What do they say about New York City: There are eight million stories, and sometimes it seems as though eight million of the people telling them think they’re comedians? No, that’s not it. It is a fact, though, that America’s biggest city is also its biggest comedy mecca. Hollywood may be Hollywood, but New York City is where comedians are born funny, become funny or arrive to thrust their funny upon us. I think we should meet some of these people. This is a recurring feature, a mini-profile of newcomers, up-and-comers and overcomers of New York’s vibrant comedy scene. It’s called Meet Me In New York.
Rob Little may prove that the secret to moving to New York City isn’t all that different from the secret to comedy itself: Timing!
Little has been in the stand-up game for 18 years, starting in Michigan, then making the move to Los Angeles for a decade before returning home to take care of his disabled mother. Now that his mother can get more outside assistance, Little is back in the game, and this time around, he chose to move to NYC. What will he make of his second tour of duty in stand-up? What will NYC make of him? His previous credits include kudos in print locally (Detroit Free Press) and nationally (Maxim magazine), appearances on Nick Swardson’s Pretend Time and Best Damn Sports Show Period, and he even won a CBS reality contest back in 2005 called Fire Me…Please. Now he’s just looking to get hired again.
We met in Madison Square Park on the first gloriously sunny and warm weekend of the spring. You can hear my chat with Rob Little in full by becoming a paid subscriber of The Comic’s Comic via Patreon.
Name: Rob Little
Arrival Date: March 1, 2016
Arrived From: Michigan
“I was in Michigan, but I was in L.A. for 10 years before that, but I’m from Michigan. I moved back because my mom was not doing well, and we finally had to put her down. And that — no! We moved her into something more manageable. She just kept pissing on the comforter. We couldn’t take her.” Laughs. “So, no, we moved her into something more manageable. She’s doing better. It’s not great. But I kind of looked at it as, she’s got more help now. I don’t have to be here all the time. I’m going to give it another try. Instead of going back to L.A., I came out here this past August to see if I’d like it, and the first two weeks I hated it. Hated it. I was just like, ‘Oh, this is not for me.’ And then the next two weeks, it got phenomenal. I was like, ‘OK, I’ve got to give this a shot.’ I went on the road for about seven months straight after August, and just saved up a ton of cash, and came out. It’s all gone. No.” Laughs. “I came out and it’s really fun but it’s really slow moving, because nobody knows me out here.”
When and where did you start performing comedy? “March 8, 1998, in Livonia, Mich., at Joey’s Comedy Club. It’s like a birthday to me. It’s always been a big deal to me. So March 8 every year I’m always excited for it. I took a comedy class. It was a two-day class, and it wasn’t even how to be funny — it was more the business. And then they said, ‘OK, you’re going up. Next Sunday.’ And I went up and they were all like, ‘no way that was your first time.’ I was just super excited. I’ve just always been that guy growing up, and always something I’ve wanted to do, so I was really excited about it and gave it my all. It went great! First time was awesome. Then, of course, after that you bomb a bunch. So I started doing that, and I also started doing improv right away at Second City in Detroit. I ended up moving up all the way to being Larry Campbell’s understudy. He was on According to Jim. And Key from Key & Peele, he was in the group. There was another guy who’s doing a ton of commercial work out in L.A. right now who was in the group. There was a ton of great guys, and I was second mainstage. So I had the decision to make because I was doing that and stand-up at the same time, and I thought, which way do I want to go? I just thought anytime I want to play with somebody I can make the crowd be the other person, so I went for stand-up instead. I love it. I incorporate the crowd — I hate when people say ‘that guy does crowd work.’ I’m not that guy. I feel like I write jokes that’ll incorporate the crowd, and crazy stories will come out of that.”
Being in Second City, is that why you initially picked LA over NYC? “No. I picked L.A. because I was sick of winter. Totally all temperature. And I wanted to do more TV, I thought.”
What was your best credit when you finally did move here? “My best credit was I got Comedian of the Year by Maxim magazine. It was a few years ago, but it was their Real Men of Comedy thing, and it was with Budweiser, and I got that. I was on a Comedy Central show called Pretend Time with Nick Swardson. I was on a bunch of his shows. I won a reality show on CBS, it was called Fire Me…Please. And I won 25 grand on that. They put us in real jobs and we had to try to get fired, as close as 3 p.m. as possible. All improv.” What do you tell comedy clubs, though? “Maxim, or Comedy Central.”
