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Sitting down with a standup comedian: Rick Gutierrez on career, changing face of comedy

ERIN WOO/The Stanford Daily

Standup comedian Rick Gutierrez has toured on “Fluffy Breaks Even” and “Unity Through Laughter” and worked on series for Comedy Central and FUSEtv. His latest adventure? Parenting, the subject of his one-hour special, “I’m Not Mad, I’m Just a Parent,” this weekend at the San Jose Improv. The Daily sat down with Gutierrez to discuss his comic roots, the state of the comedy industry and a Nashville show where everything went wrong.

The Stanford Daily (TSD): How did you first get into comedy? 

Rick Gutierrez (RG): Comics don’t just happen. Nobody’s like, “I’m gonna be funny.” For me, basically, I was a guy from San Antonio, and I loved attention. I got it, being on stage all the time. I didn’t start until I was 31 years old, so I started very late in life, but I kind of knew this was just what I wanted to do. So at 31, I started getting on stages and doing a lot of open mics and comedy. I got my first TV show, which was amazing, ‘cause it was six months after I started comedy. And from there, everything just kind of cascaded. 

TSD: What did you do before you started comedy? 

RG: I’ve had a lot of jobs. I was good at my job, but just wasn’t good at keeping my jobs. You have to make big decisions based on that. Do you chase your dream, or do you work eight to five, support your family, do that kind of thing? I worked for city water boards, San Antonio. I went to a lot of different places, and finally one day I just gave it all up. I was working as a jury bailiff at a courthouse, and then I said, “I’m done. I wanna go be funny again, start doing comedy.” My ex wasn’t too happy with it. That’s why she’s my ex. 

TSD: Who or what would you say is your biggest inspiration as a comedian? 

RG: My grandfather, of all people. I mean, I could say the regular thing, like Carlin, Pryor, people like that, they were all influences. And some of the stuff I did, like vaudeville — Abbott and Costello, one of the funniest duo teams ever. But the person who inspired me the most was my grandfather, man. My grandfather was a migrant worker, and he’d come back and get magic tricks, and he was always just being silly. And he made me laugh all the time. And that kind of helped me build up the muscle to laugh and make people laugh. 

TSD: Are there any current comedians that stand out as influences? 

RG: I mean, one of my best friends, Gabriel Iglesias. I’ve known that guy for a long, long time, and I’m glad that he’s a very amazing and clever comic. I hope he inspired a lot of people as I hope I inspired a lot of people too. We need more Latino comics, and Gabriel — he’s smart. Me, I’m a little bit harsher. Not dirty, but I take some subject matter that’s really hard to make fun of. I think that’s what comedy is supposed to do. And some of it’s gonna be lowbrow, because that’s what comedy is, too. I’m an older comic, and I should be more inclined to take harder subject matter and make fun of it. At least that’s what I think. 

TSD: Is there any advice you would give to aspiring comedians or people thinking about going into comedy? 

RG: I teach comedy. And I tell them, you don’t know ‘til you know. You’ll find out when you get there, man. There’s a lot of guys who never thought they’d be doing comedy, and then all of a sudden they get up on stage. You don’t kill the first time; you might have your friends cheering you on, but you don’t kill the first time, or the second time, or a month, two months, three months, you don’t kill. You’re just starting to figure out who you are. And I always get comics who say, “Oh my god, I’ve been doing comedy six months,” and what did you learn? “It sucks! It’s hard!” Of course it is. Talking in front of people, gotta make them laugh. At least find some commonality between us and them that we can laugh at. That’s what comedy is. 

TSD: What do you think are some of the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome as a comedian?

RG: You’ve got to get over yourself. Most great comics, on the journey it’s about them. The business model has changed for comics, too, I think that’s the other thing. It kind of keeps a lot of people out. What we’re starting to see an influx of is these Internet stars, social media stars. It’s very competitive now. Before, it was guys that had to ply the trade; you’re an open mic-er, then you became a middle act, then you became a headliner. That was the norm, and now anybody can be funny. Put chairs in the room, anybody can be a comedian. 

