Todd Glass really loves comedy. After arriving in Philadelphia last Saturday, he stopped by the Helium Comedy Club to catch Tom Wilson perform. "He was one of the first comics I ever saw when I was 16." At that young age, Glass started performing in Philadelphia and he never stopped. He eventually moved out to Los Angeles and today he is a nationally touring stand-up comedian. He's performed stand-up on late night TV, was a finalist on Last Comic Standing and is in the current season of The Sarah Silverman Program. He's had his own half-hour Comedy Central Presents stand-up special and will have a new CD released on Comedy Central Records early next year (he'll release his own DVD soon as well). He also has his own podcast, "Comedy and Everything Else", which he does with stand-up Jimmy Dore and Stefane Zamorano.
And tonight through Saturday he's back in Philadelphia performing at Helium (2031 Sansom).
How did you get started in comedy?
There was a club back then called the Comedy Works. I'd like to think that I knew what good comedy was, but in hindsight, the owner of that club had good taste in comedy. Meaning he got it, some people get it, some people don't. He was bringing in Dennis Miller, Paul Reiser, Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno, Gilbert Gottfried, Richard Lewis, Eddie Murphy, Roseanne Barr and I would go there to see shows. And then I found out they had an open mic night on Wednesdays and I went and the first time I didn't get on, but the second time I did. And I don't think I've gone one month from doing a show since that day. Probably not even a week, but definitely not a month since that day.
Was it hard to get stage time back then?
I did the one open mic night every week and whatever other jobs that came up around town, so I was actually getting on stage a decent amount.
How did the older, more established comedians treat you?
Everyone was pretty nice to me. And then when I started hosting on the weekends and the bigger acts would come through, they were always really nice and helpful and supportive. I think I probably seemed open for advice, so I always got a lot of it and I took constructive criticism.
Was comedy really popular in Philadelphia then?
Yeah when I started going to see it in '83 or something, comedy was really popular because back then every city didn't have a comedy club. So comedy was really popular. And it will always be popular. It will never not be popular. I think people confuse that with the over-abundance of clubs, but some of the shitty ones will die out and people are always coming out to the shows.
Did it seem like the comedians were the local rockstars then?
There was a period where it was just out of control. The joke was you'd walk into any place and they'd say "you're with a comic?" and they'd give you free stuff. But like I said, comedy will be around forever. I've said it a million times and I'll say it a million more, I think it was a crime that there was no legimitate comedy club in Philly for a while. But the bigger crime was that it wasn't written about. It's like all of the entertainment reporters were ok that there was no scene in Philadelphia and I thought, "do they not know that there are people out there?" Look at all of the acts that come through Helium. Philly just never had, for a lack of a better word, a really hip comedy club that booked the Mitch Hedbergs, the Dave Attells and Dana Gould and Paul F. Tompkins. So it's really cool that there's a legitimate club in Philadelphia.
Was there a certain style to Philadelphia comedy?
I don't think there's a certain style to a city, I think it's based on the entertainer. Everyone has a favorite comedian and when you first start doing comedy you probably emulate someone that you like. Back then I was probably emulating Paul Reiser and Jerry Seinfeld, guys like that. And then hopefully you find your own voice and that takes a while. But I got to see a lot of good stand-ups and I think the one thing that helped me grow more than anything was that people would come up to me after seeing Gilbert Gottfried or Richard Lewis and they would say "yeah, but you're funny" and the only thing that allowed me to grow is that I knew that they were wrong. Now you might think that the audience member can't be wrong, they're complimenting you and you're telling them that you're wrong? Well, in a way, yes, I knew that that was not what I wanted. I knew that I wanted to be as unique as Gilbert Gottfried or Richard Lewis. I knew that they just liked me because I was digestable. And I would have believed that I was better than them, I never would have grown. So at 17 or 18 years old and I don't know why, but I never took the compliment and wore it as a badge. I knew when it was a loud, dumb audience and they were just buying me because I was new and my material was beige-r.
I like how you can be serious on your podcast and you're not trying to be funny every second.
Yeah, we set a rule for ourselves which is the same rule we set for ourselves if we are sitting around hanging out. One minute you're silly, the next minute you're serious, there's no rule, we just let the evening take it's course and it's a lot of fun. Someone gave us a review that said we were a mixture of George Carlin and Phil Donahue. And I fucking love that!
And you do an impression of Phil Donahue...
Yeah, it was just a coincidence, I don't even think they knew I did Phil Donahue, but I take that mixture as a compliment because we have no problem stating our views clearly and I enjoy it immensely. I would think people would love [the podcast] or hate it. And our audience is growing pretty quick.
Do people talk to you after shows about it?
It's funny that you say that because over the years people have come out because of my half-hour special [for Comedy Central] or from doing Jimmy Kimmel, but a lot of people are coming up and saying "yeah, we listen to the podcast." And I hope that that would be the case because I believe that anyone that enjoys the podcast would be the type of people that I would enjoy being with. Obviously we would have a lot of the same views. And they always seem to be, and maybe it's self-indulgent for me to say this, but whenever people come up to me after the show and say "hey, I love the podcast", it just seems like they are usually pretty smart people.
I heard you say once that you like the podcast because you say things that you wouldn't say in your act...
Well, it's not that I'm afraid, it's just that I love doing stand-up more than anything else in the world, but there's something about the podcast that you're allowed to be preachy. The vehicle allows it. Hopefully you're funny when you do it, but you're allowed to just go off on a tangent and just give your opinion and not worry about being funny for a few minutes and then you are funny. I wouldn't want to do that in my act, I'm not complaining that I can't do that in my act. People are coming out to see stand-up comedy and that's what they should get. That's not to say that you shouldn't have a point of view, but you have to make it funny. You owe that to an audience to make it funny. On the podcast you don't. You hope it's entertaining, but if five minutes goes by and it's not "ha ha" funny, that's ok. I wouldn't want to just do stand-up and I wouldn't want to just do the podcast, I like getting the chance to do both.
On the podcast you express your side of an issue, but you're also able to look at it from a different angle. Do you do that in your stand-up too?
I try. The only way to change people's opinions and to get into their mindset and try to guess what they're thinking. I know I do that a lot on the podcast and I'm always wondering if there's someone out there just boiling because we aren't looking at something from their point of view. And I try to do that in my act too.
What do you do in your free time when you're not doing comedy?
I love doing stand-up, but if I'm not doing that I usually like to hang out with my comedian friends. It doesn't get more fun than that, just hanging out with other comics is just fun. I never get tired of it. And as you know if you listen to the podcast, we're silly a lot, but we're also serious and it's just fun. Sometimes I'll go to the comedy festivals and get to hang out with other comics and it's my favorite thing in the world to do.
Just fast-forward to 6:20 (it's worth it)