Edited by: Magee Miller
Winner of The 2012 Boston Comedy Festival Paul Oddo is regular in New York’s alternative scene. During his first year doing comedy Paul Oddo tied with Sam Demaris for Funniest Person in 2002’s Houston’s Funniest Person Contest. A coin was tossed and Sam won that year.
Nominated Best Local Comedian by The Houston Press in 2006, Paul Oddo is comedian that even the most jaded local comedians love to hear. Paul took some time off from shows & self promotion to catch up and tell us what he’s been up to.
Where are you now Paul?
I am in New York right now. I actually found an apartment and it’s downstairs from Joe’s place. We live in a 3 family house, a 3 floor thing. I was crashing on his couch for a while. Actually, I was crashing on a lot of people’s couches for a while.
I was homeless for almost seven months. I was moving around all over the place and crashing wherever I could. I stayed on Joe’s (comedians’ Joe List and Jason Kantor’s) couch for a majority of that time. Under their apartment there is a basement. The landlord was remodeling and someone moved out. “Who’s going to live here?” I asked. “We don’t know.” “Well, I’ll take it.”
My rent here is $650.00, that’s half the rent. It’s a two bedroom apartment and it’s twice that. It’s a real steal! Like all New York apartments, it has its weirdness. I basically had to do a lot of handyman work myself.
How many jobs are you holding down right now?
Three, yeah, I’ve got three bar jobs. I work at a little wine beer bar close to where I live in Astoria, Queens. It’s only 10 minutes from my house on foot. So I walk there. And then I work at a crazy NYU sports bar called 3 SHEETS. It’s just like shots and bombs and of all kinds – a high volume place. Finally, I bartend at the new UCB theater in the East Village – the UCB East.
So performance-wise, which are you doing more of? Standup, improv, or a combination of both?
Mostly standup because that’s my life. I’m doing more and more Improv because I’ve got a couple of scholarships that they have given me. Which is great because that’s several hundred dollars I didn’t have to spend. I’m taking some free classes, which is wonderful and I didn’t have to intern or anything. “We like what do you do. So we are giving you some classes.”
So in New York, you’re standing in line like everyone else with their hands raised up in the air trying to get attention from club owners. If they don’t know you, they just don’t know you. I was so tired of waiting, I’m trying to produce my first CD, my first album at the end of the year. I want to record my first hour. I’m probably going to do that up here in New York. But I need to get several long sets under my belt so I can organize material and get all my pieces where I want them to be.
Has anything else about your process changed?
I record everything now. I always record my sets. Every set I do in town. I did a set last night. I have another one tomorrow. I have like 3 sets next week. So I’m doing as many sets as possible.
I’ve been onstage more in the past six or seven months than I have probably in the last 3 years. I’ve been just cramming that much as possible. I’m consciously trying to overload I want to do as much as possible. I examine everything and listen to it, cut the fat and I keep writing.
I’ve been doing stand up now for approximately 10 years or so. So I’ve been at it a long time and it’s always been trying to get to the place where I feel like I am at now. Where I am proud of the things I do on stage.
I can confidently say I like what I do onstage, I’m myself and I don’t second guess myself anymore. I wanted to let the improv blood mix with the stand up blood. And now it’s come to life. I am eager to see the next stage of it. I’m ready to put something down and have it for posterity.
What made you decide to do improv?
Becoming comfortable on stage was always my problem because I was just working from a script. My first four years I was just orating. There was no improvisation in my act whatsoever and that would be it. If anything weird happened or if someone were to heckle me, I didn’t know what to do. I had to fix that problem in order to grow. That was why I initially took improv classes just to help with my standup. I wanted to be looser.
I worked with a comic in Houston who was very animated. Just intense onstage and just crazy with anything. He’d go off on different tangents, something happened or he felt something. And I asked him “Are you that way or did you have to educate yourself to become that way?” And he said that he did improv before he did standup. He made the transition that way, so it gave him more freedom with himself onstage to not be inhibited at all. And I was like, so that’s what I need to do.
