Recently I was honored to be able to pick the brain of one of my favorite comedians of all time, Bob Zany. Zany has been in the business for decades starting out by making his debut on the Gong Show, and since then he's not let up having accomplished practically everything there is to accomplish in the world of stand up comedy. He's done TV, Movies, has a weekly radio segment on the Nationally syndicated Bob & Tom show called "The Zany Report", and has a weekly comedy podcast with his wife, Erin O'Connor (also a comedian) called The Bob Zany Podcast where he interviews a variety of comedians, both well known and perhaps not as well known. The current episode is the second of a two part interview with Harland Williams (Half Baked, Something About Mary).
So, I hope you all enjoy reading this interview with Bob Zany as much as I enjoyed doing it.
SFCB: You've been doing comedy for decades now, and as was pointed out in your documentary "Close, but No Cigar" you've done pretty much everything there is to do in the business. Your very first appearance on TV came at the age of 15 years old, on the classic game show "The Gong Show". Take us through the process of getting on the Gong Show and what happens in the aftermath of your appearance. Did you get any compensation for being on the show, even though you were gonged?
BOB ZANY: Number one, I had to audition 3 times before getting the show. I would practice my act in front of the mirror. It was the first time I'd performed stand up, and I think it shows. I ended up getting pulled off the stage by a man dressed as a nun with a big net. For my efforts I was paid $125.98 and also a waffle iron.
SFCB: You talked in the Documentary, about how you've done just about everything there is in the world of Comedy, except have your own one hour special, which you have now done, although Showtime ended up passing on it for whatever reason. You've done countless of shows on the road, been on The Tonight Show, done TV shows, Movies, even had your own radio show. At a certain point, Bob, what's left for you? Shouldn't you be kicked back somewhere right now, angry at the paper boy for not getting the paper all the way up on the porch? What keeps you going out on the road night after night at this stage of your career?
BOB ZANY: The love of doing standup. Oh yeah, and to pay the bills.
SFCB: After all of the things you've done, and goals you've achieved, I looked up online to see how successful you were, and according to CelebrityNetWorth.com you are still "Under Review". Dammit, Bob, what more do you have to do in this world before you can get past the "review" stage of CelebrityNetWorth.com?
BOB ZANY: Pay my bills, I guess.
SFCB: Over the years, you've helped out a lot of comics who have come through the Bob Zany Comedy Outlets. I'm sure that for every comic that has come through that has gone on to success, there's been many others who just didn't have what it takes.
How do you let those people know that you just don't think they have it? Is there even a way to "break it to them gently" that this line of work just might not be for them? Or is the best move to just hit them with truth bluntly and straight to the point?
BOB ZANY: It would just be me giving them my opinion. I tell comics, "If you want it bad enough no one but you can stop you."
SFCB: You're known as someone that has worked with younger comics and sort of helped them out. Who are some of the comics that looked out for you when you were first getting into the business and helped you out?
BOB ZANY: There's too many to name, but if it wasn't for a lot of other comics I wouldn't have worked and done so many TV shows ie Jerry Lewis, Roseanne and Rodney Dangerfield. Ok I named a few.
SFCB: Growing up there were a number of comics that I just loved to watch, who are no longer with us. Aside from the great Robin Williams who just recently left us, two of my favorites were Richard Jeni and Ray Combs, who was probably best known for hosting the Family Feud. When they died it just felt crushing because, particularly for me someone that didn't know them, didn't know anything about them, it just sort of comes out of nowhere and I'm left with a feeling of "What the hell happened?"
As I got older it seemed that I became more familiar with the idea that a lot of comics are damaged souls, so to speak. The mask of comedy hiding some really dark things. Obviously everyone doesn't succomb to their demons and many are able to really triumph and get past it, but at a certain point it almost becomes a cliche that comedians are all the kids from our classes that were bullied and depressed and that telling jokes was always the laughter that hid the crying. Does that seem accurate to you or...I don't really know how else to put it so I'm not sure if I'm making sense. I just know as someone that has dealt with mental health issues all my life, I find myself connecting with Jeni and Combs (Jeni especially) and trying to find some type of understanding in something that probably can't be understood.
BOB ZANY: To a point. To quote Rodney Dangerfield "everybody's got a story."
SFCB: Recently it was revealed that this year's Comedy Central Roast was going to feature Justin Bieber, and that not only had he been begging for them to roast him, but that they allegedly encouraged him to go out and pull these ridiculous publicity stunts, in order to give them material to work with.
