Joe DeRosa On Returning To The Depression Auction And Fundamentalist Nerdism
You probably know Joe DeRosa best from roles on Louie, Bored To Death, Z Rock, or Chelsea Lately. Well he’s also a director, writer, podcaster, musician, movie buff, and all around swell guy and most recently he released his sophomore comedy album ‘Return Of The Son Of Depression Auction’ on Comedy Central Records. We got the opportunity to catch up with Joe while he’s out on the road supporting the release of the new album and talk with him about his busy schedule and even a phrase he coined called “Fundamentalist Nerdism.”
You write, you shoot, you direct movies, you have a podcast, you have a band; how do you do all that?
You know, you just try to make time for everything. I have many different interests, different things that I want to do, and I’m the kind of person that feels like you might not have a lot of time to get it all done if you’re not careful. So I just try to delegate everything and make time so if I’m doing this at this time then that’s the time to do it and nothing else gets to interrupt that. Then when that’s done, you go and do this other thing.
It certainly takes away a lot of the laying around time, unfortunately. That’s a nice perk about being a professional comedian is you kinda get a lot of laying around time where you can do whatever you want and I don’t necessarily get as much of that as I’d like to doing this other stuff but you know, it’s a job. It just turns into more of a 40-hour week kind of job than a few hours a week kind of job.
The film you made (Cheat) was the first film you directed. What was that like for you?
It was a great experience. Billy (Burr) and Bobby (Robert Kelly) were kind enough to allow me to direct it and I appreciated that because I hadn’t directed anything and I didn’t really have anything to prove whether I could or couldn’t do it. They just trusted me and knew I really wanted to do it. It was a dream of mine to get into that sort of thing and it was a great opportunity to get into it. They let me do it and it was a lot of work and it was an amazing learning experience. I came out of that having such a greater understanding of what it takes to do a project like that; what it takes to sit there and actually call yourself a director, what that really entails. I just learned a ton and it was great. It was really a dream come true in a lot of ways. A pretty amazing moment when I was standing in my apartment one day after shooting all day, I look up and it’s Bill Burr, Colin Quinn, Rich Vos, Bonnie McFarlane, and Robert Kelly in my apartment. You’re like, “Jesus Christ, these are all guys I look up to” and have looked up to for a long time; and here we are in my apartment shooting this movie and I’m directing it. It was wild and a really, really crazy time. So it was great, and I can’t wait to do it with those guys again. I’m sure we’re gonna do something else in the future and it was a really great experience.
So are you going to be directing more films then?
I hope to. We’ll see what happens. I directed a bunch of stuff after that last year. I did five shorts for Atom.com and directed some commercials for Comedy Central that Bill starred in; Bill and I wrote them together. So that was great. I actually got professional directing work last year. I hope to get more and I’m just trying to figure out what the next step is. I’m definitely gonna keep doing stuff on my own but I’m hoping that I get to hop into something bigger and better professionally whether it’s TV, commercials or film. I mean, film is really the ultimate goal and that’s what I’m shooting for and working towards, so just trying to get there.
Since you’ve acted on so many shows, do you think that’s helped you be a better director?
Well actually yeah, I learned a lot from sitting on those shows and watching. You can always learn a lot by being on a set somewhere. It was two very different experiences. With Louie, that was much closer to the type of experience that I had sort of been in already which was very stripped down, a very small crew; you get this done. We’d plan as much as we can but we’d make some decisions on the fly if we have to. Adapt, shoot it, get it done; very much like that. Bored to Death was a very different experience than anything I’ve ever done behind the camera ‘cause it was this major big deal production. So it was a gigantic crew and staff and trailers and all that stuff. So it was very different and both were very enlightening, very unique experiences; they were great. They were really great.
Tell me about your new comedy album.
