Joe DeRosa and the Importance of Setting Goals

You may know Joe DeRosa from his standup career, appearances on The Opie & Anthony Show, acting on Better Call Saul and Louie, or as a writer on The Pete Holmes Show. His own podcast Down With Joe DeRosa explores broad topics with comedian guests. His recent episodes with fellow podcaster Kurt Braunohler are entitled “Emotional Hangs” where the two men speak about the feelings surrounding their growing friendship.

His comedic personality translates into material that is darkly honest and introduces the audience to everything he hates. Nevertheless he is kind and professional to every fan, fellow performer and worker at the club.

I spoke with Joe between shows at The Comedy Bar in Toronto about using podcasting for friendship, missing out on acting in college, and working with a surprisingly funny musician.

What is your preparation before a show?

I mean nothing, really. I try to stay out of the showroom at least for the first show of a weekend because I don’t want to get ideas in my head. That is a superstitious thing that has become a habit now. After all this time I feel like seeing what other guys are doing – what is working or not working for them – starts to put ideas in my head about things in my set that may work. I don’t want any of that in my head; I want to hit the ground running. If I could literally come up from one of those football tunnels onto the stage, I would because I don’t want to hear shit. Over the course of the weekend I’ll eventually watch the openers because I want to be supportive and see them. If we’re on the road and only have one show I try not to be a douche and still be supportive but following my ritual. No matter where you are, you can hear the laughs and can always say, “Hey man it sounded like you had a really good set, thank you for doing it.”

Do you write your material onstage or sit down and get it out?

I try to sit down for most of it but most of what ends up being final product is stuff that I actually sat down and wrote. I’ll think of an ad-lib or fuck around with it on stage but nine times out of ten that stuff doesn’t end up in the final hour. The final hour is usually something I think is interesting where I sit down and try to figure out why it’s interesting and funny.

Do you set comedy goals for yourself?

Yeah, at the beginning of every year I write a Microsoft Word list of the things I want to do that year. It is a short-term goals list where I hope they’ll eventually lead into my long-term goals.

I’m a list writer too.

Yeah, it’s how you get shit done! It’s an adult version of a dream board. I think you have to do it. When you have errands to run you write them down, when you go to the grocery store and want to be efficient you have a list, you don’t wander around aimlessly. I think it is important to do that with career goals too because you need to set your sights. My cousin is an entrepreneur, very self-made and very, very successful, he said to me once, “You have to be able to figure out what the goal is and then figure out how to strategize towards it. It’s not enough to just have a goal, you can have a goal but you’ll never accomplish it because you will just be spinning your wheels hoping it will work out.” He used to do a lot of stuff in real estate and say, “If your goal is to buy a house you have to figure out a price range, how much money you make and what you will have to save. You don’t just say you want to buy a house one day.” That advice really stuck with me in my career and I started to slowly step towards particular goals. The first time I ever did the list, I achieved everything on it. I was like, “This works!” It made me focus and pay attention so I just kept doing it after that. I try to do it every January.

Where did the idea come from for your podcast Down With Joe DeRosa?

I didn’t think there was any point in doing a podcast unless I could do my own take on it or something I found interesting. I spent a lot of years delivering pizzas and am a big AM talk radio fan. I love people having opinions and picturing the guy behind the microphone with the cigarette saying, “That’s why healthcare is screwed in this country!” People call in and agreeing or saying they’re wrong and arguments, debates and whatever – I just learn stuff from listening to it. If I want to do a podcast that is what I wanted to do. I had an opinions column in the school paper when I was in college and tried to sell opinion-based radio shows for years and didn’t really have any success with it so now I would do a podcast that’s a talk radio throwback. No one is an expert; we just talk about a topic and about what is happening in our lives. To make it more accessible to the guests things like healthcare are probably a little too specific.

Especially for listeners worldwide.

Yeah, so I wanted the listeners and comedians to have an investment in it too. I’m not an expert in anything so I thought we could broaden up the topics and make it umbrella topics. Instead of The Tea Party we make it about something broad like voting. Underneath that you can talk about Democrats, Republicans, whoever or whatever. Now it’s slowed a bit. Podcasts are a lot of work for very little return and I’ve spent a lot of money on it. It’s fun but there’s a reason why I am doing a lot of crossover episodes these days.

It’s a lot of commitment

It’s a lot of commitment. I’m travelling a lot and its extra stuff to lug around with you on the road. It’s hard to get comedians to nail down a time to do it and when I don’t have a guest it’s hard for me to talk for an hour straight, even though fans seem to like those episodes best. I am still doing it, but I’ve kind of had to break up the monotony a little bit with crossover episodes and also doing this new thing with Kurt Braunohler called “Emotional Hangs.”

