I knew Ben Kronberg was a bit of a loon the first time I met him, seven years ago in Colorado during the final HBO U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen. Then again, we all went a bit loony that weekend in the snow-covered mountains.
But you didn’t know Kronberg then. And despite his recent touring, his half-hour Comedy Central stand-up special last year, there’s a good chance you only made a first impression of him last Thursday night on your TV during NBC’s Last Comic Standing, a two-hour episode that made a highlight out of Kronberg. Perhaps not for the reasons you might have liked to have been a highlight.
Although having a famous stand-up and TV star such as Roseanne tell you to “go fuck yourself” can be a credit, too. Or can it?
The Comic’s Comic caught up with Kronberg after the Memorial Day weekend — Kronberg was out in Omaha telling jokes at CromFest 2, the Crom Comedy Festival — to get the full story and find out what you and I and all the rest of us didn’t see on TV last week.
Kronberg told The Comic’s Comic he had “never tried out” before for Last Comic Standing, but did have an opportunity though once about six or seven years ago.
With Last Comic back after four years, was it a quick and easy decision for you to go out for it? And how did you get on the Top 100 this spring? Did you have someone vouch for you, did they seek you out, or did you use the handy email I posted to apply personally?
“I definitely had to deliberate on if I wanted to be on the show, but stage time and TV time and I don’t have any money in my bank time always helps to make a decision quicker. They asked me if I wanted to audition via Facebook. Perhaps a lesson for all those people who want to get off of Facebook because they think it’s no good. Here I got this chance, an email on this thing I’m always frustrated with. That helped me make a decision too. I flew out for an audition just for judges and executives — there were no cameras and I auditioned, then they called a week later maybe and asked if I wanted to do the jest taped round.”
So you make the Top 100. You see that you’re only going to get what — three minutes? two minutes? — in the first round, but it’s in front of a live audience in addition to the judges. Most comics might go for as many laughs-per-minute as possible. Or they might try to reveal as much about themselves as possible. Or go for one really funny story with lots of tags. You chose to open with a long, drawn-out gag. What was your strategy behind that, exactly? Were you just hoping that if you were the most memorable act, then the judges would keep you around? Were you going for broke? Or did you not even care at that point? I probably should ask, speaking of “that point,” how many people had auditioned before you?
“All good questions. I decided to do my opening drawn-out but because I feel it represents me and perhaps sets the stage for a non-typical act. The joke usually gets an applause break so that was a part of the decision, but alas they cut that part of the joke so it was never about the joke, it was about me and my act as a whole how I was treated. I told more jokes than they aired, that’s for sure. It was about four-and-a-half minutes which even with my long opener I still get maybe 5-7 jokes in. I was 24 out of 25 comedians performing. I think the show had been going on for at least four hours by the time I went up.”
I noticed the editing of these “invitationals” has all sorts of people in the green room with you, so I don’t have any idea who or how many comedians performed on the same showcase with you. How many did? And how many people earned tickets or advanced out of the round when you taped?
“There were 25 each taping with around 5-7 advancing on the show.”
Did you prepare a variety of responses for the judges, or did you just wing it once you saw how Roseanne, Keenen and Russell reacted to you? I know you Tweeted something about replying that the show is a gimmick when Wayans called you out as gimmicky.
“I was poised but not prepared. I knew the possibility of them not liking me. They cut my retort where I call the show a gimmick. That makes sense. They have the power and contracts and it’s their show so I was aware of all those scenarios which is why so many comedians are apprehensive to do the show: Because of how they will be portrayed.”
Here’s how the edited give-and-take played out (as I recounted last week on Previously.TV):
After telling only three jokes, Kronberg faced the judges.
Roseanne: “I think you wasted a lot of time up there.” Kronberg replied with an exaggerated head-shake and query: “What did you say?!”
Roseanne, looking flustered, doesn’t get that he is playing around. Kronberg switches tack. “I would prefer if you started with a compliment…but, but I’ll take your out-of-the-gate criticism.”
Roseanne, still displeased: “Well, you know comedy better than me, I guess.” Kronberg backpedals. “No, no, no, no, no. [switches to an accent] No! No! No!”
Roseanne continues: “And you’re real arrogant too, and it pisses me off.”
Kronberg reverses course and goes for showmanship and flair: “Bring it! BRING IT!”
