Aaron Aryanpur Is As Comfortable Playing A Club As He Is At A Kids’ Birthday Party.
Welcome to Humor Us, a new column in which local comedian Alex Gaskin interviews other local comedians about the ol’ funny business in order to help introduce DFW at large to the burgeoning comedy scene blooming right under its nose.
Aaron Aryanpur’s talent has led him to great opportunities and enviable success. It’s also landed him a gig at a child’s birthday party.
Aaron Aryanpur took his first comedy class in 2002, but he’s been passionate about comedy since childhood. Diligent effort and a deep respect for his craft have helped him develop swiftly as a performer; he made comedy his full-time career three years ago. His material is featured on Comedy Central Radio, and he won the title of Funniest Comic in Texas in 2012. He’s also been featured on national television with an appearance on Fox’s Laughs.
Aryanpur has a sharp delivery and expert timing, but those aspects alone aren’t enough to explain how Aryanpur has become one of the best — and most respected — comics in DFW. He talks openly onstage about his life, and he’s able to find terrific, singular comedy in deeply personal matters. That willingness to be honest and vulnerable with crowds is what makes him an irreplaceable performer.
Here, I talk to him about how he reached that voice.
The first thing I wanted to mention is that you have a show that just announced at the Arlington Improv for June 12 called “DadMax.” What an you tell us about that?
We were trying to come up with a clever way of getting the word “dad” in the title. We did a show in Addison [Improv] called “Breaking Dad.” I think that’s a better name, but then I looked it up, and I forget the guy’s name, but the dude who lied about 9/11, that was on The League… Steve…
Yeah. I think that’s the title of his album. So if we were gonna come up with any name, I didn’t want it to look like we were ripping off someone who ripped off somebody.
That could almost be look at as karma, though.
Yeah, yeah. So we were just trying to come up with an early Father’s Day show, where all dads talk about kid stuff. Not a family-friendly show, but a show where dads talk about families. I don’t know if that makes sense. [Laughs.] So we’ll see how that goes.
I know you headlined a show at the Addison Improv about a month ago. Are you looking to build an ongoing relationship with the Improv?
Well, it has been ongoing. It’s not a steady thing, but I’ve headlined the occasional one night before. And then, over the years, there’d be weekends where I’d feature through the weekend, but the headliner wasn’t available for the Sunday show, so I’d headline the Sunday show. Things like that. It’s been cool. I’ve been able to do my occasional one night now for a few years, which is nothing steady, or on a monthly basis, but I always have such anxiety about having people come out anyways. So I don’t know how much it would stress me out if I had to make sure there was an audience there every month. You hope for it, but you just can’t count on it. But it was a great turnout last time.
Sunday our early Father’s Day show is 2 for $10 to DAD MAX: Funny Road with @aaroncomedian! Use code: DADBOD at ImprovArlington.com or call (817) 635-5555 for a limited time! You’ve seen Aaron on FOX’s Laughs and heard him on Comedy Central radio! Don’t miss out on these twisted tales of fatherhood and have a #LovelyDay!
You’ve performed in just about every environment that could have comedy — bars, clubs, casinos, you name it. And you also once mentioned living rooms…
I literally did a nine year-old’s birthday party a couple of weeks ago.
How was that?
It was awful. [Laughs.] It was… a comedian had been asked to come from LA to headline a kid’s party. And Raj… you know Raj?
Yeah, Raj Sharma [an LA-based comic who started in Dallas].
And Raj — I don’t think he was going to be in town — knew our mutual friend was coming, and he sent me a text that said, “Hey, you might be able to do this show, he needs an opener, just do a few minutes for a private party.” At that point, I didn’t know what the details were. I did not know it was a kid’s party. I just knew it had to be clean. I’ve done that before. I’ve done living rooms before. I’ve done private parties — usually in some really, really nice houses. This one blew me away. So, the family is half Middle Eastern, as is this comedian they brought in, as am I. He [the LA comedian] had an album that just came out, and apparently it was the daughter’s favorite DVD. If she had a favorite comedian, he was the comedian. So they asked him if he’d come up and do this party. And honestly, until the night of, until literally a half-hour before, I had no idea it was a nine-year old’s birthday. I had no idea it was going to be a room full of nine-year-olds and their parents. They were really nice, they were really gracious. But it was a trippy experience. I’m holding a karaoke microphone, I’m wearing a jacket. It was just dumb. And they loved [the headliner], of course. He was their favorite comedian.
Who was the headliner?
