When Ari Shaffir announced the release of his latest specials, Double Negative: Children and Double Negative: Adulthood streaming now on Netflix, the news came at the same time Comedy Central announced that the stand-up would no longer be a part of This Is Not Happening, the storytelling show he co-created and hosted for three seasons.
It’s a bummer, but Shaffir’s not caught up on it. With the release of his new specials, on a platform he’s passionate about, he’s definitely looking to the future.
The two-part “series” of specials, Double Negative is something we haven’t really seen since George Carlin’s 1972 release FM & AM. We spoke with Shaffir (who also hosts the podcast “Ari Shaffir’s Skeptic Tank“) to learn more about his motivation for releasing the specials as a double header, and to dive into the message behind them — mainly, how not having children allows the comic to be an unrestricted adult at a time when his peers are tied down by family matters.
You recorded your new special at Cap City Comedy Club in Austin. In a time when almost every new special is shot in a theater, was the goal of intimacy the reason for shooting it in a comedy club again, similar to what you did with Paid Regular?
First of all, I’m a club comic. My feeling is you should shoot the kind of special [that shows] the comic you are. Gaffigan, he does theaters — so fine, go to a theater and do your special. That’s what kind of comic you are.
But a lot of these comics are club comics, so why change your environment, your show, and stuff? It’s representative of “here’s who I was this year.”
On a second level, theaters aren’t as good — they’re just better money. Small clubs are just better. Comics enjoy those more almost across the board. If you could make the same amount of money in a theatre or a club, almost every comic would take the club. You kill harder. It’s more conversational and more presentational. So yeah, I just liked filming there.
This was recorded in November. Was this shot over 1 or 2 nights?
It was shot over one night. Two shows, and then I would take an intermission in the middle of the show, change clothes and stage, and then do the second. A 10:30 show.
Each special had its own wardrobe, and the lighting was flipped for each one.
Yeah, I wanted them linked, but separate. Not completely different, but mixed. They play off each other, but they are different too. Unique, but not crazy different.
Was the idea to make them two separate specials based off of the particular themes or the amount of material you had?
I usually have a through-line to each of my specials. It may not be obvious, but it’s something I know. The first one is about growing up — [then] I realized it was two, two separate ones. And I had longer to prepare, because I got kinda sidetracked editing This Is Not Happening. I had more time with it, so I would think of it in terms of these two different themes, and I was like, maybe I will do two different themes.
I [toured] all through Scandinavia, and I would do an intermission and I would really try to imagine it like that — the crowd takes a few minutes off, then comes back and we do the other one.
So, it is all about children, and all about this life that you really can’t have if you have kids, and a wife. You won’t have these conversations about STDs, and explore your whole sexuality in Thailand, and sh*t like that. No one who has a wife and kids does that.
Each special has a unique artwork for the intro. Who did the artwork at the beginning of each special?
That’s Brian Romero.
You worked with Eric Abrams again, who is the same director and producer for This Is Not Happening. Was this to keep a similar, “intimate” show vibe?
Yeah. He understands my aesthetics. He’s been a producer with me on This Is Not Happening and he gets what I do. He shares my belief that you gotta work very hard to mimic the actual experience of being at a show, and that’s what’s going to bring the best out of a comic and the best out of an audience. Most directors don’t really get that, and he does.
And we do a minimum loss of seats. We really try to like be careful about it, where sometimes they are just like, “Alright, take out this whole row,” and Eric is smart enough to go, “No, no, that was just one seat. We don’t need to lose this whole row. You just lost 12 people. Nothing is gonna kill as hard with 12 less people.”
I liked the points where the waitress walks into the shot delivering drinks. The camera keeps focused on you, while she is still in the way, out of focus. The shot stayed in there, giving it that intimate feeling of sitting in the crowd.
Yes, exactly. They were like, “the waitress is in the shot,” and I was like, “it’s fine man, unless she is front and center she’s really distracting.” The live show is going on and it’s not going to be that distracting. You are going to realize there are people here. I want to register those peoples’ heads.
The Children set seems more themed whereas Adulthood feels more natural. Adulthood is more of a set one would expect from you and your voice. Were you more conscious of the children set and the focus?
