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.
Matt Ruby (photographed above by Mindy Tucker) was one of the earliest identifiable readers of The Comic’s Comic. I know this because I remember Ruby introducing himself to me, I believe in the bar at Rififi, when I still worked at the New York Daily News as an entertainment reporter for the newspaper with a separate blog on the NYDN website called “Funny Business.” Ruby had his own blog then, called Sandpaper Suit.
Ruby still blogs there, but over the past decade, his own comedy career has grown to include a former podcast and live show with Mark Normand called “We’re All Friends Here” at the Creek and the Cave, starting an annual tradition with Normand for Halloween called Schtick or Treat that has expanded to multiple cities and even filmed for a Seeso special, creating a parody of the tech world called Vooza that’s gotten him invited to speak to start-up types around the world, and still co-produces and co-hosts a hot weekly bar show on Tuesday nights in Manhattan called Hot Soup. But now he finally has his own stand-up comedy album all his own, just released last week, called “Hot Flashes.” So I’ve sat him down in front of his computer to tell us more about himself and his journey in NYC comedy.
Name: Matt Ruby
Arrival Date: 2005
Arrived From: Chicago
When and where was the first time you performed comedy?
When I was a little kid, my family flew somewhere and I went to the bathroom and took a dump but couldn’t reach the toilet paper. So I exited, walked up the aisle, and went to tell my dad that I needed help. Only thing is I didn’t pull my pants back up. The entire plane burst out laughing at the site of a toddler waddling up the aisle with his pants down. It wasn’t intentional but I got big laughs so I’m counting it. And FYI, I try not to work blue anymore.
What was your best credit when you moved to NYC?
Didn’t begin doing stand-up until I lived in New York City so I guess my big credit was guy at party who had witty retorts.
Why did you pick NYC over Los Angeles or anywhere else?
I grew up in NYC suburbs. Then I moved to Chicago for a while. Eventually I got antsy as I realized the difference between Chicago and New York: It’s boring nice people vs. interesting assholes. I decided to return to my own tribe.
How long did it take you to get paid work in comedy after you moved to NYC?
Heard this recently: In comedy, you don’t get paid for the gig you’re doing – you get paid for the gigs you’ve already done. (Who said this? Did I hear it on a podcast? Did I make it up? Did a fairy whisper it in my ear while I slept? I don’t recall!) So you’ll do unpaid shows for a long time and then get paid a lot by a college or corporate gig or TV spot but what you’re actually getting paid for is all those crappy unpaid gigs you did for years. This makes me feel better about all these years performing in basements and dive bars for drink tickets.
How is the comedy scene in NYC better/worse/different from the scene where you were before?
In other cities, the crowds are enthusiastic. They are happy to be there and want you to do well. In NYC, the crowds are more standoffish. There’s an arms-crossed vibe of “There are 10 other cool things I could be doing right now so you better be good.” But that makes you better.
Analogy alert! I remember hearing a story about the first Olympics. The American team had never thrown a discus before. So they found a picture of one and had a replica made. It weighed 10 kilograms. But when they got to Athens they found out the real discus weighed only 2 kilograms. The American thrower, who had trained with the heavier discus, found the lighter one easy to toss and won the event.
I think that’s what doing comedy in NYC is like. You train with rougher crowds, but then it’s easier to do well when you’re on the road in front of people who don’t spend their days trying to decide between the subway car with the homeless man and the one with the breakdance crew. (Just wait until you hear my shot put analogy!)
Do you have any experiences that you’d describe as “only in New York” to your friends and family elsewhere?
Things I enjoy about NYC:
- All the bar makeouts – because the alternative is “Do you want to go back to my place and meet my three roommates?”
- Our response to terrorism. When a bomb went off in NYC a couple of months ago, the city replied with a collective shrug – as if to say, “Not on a Saturday night, bro.” This city turns don’t-give-a-fuck into an art form.
- Watching an island full of narcissists who are constantly forced to acknowledge that, in fact, they are not the center of the universe. It’s a rather glorious thing to behold.
- That I can take a subway to a secret location where I drink ayahuasca – hallucinogenic tea that comes from the Amazon – with a shaman and then hop back on the train and go home.
- Jews. So many Jews. Even the goys are Jews, like Lenny Bruce said: “If you live in New York or any other big city, you are Jewish. It doesn’t matter even if you’re Catholic; if you live in New York, you’re Jewish. If you live in Butte, Montana, you’re going to be goyish even if you’re Jewish.”
What advice would you give any comedian who’s thinking of moving here?
Five pieces of advice to comics and/or civilians who live are thinking of moving to NYC or not:
- An embarrassing success is worse than a proud failure.
- The mistakes are the interesting parts.
- If you’re going to be a whore, be an expensive whore.
- The truth is a lonely place.
- Stop reading the comments.
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
Answering a question about what I was doing five years ago. And then realizing I’m trapped in some sort of interview feedback loop and fearing that I will never be able to escape until I wake up and realize it was all a dream. [ALARM GOES OFF]
The album release party for Matt Ruby will be held April 9, 2017, at NY Comedy Club. Folks can use code HOTFLASHES for $5 tix here: https://newyorkcomedyclub.com/
Matt Ruby’s “Hot Flashes” is out now wherever you buy or stream your comedy. Here’s an excerpt from it, which he recorded in Chicago.
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