This album was a big step for me because #1 it was my second album. I was very, very flattered and pleased with the way my first album was received. I didn’t expect for it to make the Punchline Magazine Top 10 of the year (Punchline’s now Laughspin). I wasn’t expecting it, I was lucky enough to get on a couple other lists and I was very flattered by that, very flattered especially when I saw the other comics that I was on the list with. They were all comedians I really, really admire. So the second album was a big step for me because I always sort of get that artistic hesitation with stuff like this and I go “oh man, I just don’t want to disappoint anybody and I believe in this and I hope people like it as much as I do” and all that stuff. Then you get over that and you actually put it out and you just hope it’s well received. And so far this one has been and I’m very flattered. It’s been hanging around in the Top 10 all week on iTunes on the comedy chart which is great.
It was a concept thing for me on this album, I was able to incorporate a lot of my influences. I named it what I named it because thematically I felt like it was a sequel to my first album and it functioned more like a sequel than a follow-up or a second thing, a second independent idea or whatever. The title is a reference to Frank Zappa who’s been a huge, huge influence on me. Just the whole idea of the album and everything and the legs that it stands on or whatever, so much of it is drawn on my two biggest influences – Frank Zappa and George Carlin. Both of those guys… Zappa called it “conceptual continuity,” I don’t know what Carlin called it but Carlin certainly did it too. They both did this thematic arc theme in their career. It was always something that tied the previous into the next thing, into the next thing, into the next thing. So when you do look at an entire catalog or examine the whole thing at from start to finish, it makes a very, very sensible arc and follows a very sensible trajectory. I loved that and I thought that was so cool and I loved that Carlin as a comedian would bring back a quick joke or a punchline from an earlier or previous special and Zappa would bring back a musical phrase or a theme or something from a previous album. I thought that was cool. I thought that’s really what helped set them apart as artists and from a lot of the other people out there. Other people do that, but those are my two favorites.
When I ended up with a recording of this album I was like, “wow, I got this thing.” I wasn’t recording it like I was going to record a new album. I was in a club called Go Bananas in Cincinnati and they were just recording. They asked, “do you want to record your shows?” I said, “yeah, yeah. I’m trying to figure out a set to pitch to the late night shows. Yeah, record all my shows.” After the Saturday early show I got offstage and I was like, “shit man, that was a really good show. I think that that might be a CD.” I listened to it and I thought, “man, that’s just cool.” The other thing I got to do with this album that I wanted to do with the first but hadn’t was to it be just one show, not a few shows edited together with the best take, how an album is usually produced. This was one show, front to back, no edits. The only thing we cut out were a couple local jokes about Cincinnati. It wouldn’t have made sense if you didn’t live in Cincinnati so I chopped those out. Everything else start to finish is the actual show that happened right there. A lot of stuff I always wanted to do artistically came together for this record. To see it come out, have Comedy Central want to put it out, and want to do another album was flattering, and I was happy that they wanted to do it again. The fact the label understood why I wanted to release this album so close to my first because it was a sequel, and I wanted to tie in, and there was some crossing themes; they just got all of it and they were into it and they were like, “let’s do it!” and it was cool. I said, “look, if we’re gonna do it we gotta get it out by September, can we do that?” They said, “yep, we can do it. Let’s do it.” So yeah, it’s pretty cool; you look back and think, “Jesus Christ. I was a guy that just loved comedy and wanted to do comedy and was doing open mics in Philly and I watched Comedy Central incessantly thinking if only one day I could get on like Premium Blend, one of those shows.” Jump forward ten years and this is my second album with them and they were really into it. That’s fucking cool! So this was a really big growing, and exciting, and emotional experience for me. I’m just happy that it seems to be being well received.
Does that continuity you talk about translate to just your albums or for everything that you’re working on?
Right now it’s mostly the albums but it’s starting to happen with acting and ‘Cheat’ and some of the other stuff I get to be in. The characters I’m playing so far have been extensions of myself. Like, I played a real dickhead on Louie, and I’m not that guy and I wouldn’t walk into a meeting and act like that. But at the same time I get where this guy comes from. (Laughs) I know that cynical side, that voice is inside of me. I just wouldn’t vocalize it to that level in a meeting where I had to work with other people, but I certainly do it on stage a lot of the time. In Cheat, getting to play a very neurotic guy, I’m certainly no stranger to that. I feel the other things that I’m getting to do are starting to emphasize different aspects of my personality and create other artistic expressions that I can relate to and jump into. So that’s been fun. From just a bigger scale where I’m trying to write screenplays and stuff, I’m trying to do the Woody Allen thing of incorporating my philosophies and my theories and my perspectives into a script and try to explore them on a larger level. Just doing it within the 3 to 10 minutes or whatever that it takes to tell a joke. I’m hoping that it can be in everything.
