Q&A with Rory Albanese

The ticket line was out the door at the Comedy Connection Club in East Providence Saturday night, everyone eager to see the headlining performer: nine-time-Emmy-Award-Winning writer and comedian Rory Albanese. Formerly the executive writer and producer of “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart, Albanese quit the television industry altogether in August to pursue his childhood dream of being a professional stand up comic. Among other appearances, he has starred in his own “Comedy Central Presents” half-hour special, been featured on John Oliver’s “New York Comedy Show” and hopes to be coming to Netflix soon.

The venue was textbook comedy club. Crowded, dimly lit, a stage with a single, spotlit microphone standing front and center. People filed in and took their seats, the bravest among them daring to sit front row (surely knowing their haircuts would be subject to scrutiny). Margaritas were sipped, nachos ordered. Murmurs of, “This guy is supposed to be funny, right?” echoed through the audience.

“Apparently he wrote for ‘The Daily Show.’

“With Jon Stewart?”

“Yeah. With Jon Stewart.”

“God I miss Jon Stewart.”

“Trevor Noah is okay.”

“Trevor Noah is AN IMBECILE.”

It quickly became apparent within minutes of eavesdropping that the audience was split into three distinct camps.

  1. People who thought Trevor Noah was okay.
  2. People who thought Trevor Noah was human garbage.
  3. Older couples who had never watched “The Daily Show,” but it’d been awhile since they’d gone out, and comedy clubs were supposed to be fun, right?

Despite their differences, the crowd still largely agreed that having masterminded Comedy Central’s longest running late-night program, Albanese had to at least be “kind of funny.”

The lights dimmed. Cell phones were silenced, heckling strictly prohibited. The host, a balding thirtysomething in a faded grey hoodie (the unofficial uniform of stand up hosts everywhere), warmed up the crowd with jokes about (you guessed it!) living with his parents.

Regardless, he was funny. Tragically self-deprecating, maybe, but still funny. By the time Rory Albanese took the stage, I’d laughed enough to excuse forgoing sit-ups for a week. 

Alas, 20 minutes (and a dozen cheesy tortilla chips) in, the man we’d all been waiting for grabbed the mic. Only pausing to take sips of what looked like iced tea, Albanese launched into an hour-long, full-throttle comedic rampage. Hampsters were analyzed, Jesus’s motives questioned and trips to the urologist recounted in gratuitous detail. Gleaning material from the absurdity within his own life, Albanese unabashedly called BS on the countless hypocrisies that exist within the strange, backwards world that is modern-day America.

My friends and I left with sore abdomens, an appreciation for solo artistry and an iron resolve to return to the Comedy Connection Club. The Uber was reasonable. The snacks? Fantastic.

After the show, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Rory to talk about his long career in comedy and what it means to tell jokes in an increasingly serious world.

Q: You started out at “The Daily Show” right out of college as a production assistant. How did you go about climbing the creative ranks?

A: Well I started as a PA, then I became the tape librarian because video tape was still alive then — it wasn’t all digital. All that footage on “The Daily Show?” It was on tapes. So I had to organize all those tapes and label them. Nobody wanted to do that. It wasn’t a sexy, cool Hollywood job, but I did it, and I did it well. And then I started working on some other little projects. I started producing Lewis Black’s segment, finding silly footage for Lewis Black to yell at. … And I was doing stand up. And Lewis Black is one of the best stand ups of all time. And he started thinking I was funny, so he started taking me on the road. So all of the sudden I was doing stand up with Lewis Black because I was finding footage for the guy. … Climbing the ladder isn’t necessarily everyone’s goal or path. But if you want to do it, you gotta be patient, and you gotta go home a lot at night and punch a wall, you know? It’s hard.

Q: “The Daily Show” was praised for pioneering political satire as a means for media critique and social commentary. There’s currently an article trending from “TVLine” speculating that if Jon Stewart hadn’t stepped down from “The Daily Show,” the election might have turned out differently. What do you think made Jon Stewart so influential in shaping public opinion, and how do you think Trevor Noah and his predecessor differ?

A: You know, I don’t think Jon would have changed the outcome of the election because it’s a TV show, and you know, people liked it, but, err, probably not. A lot of it is timing. Like, Trevor’s timing on hosting “The Daily Show” is a different timing than Jon had. Now there are a lot of shows trafficking in political commentary. … (Trevor Noah) is up against a very different challenge then Jon was at the time. He’s just been given a very different landscape to try to succeed in. And he also has the challenge of everyone loving the guy who did the job before him, so like, just because humans are assholes, they’re going to pre-not-like him because he’s not like the other guy. So, I think you gotta just give him a chance, he’s gotta find the way he wants to manage the show. It’s just a different time.

