Comedian Alex Grubard grew up in Massachusetts, began his career in New York City and is currently living in Philadelphia attending Temple University. He has performed at festivals including New York Comedy Festival, North Carolina Comedy Arts Festival, Cape Fear Comedy Festival, and Live Arts & Philly Fringe. In 2013 Alex won the LOL @ The Grand competition and appeared on mtvU’s College Quickies. Grubard is one of the best young stand-up comics on the East Coast.
On his website, 100innyc.wordpress.com, Grubard tells stories from the early days of his comedy career in New York.
I was born in Manhattan, but my parents got divorced when I was one and my mom and I moved to Concord, Massachusetts. So I grew up in a small New England town, but I would fly to New York to visit my dad on weekends. I spent about ten years flying alone before I could get a car and drive. Also, being raised by a single mom, I watched a lot of TV. I saw a lot of Seinfeld and Comedy Central really young and thought it was great and I saw a couple stand-up shows live around eleven. My sister went to USC and when we went to visit her my dad and stepmom took me to the Hollywood Improv and we saw a show with Scott Kennedy, Harland Williams, and Greg Behrendt and I thought Greg looked like he was having more fun than anyone I’d ever seen in my life. There was a lot building up to it, but that was THE moment.
How long did it take for you to start to feel comfortable on stage? Did you have any particularly awkward performances before you found your groove?
I did a lot of weird performance stuff as a little kid. Different talent shows where I wrote ridiculous songs or lip synced or was in a school play being silly. I never really had stage fright. But getting comfortable is a whole other thing, but having a good show just increases your confidence and you burn for awhile on that. In the beginning each laugh seemed to build my confidence for the next few shows even if it was just one a set. Pretty much every set seems pretty uncomfortable and awkward six months later.
What’s the best crowd you’ve performed in front of?
Pretty much any crowd that was there determined to have a great time. Sometimes your own energy just makes the crowd seem like the coolest people ever. I opened for Pete Holmes and Kevin Nealon at Helium Comedy Club and those crowds were fantastic. Sometimes you get matched with a headliner so well and you mesh with their audience, they just get you really well. Some sets at The Comedy Studio in Cambridge, Mass. are incredibly fun, because it’s one of the only great showcase clubs outside Manhattan, it’s right across from Harvard, and it feels close to home.
How has your comedy writing process evolved over the years?
I remember one day, about four years in, I was real drunk at 2 in the morning waiting for the G train in Greenpoint and I had lost my iPod a couple days before. I was feeling pretty down and thought that I should just write a ton of stuff down in my joke book as entertainment. What had I been doing listening to my iPod a bunch anyway? My joke book became my primary source of entertainment. Like it dawned on me, writing jokes is fun! I enjoy it! I was determined from then on out to fill pages full of jokes, words, phrases, song lyrics, lists, names, dates, whatever. I go through joke books in anywhere between a week and a month. In my search for the perfect notebook I found that I like getting a different size, brand, everything each time thinking it affects my writing somehow. I keep statistics on how many sets I’ve done, how much time I’ve spent on stage, and how I thought each individual joke or set went. I also only get notebooks with the color green on it.
How does the comedy scene in Philadelphia differ from that of New York City?
Philly, as a comedy scene and major city, is very underrated. My instinct is to say that the scene here is young, but that’s not really true. A lot of great comics were coming out of Philly since David Brenner. The entire city has been growing and reinventing itself since 1990 and, like everything in town, comedy in Philly has really come into its own since about 2005. It’s much smaller than New York, but audiences here really appreciate culture, they’re not stuck up, they’re working class and college educated. They also appreciate when you try something interesting and that you’re trying it in Philly. There are a lot of young people trying comedy and there are more and more venues to perform all sorts of things at now. It’s a scene with a real foundation of staple places and lots of brand new things popping up for people to seek out and explore. Comedians, audiences, and venues are very supportive of all kinds of comedy in Philly the past several years. In New York there are more stages, but it can take a lot longer to stand out, so in Philly there is a lot of room to grow and get a lot of variety in the sets and shows you do. Everyone’s really just starting to catch on that it’s going through a special era right now.
It’s perhaps a bit of a stereotype that all comics are sad on the inside. Can great comedy ever come from happiness, or does humor require a certain level of suffering?
I think comedy comes from a lot of self-analysis and it can be a bit much for most people. Comics are usually in their heads all the time trying to make their most unique thoughts tangible and anyone that does that, any artist really, is going to have times where they are pretty sad. Performing is also pretty lonely at times no matter what you’re doing. Comics have less of a mask than other live performers like actors or musicians so pretty much I think a lot of us just wear it on our sleeve.
Athletes dream of hitting a game-winning home run in the World Series or catching a touchdown pass in the Super Bowl. Actors and actresses dream of winning an Oscar. As a comedian, what career accomplishments do you fantasize about?
Short term I fantasize about putting out a comedy album and eventually performing on Comedy Central or somewhere. I have a few favorite shows I would love to work for, but I would really like to get into television writing. I was raised on the stuff and that goal is a big part of why I went back to college. I learned a lot struggling through New York from eighteen to twenty-three, but I started thinking about long-term careers in comedy. College seemed like a much more unique option than cocaine.
What movie have you seen more than any other?
Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs for sure. In middle school, my buddy Mike and I competed over who could see it more. We always rented it though. If one of us went to Penguin Video in West Concord, Massachusetts and the VHS was out we knew it was at the other kid’s house. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it 26 times.
Where’s your favorite place to eat in Philadelphia?
This one is super hard. I do a lot of my own cooking, but I tend to think Urban Saloon and Fergie’s Pub have excellent wings. They have other great food I eat too, but I always end up getting wings when I eat out, because I can’t make them at home.
What makes you laugh these days?
I’m watching @midnight every night now. I’ve been a huge Daily Show and Colbert Report fan for over a decade. I’m stoked to see Colbert host The Late Show. The new late night TV landscape is exciting with all these younger talents showing up in a new spot between 2012 and 2016 that’ll last decades. Comedy Central’s programming right now is the best it’s ever been as well with Review, Broad City, and Workaholics killing the game. Comedy has come into the mainstream harder and better than ever before. There’s an unquantifiable amount of excellent content being produce these days. It’s awesome.
What’s the best piece of advice — comedy-related or otherwise — you’ve ever received?
Don’t look down.