Scaling Comedy's Ladder: David Cope
I first saw David Cope perform at Le Possion Rouge on Bleeker St. in New York City. The show was John and Molly Get Along, a monthly brother and sister comedy show produced by John and Molly Knefel.
That night, the audience was mixed with those there for comedy and a crowd of people there for an album release party happening much later. Rouge wasn’t big enough for both, and all night the comedians had been struggling to reign in the noisy crowd of music fans. Cope was the last comic to take the stage.
From the moment he stepped into the light Cope owned the show. The offbeat jokes — with their soft delivery and silent pauses between each – were unlike anything else we’d seen that night. His comedy was clean, his demeanor ultra-professional and his voice melodic. He made no mention of the talkers at the back of the bar. He performed his set as if the world around him could have been on fire and it wouldn’t have made a bit of difference. For the audience paying attention, it was impossible to be distracted.
There was no huge miracle as far as the crowd was concerned. The music fans didn’t quiet down, the bar didn’t suddenly become silent; it was just for the first time that night, the assholes talking in the back couldn’t ruin the show. They had met their match in the form of a stonewall David “The Velvet Hammer” Cope. The following is Q&A with this promising young talent.
Where do you and your friends produce your comedy show (Hot Soup)?
We do Friday nights at O’Hanlan’s with Mark Norman, Andy Hains and Matt Ruby. I think people like the fact that there are a couple personalities behind the show. I’m at a point right now with my standup where it’s kind of sobering. A lot of comedians are like, “I just need the right kind of industry show and it’s going to happen. I just need the right exposure it’s going to break out.” I’m to that point where I’ve had some good shows and I think people generally like what I do, I’ve had that industry exposure and it’s not like my universe changed. It was like, “OK Dave can tell some jokes, he’s a funny guy, so we’ll hang out, see what he does.” And right now it feels like the grindstone, I need to write and be pumping out comedy, pumping out Web material whatever it is. It does feel like the romance of comedy has totally worn off but that’s ok. Now it’s more like a marriage, like we’re in this for good. There are highlights, definitely great times. Fun shows are amazing. Then there are the low lights; how come I’m not getting that show? How come my friend got that show? I’m funnier than my fucking friend, what’s he doing?
Is that how the industry works?
Yeah, well in New York, unlike Seattle or Portland, you have exposure to more people that can change your life. Sometimes it’s people who cast commercials. Sometimes it’s people who can get you bigger gigs, managers, commercial agents, whoever. In New York it’s really not enough to just be funny and run around and do shows. It’s about using all your resources to get enough heat to become undeniable. Steve Martin says that in his latest book Born Standing Up and it’s utterly true. It’s very hard work but you get those little fires burning; Stand up, Web content, maybe a blog, whatever it is. You just keep pounding away and that momentum builds and maybe it’s two years later but the right person says, “Oh this part is a little Cope’ish right? Get him in here.” So it is a long haul, and even when you get those years in and you get sent out to L.A. for pilots it’s another huge haul. You’ll go nuts if you think about it like that. So I think what you have to do is: get a really cool girlfriend, get some cool video games, write some funny jokes, and have some fun now. Produce, produce, produce and just do it. Don’t think about the climb.
A lot of people like to say Hollywood, despite its apparent size, is a small town. Is that the same with the comedy scene?
Absolutely, it’s a small-world comedy scene in New York. Having a good reputation and not being an asshole… super important. If you piss someone off it’s only a matter of time before they’re in a show with you or running a show you want to be on. There was a girl I kind of knew in Seattle who moved to New York a couple months ago. The other day, I saw her in a restaurant and said “Hi,” just to be polite and see what was up. A few nights ago, I walk into a show and she’s there booking the show. That’s just a small example. You can’t get along with everyone, but I think in general it’s important to be socially aware. It’s a super small scene and everybody’s talking. You have to be able to exist in that.
Is there a comic’s code? Like if one of your friends makes it you all make it?
