I noticed Dave Ross, a seemingly shy dude with an absurd and somewhat misanthropic sense of humor, appear on the Los Angeles open mic scene in 2009. Within a year, he had become one of the most respected not-quite-famous comedians and behind-the-scenes string-pullers in the city, a performer who plays serious stages and a promoter who works with genuine stars. His weekly showcase Holy Fuck has featured Louis C.K., Maria Bamford, Laura Kightlinger, and Todd Glass, alongside unknown locals about to level up. He performs constantly throughout Southern California and appeared at this year’s Bridgetown Comedy Festival. His anti-sketch sketch troupe WOMEN (also featuring Ross’s like-minded contemporaries Jake Weisman and Allen Strickland Williams) delights and baffles a growing online fanbase.
I have appeared on many stages with Dave Ross, and on Cats and Pussy, a manly podcast he hosts alongside Weisman. I consider him my friend. But I feature him here because, more than anyone else at his stage of the game, he embodies the Assbuster credo: A good hustle is its own reward.. He worked hard at comedy because he felt like it, and was surprised and humbled when it paid off so handsomely. Read and absorb, son.
How did you end up in Los Angeles and how did you start doing comedy?
I moved to LA, at first, to go to college at USC. When I graduated, I found myself as a DJ at a Clear Channel radio station called KRZR in Fresno, and that’s where I did stand-up for the first time. Not right away. The station was all about funny content – games, bits, audio sketches – so I got to play around with the form a lot. I really lucked out there, I think. Most program directors tell you to shut up and just say the call letters, but our PD, E. Curtis Johnson…He really liked his DJs to be funny. I fell in love with doing that, but then I stopped doing radio after two years and needed another avenue, so I did stand-up.
I only did it five times, though, and quit. I moved back to LA right about then, so I did it three times in Fresno and twice here. It scared me to death and I had a terrible attitude about it, so I basically just fell apart and thought I was incapable.
Three years after that is when I really started. My friend Julie Cohen was running an open mic at the Palms Bar in West Hollywood, and she basically called me a “pussy” until I said I’d host it with her. I did that for six months, not writing jokes, not doing anything but hosting for two hours on Sunday, until Julie booked me on a show that August without telling me. I started going to mics to practice, and I found my attitude to be much more positive. I really, really loved going to mics, and I could handle the bombing a lot better. I was still panicking, but I wasn’t hating myself and falling apart. I must’ve grown up a lot. Either that, or life had shit on me a little harder, and the panic from stand-up didn’t seem as bad.
Either way, stand-up is what I love most in this world, and it’s the most fun I have, and I’m 100% sure I’m going to do it for the rest of my life, but I almost literally had to be kicked in the nuts by a lesbian to start doing it.
What steps did you take to get better at stand-up and build a higher profile?
I’m not sure how high my profile is, but I’ve definitely worked my ass off, and that’s pretty much all I can think of that I did. I attribute everything I have in stand-up to two things: Going on stage as much as humanly possible and running good shows. When I started hitting mics for real in August of 2009, I basically didn’t take a break for two years. I sort of made up my mind to do it. It absolutely destroyed my social life outside of comedy, and burned me out to a certain degree, too, but I think it was worth it. Going on stage 10-15 times a week, writing all day, every day, and running shows and mics…I know I built up some chops much quicker than I would have otherwise.
The writing and the mics made me a better comic and running the shows let people know who I was, I think. Holy Fuck somehow got popular right away, and everyone wanted to do it, so people started hearing my name and knowing who I was. For awhile, I’m sure it was in the context of, “Who the fuck is that?” or “That guy sucks!” Either way, though, it was easier to introduce myself to people, either because they already knew of my show or would at least be interested in its existence. I never traded spots, but it was certainly a conversation-starter. And honestly, most of the time, the people running shows were so funny and great that I wanted them on the show, anyway.
When and how did you start Holy Fuck?
I really like this story, actually. I hadn’t been hitting mics for more than a few months before the show started. I probably would’ve started a show fairly soon after this, but my friends were pressuring me to do it because they ran an art gallery that needed more events to pay the rent. The show started, and then it blew up. It was crazy.
The art gallery doubled as a speakeasy on the weekends. That’s how they made their money. It was really great, actually, and ran well for a year and a half. There was an email list, and if you were a part of it, you got a password emailed to you the day-of, then at night you’d go to their nondescript door, knock, a little slot would open, you’d say the password, and you’d go in. They’d have bands play and a full bar til 7 am. It was amazing. Buuuuuuuuuut they got busted by vice cops and couldn’t do the illegal thing anymore. And thus, events to pay the rent.
The original idea was for a show that showcases great comics who aren’t huge worldwide yet, called, “Holy Fuck, it’s [Name of Comic]!” Like “Holy Fuck, it’s Kyle Kinane!” Or “Holy Fuck, it’s Matt Braunger!” I realized pretty immediately how cornball and lame that is, though, and just shortened it to Holy Fuck.
I had about a month before the first show, so I made flyers and booked comics and got VERY EXCITED when Matt Braunger said, “Yes.” The week of the first show, though, my friends got evicted, and I was without a space. I had, oh, let’s say…four panic attacks. Luckily, a good friend of mine worked at the Downtown Independent Theater and asked me to have it there. I turned him down, at first, because the theater is so huge, and shopped around for art galleries that would want a comedy show. I couldn’t find one, though, and thank god. The Downtown Independent is an amazing space, and because my friend worked there, they didn’t charge me to use it. They’ve never charged me once. As far as venues go, I am the luckiest producer in this city.
