Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Interview with Collin A. Bullock

Collin A. Bullock is a hard working Chicago comedian with much to show for it. He co-hosted Chicago’s first Open Mic Fest with Monte LaMonte. He co-produces Kick PunchStand Up showcase on Friday nights at G-Mart Comics in Logan Square with David Rader and Danny Maupin. He performs in Chicago and all over the Midwest, and he also hosts the Awkward Moments comedy podcast where he interviews interesting people about their lives, their habits, and their thoughts. His guests have included: a competitive Pokemon player, Ale Syndicate brewery owner, a food blogger, a hypnotist, an inmate, a reality show contestant, a polyamorous couple, and many more including Marc Maron, host of the WTF podcast.

Collin was nice enough to take the time to talk shop, share tales from his dark past, give advice to other podcasters, and share his wisdom on dealing with jealousy, negativity, and criticism - all before the Fun Simulation 2000 mic at Reed’s Local Tap.


COMEDY OF CHICAGO: Why do you think comics tend to get so hurt when other comics get things that they didn’t get?

COLLIN BULLOCK: It drove me crazy when I was starting comedy, but it’s all ego. I think the ego is detrimental to your creative process - at least it has been for me. Which is weird because it’s CRUCIAL to have this ego in order to pursue this thing and say, “I’m going to get up on stage, and tell jokes, and make people like me!” That takes ego. And then to say, “I should be paid to do this—I should be paid a living wage to do it!” That is a ridiculously egocentric thing. So, we all have egos to some degree, and it sucks! I find it hard to believe when someone says, “Oh, I’m totally cool with this person getting things instead of me!” [laughs] I guess you just have to learn to deal with it over time.

COC: How about when younger, less experienced comics pass you up? Has that happened to you? How do you deal with that?

CB: [laughs] Oh sure! I have been doing stand up for 5 years, which isn’t very long in the grand scheme of things. But, in the 5 years that I’ve been here, I’ve seen literally, maybe 100 people become “The Hottest Thing in Chicago” for a brief time. I’ve seen them go from nothing to the height of the fucking game. But, I’ve also seen them drop off, I've seen them quit, I've seen them fade away. What can you do to deal with it? What I did for a very long time—which did NOT work—was to get bitter and resentful, be a passive aggressive dick to them, and say things like, “Cute set, asshole! All the unpaid showcases love you!” [laughs]

COC: Comics aren’t supposed to worry about other comics’ accomplishments, but how do you not??

CB: This is a problem that I run into with jealousy and how much it consumes me. But when I DON’T do sets, I start to become more obsessed with how other comedians are doing and less obsessed with what I’m doing or could be doing. It’s easy to lose sight of the reason why I do stand up.


COC: How has your mindset about jealousy and negativity changed over the years?

CB: If you’ve been properly humbled, what you have to realize is 2 things: 1) There will ALWAYS be people getting things that you want. That will NEVER go away, no matter what you get, no matter what level you get to. It will never fucking stop, and it will always piss you off. 2) It doesn’t even matter. The person who everybody says is “The Biggest Thing in the World” will either quit or move. You just can’t sustain all that hype. Hype is just a show business thing—to rush and suck the dick of whoever is being hyped up. It runs on hype.

COC: Elaborate on how you were “properly humbled”.

CB: I’ve seen people that I was a dick to get on television and achieve all sorts of things. Which is one of the most humbling things in the world! All that stuff will fuck with your head, but when I am actually up on stage and I’m making a room full of strangers laugh, I’m immediately reminded that, “Oh, THIS is what matters!”

COC: What is it like to finally get the things that all the comics want?

CB: First of all, in my opinion, Comedians You Should Know is probably the best show in Chicago. All the guys who run it are great, and it’s a great fucking show. But for years, it drove me crazy that I couldn’t get on that show. Then, I got on it, I had a great time, I had a great set—those guys run an awesome fuckin’ room! But afterward, I got in my car and I did a shitty open mic, and I was just a regular person. It’s just another set, ultimately. And same goes for whatever clubs I wanted to work—I wanted to get into Comedy Club on State in Madison for a really long time, and I finally did, but once again, it’s JUST another set.

COC: How true is it that all comedians do comedy out of insecurity?

CB: Some people get into comedy for reasons of insecurity. The cliche of comedians is that they’re insecure and they’re troubled. Which is not universally true, but it’s true more often than not in my experience. I once got in a fight with an old girlfriend who told me, “You will never make enough people laugh to make your dad like you.” [laughs] And I was like, “Ah, fuck you...for being right!” [laughs]


COC: Before comedy, what was school like for you?

CB: I was NOT a particularly good student. I had a very atypical high school experience. I was never very social, I was just always sad. I never liked things. I was just weird and mopey. [laughs]

COC: What things did interest you?

