It's Tuesday, which in New York City anytime over the past several years, means it's time for another edition of Seth Herzog's Sweet show, in which "the Zog" (pictured at right with President Obama) regales audiences at The Slipper Room with tales and dances, shares quips with a celebrity sidekick DJ, puts on any number of talented comedic performers and has a live onstage discussion with his mother. Tonight, Sweet celebrates its 200th show (Janeane Garofalo, Reggie Watts, Jon Glaser, actor Frank Whaley and surprises are in store). So I sat down with the Zog — actually we both sat at our computers late last night and exchanged Qs and As. Let's get to it.
First a fun fact: Seth Herzog also is the new "audience warm-up guy" for NBC's Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. Herzog said last night's debut was crazy fun, and that he and Fallon have been friends for years, and Fallon asked him to join the team.
What were you doing before Sweet, comedy-wise?
Before Sweet I was performing at everyone in else's shows. I had been doing stand up in New York since the mid 90's. The alt comedy movement began in NY the year I moved here, but at the time "Eating It" was the only great show outside of the clubs and it was very hard to get on, so for the first few years when I did spots it mostly in the clubs, although I did do spots at "Stella" and "Moonwork" later (in fact it was at a Moonwork show back in '97 that I danced on stage for the first time). Then in '01 Josh Weinstein asked me to be a regular part of his new weekly show "The Industry Room" which was at a theater space on West 44th called "Freaks Local" and in the same month "The Shark Show" began and asked me to a regular part of their show too. So although of the sudden at two regular shows to perform on and I was doing other shows, where ever I could as well.
Did you have your own show under a different name and format?
Like I mentioned before, from May of '01 to Sept '02, I was a weekly performer and one of four producers of a weekly show called "The Industry Room" that was a great time! It wasn't my own show, but it was good practice to organize a weekly show and write a new show each week with others to help. It was created and hosted by Josh Weinstein (who has since moved to LA) and also produced along with John Viener (now working on Family Guy) and Ophira Eisenberg and myself. We would each
do a set and have three other guests each week as well. It was mostly a string of stand ups, but I was always pushing to book non-traditional acts. I thought it was important that we have at least one character or conceptual performer on each show. Also, the show was held in three different spaces in its 18-month exsistence. The first two spaces were little theater spaces, which were perfect for what we were doing. Then we were the first show at the Village Lantern and were there for last seven months of the show.
What was the first Sweet show like? Were you at The Slipper Room? Who performed?
The first Sweet show was a great night, I remember it well. It was the first Thursday of August in '04. We had about 80 people show up, mostly friends of mine at the time. Michael Showalter and Zak Orth (aka "the Dollies") performed. They had written the song "We had to do the show!" specifically for the first Sweet show (and I understand that song has now made it way on to Mike's latest album), also Demetri Martin and Ed Helms performed. Ed told a story about drunkenly throwing up in Itzahk Perlman's home studio when he was in high school. I know there was one other person who did it, too but I can't think of who it was. And very funny drummer Ethan Eubanks was my sidekick/ DJ for the first months of the show. And yes, this first show was at the Slipper Room, although originally the show was conceived to be done at Mo Pitkins (when it opened) but a year later when it finally opened, I
ended up just keeping the show at the Slipper Room, and it's a good thing I did.
When did your mom become a part of the act?
At a show back in '01, I did a set that was all true stories about Mom, and she happened to be there. So after hearing all these wacky stories about her, I then said, "And she's here as well!" The place
went nuts, she came on stage and began refuting all the stories I just said about her. Then we danced.
Famous actors and actresses sometimes pop into a comedy club to see a friend of theirs perform, but you often get them to show up just randomly, and also get them to be part of the show as your sidekick/DJ. How did that come about? Was that planned from the get-go, or did something happen to change the atmosphere of Sweet?
Well, I was a theater actor for a while (and I still act as much as I can), and I went to theater camp for five summers as well. so I have a lot of friends from 90's acting days, and from back in the camp days.
