Ben Rosen is a stand-up comedian based in New York and a Creative for Buzzfeed.
CB: How long have you been gigging in comedy?
BR: It was actually exactly 5 years last week. Woo.
CB: How would you describe your comedy?
BR: Terrible. Just kidding. Well… sometimes. This is always the hardest question for me to answer because I’ve never liked putting myself in any specific category. I feel like that just puts limitations on what I’m supposed to do. My goal with comedy has always been to use humor to change the way someone thinks about something. In my opinion, that’s where the power of the art is.
CB: Which comedians influence your comedy?
BR: There’s so many great ones out there. Off the top of my head: Dave Attell, Chris Rock, Dave Chapelle, Mitch Hedberg. I actually saw Pete Holmes live and don’t think I’ve laughed that hard in a while.
CB: Did you always want to go into comedy?
BR: Absolutely. I’m not making this up – when I was 5 years old, my report card from my pre-school teacher said “Ben loves to tell jokes and write his own name.” I still do… on both accounts.
CB: How do you go about writing your material?
BR: I prefer to do it with pressure. Having an important show is the quickest way for me to get to the meat of the jokes. To find concepts for material, it’s about having the antenna up at all times. I space out constantly. When I think of something weird or different, I jot it down. To work out the wording of a joke – this is going to sound psychotic – I actually put my ear buds in and walk around the city talking to myself as if I’m on the phone with someone. I know that sounds crazy haha but it works. Sometimes I slip in a pause as if the other person is talking to me… add in a “yea dude, totally.” It lets me try the joke out with some energy and passion and keeps the other pedestrians from calling the cops. I need a safe space to yell and move around and get worked up. When I lived in Baltimore, I could work my bits out in the car, but now I don’t have one.
CB:As a Creative for BuzzFeed, how do you find this work influences your comedy?
BR: It helps so much. At first, I was weary about having a job like this because I thought creativity was like a battery that would need to recharge. I didn’t want to burn out during the day and have nothing left for stand-up. That’s not the case at all. The better analogy is that it’s a muscle that you work out. The more you work on it, the better you get.
CB: You perform stand-up comedy all around the U.S. How do you find different states compare?
BR: The biggest difference I’ve noticed is that audiences in major cities like LA and New York are built for speed. They want to hear your jokes and they don’t want any extra words. Smaller cities love good stories… and poop jokes. My hometown just cannot get enough poop jokes.
CB: Do you find that you have to change your material at all for different areas of the country?
BR: A little. There are some references that don’t really have the same weight when I travel around. I was surprised how few people knew what AirBnB was.
CB: Do you have a favorite venue to perform in?
BR: There’s a place in Manhattan called “The Metropolitan Room.” It’s primarily a jazz room but they do a few comedy nights. It seats about 100 people and with the low ceiling, the laughs just stack on top of each other. It’s always a fun show.
CB: What do you find the most enjoyable and frustrating parts of the comedy circuit?
BR: I don’t think I could overstate how fortunate I feel being associated with all of the impossibly talented, hardworking, courageous, brilliant people in the comedy industry. It’s really something special. Now as far as the downside goes, I wouldn’t put it in the “frustrated” category yet, but I’m definitely concerned about how few people follow comedians’ careers. People take pride in knowing a band before they become huge, but there aren’t many people who care about a working comedian until their famous. I just wish more people got to know the comics when they were young. We’re really accessible!… and funny… and we smell good.
CB: Do you find that the New York comedy scene is the most competitive city to get on the bill for or would you say other cities are more competitive?
BR: In my experience, yeah. That’s why so many people move here. Look, I was starting to get steady work at the clubs in Baltimore before I moved and it was just my first year doing it. There’s more clubs in NYC, but there’s also a lot more comics and the audiences have a low tolerance for inexperienced comedians. If you move to New York and you’re not already a household name, expect to muck around at the open mics for the next couple of years. Muck is a English term for the f word, I believe.
CB: What’s your favourite type of audience to perform to?
BR: Any audience that is willing to have some fun. I can’t stand self-righteous audiences who come to a show with their arms crossed. Dude, when did we become SO sensitive? You can feel it. Everyone is ready to pounce all over the comedians just so they can write an angry blog post and get a few twitter followers. I had one girl tell me that I shouldn’t joke about heroin. Why are you protecting heroin? You’re saying I can make fun of myself but heroin gets a pass? Fuck heroin.
CB: Have you been heckled a lot since you’ve started gigging? Do you enjoy being heckled?
BR: I think that’s a bit of a misconception. Most people don’t heckle, at least not in the way you think they do. Occasionally I’ll get some helpers. You know, people who shout something out because they want to help you finish your jokes during the pauses. It’s certainly not the best when you’re working out the kinks on a new bit, but to be honest, I love playing around with the audience. People who yell out at a comedy show usually fall to pieces when you ask them a follow up question.
CB: What advice would you give to new acts thinking of starting out in comedy?
BR: If you’re going to do it, make sure you’re really hard on yourself before you get on stage. Ask yourself if you really think people are going to laugh at those words you wrote down. Would you actually laugh out loud if you heard someone say that? Is it surprising enough? Is it clever? When you get on stage, you should expect no laughs. Know that you are going to hear silence and you’ll be happy with whatever extra you get. Also, if you get famous… please book me on a show.