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Inside With: Schaffer The Darklord - By: Andrew Singer

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"I didn't want to be one of those rappers who gets on stage and just paces around, punctuating the spaces between songs with inane banter and shout-outs." | Photo courtesy Schaffer the Darklord

Mark Schaffer, a.k.a. Schaffer the Darklord, or STD, is a New York City-based rapper and comedian. A transplant from the west coast, Schaffer spent a few years pounding drums for a San Francisco rock band before honing his MC skills to drop nerdcore-style rhymes in The Big Apple. These days, STD blends his love for heavy metal with quirky beats. And his lyrical content, according to the "rappist," is inspired by the subversive and the absurd. Andrew Singer recently caught up with STD to discuss Nerdapalooza, a love for hosting shows and the advantages of working with the city's burlesque scene.

First of all, what exactly are you? A comedic rapper? A rapping comedian? Or something else?
I consider myself both a rapper and a comedian, but not a hyphenated combination of the two because I don't tell rhyming jokes, nor do I make jokes about the fact that I'm a rapper. Also, throwing the word "comedian" into my artist description when promoting myself on bills tends to turn off music fans, and using the word "rapper" to describe my act tends to irritate hip-hop purists. So, I've actually created my own unique term to describe what I do. I prefer to be called a "rappist."
What are your thoughts on the Nerdcore movement and performing at Nerdapalooza?
My relationship with the "nerdcore" tag has been complicated. I was making my own flavor of nerdy rap music long before the term began cropping up all over the Internet. When the nerdcore flock caught wind of me, an outsider with similar themes in my content, they adopted me into the guild. However, you can't please everyone, and in the same way I had been shunned by more conventional rap acts for not being "truly hip-hop," I was met with standoffishness from some of the nerdcore purists for not being nerdy enough. I think that changed after I played Nerdapalooza in Orlando this summer when I finally got to co-mingle with the community, earn a gaggle of new fans and make some great friends. I think my "trial period" in the genre has expired, and I'm now recognized as a full-fledged member of the scene. I'm very thankful to the nerdcore community for providing me such an awesome base of fans, but I still don't think the music I make is 100% nerdcore. There are still nerdy themes, sure, but a lot of the criteria used to define nerdcore are missing from my act.

STD performs at Hotsy's Totsy's New York Fringe Festival Show at Speigelworld | Photo: Dale Harris
Photo by Dale Harris

Have you performed at a lot of underground hip hop shows, like in 8 Mile, and if so, how did you find that experience?
Ha! Can you imagine me battle-rapping in some dark underground garage in Detroit?! I've done a lot of touring around the country, and I've played with a lot of underground hip hop acts in countless venues coast-to-coast. However, none of these experiences were reminiscent of truly underground hip-hop scenes. My shows on the road have typically been with punk and metal bands in seedy rock-n-roll dive bars. That is my scene! I was a drummer in touring rock bands long before I started rapping, so these gritty, dirty, noisy shows make me feel right at home. Cheap beer, broken glass, sweat, bar fights ... ah, that's the life for me!

Your music is about a large variety of topics. What inspires you to branch out so far from the norm?
I started rapping because I wanted to tell the stories that I had always wanted to hear when I listened to hip-hop. My favorite rappers have always used narratives in their work, and I set out to follow in their story-telling footsteps. After an initial batch of throwaway songs, I realized that my daily existence was a well of inspiration that had quickly gone dry, and that's when I began writing my daydreams.

"Night of the Living Christ" ("Hey, if Jesus rose from the grave, doesn't that make him a zombie?"), "Cat People" ("What if someone loved their cats so much that they actually turned into one?") and "Attack of the Clonefucker" ("If we end up in a future world in which we can clone ourselves, will we get to keep a few of our own clones for our ... um ... recreation?") were some of these early songs. Ever since then, it's been an exercise to continue writing original ideas without repeating myself or becoming formulaic. During my brainstorming sessions I just keep trying to come up with scenarios that are completely absurd, yet strangely universal to my audience. I enjoy the discipline of this process very much.

