When Ari Shaffir starts talking about comedy, you find yourself on the edge of your seat. The passion in his voice is enough to bring you in and have you engaged for an hour. And that’s exactly the circumstances I found myself in when I found myself interviewing Ari Shaffir. As much as we talked about his own career, once I asked him who he enjoyed, that brought our conversation in a whole new direction. And it became clear: Comedy is where his truest passion seems to lie. And it was that same passion that also seemed to get him into a bit of trouble last year. But as he says, he can’t help it. He just loves to stir the pot. And he’s doing it because he has fans who ultimately enjoys whenever he does it.
Now he’s back out there on the road with a new tour. And his fans are out and more eager to see him than ever. Comedy is back, and he is cherishing every f*cking moment of it. He’s soaking it all in as if they’ve been apart for 25 years. In reality, it had only been a little over a year. (And not even that if you count outdoor shows). But for a guy who spent night in and night out in the clubs, to finally be back in the clubs and doing what he loves, it sure as hell felt like a lifetime.
In our recent conversation, we talked about being back on the road, what the energy is like, having to transition to podcasts for the pandemic, who are his favorite comics to watch, how he goes about deciding which market he wants play next, the Edinburgh style of comedy, doing yoga online, and yes, even the death tweets that got him in trouble.
How are you feeling about being back on tour? You must be excited to be back on the road now.
Yeah. I mean, that’s a loaded question. For sure I’m excited to be back on the road. Not excited with airports, but just doing stand-up indoors, we forgot about it. How great it was.
It was cool with the outdoor shows like “There was no comedy! Now there’s something.” But it wasn’t like before. We were all at the park once and we were talking to I think Louie. I think my friend Sarah Tollemache had to go across Central Park to do an outdoor show with no speakers and no mic. (Laughs). And we all watched her walk across the park while we were playing frisbee. And then we were talking like “Have you done outdoor shows? Have you done Zoom shows?” And Louie was like “Just the sound of laughter bouncing against the walls would be great again.” And it really is.
Were you afraid of how long it may take to come back?
We thought it may never come back. I thought there was a chance. There’s stages that everybody went through with the stupid thing. Like “Eh. It’s just like SARS. Nothing happened.” Then it was like “Oh it’s the end of humanity.” Then it was like “Okay, there’ll be a new reality. But we’ll have to make some changes. But gathering indoors was just not going to happen. So I didn’t think it wouldn’t, but there was definitely a fear. Regardless, you had to stop and then with the whole last summer was outdoor shows and you kind of got used to it. And now it’s kind of this bonus thing.
There’s this old Jewish fable. It was told to me when I was in like fourth grade. This guy went to his rabbi and was like “Rabbi, there’s no room. I don’t have a big enough house. I have five kids and there’s no space. I need a bigger house. Can you help me?” And he says “Here’s what you have to do. Go home, get all your chickens and bring them inside. And then come back to me in a week and tell me how it’s going.” He does it and then he’s like “Rabbi, it’s terrible. There’s chicken sh*t everywhere. What was that supposed to accomplish?” And then he says “Okay. Do the same thing with the goats.” He does it with the goats, then he does it with the cows, then he does it with everything. And there’s no space at all. Then he’s like “Okay, let everything out of the house now.” Then he does and he’s like “Oh. It’s so roomy.”
So that’s how stand-up went. We got nothing, and then we started doing these outdoor shows and now we’re back indoors. Even if it’s not sold out, we’re like “This is amazing!”
And even the audiences are more energized now.
They’re juiced for sure. There’s a few different prototypes of audience members. And one is the guy with his hands folded who just does not want to be there who got dragged there. That guy’s not back there at clubs. It’s pretty much only people who want to be there. I mean, I get hecklers here and there because I’m a comic who’s abrasive. But barely any. It used to be plenty of people who were like “I don’t like this.” It’s like “Then why are you here?” Especially in New York. In New York, it’s alive again.
And speaking of audiences, I’m sure some people maybe expected you to lose some fans or audience members after the Kobe tweets controversy last year. But it seems like most of your fans stuck with you.
