An Interview With Comedian Steve Simeone: Part 2

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July 11th was a good day; it was gorgeous and sunny in San Diego full of burritos, old and new friends, and cherry topped with an excellent comedy show featuring the fantastic Steve Simeone at The Comedy in La Jolla. Steve Simeone was prepping for a weekend of shows where his first comedy album would be recorded and he was kind enough to spend some time with me and help me understand his process before he hit the stage. We started things with lunch at the incredibly delicious Don Carlos Taco Shop where we were treated very kindly by the awesome management and then we moved onto officially start the interview at the place he was staying at, which was right down by the ocean shore.

The more professional I tried to be while conducting the interview, the more I seemed to geek out over Steve’s incredible talent and ability to recapture the nostalgic feelings from childhood and his philosophies on keeping things positive in a world where so many comedians sadly latch onto the awful feelings and vices that comes with the profession. I have nothing against comedians who self-deprecate and emphasize their faults with themselves and the world they live in, but the thing about Steve Simeone is that he bonds the room together and no one really gets crapped on; his whole entire show is based on the concept of having fun and remembering the Good Times (also the name of his highly entertaining podcast you can find episodes of here.) Here’s some of our interview transcribed for your pleasure…

ARB: You were one of the comedians involved in my first comedy show, and you were sandwiched between my good friend Yoshi Obayashi, one of the funniest filthiest people I know, and Judah Friedlander who has a very unique approach to his act; have you ever been stuck in a situation where you were afraid your set wouldn’t mesh well with the other performers and the mood their work put the crowd in?

SS: Yeah, but that’s what kind of makes The Comedy Store awesome; you pretty much have to learn how to follow anybody. I pretty much cut my teeth going up late at The Comedy Store after the audience has seen every kind of comedy; dark comedy and dirty comedy, and I’d walk out at like midnight going “Hey dudes, remember Pizza Day? Wasn’t that the best?” (laughs) and trying to get them to respond to that was just me learning valuable lessons.

My first comedy show featured Steve Simeone, Yoshi Obayashi, and Judah Friedlander

My first comedy show featured Steve Simeone, Yoshi Obayashi, and Judah Friedlander

ARB: When did realize that comedy was your calling?

SS: I think I really got my start in comedy as a kid; I grew up in one of those houses where laughter, above all things, was the valued possession. You grow up around all these different families where you know, you have the smart kid family where every kid is really smart and the dad is an engineer and the mom was a college professor and Max got a 1600 on his SAT and then you have the jock families…My family was the funny family and kids knew they could come over to our house and kind of let their guard down, and there might be a pile of dog poop in the corner and there might be junk food everywhere but it was fun, it was like the fun house. I remember when I got to Middle School and the acceptance of your peers was everything, that was when I really focused on comedy because I realized I was not a great athlete and I wasn’t the smartest kid in my class but I wanted an identity, and coming from my house where my Dad is such a big laugher and my older brother was so funny, like legitimately the funniest person ever, and my younger brother would just become like a sniper and he’d have this one line because he was really the most brilliant one out of the three of us, where he could just say the word “Really?” at the right time in the right tone and he could just buckle the entire house, so I was like “Okay, I’m going to be the funny guy.” And I was like Chunk in Goonies and I had a Hawaiian shirt and a whoopee cushion I’d bring to school and fake vomit or the gum that would snap, and I was like “Who’s the life of the party?! This guy!” and I never thought that was something I could do for a living.

Then I had what I call my quarter life crisis where I didn’t know what I wanted to do after college, and the education system put so much fear into my brain about the “real world” and after I graduated I remember having this disillusionment because while I was still in college every adult in my life was very proud of me and told me I could do anything I wanted to with my life, and I felt like this great ball of potential, but it seemed like the second I got my diploma the message was “Now you need to get a job.” But I’m like “Wait! I’m going to do something special with my life!” and everyone was like “Look, there is no Santa, just go get a job and that’s it.” and I was like “But what happened to me being special and enjoying life?” and I felt like a disappointment to my parents and I felt like a disappointment to all the people who believed in me.

I remember doing an open mic when I was 22-years old and I felt like that was my calling, like that was my purpose but I was afraid to really latch onto it because people didn’t do that with their life. I grew up in Suburban Philadelphia where people work hard; the phrase I use is I grew up in an area where people work jobs they hate to support people they love, and I almost felt embarrassed to tell people that I wanted to be a comedian. I tried to do everything else other than comedy but by the time I turned 27 I realized there was nothing else; not to get spiritual or religious or anything, but I almost felt like I had an obligation to God in a way… or whatever you want to call it… I mean, I don’t know whose quote it is, but somebody said, “Your talents are God’s gifts to you, what you do with them are your gifts to God.” And I think that we all have these certain things that we’ve been given…just your interests, whatever turns you on and makes you feel good, and makes you feel alive, I think that’s implanted into us for a reason so we can cultivate that. Getting back to the real heroes in society like military people, teachers, and doctors; there are kids that just love science! It was just a natural fit for them and they’re like “Isn’t this cool? The human body has 206 bones!” and I’m like “You’re seven, Bro! How do you even know that?” For me it was always comedy and I was in such a dark place where I said “Alright man, try to do this.” Because there was literally nothing else I thought I could do.

