Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Marty DeRosa Interview!

Marty DeRosa (who leaves this week for L.A.) is a well established name in the Chicago comedy scene. His body of work is the reason why. He's a founding member of Comedians You Should Know, the hottest independently run stand up showcase in Chicago, with a #1 comedy album on iTunes. He is the creator & host of the weekly podcast, Wrestling With Depression, bringing together comedians, wrestlers (including some major super stars) and performers reconciling the creative process with the daily struggle of depression.

A fan of wrestling, Marty teamed up with professional wrestler Colt Cabana to create the WorstPromo Ever web series, which are improv wrestling sketches that are a spin off on some of the worst pro-wrestling promos. Creative Has Nothing For You is another project done by Marty & Colt, which are online sketch videos that celebrate the relationship between wrestlers and writers. On top of it all, the comedy/wrestling duo are also the creators of $5 Wrestling, an underground movement of wrestling DVDs made for anyone who wants to “enjoy wrestling on the cheap.”

Depite all his hard work and busy schedule, Marty was generous enough to spare some time to talk shop, talk wrestling, share his origin story, give advice to young comics, and grant us his wisdom.


COMEDY OF CHICAGO: What made you want to pursue comedy?

MARTY DEROSA: I remember seeing an infomercial for a comedy class where I was living in Milwaukee. And I remember being like, “Pff! These people are terrible! I can at least be funnier than them!” [laughs] So, I’d go to shows or open mics in Chicago, and I would see people and be like, “Eh, they’re not that funny...” But then I’d see somebody great and be like, “Ah forget it! Nevermind...” [laughs]

COC: What was your first time like?

MD: It was fun, because my friends were there... But then, I did it again where I didn’t know anybody, and I felt like, “Ahh man, fuck this shit!” Saying the same stuff you always hear: “Everybody knows each other!” And it’s like, “Yeah of course everyone knows each other! They see each other every night! You’re the NEW person!” Stick around a little while, and then you will be in that group. Once I figured out how everyone did this every single night, I made an effort to do it and stick with it. I started meeting people—people that I’m still friends with to this day.


What is your approach to crafting your own style of comedy?

MD: The one thing that I’ve always thought about—and this goes back to an interview with Joe Strummer from The Clash, who basically said, “We started the band that we would want to see.” I feel like that with comedy. I don’t care if somebody doesn’t like my material, because I know I do.

COC: How do you feel about comedy shows that incorporate games?

MD: There’s so many new shows now that I feel makes stand up harder—and stand up is already hard enough! We don’t need a show that’s like, “You’re gonna perform your best friend’s five minutes (of material), and then they’re gonna do yours! AND THEN you’re gonna...shave each others’ heads!!” [laughs] And yeah, it’s a good skill and a good test, but let’s put some of that effort into just having really good shows. And there are some shows where the concept is great! “7 Minutes In Pergutory”—awesome idea! “Arguements & Grievances”—awesome idea! “Comedy Secrets”—awesome idea! But then, there’s some where I’m like, “Okay, let’s just do a show.”

COC: How do you feel about comedians doing commercials? It seems to have a negative connotation on artistic merit.

MD: Listen, the way I see it...I got lots of money to do a KFC commercial and a couple other commercials, and that money is helping me move to Los Angeles. I don’t have anybody else paying my bills, so I don’t feel like my artistic integrity was compromised. If you would like to pay my rent, you can tell me not to do a commercial. Otherwise, fuck off. [laughs]

COC: Can a comic ever have enough material? It never feels like there’s enough...

MD: Ya know, you’ll look at your master list of jokes and you’ll be like, “I have ALL this material!” Then later on, you’ll look at that SAME list of jokes and go, “I have NO material!” [laughs] You’re just always looking forward. The comedian who’s headlining UP Comedy Club might be thinking, “Ah man, I wanna headline the Vic Theatre!” And the comedian who’s headlining the Vic Theatre may be thinking, “I wanna sell out the fuckin’ United Center!”

COC: Is there such thing as aspiring for too much?

MD: You should want to get better. But, I’ve seen people be obsessed with that, wanting more and wanting more—and that becomes an addiction. They’re never able to enjoy it. ‘Cause there’s never a point where they stop and go, “I’ve hit this level, so I’m finally happy. I can enjoy this.” It’ll never stop. But, I’ve also seen others who ARE happy with where they’re at. So, I try to remember my life before I did comedy, and that makes me appreciate comedy because I had a miserable life before I did comedy. Everything that is good in my life, I owe to comedy.


