Daddy knows he doesn’t know best: The League’s Steve Rannazzisi talks about growing up to become a “Manchild”

Real men do eat quiche. And so do manchildren. Steve Rannazzisi ordered a quiche right in front of me on Thursday at Le Pain Quotidien across the street from Rockefeller Plaza.

If the thought of that leaves a weird taste in your mouth, get a load of this clip from Rannazzisi’s new stand-up special, Manchild, which debuted last month on Comedy Central and is now available in CD/DVD. It involves one of his children and their babysitter. No happy endings here.

Rannazzisi stopped to talk with The Comic’s Comic over lunch before his shows
this weekend at Caroline’s on Broadway. He’s barely a month into a nationwide stand-up tour to promote “Manchild.” And he’s at a place in his career where he’d get bum-rushed by a TMZ cameraman on the sidewalk outside the restaurant, interrupted by a guy “to stay and answer some question that you don’t really, haven’t really formed in your head, because you just saw me, and you just turned the camera on…”

Sounds like it’s stalking an area, waiting for anyone recognizable to pass through it. Hey! It’s that guy! From that thing!

“Yeah, they recognize my face, so it’s ‘Get him! Go! And then we’ll do the math later on.’ It’s crazy,” he said.

That’s the state of journalism at the end of 2013. Let’s hope this conversation goes a little bit better than that.

Rannazzisi’s most recent trip to New York City happened just five weeks ago when he took part in a Comedy Central showcase for Ari Shaffir’s storytelling series, “This Is Not Happening.” Rannazzisi and Shaffir have been friends for almost a dozen years. “I’ve known him since 2001 when I moved to L.A.,” he said.

Why Los Angeles over NYC (much closer to his native Long Island) or anywhere else first?

“I had always wanted to go to L.A. I always felt like that was the right move for me, for acting, for film and television. I kind of got the bug doing stand-up while I was in New York, but I thought, you know, I want to do the Groundlings as well. I want to go to The Comedy Store and get my foot in there. And then, my job was sort of affected by 9/11, so my wife and I – she was my girlfriend at the time – thought that was the right time after 9/11. We had a good severance package, and unemployment benefits. Let’s go now. Let’s try and do this thing now. So we moved a month-and-a-half after that, and as soon as we got there, I got a job at The Comedy Store, that’s where I met Ari. I started doing The Groundlings, kind of simultaneously, and just built from there.”

So acting and stand-up always both were in the career equation for you?

“It was one and one. I went to school for theater, and then, when I came out, I missed performing on an everyday basis. I got do that in college. And I’d seen Jay Mohr at Caroline’s. I watched him and I thought, that looks like fun. I think that I would like to try to do that, to try to have fun, to try to do stand-up. So I started doing open mics here. And then once I was like, OK, I know that this is something that I enjoy doing, when the opportunity presented itself to go to L.A., I thought, I’m definitely going to continue to do that. I’m going to do the Groundlings. So they hand in hand just went together.”

He has told his 9/11 story in podcasts before. Listen to him on Earwolf’s Sklarbro Country here for that.

Watching you do Ari’s storytelling showcase and also your special, “Manchild,” is storytelling something you prefer to a more standard set-up punchline joke format?

“It really seems to be the style that I kind of fell into,” he said. “I’m not a great joke-writer. That’s my weakness. I’m not a set-up punch man. When they fall on me it’s kind of cool but I’m not the kind of person who sits down and writes those jokes every day. I’m more of a person where, I have an experience, something happens to me, and I tell the story in an exaggerated way, make it a little bigger than it really was. And then once that happens, I fill in jokes from there, to fill in the gaps in the story. So, building pieces like that. I don’t really have a late-night (TV) set, where here I can talk about four different things in seven minutes – bam bam bam bam – it’s more one story with jokes filling in the gaps.”

How important was producing Daddy Knows Best, your webseries on My Damn Channel, to establish an onstage persona for you separate from or after The League?

“People were asking me, ‘Oh, where’s your podcast? Where’s your this? Where’s your that?’ Well, I have a TV show. I thought that was kind of good enough. And then I realized it wasn’t. So a couple of my friends in L.A., writers whom I’ve worked with before, and we came up with this idea for worst-case-scenario for parenting advice. I’ve got kids. I’m a parent. Lemme see if we can turn this into short little sketches that we do, built together, and then My Damn Channel approached us and said, ‘We’d like to do a series of these,’ and that’s how it came about. It wasn’t really something that I thought about, as in, I’d like to do this character, post-The League. Whatever that is is still floating around in my head. I’m still concentrating on The League. But there are ideas that I have. I would like to do a sitcom, or a family sitcom on some level, which would be between Everybody Loves Raymond and Louie. In that world. My thought process of families, my vibe lives between those two places.”

Isn’t that essentially what “Manchild” is?

“Yeah. I’m an adult, technically. I’ve got responsibilities that are great, greater than I am. But still I have these thoughts where I’m like, I can’t believe I have to deal with all of this stuff. I have to, I’m responsible for other human beings. It’s crazy.”
As long as I’ve been around comedy, I can remember older comedians saying that having a kid adds a new half-hour or hour for your act. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve thought – it’s not so much just becoming a parent, as much as it’s also about having a different perspective on life than merely your own.