It’s always dorks on the outside going “Why’d you do this?” And it’s like “Okay. Get out of here. It’s not for you.” Yeah, the amount of actual fans, that always stays the same. And it actually goes up. Every time there’s some negative thing, actual fans – people who would like that – they’re just like “Oh what’s this? He’s doing something dark and offensive? Alright, I’ll check it out.”
So you actually saw a bump in your fan base?
Oh immediately. I sold out a show in Salt Lake City on a Wednesday. I was skiing in March of 2020 and I thought “Maybe I’ll try to do a show.” And I was like “I don’t know. It’s like three days out. I don’t know if I could do that. But fuck it. I’m gonna make a call. If I get like 50 people, it’d be fun.” And it sold out in like a few hours. It was just like such a bump.
Jim Jeffries had a joke about it where he’s like “Get a people who had never been to McDonald’s telling you what should be in a Big Mac.” Those people don’t matter. They were never going to be there. So you’ve got to ignore them, even though there are like way more of them. But they don’t know you. They were never going to know you. So it went from non-ticket purchasers to for sure non-ticket purchasers. There’s zero difference.
What you gonna do is keep honoring the fans. Because what they want is for you to put on a show of stuff that you find funny that you think they’ll find funny as well. So if you keep doing that, you’ll be fine. You play to the room. People when you first start comedy and there’d be like 10 people in the room, they’re always like “This crowd sucks.” And you’re like “Why are you blaming the people who are there? It’s the 90 percent of the people who aren’t there. That’s who you’re yelling at. But don’t tell these people. They’re here.”
And speaking of the death tweets, do you still do that?
Well I deleted my Twitter 6 or 8 months ago, it got to be too negative, but I usually find out about death through Twitter. You’ll see like one person right something like “What’s this?” But now that I’m not on there I don’t find about it as much. But here or there I’ll find out about somebody, so then I’ll post something to Instagram. You’ve gotta do it fast, or else it doesn’t matter. You can’t do it two weeks later.
Right. People were confused why you were doing it so soon after he died.
(Laughs). It’s like this. All the people who enjoy those jokes, we’re all sitting around talking about what a great guy whoever is. Ryan Hamilton. Everyone loves Ryan Hamilton. And we’re like “What a good guy. He let me stay at his Airbnb a few extra days.” “Did you see the gift he brought Joe List for his wedding?”. Everyone takes a turn. Then it gets to you and you’re like “Fuck him.” I’m not serious. (Laughs).
I do it when I can. Sometimes I like just stirring the pot. (Laughs).
When someone tells you not to do something, you’re sort of inclined to do it.
Yeah. Anytime they told me “Hey, you’ve gotta work clean. The audience only likes clean jokes here,” you’re damning me to only doing dirty material now. Had you not said it, I might go clean. But now that you’re saying that, come on. You’re forcing me to be dirty. I love doing those things. Just stirring the pot. I love it. It’s so much fun to me.
It also is interesting that you never really went away after the Kobe thing. You just acted as if it was business as usual.
Actually I did not talk about it on the podcasts for a while. Everyone’s listening waiting for it. I had a sports podcast that I used to be apart of, and then eventually it became too hard on me, being in New York. So I passed it on. They’re like “Ari, you want to come in?” So the next week, a sports podcast, I’m on there and I’ve always shat on the Lakers for years on the podcast and Kobe and all that stuff. Like “What’s he gonna say?” And we just intentionally did not even bring it up. And everyone was listening, hateful people, listening the whole way through and then “He didn’t even f*cking say anything??”. It’s like “Yeah, now I’m f*cking with you, too.” (Laughs). We just had so much fun with it.
(Laughs). And so jumping around, the last thing I’m gonna ask about the last year before jumping around a bit more is did having Skeptic Tank help keep your creative juices flowing when you couldn’t be onstage? Do you think it would’ve been harder without it?
That’s a good question. On one hand, it was a creative outlet because you could make some jokes and do stuff. Every comic had their second and third podcast suddenly and they’re all like “I should do more. I should do more.” Because they wanted to fill in. The same thing happened to Norton when he got thrown off Sirius for something Opie and Anthony did a long, long time ago. They put him on time out. And he was like “I don’t have this creative outlet anymore.” And he went the other way. He went hard in his stand-up because he couldn’t do it.
