Ben Wasserman (@benwassertweet) is a comedian based in Brooklyn. He co-produces the showcase Side Ponytail at Friends and Lovers in Crown Heights every Wednesday and last Saturday of the month.
This week, we chatted about Marilyn Manson’s missing rib, cancel culture, and how much homework sucks.
This one makes me laugh every time I say it out loud. Somebody called me a jerk, and I shouted the above and felt so so proud of myself I simply had to share it with the world the next day. Two years later, when Facebook reminded me I said this incredibly funny thing, I tweeted it. It hits the algorithm hard with a pop-culture reference and a boring life update, so I knew it would get numbers and it did. Industry wants you to tweet even if it kills you, and I say kill them back. A classic.
Has Twitter been a good platform for your jokes?
Absolutely not. If I was a comedian who does jokes it would be such a great platform for that. Unfortunately, I’m more of the type of comedian who brings audience members onstage to assist with a bit called “The Human Fountain,” where I pose as the world’s most famous fountains and spit water everywhere. Sometimes, I just ask people their name and how they spell it for 8–10 minutes. But rarely do I feel comfortable doing jokes because jokes, have always felt like writing and writing feels like homework and homework sucks. There are a bunch of who do it well, and God bless them! At the same time, there are comedians who aren’t necessarily “joke comedians” but have found ways to leverage Twitter to their strengths by exploring ways to incorporate multimedia, and boy would I love to figure out how to do that. Honestly, after just writing it out I think putting up a video of “The Human Fountain” might actually crush on Twitter, so I take everything back. I love Twitter — please follow me!
Do you think that Twitter and social media in general has had any effect on the way that people consume comedy? Do you think that social media is changing the industry?
Because of social media, comedians can not only do comedy for a bigger audience, but also find their own audience much quicker. Which, as an added bonus I think, has also pressured the industry to recognize and correct for a historical lack of diversity. Comedians from marginalized populations have been able to carve out their spaces and force the industry’s hand by saying “We’re here, we’re just as good, and people fuckin’ love us too so hire us.” Also — and I hate to get canceled for this — but I absolutely ADORE cancel culture and the ability to hold industry and individuals accountable for their shitty words and decisions, and you wouldn’t have that without social media. At the same time, at least for me, social media has created the added pressure of being good at social media, because that is where most people, most of the time, are consuming comedy. As I always say, you live and die on the sword of engagement. If you’re industry and reading this, I love the industry — please DM me!
Ah another classic. I think every comedian wants a “Marilyn Manson rib removal self-sucking” joke to call their own. I’ve probably tweeted and deleted 100 attempts at a good one, and this one’s mine — and I am confident that it slaps. How do you do a joke everyone wants to make and make it slap? Well, to start, I suggest you try being me. Probably the only “joke” I have ever written.
Your weekly show Side Ponytail celebrated its five-year anniversary this year. Firstly, congrats! But also, what inspired you and your co-hosts to start this show?
Thank you! My hilarious and darling friend Carolyn Busa started Side Ponytail by herself five years ago as a monthly show, and then two years later brought on the rest of us (me, Julia Shiplett, and Emily Winter) when going weekly. So, I can’t really speak to the inspiration in starting the show, but I can say why I joined. First, I wanted an excuse to hang out with my friends each week! It’s so cool to have a project with people you love and have a reason to be in near constant communication with them. Second, I wanted to be able to help create a space that feels like a fun party with a bunch of different kinds of people there, by promoting well, hosting well, and inviting a diverse range of performers — and I think the four of us do that real well at Side Ponytail. Lastly, the biggest reason I joined is that having a weekly show is a guaranteed way to do live comedy at least once a week. As I always say, you live and die on the sword of stage time. I love performing — please book me!
Do you have a standout memory or story of the best set you’ve ever done? What about the worst one?
Wow, I’ve never thought about my best set, but I do repeatedly think about my worst set. I was booked on my friend’s very popular show, which I had wanted to do for a long time, and I made the brave choice of doing a very new bit where I am an endurance artist who performs comedy while encased in a block of ice. The gag being that the ice wasn’t delivered in time for the show, so I hand out cups of ice cubes and water pistols to the audience. I then hold up a notepad with a bunch of jokes on them (keep in mind I am not great at jokes), and have the crowd squirt me with water and chuck ice at me.
The one time I did the bit before this, it worked really well. This time though, I decided to add a very elaborate video component where Shia LaBeouf, my endurance art coach, Skypes in from a Subway sandwich kiosk at an airport to give me a pep talk — using some snippets from those green-screened motivational rants he did. I hadn’t really run it before the show, so my timing with this very stupid video was way off, and I was already in a bathing suit having audience members read poorly written jokes while throwing ice at me and a lot of it was just one distraction after another and let’s just say sorry to this man. Still, I stand by the bit and will likely bring it back because typing it out just now made me laugh. If you ever see me do this bit again — please laugh!
If you’re going to be a comedian, then you better be willing to eat, breathe, and sleep comedy. And you better fucking tweet about it too. Share your friends’ accomplishments, the industry controversies, the ups and also the downs of trying to make a career of being a comedian. I’m happy to say that I’m at the point of my comedy career where I am in dental school.
Wait, are you for real going to dental school?
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