COMEDIAN TODD GLASS IS A VETERAN IN THE FIELD OF FUNNY. Having performed stand up since 1982, Glass has imprinted footprint upon footprint on stages all across America. He’s been featured on NBC’s “Last Comic Standing” as well as showing up on Jimmy Kimmel, Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Fallon, FX’s “Louie,” and even holds a recurring sketch on Comedy Central’s “Tosh.0’ titled Todd Glass” Awful Prank Show. In addition, he hosts “The Todd Glass Show,” his very own podcast on the Nerdist network.
Earlier this year, Glass made waves when he was candid on “WTF with Marc Maron” about his homosexuality, coming out as a result of having had enough of his self-repression as well as the incessant stories of teenage suicide.
Recently, he was kind enough to speak with The Smoking Jacket to discuss his eminent career as a stand up comedian as well as doling out a few mindful pointers to hecklers around the country.
The Smoking Jacket: One of the interesting things about you, which stood out to me, is when you started stand up. You were only sixteen or so, correct?
Todd Glass: Yeah! Actually, I think I was like a few months away from turning sixteen. So I was fifteen.
TSJ: Was it just something you wanted to try or did you already have a passion for comedy at that age?
TG: Well, now I realize that I was very much obsessed with stand up comedy. It’s funny, I recently sold a book to Simon & Schuster – as my brother says, I’m book-dropping as opposed to name-dropping – but through it I’m starting to understand that I fell in love early in my life with stand up comedy; also talk radio. I think it was because I could understand them both. With talk radio, the guys I listened to all had personality. You were hearing politics and such from people with character. And it’s funny, because now I basically do stand up and my podcast, which is practically talk radio.
TSJ: It’s pretty cool how things work out. What was the Philadelphia comedy scene like growing up, especially from such a young perspective?
TG: When I found out about stand up, there weren’t comedy clubs in every city like there are now. I used to love it on TV, but when I went to see it live the first time I was instantly like, “Holy shit! I fucking love this!” I started going to The Comedy Works in Philadelphia to see acts like Paul Reiser, Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, Gilbert Gottfried, Richard Lewis, Steven Wright… those guys. The list goes on and on, but the point is I got to see a lot of great stand up. It was fun and I absolutely loved it. So then I did an open mic night there.
TSJ: And you had an interesting thing happen to you early on. You opened for Patti LaBelle on Broadway?
TG: Yeah! That was very early on. I started in ’82, and I think in ’84, I was on Broadway with Patti LaBelle for a month and a half.
TSJ: That’s incredible. What was that experience like?
TG: It was an unbelievable one, really not to be matched in my whole career. She’s an amazing person. I hope when I write the book I can send it to her because there’s a chapter in there that’s all about her. I was very young; I wasn’t really aware of her music, but I watched her perform every night. And you know, the same tools you need to be a good comic, you need to be a good performer. And she gave 100% every night. It was real. She was nice and very sweet to me, practically like a mom.
And I think everyone wants to have some level of contentment for what they’re doing. For me, it was my mom and dad getting to see me on Broadway opening for Patti LaBelle in front of 2500 people. She would point them out in the audience, talk about me, and then dedicate a song to me called ‘There’s A Winner In You.’ That was pretty powerful.
On Jimmy Kimmel
TSJ: Absolutely! What a great moment.
TG: And she did it every single night. It’s weird though because all these years have gone by and I don’t think she has any idea how much she helped me, just being so kind and such.
TSJ: I think she’d love to get that book, at least read that chapter.
TG: I thought about sending her the chapter before it’s in the book. I think when I finish it I’m going to.
TSJ: I would imagine opening up for a musical act would be somewhat strange.
TG: It can be an amazingly fun thing, and then sometimes it can be a little hard. It really depends on whom you’re opening for. If you know that your crowd will not listen to a comedian then you have to go with a band. I think, sometimes, comics make sense in front of a band. From the crowds perspective it’s a great experience; you get a good laugh for twenty-five minutes and then you’re able to see the act you came to see.
I don’t know how well I’d do now though because I’m a different comedian then I was then. But I did do it a lot. I opened for Patti LaBelle; I opened for George Jones, Luther Vandross, The Temptations, Diana Ross.