We need our creative outlets. It definitely helped us a little bit with our creative outlet, but it wasn’t the same as stand-up. Podcasts are really just mostly riffing. There’s a little bit of preparation, but every word is not so precious like it is in stand-up. But mainly what it did, socially, was that it gave us the opportunity to see each other again. Especially during lockdowns. Where now, not only could you not go up onstage, but you couldn’t hang out with the comics afterwards. Get drunk, do drugs, trade stories. That shit was all gone. With a podcast, if you get on a Zoom from wherever you were locked up and talked to Sam Morril for two hours or Normand or anybody, then suddenly it was like “Oh cool. I’m talking to my friends,” which is the fun part of comedy podcasts. So that was really great.
It allowed every comic to start doing a YouTube video version of their podcast. That’s what I did with Skeptic Tank. I started a YouTube. I was like “Well I’ve got time now.” It was just a chance to update and throw yourself into something. But it didn’t bridge the gap completely. There was still a lack.
Also, I had a joke once right around the Hillary and Trump election. I wanna say early October. And I think it was gonna be about elections in general. And there was just an audible moan from like 40 percent of the crowd. From all over, not even like one section. And you could just tell they were like “Dude, we come here to forget this sh*t. They’re f*cking hammering it down our throat nonstop. Can you please talk about something else?”. And I think with COVID, podcasts had to learn that pretty fast. Like “Oh. Let’s not talk about this.”
The problem was, too, nobody was on the road so you didn’t have any stories like “I met some f*cking bar skank. We went back to her place and her brother chased me out with a shotgun.” It’s like “No. Those stories aren’t happening right now.” So it became “I woke up today. Couldn’t go outside. I checked on some Kombucha I made. Still not ready. Let’s see. What else. I watered my plants. That was nice. Reading.” Just a funny time.
And out of that time, you started doing your yoga video series. I imagine that was something born entirely out of boredom.
Well, I’ll tell you what man, that was something I was thinking of doing for a while. Yoga with Ari. Me and Bert and Rogan and Segura, all well known obese comedians, they had a weight loss challenge. First, I’m not obese, I’m average weight.
The Sober October days.
It was Sober October. We started going sober, then we started doing workouts. We did 15 hot yoga sessions. An hour and a half hot yoga sessions. It was difficult. They all got on me because I didn’t find them as hard. So anyway, after we did it, I saw an opportunity to do some fun yoga. Have fun with it. I think the last one I did of those 15 in the month was with Bert Kreischer. We were at the All Things Comedy Festival in Phoenix. We went and found a yoga in town and we did that one. It was October 30th. It was fun having him next to me. We were making jokes and everyone was dressed up for Halloween, all the yoga people. We went to New Orleans the next day. We spent Halloween in New Orleans together. And then we started getting drunk on November 1st on the Impractical Jokers cruise. And we asked them if we could lead a yoga class, because we knew all the moves at that point. So me and Bert just did a drunk yoga class to the f*cking fat cruise people of the Impractical Jokers that year. And it was fun as sh*t. There was an actual yoga instructor there, and Bert was doing shots the whole time.
And then I was like “Yeah, I want to do this thing for real.” Not for real for real, but joke for real. And then I just kept putting it off. But then lockdown was a perfect time to be like “Oh. Let’s get that sh*t going.” A 30 day challenge, then I did another 30 day challenge in January. It’s fun. I’ll do another one.
The whole thing is on YouTube. There was like 100 classes. (Laughs). It’s so stupid. People were like “Is it a joke?” And Nate Bargatze was like “Oh man, I’m sorry. I saw a promo Yoga with Ari and I didn’t get it.” I was like “What do you mean?” And he was like “I didn’t get it until I saw like a clip and you did a Holocaust move or something. It’s like jokes.” I’m like “What do you mean?”. He’s like “I mean, I didn’t realize you were joking.” And I was like “Well, I’m doing the moves. You thought I was just seriously teaching serious yoga?” “Yeah. I realize now how ridiculous that is, but without thinking about it, yeah. That’s what I thought. And now I realize of course now.” So it’s real moves, but I’m joking the whole time. It’s fun. I can’t nail the moves. I can’t hit them all. But pretty much you see what I’m going for here.