I wouldn’t say there is a code. It’s just very personal. If you happen to be great friends with a comedian before they blow up, and then they do, they could very well say, “Hey come on the road with me.” I wouldn’t say it’s a general code because you’re pretty much on your own.
Your jokes stray from politics and religion, is that a conscious choice?
I have no interest in educating or enlightening the world. I really am just goofball fun. My whole life I’ve pretty much been goofy and silly, I’ve never cared about huge world issues, they just never riled me up. So, all the things I write are for just sheer fun. It just comes so naturally, whenever I feel like I’m getting preachy the laughs are just not there, it’s just not me. It can be done, it just kind of seems like it better be such a driver and passion for you that it’s part of your voice. To you, you’re not trying to be a political comic you’re just doing it. That’s when I say go ahead do the preachy stuff because, if that’s where your mind and your heart is, do it.
Do you do things outside of stand up?
There’s been a little acting. A friend of mine, Bette Bentley, produced a short I’m in called “Piss” that’s being submitted to festivals. [I’ve done a few] interstitials for Comedy Central. They’re kind of like mini commercials. The first one was promoting the new South Park. I filmed it with a real camera crew and a girl named Jeniffer Bartells. It was exciting for someone who doesn’t do it a lot.
What has six balls and rapes poor people?
Do you have a comedian you look up to in the city or a mentor?
Not really. I look to comics without a lot of ego to look up too. I’ve seen some comedians who are a big deal get up and do local shows, and they’ll half-ass it or they’ll treat the audience like shit. It happens all the time. There’s a way to be successful and laid back and I’d like to be that person.
Are your parents supportive of you wanting to be a comedian?
They’re supportive but I think I’m in a window now where I can be. If I’m 45 and like, guys I just wanted to see if my room’s still there? A little later it’s going to get a little nerve-wracking.
Does being a comedian make it hard to entertain relationships?
Comedy is great for meeting girls. Chics generally like a guy who’s got it together, focused on a path and making his way; to the degree that they’ll forgive the super poor lifestyle you have to live to achieve success. That’s what I’ve tried to do. I focus on stand up. If I find that I got a good vibe with a girl I’ll pursue it, but I wait till I feel something. Right now, names not be mentioned, I’m with a girl that’s super awesome and I’m having some of the best sex of my life. People here you want to be a standup and say “wow, good luck being poor” but it’s really an amazing opportunity if you buckle down. It can lead to voiceover work, it can lead to commercials, and it can lead to acting. If you got all those things going on you can live an awesome life as a comedian.
What advice would you give to someone just getting into comedy?
Open mic as if you’re life depended on it, but down the road be open to everything and anything. You’ve got to have that “hustle” mentality. That’s what can lead to other things.
How do you think the state of the comedy scene is right now?
Comedy is in a great place. Tons of different avenues: clubs, one man shows, internet, it’s all there. If you’re coming up in comedy there’s every avenue for you to do it. You just have to choose where to focus your energy given that you got it.
Do you feel the nature of jokes has changed at all?
Not really. Comedy is more segmented and people have many different kinds of comedy to choose from (Adult Swim to Everybody Loves Raymond ) but in the end funny is funny. I think South Park I think is a great example of super funny contemporary comedy. That is today. It’s pretty vulgar and really pushing it, but I feel like that’s where it is.
As far as the nature of comedy leaving its mark on the human race?
Comedy is a special thing because it’s in its own world. People who get into comedy come from all different places: you have people who quit their jobs to do comedy, all walks of life. It’s an amazing thing. It’s the closest thing we have to what I feel is magic. Like, telling a joke is the closest thing we have to casting a spell. What’s a spell, it’s a magical moment of something fantastical, here in the real world that’s a joke. When you throw someone a punch line you’re throwing them something they didn’t expect. The response to that is laughter. If you have that ability to make that happen, it’s like a little spell.
So what’s your endgame with the comedy scene?
The endgame isn’t one thing; it’s just having my fingers involved in a plethora of projects. Just produce great comedy and work with amazing people. Making a whole bunch of money would also be good.
And if that doesn’t work out?
Need a harpist?