As someone that grew up viewing the Celebrity Roasts, as a sacred aspect of comedy, this really kind of pissed me off when I read about it. The fact that someone can basically apply to be roasted seems to go against the tradition. I always viewed it as something that was earned. Sort of a career achievement or an acknowledgement by your peers.
I feel this makes a mockery of of something that, admittedly has been on the slope downwards for years since Comedy Central took it over, and the 1st year roasted Denis Leary, whose production company produced it, thus giving him editing powers to cut out jokes he didn't like.
As someone who has had a fairly unique appearance at a Celebrity Roast, what are your thoughts on the Roasts then and now?
BOB ZANY: It's show - business - the Roasts ( before Dean Martin put them on mainstream TV), we're just as crude as the ones today, the difference they were behind closed doors and only the people in the room, heard them.
SFCB: Recently Jon Stewart has announced he's stepping down from the Daily Show after 16 years, and Stephen Colbert is taking over for David Letterman, effectively leaving behind the character he has created over the previous decade. I've seen a lot of talk about how there doesn't seem to be an equivalent of Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert on the right. And while I had never really thought about it before, that does seem to be correct. I know Fox News tried to create their own "Daily Show" years ago (The 1/2 Hour News Hour) and it bombed horrifically, currently the lowest rated program on Metacritic of all time.
I've seen reasons given for this such as that those on the right wing of things tends to be focus on being political first, funny second, as opposed to those on the left being funny first, political second, or that there's just a favor bias towards liberals in political comedy, whereas there seems to be a favor bias towards conservatives when it comes to political talk radio.
As someone that has certainly interacted with hundreds of comics over the years, how do you view this? Why do you think that there's such a dearth of conservative comics? Aside from Dennis Miller or the Blue Collar Comedy guys, I don't know of many self identified well known comics that are on the Republican side of things. Some Libertarians, perhaps, but not Republicans.
BOB ZANY: I can only speak for myself I'm old school I go after everybody politically.
SFCB: One of the things that I always felt drew me to enjoying comedy, is that no matter the topic, it can be made funny by the right comedian. Even topics that are seemingly ones that no one could ever get a laugh out, I've seen get tremendous laughs. I've long felt that, barring a situation where you personally were affected by something, there's almost nothing that can't be made funny if framed properly.
Case in point comics like Ahmed Ahmed and Dean Obeidallah on their "Axis of Evil Tour" who were doing 9/11 themed jokes in the aftermath of 9/11. If anything would be off limits you would imagine it would be THAT and by THEM, however they have a way of making you laugh even while at the same time thinking, "That's just wrong."
How do you approach potentially controversial topics, and your attempts to get laughs from them?
BOB ZANY: If its funny its funny. That's our job. It's up to the individual comedian, if he or she want to tackle the topic.
SFCB: On a similar topic, we've seen time and time again over the past several years especially, comedians being sort of forced into apologizing for jokes that they've told. Whether it's Daniel Tosh and his "rape jokes", or Bill Maher for, well, take your pick, it seems that comics are constantly being joke-checked and having to second guess what they say or do on the stage or on social media. Do you think it's a social media thing, where now any and EVERYONE is online and everyone's opinions are given equal treatment, or is it just us moving into a different era from the time when someone like Don Rickles could say things that today would get him fired, or like the old Rat Pack that would have decidedly non-politically correct jokes in their acts?
BOB ZANY: It could be, but as for the ones that are not afraid to stand in front of the audience, win's!
SFCB: You are featured weekly on the nationally syndicated Bob & Tom Show with your own "The Zany Report". How long does it take for you to prepare for each appearance?
BOB ZANY: I read a couple newspapers a day, circle stories that might be funny. Also I peruse magazines and watch TV and listen to radio then I go for it.
SFCB: Finally, you have a very funny podcast on SideshowNetworks called The Bob Zany Podcast that you do with your lovely co-host and wife (same person) Erin O'Connor. On February 26th of 2015 marks your two year anniversary of your very first episode, featuring Carrot Top. Since then you've cranked out over 100 podcasts on a weekly basis featuring some of the funniest comics out there, some well known, some not as well known. What got you interested in doing a podcast, and now that you've hit your two year anniversary, looking back on it what are your thoughts?
BOB ZANY: It's great to reconnect with friends in the business. and it gives me another challenge besides stand up. Plus, I get to work with my lovely wife, who is a very funny person.
SFCB: Well, Bob, I want to thank you very much for taking time out of your schedule to answer these questions. Before you go, please let everyone know what upcoming shows you're doing, and anything else you have to promote.
BOB ZANY: That's what BobZany.com is for. they can see all that I have going on, Bay-Bee! Find out when I'm coming to a town near you!