TSD: Do you think the proliferation of social media is good or bad for the comedy industry in general? 

RG: It’s good if you’re really good at it. And it’s bad, because anybody looks like they can be a star. And when it comes down to the fact of the matter, this is a skill. This is an art form; it’s something you have to learn. There’s things we have to learn now, and comics don’t learn the trade like they used to.  

TSD: Was comedy something that you took courses for or something that you learned on your own? 

RG: There’s always places that you can go or comics that know comedy or guys that are income comics and have nothing better to do. Guys like me that would go to different parts of the country and go to different comedy clubs. I would have classes, I would try to teach them what I know about writing and standup. I had to grow up and learn fundamentals on my own. And being booed every now and then, I’ve had some pretty crappy nights and feeling bad about yourself and hoping the world would just cave in. But you keep on doing it. It’s like an addiction. It’s almost like a drug habit. You know it’s bad for you, but you keep on doing it. And then, after a while, you’re hooked, and that’s all you can do. 

TSD: When you’re writing jokes, how do you come up with ideas? 

RG: It’s not about jokes; you don’t write jokes. For me, I write life experiences and what they call social humor. This week, I talk a lot about how the world — it’s gonna end! I just look at things and I try to make fun of it: making light of it, making fun of it, and making sense of it all. I always thought that’s why Carlin was such a success, because he made sense of everything … They used to call him a wordmaster; he’s a wordsmith. His thing was political humor. Political humor and social humor about how the world is and how things are messed up. And he was one of the most amazing comics that I’ve ever seen in my whole life. That’s what we should be doing, but we’re not doing it anymore. 

TSD: What do you think comedy is gravitating toward nowadays?

RG: It’s hard to say, because it’s ever-changing. I do think that a lot of people’s attention spans are getting smaller and smaller, because we’re not really watching anything with substance. If you put something on social media, if it’s past three minutes, nobody’s gonna watch it. Or if they watch it, they’ll cut us off. I think that’s the biggest thing that I’ve seen so far, people’s attention spans getting so small. And for me, I’m what they call a buzzsaw comic. I literally go up there and I will beat you up for an hour. That’s what I do. I talk about things that happened to me. I just had surgery on my butthole. I’m not gonna mince words. I did! Hemorrhoidectomy. I can’t even say it, it hurts so bad. And so I’m gonna make fun of that this week. It’s 15 minutes long, but it’s hilarious. Why? Because people will eventually have something go wrong with their body, and we’re relying on something like that. This is how I expose myself to everybody. The more personal, the better. That’s what I’ve done. 

TSD: What’s your most memorable performance or show that you’ve done so far? 

RG: I’ve had nights where everything is right, and it’s like magic. Everything’s working, and everybody’s laughing, and everybody’s laughing in the right place. There’s no one specific night; there will never, ever be one specific night. Maybe a guy that’s been doing comedy five years, you’ll have that one specific night. For me, I’ve had many, many nights like that, where it’s just magic. And I’ve had horrible experiences. I was working at Nashville, and it was a crowd of about 5000. And the lady comes up to me, and she says, “Hey, guess what? While the band gets ready, we’ll serve food.” And she goes, “We’ll have you do the same thing.” And I go, “No, you can’t do that. I have to have their attention.” And she goes, “No, it’ll be fine, it’ll be fine.” So she did it. Nobody was laughing at me, they had food in their mouths, people trying to grab silverware and biscuits, it was horrible. It was a horrible experience. And I walked off. I was about to do 40 minutes, I get to 30, and by this time I’m annoying people in there. I’m annoying them. 

TSD: How do you think being a parent has influenced you as a comedian? 

RG: That’s my problem, that was the name of my show, called “I’m Not Mad, I’m Just a Parent” on Netflix. So that’s kind of what I wanted to get off my chest, you know, having kids. 

This transcript has been lightly edited and condensed.

Contact Jessica Xu at jessica.xu48 ‘at’ gmail.com.

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