Getting to Know A....COMEDIAN!
Inspired by and drawn from just a fragment of the dynamic people in my life “Getting to Know A…” is my way of introducing you to a variety of professionals who are excelling in their various fields. Some follow a traditional path after finding their inspiration in unexpected places. Others carved out their own non-traditional careers. What they have in common is they are all incredibly passionate about what they do. My hope is something in these inspires you, the readers, as well.
Since the subjects of these pieces live far and wide I had initially sent each of them a personalized questionnaire with the intention of drafting them into articles. Their answers were just so dang good there was no way I wanted to change them. I decided, with permission to leave them as is.
Tell me first what you do. The title and what it is you actually do.
Hello. My name is Ron Babcock and I’m a standup comedian in Los Angeles. Sometimes I get hired to act or write stuff. Most of the money I make comes from producing web series and editing video. I made this one for MTV and it was turned into an Internet meme, which always makes my mother sigh..
I also just finished up this web show called the “Why Would You Eat That Challenge” where I fed exotic food and drink to comedians. There’s 19 ep’s with 10 more coming out really soon. The show is full of awesome comics eating stuff like live octopus, the world’s hottest pepper and snake wine. (Check out Kyle Kinane in the Malort ep!)
What drew you to comedy?
Comedy Central came out when I was a kid (I think it was called The Comedy Channel back then). They didn’t have shows; really, they just showed a ton of standup. I would watch it for hours upon hours. I just never got tired of it. Even though I loved watching standup, I never thought I could actually do standup. It just seemed so foreign to me. It was like becoming President or an astronaut. I never, for a second, thought that I could do standup one day.
Did you go to school for this?
I’ve never taken a standup comedy class, but don’t fault people that do. My buddy Chris started in a class and he’s one of the funniest comics I have ever seen. Whatever gets you going is a good thing in my book. I did however take a ton of classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in LA. I worked as the tech guy, so I got free classes and I took the shit out of them. I basically did their entire improv program twice. For a while, I was doing improv way more than standup and it’s all because of some advice I got from Patton Oswalt. He’s the first guy I ever opened for and he said, “For the first five years, try everything. Do everything. Try every little idea no matter how crazy you think it is. Make comedy your life. At year five start to focus.” Then he let my comedy partner (I was in a duo) and I raid his hotel mini-bar. I probably ate $40 worth of peanut M&M’s alone. Coolest guy to open for, ever.
I followed his advice and did everything – sketch, standup, improv, videos, writing, etc. It was insane. I was always doing some form of comedy. Around year 5, I decided to focus on the thing I enjoyed most (which was standup). But I love that I did a little bit of everything because it turned me into a well-rounded performer. But after awhile, you have to focus if you want to get truly great at one thing, not just kinda good at everything. Even though I’m much more focused than I used to be, I still have a long ways to go.
Did you go to college? What did you go to school for?
I went to the University of Scranton (go Royals) for Communication. In my junior year, I bought a VHS-C camcorder for $150 from a pawnshop. I wanted a video camera to use on Semester at Sea this study abroad program I did that took me around the world. When I got back, I convinced the school to give me 3 credits to edit all my trip footage into a marketing video. I’m a control freak, so I took to editing like a moth to flame. From there, I fell in love with making videos. I was that loud guy in classes and parties who always wanted to be the center of attention (I’m the youngest of five) so making videos satisfied my desperate need for attention.
How did this help your career?
I really fell in love with video production. My senior year I made this hour-long documentary on an old hotel. Because of scheduling goofs I was actually three credits short of graduating and I couldn’t have been happier about it. I loved Scranton and didn’t want to leave. My buddy Jim (who was in the same situation) and I decided to make this sketch show called “Three Credits to the Freedom.” It was all about how we had to make the show to graduate, but the show was about us not making the show. I was really into “Mr. Show” at the time so it was superrrrr Meta. I loved making it though. It just didn’t’ feel like work. I kept making videos and after awhile, people started to ask me to edit for them. I would charge $10/hour, then $15, then $25. As I got better, my rate went up. Once people knew of me as an editor, I started to land bigger and bigger gigs like editing on seasons three of HBO’s The Life and Times of Tim. Editing has definitely helped my comedy. It teaches you to cut out shit you don’t need.