His name is K-Von. He’s a nice guy, too. And the family was super cool. It’s just like, y’know, we rolled up to the house, and says to me, “I should’ve asked for more money.” I was like, “Yeah, you should’ve.” They went all out. Not only that, but it was like, they loved him, so of course they’re gonna love everything he does. I’m just some random grown-up at a party trying to talk to kids. And it was late at night, too. And then they had us hang around. They loved our company; they wouldn’t let us leave. So they were trying to feed us, they were playing games, they served cake. I was like, “I don’t want to be in the background of your family shots.” So yeah, almost every type of environment. [Laughs.]
Do you adjust when you go to a different room, say for a corporate gig versus a bar or a club versus a casino?
Yeah, definitely. I think I’ve got enough different [material] now that it doesn’t freak me out and I can pivot if I need to in the moment. Especially if I’m going down a certain path and I’m getting a lot of resistance. I’m not talking about it being a little uncomfortable, I don’t mind pushing through that. But when it’s clear they don’t want to talk about this, or nothing in that topic is hitting. I did a corporate event yesterday, and it was material that I’m not doing regularly now. Especially the last couple of months, I’ve been talking a lot more about… my dad recently passed away, and I’ve been talking a lot more about his sickness, and talking about death and dying, and I found a way to make it work in a club set. I found a way to make it work when people came out to see me. I think people are more forgiving when they know you. But, in a corporate environment, it didn’t even occur to me to do that stuff.
Talking about material, you aren’t afraid to talk about personal stuff onstage. How do you decide what you’re ready to discuss, or determine that something is a good fit for material?
That’s a really good question. I don’t know. I try to share as much as I possibly can without trying to embarrass anybody. There’s a lot of stories about my family, about my wife and kids, that I think are hilarious, but that I would not share onstage. So I guess there is a line. Usually when I’m onstage, I like to talk about what’s happening with me, in that moment. I can’t do that unless it is what’s really going on. I heard something in another interview with another comedian, and it made me realize something about myself — that there are things I’m comfortable sharing onstage that night that I wouldn’t post online. Like, even if there are more people in a room, it feels a bit more intimate, and we can talk about more things, things I haven’t told anybody. And I’m not talking about a therapy session, or anything like that. But things that can be really personal. And we’re all laughing about it, we’re having a good time with it, but it’s not something I necessarily would want on tape.
Like being open about something versus having a record of it.
Exactly. And I like that. It’s a certain intimacy that comes from the night of a live show. I was just thinking about this. My wife teaches, and they do theater. And they just did the Lion King musical. I went to see the dress rehearsal, and it was great. They were middle-schoolers. The songs were fun, and even when they flubbed some lines, they recovered. The costumes were great, and you were really impressed when you watched it. We just got the DVD of it, and when you’re watching the DVD, you’re like, “Uh, they didn’t really hit that note” or “the costume isn’t….” The second that you’re watching it on TV or on your phone or whatever, it doesn’t feel as… I don’t what the word is…
There’s a forgiveness when it’s live that I think everyone has. When you see something live, or when you’re listening to a comic or watching whatever, you’re a lot more forgiving if they take chances. If you’re watching a video, and you’re thinking, “Oh, that didn’t really hit the way it probably should’ve hit.” But in the moment, everybody’s on board.
I don’t know if you’ll relate to this, but there are things I’ll say onstage that I’d never bring up in a regular conversation.
Yeah. We’re too polite. We’re too polite in our day-to-day. If somebody asks you how you’re doing, they’re not really asking you how you’re doing. They don’t want to hear about your recent breakdown. They don’t want to hear about troubles. It’s an opportunity to, if you can find a way to make it funny, it’s really a way to vent some stuff that’s weighing heavily.
How would you say you’ve changed over the years in terms of your performances now versus earlier in your career?
I think that I’ve become looser, not as rigid. I think years of getting onstage and doing things, trying them out, have also helped. I highly recommend improv classes or acting classes, just to get out of your own head. All of those things, I think, have helped me become a better performer. I remember writing out set lists. I remember writing out the same set list. Like, if you were to look at Saturday’s set list versus Thursday’s set list versus last week’s set list, they would’ve been almost the exact same, because that’s all the material I had. But I would meticulously write it down so I wouldn’t forget about it. I’ve become a lot less structured, or rigid, with that. I think that’s helped. I feel more confident going onstage, talking about whatever it is I want to talk about in that moment.
So more generally, did you start doing comedy here in DFW?
How would you say Dallas has changed between your start and now?
