“The only reason I’m doing this is because I’m in my car,” Rich Vos told me over the phone. After he had asked me how many articles I’ve written, I told him “about two.”
“About Two? You’ve done two. When you do over 100, you can say ‘about 100.’ See I’m helping you with this before your inevitable failure in life. When you say, ‘About two,’ whoever’s being interviewed by you will think ‘this guy lives in his mother’s basement.’ Which I can tell by your voice that you are. You are living in your mother’s basement.”
This is just the type of ball busting that has made Rich Vos a staple at premiere comedy clubs in NYC such as the Comedy Cellar. It’s the type of attitude that’s been bred from performing stand-up for more than thirty years.
During a career that has spanned for more than three decades, Vos has had multiple television appearances on networks that range from BET, HBO, Starz, and Showtime. He’s done a total of four Comedy Central specials, has written for the Oscars, and produced and starred in the movie Women Aren’t Funny, alongside his wife, comedian Bonnie McFarlane. Comedy fans may know him from being a finalist on the first season of Last Comic Standing, as a regular on Sirius XM’s past radio show Opie and Anthony, and of course from his time on the show Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn.
Vos co-hosts the popular podcast My Wife Hates Me with McFarlane on the Riotcast Network and is currently touring with comedians Jim Florentine, Ron Bennington, and Robert Kelly as a part of the Kreeps with Kids tour. They’ve been packing out theaters in every city on the tour. When I talked with Vos, he was excited to promote this tour with his friends, even if it was with a guy who was calling from his mother’s basement.
I grew up right next to the city you’re from in Jersey. What was it like growing up in Plainfield?
I grew up in a town that gave you a good outlook on life. I grew up around a lot of diversity, a mixed neighborhood, we played sports, went from sports to chasing girls, then from that, we drank and did drugs. I always hung out with the more dysfunctional groups of kids.
Did being in that environment influence your aggressive style on stage?
Your whole upbringing in life influences you in whatever you end up doing. Your upbringing in life influences you in whatever you do. Your core being is influenced in wherever you’re from. Whatever you try to mask it with, you can’t change that.
I read you were the first white comedian to appear on Def Jam in the 90’s.
Yeah, I worked urban clubs for years before I got booked for Def Jam. They weren’t just like “we need a token white guy to be on Def Jam.” I worked every sort of venue possible and they saw me from there. I had to work and perform anywhere I could for money because I had kids to feed. Black rooms were just another outlet. Of course, I looked at it as people are people, either they fucking laugh or they don’t. That’s the reason I was chosen.
I remember watching you on the first season of Last Comic Standing and you came in third place. A lot of people that watched the show believed that either you or Dave Mordal should’ve won.
It was a great experience. I didn’t care about winning. I looked at the show as a sitcom without a script. Dave and I got more air time than anyone else. It was a reality show about stand-up comedy. You got to remember with these reality shows, whoever gets the most airtime is the real winner. That’s why people remember us. I already knew I was a good comic. I just kept looking at it as “My goal is to get airtime. What can I do to get more airtime?” So, I did a lot of different things. Not taking anything away from the guy who won but that mentality is why people remember me, Ralphie May, and Dave. So, in my mind, since I got a lot more airtime, that to me meant I won.
Did that provide you a big change in your career?
At the end of the day it bought me a house. It did very well for me but that’s not the kinda audience you hold on to. That’s a reality TV show audience but it’s not a comedy audience. What I did on TV and what I do in clubs are two different things. As that show grew, it started to leave the reality show format and focused on the stand-up. But my audience developed more through the stand-up circuit. Some people still remember me from Last Comic Standing but I’m usually like “It was 15 years ago. Let it go.”
I saw a recent interview with Colin Quinn for Jim and Sam’s show on Sirius XM where they asked him about a Tough Crowd reunion, and he said he didn’t think it could happen again.
Tough Crowd was my favorite show that I’ve ever done. But you can’t recreate it. If Colin doesn’t want to do it, it’s not going to be done. Plus, Patrice O’Neal and Greg Giraldo passed away and they were major, major roles on that show. You can’t recreate greatness to me. Everyone tries to recreate the past and it never works. Everyone tries to do remakes of some fucking movie and it always comes out horrible. It had a good reputation and a great run and that’s it. You let it die with the legacy that it had. In this day and age, it wouldn’t be the same. If it was on HBO maybe, but those types of shows are done. It would be too watered down. Those types of shows are finished.
I know you’ve been on This Week at the Cellar and that show seems to try and carry the torch with a bit of a similar format.