I found it really cool when I heard your music. It’s always hard when I hear comedians try to do music, normally they don’t pull it off. But you seem to be totally different. The music was really good.
Thanks man. I like playing music and it’s definitely an interest of mine. I played music before I did comedy. Comedy became my job and my first love but music is something I’m still very interested in that I still like doing. I always say to people ‘cause I get that a lot and I’ll be like, “yeah, I’m in a band” and they roll their eyes and go “Christ, I can’t even, what are you talking about?” I always say, “It’s not a comedy band” which there’s nothing wrong with that but it’s not a comedy band. People just assume it’s gonna be a joke thing because I’m a comedian and I go, “and it’s not cock rock.” It’s not me jerking myself off and all, “look at me I’m a badass.” It’s actually pretty understated and unassuming music and I think it’s creative and I really like it. I don’t know to what extent that will play a part in my professional life but it certainly plays a big part in my personal one. I keep trying to get it out there more and more and we’ll see what happens.
So you mentioned George Carlin as an influence. Who else were influences as far as comedians go?
Well Zappa is an influence on me comedicly too without question. He’s very funny and he did a lot of comedic stuff in his live shows and in his movies and stuff and his music, so he was a big influence on me. But Carlin, Carlin is the biggest one. Woody Allen is a very big one for me. Albert Brooks, big one. Bill Cosby. You gotta say (Richard) Pryor. Pryor to me is one of the funniest… it’s hard to talk about Pryor or Carlin, or any of these guys without sounding cliché because it’s been said so many times. But if I had to talk about why they influenced me I’d say with Pryor it was the honesty. With Carlin it was the structure and the unrelenting unapologetic nature of it. Cosby, it was the poise and delivery and just the control. Then Woody Allen and Albert Brooks, it was personality; it was stuff that I really related to personality-wise. I watch the movies they do and the characters they play and I feel like that’s me. For Woody Allen and Albert Brooks it was not just personality but a lot of philosophy, their worldview. I really, really relate to that. And talking now, it’s not on the album, but in my new set of material, I talk a lot about my fear of death and that sort of thing. It’s very, very Woody Allen influenced.
If it your end goal to direct and star in your own films?
Yeah, that definitely is my ultimate goal. I probably lean more in the Woody Allen direction than the Albert Brooks direction only because I don’t know if I necessarily want to star in them. I’m having less and less interest in that part of it every day. I just want to make films and if appropriate for me to be in it, great; if it’s not then I don’t want to be. That’s really how I look at it. But yeah, that would be the ultimate thing. I mean unfortunately it seems harder now to make the types of movies that they make. They’re very small films, particularly Woody Allen’s films.
Yeah, I don’t think he’s ever had one that made a lot of money, right?
Yeah, I think they gross like $10 million total or something like that, it’s a pretty low figure. I love movies like that. Like something like Vicky Christina Barcelona, it’s a perfect movie to me. It’s simple, a good story, it grabs you, you fall into it, you get swept away with the whole romantic notion of it. It has enough twists and turns to keep you interested and curious to see what’s gonna happen. But there’s no shock in it, it’s not meant to knock you out of your chair. It’s just a very well told story which I really like that about it. I like those types of movies, Modern Romance, by Albert Brooks is one of my favorite movies ever. It’s about a guy breaking up with his girlfriend and then the back and forth; breaking up, getting back together, breaking up, getting back together. It’s such a simple story but so true to life and so funny. That’s all you need. It doesn’t need to be anything greater than that. It doesn’t need to take you on like a thrill ride. I mean, I like stuff like that but I just like simple. I like simple stories.
