It was, quite naturally perhaps, in jail where Rob Delaney decided what he really wanted to do with his life. He was a bloody pile of rubble, in a wheelchair with two broken arms. He’d just driven his car, while blackout drunk, through the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. No one else was involved in the accident, but it ripped Delaney up something proper. He’d require surgery for his arms. His knees were ripped open to the bone.
Often, while being wheeled around by the jail’s staff, he’d slide right out of the chair, his arms and legs too weak and mangled to keep himself from falling onto the floor, hospital gown opening up and exposing him for all the prisoners to see. “It was during those moments, sprawled on the jail floor before a couple of beefy guards would pick me up and place me back in my wheelchair and cover my no longer ‘private’ parts, that I thought to myself, ‘It is time to make a lifestyle change,’” Delaney wrote in a poignant and hysterical article about the ordeal for Vice magazine.
So, he made that lifestyle change, and became what he’d always wanted to be: a stand-up comedian.
That was 10 years ago. Delaney stopped drinking and drugging. He got prescriptions for Lexapro and Cymbalta to cure his crippling bouts of suicidal depression. And he let people’s laughs medicate him, too, getting on any stage that would have him.
Now, he’s become a top national comic playing sold-out shows around the country, a Twitter phenomenon with 370,000-plus followers, signed a book deal with Random House, and sued Kim Kardashian for her sham marriage. PW caught up with Delaney for a quick chat to talk comedy, Twitter and abject, stinking filth.
You’ve been doing stand-up nine or 10 years now. How long did it take you to get good?
I mean, it’s a weird thing—you start stand-up, and if you keep doing it it’s because you believe you’re funny and on a path to getting funnier. However, if I look back at my first stand-up appearances, they’re pretty abysmal. It’s a combination of fortitude and willful ignorance. I record all my sets, for example, and listen to them, so that I can get better and figure out what worked, what didn’t work, and I guess I enjoy listening to them now more than I did in the beginning. That kind of thing is invaluable for improving. The more you do stand-up, you start to write onstage, which is to say that you go onstage with an idea of what you’re going to talk about then you hammer it out, record it, see what worked, what didn’t, and then go back. The funniest stand-up, I think, is crafted in front of a crowd.
You’ve said in the past it’s important to bomb. Why is that?
Because it’s an education, you know what I mean? Like, let’s say you were going to build a house, because you’re an architect, right? So you go to architect school, you learn about structural integrity and all that stuff. With stand-up, there’s nothing like that. There’s no school. You start to build a house, it collapses, and people die. And then you’re like, “OK, what can I do different next time?” And when I say people die, I mean emotionally you’re super crushed and destroyed and the crowd had a bad time. Awful. You recalibrate so you bomb less frequently, but as recently as a few months ago I did appearances that I would pay more money out of my family’s food budget than would be responsible to make tapes of that disappear.
Speaking of tapes—how do you feel about audience members who record your shows and upload them to YouTube?
Anybody who does that is a piece of shit. Emphatically. Because what a comedian’s trying to do is the funniest stuff they can, and when they deem it ready—not anyone else; not you, Rick from Lancaster. You don’t determine that, I do. And then when I’m ready, I put it out and then people who haven’t seen me live get a feeling of what it’s really like, then they come out and see me next time. So basically, if you tape a comedian’s set, you’re not a malicious asshole, but your actions are saying, “I don’t want this person to have success and I don’t want them to get funnier, and I don’t want more people to see them.”
You tweet some pretty filthy jokes. Do you ever worry about your family reading them? Do they?
Yes, they do. My mom. My aunts. My mother-in-law. They all read them. Everyone sees it. I try to pretend, for my own sanity, that they don’t, but it’s not going to see me clean up my act. Once, my mom called me on the phone and said, “This is disgusting” and I was like, “You’re absolutely right, it really is. And I also think it’s funny.” And I tried to explain to her that I’m trying to paint with a lot of different colors, and one of them is abject, stinking filth. And that might help me with a later painting down the road. And by painting, I mean a screenplay about a doctor who has three penises or something. My paintings aren’t going to be in the Louvre.
Gimme an example.
Let’s see, yesterday [Easter Sunday] I tweeted, “I feel like if a woman doesn’t want to sleep with me, she should at least let me smell her boyfriend’s dong.” That’s so disgusting, you know what I mean? I know that’s disgusting. I don’t read that and think “Yahoo!” No. I read it and think, “That’s totally disgusting.” But great. People know what they’re going to get at this point and if you don’t, you’re going to be like “Woah!” and be horrified. Or, it will make you happy, and either one is OK with me. Because I know people use Twitter as a diversion. The best part of someone’s life isn’t reading a friggin’ tweet, ya know? They’re a silly little diversion, and if my little diversion can make them go “Hey!” or laugh a bit, that’s the best possible outcome I could hope for, so that’s why I tweet abject filth. And I think it’s funny.
1. A neck tattoo used to say “Watch out, motherfucker.” Now it says “I’d love to read you a poem about my vegan bicycle!”
2. Don’t shit where you eat. Unless you’re a starfish, whose mouth is also its anus. In that case, freak out, little monster.
3. My dog knows that when I put on Sarah McLachlan, he’s about to get a beating.
4. Now that Facebook bought Instagram, “The Social Network 2” will have to be directed by Wes Anderson.
5. Storms can be scary to kids, so I tell my son that thunder is God beating Jesus because he “forgot” to put his toys away.
6. Now that Paula Deen has revealed she has diabetes, I hope Guy Fieri will feel comfortable to come out as a Nickelback roadie.
7. Sigur Rós makes money between albums by writing “captchas.”
8. I would rather messily shit my pants while applying for a loan than mix up “your” & “you’re” in a tweet.