I am a big fan of them. It’s an interesting perspective that I don’t think has been covered in podcast form. Did the idea really come from wanting to talk about your friendship?

Thank you. I love doing them, they are so fun. I think we talked about it on the first episode but this is the absolute truth – I saw Kurt at a festival party, he was drunk and kept doing this thing where he would pretend he was going to hit me and then would hug me. He pretended he was really going to hit me and then gave me the nicest hug. He is a huge man so his hugging is an all-encompassing embrace. He would hug me and say, “I love you buddy, you know I would never hurt you right?” Then when he was leaving he goes, “I love you dude, we have emotional hangs, man!” I was just thinking… all right? The next day we were talking on the phone laughing about it and I asked him if he remembered saying that we have emotional hangs and we laughed so hard. He goes, “That’s a podcast, I don’t know what the fuck that is but it is a podcast.” Weeks later I went to a birthday party with him and said, “I was thinking about it, let’s do that as a podcast.” He asked what it would be and I was like, “I don’t know man, I just picture us going and talking to therapists about our emotions, I don’t know.” He said it sounded funny and when we did the first episode we were kind of figuring it out. I think the second episode Kurt said he figured out what it is, “It is the two of us exploring our vulnerability and emotions as our friendship goes.” That is so much of what came out in the first episode and when he said that the light bulb really went off. I love doing it because it is this super weird documentation of a friendship between two guys as it is developing.

Like you said, most people don’t talk through those feelings; it’s sometimes seen as a stereotypically girly thing to do.

There is stuff on there that we have discussed where I was like, “Without this podcast we would have never discussed this or gotten over it.” There would be weirdness between us because a thing happens and it’s in your head and you don’t know if you should bring it up. My favorite thing that we’ve ever talked about on the podcast was when he called me from the road and needed a pep talk as many of us do, because the road can be really tough sometimes. I gave him a pep talk and he texted me later and the last sentence in the text was I love you buddy. I waited until we did the podcast and told him that I wanted to text back I love you too but I felt too weird and didn’t know if he was joking or would make fun of me. That tiny conversation in itself is something that’s so relevant to so many guys that they would never talk about. It would be so weird to talk about that at a bar like, “Kurt can I talk to you?”

“Remember that time you texted me I love you? I didn’t know what to say.”

“I just wanted you to know that I wanted to say I love you but I was scared.”

“Unless you were joking in which case, I don’t mean it.” [Laughing]

[Laughs] I’m really excited about that podcast and I’m excited that it gets to be a subsidiary of both of our own podcasts. It fits strangely well into both, his because of the rotating format and mine is about topics of social discussion and at the end of the day it’s really a therapy session to see where I stand in the world. Also because I never really take one hard stance on my podcast, I try to say here are the two ways to look at this and figure it out. I feel like having these long emotional talks with a guy friend falls right under that umbrella.

I can’t wait for more. How did you get into acting, was it something you always wanted to try?

I always wanted to try it, but I didn’t have much luck with it in college. I studied theatre but I wasn’t a theatre major. I didn’t get a lot of love in that field because it is college: they are going to give the big stuff to the ones with the majors.

I was a Drama major in University too, but not an acting major.

We didn’t have an acting major just a theatre one and I was a theatre minor. I just couldn’t get a fucking break. I might have sucked too, but I don’t know I just wanted to try it. The first thing I ever booked was this early IFC show called Z Rock that my friend Jay Oakerson was on. It was about a real band called ZO2 who are a metal band at night and during the day play children’s parties to make a living as they try to make it as a metal band. They made a Curb Your Enthusiasm-style show about the band that was all improv. I went in and auditioned for a part and didn’t get it, but they told me I almost had it. I was so shocked that I almost got it and thought I might be okay at acting. They brought me in to do another part and were happy with my work. I did this scene where I played a porn director with Dave Navarro from Jane’s Addiction. My first acting gig ever and sitting with Dave Navarro, this band and these models they hired to play pornstars, it was such a weird first acting experience and I’ll tell you a little secret – Dave Navarro is fucking hilarious [laughs]. He was doing bits in between takes and they were funny! I saw him years later in the lobby of Sirius XM in New York, we were signing in to go upstairs at the same time and I said, “Dave!” He kind of looked at me and I said, “I did Z Rock with you, I don’t know if you remember” He was like, “Oh hey, what’s up!” and talked for a bit.

Everything I have gotten to do I have been really lucky, I have gotten to be in a lot of really cool shows and in scenes with people I really admire. On Bored to Death my scene was with Zach [Galifianakis] and Jason Schwartzman which was super fucking cool. For Louie, I knew him from comedy, but I got to be a prick in the scene and that was awesome. With Better Call Saul I did scenes with Jonathan Banks who is the greatest dude. I’ve been really, really lucky; I’m very grateful.

Joe DeRosa and the Importance of Setting Goals