COC: You had a rough past, care to talk about it?

MD: When I was 21, my sister died, and then my mom died shortly after that. My sister drowned, and my mom had cancer. And I was already depressed before that—it ran in my family. So, I was dealing—or not dealing with—the death of my mom and my sister. I had a pretty solitary life: I would drink a lot, smoke a lot, and just stay inside & watch TV. My life at that point was reactive instead of proactive. Comedy was the first proactive thing I did in a very very long time. It gave me my life back.

COC: How would you describe depression?

MD: There are times where you’re riding high and everything seems great. But then, there are other times where shit isn’t going your way, and you don’t understand why because things are good. Everyone’s going, “Why are you depressed? Things that you wanted to happen are happening!” There’s no rhyme or reason, you just feel the weight of the world on your shoulders. It’s a feeling of hopelessness even though things are good.

COC: How did you not let your depression affect your comedy?

MD: I know people who are functioning alcoholics; I am a functioning depressed person. I can go to work, I can go to shows. I very rarely cancel a show because of depression. I have though, but it really has to be bad for that to happen.


COC: How did the name of your podcast, ‘Wrestling With Depression’ come about?

MD: I didn’t want to just do a podcast where it’s like, “Let’s just turn the mics on and be funny!” or whatever. I wanted to have a definite format. And I would talk to other comedians all the time about depression. There became this sort of network of depressed comedians who would all talk about this stuff and we would have some pretty interesting conversations, so I decided to make that into a podcast.

COC: How far into stand up were you before you started the podcast? Should comics be at a certain level before doing a podcast?

MD: I had been doing stand up for seven or eight years. BUT...people weren’t doing podcasts when I first started. I am ALL for people trying to do stuff. I would never deter anybody from doing anything. I think with comedians, SO many ideas never come to fruition. Either people being lazy, or just not following through.

COC: How has the podcast helped your comedy? 

MD: Doing a podcast is another way to exercise your voice. I have lots of jokes that became, from the podcast. The podcast also gives you an opportunity to make fans—they depend on those weekly episodes. And not every podcast has to be about helping people, but for me, I would have loved there to be a podcast where a guy talks about wrestling AND who is also depressed. It would have been like the big brother I didn’t have. And it all goes back to being the comedian you would want to see—be the podcast you would want to listen to.


COC: You’re a big fan of wrestling. Who were your favorite wrestlers growing up?

MD: Wrestling has always been there for me. I liked Rick Flair, The Road Warriors ‘n stuff. I remember going to a new school and instantly bonding with these kids over wrestling. And we’re still friends to this day.

COC: How would you compare comedy to wrestling? Are they similar?

MD: They are SO similar, it’s scary! Comics start at open mics; wrestlers start at shows with 10 people in the crowd. Comics may get paid in drink tickets—wrestlers don’t even get that starting out. And they’re making flyers, putting the ring together, bringing their friends & family to their shows... Whether you’re a wrestling fan or not, go to an independent show just to see how it’s done. And same with comedy, whether you’re a fan or not, just go to a show and see how they do it.

COC: How do wrestling fans feel about wrestlers like The Rock, who left wrestling to do movies?

MD: He’s definitely earned everything he’s got. He transcended wrestling. I remember watching the first SNL he hosted and he was killing it! I remember thinking, “He’s gone, that’s it.” And there’s a slogan in wrestling which is, “You get into wrestling to get out of wrestling.” The Rock is a guy who still comes back—he clearly loves it. He was just SO fucking entertaining! He had to leave.


DeRosa and founding members of CYSK
COC: With so many shows in Chicago, how did CYSK separate themselves from all the others?

MD: When we started CYSK at that time, there weren’t that many shows. There was the Lincoln Lodge, CHUC, and The Edge Comedy Club. We basically started it because we weren’t getting on any of those shows. And we felt like there was room for another show. CHUC was on Tuesday, Lodge was on Thursday & Friday. So we decided Wednesday would be the night. It’s weird to look back on it now because there’s SO many shows, but at the time, the idea was, “WHY NOT have another show?”

COC: What obstacles did CYSK run into? Was there ever any fighting & arguing in the beginning?