And Defending Your Life is really good as well.
Yeah Defending Your Life, Lost In America, Real Life, The Muse. You know, I even liked Looking For Comedy in the Muslim World It got slammed!
I haven’t seen it. I heard so many bad reviews about it.
It was funny. It was like a charming funny movie. It was exactly what it said it was and it was funny. Roger Ebert has the best commentary I’ve heard on this, he talked about when Woody Allen put out this movie called Melinda and Melinda, it was before he did Match Point. Match Point seemed to be his comeback movie; his movies were really getting panned for a while. When Melinda and Melinda came out and it wasn’t getting good reviews and Ebert said, “look, if this movie premiered at a festival by any young up-and-coming director, nobody would have a problem with it. It’s the fact it’s Woody Allen is why it’s getting so slammed.” He was like, “but here’s the thing, Woody Allen hasn’t changed. We have. He’s making the same exact kind of movies he’s always made, but we expect him to adapt to us and how we’ve grown and he’s not going to.” If you saw this movie from another director you wouldn’t care, but you expect Woody Allen to come out with some philosophy that’s gonna resonate. He’s just doing the same thing he’s always done. I think that’s what goes on with a lot of these people. I think it’s why people want to crucify George Lucas and say things like, “that last Indiana Jones movie was the worst thing I’ve ever seen!” The worst thing you’ve ever seen? Come on, man. Come on. Either you’re terribly, embarrassingly sheltered or you’re exaggerating right now. They did that in the old movies, it didn’t bother you then. It wasn’t different you were different then. You were young. It was a different era, different times. You want them to come out with the Transporter version of Indiana Jones they’re not going to. They’re going to do it as they’ve always done it. It’s just now you’ve seen all this other shit by Guy Ritchie and Jason Statham and whoever else. That’s not what it’s gonna be. They’re gonna do it the way they traditionally do it. People unfortunately, get way too judgmental and turn their backs on artists that are still doing worthwhile stuff. It’s so fun to watch and enjoy an experience if you put yourself in the right mindset to do it, don’t go in with these ridiculous expectations.
People do it with bands, they roll their eyes and go, “oh god, they have a new album out?” Yeah, and the new album sounds exactly like the album you loved 10 years ago so why wouldn’t you give this a chance? ‘Cause you still love that album but because this is new you hate it. It’s just stupid. I’ve never been like that. I’ve always been the guy that sticks, I’m a fan. If you’re gonna release it, I’m there. I’m not saying I don’t know how to criticize something or that I won’t. Of course I will, but once I’m a fan I never turn back. Like when Metallica put that new album out, I’m right there. I was one of the guys that bought Load and thought, “it’s got some good songs on it, man.” It’s not a fucking Metallica album but it’s has good songs on it. I hung in there and it was so worth it when they came back finally and did a Metallica album. It was so fucking worth it! So many people missed out because they’d rather sit and be cynical and roll their eyes and say, “oh, it sucks.” Well you heard 30 seconds of it, what do you mean it sucks? You’re an idiot. People take themselves out of enjoying so much cool shit and they’re so angry about their childhoods like they were robbed or “they took this from me.” It’s just fucking ridiculous. I call it “Fundamentalist Nerdism.”
One last question: I’m coming to your show in a couple weeks. What am I going to get out of the show?
It’s a whole new 45 or 55 minutes of material. Nothing from my first album is in there; nothing from my second album except for one and it will see it’s way out soon. It’s kind of in there right now to round out a bit until I have something else I can put in there. But it’ll be a whole new show. And I think it goes a few steps further than the last album. I’m really proud of it. I’m proud to have all this new material to be working and that seems to be going over well and connecting well with the audience. I’m excited about the show; it’s a set that I really enjoy doing. I just hope you enjoy it. I’m trying to give people their money’s worth if they’re coming out and I promise it’ll be a good show of new material that’s been tested and is working. Not me fucking around trying to figure it out. It’s a solid show. So I hope you enjoy it man.