Daddy Issues Issues is an on-going feature in anticipation of Matt Gubser’s album taping in San Francisco on 4/18/2015. Check back here every Saturday for updates. Part 1. Part 2. Part 4.
Long hours, late nights and low-to-no pay. These are the terms one must come to terms with. It’s work and it sucks.
I’ve seen Matt Gubser work five to 20 minutes at a time for half a decade. There’s a high turnover; Matt is humor-fracking without observing ANY governmental regulations. I’m not talking bout a new joke here and there: Matt often offers new pieces, new bits, new chunks, new stories, new person. It’s odd because even though there have been frequent and lengthy lapses in my Gubser-exposure, his workrate remains atypically high. I’ve known comics that will keep jokes in the rotation for decades (DM for deets). Matt works and works and works, works harder than most, but you know what, I don’t think it matters.
The irony is two-sided: the work won’t be recognized because that’s the point if it. At the show or on screen, the work is tucked away, hidden and irrelevant. Any act, any performer is a beautiful display of artificial bravado and fictitious ease. “I was at the store the other day” is code for “A friend told me about going to the store five years ago”. All the pauses and poses that look natural are just rehearsed steps in a subtle choreography. Comedians are liars! And nobody cares. Audiences of all flavors, from patrons to peers to producers aren’t applauding effort, they’re appreciating results. No matter how much Matt has and will continue to work his craft, it’s unfortunately too intangible to be a sales pitch for his album recording.
OJ: Does standup feel like work? What part of the process do you struggle with? The writing? The rewriting? Reviewing footage? Dropping material?
Matt: Being in new places is great, but the travel isn’t always fun. Bad shows definitely feel like work. Spending hours sending emails that are probably never going to get response feels like work. Sometimes those nights when you’re out hitting the fourth or fifth mic can start to feel like work. The comedy itself is great though, even when it’s hard. I like the editing process and being able to build on and learn from past missteps. Watching footage back is tough early, probably because none of us realize how awful we are and being faced with that evidence can be jarring.
You can’t sell work. I’ve never seen it done. Maybe “credits”, a notarized preamble of notoriety for the upcoming performer, is shorthand for “this performer works hard” but that’s not always accurate. There’s a lot of shortcuts to fame claims.
No one has been billed, “As Seen At Four Open Mics the Other Night”. “I loved that online dating bit. You’ve really refined it since 2011,” praised nobody ever. “Equivalent of a 10-Year Freshman” is never placed in the press kits or marketing materials. It’s a fascinating aspect of the job that’s too trivial to become trivia. It takes so long to get somebody, something good, longer to be great, even longer to be perfect…and then it’s just wiped away.
OJ: Do you like your voice played back?
Matt: No. No one does. You just have to get used to it.
OJ: Are you even close to being your favorite comedian. Do you make yourself laugh?
Matt: I’m always seeing comics cover the same material better than I’m doing, whether it’s Louis CK talking about fatherhood, Jim Jefferies on gun control, Maria Bamford on mental illness. I’m not in that tier yet.
I don’t know that I ever laugh at my own stuff. It’s more of a “Oh, man that’s good.” Hearing audience reactions to the jokes is pretty good though.
OJ: Comedians are known for being self deprecating. Are you one of the ones that actually like themselves?
Matt: That’s a complicated question. I do some things right, I do some wrong. Bettering myself is always something I’m trying to do as a comedian, as a father, and as person. Often I fall short.
Comics can’t cry foul; it’s the job. Outside of diehards, nobody will seek or consume the scraps of fights and flights. The niche audience won’t even bat an eye at the earlier works unless there’s something truly revealing and informative of a bone fide legend. Other comedians, probably the innocent newcomers, will covet comedy’s b-sides and rarities the material most, until they’ve gone to work on the work, and then they won’t have time; they have more forgettable foraging and forging to do. Hopefully all that work will be crystalized in a wonderfully succinct recording… or sold to somebody who will pay you up front.