$10. 8 p.m. The Punchline, 280 Hilderbrand Dr. 404-252-LAFF (5233).
Chad Radford: So what are you doing in Atlanta?
Barry Sobel: I’m just out doing some comedy gigs. … I’m doing a surprise show on Wednesday at the Punchline.
If it’s a surprise, is it cool to talk about it?
Yes, please announce it! We’re going to surprise you with comedians Skyping in from all over the country, my friend Brandon Wardell, the youngest and coolest comedian out there doing it, he’s from Washington DC, Eddie Brill, and we’re going to do a sketch with him that I wrote. Jarrod Harris is going to Skype in with one of his hilarious characters, another friend of mine, Michael Priest, from Austin, and my pal, the one and only Drop Dead Diva, Margaret Cho is going to stop by.
And then I’m also in pre-production with the 3 Minute Talk Show. It’s everything you would see in an hour-long talk show, but in just three minutes.
I've seen them all. I think the Jon Cryer episode is my favorite ...
Thanks! I created it based on a talk show that I did back in ’96 for Comedy Central called the Barry Sobel Show. We rolled out the first episode by saying it was going to be an hour-long show, and in the middle of my monologue Kevin Meaney comes out as the president of the network and says, "I’ve got some good news, and some bad news. The good news is that you have a great hour of TV. The bad news it that we’ve had some scheduling problems, we’ve had to make a couple cuts and your show is only three minutes!” Then he goes to a meeting. Fred Willard was sitting by me, and I say, "Hey, I know you as Fred Willard." He says, "Thanks, you exaggerate."
For that show we had the lovely Rita Wilson, Tom Hanks’ wife, and making his debut appearance on television ever, was Jimmy Fallon. So that’s the first episode. Fourteen years later Tom Hanks and his partner Gary Goetzman were in development of a cartoon called Cartoon03. Some people were approaching their company, Playtone, for the web, and one of the properties they liked best was my show. I’ve been friends with Tom for years and I’m in the Playtone “galaxy of stars,” meaning I was in the movie Punchline and me and Tom wrote everything he did with his monologues in the movie. I taught him how to be a comedian. Then he called me one day and says “You’re Goofball.” I said, “really, you’re goofball. Who’s this?” ... Goofball was the character I played in That Thing You Do.
If you watch the show now, we cut comedians off after their joke, but we had a hard three minutes back then. Jimmy came on and said “Hi everybody, I’m from upstate New York, a place called Saugerties …” Right at the “g” I say “Great job!” and he gives me a look like “what?”
That was his first acting/stand up thing on television ever. So for years, every time I see Gary Goetzman he says “Great job!” Lexus bought the show, and put it on L Studio. When we were shooting it, most of the interviews were between 5-10 minutes, but it didn’t matter that the title was Three Minute Show. They said it doesn’t matter. It seems like three minutes, and we’ll call it that, even if it goes for 6 minutes.
When I was putting it together I wanted Ben Lee to be the musical director and said let’s do something where the words explain what we’re doing. In the first minute of our meeting, I said it’s a three-minute show, you know, one of those, it’s three, four, five, you know how it goes. He said, great, let me see what I can do with it. The next day, he was in Australia and he sent me like 10 tracks. The first one was the best one.
Where do you film the show?
Tom Hanks bought a building called the Santa Monica Fish Company. They’ve gutted it out, and are making a production studio out of it. In the meantime we’ve put in lights and sound, and it’s like a whole warehouse now. We had a small invited audience of a few friends of mine, and a few friends of Play Tone, and of the actors and comedians who are working on the show, and Tom and Gary. There are about 20-30 people in the room laughing, so we took that and enhanced it just a little.
When I was a kid you were on a Rodney Dangerfield HBO special doing your rap routine, which was around the time that you played Stewart in Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise. Back then I had the impression that you were like the 4th Beastie Boy …
Yeah, when I was a kid, I went to see Run DMC open up for the Beastie Boys at the Ritz, which was just a few blocks away from my house in New York. I was walking down Hudson St. and I made up a rap: “I’m not the Beastie Boys, or Run DMC, or Jay Leno or someone named Shecky. Like, I wanted to explain that I’m not these rap guys, and I’m not Jay Leno, who at the time, was one of the most revered comedians. I wanted to say that I’m not Jay Leno, who’s really good, but I’m also not some guy named Shecky, like a hack. I’m just a motherfucking king of jokes, there’s none more funny. If this was Las Vegas you’d be throwing down money. …”
So I wrote this little rap song and didn’t think much of it, but I kind of became famous for it. At the time, no one outside of rap had ever taken rap music outside of rap. I was the first person to steal it. Back in those days I was pitching a lot of TV shows and I would go into these networks and say I have this TV show where me and this comedian, the late Warren Thomas from San Francisco — we did this one my HBO special where we were these two undercover cops named Jiggers and Lanky, he was Jiggers, I was Lanky, and we were in the dirty world of rap music — anyway, I would pitch this show about these two cops who were also rappers, and every single place we pitched it said “rap is just a phase. It’s not going to be here in a couple of years.”