TSJ: I had no idea it was so many. Was that over the span of your career or closer to the early days?
TG: That was about ’83 to ’88.
TSJ: Wow, that’s your first five years of stand up. Do you think opening for all of those musical acts – because the crowds weren’t there to see a comedian – helped you learn to control an audience? Did it make you better in the clubs?
TG: I don’t know. I think either way you have to be funny; you can’t dilly-dally.
TSJ: I saw an interview with you, and in it you mentioned something that really caught me. You said because it took you a little longer to get known as a stand up, or to get that TV spot or show, that you have more of an appreciation for it. Thinking back on it now, would you have it any other way? That appreciation is incredibly important.
TG: That’s a great question. If I would have had more mainstream success when I was younger I think I would have loved that too. I don’t want to say I’m glad I didn’t get the success when I was young; I would have welcomed it. But that didn’t happen. So what is the positive of that? Well, because of that I’ve become a better stand up comedian. I like the comedian that I am today as opposed to the one I was twenty-years ago. But now I say, jokingly, I’m ready for my show. [laughs]
TSJ: Do you think it was because of that you built up your love for the road?
TG: In all fairness, it depends on what road you’re doing. Today, there’s a lot of great clubs and I love going to them all. I love going to a club for five or six days and just doing comedy. There’s the ‘Helium’ in Philadelphia, ‘Acme’ in Minneapolis, or a lot of the Improv’s that I go to. There’s nothing like walking into a perfect situation with a perfect audience. Every night you’re going into a comfortable situation. It’s very relaxing. I also love just hanging out with other comics. I never get tired of doing that.
TSJ: Since you brought it up, those places such as Acme in Minneapolis or The Comedy Cellar here in New York, they have a reputation for having that perfect crowd. There are some clubs who simply have that rep, where you can go, watch a comedy show, and not have to worry about hecklers or anything, as if the audience is trained to a degree.
TG: It’s funny, I used to try and fix clubs that I found to be broken, but then I realized something. When a comedy club has a creative person onsite – and that doesn’t mean they can’t have another manager there – but the creative manager, that helps the club. If a club doesn’t have a creative person at least there to help run the creative part, your club is going to suck. I’ll give you an example. There’s a group of six in line, really rowdy. The club owner comes over and says, “Look, we want you guys to have fun tonight. We don’t come off harsh but we’re going to have to cut hard liquor off for you guys. You seem a little drunk and we’re sorry, but no hard liquor.” Sometimes with that, they’ll start arguing. And that is exactly what a good club wanted to find out. He never said they couldn’t drink beer, just hard liquor. That’s the benefit of a creative person onsite. That guy just got rid of six hecklers before they even got in the door. That can only be done by someone who gets it; that kind of club is loved by comedians.
Who Gives a Fuck Magazine
TSJ: I would imagine that respect or love from comics would be paramount. If I were a club owner, the comedians’ actually liking the club would trump anything else.
TG: You would think. My brother asked me if a club like Acme, a performer-friendly club, makes money. I think he expected me to say they do all right, not as good as some of the other clubs that only care about the dollar. But you know what, they do better! Go look at the roster at a place like the DC Improv or Helium or Acme. Look who works there, even when they don’t have to tour. You’d think they’d all think oh, I want to do what those clubs do.
I was thinking the other day about the good clubs though. If there were so many good clubs, with respected owners, maybe it wouldn’t be as special to be a good club owner. You know? Most everything sucks. Most lawyers’ suck; most comedians’ suck; so, to be a part of the certain percentage that is respected, that’s a very special thing. So when I find myself getting angry with the bad clubs I start thinking about the good clubs I’m talking about now.
TSJ: It must be all the more joyful for you when you go perform at the good clubs.
TG: It really is. And thankfully, there are enough like that around the country that I work. I only go to clubs that love comedy and respect it. That’s why it’s fun. So to come full circle, that’s the type of road I love doing, those great clubs.
TSJ: That makes sense. I guess I just don’t understand why in 2012 there are still people trying to ruin the shows.
TG: You know what, people do what they’re taught. And if you go to a club, and they heckler, one thing is for sure; the club allows it. And if the club allows it, they do it.
TSJ: That’s a good point.