CB: Eh, just eating. Eating and napping. [laughs]

[laughs] You were an old man as a child.

[laughs] Pretty much, I was an old man at age 9. [laughs] Na, but I liked comic books, I liked rock ‘n roll once I discovered it, I did theater, but then I got expelled my junior year of high school...


COC: Damn, how did you get expelled?

CB: I wrote a story in creative writing class about how I wanted another student to die from explosive diarrhea. And it was all jealousy, which is what I’ve come to realize about my life. Jealousy has crippled me and it is something that I’ve dealt poorly with. My jealousy in other peoples’ success has been very negative to my stand up career. And this thing in high school happened all because this kid got some job at a video store that I really wanted to get a job at. I wasn’t going to hurt anybody, I was just fucking around in creative writing class, but the teacher found it and it was right around Columbine... It was fucked up. I got expelled, and my parents sent me to military school.

COC: Wow. What was military school like?

CB: It was not an academy run by the United States military—I call it a military school to just explain it easier. It was very disciplinary—in fact, it was part of a family of schools that were later shut down for child abuse. But, the weirdest part wasn’t being at that school, it was being removed from the normal social aspects of high school. I think it fucked me up socially, because those are very formative years: Learning how to socialize, learning how to talk to girls, learning how to create social structures. And I didn’t really have that. I already naturally isolated myself, so to have this forced isolation, I feel like it’s affected me for the rest of my life.

COC: Damn.

CB: And let me tell you what they did to send me to military school—it’s an amazing story!

COC: What happened?

CB: My parents didn’t tell me I was going to military school. They hired two guys to kidnap me. These two heavy set Italian guys came to my bed at 4:00AM, handcuffed me, threw me in the back of a car, and drove me to Idaho. They literally had me kidnapped at age 16. It was terrible. Those places have been since closed down for a reason. So, I feel I still have a bit of resentment from that.

COC: Holy shit! What was it like being all the way out in Idaho?

CB: Idaho had a lot of doomsday preppers and anti-government folks because you were SO far away from anything. They sat us down and shaved our heads—and I remember one kid was like, “I don’t cut my hair!” And they were like, “Great! We’ll do it for ya!” And they held him down and did it. The people running it I feel were morally bad human beings. A few were good, but most of them were sadistic who wanted to put power over children. My therapist once told me she thought I had PTSD because of it, and maybe I do, I dunno.


COC: How often are you in therapy?

CB: I see a therapist every week. I am medicated with anxiety medication—Paxil, which I think works pretty well.

COC: How do you trust opening up to a complete stranger like that?

CB: Different therapists are different. I feel that you should go to different ones until you find the one that’s right for you. And you’re vulnerable with them because that is what they fucking do—that’s what they know how to do. If they are any goddamn good, they know how to create an environment where you do feel open with them.

COC: How has therapy helped your comedy?

CB: I think I’m better on stage when I am in a more comfortable place. People will say, “The miserable ones are the best at comedy.” And yes, that’s true for some people. But for me, if I’m truly miserable and at the height of depressive episode or a terribly manic episode, I am not focused enough and not present enough in the moment to construct a good thing.


COC: When did your interest in comedy come about?

CB: My earliest comedy memory when I was 9 when I went to New York City with my mom to visit my aunt. We stayed in the World Trade Center as a matter of fact, because it had a hotel. We went to Caroline’s Comedy Club—my mom always loved stand up. We saw Jeffrey Ross and Patrice O’Neal. It was crazy! And when we left that night, my mom told me, “I would be happy if you were a stand up.”

COC: Who are some of your comedy inspirations?

CB: The biggest inspiration for me in the past few years has been Pete Holmes. And I didn’t know much about him until I opened for him in Madison—humble brag! [laughs] He told me that I had the best 9/11 joke he’s ever heard. And that filled my heart 10 billion times over. He was the nicest human being in the fuckin’ world. I love that guy. It was so inspiring to watch him do comedy and see how free and in the moment he was.

COC: What do you think it takes to be able to “find your voice”?

CB: You have to look for the moments that make you happiest on stage. You get in that pocket, you get in that groove, and you just feel it. And that’s when the audience is laughing the most as well. It’s when you feel the most free.


COC: The places that refused to book you, did they let you know why?

CB: Ya know, there are places that won’t book me because they say I don’t do enough personal comedy. That, and because I’m an asshole and I’ll go on Facebook & Twitter rants. [laughs] One person once told me, “I don’t want to book you because I don’t know what you’re trying to do. I don’t know what you’re going for. I don’t know who you are as a person.” They told me that, “You as a human are funny with interesting ideas, but you as a comedian are a human pretending to be a comedian.” Which I found to be very interesting and made me rethink what I’m doing.