And a number of those friends have gone on to do some great stuff and become well known in the process. So some of my more notable friends like "Sweet" and wanted to do something on the show, and since they aren't stand ups, being the sidekick/dj is an easy and fun way to be a part of the show, without having the pressure of being on stage to do a spot. So for a lot be people who just act, it's a great way to do stuff outside of their comfort zone and be funny and it's fun for the audience to see these folks in other circumstances.
You've taken Sweet on the road. How is Sweet different (you can answer that in any way you want, better/worse/weirder/bigger/whatever) when you take it out of the Lower East Side?
Well, we've done some shows at Sundance. And I'd say the first year we did a pair of shows there in '08, it too chaotic (too many people) and it was filled with locals, which is nice, but some the edgier more conceptual humor was lost on the Utah crowd. This year, '09, it was all Festival goers (mostly NY and LA people), who enjoyed the show at an emotional distance it was hard to get them laughing. it felt like they were watching a movie. But in general, audiences are audiences wherever you go, and are more or less the same.
What are some of the odder things you and your audiences have seen at Sweet?
It's hard remember all of the wackiest things that have happened on the show. Some more memorable things. Actor Jon Epstein told a story about this relationship he had aboard, and it centered around him doing her in the poop-shoot and her parents finding out. He thought it would be hysterical but the audience was mostly grossed out and freaked out. It also went on for a long time. I still have people come up to me and tell me they 'were there the night that guy told that story'. My friend Rich Webb jumped on stage and kissed my mom once. Most things my mom does people would say is 'odd'. There was also the time Showalter and TJ Miller got into a tiff offstage (that you wrote about). I had to throw out an over zealous drunk fan once (she wouldn't stop yelling about how awesome we are). And recently I had to toss out this old East Village drug dealer who hangs out in the Slipper sometimes cause he jumped on stage and made a scene (but that is rare), Anytime Red Bastard is on is a good time. He's freaks people out.
Are there any shows in NYC that have been running longer than your weekly showcase?
Well, "Moonwork", has been running since '93, although they only do shows a few weeks in a row and then take long breaks. Also "The Shark Show" started in April of '01, and they are about to start at new
monthly show at the Bowery Electric after being on hiatus for a year. Those are the only ones I know of that are still running in some capactiy, and started before Sweet. And even though it's an improv
show, Assscat has been a great NY staple of comedy since '96 or so.
How do you feel about direct competition? You haven't been the only Tuesday-night show in town, and in fact, another big non-club show just started a few weeks ago…
As far as competition goes…I don't love it, but it's not the biggest deal in the world. I don't think they are stealing audience, I think Sweet has a pretty loyal following, also there are plenty of people to
go around who want to see a good show. What gets annoying is sharing cast members. On any given week there are only a certain number of performers who are going to be available to perform, so you end battling for the same folks. It's annoying. As far as the new show you're referring to.. I am a little bummed that two of my favorite performers I've had on the most at Sweet, went and started a show at
on the same night at the same time. It wasn't on purpose of course, but one can't help but feel a little betrayed.
What are your philosophies on booking a showcase? How about on hosting a showcase?
First of all, I hate the word showcase. It conjures up all sorts of images of young needy performers tap dancing for low-level agents and managers while their parents cheer them on. (Wow. maybe that's exactly what I'm doing!). It's just a show, Sean. It's a downtown comedy show, that's what I like to call it. My philosophy on that, is concentrate on non-traditional acts. I think it's so important for people to push the boundaries of what's funny or is deemed to be a funny thing and experiment as much as possible. That, to me, was always what set apart the downtown scene in NY to the club scene. But I find the 'alt' part in the alt comedy scene in NY is fading away. Too many of the the DIY shows in NY are just doing the same old stand-up routines that everyone is doing, when they could be taking the reins of defining what is funny now!
How do you explain Sweet to a complete stranger?
"I host this weekly comedy show every Tuesday night. I write a new show each week and I have 3 or 4 top-notch guests to perform with me. And Mom does a bit each week too" That's the short pitch.
SOLD! Go see Sweet tonight, or any future Tuesday night.
Earlier: I shot some video with Herzog when he moved out of his infamously small apartment last year. Don't worry, ladies. His new place is nice.