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Monday
Aug272007

Inside With: Seth Herzog - By: Eliot Glazer

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usA veteran of the city's comedy scene and host of Sweet every Tuesday night at The Slipper Room, Seth Herzog can always be counted on to keep a crowd in stitches. We gabbed it up with 'Zog about how his mom became a part of his act, his immortalized apartment, growing up with Michael Showalter, and where he got all his dance moves from. Nobody on "So You Think You Can Dance" can do the Wonder Woman better than Seth, you'll see.

Seth, you're well known in the comedy scene for your long-running show Sweet. How did that show come to fruition?
Well, I had been performing downtown and at in the clubs since moving here in '94. I was doing a lot of theater (real acting), and generally just partying, and then in 2000 I started to take stand up really seriously. And right at that time, comedian Josh Weinstein asked me to join the weekly alt comedy show he was starting called the "Industry Room", where in I would write and perform a new set each week. My friends really loved coming down and watching me do new stuff each week and it became a real hangout for us. In Sept of '02, Josh and John Viener who were the guys behind the industry room, left for LA. I spent 2 years just doing other people's shows, and was constantly getting asked when I was going to start my own show again. I was hosting the burlesque shows at the Slipper Room (which I still do occasionally) and they had nothing on Thursdays, so in the summer of '04 I started Sweet as a place for me get the creative juices working to generate new material every week and showcase my favorite comedians, who I love to my fans and friends. I try to create a real fun vibe, almost like it's a party (but everyone is listening). Its very spontaneous, and silly and people tend to hook up.

Your amazing mom, Kera, is now part of the weekly line-up. How did you incorporate your Mom into the show? Was she at all reluctant?
She's become the hook of the show. It began back on the third Industry Room show, wherein I did a whole set just of stories about my mom. She happened to be in the audience that night and I got her up on stage at the end of the set, after everyone had heard the stories. We bantered for a while about the veracity of the set and then did a spontaneous dance together to the Wonder Woman theme. It was surely something special, the audience really responded to the warmth and impromptu feel of it. Since then we've done bits together every once in a while and I started Sweet. It was monthly and then it just became a weekly bit because people loved it so much. And now the "What's on my mom's mind?" bit has become a destination of people. We used to rehearse stuff, but I find it's always better when we just have real spontaneous moments on stage rather than come up with bits to do. Cause once its written, mom will forget the line or deliver it like it was written. I feel like everyone's mom is sort of nutty and everyone has similar relationships with their parents so when we have those moments on stage, everyone can relate.

You were an early fixture in the so-called "alternative comedy" world. Take us back.
It was really fortuitous. I moved to NY in 1994 the same year the alt comedy scene in NY--as a separate world from the clubs--was born. The show that became "Eating It" began on Monday nights in the back of Rebar, a space on the NW corner of 16th St. and 8th Ave. The rule was that you could do anything but 'your act.' And no one knew what that meant or what that could be. It was sometimes fascinating in terms of what that could be. Michael Ian Black once laid down a sheet, put a bunch of belongings down and just sold them one by one. Interesting? Definitely. Funny? Who cares? I remember one time Toby Huss (of King of the Hill) told the most incredible story about his prom night in rural Indiana. He's an amazing storyteller and it was profoundly funny, scary and sad at different times. The whole room was so blown away. After that everyone tried to tell stories about their youth for the next month.

It was always 'a scene' from day one. A Comedy Central exec named Scott Schneider started that show, so there was always industry around it. Every comic who was looking for something else outside of the clubs, or who thought they were cool would flock to this show each week. However it created a very exclusive, schmoozy atmosphere. ...Not very welcoming at all. However, I really feel like as the community has grown and expanded exponentially over the years, and there are now 4 to 5 shows outside of the clubs each night. It's become more supportive and friendly and inclusive vibe. Which is what it should be. It should be about fostering creativity and taking risks, not pandering to the audience, where the club system is set up for the opposite.

As a comedian, your comedic sensibilities fall within a wide range from - correct me if I'm wrong--the more mainstream (anecdotes, stories, observations) to the awesome perverse, weird, and eccentric (costumes, dancing). Is that something you've set out to do or is it just what you've always naturally found funny?
I grew up loving the old Steve Martin records. In fact, for the 5th grade talent show I just recited a lot of side two of "Let's Get Small." I didn't even get half the jokes. So I really appreciate the absurd. The dance and movement stuff comes from my dance and background. But as anyone knows, it's all about commitment. Absurdity is a harder nut to crack but if you have total commitment you get anyway with anything. Also, I love good stand up. There's nothing cooler than a guys with a mic just telling you what's in his head. I've always been enamored with people who can tell one story for 5 or even 12 minutes and keep you invested and laughing the whole time. I feel like the laughs are so much more earned that way. You always leave remembering that story. I used to be much more of comedy snob than I am now. Anything that anyone did that smacked of hackiness I'd dismiss. So in a way, I have tried to always do things that people don't normally see in a way that's totally personal. It's also important for me to do comedy that's straight forward but very much my voice and personal.

