Keeping Busy with Barry Rothbart

Barry Rothbart is doing a little bit of everything these days. He co-directed a documentary about competitive eating that premiered this summer, he co-created and stars in a web series on Comedy Central, and he’s got a role in Demetri Martin’s new movie, to name a few. When he’s not working on various film and television projects, he’s also an established standup comic.

Last month AST Records released Rothbart’s debut album, Streets of Fire. It’s a funny, crowd-work heavy compilation that showcases Rothbart’s goofy sense of humor.

I recently had the chance to talk to Rothbart about his new album, his various projects, and playing a vapid talent manager.

Is there much thought that goes into where you’re going to release an album or is it just a matter of doing it when everything lines up?

I was in a bit of a rush because I was doing a show up in DC at the time doing a pilot and it was taking up a lot of my time and I didn’t know if it was going to get picked up or what my schedule was going to be like and I wanted to get an album done. And then the pilot didn’t get picked up and I was like, “Alright whatever, I already did the album.” And I liked it, so I released it.

You recorded that when?

April of this year.

In Atlanta?

Yeah exactly.

You did a lot of crowd work in your set.

Yeah I did. I purposely wanted it to feel a little loser, like a live show. Many albums feel like you could have done them anywhere, kind of boring, but with this album you can feel like, “oh I’m at their show.”

Was there a bunch left on the cutting room floor in terms of audience interaction?

Oh yeah – tons of stuff.  It was a compilation of four different shows so there was a ton. One of the shows was a really bad bomb. The crowd was like ten full and for some reason they hated it. The whole time I was talking about how shitty this was for everyone. Can you imagine if this was the only thing I used how shitty that would be? I wanted to use some of it but it would feel so weird edited. Something like ten people laughing and there’s like a 150 people on the other recording.

That’s funny. Once you commit to taping it are you fully committed? Can you scrap it if you don’t like it?

I mean I can do what I want. It got to the point that I was happy with it. If I had pulled out AST Records would have to travel again and stuff and do another show. It just was like I’m happy with it and we made a really good edit. I felt like, “let’s just do it man.”

This was your first album, correct?

First album.

Why now? Why after ten years?

I think it was just – I wanted to do one for a while and I’ve been touring a lot and my act was where I wanted it to be. I wanted to retire it or honor it with an album. Once I have a pretty solid hour or 45 I just want to get it out there. I’ve got a Comedy Central Half-Hour coming up and then I can be like, “Alright, lets move on.”

The material on the album is stuff you’ve been doing for maybe the last year or two? It’s newer stuff?  

It is. A lot of it’s newer stuff and some of it’s older stuff. It’s funny like Louis C.K. had all these albums come out with like an hour of material a year for a special. But if you don’t have the potential like Louis C.K. what do you do with the album? Do you keep touring with it forever? It just felt like it was time for me to immortalize it and get rid of it. I was tired of it. It was a combination of a bunch of stuff, you know? It was pretty much the act I had been doing this past year.

Got it, but you did include some older stuff as well because I was going to say it’s your first album – wouldn’t it be fair game to use anything from your act you’ve developed over the years?  

Yeah, totally. I think it would be pretty funny if I did a second album and it was pretty much the same material and keep doing the same material but on a different album.

You said you’re going to do a Half-Hour on Comedy Central?  

Yeah. I don’t have like a date or anything yet. I was supposed to do it last year but I was shooting this show with NBC at the same time the specials were being shot.

Will you use some of the stuff from your album on that – if and when you record it?  Will you try and do some new stuff?  

Yeah. I’m going to do a lot of stuff from the album and I think that you kind of do the TV thing and the album and then you retire it.

And now you’re doing a tour with the album?  

I am. I’ve been trying to do something that’s an alternative to comedy clubs – like music venues and stuff. Smaller things where actual comedy fans can come up and I feel like the real comedy fans don’t go to clubs as much. They go to like whatever cool music venue shows and they’re the fans of comedy.

