A comedian can spend years etching out an act. For comic Joe Matarese, what works are brutally honest revelations of his day-to-day. With appearances on Chelsea Lately to The Late Show with David Letterman Matarese, who also hosts his own podcast called “Fixing Joe with Joe Matarese,” has been treating us as his own personal therapists, and it’s something that keeps him in the moment with his fans.
The Smoking Jacket: I saw you at The Stress Factory last week, easily one of the funniest shows I’ve seen. The crowd was mellow as hell for the openers but when you got up there you were able to just flip the audience. How do you do something like that?
Joe Matarese: It’s funny; I don’t want to sound like I’m tooting my own horn, but the other comedians who went on before me haven’t been doing comedy for more than a year, a year and a half. I’ve been doing it for 25 years, so sometimes when I have people like that going on in front, I actually get a little confident. These guys just started. There’s no way you can be a phenom in comedy at that time. There’s no such thing as somebody who’s great after a year. So, in this case, the crowd is sitting there and they’re starved.
TSJ: That show had so many things that happened in the moment. I left there being shocked that you still had another at 10:30. Does every show has some amount of comedy that can happen in the moment, something you can riff off of in the crowd?
JM: I give some credit to my anti-depressants because when I used to not be on them and the crowd was kind of dead it would put me in such a bad mood. I would feel crappy, go up and be mean to the crowd. I made it funny last week, going, “Man, you guys are terrible!” But I say it in a way that’s fun. I noticed that I’m able to stay in the moment more now. I’m able to be the real me which isn’t the guy that looks at the ceiling or who talks about the crowd. I connect with them every time now. I love it when we have that. What you were saying about being in the moment and mixing in my act with people in the crowd, that feels new and so fun. I love that.
TSJ: How long have you been on those anti-depressants?
JM: About seven months.
TSJ: And before them, were you able to work the crowd at all?
JM: I was, but if someone tried to interrupt me and heckle I’d get nasty. Comedians get really pissed off when someone interrupts. You become a different guy. The guy you saw? The happy-go-lucky guy? I’d start like that but if someone annoyed me I’d get nasty.
TSJ: That ability to flip the crowd. How do you build that? With experience?
JM: Yeah. It also comes with doing a lot of shitty gigs. I’d do bar gigs constantly. When you’re doing a gig where hardly anyone is paying attention you get good at bringing everybody in. I got good at it. Maybe I have a talent for it. I don’t know.
TSJ: So what drove you into comedy?
JM: I just had a love for stand up comedy at an early age and always wanted to do it. I never knew that you could just go somewhere and do it. When I was around 19, I found out there were open mic nights and thought I had to do it. Then I never stopped. It’s funny; when I listen to all of these podcasts and comedians talk about what they were like when they were younger; that was exactly me. I remember hearing Judd Apatow talk about recording movies or TV with a tape recorder. I did that too.
TSJ: How long did it take you to build that confidence you have on stage?
JM: It’s still not there all the time. [laughs] I’m 25 years in and now I realize what’s funny about me. Turns out it’s that I’m brutally truthful about my life. I don’t try to read the news and come up with a joke. When I’m on Chelsea Lately I have to do that. I was afraid to go on there the first time but I forced myself to. You realize that every joke doesn’t have to be a home run. I figured out how to bring me and my personality into the joke. I could turn it into my style.
TSJ: And now you’re on that show about once a month. How did that start?
JM: From a friend a mine, Brody Stevens. Brody used to be the warm up for Chelsea Lately. I emailed him asking who the talent coordinator was and lucked out because the guy ended up knowing me. I didn’t think it went that well the first time. I didn’t think they’d use me again. Afterwards, he came up to me in the green room, which is nice because they never give you feedback right after, and he goes, “Chelsea liked you. She wants me to give you more bookings.”
TSJ: That’s awesome! And what about your “When A Comedian Attacks” CD? What made you decide to put that together?
JM: I had the idea and told Bill Burr. He said, “I’d buy that.” I thought that’s great if a comedian would buy it. I had put a video of hecklers on YouTube and now it has 1.5 million hits. People seemed to really like it, and that had it happen to me a lot. Comedians think it’s hilarious when I would start getting mad at hecklers.
TSJ: There’s one track where a comic is right by the mic. You hear him laughing.
