By Team Buzzine – Buzzine – July 18th, 2011

     A big part of the fun of being on the set of the second season of The Green Room with Paul Provenza is to see amazing comedic writers and performers hanging out as friends and talking shop as much as not… Team Buzzine corralled some of those conversations into our interview area in the VIP Room at The Vanguard in Hollywood, California so we could all listen in. In today’s episode, David Feldman and Greg Proops sat down to talk podcasts, stand-up, and improv, as well as why neither one of them could get up early each morning, not even if you paid them to…

David Feldman: You did a fantastic job today on The Green Room, and you were smoking dope. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen a comedy show on television where you were high during the show and not after.

Greg Proops: I know, wasn’t that wild tonight?

DF: How did it affect your game?

GP: I got high while I was out there, and I think Franklyn [Ajaye] got high too, and that seemed evident after a while, because the philosophizing sort of took over the show, which is an almost cliché reaction to smoking marijuana. The other one would have been if we all just put on music and stopped talking.

DF: What kind of pot do you think it was?

GP: It was medicinal marijuana, is my guess, because of its extreme potency and because of the very tidy way in which the joint had been constructed.

DF: You have a podcast now on iTunes, which is absolutely fantastic. I mean that. It’s you talking for an hour, and if you haven’t downloaded it on iTunes, turn this off and go listen to The Smartest Man in the World.

GP: You’re the first person that complimented me, and I really appreciated that because your podcast, which is The David Feldman Comedy Podcast, is so put together and written/constructed in a classic style that I love, that I am incapable of doing unless I had five other guys to f*cking force me to sit down and write. And mine, of course, is all extemporaneous. But you were the first person, after the first one, to send me any message, and I really appreciate that.

DF: You do something that very few people can do, which is just sit and talk non-stop: You had that gift; you could have been a morning personality, but that would have been death. That’s the great thing about podcasting – you can get up at a reasonable hour and not be at the mercy of program directors…

GP: You’re absolutely right.

DF: You resisted radio; you could have had a career in radio…

GP: The thing that changed was radio is almost irrelevant now. When you go on the road and you do standup, you used to go on all the radio stations, and now that’s winnowed down, and podcasting has replaced, almost, comedy albums. The Internet revolution has brought back audio comedy, and everybody has a podcast. It’s almost like having your own little radio show, but aimed at a much more specific demographic. When we used to do The Alex Bennett Show…in one of his periodic fits of quitting, they said to me, “Would you like to have the job?” And I said, “No, because you’ll fire me in three months.” And then I think Johnny Steele eventually took Alex’s job, and of course, horribly, they fired him in three months, for no reason.

DF: They asked me to do it, and I couldn’t do it. I’d get up at that hour, I’d get depressed, my brain would be fried…

GP: The hours are murder.

DF: This show, The Green Room is an interesting show, because Paul has a very big, open heart, as do you. Is that the pot, or are you an open individual? You’re a team player, you enjoy the giants… Stand-up comedy, you work by yourself but you’re a part of a team, but then you go do stuff with Drew Carey and you’re part of an improv group… When you’re on stage alone, you’re measuring your laughs. How hard is it for you when you’re with Drew Carey and when everybody else around you is getting laughs, but not you? Is a piece of you dying?

GP: Standup is a solitary pursuit, and very ego, maniacal, inward-looking… because you have to think about what you’re doing, and that, in the end, is what you can control. When people say, “Are you nervous to do standup?” which I’m sure you’ve been asked a million times, I always say, “ No, because it’s the one time you know what you’re gonna say.” Maybe not everything you’re gonna say, but you have a general drift. And in your regular life, you don’t. If you have to meet with agents or your landlord, whatever it is, you’re on shakier ground than you are on stage with the mic because I have the agenda then. In a team – and I love playing in a team – I don’t mind it at all, and I really like a group effort when it’s all directed in the one direction. When people are f*cking about and they’re not being a part of the group, that’s when groups are bad – when one person is always stepping out or not pulling their weight. I’m in a group with Ryan Styles doing improv, so it’s like being in a baseball team with Babe Ruth. He points at the fence and he hits one over. The way we were able to control our standup, Ryan Styles is able to create improv with the same proficiency and with the same specificity. Always surprising and always new, but with a f*cking craft! He was a standup originally, but he quit doing it, so I’m lucky to be on… And when I play in England with all the English improvisers from Who’s Line…, they’re magnificently intelligent people, so it’s fun and easy.

