The Absurdity of Randy Liedtke

Randy Liedtke is an artful purveyor of the absurd. A self proclaimed “grown child,” his comedy displays an unabashed love for the goofy and twisted. You don’t have to dig too deep into Liedtke’s body of work to get a sense of what he’s about. Take for instance his new album, I’m On a Roll, which features him on the cover sprawled across the inside of a large deli sandwich; or his infamous iPhone cookie prank, which got him in more trouble than it was worth; or this bit from his recent appearance on Conan:

“When I was growing up I had a dog. He actually inspired me to get a job working with animals. I got one. I was the dog killer at the Humane Society. I felt guilty about it. I was getting paid to do something I’d probably being doing anyway.”

Liedtke and I recently covered a lot of conversational ground together talking about his new album, his Comedy Central Half Hour, his cool parents, and his romantic first encounter with cohort Brendon Walsh.

How much time do you spend on the road each year?

This year, especially the last few months, has been the most that I’ve done. Normally, I do one or two trips a month and then I’m in LA for… I’m writing something right now. I need to be here for certain things. But the last three weeks I was only in LA for basically two days.

Do you book your own tours, or do you have management to do that for you?

I’m represented at an agency. They have been in different departments. I have a public appearance guy who works for me. Sometimes people reach out to him and make offers, or he’ll work to get me things. I’ll get an email that’s like, “Hey, we have an offer for you to go to this place.” They have another person in New York from the same agency that is trying to establish relationships with small music venues across the country so they can string together one-nighter tours for their clients. They try to get them out to do these one-nighter shows rather than a weekend at a club.

What do you prefer: comedy clubs or music venues?

I don’t know. They both have their positives. I just did a weekend at Cap City in Austin and it was great. Part of the reason it’s great is that everyday you don’t have to wake up and drive or fly somewhere just to make it in time to do one show. You can do six shows in a weekend. If you want to work on something, by the end of the weekend you have it worked out. Whereas, if you’re doing a different show at a different place every night, every room is different. That’s fun too. If I’m filling out places, it would be great to do just one big show on a weekend instead of five shows. But that’s not where it’s at right now.

Have you seen your Comedy Central Half Hour yet?

No. I’ve only seen a couple of clips.

How do you feel it went?

I think it went well. I was planning on being involved and bugging everybody to help pick which jokes made it. But after the taping I was just like, “Whatever. I’m happy with it.” I ended up losing my voice. The taping was in Boston. I got to Boston two days before the taping and I lost my voice. I didn’t have a voice for the 48 hours leading up to my Half Hour. It was super stressful. I was like, “Am I even going to get to do this?” It was crazy. The day of the recording I woke up and my voice was partially back, but I didn’t have the vocal range that I’m used to having. I had to adjust a few jokes in terms of how I usually deliver them. I couldn’t be like, “Oh!” and hit those high notes that much. It was stressful, but once I found out I was doing it I didn’t have time to worry about being funny. I was just worried about my voice working. Everyone was like, “You couldn’t tell your voice was weird,” but I totally could. I’m interested to see it. I was in a weird mood. People would give me an applause break and I would be like, “I don’t deserve that.”

I know you’re pretty low key in your delivery, even deadpan at times. This special was even a little more subdued, especially in some of the longer bits like Shoe Designer and The Ring. In those bits, you test the audience’s patience to stick with you until the end. The fact that you were subdued fit those jokes really well. It added a sense of confidence.

Interesting. I hope that’s positive.

It is. It was really fun to watch. I didn’t know you weren’t feeling well or that you had lost your voice. I thought you were just playing with your own energy levels.

I’m excited to see it. Every night a comedian is not exactly the same. It’s weird that one of the biggest things in my career thus far happens to fall on this weird event where I don’t have a voice.

In the special you talk about someone saying you look like a lumberjack. Did I read somewhere that your dad actually was a lumberjack?

Yeah. I mean, the definition of jobs can be kind of loose. He was a forester. While he was in college becoming a forester he worked in a lumberyard. My mom’s brother worked there, so that’s how he met my mom. He graduated college and got a job with Oregon State Forestry. His whole career he worked as a lumberjack and forester, which is very Oregon. So yeah, I look like a lumberjack. I look like I’m from Oregon. I used to work in coffee. I was one of those dumb, fancy baristas who knew everything. I went into a coffee shop one time and a guy said, “You look like you’re from Oregon and work in coffee.”

How does your Dad feel about your career choice?

He didn’t expect me to become a forester or anything. Living in Oregon is interesting because even though it’s close enough to California, there’s no entertainment industry. I never grew up thinking anyone could be a comedian or actor. Right after college I thought I wanted to be in advertising. I thought that was the only way you could write jokes. I wanted to write commercials and come up with funny ideas. I never thought, “Why don’t you become a comedian?” I had an older brother who, while I was in high school, was in college. That was the path: go to college, graduate college, get a job. Once I graduated college I was like, “I can do whatever I want.” I had a girlfriend in college and we broke up and I was like, “I don’t have to answer to anybody.” I had a friend who had just moved to LA I thought, “You can do that? I want to do that.” My parents were always very supportive. There were times when they said, “Is there a different plan if at a certain point you haven’t had any successes?” They said, “Don’t drop out of college. Get your degree,” which I have never used. But if I hadn’t gone to college I wouldn’t have figured out that I wanted to do comedy. My parents are super cool. One of my first really big shows they drove six hours to see. So many comedians are like, “Ugh, my parents, I hate them.” My parents are in town right now.

You also have a new album coming out this Friday before the special airs. Is a lot of the material from the Half Hour on the album?

Yeah, a lot of it is. There are some visual things from the Half Hour that didn’t make it to the album because they’re too visual. Of course, the album is twice as long as the Half Hour. There’s some overlap but there’s some different stuff on there too.

This is your first album, right?

Yeah.

Why did you feel like this was the right time in your career to drop an album?

The album is through Comedy Central Records as well. It was a good pairing since they were going to release it at the same time as my Half Hour and promote it as a combo. I didn’t have to worry about the album being completely different from the Half Hour since they were being released as a package. It was perfect timing. I’m proud of the 55 minutes of comedy that I have right now. Some of the jokes I’ve had for a while. It was like, “Let’s get them out there, put them somewhere, and start moving forward working on something else.”

You have a podcast with Brendon Walsh, The Bone Zone. You pair up on a lot of things together. Why do you think you you’re such a good duo? How did you start working together?

He moved out from Austin maybe a year after I moved to LA. We had some mutual friends. We had met a couple of times. I saw him perform and thought he was funny. One night after a show we were both at the same bar next door just hanging out. I was sitting at a booth and he was at the bar waiting behind some guy to get a drink. He was looking around and we made eye contact. He made a motion like, “Hey, check this out.” He licked the shirt of the guy in front of him like, “He doesn’t know I’m doing this.” He just locked eyes with me and licked the back of this guy’s shirt. I was cracking up. We both have similar senses of humor. We became friends after that.

That’s a beautiful story.

It’s romantic. We both have childish, grown-children aspects to our comedy. Certain aspects of what makes him funny has kind of rubbed off on me and vice versa. We don’t take anything too seriously. You know when you’re a little kid and you laugh so hard it hurts? Adults don’t do that much anymore, so we get along pretty great because we get really silly.

The Absurdity of Randy Liedtke