It’s a good show for what it is but nothing can beat Tough Crowd. It has its different aspects with mixing stand-up and current events that make it a good show, but it’s not Tough Crowd. People come up to all of us who were a part of the Tough Crowd crew and say they were influenced to do stand-up because of that show. I loved that show because I was doing it with my friends, but you can’t recreate greatness.
This is your eighth year hosting the Patrice O’Neal benefit.
Yeah, I host it every year.
How did you meet Patrice?
We met in New York somehow and we became good friends. It might’ve been Boston Comedy club or somewhere, but it was in New York and we really hit it off. Just like the whole Tough Crowd crew.
Why do you think you guys hit off so well?
We can from the same mold, the same comedy mold. We connected, we like what each other did on stage, we liked hanging out. We laughed a lot with each other, and we loved trashing people. It wasn’t just me and Patrice of course. Patrice, Bobby Kelly, Keith Robinson, Jim Norton, Kevin Hart, Bill Burr, and Colin. All of us.
Why do you think he had such an impact not just on up and coming stand ups but on his peers, like yourself, Bill Burr, Jim Norton, etc.?
Let’s get it straight I had an impact on him. He didn’t have any on me (laughs). He was aggressive and loud and very funny. It’s that simple. He never held back, he didn’t have a filter. He meant what he said and said what he believed. He was honest.
Do you think comedians are losing that brand of honesty? There’s the ongoing debate about political correctness and if it’s making it harder to perform comedy. Do you think that someone as brash as Patrice would have been able to perform in this climate?
Yes of course he would. The people that tout “Political Correctness” are just a small percentage of people. Doug Stanhope is one of the best comedians on that planet. He’s not politically correct. He sells out everywhere he goes. Our tour Kreeps with Kids isn’t politically correct but it’s funny. It’s just a small percentage of people. Also, you don’t want those people to come to your shows anyhow because if they’re that uptight, they shouldn’t be anywhere near a comedy club.
On your Instagram bio it says your 32 years sober. Congratulations on that. How did you deal, or still deal with the temptation of drinking when you’re out performing at different clubs? I would guess that would be a huge temptation if your nervous before a show or you have a bad set and you want something to cope after?
First of all, let’s get this straight, I never had a bad set in my life. Second, alcohol wasn’t my drug of choice, freebase was. I wasn’t in a club where everyone is freebasing. If there’s a comedy club like that, I’m sure it would’ve been tough. I am an alcoholic as much as I am a drug addict but that wasn’t my drug of choice. If you have the desire to stop drinking and doing drugs, and your desire is stronger than the urge to do it, then you’ll do it. If you keep that desire to stay sober, the obsession and compulsion will be lifted. Once you get through the physical addiction, the obsession and compulsion is what makes you want to go back, but eventually that will be lifted and you can live a day at a time.
Do you have a healthier outlet to cope with stress…like jogging?
I do now. I gamble a lot.
Well that’s better than freebasing (laughs).
No, in all seriousness, I golf a lot. Golfing is my addiction. I work out a lot, focus on exercising. I stay busy with my family. It helps to stay as busy as possible.
Do you think people with addictive personalities or compulsive behavior gravitate toward comedy?
There’s no rhyme or reason that draws anyone to stand-up. You can be a dysfunctional person or come from the best family and get into stand-up. Who knows what draws people? You gotta be a special person in my mind to do it and be good at it.
Currently you’re a part of the Kreeps with Kids tour with yourself, Jim Florentine, Ron Bennington, and Robert Kelly. How did that come about?
Bobby put the tour together and we’re all friends. We gel well perfectly. We’re not the same type of comic so there’s also range of comedic styles. The audiences, venues, and comics on this tour are great. I’m not just saying this, I’ve done a lotta shit and there’s something special about this tour that makes it work perfectly. From beginning to end its pure comedy. I host it and Bobby closes it. People leave these shows seeing one of the best stand-up comedy shows they’re going to see.
Does the show center around you all being parents? Do you do specific material about being a dad for these shows?
No. We all have jokes about our kids, but we just do our regular stand-up. We do a panel at the end where we take questions and a lot of the questions are about our kids. The fact that we’re all dads, that’s one thing we have in common. We’re all headliners and the best thing about this tour is that there are four headliners on one bill. That’s what’s so great about it.
How do you balance getting out every night and performing while being a parent?
That’s easy. I just neglect my kids.
Solid strategy. Anything else you would like to promote?
Check out the podcast My Wife Hates Me, with Bonnie MacFarlane and check out our tour Kreeps with Kids. It’s truly something special. Also, check out my roast at the Cellar at vosroast.com.