MD: Oh of course. We’ve had MAJOR fights—over who should go up, how long the show should be... At one point we moved our show because where we started just was not designed for comedy—too big of a room, too long of a room, and the ceilings were too high. Even when we’d have 100 people in there, it still wasn’t big enough. We had also decided to go two nights a week—Wednesday & Thursday. That was a mistake. We moved our show to The Lakeshore Theater, but then they had a change in management, so that fucked us over. When we finally got to Timothy O’Tooles, they saw how hard we were working for it, and they were like, “Okay, this is good!” We’ve really grown with that bar.


COC: A word to the wise for younger comics?

MD: I feel like the system works: You do open mics, you do well at those. Then, you do shittier showcases, and you do well at those. And then you do better showcases, and then you do some clubs, and then you get to do a lot of fun stuff. If you keep showing up, and you’re funny, other funny people will gravitate towards you. There’s nobody who’s ever started comedy and was funny, and everybody was just like, “Fuck that guy!” [laughs] That doesn’t happen. People go, “Wow, they were funny! We should talk to them!” No one kills at an open mic and then doesn’t get booked for a show. If you do great at open mics, you WILL get booked on shows.

COC: How do you balance hitting open mics AND seeing shows?

MD: That is a problem sometimes, open-mikers will get stuck in that open mic bubble—and all they know is that. And it’s great to do as many open mics as humanly possible—I’m all for that! But also, it’s JUST as important to go to shows. It’s just as important to see comedians from the city and see their polished act. It helps in SO many different ways. It helps to see how to properly run a room, it helps to see how a comic paces a set, and hopefully it’ll make you motivated and go, “Holy shit! I’m motivated by THAT person!” and then go, “Shit! I have A LOT of work to do!” [laughs]

COC: Everybody wants to be seen by bookers, get on shows, and get in clubs right away. But, is there such thing as doing these things too early?

MD: There is something to be said on being seen TOO EARLY by bookers. And you just have to learn that on your own. You have to go to a club and BOMB and go, “Oh fuck! I had NO business being there...” Because, it’s easy to feel like you’re ready. But just know that everybody at these clubs talks. Whether it’s the sound guy, or the waitress, or the guy who books, they’ll be like, “That person was TERRIBLE! Holy shit!” [laughs] You gotta just know when the time is right. You only have ONE chance to make a good first impression. Have a purpose and a meaning. If you truly want to do this, treat it like a job. Be a student of the game.

COC: What are some things that open-mic comics do that annoy you?

MD: Do a good job every time. I’m not saying don’t take any chances, I’m all for taking chances, but I would remember seeing people at open mics who waited THREE HOURS, and when their name finally got called they just were like, “Ohh mann I’m SO not ready for this...” How do you not have at least one joke you want to work on? Also, know that just because we started open mics together does not mean that you are my arch enemy or my number one competitor. It’s ridiculous to get upset over things like that. We’re competitive with the people we started with, but there’s people from ALL OVER THE COUNTRY who are “competition” as well. So maybe we should chill out on that.

COC: Advice for “the new guy” in the scene?

MD: I never forgot who was nice to me when I first started. I’m ALL for helping people, and there are a lot of people who are all for helping people. There will be a day where you are no longer “The New Guy”. It’s a right of passage when that new person does come, AND you think they’re funny, to go up to them and welcome them. Because you were that person. It is easy to be jaded and be all like, “Well no one talked to me so fuck that!” [laughs] OR, you can be cooler than that and leave this place better than it was before we came here.

COC: Final thoughts / words of wisdom:

MD: Don’t be so obsessed with what everybody else is doing. It’s SO easy to gossip—and I’m as guilty as everybody else. But just run your own race, be the comedian you want to be, and all the other stuff will kind of just work itself out. And just be cool. It’s all part of the maturation process. And yeah, maybe someone will get something, and they’re acting like they’re the greatest thing ever, but after a while they have to come back down to Earth. It never stops. When I move to Los Angeles, I will be a brand new person and it’s back to square one. But, I know what I can do. At the end of the day, it’s all about being the best comedian you can possibly be. Don’t be an asshole. Don’t be a dick. Enjoy comedy.

Contributing Writer: David Gavri
David Gavri is a stand-up comedian, writer and founder of the online comedy sites Gonzo Fame and Comedy Scene in Houston.