Speaking of dancing, it's no secret that you are a pretty talented dancer. Did you ever consider the idea of dancing professionally? Or did you always want to be an actor/comedian?
If you ask my mom, I think she would say I've squandered my dance gift. I say, I've just used it for good instead of evil. I have always loved to dance and been attracted to dance scenes in movies and in theater etc. I have a real knack for picking up moves and memorizing choreography. I went home after seeing the movie Grease and did the whole 'greased lighting' dance on our back porch using picnic table as the car. I believe its on Super 8 somewhere. That would great if you could put the music to it. For five summers, I studied theater at Stagedoor Manor. I also took 2 years of Jazz class growing up. ("Nah, I'm too cool for ballet, sign me up for JAZZ!") Yes, I considered a career in dance, but it's a short career with little or no options, so I went for comedy instead: an obvious choice.


You grew up with Michael Showalter in Princeton, New Jersey and have remained friends to this day, as Showalter often DJs at Sweet as well. What has kept you guys pals for so long?
Mike and I became friends on the first day of third grade, he had just spent a year in England and was all "figits" and "proper." I came into class like I owned it, Western style shirt and plaid pants a'flarin'. I eased back in my chair put my feet on the desk and began drawing something. Mike, being a cartoonist too, was also drawing, and our creative energies drew us together and a lifelong friendship blossomed. Back in elementary school we'd have sleepovers and create our own 'radio show' (the Zip and Zap show) by just recording DJ's and call-in characters onto a Radio Shack tape recorder. Also, we created a short-lived sketch show in 4th grade during recess. The only sketch I remember was a spoof of "Saturday Night Fever" that was called "Sunday Morning Hangover." I didn't know what a hangover was. There are tons of other stories about Mike and me and our group of friends antics in High school and beyond that involve lots of stolen kegs, sunken golf clubs, group puking, and an award winning lip-synching act. But we don't have enough time.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usWhen and how did Toby Miller come up with the idea for the well-received documentary Zog's Place?
As you know my apt is rather small, and as a by-product it tends to fill up with stuff from one's life pretty quickly. So Back in 2000 I mentioned in passing to Toby (who I also grew up with in Princeton) that I will cleaning up and throwing everything away. Toby said, 'Let me and Bill come by and document it the way it is before you do so we have it for ourselves.' They came by and for 3 days I told them funny stories about all the stuff and gave a 'tour,' they asked questions, etc... Then they liked what we shot so much they scheduled interviews with my family and friends to talk about me and my stuff in the my apt. and hence, Zog's Place was born.

The hardest part was when they asked the 'professional organizer' to show up and give me some pointers. I hated that someone I didn't know was coming over just to judge me. Ugh. But some reason everyone knows about this little film, all the time people come up to me and say, "You're the guy with the apartment." One time, I was leaving a big party at a club and I had on my Zog name plate belt on. Some guy looked at me and said. "You're not the Zog. I know the Zog and you're not him." I said, "That's right, I killed him and took his belt. I'm slowly taking over his life." It turns out it was a college friend of Toby's who has seen the film many times but had never really met me. I had to spend several minutes convincing this dude, that I was me!

Is Zog's Place still in the Breslin?
Yes, for now it is. But it looks like the Breslin is going to be turned into a fancy hotel. So I have to figure out whether I'm going to stay in my very small but very cheap and rather infamous midtown pad or as the renovations begin, or take the little money they are offering me to leave. The NY Times is doing a piece on the situation at the building right now. It's a very exciting time over there.

You're in the mass nude scene in The Ten. Good times?
That was a great few days. I was originally cast as the 'warm-up guy' at the sitcom taping in the first section (but unfortunately that got cut for time). While we were shooting that scene I said to David [Wain], "Why don't I also come back in the nude scene?” He liked that idea. And now that's my whole part. As a lot of folks will tell you, I'm not afraid of getting a little naked from time to time (although as I get older, I probably should be). Hanging out nude with [A.D.] Miles, Bobby Cannavale, [Jason] Sudeikis, David Wain and Ken Marino all day is always a good time. There will also be a special "easter egg" on the DVD of someone [quietly pointing to himself] swinging their dick around. ...Like the last 'copter out of 'Nam. Look for that.

What's next for you? Any upcoming projects to plug?
Well, Sweet starts up again this fall (that takes up a lot of time) I did a net series with my Mom on the new comedy news site '23/6", where in my Mom discuss topical issues called "Zog and his Mom." I'm pretty proud of how it came out. I'm also putting together a book of all of the humorous personal and topical essays that I send out to my e-mail list every week for years. It will be short and funny pieces that you can read in the bathroom. I think they will be called "The Zog Logs." I'm also going to record a live comedy record this fall sometime. So look to show up to that, it will be fun for sure. I also add commentary on VH-1's "All Access" series and I introduce indie films on the IFC channel.

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