Chasing the Laugh with Joe Sib

In his multimedia one-man show California Calling: A Story of Growing Up Punk Rock, Joe Sib wove a tale that started with the first time he heard real punk music and ended with him fronting the band Wax and founding SideOneDummy Records. Performing the show eight years ago planted a seed in Joe that would lead him to where he is today: a standup comic who is releasing his debut album Nowhere Near the Top (available today on iTunes, Spotify, and limited release vinyl). At 50 years of age, Joe is now a husband and father, roles that many punks from the ‘80s and ‘90s have adopted. The day I talked to Joe, he had just taken his Prius out to drop the kids off at school before grabbing a coffee – and he couldn’t have sounded happier. We chatted about the new album, his transition from musician to storyteller to comedian, and his addiction to getting laughs.

Did California Calling lead to you doing straight-ahead standup?

Totally. That was it, 100%. California Calling was my first time ever going into comedy clubs. Here in Los Angeles I never went to The Improv, The Comedy Store, or The Laugh Factory even though I drove by all of those places for 20 years. I was always on my way to The Roxy, Whisky, or The House of Blues. I moved to LA when I was 23 years old. I was trying to figure things out, get a job, and a place to stay. Just bare minimum. I knew it a certain point I wanted to start a band, but I needed to find a place and get a job. I was hanging around with this crew of guys and they thought I was a standup. I was like, “No, no I want to be a singer in a band.” At one point my girlfriend, who is now my wife, said, “Let’s go to The Comedy Store. You should try standup.” I went and it was like a potluck night where you get like three minutes or something. I did it and thought it was cool, but I didn’t get bit by the bug. I still 100% just wanted to do music. But comedy was always in the back of my mind. So when I started doing California Calling, that was the key. I did a show at the Melrose Improv, which led to The Comedy Store. I started meeting more comics. I thought I was doing standup, but this guy Flanagan at Largo was like, “No man, you’re doing storytelling.” I was like, “Really? I’m doing standup.” He said, “No. Come back next week. I’ll put you up, but you can’t bring music cues and photographs. You’ve got to just get up there and do material.” I went back the next week and he was like, “That’s standup. It wasn’t good, but if you want to do this, that’s what you’ve got to do.” That was eight years ago and it turned into me going, “You know, what I want to do is standup.”

You were already having success with the storytelling/one-man show thing. What made you want to chase standup and take on that challenge?

It’s a different muscle. Looking back, I think I just wanted to be good at it. I wanted to get back onstage and reinvent the feeling of being onstage. The germ of my whole existence is that I love being onstage. I totally got addicted to getting laughs. I’ve never done drugs in my entire life. I tried to smoke weed and freaked out. I couldn’t do it. Now that I’ve done standup for eight years I know what addiction could possibly feel like. Not to compare comedy to what an alcoholic or a drug addict would go through, but I can understand being addicted to something now. I’m totally chasing the laugh all the time.

I understand you don’t want to draw a distinction between substance addiction and comedy, but in the brain it’s all the same thing. The same parts of your brain are popping off when you do heroin or an activity that you love and get a rush out of.

Yeah, I would never want to say that my addiction to comedy is like the fight that someone addicted to drugs goes through. But my comparison is that I love getting that laugh so much. I love getting it and when I don’t get it I’m bummed. I want to fix it. I want to make it better. I have to get up the next night. Like anything I’ve done in my life I’m 100% in or 100% out. I don’t have a middle.

The more I think about it the more parallels I see between comedy and addiction. A lot of people have ruined their lives and relationships to pursue comedy.

Absolutely. When I was doing California Calling my wife would come to the shows. One time we were sitting there at the end of the night, just me and her, and Flanagan came up and said something to the effect of, “If he’s really going to do standup you won’t be going to the shows anymore.” She was like, “No, I’ll always go.” He said, “No, if he really wants to do this and get good you won’t be there, not because you don’t like it, but because it’s so repetitive.” It’s not like music where you want to hear a song over and over. To get a bit where you want it you have to do it so many times, tweaking it, working it out. Now I understand why so many people told me not to get into comedy.

I think a lot of people who came up listening to your bands are now also homeowners, parents, in serious relationships. Your material reflects that. You even started a podcast called Rad Parenting where you are a punk rock dad and your co-host is a professional therapist.

As far as punk rock dad is concerned, that kind of comes and goes through the podcast. It’s more like I’m just a dude. I wanted to start the podcast for parents who just don’t have the time to read all of the books and all of the information out there. My goal was to make something that you could listen to on a 30 or 40-minute run, or in traffic. You could invest 30 to 40 minutes and get something real out of the podcast, real parenting opinions and advice. The podcast is for the world that we live in. No one can afford therapy. A lot of people couldn’t afford a private session with someone like a Anea [Bogue] every week. I want to provide that information and also do it in a way that’s relatable. It’s not preachy. A lot of those podcasts get super, super preachy. They make you feel bad after you listen to them. It’s like the same feeling I get after I listen to NPR: “Oh my God, I’m so stupid.” Sometimes I leave NPR on in the background just so I feel smarter during the day.

How do you feel about the album release?

I haven’t released a record since 22 Jacks, let alone a comedy record. I’m super psyched it’s coming out. But I’ve been nervous this whole week like, “What if people hate it?” It’s a good feeling to have because I haven’t had it in so long. At least when I was in a band if someone didn’t like 22 Jacks I could be like, “Dude, they like me. They just don’t like you. They said the bass playing is lame. Dude, I didn’t write that song. That’s you bro.” But with this record it’s all on me.

And it’s so highly personal. It’s all about your life.

My kids are like, “This record had better do well because it’s all about us.”

Chasing the Laugh with Joe Sib