Meet Me In New York: Ari Shaffir

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.

Ari Shaffir worked for The Comedy Store in West Hollywood, then worked at the Comedy Store, and now has filmed his first Comedy Central hour special at the club, Ari Shaffir: Paid Regular, which premieres tonight. Which actually is his second (his first, chronologically: “Ari Shaffir, Passive Aggressive” will air on the network later, on March 13). Speaking of chronic, Shaffir does. And he has moved to New York City, which he mentions in the special is not as easy a joint to secure a joint.

There are plusses to moving from L.A. to New York, too, though. The best part? “No actors. Yeah. I mean, there’s a few, but they don’t run the city like they do here,” he tells The Comedy Store audience in “Paid Regular.”

Shaffir grew up orthodox Jewish, so much so he lived for two years in an Israeli yeshiva before returning to America and shedding his religious life for a stand-up career.

He infamously first became known throughout the comedy community when friend Joe Rogan put Carlos Mencia on blast in a video accusing Mencia — in front of The Comedy Store’s audience — of stealing one of Shaffir’s jokes. In 2008, Shaffir further solidified his infamous cred by dropping his pants at the end of his performance on HBO’s Down and Dirty with Jim Norton showcase. “The Amazing Racist” has come a long way since then, or even since doing that character in the 2014 film, InAPPropriate Comedy (which he spoke with The Comic’s Comic about).

His storytelling series, This Is Not Happening, began as a webseries and has graduated to TV series, premiering on Comedy Central next Thursday (Jan. 22, 2015) following @midnight in late-night. Shaffir has spoken with The Comic’s Comic previously about the origins of that showcase, as well as how This Is Not Happening made the leap from webseries to TV.

Now find out in Shaffir’s own words, about how he has transitioned from Hollywood comedian to New York City stand-up living.

Name: Ari Shaffir

Arrival date: April 2013

Arrived from: Hollywood, Calif.

When and where did you start performing comedy? April or May of 1999 in LA. I did it one time a few years before at an open mic in Northern Virginia while I was in college. But I didn’t start ’til after I graduated and moved to the West Coast.

What was your best credit before moving here? Well, that depends on your definition of “best.” That’s why I dislike words like that. It’s subjective and too exclusive. I had done TV twice before. Once on SiTV, which was a Mexican network and once on Down and Dirty with Jim Norton on HBO. But then I had also done these videos called “The Amazing Racist” which wasn’t stand-up but over a hundred million people had seen it, which is way more than the people who saw Down and Dirty when it played one time ever at midnight on a Friday. And then the thing that gave me the most draw was probably my appearances on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast.

Why did you pick NYC over LA or anywhere else? It comes down to three cities for English-speaking comedy. NY, LA, and London. The rest aren’t really feasible to get the amount of quality sets I want for myself. I gave London some serious thought, actually. But in the end, I was too scared to start over in another country. And there were some reasons I left LA. I’d been there my entire comedy career. And I was in the same apartment for the last 10 or 11 years before I left. I didn’t want to die in the same place.

And I had always had a romantic notion about comedy in New York. I’d hear guys like Burr and Kreischer and the Ians and a bunch more talk about bookers at this club or the waitress at that club. And I wanted to know what they were talking about. I wanted to be involved in those conversations. Actually, there were a lot of reasons for leaving and a lot for going to New York so I’ll just keep going back and forth.

I got into a discussion with Metzger about women while we were getting high enough to go to In n’ Out (Metzger has the highest tolerance of any comic I’ve ever met with the exception of an in his pot prime Ralphie May), Kurt finally had this realization that all my feelings about women were about specifically LA women. And a lot of my gripes didn’t apply to NY girls. So, that’s one reason.

Also, as I was doing more comedy and more of my income and brain time was moving towards stand-up, the more onus I put on doing spots and the less I put on doing auditions. So there’s way more spots in NY. More practice time. You can really do the same bit four times in a night and have time in between each set to fix weak spots. Instead of sitting on it all night and forgetting about it, you gotta come up with a fix in 30 minutes or it’ll be weak again. And you usually don’t fix it. So then you have two more tries to fix it before the night is done and eventually, you can get there. It just speeds up the process like crazy.

Also, I wanted to have sex with a black woman and for some reason, I didn’t think I could get that done in LA.

And I saw people get better in New York. I saw Louis Katz go there for two years and then he was so much stronger.

How long did it take to get your first paid gig in NYC after moving here? 

Right away. I was already a regular at The Stand and StandUp NY. The transition moving there was so minimal compared to what it would’ve been if I had gone five years earlier when I started thinking about it.

How is this scene better/same/worse than the scene you moved from?

Tons more spots. When I have a night off in New York, it almost seems like a mistake. And when I have only one spot it doesn’t even seem worth it.

Way more black comics in the mainstream scene. In LA, it’s so separate but in New York there’s a great overlap.

Can you describe an “only in New York City” moment from your experience here?

Not really. I mean, when Hannibal’s show was really kicking, you could do references that you know they were gonna get in Brooklyn. But that’s the same for any cool, cool-kid nation room in LA, too. The Comedy Store has way more homelessness in the audience than the city of homeless, New York. So I don’t know that I’ve had any of those moments. Crowds are crowds, man.

But I’ll tell you what? There’s a lot more going out to drink with audience members in New York. That never happens in LA. But it’s a common occurrence in NY. You finish the show and the city is still up for the next six hours. So people go out and get drinks.

Oh, but if you mean in New York itself and not just onstage. I had a rat run into my foot. That kept me up for six days afterward. And I rode the bus. That’s a very not-LA thing.

What tip would you give to any comedian who moves here?

Find cheap housing. Fuck apartment brokers. There are services that let you get access to all the no-fee apartments for, like, $60.

Where do you see yourself five years from now?

Man, I don’t know. Why would you ask that question to a profession with notoriously low levels of planning for the future? I’m just enjoying doing stand-up. I’ll probably get some idiot pregnant and have to pretend to love a kid I never wanted in Kansas City. Something like that. Hopefully not, but I’m just looking at the odds.

You can see Shaffir around NYC at club such as The Stand and Stand-Up NY. His stand-up special, Paid Regular, tonight at midnight on Comedy Central. You also can buy the unedited and uncensored version of Ari Shaffir: Paid Regular, via VHX. Here’s the animated opening of how Ari Shaffir takes the stage at The Comedy Store:

And here’s a teaser clip for the first season of This Is Not Happening, premiering Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015, following @midnight. It features folks such as Rob Corddry, D.L. Hughley, Keegan-Michael Key, Marc Maron, Steve Rannazzisi, Joe Rogan, Ms. Pat, Sean O’Connor and Paul Scheer, telling their favorite, most embarrassing, or just plain funniest true-life tales in front of a live audience at LA’s most distinguished gentlemen’s club, Cheetahs.

Shaffir has another hourlong stand-up special, “Passive Aggressive,” debuting on Comedy Central in March, while his podcast, Skeptic Tank, draws more than 100,000 visitors.

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

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.

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