COC: How do you handle such criticism?  

CB: Whenever people criticize my comedy, I try to keep an open mind because I don’t want to be the asshole who’s like, “I’m fuckin good! I’m perfect!” I agree that I have a number of problems in comedy, but I don’t feel that personal comedy is inherently better than impersonal comedy. But at the same time, it is something that I’d like to do more of and something that I am experimenting more with, to be more open on stage. It’s an interesting challenge that I think would be more cathartic.

COC: How do you not get offended when receiving criticism?

CB: It’s one of those things where if someone has a criticism of my act, it’s very easy to construct a narrative of, “Fuck you! You’re holding me down!” Even if you don’t agree with the criticism, at least think about it. And you don’t necessarily have to do personal stuff, just find what groove that you want to do. Louis C.K. and Steven Wright are both brilliant and genuine comedians who are both being their genuine selves, but they’re both radically different.


COC: How long were you doing comedy when you started this?

CB: About 2 years. I started it somewhere around 2011. And I listen to a lot of podcasts. Obviously, WTF was the biggest of that time—still is. I enjoy talking, nonstop. [laughs] And so it was just the notion of, “Oh here’s an art form where you can just talk!”

COC: You interview a lot of random & interesting people on the podcast. What kind of people would you like to interview that you haven’t yet?

CB: I would love to interview a theoretical physicist—just because I’m not good at math, and to me it just sounds cool. [laughs] I’d love to interview a religious leader, like a priest or a rabbi or something. But whenever I email people to be on the show, I think the title “Awkward Moments” makes them think that I’m going to make fun of them or something. [laughs] Like, I’d love to interview a scientologist, man that would be interesting.

COC: What advice do you have for comics who are trying to start their own podcast?

CB: Have some sort of structure. People start thinking that podcasts are just people bullshitting. And, that’s not really the case. The WTF podcast is an interview show. They’re not just shootin’ the shit, there is a structure to it—which is following their career path. Comedy Bang Bang I love a lot, which is an interview/improv show with characters and humor, and there’s a point of view to it. What it comes down to it is this: Nobody really gives a shit about other open-mikers who just make each other laugh for an hour and a half. There should be a structure to it.

COC: How do you think the podcast has helped your stand up?

CB: In the beginning of the podcast, I talk and do an intro. It’s sort of an account of what I like to do in stand up where it’s just me and a microphone and I have to bring something worth saying—and whether or not it’s something you want to listen to, I leave that up to the listener. But, it forces me to be creative and it forces my brain to work in a way that it should when you’re writing in a notebook and forming thoughts.


COC: Advice for other comics?

CB: The biggest inspiration to my comedy has been Facebook ‘Likes’, I’ve gotta get more of those... [laughs] No, but here’s what I would say as far as advice forreal: Get on stage as much as possible because the thing that is the most in your control, is your ability to do stand up. GET ON STAGE AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE. And, just because you’re funny in front of your friends doesn’t mean you’re funny in front of an audience who has no idea who you are. It’s great getting up on stage in front of your friends and making them laugh, but you have to get in front of an audience who has NEVER seen you before. You gotta do that. And also, be honest with yourself.

COC: With all the negativity you have experienced, how do you think you have matured through it?

CB: I’ve been an asshole, and I can’t be that asshole anymore. I cannot fucking do it. I have problems and I’ve said mean things about enough people for them to NOT book me on their shows, and I just cannot be a fuckin’ asshole anymore. But, I have ALWAYS taken full responsibility for being an asshole. Even though that doesn’t mean much because you’re still an asshole! [laughs]

COC: What are your future goals in comedy?

CB: The goal is to just be myself. That notion of stripping that artifice away and just being myself. I think it’s something I am getting closer to. It’s one of the reasons I feel that I’m better and much funnier when riffing and improvising as opposed to when I am doing prepared material. It’s that fear and insecurity of feeling, “People aren’t ALWAYS laughing, therefore I’m failing and everybody hates me!” Which results in me experimenting less than I should be. It results in me creating more jokes, and I don’t know if I’m necessarily a “joke guy”. And I love a well crafted joke, like Anthony Jeselnik or Mitch Hedberg, and I love that style but I’m not convinced that that’s me. I think I’m more of just a “weird ideas” guy. [laughs]

COC: Final thoughts / words of wisdom:

CB: I think I have a lot of anger and a lot of problems that have definitely hindered my stand up comedy career. But, in terms of the bitterness and the anger and the jealousy that I’ve had, the way these things have hindered me the most is that they've given me something to obsess on instead of my act. Every time I have gotten upset about someone or something, I’m not creating. So you have to think, “What are your goals in this thing?” And my goal is ultimately, to make people laugh. I want to create things that are funny. And I want to do that through a variety of mediums.

Staff 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.