JOKERMAN: Q&A With Comedian Rob Delaney


BY JONATHAN VALANIA “I first got drunk at age twelve,” comedian Rob Delaney wrote in a piece for the November 2013 issue of Esquire. “Someone finally put me to bed when I was deemed too fucked up to hang out anymore. I’m aware now that it was an empirically terrible night, but the feeling alcohol gave me was so magical that it outweighed the night’s lousier aspects and I really looked forward to doing it again; I wanted that shit in me. As a lot of drunks report, introducing alcohol into my body just felt like ‘Ooh, there we go. Here I am.’ Sort of like it elegantly completed a chemical equation of some kind.” Funny, right? OK, not so much. Delaney was, it would seem,  cut from the classic sad clown crying-on-the-inside-laughing-on-the-outside comedian mold that has produced just about every major comic not named Jerry Seinfeld (he’s more fussy-on-the-inside-kvetching-on-the-outside, not that there’s anything wrong with that). In addition to alcoholism, Delaney has publicly struggled with clinical depression and in a went-viral blog post back in 2010 he made a heartfelt plea for anyone struggling with this disease to get help. But there’s more to Delaney than just Oprah-rific dark-nights-of-the-soul confessionals. He currently has 1.03 million followers on Twitter for a very good reason: he has the gift of funny. In advance of his show tonight (Friday March 28th) at the Trocadero,  we got the Massachussetts-born/L.A.-residing (“with a woman and some children”) funnyman on the phone. DISCUSSED: Alcoholism, sobriety, clinical depression, and the secret to comedy. Trust us, it’s not the bummer it sounds like on paper. Well, maybe a little. But then the laughter would be meaningless — or at least not so funny — without the tears, right? Right. Oh and don’t let this photo fool you, he’s actually, like, movie star handsome. Just don’t tell him I said so.

PHAWKER: What was the a-ha moment when you decided ‘this is what I am going to do with my life, I am going to become a comedian.’

ROB DELANEY: In 2007, I got laid off from a job and I said ‘that’s it, no more day jobs.’

PHAWKER: What was the job you got laid off from?

ROB DELANEY: Advertising. I had worked in various companies doing different types of advertising and primarily Internet stuff. Buying and selling and finding ads. I did not enjoy it.

PHAWKER: What was the first indicator that this might actually work out?

ROB DELANEY: People came to my shows and I got paid to do stand-up and stuff but it wasn’t until I got my first television writing job [Rob Dydeck’s Ridiculousness] in 2010 that I was like ‘oh it’s working.’ I had not considered it a success until it paid 100% of my bills. For me the most important thing that’s ever happened was when I was actually able to actually buy my food, pay my rent, and buy my underpants with comedy money.

PHAWKER: What’s the difference between being ‘Twitter funny’ and being ‘funny funny’?

ROB DELANEY: Being Twitter funny — again I don’t know why I keep turning to personal finances — but for me being ‘Twitter funny’ doesn’t pay a single bill but being funny onstage or for a television show, that does pay the bills. So clearly, what we’re seeing is I only care about money and I only want to be funny for money….that’s not true but, you know, you could be Twitter funny if you were in a coma but figured out a way to connect your brainwave to a cell phone. You could be funny in your mom’s basement but can you be funny in a room full of people or face to face? In the end, that’s really the only funny that matters. If they pull the plug on Twitter then people in Bangladesh aren’t going to be able to read a joke the second I write it. So hopefully, if that happens, I’ll be able to make the people laugh that are with me in the bunker hiding from the zombies in the post-apocalyptic nuclear wasteland. I’m going to have to be able to do it without technology. Old school, face to face.

PHAWKER: So how do you get 1.1 million followers without resorting to threats and intimidation? Because I have tried threats and intimidation and to be honest it kinda backfired, in fact I actually lost some followers when I did that.

ROB DELANEY: I’m not saying there’s a ‘right’ way to do Twitter, but people who Tweet like ‘oh god, I can’t believe it’s raining again’ shouldn’t be allowed to be on Twitter, or have a phone or a computer. And a lot of people do that, even a lot of comedians I know do that and that’s just ‘how dare you?’ you know what I mean? If you give me the honor of following me on Twitter I am going to honor that and try and be entertaining. So the way that I got as many followers as I have is just by really trying to be funny.

PHAWKER: Have you ever thought of some way to get one dollar from every follower? Be honest.

ROB DELANEY: Oh yeah, absolutely. If I just said ‘Paypal me’ I probably could make some money so yeah I have thought about that. I think there is nothing wrong with thinking about that but doing it is another story. Who knows, if I get desperate I don’t care. To date, I would rather have it be a transaction like ‘I give you a thing i.e a live comedy show, and you give me money.’ I prefer to keep it clean that way so far but I reserve the right to change my mind.