Who were your biggest mentors/influences in your career?
My biggest influence by far was my comedy partner Ryan McKee. I originally moved from Northeast PA to Phoenix, Arizona to start a print comedy magazine with him called Modest Proposal. After awhile, we thought, “Well since we’re writing a magazine about standup comedy, perhaps we should actually try and do it?” We started performing together as a duo. We did the magazine together, performed together, made sketches together — he was pretty much my comedy wife. A lot of people like to name famous people when asked this question, but Ryan was def my biggest influence. He had much more of a fuck-it-we-can-do-this approach than I ever did. We would do shows out of our house and do all these crazy bits at random venues all over downtown Phoenix. If it wasn’t for him, I definitely would have never have started doing standup.
What is a personal career highlight so far?
Being selected as a “New Face” at the 2012 Montreal Just For Laughs Festival is definitely a career highlight for me. It’s this big festival that hundreds of comics audition for each year. There are three rounds of auditions to be selected. It’s a real emotional roller coaster. The year I got selected was my third year auditioning. Up until then, I had never even gotten a callback. I had been doing comedy for nine years and to be honest, I was frustrated. I was working very hard, but felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere. When my manager called to tell me I got “New Faces”, I was like, “Really? Are you sure? They didn’t make a mistake? You’re positive now? Can you double-check?” It was like the entire comedy world said to me, “Yes Ron, you are in fact doing good work and we recognize that. Now keep going.”
Does your life inform your work? If so, how?
Absolutely, it’s impossible not to. Standup is very personal. Even if you don’t talk about yourself in your act, your upbringing and life experiences shape your perspective. That’s why I think it’s important to do things that you otherwise wouldn’t do. For example, my friend Nina is a DJ and I’ve been going to her DJ shows. This is something I’ve never done, but meh, fuck it. Life’s short and I want to see what it has to offer. Your brain is a sponge. Remember to feed it. It’s good to try new stuff and see what the fuss is about. You’ll probably get a story out of it.
How do you separate your life from your work?
Oof, this can be hard. I feel the best about myself when I’m being productive, so I work a lot. This can make relationships difficult. While working with laser-like focus can be very productive, I don’t think it’s sustainable. After awhile, something’s gotta give. Spoiler alert, it’s usually a breakup. I think it’s important to strike a balance, not just so you can have healthy relationships with friends and loved ones, but also so you’re informing your work with new experiences. Standup is about making comments on life which requires you to live life. Go out and do shit that’s not just comedy. It’ll make you happier and your comedy better.
Creatively and personally, what are the major benefits of your career?
Creatively, I enjoy the process. Standup is a series of hills and valleys. It’s a process of discovery and failure punctuated by occasional success. That’s why I’ve learned to not feel that bad about bombing. It’s an integral part of the process. It’s supposed to happen. How can you discover new insights and experience success without failure? If you’re not bombing, you’re probably not pushing yourself. Or at least that’s what I tell myself to stomach bombing.
Standup is a process that’s been around a long time before me and will be around a long time after we’re all gone. Every performer has felt the same feelings of anxiety, insecurity and self-doubt. There’s something strangely comforting in that.
What are the drawbacks, if any?
You miss out on a lot of stuff. Parties, non-comedy shows, films — I can’t tell you how many times my friends have invited me to something awesome and then I looked at my calendar and went, “Ohhh crap, I have a showwww.” And half the time, the shows I was doing were just awful. But that’s how you get better. If you want to get better at basketball, you got to play a lot of basketball. Same with standup. Relationships can be hard too. It’s tough finding a girl who is okay with you spending a majority of nights at some crap open mic instead of with her. (I don’t blame women for thinking this by the way. It’s a very valid point). The trick is to finding a balance. I’m 10 years in and I’m still working on that.
What advice would you give someone considering this as a career?
If you want to be successful at comedy, the trick is to start and don’t stop. Also, don’t be a dick. Some comics will sometimes pull rank on you and make you feel small bc you’re not as well known or funny or whatever. Don’t do that. Just be cool and enjoy the fact that you are pursuing comedy for a living. Most people in this world barely have enough to eat and I get to pursue a life of comedy? All in all, it’s not a bad way to spend a life. Also, when you get on stage, move the mic stand behind you.