It’s totally two distinct entities.

And you know, clubs are great. A lot of comics do great at clubs and I like that too, but I want an alternative to that. I don’t just want to be that club guy. So that’s what I was trying to do and fortunately enough I’m able to contact people in a certain area and ask about what’s a good venue and then try to involve them and do it and have like a show where 100 people show up. It’s a small venue but a full show and you can get people actually being like, “Oh this is an event. This isn’t just like a whole week of shows.” It’s a one-night show and it’s in my town and I should come out and see it. It’s like an event. I doing a bunch of them in the Midwest in December. After that I’m working on a new show for Comedy Central.

The web series?

No, the web series is separate. I sold a TV show. It hasn’t been greenlit to shoot but they bought the idea and we had to write the pilot. I’m writing it with Danny Solomon.

And he did 300 Sunnyside with you right?

He did.

Can you share any details?

The tentative title is Barry Be Good and it’s about me trying to do good things for the world, and for myself being inherently selfish. You know like the whole obsession with everyone trying to be more politically correct. I take that to whatever nth degree.  A little like Curb Your Enthusiasm. So we’re excited about it.

Is it a mockumentary or is it going to be you playing yourself?

Um, I’m playing a version of myself.  Kind of like how Larry David played a version of himself.

Do you have a say in who else will be in the cast with you?  

For sure. We shot a pilot presentation for it and Jerrod Carmichael is in it and an improv actress named Betsy Sodaro. She’s really funny. They are the two other leads in it.

Are you guys all done shooting the 300 Sunnyside episodes?

No, but they’ve talked about us shooting more of them. They put three out there and they usually do six. So we’re trying to shoot some more, but that was like a separate project.

How did you come up with the cast for that?  Was it just a lot of people that you’d worked with?  

We just wanted the most simple idea that you could ever have for a show and then just make it go into complete insanity in a very contained venue. So we wanted just like six people in a house doing the most mundane things leading to just complete insanity. So that was the thinking for that and I think it came out really weird and great. I feel like that could be a short film too.

I would love to see Shroommates on TV.  I think that would turn a lot of heads.

[Laughs.] That would be awesome.

Were the other people in the cast buddies or people that you’ve worked with?  

Yeah, that’s what was cool about it too. It was all people I knew. So everybody already had good chemistry.

I’ve seen some of your clips from This is Comedy and those have been hilarious. How is that coming along? Is that going to be a movie?  

It is and it’s already been shot. Tom McCaffrey is a really, really funny comic in New York and he shot it kind of like a mockumentary and I think it came out really funny. You know like that Jason Nash movie, Jason Nash Is Married? Did you ever see that? It’s similar. It’s very personal and I play his manager in it.

Those clips are hysterical. It’s obviously an exaggeration but have you ever worked with anyone like the manager you depict?  

The manager? Oh yeah, everywhere.

They’re really like that?

My whole concept for that character was like, “What if a guy is the most positive in the way that he speaks and the most negative in his context.” The whole thing was just like, “Dude you are doing so poorly right now.” Like everything is so exciting but so negative.

And there are a lot of people like that?

Yes, but I can’t mention any names. [Laughs.]

Are you pretty firmly planted in LA now? I know you were doing the back and forth thing for a while.  

Yeah, I’m in LA now. We moved out here in early summer.

You’re doing a lot of acting now it looks like.

Yeah I love to combine all of it. I want to write and act and standup. Being on the road kind of sucks.

Are you trying to say you didn’t enjoy Kokomo, Indiana?  

[Laughs.] Oh Yeah.

I find that hard to believe but okay fine, have it your way.  

You know I love sitting in a hotel room alone and masturbating so many times a day.

In terms of what’s next – you shot a movie, you’re working on a new show, you’re doing a tour – anything else you want to mention?

I’m getting coffee right now.

Okay I’ll make a note of that.

You know, I’m just trying to stay as busy as possible.

Keeping Busy with Barry Rothbart