Ari Shaffir’s Renamed Storyteller Show: An Oral History
(Lessons in how to take a bar gig into one of the best nationally touring shows in comedy.)
Nine years ago Monday a storytelling show started in the back room of the LA Improv curated by the club’s booker, Eric Abrams, and an up-and-coming comic named Ari Shaffir. Simply titled Psychedelia and featuring comedians telling acid and mushroom stories, their one-off show ended up launch a long running, frequently evolving show, especially once manager Sam Saifer joined them and the show evolved into This Is Not Happening. Despite splitting into a TV series by that same name and live show now titled Ari Shaffir’s Renamed Storyteller Show, the structure (and minds behind it) remain the same. Monday the two shows, and three producers, come back together for a good cause (www.gofundme.com/team-aidan-help-him-fight-leukemia) with the first ever This is Not Happening Presents Ari Shaffir’s Renamed Storyteller Show. So as they tell stories of Hope and Fear (tonight’s show) read the story of the Storytelling Show in their own words.
Featuring Ari Shaffir, Eric Abrams, Emilie Laford, Kevin Christy, Ryan O’Neill, Steve Simeone, Steve Rannazzisi, Sean Patton, Dan Madonia, Steve Agee, Dylan Brody, Sam Saifer, Kevin Christy, Joe DeRosa, Greg Fitzsimmons, Bert Kreischer, Joey Diaz, Jay Larson, Pete Johansson, Big Jay Oakerson, Joe List, Liza Treyger, Bonnie McFarlane, Steve Calitri, Duncan Trussell, Al Jackson, Kurt Metzger, Kate Willett, Ms. Pat, Doug Stanhope, Ali Siddiq, Dave Landau, and Gary Vider.
Once Upon a Time in LA
Eric Abrams: I had been booking the Improv for about three years before we did the show. That side room had previously been used by Second City, but when that partnership dissolved we suddenly had a second space to fill.
Ari Shaffir: It didn’t even have a liquor license. It was a 40-seater and could do some experimental stuff in there.
Emilie Laford: I worked with Eric at the Improv and he really took me under his wing and taught me about booking comedy straight out of college.
Ari Shaffir: It’s important to remember, I had nothing going on at this time. I was a paid regular at The Comedy Store, I was opening for (Joe) Rogan who paid me more than he should have been. But I wasn’t even headlining at this point.
Kevin Christy: I remember before Ari got into Montreal I had to talk him out of quitting. He was saying “I’m not getting anywhere, I’m just going to go to law school.”
Ryan O’Neill: He was on his way out before the storytelling came along.
Steve Simeone: Ari was the first friend I made at the Store…I remember Ari and I had what I now call our depression walks. And I remember one Memorial Day weekend, I was down at the beach. And we walked and talked for probably four hours, it was just a very cathartic conversation. I remember, we were both in a bad place, and I was still trying to find the positive. And he was just like, it’s just not going to happen. We’re not what the industry wants, we’re too old.
Ari Shaffir: I was noticing other comics were starting to do storytelling in their acts. The first one I remember was Ralphie May, watching from the ticket booth (at The Comedy Store) he told a bad crowd “you don’t deserve my A material.” So, he started just telling a story about the first time he met Sam Kinison at 17. And I remember everyone, myself included, just being engrossed in the story. I didn’t think about it again until way later. And then I saw Jay Larson and he closed a show with this story about a wrong number and deciding to mess with the caller. And it hit something in me. I was like, stories are like the new musical closer for comedy.
Ari Shaffir: I got into Montreal in 2009 with The Nasty Show, and that was the first time I started telling stories in my act. I had this story about shitting my pants in Australia and it became my closer. And it killed. And my manager came to see me a few months later, asked to see what I did in Montreal, and he was like “I don’t know, shit stories?” And I realized I had to drop him, even though I had nothing else going on at the time. My agent was using that Montreal footage to sell me to more clubs, but my own manager didn’t believe in me.
Sean Patton: I met Sam when she was a stand-up comedian. And it made sense when she became a manager because I remember the open mic she used to run in LA at the Improv Olympic. And she was such a control freak about it. She would do this speech at the top of every show, calling out comedians from the previous show. By name. And when I met Sam I was like, what a psycho. I’d do her show and was terrified of fucking up and getting yelled at. And she did yell at me from the stage once or twice. I remember a comedian getting on stage and yelling “who does she think she is!” And from the side she goes, “I’m the person running this mic and you’re the person getting the light.”
Ari Shaffir: I’m manager free at this point and Sam Saifer had just become a manager and she’s like, let me try to work with you.
Sam Saifer: Ari was pretty manager phobic. And wary of the industry in general. But we were already friends and he’d been friends with Eric for years. I told him I won’t touch the money you make on the road until I add value to it.
Ari Shaffir: She treated me like a rescue dog. She believed in me and saw how unused I was and said you don’t even have to pay me until I get you paid this much on the road.
Eric Abrams: Sam and I had moved into a new apartment and had a Friday after Thanksgiving party and invited Ari. And we started just telling mushroom stories. I still love mushrooms, but I really loved mushrooms at that time in my life. And I’m always happy to talk about those trips.
Ari Shaffir: And after that I said “dude, let me do a show in the Lab where comics just tell mushroom stories.” But Eric said, let’s not just do mushroom stories, let’s do acid too and have all psychedelic stories. I hadn’t done acid yet, and I’d only done mushrooms twice, but I knew a lot of comics had those stories.
Eric Abrams: I don’t know why it took us three months to put the show together. But knowing Ari and myself at that time, it’s also not that surprising.
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