I think, if you were to ask anybody, they’d say that we’re in another boom. It’s weird to have started it after a collapse, back when it was huge in the ’80s and early ’90s, and then to see a whole new interest in it and a whole new boom start. Having said that, when I was growing up, there weren’t a lot of places to see live comedy. It never occurred to me to go to a comedy club. Even then, we may have had just the one or two. When I first started coming to the Improv regularly, that was different, because that was before comedians, once they hit a certain level, started doing all the theaters. So being able to see Mitch Hedberg or Dave Attell or Jim Gaffigan or [Greg] Giraldo…. now, all of a sudden, there’s a certain level where they’re not going to be coming to the clubs as often. I think that it’s been very encouraging over the years to see so many different types of people try [comedy]. The scene keeps growing, and the venues keep multiplying. And they’re all quality venues. It’s not just a bunch of crap places where a bunch of crap comics go up. There are real stages, there are real comedians going up and doing their best to put on real shows. I’m not saying everybody’s great or every show’s great, but it’s awesome to see that there’s such an honest effort by so many different people to do things as authentically as possible. It’s really encouraging. And that’s something I’ve noticed has been steady the whole time.
You hinted at it with that last question, but I know you’re a huge fan of comedy. That might seem self-evident for a comic, but I’ve seen you express an appreciation [online] for a lot of older and lesser-known comics. There’s a real depth of appreciation.
I think it was during formative growth period for me, as a kid. And then as a young adult, and as a young comic. What’s funny about that is that I’ve stopped enjoying comedy. [Laughs.] And that’s the thing that really sucks, because you go into this thing because you really like comedy. I still enjoy what I do when I’m hanging out, and I love being at live shows, and getting to watch friends, and other comics, but I can’t just sit down and watch a special anymore. It’s something I miss. After a while, you can see what they’re doing. You can’t turn the writer off. You watch them, and it’s, “Oh, this is what I would’ve done with that.” And then I’m at a point where I’m writing so much stuff where I hate when I’m sharing it with a huge comedy fan, somebody who listens to everything, someone who listens to satellite radio. Somebody who’s like, “Oh yeah, that’s kind of like such-and-such, or that’s like so-and-so’s bit” about things I’ve never watched or listened to. I don’t want to be unnecessarily influenced by anything. At some point, you just stop enjoying it. The flip side is that people make themselves absolutely nuts cataloging everything, where it’s like almost an encyclopedic knowledge of comedy. They know every bit, every comedian. There’s just too many comedians, too many albums, too many specials. There’s no way any one person can consume it all, but they’re out there and they may call you on something.
You posted something online maybe a month or two ago that really stuck with me. You talked about how in the past you tried to “keep your talents siloed,” and you were thinking of ways to integrate. Can you elaborate on that?
I have drawn cartoons and stuff ever since I was a little kid. Growing up, I always loved comedy, but thought that I’d be a cartoonist, or more into animation. And it’s just something I never pursued. Or maybe an illustrator for kids’ books. I have used my design for comedy to help other people out. I’ve designed I don’t know how many movie posters and album covers and flyers and things like that. I did a billboard recently for the Sunset Strip. I don’t do that kind of stuff for myself. I pursue voice-over. I audition like crazy, and I get voice over gigs. There’s just this thing in me where it’s like — and it’s always been in the back of my head – if I could only get my comedy chops with my voice-over stuff with my artistic side, I could somehow make a project for myself that used all of those. That would be something I think that would be really awesome to share. I think that would be something worth putting out into the world, and also help me stand out. Up until now, I feel like I’ve been very focused on one or the other. I think that’s the truth for a lot of people. Whatever their interests are, or their talents are, they don’t necessarily think about how they’re making a living at it, like “This is the job I do, this is the thing I like.” If there was a way to combine those things, it’d be so much better for everybody. A lot more fulfilling. What did it mean to you?
I’ve been doing comedy for over two years, and I’ve just started picking up work as a writer. One of the reasons I was self-conscious about doing this series is that I was self-conscious about merging comedy and my writing.
Do you feel like you’re going to get found out, from one camp or another?
Yeah! It’s almost like I felt like it was cheating, somehow.