“Yeah, I think about the way that I grew up versus the way that they’re growing up. And you’re right. It could add so much more than even a half-hour, but I then fall into that trap of, just telling jokes or telling stories about my kids, and then you alienate – because The League is not – our demographic on that show is young, young guys. It skews 18-34. And not all of them have kids. And they don’t want to hear about me and my kids. So. But then, that’s where drugs comes into play. I still smoke pot. So it’s like, I deal with that. How does that work into dealing with the family? Is that my own personal time? So, it’s a situation where it’s like, oh, OK, I have a family and these responsibilities, but yeah, this is how I’m going to raise my kids. This is how I expect to raise my kids. When problems present themselves, it’s like – oh, shit – how do I?
“What do I do when? Here’s a perfect situation. I was taking my son to swim class. It’s his first swim class, and my wife was like, ‘You’re on the road on the weekends. So let’s plan something during the week that you can do with him. So I drive him to swim class. He’s in the back seat, doing his thing, just watching a movie, and this is all during the Charlie Sheen situation. Sheen calls into (Howard) Stern. And I’m listening. Oh, man. This is crazy. So we pull into the parking. We’re 15 minutes early. And I’m listening, I’m listening. Oh my God. I can’t believe this is going on. I realize, I look back in the back seat, my son has fallen asleep. I’m listening, I’m listening, it’s now 45 minutes later, the class is over. And I’m like, ‘Oh my God, what have I done?!’ I woke my son up, brought him inside, dunked him in the pool, took him out, put him back in the car seat, drove him home. My wife’s like, ‘How was it?’ I go, ‘He’s amazing. He’s the best in the class. The kid’s got a talent.’ So it’s something like that, where my brain automatically goes to how do I get myself out of the situation?”

Here’s his take on toking up and eating pizza, from “Manchild.”

You mention the webseries as a response to not having a podcast. Do you feel like where we’re at in this comedy boom, there’s a real pressure to do more things?

“Yeah! I mean, even, not necessarily just a podcast, but other shows, other good movies, comedic movies. People want to have a lot of plates at one time, spinning, and for comedians, it’s sort of tough. Because we are not the most diligent people. We’re not the most motivated people all the time. So to keep all those plates spinning, it’s sort of the new wave of comedians are multi-taskers. I was told in the early 2000s, it was ‘Be funny. Be funny onstage. Get a TV show. And then you’ll be fine.’ Then it switched over into get a podcast, get a webseries, have one show, have two shows, write a movie, where’s your pitch for this? OK. Great. Now all of those things are floating around in my mind, and I have to make sure that I remember all of them.”

Mitch Hedberg had a line – predating all of this current technology – about training and learning to be a good chef who goes to Hollywood, only to have them ask, but can you farm?

“A podcast for someone like Ari: perfect. Because his way of getting his message, or his funny out to the masses, and 15 years ago that would not have happened. He would have been struggling still, trying to get a late-night set, people would have told him ‘no’ because he’s dirty. His point of view wasn’t what people wanted to hear. It’s… I’m not trying to knock it. But it’s tough to do when you’ve got a lot of other things going on. But if it’s something that’s done well – whether it’s Ari, or (Marc) Maron or guys like that – it’s a perfect tool. It’s a wonderful, wonderful tool to be able to get your name out there.”

So now that you have “Manchild” out, do you feel another pressure to throw away that hour and start from scratch?

“That’s the one school of thought. But you know, I’m on the road now, so it’s tough to be able to go, OK, that’s all gone. And while I’m shooting The League write a whole new hour. So I would say, I’ve gotten 50 percent. There are people who come to the shows, because ‘Manchild’ just came out, it’s like, there are people that haven’t found it yet or know about it, so when I do a show, I would say 80 percent of the audience still has never seen me do stand-up comedy or they’re there because of The League. So they still are new people. So I try to do the really great stuff from the special that I think they’ll love, and then about 40 or 50 percent new stuff for the people who have seen it. Which is tough to come up with. Way tougher than I ever thought. Because I never had a deadline. That was my first special. If something happened to me, I told the story. I fleshed it out. I made it funnier and funnier and funnier. And then I had that story. Once all those things came together, I did the special, now it’s like, I need new stories. I need new strange things to happen to me. Or I could write a whole new hour about my kids. But like I said, nobody wants to listen to that.”

Buy Manchild via iTunes or Amazon:

audio: iMovie:

December 19-22 – New York, NY – Carolines
December 26-28 – Nashville, TN – Zanies
January 16-18, 2014 – Mashantucket, CT – The Fox Theater at Foxwoods Resort Casino
February 5-8, 2014 – Austin, TX – Cap City
February 20-22, 2014 – Charlotte, NC – Comedy Zone Charlotte
February 28, 2014 – Boston, MA – Wilbur Theatre
March 1, 2014 – Chicopee, MA – Comedy Connection
March 2, 2014 – Providence, RI – Comedy Connection
March 7-9, 2014 – Columbus, OH – Funny Bone
April 3-5, 2014 – Buffalo, NY – Helium Comedy Club
April 10-12, 2014 – Denver, CO – Comedy Works
June 5-7, 2014 – Philadelphia, PA – Helium Comedy Club
June 12-14, 2014 – Raleigh, NC – Goodnights Comedy Club

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

View all posts by Sean L. McCarthy →

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