Monday, October 24, 2005

Interview: funnyman Drew Weisholtz

Longtime comedy writer Drew Weisholtz believed his return to the stand-up stage after a three-year absence would draw little more than a shrug from his old fans.

Instead, he is dumbfounded by the uproar his comeback has created.

"I've been stunned from the outpouring of support," he said. "A lot of friends I haven't seen in a while, family, people who had long given up on my return to the stage, they all seem excited."

Weisholtz is booked to play two upcoming shows, one Dec. 1 at The Improv on West 53rd Street in New York City followed by a Dec. 7 date at the New York Comedy Club on East 24th Street. Ticket information is available at 212-757-2323 and 212-696-5233, respectively.

The Hoboken, N.J.-based comedian is mining fresh matieral and mixing it into an act he says will also contain old stalwarts. He took time out of his busy schedule for an exclusive interview with Squawking VFR.

What has been the response from your fan base since you announced your return?
Let me finish laughing first. (pause). I would have to say it's been overwhelmingly positive.

Why now?
No reason. There was no one single impetus that I can cite that this was the time. I would say that I just thought it would be a fun thing to do again.

I had gotten so far away from it for a long time, and I wanted to go back to my roots. It had a been on the back burner. It wasn’t anything I took seriously, but then I thought that I did it for fun. Whether it's good or bad, there's really no pressure in it.

You were never bad before.
Many would disagree.

Aside from getting a job writing comedy at ABC radio, what drove you away from stand-up in the first place?
It's a very taxing profession, Pete. It's a lot of travel, and at the level I was at, a lot of driving. It was time away from friends and loved ones. I'm not knocking it by any stretch, but I prefer writing to performing. So for me, it wasn't worth it to drive to a bar in Pennsylvania or Connecticut and perform in front of eight drunk people. That's how you get better. But for me, it wasn't worth it.

Now you can do it on your own terms?
Yes, that's a very good way to put it. This is all about me having fun, and having my friends and family come out and have a good time.

How often will we see you on stage?
That's an excellent question. Beyond the two dates set up, I really don't know.

You have a growing fan base. We'd encourage you to schedule shows in Colorado.
Does that include the Wilsons?

That's so disturbing. They're very nice people. Bill and Katie, right?

Katie is pregnant, you know.
So any chance Kevin had with her is out the window?

He never had a chance. Back to your return. Have you likewise given any thought to reviving your cinematic career?
(Laughing). That's a ridiculous question.

What was it like working on the set of "Comedian" with Jerry Seinfeld and Orny Adams?
It was one of the greatest experiences of my life. Orny is interesting. I didn't get to speak to Jerry. But following Orny around is very interesting. You get to see what it takes to make it to that top level.

In a sense, is that the sort of thing that turned you off about stand-up?
In all seriousness, there’s something to that. I don’t know how to verbalize that. Orny is a deranged maniac. That’s exactly what he’s like in real life. And you have to go through all sort of shit to get to even Orny’s level. Not for me.

Will you be relying on old material or throwing it all out and writing an entirely new set?
You know, when you hit the stage after a long hiatus, there's definitely safety in old material. So I will have to use some tried-and-true material. But there will be some new stuff.

How far along are you in writing that new stuff?
I don’t know if I can put a number on it. I have an idea of what I want to say, but I have to get the wording down. I have good ideas, but I'm having trouble articulating them. It’s the comedians' curse.

What is your creative process? How do you find your material?
It's different than what it was, I can tell you that. When I was a green comedian just out of college, everything was funny to me. Now, a lot of things aren't funny anymore. I'm a little more sensitive to things around me and a little more thoughtful. So now, something has to really strike me. I'm much more discriminating.

Once you have that idea, how do you go about refining it into a joke that fits in your act?
Again, it’s a matter of finding the wording. Right now, I have good ideas, but I'm not happy with the wording. I have a joke about air hockey and sombreros, and it’s just a matter of finding that combination of words. Right now, you don’t think that’s funny. You think it’s ridiculous. It's a matter of getting those words down to make it funny and make sense, and I enjoy that process.

Do people take comedy seriously?
Some people do and some don't. Some people think it's easy. Comedy is hard. It is really hard. It's an art, and you have to develop it.

What I'm driving at is the general public sees you on stage and thinks it's all natural talent, but there's so much work that goes into being funny on stage.
Oh God, yes. You know, Michael Jordan is a natural talent at basketball, but he works hard. You have to be diligent. Anybody can be funny with their friends, but it takes talent to be funny in front of strangers. That's where the craft comes in.

Are there certain topics you won't joke about or other boundaries you don't cross? You can't really make fun of black people, being white. I certainly wouldn't try to make fun of 9-11. You can make fun of terrorism, but not that incident. But midgets are funny. Disease is funny. Death can be funny. I always thought death is funny to some degree. People have to understand that if there's a joke, someone has to be the butt of that joke. So there is always room for someone to be offended.