As a rapper in the San Francisco Bay Area, how did you end up meeting so many New York comedians?
Well, I actually started in comedy in San Francisco. I had been playing drums in two bands, and I was also in a hip-hop group. When the hip-hop group split up, I wanted to create a live show for my solo rap act that would be entertaining. I didn't want to be one of those rappers who gets on stage and just paces around, punctuating the spaces between songs with inane banter and shout-outs. I wanted the entire time I was on stage to be part of the show.

So I started doing standup, not as a way to enhance my rapping, but as a way to tie together my songs. This was a disastrous combination at first, but after awhile I found my rhythm. When I moved to NYC, I had a few contacts, mostly friends of friends from the SF open mic scene. I was still fresh from SF and completely overwhelmed by the NYC music scene, so my first shows in NYC were open mics and variety shows. That's how I ended up meeting so many comics here.

What made you decide to create The Dark Show? Do you see yourself holding another version of that in the future? If so, how would you make it different or keep it the same? If not, then what do you plan on doing instead?
Within a couple of months in NYC, I was offered a monthly slot at a now defunct Lower East Side bar called the Apocalypse. I didn't know what the hell I was supposed to do once a month, so I created a variety show around my act and called it the Dark Show. I still didn't know anybody here, so I recruited talent by poaching acts from other variety shows and scouring Craigslist.

I met some great talent in those days; however, I also subjected my audiences to a few really terrible acts. I frequently wonder what the Dark Show would be like now that I have some fans and some connections and much more honed emcee chops, but I doubt it will be resurrected. I go on tour pretty often, and when I'm not on the road, I get my "emcee fix" by guest-hosting burlesque shows. The greatest bonus from doing the Dark Show was that I met a couple of burlesque performers who asked me to guest host their shows after the Dark Show closed. Since then I've developed a new fanbase through the New York burlesque scene. These days I guest-host many different burlesque shows, sometimes 1-2 per week. Those shows are always a killer time!

STD performs Pinchbottom: How to Sex @ Collective Unconscious in New York | Photo: Dale Harris
Photo by Dale Harris

Please describe a particularly awesome show you had while on the road.
*Particularly awesome: I was in Cleveland. The show I was playing was all ages, and the venue was a coffee shop with a small stage in front. An army of kids came out for the show. There were so many, in fact, that the room filled to capacity and overflowed onto the sidewalk. Since the stage was near the plate glass windows, I could see dozens of kids mashed together trying to peer through the glass to watch the show. (Oh, I should also mention that I arrived at the venue early enough to snag the parking spot directly in front of the club.) After about three songs, I started feeling really bad for the kids who couldn't get inside, so I turned the PA speakers towards the door, and went out to the sidewalk with my wireless microphone for a couple of songs. Then, however, the kids inside could no longer see, so I did the rest of my set standing on my car like a makeshift stage outside the club to a sea of kids on the street and in the venue. It was awesome. To this day, I don't think I've done a show with more impressive merch sales.

*Particularly awful: I was in Pennsylvania performing at a college that I had not been told was a Christian school (Can you see where this is going?). The gathering of students seemed to enjoy the off-color comedy of my opening act, so I went at it with my usual dark, subversive, obscene material. I noticed a few students get up and leave with disgust on their faces during the course of my act (Certainly not a rare sight for me!). However, this time I was treated to an all-new display of disapproval. Halfway through my set, I saw that of the remaining students who had not fled my performance, many had lowered their heads and had begun to pray! I assume that they were praying for, well, me -- a foul-mouthed vice-addled atheist with very low tolerance for religious self-righteousness. As bizarre as this sight was for me, I must admit, I felt strangely flattered by these young'uns' efforts to save my soul. Needless to say, that particular venue is one of many across the country from which I've been banned.

What is the one thing you can't live without when you're on the stage, and why?
Lots of crispy Stella Artois. However, I don't drink them to stave off stage fright, I drink them to sedate my inner editor. I've found that I'm best onstage when I don't have a chance to think about my words before they come tumbling out of my mouth.

--Andrew Singer is a contributing editor for The Apiary. He performs regularly as "Soce the Elemental Wizard." He recently wrote about comedy producer Susan Alexander, Shawn Hollenbach, Megan Ganz and Jen Dziura

Reader Comments (2)

What a funny dude. Nice work, Andrew!
October 8, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAbbi Crutchfield
December 12, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterlarhule

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