DID YOU READ

Jasper Redd talks about “Seinfeldian” influences, Southern styling and staying true to stand-up comedy

Jasper Redd talks about “Seinfeldian” influences, Southern styling and staying true to stand-up comedy (photo)

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Comedian Jasper Redd is an intriguing mass of contradictions. If he had his druthers, his entire routine would be all about race, but he counts Jerry Seinfeld’s trivial observations as a major influence. Even though he’s often dressed up in Western attire to celebrate his Tennessee heritage, he’s as savvy about the vagaries of Hollywood as any longtime Los Angeleno. And even though he’s being doing comedy for almost a decade professionally, he admits that it’s only recently that he’s felt confident about being a stand-up.

We were lucky enough to see Redd for the first time a few years ago when he performed in Los Angeles to commemorate the release of “Frankenhood,” a straight-to-DVD movie that was his first – and as of today, last – acting job. Since then, he’s been traveling across the country to various venues, including college campuses, and bringing with him a comedic style that’s equally contradictory: complex and plain-spoken, incisive and frivolous, his routines have an abstraction, and an absurdity, that make him a singular entity in the current comedy landscape. IFC sat down with Redd last weekend in Los Angeles to talk about how he got started as a comedian; additionally, he discussed his influences and inspirations, and offered a few insights about satisfying audiences while still staying true to himself.

How did you first get into stand-up? Were you always a funny kid?

I can’t say that I was a kid who was always funny, but I always liked comedy, and I liked funny people. So that was always my attraction. I always liked funny shows, funny movies, and hung around funny people. So I couldn’t say I was ever a class clown, but I had funny thoughts, and I didn’t express them until I got older. I didn’t really have an urge to perform growing up; I grew up drawing and whatnot – that’s what I was into. And then I got into music when I got into high school, but when I graduated, I kind of lost that spark for the music. And then comedy was just something I thought about doing, just to try it, and since I had nothing to lose – I was a janitor at the time, and I was like 20 years old – I just started writing down my thoughts, and I would later form them into jokes when I got off work. And in Tennessee where I lived, Knoxville, they didn’t have a comedy scene at the time, until around the year 2000, and I was wanting to get up somewhere but I had no venue. So that really set me back for a minute, but I kept writing my jokes, and I finally got the guts to do it in 2002, and I decided to move to San Francisco to give it a shot. When I started there in 2002, I started doing open mics, and how it is in San Francisco, it’s kind of like open mics kind of tie in with the club, so they’ll showcase you if you live up to the word on the street – they’ll put you in the rotation.

What comedians do you like or are you influenced by?

I was influenced by, you know, Seinfeld, and somewhat George Carlin, but I love a lot of comedians. As I studied and continue to study, I love a lot of people. Because when I first started doing comedy, my favorite comedian as a kid was Sinbad and Robin Harris. And then as I got older and I started doing comedy, I got into Richard Pryor, I got into Paul Mooney, I got into Steven Wright, Rodney Dangerfield. So I like a lot of cats, man – Bill Cosby – and I studied the legends. And then as far as the modern day [comedians], I love Patrice O’Neal, Mitch Hedberg, rest in peace, Daniel Tosh, Arj Barker, Patton Oswalt, Dwayne Kennedy.

What was the process of teaching yourself how to write jokes and refine your performance?

I was very influenced by Jerry Seinfeld and his comedy, and how he looked at things. He had a keen eye for trivial things, but it was always clever. And I wanted to emulate that, so when I got the chance, I got the book “Sein Language,” which is a book of his jokes, and that really helped me because I could see his joke structure – I could see his formula. And it’s kind of like, from there I was like, “I can do this.” I kind of used his book as a manual, so around the time I was living in Tennessee, that’s how I would write my jokes: I would put them side-to-side with his. And that was pretty much how I got influenced.

How long did it take you to formalize it, or to be able to do that naturally without using his material as a structural blueprint?

I really don’t feel confident that I got it down until about now; I’ve been doing it for nine years, and now I feel comfortable in the formula. I know how to make something funny – I believe. I feel 90 percent confident. But when I first started, my jokes would be hella long; they would be like essays, man. The punch line would be on the third page, you know what I mean? So I had to learn how to edit, to cut off the fat, so that’s how his book was so helpful; it helped me learn how to edit, to leave the necessary meat on the bones.

A lot of your comedy has a sense of abstraction to it. Is it difficult to know how much meat to leave on the bone, as you put it?

Yeah, man, I love the abstract. I love the absurd. I always try to bring that to my comedy, even though I may not be like that in person. I may not be all animated and stuff, but in my mind, I’m very animated, so when I get on stage, it’s kind of like I’m just trying to play with my toys that are in my head. But being that I’m Southern, and kind of slow, and kind of slow with delivery, that makes me stand out. And it’s not deliberate, that’s just how it is. So it’s just how it comes out.

In some of your older clips, you’re wearing a cowboy hat and jacket.

Yeah, that was a phase [laughs].

How much do you feel compelled to play up, or play down, your Southern heritage?

