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Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Aiming beyond funny, ripping out hearts with Bob Rubin

Posted By on Wed, Apr 1, 2015 at 1:21 PM

Bob Rubin at the Punch Line Comedy Club in the 1980s - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • Bob Rubin at the Punch Line Comedy Club in the 1980s

It's fair to say that comedian Bob Rubin, who has been living the comedy life for three decades, has a rather sui generis style. The comic, a fixture of the San Francisco comedy scene in the 1980s and beyond, has a way with a non-sequitur and absurdism. 

Thus, SF Weekly would like to declare 04-01-2015 OFFICIAL BOB RUBIN DAY, since he's performing at the Punch Line Comedy Club tonight, and also because we're huge fans, and this blog doesn't let things like "not having the authority to declare holidays" get in its way. We don't have any keys to the city to give out, but you can check out Bob Rubin's off-the-wall new "Bananaland" podcast on his website,, or his fascinating interview on Marc Maron's podcast

San Francisco's comedy scene in the 1980s

SFW: What were some of the big venues?
Rubin: Holy City Zoo, anybody who started there, that was their favorite spot, because it just was such a hole in the wall. There was a music club, the Last-Day Saloon, next door. ... Sitting in the Holy City Zoo, you might as well have been sitting in the Last-Day Saloon, because that's how loud their music was.
Rubin: It seems like that was one of the hardest places to learn how to be a comedian, but I think that's what made it one of the greatest places, because everybody was relaxed. Nobody cared. Nobody thought, "Gee, I'd better look good here, because this is going to make or break my career." You have to have a place where you can go and be bad, in order to get good, and not just your parents' living room.

He looks crazy, but he's not, although looking crazy did get him a part in "Boondock Saints II"  
click to enlarge arubin2.jpg
Rubin: The reason I got in that movie, I found out later, is the writer/director saw me at a little Korean barbecue [in Los Angeles] that happened to have a great showroom ... I'd go there to hammer out new rhythms and material, and I found out after the fact that this guy saw me one time, and really liked it, and he came back eight straight Wednesdays. And then he told me later, "I just wanted to see if you were crazy, or if you actually had a grip of what you were doing." And then he wanted me in his movie ... so I got this part, and that was cool. I met the love of my life, Jennifer. 

When things get too real

Rubin: … This is really the longest, most serious conversation I have ever had. You should feel proud. I've been doing this for over 30 years, and you got me. You sucked the funny right out of me.
SFW: [Fumbles over notes] Yeah, sometimes the comedians start heckling me. I have a questio —
Rubin: You have destroyed my confidence, Giselle. I hope you're happy. DESTROYED IT.
SFW: [Fumbles over notes] How do you deal with hecklers?
Rubin: I never had a game plan, I never had a stock line. ... First of all, if you start worrying and preparing, and have the stuff ready, you're going to use it. Same reason I don't keep drugs in the house anymore — You're gonna use 'em! But — strike that from the record.
SFW: It has been erased from time itself.
Rubin: I don't think I got heckled as much as a lot of people did. Because I was 6'4'', 250 pounds, huge hair, huge beard. Even though I'm a gentle person, maybe it didn't look that way on stage when I'm going a mile a minute and sweat flying off me. I think it looked like a scary prospect.

Murdering the audience

Rubin: One time, years ago, I was doing a ballroom and there were people heckling up front. And nobody else could hear it, but I was tired, and it interrupted my timing and my act, because they were just yammering and yammering. ... I stepped off the stage, and I just leaned over off the mic , and I grabbed the guy's shirt, crumpled it up in my fist, pulled him out his chair a little bit and only to where he could hear it, I said, “Keep it up, and I'll rip your fucking heart out and feed it to you.”
Rubin: So I get off stage, and that was the end of that, and then, afterward I see this guy coming up to me. [Laughs] and the guy says, I wasn't heckling you, it was the guy next to me. And I go, “Oh, man, I'm sorry.” And he says, “Well, it worked. He shut up!”

How not to end a show

Rubin: [Recounting one comedian's signoff back in the day] The guy would say, "Thanks, I've been Chad, and you guys have really made me flip." And then he did a backflip and walked off.
SFW: Whatever happened to that guy?
Rubin: Well, I think he's doing back flips at Wal-Mart. It's a tough job.

Seriously, seriously deep

SFW: One thing that has always really stuck with me … something you said during a show in 2007 ... “It's easy to get onstage, and tell jokes, and be funny, but I'm trying to do something different.”
Rubin: Well, that sounds like something I would say. Do you want to know what I mean by something like that?
Rubin: Did that sound like I was being mean?
SFW: No! It sounded deep.
Rubin: What I've always meant by that is I've wanted to give every crowd something memorable, something they'll never, ever, ever forget. Which is hard to do. ... If I can generate some sort of a rhythm, some sort of a presentation, that goes beyond just telling some jokes — I’m not putting that down, that’s basically what we’re supposed to do, go up and tell jokes and make people laugh — but if I can put together something bigger, and more memorable than that, that’s what makes me happy.

No, really, he's not crazy

Rubin:  I'm dedicated to doing absurd and silly material, nonsequiter material. I hate to even describe it like that, but you are conducting an interview, so I'm giving you that much. The old me, I would have just acted like a crazy person, I might have been drunk, and I would have already hung up. [Laughs] Isn't it great getting me now that I've mellowed out?
SFW: We're ahead of the game! ... As someone who has seen you several times, there is a moment of, 'Is this person crazy?' You definitely cultivate a — I don't want to call it a character onstage, but it's a very larger-than-life persona.
Rubin: That happened organically. ... I kind of like it, because I think it just adds to a show. For lack of a better description, it's, "Well, the dude was passionate, and he certainly seemed to be working hard." Don't get me wrong, the idea is to go out and make people laugh. I don't like it when it doesn't go well. Some people think, "Oh, he's just trying to be weird." ... No. Mostly I heard either "I love you, man!" or "God, you suck. You are fucking horrible." And that's when you know it's organic!
Rubin: Thats kind of where I've kept it. I tell you what — that is more me, than this is. Although I enjoy talking to you, don’t get me wrong [Editor's note: nice save]. However, if I was that way all the time, I probably would be dead. And I actually came very close to that, where I couldn't stop doing that all the time, that pace.
Rubin: I can think of two different occasions over the years when doctors came up to me, and said, "I'm a doctor, it's obvious you're suffering from bipolar mania." And I'd say, "OK, who put you up to this?" And they'd say, "No, I'd really like it if you came and saw me." And I've had people walk out on me, because they think I'm a drug-crazed maniac. ... I understand people not getting it, because if you're doing something a little bit different, not everyone should get you.
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Giselle Velazquez


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