How is this scene better/same/worse than the scene you moved from? “First of all, Detroit. When I started, we were super lucky, because there was a ton of clubs. It was kind of like here in New York, in that you could get up a bunch in one night. And it wasn’t, I didn’t feel like it was so judgy. It was all about just going up and everyone was really supportive.
“Then I moved out to LA, and it was, wow, you really have to commit to one, maybe two clubs a night. It’s a lot of driving. Everybody’s self-centered. Which is what comedians kind of are, we’re all into our own thing, but it really felt self-centered out there. You would be standing around talking to guys and they were always looking over your shoulder, like, who’s coming in next? You were never going to be good enough for someone to give you full attention. It was fun because I got to work with a lot of big-name acts. I was kind of on tour with Pablo Francisco back then. He took me for four years, and it was because I was a web developer and I used to do his website. And so his management — I’m super clean, as in I don’t do any bad things. I’m not, I barely even drink. He’s had some things in his past, where he’s had some struggles, so I think they also thought, oh, he’s also doing his website, he’s also a funny comic, and maybe a good influence. I did that for four years and it really opened a lot of doors in L.A. for me, because when I got there, I was already in with all the IMPROVs. That really helped. But then they went to this new thing that I noticed a lot of New York clubs are doing it, too, where they don’t just have one booker. They’ll have a comic book each show. And they started doing that in L.A., and it just kind of broke down, and it wasn’t as fun anymore. It just seemed as though every comic was trying to get the biggest name they could on their show. And guys like me — the middle of the road guys that were still fighting to get up there — just weren’t getting the sets that we used to get. So it made it a struggle out there after a while.
“And then moving here, it was such a culture shock. For one thing, I’ve never been in a city like this before. But I was super shocked at how — I guess I kind of thought all comedians were going to be jerks out here? They’re all that New York attitude. You think. But I have been completely shocked at how it’s not like that at all. I can’t believe how many guys have already tried helping me get into certain clubs, with contacts, just being supportive. Super nice. I don’t know if I should tell this story.” That means you definitely should!
“There was a guy. I guess I can tell this story because he’ll know anyhow. There was a guy that I worked with, he was one of the first real New York guys I’ve worked with when I was in Detroit. And I was really nervous to work with him, because I thought, oh man, this guy is gonna be a jerk. And he kinda was. But when I moved out here, he’s been extremely nice to me, asked me to do his podcast, asked me to do all this stuff, and does nothing but talk about how much I made him work that week I was with him. And I was like, ‘That’s why you were being that way!’ Because I thought it was just a New York attitude, but it wasn’t at all. He was pissed that he’s having to work harder. Now he’s been super cool to me since I moved out here. I really appreciate how they keep eye contact with you here. It’s not the L.A. style where they’re thinking someone better’s going to come in. And I think maybe I’ve kind of proved myself on the road, too, where I’ve been headlining for years everywhere. Now these guys know me, and they’ve heard. It’s really been very supportive and just completely shocked from what I was expecting.”
How long did it take to get your first paid gig in NYC after moving here? “I have the best story ever. Estee is the booker for the Comedy Cellar. To be honest, I didn’t know Estee. I didn’t know Noam. I didn’t know anyone when I moved out here. And I got to know by asking around. And Estee, well, one of the guys goes, ‘Here’s her email, but don’t tell her I gave it to you!’ So I email her, and she sends me back this email. She goes, ‘Are you the Rob Little from L.A.?’ And I was like, yeah. She said, ‘Your manager…’ she gave me a brief story about it. But then when I came in, she told the whole story in front of all the comics at the comics’ table. She goes, ‘Your manager sent me your press kit 10-15 years ago,’ and I’m thinking it had to be closer to 15 because I didn’t have the manager that long. ‘They sent me your press kit, and I was so impressed with it, that it’s the only press kit I’ve ever saved.’ And she still had it and brought it down. And I was just shocked to hear that. That opened the door at the Comedy Cellar. Everybody, Gary Gulman, all these cool guys were like, that’s a great story, but I was like, I’m crazy nervous to go up after that because she liked me back then. I’ve grown and changed maybe. What is she going to think? The only thing she said when I came offstage was, ‘Well, you’re high-energy, aren’t you?’ I was like, ‘Yeah,’ but in my head I was going, that’s not even close to what I used to be. I used to be WAY CRAZY HIGH-ENERGY. Now I feel like I’m more myself. Like I am being with you right now. This is how I am onstage. But she thought this was super high-energy. I was so nervous after that, because I thought I didn’t pass. But right away she started giving me spots. I lucked out! I didn’t get any this week, though, so I’m a little upset. But maybe next week.”