How did you get a) Louis C.K., b) Laura Kightlinger, c) Todd Glass and d) Maria Bamford on the show?
It was different for each. Louis C.K. was a day-of thing. I’d seen him at What’s Up Tiger Lily the day before, so I knew he was in town, and Ron Lynch was set to headline Holy Fuck that night. I knew that Ron and Louis were close, so I messaged Ron and told him that Louis could come by and do a set if he wanted. Ron messaged me back and said that Louis had planned on it, because Ron was on the show, so really where I lucked out was in finding out he was coming. I got to promote it for four hours or so before the show started. Because of that, people knew, and the place packed out. It was the first insanely big show I did. Ron Lynch, oh, how I love you.
Laura Kightlinger was really open to doing the show right away. She started doing a lot of stand-up again in LA at some point in 2010, and I saw that she was on the lineup of one of my friend’s shows, so I asked him for her email and he gave it to me. I emailed her, she got back to me that same day and said, “Yes.” I got all giddy inside. I couldn’t believe it! It’s amazing what can happen if you just ask for what you want.
Todd Glass was a little bit trickier, because he doesn’t use any social networking at all. He doesn’t really email, even. I had to go to one of his shows at the Improv in Hollywood, introduce myself, and tell him about the show. When I did that, though, he was completely on board! I barely had said where the show was before he gave me his number and told me to call him about a spot. It was great.
And Maria Bamford I booked, initially, through her manager. I went to her website, looked up her booking contact, and emailed him. He sent me an email back telling me that he doesn’t deal with Maria’s shows in town, but that he’d forward on the info, and there you go. She did the show. That was another moment in my life I just couldn’t believe as it was happening.
Maria’s manager, by the way, is also Jimmy Pardo’s manager, Natasha Leggero’s, Sean Cullen’s, Bil Dwyer’s, and Andy Kindler’s, and is the sole reason I’ve had all those people on the show. He was always so quick to oblige my obsessive, over apologetic messages. He is the nicest, most helpful, and most cordial man you’ll ever meet. He should get a medal.
What aspects of booking and promoting take up the most time and energy?
Getting headliners is the hardest part. After awhile, the promotion just became rote. It’s time-consuming, that’s for sure, but I can bang out a Facebook invite, a Yelp event, an AST post, a Tumblr post, and a tweet in an hour or two now. It’s just become routine.
Getting those big names, though, and making sure they know where the place is, and that they’re definitely coming…That is maddening. I got in this terrible habit of having a huge name at the top for every Holy Fuck, and I wouldn’t let a show go by where there wasn’t one, so I lost my mind trying to book the Bamfords and the Pardos and the Marons and such. Those people…they’re so busy touring and getting paid and trying to have a life that they don’t necessarily answer emails from dinky little me with any urgency, and they could also get called away from my show for a paid gig at any minute. Keeping the lineups big was very hard. It took lots of emailing and follow-up emailing and asking for contacts and going to shows to meet them and such.
How did WOMEN get started and how do the skits come together?
WOMEN started because Allen, Jake, and I hated sketch and wanted to make it. We, and pretty much every audience in the world, we realized, had incredibly short attention spans, and we wanted to make sketches that appealed to that. We also wanted to fuck with people’s minds.
It ended up working out really well, because none of us can write anything longer than half an idea. Allen’s always drunk, Jake’s always screaming, and I’m always crying. It’s fucking ridiculous.
The creation process is like this: we email ideas back and forth over the period of a week. We then meet at one of our houses, argue about how the ideas aren’t funny enough, then come up with a completely different idea that all three of us love. We shoot that idea in less than an hour, eat pizza, and go home. A bit later, one, some, or all of us spend less than a day editing the footage together and we release it. It is the stupidest, most amazing thing I’ve ever done.
What advice do you have for talented comedians who suck at interacting with people and promoting themselves?
Running a show can help, like I said before, but really, you’ve just gotta do it. It really, really sucks at first, but you have to. Go to shows, introduce yourself to the bookers, then email each of them when you get home that night. They’re used to being approached that way, and while some might be inundated, it’s not a rude thing to do, unless you’re interrupting them during the show. You’ll find almost immediately that people are not only nice to you, but extremely nice. I met a couple of my best friends just going to shows to see what they’re about and show my face. It’s just the way it is in comedy. It’s business, but it’s also your social life, so everyone’s gotten pretty accustomed to hearing, “I exist! Let’s hang out.”
I can understand that “networking” might make you feel gross, and it certainly makes me feel that way, so after people know who you are, don’t network. Just meet people. Just introduce yourself and get to know people and let everyone know that you’re around. Then, if you find yourself really wanting to be on a show, just mention it casually. Don’t get on people’s cases and don’t get irritated, but definitely ask. It’s all you can do.
|The Assbuster is a monthly column from the mind of Emerson Dameron, a comedian from Chicago who navigates the world of a stand-up comedy, hitting up open mics and comedy clubs. Dameron is a writer, comedian, and gentleman of the old school. He enjoys cats, oranges and the warm glow of a neon beerlight. Shadow him on his website or Twitter @EmersonDameron. He’s game for whatever.|