DF: In order to be great at improv, you have to be at one with everybody around you, or at least try to be…

GP: We have to listen, theoretically…

DF: Isn’t that the same with standup? Don’t you have to be at one with the audience? In many ways, aren’t they your straight man, and if you’re listening and paying attention to them, they, in a way, could be the team?

GP: Absolutely.

DF: Have you ever had a heckler who went 45 minutes with you?

GP: You mean the whole show? Once in a while… yeah. Over the years… never the whole 45 minutes, but for a good deal of the show, yes.

DF: How do you go back to your act… Because once you and the heckler connect…

GP: How do you follow yourself after you’ve been spontaneous? After you’ve showed the crowd you can come off the book, how do you go back to the book and make the book interesting? That’s the trick. I was told that years ago by Tom Sawyer, who ran Cobb’s [Comedy Club in San Francisco]. He never gave me notes, but the one thing he said to me was, “Stop talking to the crowd. You can’t follow yourself. All of a sudden, they smell your material.” And part of the craft of standup is fooling people into thinking you’re just saying this sh*t.

DF: Not necessarily…

GP: No, they want the artifice, but if you’ve just blown someone away for 25 minutes, and then you come back to: “So anyway, driving is kind of crazy…” or whatever – the mundanity of posed observations doesn’t stand up to the f*cking spontaneity of cracking some guy for 20 minutes.

DF: Right. Which is why, when you have an act like mine, which is very constipated… “Here’s a joke that I wrote! And here’s another joke that I wrote! Pay attention!” If somebody heckles me, one of the hardest things for me to learn is to take the hit and let them be mean, because if I go, “If I go to where you work and pull that…” and that gets that big laugh…

GP: You were always good at it, but you’re better at it now. When you first started, you were so much more fed up…

DF: Angry. I was very angry on stage…

GP: You were a little more interested in getting that going than dealing with the crowd. But connecting to the audience is imperative as a standup comedian. The nights that you’re not connecting to them, the nights that you’re doing jokes and they’re not getting them, and you start to grow a distaste for them because they’re not pulling it up to where you want to be, and you keep trying to get them to and they won’t…sometimes you give up a little bit, or you think: I’m not gonna throw down as hard for these people because they’re simply not making the effort. And then other nights, they’re all over you and you feel like: I’ve got to work harder to keep this groovy…

DF: To keep it going at this level…

GP: I think that the ultimate in comedy – and every comic has felt it – is when it doesn’t feel like there’s any distance between you and the audience. You’re saying things and they’re getting it immediately. There’s nothing more apt than what they say about jokes: “Do you get the joke?” Because when they get it, they immediately give back everything. It’s the crowds that sit there, and that’s when you’re like, “Okay, okay.”

DF: Islam means “surrender.” And I have found, over the years, that if you surrender to the crowd within reason… if you go up there with an agenda and you go, “I’m gonna go at this pace and do this material, and 30 minutes in I’m gonna go into…” If you go up there with a schedule, you’re screwed… If you go up there and you just surrender to the feeling and the mood and the general consensus and the pace of these people and meet them halfway, they will let you take them places…

GP: I agree. You do have to surrender, and I’ve found that a lot lately. I’ll come on too strong with a crowd or come on too hard, and really try to push what I want to do, and then you realize, like you say, you can’t. As much as you want them to compromise by laughing at everything you say [laughs], you have to compromise too and try to aim it at them or for them, rather than just going, “Well f*ck you people. I came up here to do this bit, and goddammit, this bit is…”

DF: For me, standup is a spiritual experience. I’m at one with a group of people who are all looking at me and feeding the gigantic maw that is my ego. That is a spiritual experience… [Laughs]

GP: The black hole that cannot be sated. There’s no way to fill it with the shallow affection of everyone – that’s what makes it good.

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