JM: Yeah! He’s right next to the microphone. I’ve always been one of those guys that tape my set. I started going through them and noticed I was getting heckled a lot. Then it got to the point where I was putting the mic on and hoping someone would heckle me, which was kind of bad because I’d go after them too fast.
One time I was working at Governor’s in Long Island, a club I was trying to get into forever. I’m in the green room taping the mic to my chest like I’m in the mafia. The owner of the club is like ‘what are you doing?’ I tell him I’m recording my sets incase I get heckled and putting it into an album. He didn’t realize that something bad could happen in his club. I go on stage the day that Sarah Palin dropped a puck at the Flyers game. She had a lot of fans when she first came out and I just shit on her. The whole town is like heavy duty Republican; I never knew that. I lived in New York for so long and I didn’t know Long Island was different.
So they start booing me and I start arguing with the whole crowd. They were trying to boo me off and I wouldn’t go. I was up about 35 minutes. I turn around and the owner is sticking his head out going, “Get off!” I think I went like five or ten more minutes. The owner just said, “You gotta be fucking kidding me.” He was almost mad at himself for not seeing that coming. He still paid me though! But they never used me again.
TSJ: Was that your first time there?
JM: Yeah [laughs]. And here’s the worst part. I couldn’t use it on the CD. There weren’t a lot of jokes. It was just arguing. I realized then that the CD couldn’t be nights where I looked like I lost. It had to be nights where I shit on the one asshole in the crowd and they loved it.
TSJ: So when you started realizing the entire crowd loved Sarah Palin, was there a bit of you that thought to get off?
JM: Well, I had to do 45 minutes. I’m the headliner. [laughs]. Within two minutes they were booing me, so I still had 43 minutes. I didn’t even do my act.
TSJ: That fearlessness is pretty remarkable.
JM: With my medication I still have that competitiveness and want to do well but now I’m just happy to be up there. It’s gotta be really bad for me to flip.
TSJ: Do you feel the heckling is just part of the job?
JM: I do, unfortunately, because they sell alcohol.
TSJ: Do some people just go to shows to be assholes?
JM: I must have solicited it because it doesn’t happen anymore really. But if someone screams, ‘You suck’ out loud, I don’t care how much medication I have in me, it’s on. That one gets me. It feels like shit.
TSJ: I can understand that. It’s got to set you off.
JM: Not only does it set you off but you feel like its part of your job now so make that guy look bad. But then I do and he then wants to kick my ass. It’s a catch-22.
TSJ: Was there a particular moment in comedy you consider memorable?
JM: I remember getting really close to having my own sitcom. That was something but now though I realize I was too young and nervous.
TSJ: Was that the ultimate goal? TV?
JM: It feels like it. That’s why I never feel successful. No matter how good I do at stand up I feel like I just can’t get it. It’s one of those things you feel you’re swiping at and just can’t reach… as the grays keep coming in my hair. [laughs]
TSJ: You also host the podcast “Fixing Joe with Joe Matarese.” What made you want to start it?
JM: I was at the Montreal Comedy Festival and was doing this showcase called “Just For Pitching” where you would pitch a show. I was pitching one that was kind of psychoanalyzing comedians, which I’ve always been kind of fascinated with; me being a comedian and my wife being a psychologist. Anyway, there was a line saying, “I think I’d be a good host for this show because I’m so narcissistic I want to have my own radio show where people help me.” It was a joke that I did in my act. This guy from ABC comes up and says that one line is interesting and could be a sitcom. Then when podcasts started becoming popular I thought let me try doing it as a podcast just to see if it works. Also, if I ever got a series it was a weekly diary I could pull from. But the podcast does what I want it to do. It helps people. The more honest people get the more we can relate.
TSJ: That idea of psychoanalyzing comedians, it’s a really great topic.
JM: Yeah, that’s what I do now. It really evolved. I thought trying to fix me would get boring. Plus with the medication I feel like I don’t have so many problems. So now I ask my guest to bring on a problem that he or she struggles with. We kind of go back and forth.
TSJ: Are most open to do it and reveal those struggles?
JM: Yeah, definitely. Most are. Some people blow me off, but most really love doing it. Most comedians love talking about themselves.
Check out Joe at www.JoeMatarese.com.