ARB: Did you have any back-up plans or things you tried to pursue?

SS: Yes, my dream job was to work in professional sports. I wound up working for my favorite team, the Philadelphia Eagles, and it was a great confidence booster because that was an impossible job to get. I wound up working there after I quit corporate America, I couldn’t do it, man…I wound up working for free which led to a paid internship, which led to a job and I went “Hard work pays off, dreams can come true.” And then my dream job with the Eagles just turned into work. I really saw these professional athletes that were given these gifts and they worked their ass off to develop, and I had a friend of mine tell me “You’ve been given a gift to make people laugh and if you don’t use that it doesn’t matter if you become rich, it doesn’t matter if you become famous, it doesn’t even matter if you become a professional…but you owe it to yourself and to everybody else to at least try.” And that’s what I did. I had my heartbroken; when I was a little kid I never dreamed of being a comedian, and by the time I was eight years-old I had stopped dreaming of being a baseball player or a pro wrestler and the only job I wanted was to be a Dad; I thought that would be the coolest job ever and then I was like 27 years-old and I was still afraid of girls and I had one of those 80’s movies things where I was in love with my best friend who was a girl and she was “Uh, I don’t like you that way.” So I was like “Welp, that’s it! This isn’t going to happen.” I was so hurt and I moved to California and tried to be a comedian. I started at The Comedy Store and I worked every single job there and it took me eight years to go from open mic, which was three minutes on stage every week, to being able to have the opportunity to get 15 minutes on stage. From that point on I started to work the road a little bit more and my friends started to make it, and it slowly evolved. It evolved just from open mics and I think that’s the coolest part of comedy; anybody can get into it and then it’s up to you and your persistence to stick with it.

Steve Simeone Picture 3


ARB
: The stories and jokes from your set you’ll be recording at tonight’s show; how long have they been forming and rolling around in your head? How long has the process been from start to finish molding these ideas into something that makes people laugh?

SS: Forever. I didn’t realize that I was a storyteller, but when I was in my early 20’s and all the kids who were super cool and super smart…By the time we left those high school expectations a bit and people were a bit less judgmental I started hearing “Oh man, your stories are so funny and you’re so much fun to be around.” And I was like “Really?!?” Then when I started doing comedy and I put the expectation on getting laughs instead of getting laughs in a more unique and personal way; I think that’s the learning part of being a comedian, trying to get laughs in your own way and that’s what I love about stand-up comedy; everybody has their own approach. Almost eight years ago I decided that I would try to be the same kind of funny on stage as I was off stage; I’d sacrifice the laughs for a more authentic performance.

Even in my earliest open mics I’d draw from my personal life; I remember I won a comedy contest in the year 2000 as an amateur and it was hosted by Pauley Shore and I had 10 minutes on stage, and for eight of those minutes I just described me in seventh grade at a middle school dance, and I described all the variables to a middle school dance and my closer was me break dancing across the stage, and Pauly Shore break danced with me and we did the worm together, and I was like “This is it, this is as cool as life is ever going to get.” and then it was still so difficult to get stage time in LA that it was almost impossible to tell 15 minute stories, but when I got passed at The Comedy Store my buddy Steve Trevino took me out on the road and told me “You have to make your act what we hear in the car. Put in the work, and don’t worry about bombing.” He let me open up for him as a feature and he told me “I don’t care how well you do.” There were nights where it just didn’t connect, and it didn’t work, and that’s a bad feeling when you know that your bit is 10 minutes long and three minutes into it the audience doesn’t care so you have seven minutes of just eating it, but I put the work in, I learned these stories. It’s almost like part of the reason I’m so excited about this album is that it’s almost like a lifelong process.

ARB: How do you handle those nights where you don’t connect with your audience? Is it a huge blow, or is it something you can get through pretty easily?

SS: Like everything in life, it’s much more difficult the first couple of times I’ve bombed. The really ironic thing about recording my album here in San Diego is that about 10 or 11 years ago I was actually booed off stage in this city by a thousand people. There was a venue here in San Diego, and it was a giant arena that would hold close to a thousand people where they’d let the audience in for free and just charge them for drinks and encourage them to drink heavily and they just did not like me at all. I wasn’t even doing my stories yet, and I just walked out and they took one look and it just didn’t work.