PHAWKER: ‘Always reserve the right to sell out.’ Good advice. So I’m sure you are sick of talking about this by now and it’s kind of like the equivalent to yelling ‘Freebird!’ at a concert, but I was wondering if you could tell me again the story of how and why you wound up getting sober back in 2002?

ROB DELANEY: Well I knew that if I kept drinking people would die and I might be one of them. Because by the end I was driving drunk and that’s terrible. So pretty much I didn’t really care if I died but when I realized if I kept drinking it could kill other people than that was it. so I drove a car into a building while I was in a blackout and the cops were like ‘Guess what you did’ and I was like ‘What?’ I had no idea. When I found out I hadn’t killed anybody I was grateful and decided to get sober.

PHAWKER: You woke up in jail with broken legs and arms from the accident. Did you have to do some jail time for the DUI itself?

ROB DELANEY: I was not in jail for very long because at my court date they said ‘Wow you’re a disaster. Would you like to go to rehab instead?’ and I said ‘Yeah that sounds good’ because I really wanted to go to rehab because I wanted to stop drinking and didn’t know how. So yeah I never went to prison, I was just in jail for a little while.

PHAWKER: Back in 2010 you posted a very powerful plea for people suffering from depression to get professional help. You talked about how you had two very extreme episodes of depression and how you initially resisted taking anti-depressants as your doctor and family and friends strongly urged you to do but you vowed to tough it out and take it like a man etc. Things steadily got worse and worse, you became increasingly more suicidal, constantly fantasizing about someone blowing your head off or swimming out to sea until you were exhausted and drowning. Until at some point you decided, ‘I don’t think anyone else will shoot me with a shotgun, so maybe temporarily I will postpone that and try this Lexapro that everyone I know is recommending. So you went on meds and gradually recovered. First, I just want to thank you for writing that. It was a very courageous and humane thing to do.

ROB DELANEY: Thank you.

PHAWKER: I’m not sure how much you’ve thought about this, but I am wondering if you have any theories as to why there is seemingly this epidemic of clinical depression going on these days. Do you think that it has always been like this and we are just now getting better at recognizing the symptoms or do you think it is something that it is very specific to the modern age?

ROB DELANEY: I think it has been this way for most of history. I am not one of those people who believes the world is going down the toilet or that there is something new under the sun. You hear ‘Oh, David blew his brains out!’ and that is like a version of my story that could work in 1926 or 1890, but now it can be ‘Oh he went to a psychiatrist and got help and gradually got better.’ I don’t think there is a new epidemic of anything really, I’ve got no research to support that, but that’s what I have chosen to believe.

PHAWKER: Don’t you think that when we stopped having to spend all day worrying about where our next meal was coming from or how to avoid being eaten by a saber-toothed tiger, that we basically just had too much time on our hands and we began to over-think ourselves?

ROB DELANEY: It could be a factor but for me I still don’t super care what the reasons are. That’s a book, the idea that you just hypothesized, or a college course. The reason why that question is almost not even interesting to me, and I don’t mean that you are not an interesting person or that is not an interesting question, but for me I’m like ‘Well yeah we definitely spend much more time to on our butts or we get to our job to sit on our butts.’ So yeah there is more time to get lost in our heads. But that said, I think it can be combated by realizing ‘Oh yeah, yes it is 2014, which came after 2013, and 2012 before that.’ So you know, we know that it is important to do things like get exercise or eat well. And in the past you would just like eat a handful of whatever vegetables there were but now we have a million choices, it’s important to remember you have to eat some vegetables even though you can just eat Quarter Pounders if you want. So life is ‘easier’ now, that’s easier in scare quotes, but it is also harder in that choice and pleasure hours can lead to bad decisions and bad habits. So that’s my introduction to the book idea that you just brought up.

PHAWKER: What is the difference between something that is funny and something that is not funny? And don’t say ‘One makes you laugh and one doesn’t.’ I guess what I am asking you is ‘what’s the secret to comedy’ because I am pretty sure you know it, even if you can’t articulate it — you know it.

ROB DELANEY: Well, thanks. I seriously believe in my heart that it is the answer that you just gave, that it makes you laugh or it doesn’t. the first thing I ever heard in my life that helped me begin to understand comedy, was when I was a little kid at a restaurant with my mom and dad and sister and a guy comes in and sits down at the table next to us and says to the person already sitting there waiting for him, ‘Sorry I was late man, I had to park in fuckin Tel Aviv.’ We were in Boston and A) I didn’t stop laughing for 2 weeks and B) it made me realize that this is the Rosetta Stone of comedy. No he didn’t literally park in Tel Aviv but he had to park two blocks away and it was a hassle. So in that, he just crystallized all his frustration, his frustration led him to fantasize and lie to his friend in a way that was so absurd that all I could do was laugh. Whoever the man is, I swear to God he laid the cornerstone to the shithouse that is my sense of humor. I wish I could meet him and thank him, but to me that’s it. All of the building blocks of every great joke are in what that man said about parking.