Q: You said in your set that your first love is stand up. Even when you were a big deal on “The Daily Show,” you always did stand up. What makes stand up so special for you?

A: To me, what’s so great about stand up is it’s like pure-form comedy. You write something, and you don’t have to wait for the returns on the Neilson ratings — you get it instantly. I say it out loud, and people either laugh or they don’t. The beauty of stand up is you don’t have to answer to anybody. It’s between you and the audience.

Q: What advice would you give to young people who want to break into television or other creative industries?

A: Here’s the trick I would give to anybody trying to do anything in television or in any field. Whatever job they give you, master it. If you have to be a PA or assistant, be the best PA or be the best assistant. … The Internet was still in it’s infancy when (“The Daily Show”) started. Playing video online wasn’t like, a thing. So the show grew with that technology, and that technology has changed the way that television operates now, and it’s also given the industry a completely new entry point. You gotta take the stuff you want to make, you gotta create it and show it to people. People always tell me, you know, ‘Oh I want to shoot stuff. Oh I want to direct stuff.’ Well, shoot stuff and direct stuff. You’ve got a phone.

Q: A lot of comedians have stopped performing at college campuses because of the heightened sensitivity that has arisen with the prevalence of PC culture. Do you think the country has, to some degree, lost it’s sense of humor? Would you perform at a school like Brown University?

A: No. I wouldn’t. And I think it’s a big problem that your generation is that sensitive. And I think the bigger problem is, to groan and boo at people who are telling you ideas and then call yourself liberal is silly. If you can’t laugh at your own self, and you can’t see the absurdity in the things you believe in, then we’re lost here. And I think it’s a bigger problem comedians like Chris Rock not wanting to go to college campuses. Because that’s a brilliant mind. That’s a philosopher of our time. And now you don’t get to hear what he has to say because you’re gonna groan at him? That’s sad.

Q: Donald Trump was elected last Tuesday. Like him or dislike him, he’s a showman, and the next four years are going to be a circus of fodder for comedy. With all of the drastic polarization in the country right now, do you think laughter will help bridge the gap?

A: I hope so. The goal for stand up for me is I say, my goal is to come here, some guy had a shitty day at work, and he’s tired and he’s in a fight with his wife or whatever, and I just want to make him laugh. That’s it. For an hour of your night, you forgot about all your stuff, and I made you laugh. That’s my goal. I’m not trying to bridge gaps or anything like that. But I think it’s important to have voices out there mocking this stuff. I think it’s important that people don’t go into a spiral because this guy won. I think that it’s important that comedians on both sides make jokes about him. And they will. They would have made jokes about Hillary, too. You just make fun of the people in charge. It doesn’t matter who’s in charge, your job as a comedian is to sit in the back, not really take a side and hit everybody with some spit balls.


We’ll miss you, Vine

When Twitter announced that it would soon be discontinuing the Vine app, cultural analysts and tech nuts everywhere immediately took to their blogs to speculate about the app’s downfall; all concluding that while Vine was supercool, innovative and great while it lasted, its failure to develop a sustainable business model was ultimately responsible for its undoing.

But rather than dissecting the managerial missteps that predicated the app’s demise, let us instead revel in Vine’s contribution to pop culture (and our lives) over the past few years.

Vine describes itself as, “an entertainment network where videos and personalities get really big, really fast.” Never has there been a more accurate official statement. Recognizing the utility of Vine’s signature, the “six seconds of looping video” premise, Twitter acquired the app in 2012 — before it’s launch — certain that it would serve as the perfect visual complement to their text-based platform.

It did! Since it’s inception, the app has done so much more than offer mischievous teenagers a creative outlet. Thanks to Vine, dozens of recording artists, comedians and film makers were catapulted to stardom (Shawn Mendez) or rediscovered (former Nickelodeon star Josh Peck, who, if you weren’t aware, got like, really super hot. )

From:

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Though Vine was most famously used for short-form comedy, it was also often employed as a marketing and journalistic tool, covering serious subjects like the aftermath of the Ferguson shooting and the Scottish referendum.

All seriousness aside, Vine will be most fondly remembered for generating thousands of cultural moments for the enjoyment of us all. Like the GIFS and memes that we so treasured, Vines have the unique capacity to explain our seemingly inexplicable “feels,” funny in that they effectively captured universal truths.

And then there were the countless Vines that were not so insightful but super funny anyway.