The first boo happened about two minutes in and I’m supposed to do a half and hour. Four minutes in a consistent boo, and now I’m thinking on stage about what I should do, and five minutes in I’m like “Screw it, just go to your closer and do your closing bit.” Now everybody is booing; it was so bad that I had an out of body experience. I saw myself on stage getting booed. Then I heard the stage manager from the side of the stage telling me to get off and then I kind of came back into my body and this unbelievable calm came over me and even though there was about a thousand people that wanted me off stage I thought to myself “This isn’t so bad. This is the worst thing that can happen to a comedian, and it’s not that bad.” And that planted a seed in my brain that, to this day I do feel an obligation to the audience, it’s a place for me to give and not a place for me to get and it’s not about me doing well, it’s about me trying to make people laugh but that experience of being booed off stage gave me the confidence to go “Do whatever you want to do up there, man. The goal is still to make them laugh, but don’t say something because you expect a laugh, but say something because you mean it.” And that changed everything.

Steve Simeone picture 2

 

ARB: When you perform, do you have a preference for smaller venues, or larger venues?

SS: Smaller ones definitely; they’re more personal and there’s nothing like a comedy club that can seat about 200 to 300 people. I played for a venue with 10,000 people when I toured with Gabriel Iglesias, and there’s nothing like the feeling and the sound when they laugh, but when you perform it almost feels like you’re just doing a monologue so I definitely prefer the smaller venues.

ARB: What comedians were your favorite, and which ones inspired you the most?

SS: I had an appreciation for everything funny as a kid. My earliest memory of stand-up comedy was when I was three and my parents dropped me and my brothers off at my Grandmother’s house because someone had given my Dad tickets to go see Richard Pryor tickets and I remember wishing I could have gone with them. That’s my earliest memory knowing that there was a place you could go to see that funny person being extra funny. The first stand-up special that just blew me away was Eddie Murphy’s Delirious. I think that special was the gold standard for me when I got into comedy professionally. As a kid I remember being influenced by everybody; I also loved Caddyshack and Rodney Dangerfield was the funniest person I had ever seen. When I’d see Rodney doing one-liners he seemed like a cartoon that had been brought to life. I remember watching Carlin specials, and Pryor specials…I remember seeing Andy Kaufman as a child and just losing my mind because I got it! I was like “How can he be a grown-up and still play?!” and I saw Steve Martin and I thought “How can he have white hair and still be so silly? He seems to be a grown-up but he’s not!” As I got older I remember Pee-Wee Herman blowing me away, and I remember Andrew Dice Clay and Sam Kinison. In the 90’s I loved Date Attell, and David Cross, and Mark Maron…and the last person that I wish I was when I was a little kid was Chris Farley; he was just the epitome of what funny was to me as a kid. He just moved funny and when I was a drunk idiot I would just do Chris Farley impressions…I used to watch Star Search for the comedians, and the Tonight Show just for the comedians…and A&E at The Improv I’d watch that every week, so I really got influenced by everybody.

ARB: What’s your favorite 80’s movie?

SS: Dude, that’s impossible! There’s so many! I feel so blessed to have grown up in that time period. Dude, we had Ghostbusters! Do you have any idea how awesome it was to experience that in the theater? Oh my god, it was so cool! I mean, Star Wars and Indiana Jones…that’s my wheelhouse, and all those great comedies! I got to see Bill Murray in his prime; Caddyshack, Ghostbusters, What About Bob? Groundhogs Day! I got to see John Candy in his prime with Planes, Trains, and Automobiles! It’s amazing! Rocky 3, Rocky 4! Rocky 3 had Hulk Hogan in it! Thunder Lips, the ultimate male! Classic stuff! I can’t pick one, that’s like asking me to pick my favorite kid.

 

…and with that we parted ways while he mentally prepared for his show that evening. I met with my friends Nick Chambers and Cynthia Flores who joined me at the show for a couple of drinks and dinner afterwards. Kyle Ray and Steve Rannazzisi warmed the crowd up brilliantly and then it was Steve Simeone’s turn to get the place rolling in fits of laughter. Once he was done I went to congratulate him; he had a great big smile on his face and he said, “I think that’s the album!”

 Steve Simeone: Remember This has it’s release party at The Hollywood Improv on October 3rd at 8pm and you can get tickets at http://www.laughstub.com/event.cfm?id=339096

For more info on Steve Simeone visit his website at www.awesomesteve.com
Follow Steve on Twitter: @SteveSimeone
Subscribe to his podcast, Good Times w/ Steve Simeone, on iTunes by clicking here: http://bit.ly/1kzYOuW
Follow his openers on Twitter: @SteveRannazzisi and @theKYLERAY

 

 

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2 Comments

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