Yeah, good notice. I had that Tinder bit, and when I started playing with it, I kept going back to it — that Tinder lady, my friend Nicole. The Children side is really clearly about children, getting pregnant, and you not wanting kids — whereas the Adulthood is kinda like, “what’s the theme here?” It’s stuff you can’t do with kids and a family.
I ran them sort of separately and put them together. I didn’t mind if one kind of through-lined the whole way through and keeps having callbacks. I kinda like that.
The Children set begins with, “My friend got pregnant off a Tinder date.” No banter. No, “How you guys doing?” Just right into it, which kinda of sets the tone that mistakes was made and these mistakes will grow two feet and walk. There is a theme that children are an inconvenience. You even say, “Children are garbage – yes, your kid too.” Do you realize that your views on children are generally the same views parents have, especially when there is regret involved?
It’s new for people, man. New people with kids are like, “It’s amazing! It’s so great!” They start seeing that it is not always great, and then they start to admit little things here and there. They still say how awesome it is, but sometimes they will admit it like, “Oh yeah, it’s sh*tty sometimes.” But you know how they are, they are always like, “You gotta do it!” They refuse to ever give any attention to the fact that they are tired all the time. You can’t do what you want to do and you can’t f*cking just go off to Thailand for three weeks. You can’t do it. So admit it — admit it’s not great.
I’ve seen studies. I’ve seen scientific studies saying that child bearing destroys your happiness; it takes down your happiness. It is provable. And people go, “Nah, that’s not me.” Ok, well I’ve also seen a study that said 95% of parents will lie about the reason they have kids. They use to say, “I had kids so they can take care of the farm when I’m too old,” and when that didn’t become a thing, at the same rate, people gave other reasons why they are a parent. They are like, “It’s self-fulfilling.” You are just looking for a reason. You did it, fine. You don’t have to justify it, but they all want to. They all want to tell you its amazing and the best thing ever.
At one point you sort of ask for the truth on being a parent. Would the brutal honest truth actually make you consider pursuing kids in the future, or are you 100% set on remaining kid-free?
If I get a real representation with the truth in it, I might be able to make up my mind. But I know what I’m getting. Fox News mixed with MSNBC. What am I suppose to believe? I’ve never gotten a real f*cking version of it, so I have no idea. I know I’m being lied to. I know I’m being lied to! I keep going back to those scientific studies, but at this point its too late.
Adulthood includes grownup problems such as STDs, weed, travel, offers of BJs from a gay friend, and lady-boys. You are almost teasing parents to say, “Look what my freedom has given me!”
Yeah, man. I had friends who would say, “I wish I could go do that, but I got to take care of the kid this weekend.” And I decided that I had to start living my life to make those people jealous. Because I can be the single guy — you know, at this point in my life, it’s past when I am supposed to have kids. People mostly already have them. All my friends from high school have them. So, they see me as the guy who plays Xbox all day, and they are sitting there going, “My life is worth more than Ari’s. It’s so sad. He is by himself on the Xbox till 3 in the morning, doing nothing.”
I travel the world, I meet interesting people, I f*ck women out of my league, and I have a great time. I have a great time! And I want them going, “F*ck, if I hadn’t done this maybe I could do that sort of thing.”
So yeah, that’s what sort of what drives me a little bit. It drives me because I want to have those good experiences and enjoy it, but if I make them jealous, I know I’m on the right path.
Going back to the material, do you dump these bits now that the special is out or do you keep some?
I haven’t done those bits since I recorded it. Somebody asked me the other day to do some old bit, and I was like, “I don’t know,” and the crowd was like, “Come on, do it!” I was like, “guys, it’s been five years. I don’t know how it goes. I haven’t thought about it.”
Do you plan on going on the road to support the specials?
My plan before was to take some time off. A lot of my material became about travel and going other places. I was on the road so much, like I had a bit about TSA in my last special. So I was gonna stay at home so I could, I don’t know, get some regular stuff to draw from. You know, like fights with your neighbor, getting dumped, or trash pickups. Sh*t like that, that people could relate to more. So, I think I’ll start doing stuff in 2018. But, it might change if I get the bug.
Double Negativeis streaming now on Netflix.