“You picked a nice spot for this interview, dude. Even the bathroom is nice, you should check it out when we’re done.”
I smile and nod, trying to decide whether or not to tell Scott that I peed before he got here.
So far, so good.
I met Scott Sharp over a year ago at the Hard Rock Cafe in Philadelphia. He was opening for another comedian that I was interviewing that night. Scott gave a great performance, shot the breeze with me about movies, and let me eat his steak when he didn’t want anymore. An all around great guy that I was sure I’d never see again.
Fast forward to June, 2015. I’m interning in New York, and going to a free comedy show, Hot Soup every Tuesday with my then-girlfriend who would leave me in July. Hot Soup is the best show in the whole city, it features the very best selection of up-and-coming comedians, as well as old pros polishing new material. The week I saw Scott there, the usual comedy space was flooded because of a storm, so all the comedians had to perform almost right up against the bar. I recognized Scott immediately, but wasn’t sure how to approach him. He was sitting in the comedian corner, looking both relaxed and focused.
“Scott? Scott Sharp?”
He looked up at me and, to my surprise seemed to recognize me.
“My name’s Jason. I met you about a year ago…”
“Right at the Hard Rock show? In Philly!”
Once I knew he remembered me, it felt like we were old friends.
Scott killed it on stage, roasted a heckler, and later, accepted my friend request on Facebook. I waited the gentleman’s three days and shot him a message asking for an interview.
“So when did you first realize you wanted to do stand up comedy as a career?” I knew as soon as I asked it that he’d answered this question a million times before. “Oh man. I’ve got to do the short answer for these, I don’t feel like these are ever interesting.”
When Scott was a kid, he saw a Chris Rock special and knew that he wanted to try comedy. He gathered his neighbors into his backyard and performed live on his trampoline. In college he studied speech communications before switching to a degree in theater.
Scott’s first stand up show as an adult was at a documentary that his then girlfriend’s parents were doing about women’s purses. He did a whole set about women’s purses that “went pretty good actually”. His next big show was in a club called Comedy Works in Denver. Each spot at the show was highly coveted. Scott called in twelve weeks in a row before he finally got to perform.
“So were you like, super nervous your first time?” I asked. “Not really, because I’d done so many plays in college, and I guess you do way more quote-unquote embarrassing things doing plays than in stand up. I was always way more nervous to do Shakespeare than to do stand up”
After auditioning for Romeo and Juliet, he was originally given the part of The Friar, a major character with “a mic dropping monologue at the end.” He hated his experience on that show.
“In the read through, I was so bad that I couldn’t get through the monologue. I had no business doing something like that. The director demoted me and made someone else the friar, and by default I got Lord Capulet.”
It didn’t take long for Scott to realize that theater was not the route he wanted to take.
“It became painfully obvious after a while that I just hated theater. It just got really old not saying the words I wanted to say.”
The Next Level
The interview setting I’ve chosen proves itself to be not as great as its cool bathrooms led us to believe, as a train sped by overhead, shaking the table and largely drowning out Scott’s answers.
I ask Scott who some of his favorite up and coming comedians in the business are now, but he can’t give me an answer for fear of leaving out anyone in the circle of comedians he likes and/or hangs out with. He does mention that many of the comedians around him are looking for that one thing to take them to the next level. Whether it be a TV show, or a movie, a special, etc. All of his friends are on the cusp of blowing up. In his words, “they’re just looking for that one thing to grab on to.”
“What are you looking to grab on to?” I ask. A train passes by, rattling the cafe and giving him a chance to think. “That’s a good question. I filmed a pilot for MTV about 6 months ago and haven’t heard anything.”
Later I found out that his part in the project was described as “an annoyingly optimistic Taco Bell employee”. He says that these are the types of roles he’s usually offered.
“But at this point, I just want to keep doing stand up close to every night of the week and getting better and getting more and more people interested in what I’m doing and try to build some type of audience.”
He seems to hesitate before telling me anything else.
“So yeah, I’d like something to just help me pop a little bit. Whether it’s getting a TV thing or I think I’d rather maybe do a podcast. Which sounds hilarious and taboo. But I can see myself doing something like radio.”
He takes a sip of his drink.
“Cut all that shit out, that sounded awful.”
“What do you want your tombstone to say?”
“I don’t want a tombstone. I want them to just take whatever organs can help somebody and then they can throw me in the dumpster. I guess it could say ‘Scott was a nice guy.’”
“If you could witness any event from the past present or future what would it be?”
“I don’t know. You answer it first.”
I tell him I’d go back and watch the French Revolution take place. Then I ramble about the working class and the guillotine like some sort of asshole. Scott nods along.
“Yeah, I think my answer would be like some great rock and roll show. Like Hendrix at Woodstock or the Beatles.” Music is Scott’s biggest passion outside of comedy. He plays the drums and piano.
“If not music then I’d go see when and how they built the pyramids. Mostly when, I wanna know when it happened. Because there’s a camp that thinks it happened like 6000 years ago and a camp that thinks it happened like 40,000 years ago.”
Scott starts shaking his head at his own answer, apparently dissatisfied. He squawks in his best stoner voice, “The pyramids, man!”
We both start laughing. Scott doesn’t seem to want to continue his train of thought, but I press on.
“So where do you stand on this “when were the pyramids built” issue?”
“I shouldn’t have come to this interview.”
“What would your podcast be about?”
“I’m not starting a podcast. Saying it out loud was too much for me.”
I have to promise Scott that I’ll chop this article up into something that sounds good and makes him sound “like a badass” before we can continue. I ask Scott another standard question, “Who are some of your comedy influences?”
