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Rob Delaney Talks About Gratitude, Perspective, Spaceships And A Career With Teeth

A screenshot from Rob Delaney's standup special, "Live At The Bowery Ballroom."
A screenshot from Rob Delaney's standup special, "Live At The Bowery Ballroom."

Full disclosure: The first thing I said when I saw that Rob Delaney would be talking to NPR's Audie Cornish on today's All Things Considered was that I was curious to see whether he had ever said anything on Twitter — where he has almost 670,000 followers (including me) as of this writing — that they thought they could read on the radio. It's an exaggeration. But not by that much.

Delaney's Twitter feed is a firehose of gross jokes, politics, non sequiturs, sharply observed satire, links to very thoughtful pieces he's written (like a widely circulated one about sobriety and depression) and my personal favorite: bizarre, typographically inventive tweets addressed to companies or famous people that spoof, with depressing accuracy, the mundane, un-copy-edited tweeting that goes on all day, everywhere. ("@Walmart: r women mammals?" "@DrPhil: who invented raisins .")

Delaney has also done standup for years, and recently released the special "Live At The Bowery Ballroom" through his web site (using the self-distribution model also recently employed by Louis C.K. and Aziz Ansari). He's a weird, inventive, incredibly prolific writer, and exactly the kind of person who benefits from the new media advantage of having more than one outlet for the enormous number of ideas that are clearly careening around in his head that are, to use what is admittedly not a technical comedy term, moderately to extraordinarily bazoo.

He tells Audie Cornish that what makes sense on Twitter isn't the same thing that makes sense in standup. "On Twitter, I just want to make you laugh at all costs. I say things, routinely, that I don't believe, and that are satire, and the reason that you laugh — if you laugh — is that you're like, 'This person is ridiculous.' On stage, I'm me. I'm a husband, I'm a dad, I'm a guy, I'm a mess — but I am a cohesive thing that you recognize as one human entity saying these things that he generally believes. So I might make fun of Donald Trump on Twitter, 'cause that's fun and easy, and something for a lazy person to do while they wait for a sandwich at a deli. But then, that's not going to work on stage. Who cares? You want to get much deeper and talk about much more visceral concerns and fears — and also, that's where people are going to laugh the hardest, too."

There is, however, a link between Twitter and standup, in the sense that it's provided what he calls a different "entry point" for what he had been doing for a long time. "I was traveling through space in a handmade spaceship that was rickety and had parts of it that were made of wood and teeth," he begins, at which point Cornish clarifies that the spaceship made partially of teeth was his career. (See also: moderately bazoo.) And then something happened: "Twitter came along," he says, "and I thought, you know what? I'm going to give it away for free. And that began to resonate with people, and then Twitter has allowed me to begin to sell tickets to live shows. To the point now where I can go to a foreign country and sell a place out." So the means are new, but the end is actually a career doing the same thing that, as he points out, was once the same end in mind for young comics who did Johnny Carson's Tonight Show. There are simply more ways for people to get noticed. "It's not good or bad; it's what's happening," he says.

Cornish asks him whether it matters to him — whether it bothers him a bit — that Twitter has been so much a part of the expansion of his audience that he's often referenced as a Twitter-based comedian, or somebody people know from Twitter, as if he hasn't been doing standup for years. But Delaney says it's a matter of perspective: "I would maybe complain about that if I wasn't married to a wonderful woman and had a one and a half year old son and had another kid coming in a couple months, if I hadn't been in jail in a wheelchair ten years ago, if I hadn't fought like crazy to get where I am now, I would maybe care about that distinction. But I also know in standup, there's nowhere to hide. You get on stage and you deliver, or you are eviscerated and you are thrown into a pile of bodies at the bottom of a mountain."

And in the end, the guy with the tweets about the invention of raisins and whether women are mammals points out that it genuinely is all about the journey. "I don't really have any problem with the way that I got to where I am now," he says. "And I think I would be an ingrate and a silly burger if I complained about it."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Linda Holmes
Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.