TG: Also, something about audiences, the majority of them are awesome. Ninety-five percent of the crowds are great, which means that it’s doable. Understanding the rules of a club is possible. So why can’t hecklers get it? Do they think that the best crowd doesn’t get it? Do they get in their car and go, “What are these people doing? They weren’t heckling. They were just sitting there watching the show!”
TSJ: That’s true. It’s never the majority.
TG: Absolutely. The majority of the people are awesome. So to the ones heckling, see what the rest of the crowd is doing? Fucking do it! They’re right. You’re not right! Trust me, doesn’t that make sense, you dumb fuck?
Todd Glass on Hecklers
TSJ: I love that answer. That’s fantastic. You mentioned your podcast earlier – the Todd Glass Show. How did you start up with Nerdist?
TG: I love podcasting. It’s like talk radio. The first person I knew that got started in it was Jimmy Pardo. I remember when I began listening to them. I thought its radio with the purity of stand up. And, again echoing what happened when I saw stand up… I loved it! It’s just so much fun.
So basically, when I decided I wanted to do it, I didn’t want to have to do with the technical end of it. And Chris [Hardwick] had some people producing podcasts. So, for me, it’s so easy. I don’t do anything; I do the fun part. Obviously, I have preparations but Nerdist has really been amazing. And let me tell you something, the relationship that you have with the audience who listens to a podcast – or radio show – there’s nothing as intimate.
TSJ: Oh, absolutely. That intimacy with podcasts, it’s something I hear from every podcaster. It seems nothing else is like that, comedy podcasts especially. There’s something specific about them.
TG: I really think it’s the medium. There’s nothing as intimate as that. It’s right in their ears, and it’s so personal. Plus, the suits in radio are the worst, so when podcasts came along I was like this is fucking it! It’s radio without the suits. But also, I don’t think I could do the show I do without listening to Howard Stern growing up. I was very heavily influenced by what he did.
TSJ: As we all know, you did a very brave thing, coming out on Maron’s podcast earlier this year. I remember listening to the episode. I found it to be just wonderful. Can I ask, why did you choose his show?
TG: I chose Marc Maron’s because I wanted to hit a large audience, but obviously it wasn’t the only reason. With the show that Marc does, my manager and I just thought it was the perfect place. Some people ask if Chris Hardwick cared, and the answer is not at all. Chris is nothing but great. I really couldn’t imagine a better place to do it than Marc’s show.
Todd Glass: Quick Bits
TSJ: That podcast is certainly one where people reveal all. They seem to strip themselves, showing the listeners who they really are. It was a great choice.
TG: Yeah, so many people do that on the show. And I think I was so comfortable doing it on the show because of what happened off the show. Upon leading up to doing it, I backed out; I was very nervous. But Marc was so patient and nurturing. He really was great, making me very comfortable when doing it, even throwing in a lot of hilarious jokes to make it better. As a matter of fact, just before starting the interview he said, “Let’s do it, if you get nervous, Todd, I throw it out.” And I said I’ve waited too long. “Marc, don’t let me stop. We’re fucking doing it.” [laughs]
TSJ: Well, your reason for doing it was very compelling. Aside from helping yourself, you spoke about teenage suicide.
TG: Well, I think that’s what got me off my ass, hearing about all of these kids killing themselves, and me somewhat giving validity to it being something to hide, which it’s not. But now, I get to be honest.
TSJ: And do you find yourself feeling freer onstage?
TG: Well, I don’t really talk about it onstage. I do little jabs and such but it’s going to take a little while. But now I don’t have to say I’m talking about my girlfriend.
TSJ: So you’ve been doing stand up for a long while – about 30 years it seems – why do you think you still love it?
TG: That’s a good question. Comedy, it gave me something to do. On an everyday basis I just simply fucking love it. That’s really it. I love stand up. Who knows, maybe it gave me a life, maybe it saved my life, you know? Though I don’t really think about it like that day to day. But everyday, I wake up and just fucking love stand up.
TSJ: I think it’s phenomenal that someone could do something for three decades and still love it.
TG: I really do. Someone asked me the other day if I was given $10 million to quit comedy, would I. And honestly, nope. That’s it, absolutely not. Abso-fucking-lutely not.