Who is the comic you worked with that had the improvisation background that suggested you try it? Was it Scott White?
No. Actually, I’ve never said who it was when I tell the story because it’s such a silly thing. It was Dane Cook. I was working with him at the Laff Stop right before he exploded. And I was watching the way he works. This guy is crushing. There’s always a debate whether or not Dane Cook is funny or not. But there is nothing you can say about whether or not he is a good entertainer. He holds the crowd and he’s got a couple of sold out shows at Madison Square Garden to prove it.
His energy and stage presence impressed me. I needed to figure out how to get some of that. And I just talked to him for a while after one of our shows on a Friday, killing time waiting for the next show. So I struck up this conversation. “So you’ve got this style. Where did that come from?” And that was when he told me he did improv for quite a while before he started doing standup. Of all the people in the world, it is very odd. I never say his name when I tell the story because it feels like I’m name-dropping. It makes the story almost silly, but that what was.
So what made you decide to move to New York?
I saw that Upright Citizen’s Brigade offered classes in the summer. The Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre or UCB Theatre is an improvisational theatre and associated improv and sketch training center. I came up to New York for a week in the summer to take this intensive class that was 5 days straight. And that was the reason I started doing it.
Along the way I fell in love with New York and I fell in love with Improv also as an art form. After doing improv for 6 of the 10 years that I have been doing comedy things are starting to boil. It’s just now having the effect I hoped it would have much earlier on. I guess I’m just like a slow cooker. I wait for it to be just right. Now I feel like it’s just getting there. It’s ready to happen now. I’m ready with all my material that I love.
What got you into comedy?
One day a friend took me to a comedy show for my birthday. It was Joe Rogan. I was in the audience and just watching this guy just crush. Everyone was just folded over laughing and going crazy. I stopped watching Joe and started watching the audience. I was like, I want do to this to people. I want to do this to an audience. I started to go to the open mics and watch people kill and eat it. I think I went to the open mics for about 3 or 4 weeks before I worked up the nerve to do it. So that was a natural progression of something I wrote a while back and this cartoon I drew of something weird that I saw that I thought up. And I will just conform that to a standup setting. I wrote it all out. Put it on index cards. Did the open mic with my baseball hat pulled over my eyes. 1:30 in the morning. And it was fun, but it was terrifying. You get that first laugh reaction, oh yeah this is my drug. This is the thing I need.
What do you think about your brother Christopher doing standup?
Is he doing more standup? I thought he was doing just improv.
Nope he is doing both.
Well, that’s the way to do it. I think everybody should do that. If you’re involved in comedy at all, you should do both, if not more, eventually sketch too. Really get all your muscles working.
I think that’s great. We had that improv troupe together and he’s just so funny. Him and my other brother Alex are way funnier than me. They make me laugh.
How does the New York Comedy Scene Compare to the Houston Comedy Scene You remember?
The thing about New York and Los Angeles that I can tell, you get there and feel like you are ready to play at the high stakes table. You can win anywhere. You can hit the jackpot in Houston and the same jackpot in New York. But your odds of winning are higher in New York. And they are higher in Los Angeles. And by being there you are in a position to be lucky and a position to win.
Let me give you an example. I applied to the New York Comedy Festival last year. They said, since we don’t know who you are, No. Okay fine you got to swing and you strike out a lot. As it happens in the New York Comedy Festival, Totally J/K was one of theirs. It shows. So they’re doing a “Best of Totally J/K” at the UCB Theater with Dave Hill, Aziz Ansari, John Mulaney and all these other people at the show. As so it happens, I was bartending at UCB that night. They were doing the show and it was an enormous event within the festival. So someone was late, I think Aziz Ansari had to drop out at the last minute. And Noah Garfinkel runs out to the bar and comes up to me. “Hey man! We had a drop out. Can you go up now? And I said “Yeah”. I just put my bar stuff down and went up there and closed the show and had an amazing set in front of three hundred people. The energy was just insane.
Inadvertently, by being there, I was not only able to be a part of a festival I was rejected from. But I went up on one of their premier flagship shows and closed it.
