(Every week, comedian Susie Felber will interview a different star of the comedy world for the CC Insider. You can read more of Susie on her blog, Felber's Frolics. This week is part two of Susie's revealing interview with SNL writer Bryan Tucker. Read part one here.)
Part two: Chris Rock, Antonio Banderas, and Bryan's comedy roots.
Is being involved with a live show stressful? Like have you had any scary moments where things almost went wrong?
Tucker: It is stressful, and I've had a few tough moments. The one that immediately comes to mind is the Antonio Banderas show. I wrote a sketch with Chris Parnell and Amy Poehler called "Wine Enthusiasts" that I was very proud of.
It was a weird sketch that had no chance of going into the show early, but had a very good chance of getting on, as it had been getting good laughs from the staff all week. Saturday's rehearsal, which starts at 8 p.m., went very long. Most rehearsals go over between 20 and 30 minutes. This one went over by almost 50 minutes. That means they had to cut six sketches for the live show. They usually cut two or three. I was relieved to see that my sketch made it in, but it was slotted for the last sketch of the night. I was told the show was estimated to still be over by six or seven minutes, so I thought it probably wouldn't get on anyway, as they would run out of time.
The show went on and I watched the clock. It didn’t look good. At about 12:47, I got called down to the Control Room. The producers told me that the sketch was still in, but I had to cut between two and three minutes out of it. The original sketch was a little over four minutes long. I told them that maybe we should just do it another time, but they said, "Sorry, but we don't have anything else slotted, so you'll have to make it work." By the time I started cutting, it was 12:52, and they were about to go to commercial. I had three minutes. I sat with the director and the cue card guy and furiously slashed the script, trying to cut it down while still making it coherent. I made all the changes and ran out the door to find Amy Poehler, Chris Parnell and Antonio Banderas to show them the changes that had been made.
I found Amy first and went over them as quickly as I could. Then I found Chris in makeup and took about 30 seconds to show him how the script was more than cut in half. I heard "One minute!" Then I literally ran into the studio and found Antonio Banderas being dressed by two people for the sketch. As they stripped him down to his underwear and put clothes on him I showed him the changes to the script, and we went over it quickly as he was walking to the set. He nodded, and I just told him to just stick to the cue cards. I heard "10 seconds!" Right before Antonio sat in the chair, he put his arm around me and said, "Can I tell you zomething?" I said, "Yes." He said, "Zees sketch. Zees is my favorite sketch in the show. I think it's so… creative." I said, "Well thanks. I'm sorry it's going to be so short." He laughed, sat down in his chair on the set, and they immediately went to air. He didn’t even get to take a breath after laughing.
You've written for Chappelle, Chris Rock… any idea why you are so well equipped to be the voice of today's biggest black comedians?
Tucker: I get asked that a lot, and I don't have a great answer. Part of it is growing up being a fan of hip hop music. Part of it is just not being scared to write that kind of stuff, which I think intimidates a lot of white writers because they're so worried that it's going to sound fake. They seem to think that writing a "black" sketch involves a lot of characters saying things like "Off the heezy."
On my first day at The Chris Rock Show I was trying to make conversation with Chris and get any advice I could, so I asked him what I should not do. He said, "Don't try to write black. Write funny, and I'll make it black." That dude knew his stuff.
According to Google, you were in a group called "Selected Hilarity" – is this something you are proud of or something you'd like to strangle Mr. Google for revealing?
Tucker: No. Not at all. I'm actually proud of our group. We were all friends in college down in North Carolina, and after graduation we turned it into a career that lasted almost 6 years. We toured the country and played over 300 colleges and clubs. Yes, we wore Chuck Taylor tennis shoes and wacky spotted ties and we did a few hacky jokes, but I think anyone should be forgiven for that when they're first starting out. Being in that group really gave me a lot of experience when I finally moved to New York. I had to start all over again by myself, but I probably got successful a lot faster because I had at least performed a lot.
Oh yeah, and Lebanon Valley College still has a listing from 2000 with your pic and the heading "Comedian scheduled to appear." Do you have any memory of Lebanon Valley College? Any college gigs you did that were especially memorable?
Tucker: I don't have a distinct memory of that show. I did a lot of colleges, both in a group and as a stand up. Most of them involved me playing in the basement of the student union at some kind of cafe/snack bar with a name like "The Bear's Den" or "Night Moves."
I really liked doing the college when I was in my early 20's and touring with my friends, but by the time I was doing them as a stand up, I was kind of lonely and felt a little old. When you first start out it, feel like an adventure. Later it starts to feel a lot more like work. I'm happier as a writer.
What was the worst comedy gig you ever did? What happened?
Tucker: I've had a lot of bad ones. I did a show with my group where we got several bottles thrown at us and the crowd chased us into the parking lot. I did an improv show where I thought it would funny to pee myself. It turned out that it wasn't funny – for me or the audience.
But one show does stand out. I once got asked to open for a rap group (I think it was Gravediggaz) at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. This was a horrible, horrible idea. I came in and found out that the show was open to the general public. I had to pass through a metal detector. When I got in, about 200 people had already packed the place and music was booming out of the DJ booth. Some people had jumped up on stage and were dancing.
The show started almost an hour late. The MC came out and asked for the music to be turned off. This got the first wave of boos started. Then he announced that there was going to be comedy and the booing got louder. Then I came on stage and the boos were deafeningly loud (even though some people were already hysterically laughing). I was contracted to do 40 minutes. I got through about 20 before I couldn't hear myself speak any more, and then I got the fuck out of there and tried to figure out how to take the G train to Manhattan.
What jobs did you do before making a living in comedy?
Tucker: I did a few things. In New York, I temped for a few years, waitered, washed dishes, cooked, and worked as wedding photographer's assistant. I don't want the glamour to overwhelm you so I'll stop there.
What's your dream gig? Not like I can get it for you, but I'm curious.
Tucker: I'm not sure. I would like to get to a place where I can sell screenplays because that would give me the option to write wherever I want, and I would have the freedom to raise my kids anywhere in America instead of a tough, expensive place like New York or LA.
Anything else you wish I'd asked but I didn't because I'm a spaz?
Tucker: Um, maybe "Where'd you learn so damn much about life?" (Answer: Da streets.)