Totally. Let’s jump around a bit more. Have you had any moments in the last few years where something happened and you wished that you were still hosting This Is Not Happening so you could’ve featured it on the show?
I have a few stories. I mean, that season, I was ready to go with like three stories. (Laughs). But of course. I like to get into some crazy sh*t, man. I like to get my hands dirty. Yeah, yeah. I got tons of stories. But I’m not doing the show right now. (Laughs).
And the interesting thing is, before we started doing the show, we noticed that stand-up contained stories like that all the time. One liners were a form of it, but then stories were another form where it’s like “This is a different style of comedy. You could do both.” Segura even named one of his specials Mostly Stories. That was just a style of comedy or a trend that was going on. Some guys couldn’t really do it, and some guys didn’t want to do it. But to each their own.
But yeah, so now that show is not happening, but that stuff just goes into the act. It just goes into stand-up. Because now I’m trying to get those stories good enough where I could just do it on like a New York or L.A. stage. If I could follow Mark Normand doing one liner jokes with just a long story and do well, then I’m like “Okay. That’s club funny.” So now I’m just back in clubs and away from the show.
Well I hope I can see some of those stories in your act next time you’re coming through Chicago.
It’s funny. People are like “Where’ve you been?” And I’m like “Well, a year and a half. No touring. And plus, there’s a lot of markets.”
It is so funny when people are like “Why aren’t you coming here?” As if you’re just sitting around booking everything yourself.
Yeah, it’s like “I’m gonna! What you want me to cancel San Antonio so I can come to you? I don’t know, man. It just takes a while.” And what I try to do, especially with this break for so long, I did hella, hella spots in New York. Outdoor first then indoor, just trying to get ready to do some small markets. Got ready for those; and now I’m doing the bigger markets. The important ones, quote unquote. And so next year I’ll do the really massive ones like Chicago and Denver and San Fran and Toronto. So that’ll happen next year.
I don’t want to come to an important market and do a half-assed show. So I’m trying to be really thoughtful about how to respect the audience.
I like that you put thought into it. Because a lot of times comedians don’t really know how to navigate it well.
Isn’t it funny, dude? You’ll see these comics that finish a whole special and then they’ll take a month off and then charge $100 bucks for a ticket for a f*cking half worked out show. And I’m like “You f*cking c*nts. You f*cking c*nts! These people are your fans who f*cking built you up and you’re going to steal their money. F*ck off. Do something f*cking clubs for a little bit. Work out something.” God I hate how little respect these guys have for audiences. Some guys do. Other guys it’s like “Do what you want I guess.”
Like when you’ll see a comic play a massive arena and say “I’m trying out some new stuff tonight.”
Right. Why? Here? Now? You don’t do that here, now in Chicago. I love that story that Burr told and he did Radio City Music Hall. And he told the guys [opening for him] “Hey guys. You know how we like [do crowd work/try out new stuff]? None of that today. This is Radio City Music Hall. This is all your A level stuff.” And they were like “Right. That makes sense.” Don’t riff. This is a show, man. This is an important show.
You are known in the comedy circles as being a big champion of fresh, new talent. Who are some of your current favorites out there?
Well i mean I’ll talk all day about that. A few comics that I haven’t just seen, but Mike Vecchione and Adrianne Iapalucci are like great, great comics who need more bookings at clubs. They just have a massive draw, but are like so f*cking funny. So I’m always looking for ways to put them over.
There’s a few comics that I try to put over. And it’s not about them making friends with me. It’s about them being deserving and not getting where they should be. Like Big Jay for a while was that. Like really take care of like “Hey, how can we get this guy to be financially and creatively free?” So we did it with Jay. He’s his own guy now. He’s free and people know him and now he’s on his own. He’s great.
And then a few younger people I’ve seen, since the pandemic actually, is Emma Wilmann and Caitlin Peluffo. I just saw Caitlin Peluffo a couple times in the last month and she f*cking crushes. So she’s one. I don’t know how long she’s been in comedy, but she f*cking slays. It’s weird. She’s doing like this male style of comedy. If you think everything is blurry now with the internet and as gender roles kind of break down in society, I think it’s kind of breaking down in comedy… So like those stereotypes of “Chicks talk about this. Or guys talk about this.” You have some of that still, but you have less and less of that. But you can be influenced by anybody now. There’s this ballsy, brash, typically a male style of comedy, but I think that might be changing now. And it’s just f*cking funny.