Immediately after that Comedy Central started to follow me on Twitter. I met all these people and got all these connections. Nothing really monetarily came out of it. But you meet people and they get to see you.
If I hadn’t been there this would not have happened. If I had applied to the festival and didn’t show up to work that day I would not have not I would have never been a part of it. Now I can put New York comedy Festival on my resume. I did this premier show and it was just happenstance.
That’s the type of thing that could happen in New York. I did not get a writing job. I met some people. They saw me and they liked me. Like a sailboat you don’t go on a straight path, you go in a zigzag formation to your point. That was a big stride for me. It was just one of those things. If I was not ready and if I was not there, I could not have done it. That was a pivotal moment in my New York City stand up life. That was a big thing the stuff that happens, the stuff you hope that happens.
But there are a lot of people here. There’s a lot of people doing it and working really hard. The good thing about it is it inspires you and pushes you more than I was pushed in Houston or somewhere else where there is not as many people putting as much work into it.
I think that’s the problem with not doing comedy in New York or LA is you are not doing it and interacting with other people that are doing it, you have a little less inspiration at your finger tips. It’s not encouragement. You don’t get encouragement here, if anything they push you down and make you question yourself. You get to see what everyone is working on while they are working on it. It’s like being in a community of artists. You see all the people that were good enough to leave their own towns that came here. At least they are working with a level of confidence maybe an almost kamikaze behavior that inspires you. These guys are all psychos just like me. They all threw their lives away. They live in a rat hole in the ground just like me. And they are working four or five jobs just to do this thing. They are making any money at this thing either. And they got that same psychotic determination that I want. That’s what I want to do.
I like foaming in the mouth ambition and energy and trying as hard as I can. It feels really good to do that. Because your rewards are higher. It doesn’t mean it is better.
I love Houston. I think if I were living in Texas, I would be living in Austin. I think that is where the eye of the industry is focused on. That’s unfortunate, but that’s just the way it is.
The Houston comedy scene, I don’t know what it is now. You guys, Houston comics are like Ronin warriors. You are a bunch of samurais without a home. I think it’s awesome you guys are keeping the fire going, because that’s very impressive. I think it’s awesome.
What do you feel is the difference between alternative comedy rooms and mainstream comedy rooms is?
Alternative comedy in my opinion is as much a definition of performance venue. A place where people don’t have to buy two drinks and the ticket prices are not jacked up real high. That’s not really a traditional format for stand up comedy. The traditional Comedy Clubs sort of price themselves out of people’s interests. Audience members feel like they are getting screwed all of the time. Alternative venues are little more casual. You’re just going to go and see a show and if it sucks. Well it only cost you five dollars or it was free and we didn’t have to buy two drinks. It’s less of a gamble for the audience member to go to one of these alt venues. It is more of a cool underground lesser-known type thing.
All comics in the alternative rooms want to work in the clubs. And all the guys working the clubs want to work the alternative rooms.
The reason being the grass is always greener on the other side. The crowds at the alternative rooms are more giving. To the comics they seem to want you to win a little bit more.
In the clubs, the audience members are kind of douchey a lot of the times. A lot of the times they are tourists or they’re drunk or they just walked in or it is a bachelorette party that interrupts the show. At UCB you don’t get that, if you do, they will escort them out. At a lot of the clubs, you’re on your own. It’s the big leagues, deal with it! There is some value in that you should have to deal with it.
The best way to look at it is you should be doing both. You should be doing everything. You should not be a specialized thing that works in only one environment. You should be able to move in and out of all these worlds. You should have your eggs in multiple baskets with all this stuff.
You want to be ready to do everything. Someone is like, “Hey, we are filming this sketch, do you have any experience?” Why yes, yes I do. I’ve done that. “We are doing a live stage sketch, do you have any acting experience on stage?” Yes, of course.
You should always be able to say yes and do any room, anywhere, anytime. That takes a lot of practice. You’ve got to practice. I like them both. I like to work in comedy clubs, I’m trying to get in the back door with those. I want them to ask me, I don’t want to ask them.
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