It might sound strange to say that I’m the first person to take rap and put it somewhere else, but I was. Nobody even thought of it as a thing back then. When I was in Revenge of the Nerds 2, I had been making the movie Punchline, and I interviewed by this guy Joe Roth. He’s made a lot of movies as a producer, and ran 20th Century Fox Films — he was the president. But back then he we has a producer and was directing his first movie called Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise. They wanted to get the Beastie Boys, but they didn’t want to pay them the $100,000.00, which was the big fee. $100,000 back then is what $1,000,000 is now. His kids loved the Beastie Boys, so he said we heard you can rap, we have the part of Stewart, who’s a new nerd, and maybe we can kill two birds with one stone. …
So I wrote the legendary “No on 15” with Lamar Latrelle — Larry B. Scott — and Ed Solomon wasn’t credited, but he was rewriting the movie as we were shooting it every day. He wrote Men in Black and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and like a million great movies ever since. He wrote Nerds 2, and we wrote the song together. So every once in a while I get less than $1 royalty checks for “No on 15.” And hey, I don’t want to brag, but I’ve got the cassette in my car right now.
The Rodney Dangerfield show was in ’87, I think. I did four HBO specials the same year. Eddie Murphy did an all black special and I was the only white guy, called Uptown Comedy Express. It featured a young Chris Rock, a young Barry Sobel, a young Robert Townsend, a young Arsenio Hall and a young Marshia Warfield. The same year I did Punchline, and there was a premiere party that did a special on HBO, and Just For Laughs was live on HBO, and I did a rap song to open the show — I walked down the aisle and introduced John Candy who was on two turntables. By that time I was working at the Comedy Store, and everyone came in there to try to discover new talent. That’s how Eddie Murphy found me. Then one night Rodney Dangerfield was in there and asked if I wanted to do the show.
The day of the taping we had a little fight. About an hour before the show, Rodney says, “Do the rap, alright?”
I said “I don’t want to do the rap,” because I had just done it on these other three specials, and they were probably going to edit it, and that’s the only thing that would get used, and people wouldn’t see my other material. But he said, “Do the rap, just do the rap …”
Then he says, “Hey look, kid. I was Rapping Rodney and I didn’t even know what rap was! Some guy said ‘do the rap,’ so I did the rap, now do the rap!”
So I did the rap, and if you watch that special, in the middle of my rap, I start going, “Do the rap, do the rap!” Then I saw him years later. I thought he’d be mad at me, but he wasn’t. I saw him at the Laugh Factory and he said, “Long time since the last time!” It broke my heart how nice he was. I should have just done the rap without arguing. Ironically, if you watch it, I did a 15-minute set. It was me, Bill Hicks, Robert Schimmel, Dom Irrera, and Andrew Dice Clay — they cut out the middle of my set. I learned a lesson that night: Don’t argue with people who get final edit!
So why didn’t you ever do a record?
Well, at the request of Jimmy Fallon, we’ve rounded up a bunch of my old tapes, and we found a video of a show I did at Caroline’s, which was the place to play when you were big as a comedian in the ’80s. We mixed it and I’m finalizing it as my first CD. It will be called I Can’t Do No More. Some of the stuff from the ’80s and ’90s holds up. Some of it doesn’t, but it’s still kind of fun to hear.
It’s a good pop cultural time capsule, too.
I hope so. I had a routine called Buck Jackson’s mother, and one where Howard Cosell is the cruelest announcer ever. …
Chris Rock is the one who walked me back into stand up comedy, and now I close my show with a long Chris Rock impersonation. He said, “You have to go back and do stand up comedy, Barry Sobel.” … He always says, "No matter what you do, don’t do that Buck Jackson’s Mother routine. That was old even when it was new."
Then a few weeks ago I was in Raleigh, NC at a place called Goodnight Charlies. I was a guest on someone else’s show and everyone in the crowd was over 40-50 years old, and the thing that destroyed the building was — don’t tell Chris Rock this, because he’s gonna be mad — Buck Jackson’s Mother! The Club owner yelled it out, and it destroyed. ... Sorry, Chris, it was only for one night.
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