Interview: Ari Shaffir – This is Not Happening
‘It makes you think, “wow! Shit’s about to be different from here on out”’
This article is from 2015.
Ahead of his Fringe debut, American comic Ari Shaffir has a poke at politicians, joke thieves and ‘militant liberals’ while trying not to make himself ill over the very notion of a comedy award
How well did satire do under Obama? And would another President Clinton be good or bad for American comedy?
I don’t give a shit about politics. It’s all garbage run by garbage rich people to benefit other garbage rich people. I don’t vote and I don’t follow who’s trying to rule us. The revolution is coming. Until then, I’ll just watch Game of Thrones.
The British are overly keen on saying that Americans don’t do irony. Can you offer a piece of evidence that blows that theory out of the water?
What are you talking about? The entire alt-movement was based solely on irony. There’s nothing genuine about it. I kind of hate it for that. Any of Silverman’s stuff. Also, I don’t really know what irony is. But who gives a shit about irony. I’d rather hear what a comic actually feels and hear it in a funny way.
Bill Hicks or Denis Leary?
Overrated or a thief? I guess Hicks even though he wasn’t funny. I’d at least rather have originality.
Are American comedians bothered about winning awards?
Do we even have awards here? I got an award for Most Improved Player for volleyball in tenth grade that I cared about a lot. But the idea of giving awards for art is kind of sickening to me. I have a running daydream about winning an Oscar and giving my speech about how ridiculous it is to rank art. And then I’d call them all sycophants and leave the statue at the podium as I walked away.
What will Trevor Noah need to do to maintain The Daily Show’s success and reputation?
You gotta remember that The Daily Show predates Jon Stewart. So he’s really just maintaining Stewart’s success and reputation. And I have no idea. That show is good but it’s all about politics and that stuff bores me so it’s hard to get past all the references I know nothing about. Trevor’s a cool guy, though. My guess is that it’ll be shaky the first year or two as people compare him to his predecessor and then he’ll carve out his own following and people will forget from whom he took the show over. That’s what happened with Conan. That’s what happened with the American version of The Office.
Tina Fey or Sarah Silverman?
Silverman. Stand-up over TV every time.
How healthy is the state of live comedy in America? What should be done to improve it?
I think it’s very healthy now. With the proliferation of podcasts, it’s bred a really comedy-savvy audience. Comics are looking out for each other. And with YouTube, new comics have access to almost everything ever recorded instead of just the stuff they happen to see on TV. I think it’s growing leaps and bounds right now. The only threat is a growing pushback from militant liberals who seek to destroy free expression as they look to limit the speech of anyone who has feelings they find objectionable. It makes comics tentative to push boundaries and freely talk about the thoughts in their heads. That part is terrible for development. But the landscape is a wonderland of creativity right now, otherwise.
Do Americans generally welcome the likes of uppity Brits (John Oliver, Tracey Ullman and Ricky Gervais for three) coming over there and stealing all your jokes?
Did those guys steal jokes? I don’t remember anything about that. That Oliver show on HBO is amazing, though. Did you see his Snowden interview? Wow. Also, with a growing internet, boundaries become less relevant. If I’m a college kid, I can just as easily find a comic on another coast as I can in another country. So we don’t look at those guys as Brits coming over here as much as we do just additions to the comedy landscape. Sacha Baron Cohen and Will Ferrell are just two comedy movie stars. Nobody cares too much about their accents.
Curb Your Enthusiasm or Seinfeld?
Oh, man. That’s the toughest one yet. I guess I’d have to say Curb. Only because Seinfeld is now starting to seem dated. And when you look back after you’ve seen Curb, you realize that Larry David was the clear creative force behind both shows. I like real, though. And Curb is so much more based in a real world than Seinfeld was. So it makes me laugh way harder.
Billy Connolly is widely regarded as the man who helped pave the way for modern British stand-up comedy: who would you pinpoint as doing the same in America?
I don’t know. Most people would probably say Richard Pryor. Some people would say it’s Lenny Bruce because he was the first one not doing schtick. But I say it’s Sam Kinison. If you watch his Young Comedians Special, you can see the change coming. He’s on the show with Saget and Bob Nelson and some other guys who are just doing jokes. And then this guy comes out with a head full of rage and truth and it makes you think, ‘wow! Shit’s about to be different from here on out’. And that (to me) is the birth of full truth on stage. When you see Burr or CK now, you can see a clear line to Sam. I don’t see that same line to Pryor, who talked a lot about race, or Lenny Bruce who really just tackled taboo subjects but didn’t share himself much at all. But I don’t know what I’m talking about really. Of those three, Kinison is the only one whose work I know. Pryor I know a little and Bruce I’ve just seen clips.
Ari Shaffir: This is Not Happening, Pleasance Dome, Bristo Square, 0131 556 6550, 8–30 Aug (not 10–12, 17–19, 24–26), 11pm, £10–£12. Previews 6 & 7 Aug, £6.