He lists off Dave Attel, Norm McDonald, Bill Burr, Louis CK, and Gary Gulman as the big comedians he admires. On a broader comedy level, he says Larry David and Howard Stern. Howard is the one he talks about the most. “I think he’s a genius. I listen to hours upon hours of Howard Stern.”
“You should do the podcast then! If you’re like Howard Stern then I’d listen to it for sure.”
Scott’s reluctant to go back to talking about podcasting. It’s clear that the one thing Scott doesn’t want to come off as in this interview is a cliché. And a young comedian with a podcast is like a dalmation with spots. He answers anyway.
“Well what I wanted to do is just tell stories. I love just telling true stories.“ He cites Bill Burr as an example of someone who makes a great podcast by himself. “I just think my best case scenario… I look at guys who have a podcast that gets listened to by kind of a bulk of their audience and then they go do live shows. It’s a way to get material out to people that are into you.”
“It’s clear you’ve put a lot of thought into this, when is the podcast coming out?”
“I’m not making a podcast.”
Coming to New York
Becoming a comedian is a very unique career path. Your hours aren’t set, jobs come sporadically, you have to travel because you don’t go to the same building every day. Scott didn’t become a comedian as a full time job overnight.
When Scott first started getting paid for his stand-up he still had a full time job. He worked for a mortgage servicing company. At this company, a robot made calls to people who were three months default on their mortgage. If they picked up, it was Scott’s job to break the news that in 90 days their house was being foreclosed on.
“It was fucking awful and I did it all day. And I don’t have a good voice to say, “Ayy, sorry. Your house is getting foreclosed.” It was always sad and I hated it. So I was doing this fuck-my-life corporate work.”
That came to an end when Scott was offered the position of manager at a New York comedy club.
“I had wanted to move to New York, and I’d only been doing comedy for a year so I said definitely.”
Thus began his new full time job as club manager. At first he loved it because he got more stage time than he ever had before. It was there that he got to meet and befriend other New York based comedians and figure out his own style.
“The first year of comedy you’re so green. You don’t know what you’re doing. You don’t know what type of comedy you want to do, so you’re trying all different types and slowly you kind of figure out what you want to do up there.”
He realized quickly though that management wasn’t something he was interested in at all.
“At the beginning with the stage time it was great, then I realized that I couldn’t do this forever. I had to go to other places, I couldn’t be stuck in one type of club. But it got me out here, which was all I needed it to do.”
Life Outside Comedy (and Podcasts pt. 2)
“Who’s the funniest person you know who isn’t a comedian?”
“Growing up you meet people and it’s like, “damn that person’s funny” and either they just never wanted to do comedy or they just didn’t get the opportunity. You have to be lucky to be able to say, “I want to be a comedian,” and do it. The first kid who made me think “Damn, this kid is way funnier than I am” was this kid named Beck Olson. I switched schools and started hanging out with new kids and their funny kid was named Beck Olson. To this day, the dude is hilarious.”
“Do you still see him?”
“Yeah we’re still good buddies. I think he sells roofing in Fort Collins, CO. Please put him in the article. His brother too, Eric Olson, those two together are the funniest dudes that I’ve ever been around.”
“If you weren’t a comedian what would you want to be?”
“I think good fiction writers are something else. I really look up to like a David Foster Wallace type. Or maybe like a Major League Baseball pitcher or something. That would be badass. Everyone’s watching you at every play and you get to snarl at people. But yeah, an author living in a cabin by himself writing on a typewriter.
But more I’d like to have a radio show. Like on Sirius. Something like that where I could get there every day with a couple news stories and a youtube story and just be funny.” I point out that we keep cycling back to the topic of podcasts.
“Yeah, but when I said I wanted to start a podcast there was a voice in my head that said, ‘You sound like such a dick right now.’”
Hecklers and Bombing
The night I saw Scott perform at Hot Soup a belligerently drunk audience member kept talking loudly over everyone’s sets. Each comedian had taken their turn shutting him down whenever he got too obnoxious. Some engaged him, asking about his life and career, where he revealed himself to be a finance intern. Others shouted down at him to shut the fuck up. Shutting this guy down was a set highlight for every performer that night.
During Scott’s set, the kid got up but continued talking, and Scott addressed the rest of us.
“Is the intern just walking around right now?”
He gave the intern a chance to defend himself. The poor kid just stammered and stumbled back into his seat. “I just hope that they say something stupid. It came out before that he was an intern so that made it easy. I even went up to the host before because I figured it was going to be something I had to deal with. He was hammered and kept saying dumb stuff. I just let him talk and he just sounds really stupid.”
The next time I caught up with Scott was about a month later. He hosted a stand up competition at a Time Square comedy club, then we went for drinks. When I asked him about his podcast he was still hesitant about the idea even though he was clearly interested in it. He doesn’t want to create something cliche or boring, or anything that would be anything less than perfect. That fear of imperfection is what keeps him from going forward with many of his projects. This fear of failure is in stark contrast to his lack of fear about getting up on stage every night. The guy isn’t afraid of making a fool of himself in front of live audience, but the idea of making a shitty podcast has him frozen like a deer in headlights.
Scott isn’t necessarily afraid of making something that people don’t like. He’s afraid of making something that he isn’t proud of. Going on stage is an iterative process. A routine can be workshopped over and over. But a recorded piece like a podcast will live out there forever. Scott told me that he didn’t want something online if he would look back at it in ten years and cringe
But it’s a universal fear. It’s why I took so long to write this article. The pursuit of perfection is a flawed one. Creating involves making mistakes that you can’t undo. So after months, I’m finally posting this article, and Scott is creating his podcast in the form of a youtube story channel. And as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t matter if Scott doesn’t feel like his work is as good as it can be. As long as it’s part of the journey, we both know it’s perfect.