Being a performer, I kind of play with my appearance sometimes, just to get reactions on that from sometimes. I’ll try to get a laugh without even saying anything. So I’ll do that with the outfit sometimes, and around that time I was doing the cowboy thing – I called it “space cowboy.” That’s what I was going with at the time. So yeah, I’m into I guess a little bit of theatrics, as far as appearance is concerned; I’ll dress up.

It is tough to balance being yourself and adopting a stage persona, if that’s something you need to help you get up there and perform?

Uh, for me I just love new stuff. I’m always into new things. I try to be as prolific as I can, because that’s my nature, to try something new. That’s always my motivation, and hoping it’s funny (laughs).

Are you totally yourself on stage, though?

Yeah, to an extent. It’s like the persona is you, but it’s like the funny you. So you just amplify that on stage, in stand-up form. So it’s me, with everything coming out of my mouth, my antics, it’s all a production of Jasper Redd. So it is me.

Do you draw a line between that “funny” version of you and the “off-stage” you? Do you turn it on and off?

I guess so. People will say I have a dual personality, because when I’m not on stage, I’m pretty reserved, low-key, and mild-mannered, and on stage it is me turning it up a notch. Like I said, it’s me playing with my toys, which is my thoughts and observations. So there is definitely an “exit” and then there’s an “enter.”

As a comedian of color, where do you draw the line between addressing or talking about race, and just doing sort of colorblind material?

You know, I would probably talk about race in my act 100 percent if I could, because it’s so prevalent in my life – especially in Hollywood, where you see how it affects your opportunities. So it’s very prevalent, but I know that people don’t want to hear that all of the time; in fact, I think people are really getting past that as a generation. I think it’s an old issue in some ways, so in order to stay relevant, people don’t want to hear about it no more, so I try to bring different twists or spins to it if I do talk about it. I approach it in an absurd or funny way. So when I do talk about race, I try to talk about it in a lighthearted way, man, and not try to be a downer. But I talk about other things as well – like why firemen don’t carry water guns and stuff like that (laughs). Those are my type of observations, so I try to do both – and just be silly with all of it.

Was there a specific barometer for success you achieved that gave you the confidence that you say you now feel?

I think it’s just after doing something for a while, you get the hang of who you are as a person, and how you work and how you do your thing. You’ve got your whole body of work, like how I have a body of work after nine years, and I can go back and look at it and say, okay, this is how I operate. These are the things that I talk about. These are the things that I’m drawn to as a comedian. So once I know what my lane is, it’s easier for me to drive in it, you know what I’m saying? I know how to do what I do now; I know how to play my tune.

As you’ve been doing this more and more, do you tend to draw in a certain demographic or specific type of audience?

It’s a mix. Especially with having a Facebook page and a Twitter account, you see what people are coming to you because of your comedy, and it’s always a mix. I can’t say I have a specific type of audience; I get old folks, kids in high school, females, it’s all over the board. And I appreciate them all.

Are you interested in transitioning from stand-up into doing a TV show or being in movies?

I’m not really attracted to doing all of that stuff. I’ve tried it, I’ve tried to swim in those waters, and I ain’t really got the build for it – I don’t really like it. When I got into comedy, it was for comedy; it wasn’t for any other aspirations. But when you’re in show business and you have agents and you have managers representing you, they’ve got goals of their own for you. So I try to appease them somewhat and go on an audition every now and then to let them know that I appreciate their support, but at one point I just had to stop living a lie. And I’m glad my agents and managers are cool with it; at least, I think they’re cool with it. But I never was into the acting, or trying to write for a show or produce something. If it ain’t got nothing to do with stand-up, I’m pretty much not with it.

What’s the toughest part of doing stand-up? Is it creating new material?

Yeah, that’s it for me. It’s like being a musician, man, like after you write that one hit, people want that other one. So it’s about writing new material and not getting trapped into doing your old material and becoming complacent. Because you can easily just fall in love with your jokes, and never challenge yourself to do new stuff. So yeah, it’s a hard thing to balance, because you also want to get paid as a comedian, and you can always do jokes on an audience that’s paying to see you, and like I said, it’s like being a musician – they want to hear the hits! Do your songs on your next tour. So it’s a balance, man, a balance of breaking new material, trying it out, building confidence with it.

What’s coming up for you? What are you working on now?

Man, good question. Business is in slow motion. Actually, it’s kind of good, because I was on tour last year a lot at colleges, and that’s pretty much my bread and butter when it comes to doing gigs now. So I’m hoping to get some more college gigs on the calendar for the next year, and at the end of this year, hopefully. But that’s about it. I’ve got a web series on Youtube called Jazz Talk, that I do, which is me doing jokes with jazz music in the background. I do a lot of new material actually through Jazz Talk, so if people want to hear jokes, that what I’m doing. I’ve done 57 installments, so that’s what I’m up to; I’m trying to have more of a presence on the internet, because that’s the future. Or, the future is here (laughs).

What’s your favorite Jasper Redd stand-up? Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook or Twitter.

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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