episode for his podcast. That will [make him enough revenue to own] a home. But I was like, I don’t want a house! I’m really not interested in that!The only thing I like doing is spots at the [Comedy] Store. Then I thought, You know what? If I really could do whatever I wanted, I would do spots, go around New York like Jeff Ross and Neal Brennan do it; they have places out here. And then, I dunno, fuck it! So I went.
Generalizing about each scene, New York typically connotes doing stand-up for stand-up’s sake, and L.A. means using it as a bridge to elsewhere.
Yeah, exactly. Everyone in L.A. talks about getting an agent or a manager in terms of getting on a sitcom or getting on a movie or doing something else. But here, it seems like there’s way less of an emphasis on that. You’re here to get better at stand-up. Your day is based on it. From 8 until 1am, you’re just around comedy. Then you get up the next day ready to do your spots again.
Overall, has the assimilation been pretty seamless?
Yeah. I got into the [Comedy] Cellar. That was the one thing I was worried about. Most of the other places, I could take them or leave them. I know there’s, like, ten clubs here; I need to be in four of them to get as many spots as I want. So I don’t care which four. Except for the Cellar.
You’re living in lower Manhattan; do you just walk to most of the venues?
Yeah, and that’s what I wanted to do. I know how lazy I am. So if I have to go somewhere else I can’t get to easily, I talk myself out of it. I don’t have a car anymore. That’s a little weird, not having all your stuff with you at all times. The pot situation is considerably worse. Yeah, that is no contest. Win for Los Angeles. But you get by.
Any other surprises you didn’t anticipate? Or pretty much smooth sailing?
Racial material works differently here, but it’s been great! I’m doing two or three times as many spots as I was. I’m doing five spots tomorrow! I’m going to work on one bit five times. I’m going to keep fucking with it over and over through the night. Instead of waiting—“Oh, I need to remember how I want to change that”—you remember. It happened 30 minutes ago. You need a laugh in that one spot, so put a laugh in. You can’t get five spots in L.A. Three, maybe four on a Saturday night if you called in favors everywhere. But not on a normal night.
I was talking to [Bill] Burr about it; he was like, “Dude, you use that stage time, you get a lot better. Go up with a plan, go to work on something, don’t just do your same shit over and over again.”
You can get what would otherwise be a month’s work done in those single five sets.
Yeah, and then I can also take a day off to have sort of life experiences for once, actually have stuff to draw on. If I can have ten spots in three days, I can take two days off, instead of doing ten spots over nine days. Have some time to myself and still get up way more.
I feel like there’s a vacuum in New York comedy right now, too. A bunch of leaders went to L.A. and you don’t know who the new leaders are going to be. It’s a vacuum. Someone’ll fill it. Someone will be there. Have you seen Nick Vatterott? He’s really funny.
Oh yeah, love him.
And that’s another cool thing: seeing all these cool people! And you’re not sick of their acts! You need something new. You get sick of the same shit forever. That’s why the divorce rate’s so high. Everyone [in New York] has new acts…to me.
Ari Shaffir hosts This Is Not Happening at the Comedy Cellar at the Village Underground Aug 27.