There’s the idea that, if you’re a comedian, if you’re doing anything outside that, you’re not really a comedian. I think that’s a fear that a lot of people have. Which is horseshit. Because I can’t think of many comedians that are only comedians. You’ll talk to people about Brian Regan… maybe that’s it. Everybody else has some other gig where they’re writing, or they have been writing, and you just haven’t seen it. Or they’ve got a sitcom. Or they’re a commercial actor, or whatever. And then I think there’s the fear on the other side, where if this is my day job, and they find out I do comedy, then they’re not going to take me seriously. Or they’re going to think I’ve got one foot out the door. Or they’re going to pester me to tell jokes, or entertain at the office party. That kind of crap. At least, that’s been my situation. I don’t know about everybody. But I think people feel guarded, that this is this life, and that’s that life. But maybe good things happen when you let them blend.
I just want to throw one last question at you. You’ve done this for more than ten years, and you’ve had a lot of success. What advice would you give to new comics?
It’s really funny to me what people don’t know they don’t know. There was somebody who had posted something online about needing some advice, and I absentmindedly kind of offered something, because I just took it for granted, just, “Oh, you should go check out this.” And it made no sense to her. And I offered, “Well, then try this, then do this, then do that,” and it was amazing to me how much stuff — and not to make fun of her, but she just didn’t know. It’s been part of my life for so long that I take it for granted. It’s very difficult, when you’re talking to someone who has been doing it for a while, to say, “What should I do? Is there any advice you can give?” because it’s been [their] reality for so long that [they] kind of forget. You have to learn as you go, and you have to learn it somewhere. There are a couple of books out there. And not all books are great. I’d say do your research. The one that I really really liked was Zen and the Art of Stand-Up Comedy, which may be out of print. It was a really good read, and it’s informative and kind of entertaining. The thing I like about that, too, is that it’s a book that I’ve come back to. I haven’t read it recently, but it’s a book I came back to a few times, and I was able to take something else away from it two years in, four years in. There are a couple of classes out there that I think are helpful. Not every class. I think that comedy workshops get a bad rap, and I think most of them should because they’re probably cash grabs. But I know that there are really good classes at DCH, and there are really good workshops with Dean Lewis. I took a class from him. It was how I first got into stand-up, thinking there was a chance I could really do something with it. That was maybe 13 or 14 years ago. And then there’s improv classes. DCH. Also, Four Day Weekend. There’s all sorts of things you can do to kind of fine-tune your skills. But you have to go up, and you have to be uncomfortable. And you have to keep putting yourself in positions to be uncomfortable. There are a lot of comics who are doing the same set. They only go up to one or two places. They may have a fun night out, they may get something out of it, but they’re not going to do anything else with it. They’re kind of stuck. You have to keep making yourself uncomfortable. You have to watch tapes of yourself, and that can make you uncomfortable. You have to do the work of assessing where you’re at, finding ways to make yourself better. But also giving yourself a break sometimes. I think there are people who are so in their heads, who hate everything about what they’ve written, or how they look, or how they perform, and they’re more critical than they need to be. I think that’s really dangerous. You need to be self-aware in order to improve, but not so self-centered that you collapse on yourself. Then there’s the opposite side of that where the comic walks through with total confidence, but has nothing to back it up. They’re the ones who have a website first, have merchandise first, record an album when they’re a year in. They’re recording a whole album when they have maybe 20 minutes. There has to be a happy middle. What’s the best piece of advice you ever got?
Probably just to go onstage as often as possible. That’s what I heard the most, that you just have to get onstage as often as possible. Most nights, I would drive about an hour to get to an open mic.
I’ve done that. We’ve all done that. There comes a point where you have to make some decisions, though, because your time becomes a little more precious. Whether it’s from family obligations, or you’re getting different offers. That’ll suck. At some point, you’ve been begging people for work, and then all of a sudden you have a couple of weeks where there’s nothing, and then you’ll get offers for two or three gigs on the same day, and you’ll have to figure out which one you want to take. It’s a really good problem to have but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating. You just had this dry spell, and it’d be nice if things evened out. At some point, you need to know your worth. Like an honest assessment. Know what you can do, know what value you can bring to a show. Knowing that a club owner is confident in putting you up. And don’t let people take advantage of that. One of the hardest things to learn is to say no. You chase things for so long that when you finally start getting yeses, you might’ve outgrown what it was you were chasing. There are a series of clubs that I really wanted to work — I thought it’d be fantastic — and, when I got the opportunity, it wasn’t great. And the pay wasn’t great. It was a lot of time away from home; it didn’t seem worth it. But there’s this ego that says you need to do it, because you need to check that box. You pursued it, now you’ve got it, now you have to do it, but no one’s going to hold a gun to say that you have to do it. That’s a whole different set of advice for somebody further along. Be as honest with yourself as possible at every stage that you’re at. It sounds so cheesy, but there’s no other way to do this.