Can you describe an “only in New York City” moment from your experience here? “It feels like every day you have that type of experience.” What do you tell people back home? “I tell them it’s fun but it’s so overwhelming! It’s just coming at you. As soon as you step out your door. I feel like being from the Midwest we’re crazy friendly. And sometimes I feel like that is off-putting to people out here, because sometimes I come out and go, ‘Hey! Hi!’ I’ll smile at people or wave or say hi, and you can tell, that’s like, what the heck is wrong with this guy? I’ve had that happen a lot, and I’ve been trying to dial that back.”
What tip would you give to any comedian who moves here? “I would say. I wouldn’t move out here being a brand-new comic. In my opinion, I don’t know, there are a lot of gigs out here that are just like shit gigs, where you’re doing them in a laundromat or someplace. And they had that out in L.A., too! So I think you’d want to be a little more established before you move, though. Be a little more confident. Be a strong feature, at least. Don’t come out here open-mic’ing it, or you’re going to be wasting a lot of money, I’d think, in rent and stuff. Or you’re going to be living with 10 dudes. But if you don’t care, then go for it! To me, I’m glad I waited. I wish I had come out here instead of L.A. in the beginning, though. Because I feel like I wasted a lot of years in L.A., because it was very expensive but I was on the road all the time. When I got home I wouldn’t even try to hit the clubs. I’d just try to hit auditions. And out here I’ve thought about it but haven’t looked into it enough. Out here it’s very focused on stand-up. There’s a lot of smart comics out here that are intimidating. It’s very intimidating. Because I feel like I’m this goofy dude from the Midwest, and these guys, they really think out every little thing. Everything you say, they’re dissecting everything, you know. And I don’t know why I’m worried about that. I haven’t had any bad shows yet. But I think it’s making me overthink my stuff now. Maybe that’ll make me a better comic. I’m hoping! At least.”
Where do you see yourself five years from now? “I’d definitely like to be more established out here. Maybe a little — I hate to use the respect — but more known, so it isn’t such a struggle at some of these places and having to re-introduce myself all over. It feels like you’re starting completely over. But, I would like to have some TV credits. Some actual stand-up TV credits. A lot of that out here just seems to be hammering that five minutes. Which, you didn’t feel that out in L.A., because they would give you more time than that. So out here you’re only getting the five minutes everywhere, maybe 10. I’d just like a lot more TV credits. That would be my number-one (goal). And a lot of that is because I love doing the road when I don’t have to do the road. When you’re going out just to have fun and you’re enjoying it, whereas the last seven months before I moved here, there wasn’t one day where I wasn’t on the road. Out of that seven months, I was probably only home maybe a total of a week, because I was working cruise ships, then right back out to a club, then right back to a cruise ship. I was doing that cycle forever. And it got old fast. And it really runs you down. You get super depressed, and you think that you’re missing out on everything. Out here, I feel like I’m missing out if I don’t go out each night! God! I gotta go out and see some comedy, or try to get up, or meet people, introduce myself some place else. It sucks, because you go to some of these clubs, the smaller clubs out here, and you meet these guys that are like — if they’d been on the road, they’d be lucky to get MC work, but out here, they think they’re big shit. And so they almost treat you that way. You’re like, ‘Motherfucker! I’ve been doing this for 18 years!’ Now I’m getting off-track.”
You can catch Rob Little on the road many weekends again now, and on weeknights hustling in NYC to make his way into more clubs. Here’s a recent clip from The Comedy Cellar:
Which NYC comedian would you like to see me style and profile next for Meet Me In New York? Send your nominations to: thecomicscomic AT gmail DOT com