For years we’ve heard mostly the same comics listed as influences. So I can’t wait to start hearing brand new influences.
Exactly. And it’s like when I started, I didn’t have cable. So we saw a few late night spots, whoever was on The Tonight Show here or there. Otherwise The Laugh Factory had a show on Saturday night on CBS or NBC or maybe Fox. So whoever was on that. I didn’t see any specials. So my influences would not have been somebody else’s. Someone else who may have been really versed in stand-up might have had a Carlin or whatever.
But I didn’t find Kinison’s stand-up until I was way into stand-up. And I loved him, but he wasn’t as big an influence on my stuff as The Simpsons. Or the comics I saw at The Comedy Store like Don Barris and Bob Oshack and Freddy Soto. The people I saw killing it every night, like Joe Rogan. The people I saw just like there killing it, like Ralphie Mae. They influenced me way more than those other guys. And now with the internet… Even when I started it was like if you missed a Comedy Central special, you missed it. And now, everything’s online so you could just watch it again and again if you want. A new comic right now might have Normand as their big influence or Big Jay as their big influence. It’s like the sky is the limit if you just take what you want. It’s pretty interesting.
It is. I can’t wait to see where it goes and where we’re at 5 to 10 years from now.
Yeah, yeah. And now even the Edinburgh style hours have kind of blurred into everything, too. Those are being recorded so now Americans have access to this UK style comedy.
When I saw Daniel Sloss’ Netflix specials, that was the first time I saw an Edinburgh show on a big platform like that. Like this comedy secret door got opened up.
Yeah, exactly. And you’re like “Oh, it’s a little different.” Festival style of comedy is very weird. It comes out of fear there. And in America, it comes out of the soil. In England, comedy comes out of theater. It’s just a subdivision of theater. So they have all these reviews. And it overlaps for sure, but it comes from a different place, so you can see the backstory to it.
So Sloss is a great version of that stuff. Hannah Gadsby had a big one. It’s like a different thing, and you can’t really analyze it. Like let’s say you like some kind of Irish music or Scottish music to dance to. And then you hear something like Arcade Fire, which is also great, but you’re like “Nah, I can’t really dance to this as much.” And it’s like “Oh, right. That’s not the scale you’re supposed to be judging it on.” So a lot of people get mad at those English comics for doing that English style of comedy. But it’s a different thing. You gotta go into it as a different thing. Like when you see Reggie Watts, it’s like “Where are the punchlines?” It’s like “Nah, dude. You can’t judge him on that.” Or like Bo Burnham. “Where’s the audience?” “There’s no audience. (Laughs). You’re judging it wrong.”
I was so confused by the criticism he got for Inside. Like, it’s a pandemic. What else is he gonna do? He’s kind of limited right now.
Yeah, with him it was so weird. He had the same thing when he started coming up where he went from the videos in his room to “Now I’ve got to do shows,” so the comedy clubs were the place. So he went to do comedy clubs. Him and Reggie Watts both. And then all these comedians were like “You’re not doing our style of comedy.” I mean he was a kid back then, but from his point of view to the comics, you wanted to be like “Hey guys, I’m only going to be here for like four years. (Laughs). I’m moving to theaters. Don’t worry about me. I’m not going to remain here. I know I’m not supposed to be at a f*cking Chuckle Hut. It happens to be the level of draw I’m at right now. I know my sh*t doesn’t go here. It’s a theater or a privately filmed thing. But I’m overlapping for a little bit. Calm down.”
That guy is a brilliant, brilliant performer and creative guy. I love him. But sometimes it’s like “You’re judging it wrong, dude! Quit worrying about what it’s supposed to be. Just enjoy it. It’s f*cking hilarious and interesting.”
But now with the influences, people can see the Edinburgh thing or the Bo Burnham thing, so why wouldn’t you put some sketch into the middle of your stand-up act? Why wouldn’t you take something from Bo and do like your version of that? You have access to it now. So yeah. See what strikes a chord with you and see what you get into.
Ari’s tour dates can be found on his website here.