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Friday
Oct272006

Inside With: Robert Buscemi, Comedian, Actor, and Writer

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingChicago comedian, actor and writer Robert Buscemi has been catching his breath since his successful show at the Subterranean last month. He and several talented friends (including filmmakers Landon Kirksey and Jordan Vogt-Roberts) staged a one-of-a-kind comedy concert during which material was filmed for a forthcoming DVD of his sharpest character driven stand-up, the forthcoming "Robert Buscemi...Lands on His Feet!". "I want to film a new 50 minutes every year. For future titles, I'm thinking Robert Buscemi...Gilds the Lily, Robert Buscemi... Gallops Ahead, Robert Buscemi ... Wows Boise. Like they're Daffy Duck or Pink Panther shorts. I love that idea." He bounced onstage like a superstar, his past as a dramatic actor making him immediately comfortable in the charmingly weird theater environment of the Subterranean.

Buscemi has been employing an old-fashioned work ethic to accelerate his comedic evolution for the last four years here in Chicago, making notably quicker progress over the last year as he's become more adept at talking with the audience and improvising with his special brand of offbeat-but-accessible comedy. He credits guidance from HBO Comedy Festival producer Kirsten Ames and Second City producer Beth Kligerman with prompting him to realize that he needed to spend more time in New York, and play all kinds of different clubs (including in the 'burbs) to develop the instincts to be able to play to all kinds of audiences. "I've headlined a lot recently, I've been busting my butt this year. And I've realized I have to indicate to audiences that I KNOW I'm playing the fool. I make fun of myself, and of them, and it breaks that elitist / wordsmith / weirdo thing I can get saddled with if I'm not careful."

Through this period of pushing himself to mesh with different types of audiences, he's also been able to more instinctively deviate from a planned set with the ease of someone who's working from a rich and complex throughline of stories and themes. "I work to avoid being just a comic's comic. If you can't entertain the public, you're in trouble." He is one of those comedians who is keenly aware of the experience of his audience, and works to measure and react to every nuance of response in the room. He points to comics like Jim Gaffigan as examples of the kind of audience mirroring that he strives to incorporate into his work.

It took a detour through academia to lead him to the realization that performing, and particularly comedy, were what he needed to put his energy into. He did some theater his senior year of college, and then plunged headlong into grad school, taking a year off to clear his head from the fog of nebulous liberal arts theory. In that time away from his English Lit studies, he realized that performing was "it," and so jumped back into theater with the ardor and intensity of the recently converted. "I'm mystical about it. I worship the stage. It saved my life. Claymation skunks couldn't keep me away. I'm not kidding."

(Check out his hilarious anti-smoking ad, from his online vid collection, below:)


Photobucket - Video and Image HostingAs it happens, Buscemi began pursuing comedy in earnest in New York City just pre-9/11. He hit shows around town, especially at the Comedy Cellar, every night for several months, and saw a lot of improv at the old UCB Theater, soaking up the creativity, and breaking down the comedy with his disciplined eye. He particularly enjoyed the work of those comics who performed character-based comedy, and has long been in love with comedians who put forth a cartoony, fictional projection of themselves. "I like Vaudeville types. Gilbert Godfrey, Jimmy Pardo. Give me chaos. Give me outrage. Give me a character. Give me an act."

Buscemi points to Dave Chappelle, Wanda Sykes, and Sarah Silverman as comics who play with the tricky "slightly more wicked version of themselves" model of stand-up that he works with. He has long admired the older work of Woody Allen, and vintage Larry David, and especially admires Steve Martin, who he considers a master at "setting up an environment where who he is precedes what he says," and "establishing a framework that the character can operate within." Buscemi says he strives to project a cartoony version of himself, an "ultimate ladies man/hipster/innovator," who laughs at own jokes and yet is willing to laugh at himself as well.

He readily admits that he has discerned no foolproof formula or pattern to successful comedy writing. In his experience, something that can seem brilliant on paper can fall flat in front of an audience, and five seconds later, a totally impromptu joke from nowhere can have people falling out of their chairs. "It's always a mystery as to what's going to work," he says, and while it's risky, he instinctively knows that throwing himself out there and playing the jackass creates an atmosphere where the audience is willing to follow him out onto a spindly limb.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingWhile Buscemi is interested in doing more film, commercial work, acting work, and voiceover work, he says he'll always maintain his love for stand-up as an art form in and of itself, and not merely a stepping stone to other opportunities. "The fact that Chicago standup doesn't get much industry scrutiny makes you have to create your own comedy world, your own sensibility and taste and aesthetic and hierarchy. Which is awesome. But at some point, you want to be seen." He would love to tour as a headliner, and do stand-up on late night shows, but, like many Chicago performers, has concerns about pursuing a broader range of opportunities while leaving one foot firmly planted in Chicago, where he has strong ties to family and friends.

He's hoping, as are many Chicago performers, that there will be continued reinforcement of the "land bridge" that exists between Chicago and New York, on which comedians like Hannibal, Mike Burns, Brooke Van Poppelen, and others are going back and forth, gaining valuable performing experience in New York clubs yet still maintaining a presence in their home city. "The shortlist of top standups on Chicago's North Side is staggering. People are going to look back on this moment and marvel at the talent. And both audiences and scouts on the coasts are figuring that out."

In the forthcoming year, people across the globe will be able to get more and more Boosh, as he's recently acquired a new videocamera and will be posting a lot more standup on his Web site. More specifically, you can see him tonight (Saturday Oct. 28th) at 10:30 in Don't Spit the Water at the Playground, Halloween day (Oct. 31) and Tuesday Nov. 14 in
Chicago Underground Comedy at Gunther Murphy's, Friday Nov. 10 in Graffiti at the Playground, and Friday Nov. 17th at Schaudenfreude's Rent Party. Come on, all the cool kids are doing it. You want to be cool, don't you?

- Elizabeth McQuern

References (2)

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    Response: Ellen
    Inside With: Robert Buscemi, Comedian, Actor, and Writer - The Bastion - The Apiary - A Comedy Website
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    Response: click site
    Good page, Continue the good job. Thanks a lot!

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