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Moshe Kasher Really Believes in the Power of Crowd Work

Moshe Kasher Photo: FilmMagic/Getty Images

Many comedians and audiences are skeptical about the idea of crowd work, as a practice, in stand-up comedy, seeing it, especially when it’s bad, as a crutch, or a stalling tactic, or full of canned, antagonistic insults. Comedian Moshe Kasher wants to disavow us of that notion. His new comedy album, Crowd Surfing Volume 1, is entirely crowd work, showcasing his quick wit and generous, almost spiritual relationship to the idea of a comedy audience … and ass play.

In this episode of the new, improved, and now weekly Good One podcast, Kasher discusses lessons he learned from Natasha Leggero, why comedy is inherently good because enjoying yourself is an inherent good, and how crowd work is like Ornette Coleman. And the Grateful Dead. And occasionally a bad guitar solo. You can read some excerpts from the transcript or listen to the full episode right below. Tune in to Good One every Tuesday on Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Why Crowd Work Is Bad

I think that what is bad about crowd work is the same thing that’s bad about material: Sometimes it’s bad, and people go, Oh, that’s lazy. It’s like, well, it’s lazy because you’ve seen lazy people do it, or you’ve seen people that aren’t masters of it do it. It’s like saying, Well, what is bad about guitar solos? Well, sometimes they’re bad and feel really hacky. And this is like, are you gonna do the same dun-dun-dun-dawwwwaah? When crowd work is good, it doesn’t feel canned. It doesn’t, and it isn’t. I think some people do use it as just lube. They just use it as a sprinkle of lube.

Natasha, my wife, got great advice early in her career, which is, “Get them laughing before you even start talking.” So she does this trick when she comes out that always gets a laugh. It’s before she speaks. I actually do a thing also, so that sometimes can be what crowd work’s job is. Sometimes I call it “opening for myself.” I come out and do bang, bang, bang, bang, bang. Let me start the show. But when I’m really in the zone, it’s this amalgam of what’s happening in the moment, and the material, and the audience. And it’s the most magical, I think, that comedy can be — is when there’s sparks happening.

Why Crowd Work Is Good

If you see one of the people that’s really good at it, it’s like this gift that the comedian is offering that crowd that night, and they know it. I think they know it. They go, Wow, this is special. This night is for us. And no other show will ever be this show. This is its own show, as opposed to if I tour with an hour of material, every night will be the exact same show. I’m not saying that as a critique. I’m saying there’s something very special about offering a temporary gift to a crowd.

That said, how do you take that temporary gift and turn it into something that feels a bit more permanent? That’s why I came up with the concept of this album, which was, rather than talking about the elements in the room, and rather than talking about the things that I saw, I wanted to ask these very specific questions to elicit stories from people, because I figured every comedian, every human has five or six stories that they tell at every party they go to when they’re trying to be charismatic. Every comedian has probably 30 to 50. And Doug Stanhope, I guess, has like 700. So I figured if I could get those stories, it would feel more permanent and I could still showcase what I do as an off-the-cuff performer. And I think it really works.

On Fame and Legacy

There’s nothing valuable about legacy. Legacy is a lie and a myth, because you just die. Who do you remember from 2,000 years ago? Jesus and the Buddha. There were a lot of famous people back then. Even Pontius Pilate — like, he’s a footnote. Think about the Roman emperors. They were the most powerful people, most famous people on earth. You remember, what? Julius Caesar, Nero, and one other guy? So even if you get so famous, you’re gonna be forgotten. So the idea of chasing legacy is unimportant.

What’s important — and I tell you, it’s probably why I tour with Natasha; we put specials out together, [and] it’s why I love crowd work — it’s because the only thing that really matters is: Are you enjoying life? Are you enjoying your career? Are you having fun? And that’s why I love Burning Man, and that’s why I love nature and the national parks. I just want to have a good time while I’m here, because it’s so fleeting. I think that’s part of, honestly, what the power of crowd work is: Everything’s fleeting, but we’ve got this kind of moment together.

On the “Disastrous” Hollywood Handbook Live Show at Comic-Con

To me, if you go out and you kill in front of a hot crowd that anyone could kill in front of, that’s an awesome feeling. And I’m lying when I said I don’t care about laughs — of course I do. But if I kill in front of a hot crowd that anyone could kill in front of, that’s great. Great feeling. But the greatest feeling in comedy is to go out to an antagonistic audience who doesn’t want to laugh and find a way to make the show awesome by the end of it. That Hollywood Handbook episode, no one knew who they were, and they were confused because it’s such insider humor. By the end of the show, I thought they were killing. And to me, that’s a much more monumental victory than killing in front of people that know who you are and want to laugh at everything you say.

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Moshe Kasher Really Believes in the Power of Crowd Work