Meet Me In New York: Rob Cantrell

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.

Rob Cantrell is a D.C. native who got an early break in his career, becoming one of the finalists on the first season of NBC’s Last Comic Standing. He followed that up with tours opening for Mitch Hedberg and Stephen Lynch, and then the Marijuana-logues. His other TV credits along the way have included The Late Late Show, Tough Crowd, The Colbert Report and Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell. He’s also put out albums and performed at Bonnaroo and SXSW, among other festivals.

When I lived near downtown Brooklyn, I used to see him at the grocery store.

Now we all can hear him on his new comedy album, “Pure Uncut Joy,” recorded at the intimate Pete’s Candy Store in Williamsburg. Here is a link to listen to it on your preferred musical platform!

Name: Rob Cantrell
Arrival Date: 2005
Arrived From: Los Angeles

When and where did you start performing comedy? What was your first time onstage like?

First time, July of 1999. San Francisco. It was at a weekly Open Mic at an old art performance space on Market Street called “The Luggage Store.” It was the upstairs of some odd department store adjacent to the famed junkie hang-out in the Mission district in SF. It wasn’t the friendliest street in the world. I found out about the spot from the back of the SF Weekly Newspaper, when I was looking for places to start doing Stand-Up. It was a raw space with no microphones; the audience was about 7 to 12 open mic’ers in folding chairs and just the wooden floor as the stage. I didn’t even understand the concept of signing up and performing that night. I went into the whole thing super blind. I signed the list to go up on the show, but I thought I had to sign the list to just enter the show. I was just sitting there absorbing the whole thing and the host, Tony Sparks, just called me up. I went up. I was 26 and had always wanted to get into comedy, it was something that had been building up inside for some time. My first set was really high energy and all over the place. To me, t felt like a triple espresso of LSD laced dream dust. I got some laughs and haven’t stopped since then.

What was your best credit when you moved here?

Last Comic Standing, Tough Crowd, Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn

Why did you pick NYC instead of Los Angeles or anywhere else?

NYC is a great ‘Stand Up’ town. I love California, one of the most beautiful states in the country, but I don’t like cars very much. I dig walking and public transportation on the most part. I was born in DC, but was raised most of my life in a small southern town in Virginia. My family lives on the East Coast. I am an East Coast dude at heart but with West Coast sensibilities.

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

They both can be super fun but are extremely hard to navigate; there are funny cats on both coasts. Stand-Up wise, it is hard to top New York, but great tacos and legal weed is always cool.

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

I tried to move to NY a few times when I first started out. I failed twice, would come to NY for a few months, then leave. I could not find the right apartment set up and I was very green into Stand-Up. In 2005 I came back to New York and had good credits from Last Comic Standing, It was still hard as hell, but I got paid work from the original Boston Comedy Club (First Paid Spot in NY was at the Boston Comedy Club) and Caroline’s, but was also lucky enough to get on most of the solid shows in the alternative scene that paid a few bucks.

Can you describe an “only in New York” experience from living here? How do your describe this city to outsiders?

New York has the hardest shell imaginable, but there is real love there, it just doesn’t have that much time to dick around. There are lots of good people, pizza, subways, rats, parks, CVS’s, coffee, and Stand Up Comedy shows. If you like those things, we got you. Oh, I did three nights in jail for smoking a roach in the Lower East Side in 2007, only in NY!

What tip would you give any comedian who moves here?

Try and stay healthy, it might be a minute. Go to shows, pick up gigs, appreciate the process. NY is hard, but if you don’t quit, it will make you a much better comic than you ever thought you could be.

Where do you see yourself five years from now?

Doing comedy and writing cool stuff. I will to be very successful, to the point I can afford to have a side ‘Tree-house’ somewhere. That what I want, I want to be ‘Tree-house’ rich, just my own little side place in the trees where I can kick it and play guitar badly.

Here’s an animated/live video of one of the tracks from his newest album, “Pure Uncut Joy.”

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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