When Vine user Marlon Webb cried, “It’s a WATERMELONE INSIDE OF A WATERMELONE!’ — it was the phrase heard round the world, inspiring countless punchlines and imitation videos, probably even causing a spike in watermelon sales. Sure, it didn’t necessarily “mean” anything, but it didn’t have to. Anytime there was a stray melon within a five-mile radius, you could always count on a pal to point and exclaim, “Watermelone!” to the delight of everyone in ear range.

The word “fleek” was popularized on Vine.

 

The phrase “Why you always lying” — also a Vine thing.

“For the vine” became an excuse to do all kinds of stupid, potentially life-threatening stuff. People dropped their thun-thun-nuns. People did parkour who had no business doing parkour. Countless infants were made to utter obscenities.  

But we laughed. We laughed, and we shared them in the car with our friends, who shared them with their friends. I tried to explain to my mom why my little brother kept pointing to people’s shoes and screaming, ‘WHAT ARE THOSE!?”

(This was far easier said than done. It was also a really nasty, persistant habit. He did it in an Outback Steakhouse once. People stared.)

We laughed at Vine references because they were inside jokes that excluded no one, generational entities that we possessed collectively and that will probably never be extinguished from our common vernacular.

Farewell, Vine. You truly will be missed.

Your guide to “going out”

Reporting live from the floor of the Metcalf elevator, it’s Saturday night! How I ended up lying here, I’m honestly not sure. I think it’s also important to preface that I’m under nefarious influences, which probably call my journalistic credibility into question. But that minutia aside, I’m excited to reflect on what has, so far, been a relatively lit* college partying experience.

I hope I’m not alone in confessing that in high school, my nights pretty much exclusively consisted of homework. In desperate and somewhat daring hopes of being admitted to a school like Brown, I studied my ass off, and you probably did, too. I mean sure, there are a select few among us who managed to maintain perfect transcripts while regularly experimenting with club drugs, and I totally applaud those people for that. But for me, the payoff involved a lot of sacrifice. Now that we’re all finally here, it’s time to throw down.

Granted, social life at Brown is great, but it’s no Blue Mountain State. Friday nights don’t just happen; they are planned. If you live way out in Pembroke like I do, every decision needs to be made strategically, taking into account all the variables that threaten to derail the evening’s success. Pros and cons must be evaluated, details confirmed, Google Maps consulted. What is the statistical probability that the party gets shut down before we get there? And exactly how close are you with that guy on the baseball team?

Every friend group needs a friend who is good at that kind of stuff. A rational friend, who prides themselves on responding to texts efficiently and getting everyone back to a dorm in one piece. I have that friend, and I love her to death. Where she is right now, I don’t know, but I’d really appreciate if she’d come fetch me off the elevator floor.

Anyway, since I’m going to be here a while, I thought I might as well compile a list of lessons I’ve learned over the past three weekends of “going out” — or trying to.

  1. When deciding how many Ubers to call, be realistic. Six people in Stanley’s Honda Accord is doable. But eight? Eight is ambitious.
  2. Don’t solely rely on “that cute guy from ENGN 09” to text you the details.
  3. If bae doesn’t text you the details, that’s their loss. Remember: your body is a wonderland.giphy-7
  4. Lingering in the tiny bathroom of a crowded nightclub is a great way to hear secrets, but it also guarantees that you will accessorize with trailing TP.
  5. Wear the body suit!
  6. Sometimes it’s okay to pretend you’re a junior. Other times, it’s absolutely necessary.
  7. When it comes to the keg, roll up your sleeves and prepare to throw elbows.
  8.  Always treat your blisters.
  9. Vodka and tequila are IN NO WAY interchangeable.
  10. If the conversation starts with “The thing about Hillary is …” Retreat immediately.
  11. Memorizing the lyrics to every Drake song ever isn’t mandatory, but it’s definitely encouraged.
  12. Mozzarella sticks are always a good idea.
  13. Playing card games with your unit mates is a great way to bond and a great way to end the night.
  14. If you’re not international, don’t try to fake an accent in hopes of getting into a Buxton pregame.
  15. You can’t write that paper drunk. You might think you can, but you just can’t.

 

As illustrated above, the last few weeks have been enlightening to say the least. Especially the vodka-tequila distinction thing.

That revelation almost ended me.

Another watershed realization was that getting f**ed up with friends isn’t going to be the best part of my college experience. Sure, I might end up on the elevator floor a few more times, refusing to get up despite my roommate’s insistence that I go to bed. But for the health and wellbeing of myself and the people around me, I’m going to cool it on the party thing, because as long as there are horny nerds on this campus, there will always be another party. Of that, and that alone, we can be sure.
*The official definition of “lit,” according to Urban Dictionary is “Something that is fucking amazing in any sense.”