Wayans tries stepping in: “Here’s what I have to say: I think what annoyed Roseanne was the fact that what you did was a little gimmicky.” Cut to Peters: “Here’s the thing, Ben, about the first joke. You spent a lot of time setting it up, but the problem is, is that it’s an old joke.” Cut to Roseanne, who finally does find a complimentary thing to say: “You know, you had some funny things but it was kind of like I didn’t feel like you were really respecting the people in front of you. You didn’t respect your audience.”
Kronberg turns to the audience for an appeal: “Did you guys feel that?” “Yeah!” “Do you feel okay with Roseanne speaking for you?” “YES!”
Roseanne: “You know, go fuck yourself!” Kronberg then says: “Yo! Yo!” before mouthing fake outrage on his way out.
A few minutes later, Smoove teases the next semifinal announcements by wondering: “Who’s going to be riding home with Ben Kronberg?”
And here is an even more edited version (with Theo Von offering his own opinions, via Yahoo!)
What’s the real version? What else did we not see?
“I’ll fill in the blanks for sure. I asked the judges if they noticed the applause break my disrespectful first joke got. Then I actually asked the audience if they thought my first joke was funny? They cheered. I THEN asked: ‘Or did you agree with Roseanne?’ They cheered. If they would have left all that in, it would show too much hypocrisy and not enough drama I think. She called me arrogant and I said my mom always told me to be confident onstage. They didn’t include that part, to my mother’s dismay. They also referred to my old joke opener as something someone did on a LCS a couple nights before. I said I didn’t see that show or was at it to know, plus I had done that joke on my Comedy Central Half Hour blah blah…So when Keenen called me gimmicky, I couldn’t help but tit that tat. I said, ‘This show is gimmicky, is it not?’ Then the audience gasped and ummmmmed. That’s about when Roseanne told me: ‘Go fuck yourself!’ I couldn’t believe it. And neither could the other judges. It was surreal for sure. Like a real connection had been made. I ruffled America’s favorite mom’s feathers. I felt like Darlene must have felt so many times. Then I’m pretty sure soon after that, JB shuttles me off (he is awesome by the way) and as I’m walking off, Roseanne flips me off. It was hilarious and shocking. I’m glad I didn’t flip her off or they would have used that.”
What did other comedians say to you when you returned to the green room? What did you advise them before the rest of them went out to audition?
“I told them what happened and got high-fives and pats on the back and when they were announcing the advancing comics all the comedians started chanting in jest: “KRONBERG! KRONBERG! KRONBERG!….” It was really nice and really made me feel better to have that support from my funny peers who took the uncertain leap of LCS with me. Because some got praised and others insulted and criticized heavily. We all shared out stories once we got into the greenroom. Although we were competing we were still on each other’s side. That was the best part of the experience. I made new comedy friends and bonds. Gulp.”
Then you had a few weeks to sit on all of this. You knew there was a great chance NBC would make hay out of your audition. What did you think they’d show, and how did the show meet your expectations when it aired Thursday night? I’m trying to recall the breakdown of it that night, and I had the sense you were performing on a show somewhere and not watching it on TV as it aired? So how did you deal with the onslaught of comments, criticisms and support?
“I was actually performing with Ron Funches in Denver on the premiere night, but he had turned on the TV in the green room. After I did my set I sat in there watching and when I came on, I was nervous for sure, but I was just watching closing the gap in my mind with all the chops and omissions they made but I was also getting texted and messaged from friends who had already seen it before me, so I had some idea of what was gonna happen.
“The ‘go fuck yourself’ part was what people seemed to be talking about and even before the airing I wanted to make a meme of it, but as the attention would have it, another Comedian/Catalyst and recent friend approached me with starting a hashtag #gofuckyourselfben and I said ‘perfect.’ And that I also wanted people to make vids telling me to go fuck myself so we combined the ideas and he #coachedme in hashtags and I started getting people sending me vids and memes and drawings telling me to go fuck myself and tagging it with #gofuckyourselfben. Notable contributors include Todd Barry and Brooks Wheelan. Also my mom made one and some kids from Germany and an amazingly talented girl from NYC who’s in a wheelchair named Ruby Baron who recently became paralyzed after a car accident. She has a great blog people should follow and she loves comedy so you should even link her site on here if you can! The accident also created tons of medical bills so anyone/everyone can contribute to that cause if they’d like.”
— Brooks Wheelan (@brookswheelan) May 24, 2014
And this is Kronberg’s episode in the “Modern Comedian” documentary series (Kronberg also did the music for the series!)
Oh, and you can purchase Ben Kronberg’s “The Half Hour” on Comedy Central to watch and judge for yourself!