Cursing has always been off-limits in your act.
That's one of the changes that has taken place. I think there will probably be some cursing. I don't condone it, and sometimes it can be a crutch. Drew Carey does it and Jerry Seinfeld doesn't. It depends on the person. I tend to think I'm funnier when I do, but you can't just use it for shock value.

What sparked that change in approach?
I was trying to go out of my way to be clean, and I think that might have hindered me. Sometimes the act can be stronger with cursing.

This might be a cliche in the world of comedy, but your comedy seems to fit the style popularized by Seinfeld known as "observational humor." Would you consider this accurate?
I think some of it is, but again, some of it doesn't conform to that. I don't think Jerry would do the air hockey and sombreros joke.

So what is your style?
Mostly, it is observation. But a lot of it can be quirky. And I always liked the ... comedy is good when you are saying something that no one else would have thought of, which is very hard to do. They say everything is done. Relationships and parents, we can all relate to that. But it's putting a fresh spin and different angle on it that separates it, and that's what I strive for.

Does taking that cerebral approah limit you in any way? Do you receive different reactions when performing in New York compared to, say, the Carolinas?
Oh boy, well, New York is a sophisticated crowd. They're smart. They're not as smart outside the city. Sometimes in New York, they will go with you. At a bar in Pennsylvania, they won't be with you all the time if you're working on something smart. They like hick jokes.

So do you prefer New York?
There are pros and cons to each. You might only get seven minutes in New York, but get 20 outside the city. Those 13 extra minutes are so essential. The only way to do it is to be a comedian, and you need that experience. There have been plenty of incidents where I had more minutes than material. That's a very scary thing, but that's how you get better.

At times, your comedy was very self-deprecating. How does that dynamic change now that you are a successful man with an enviable job and lovely girlfriend?
That's an excellent question, Pete. It really is an outstanding question, and you're commended for even hitting on that. I don't think I'll be as self-deprecating as I would have been in the past. I do feel a little bit more secure in my own skin, whereas a couple of years ago that was a totally different dynamic. I had a total routine before about having a girlfiend. Having a girlfreind isn't that much of a shock for me anymore.

If I remember correctly, you did an impression of a woman flirting with you. The answer was something like, "Welcome to Bennigan's, may I take your order?"
Ahh yes, you have a good memory. That was a feast-or-famine joke. People either laughed or stared at me.

Speaking of other changes since your departure, on a sad note, your mentor Mitch Hedberg passed away last year. What influence did he have on your career?
When I mentioned before, the idea of writing material that no one would have thought of, that's where that came from. He would do things where, so many times when I was listening to him, I would say 'That makes so much sense. Why didn't I think of that?' That, to me, is great comedy.

Is it more difficult for you to continue now without that role model in place?
I don't think so. I've heard so many of his jokes. I can say to myself 'That's in the Mitch Hedberg mold.' What made him unique was that his persona was so honed -- and so good. That's what separates him from everyone else. I could do a Mitch Hedberg joke, but it wouldn't be that funny because my delivery is 100 percent different than his.

Not to generalize, but it seems a lot of comedians, like Hedberg, for example, have personal problems and insecurities. Why does a field like comedy attract people, ironically, with darker sides?
An age-old question, Pete. A lot of people feel that going up on stage is a way to get pain off their chest. Humor is a wonderful defense mechanism and way to cope with your problems. A lot of people like that. You seek approval in laughter. You have to ask yourself 'What's the reason you're going on stage? To make yourself feel better or to make the audience laugh?' That's a fine line comedians have to walk.

Would you say you had a darker side?

Let's get one thing straight. I have problems. But as you get older, your problems change and things are different. I'm 30 now and I started this when I was 23. Then, it was I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life and I was right out of college. At 30, it's 'Do you want to get married and have kids?' So I still, while not married or have children, have different problems than the ones you don't deal with as you mature more. When I go up on stage now, I know I am going up there to make other people laugh, not to make myself feel better.

Did you ever toe that fine line?
To some degree, I did. I did a lot about my relations with the fairer sex, and you feel better doing it. But now it's 100 percent, 'Hey, let's have fun and laugh together.' When I do that, there's no pressure. If they don't laugh, who cares?

Will that make you a better comedian?
I would have to say it will. You don't want to go out there with the audience as your enemy.

One more question. You started your career under the stage name of Drew Diamond. Will you be using Weisholtz, your real name, upon your return?

Weisholtz will be my stage name. I'm embracing the roots. I'm proud of who I am, finally.

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At 11:08 PM, Blogger Joependleton said...

I'm glad to see that cat will be working blue. That's a nice change. I can't wait.

At 10:56 AM, Blogger Erik said...

Remeber when Drew got that stinger during the Targum/WRSU gridiron classic, circa 1997? That my friends, was comedy!

At 7:57 PM, Blogger Pete said...

I remember I heard something that sounded like a bone snapping, and then Greg Bedard feeling so bad about it that he sat the rest of the afternoon out.


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