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As of his springtime appearance on Late Night with Seth Meyers, Gary Gulman has officially appeared on every late-night network talk show currently on the air. (That’d include The Tonight Show, The Late Show, Jimmy Kimmel Live, The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, Last Call with Carson Daly and even Conan as a cable bonus.) To celebrate the achievement and his 20th anniversary in comedy, the Boston native exclusively announces his It’s About Time fall tour, leading up to the taping of a special bearing the same name.
Let’s start with your new tour.
It’s called It’s About Time. There’s a lot of entendres. It might even be triple entendre. One, it’s actually taken me 20 years to have a proper tour that wasn’t just me calling in my avails or my agent finding me a club that had an opening that weekend. This has some organization to it. I have this new agent [Steven Himmelfarb], who hasn’t worked with any comedians. He works with rock bands like Arcade Fire, and he had connections with promoters and different clubs that usually only use bands and guys like Eugene [Mirman] and Todd Barry.
And then for the past few years especially, I’ve been getting emails and Facebooks: “When are you coming to Chicago?” “When are you coming to this?” I never had an answer, so it’s about time I’m coming to these places where people have been requesting me. And also I feel like 20 years is an important amount of time to be in something, to be good enough. A few years ago I would have been like, “If you can make it to the show, fine. But you’re not going to miss all that much.” Now I feel like “Oh, you’ve got to see this! I’ve been working really hard!”
Over the past few years I feel that I’ve figured out how to do it and what I want to do. I was passable for a long time and did some good things, but I’m coming into my own, I guess, after 20 years. Which is mind-boggling, because if they’d told me at the beginning it would take 20 years, I don’t know if I would have been that patient.
Luckily along the way you think you’re good, and then you look back and you’re like, “Oh, I wasn’t good!” I remember hearing this thing that Ira Glass said, that what’s so frustrating when you start off is you get into it because you have good taste, and you’re just not able to live up to that for a long time. I feel like I’m starting to live up to that finally.
This will be your third one-hour special.
It’s easier to get a special now than when I started out, so I can’t take too much credit for it. But it’s just as hard to have an hour of material as it was when I started out, so I will give myself credit for that. The thing that’s happened over the last 10 years is a lot of guys–especially Louis [C.K.], Dane Cook, Billy Burr and some other guys–have made it a basic requirement that you make an hour every year or two. There’s more precedent for it. It’s like this thing I read where once the four-minute mile was broken, a bunch of guys started doing it.
Jim Gaffigan and Doug Stanhope, too. Even Tom Shillue took a different route to it, releasing an EP a month for a year.
I guess it’s sort of necessity, but on the other side of it, it’s also so great for getting better at stand-up, that you have a certain time to work on this shit and then you move on and hopefully write other, better stuff.
How would you characterize your own new and better stuff you’re working on this fall before committing it to the special?
I’m sure every comedian says this, so I don’t want to say it’s more personal, but it always is. I think you run out of observations.
It’s longer-form. The story I tell about Trader Joe’s is a 30 to 40-minute story. It’s not all about Trader Joe’s, and there are a lot of ins and outs and digressions and everything. There are other long stories like that. My promise is that I won’t do anything from the specials, the albums, unless somebody requests it at the end. I don’t really get it, but they want to hear jokes that they’ve already heard. I try to put, like, a little new twist on them or something. It’s like, “You know where this is going. I’m surprised you still want to hear it.” But I’m flattered.
Are you heading in a one-man show type of direction?
[Laughs] The one man show, I picture an end table with a lamp on it and me pontificating to a spotlight. I’m not a good enough actor to really pull that off. The way Mike Birbiglia does it, he’s in another league, and I’m far away from that.
How does it feel to achieve the goal of appearing on all the current late-night shows?
My first network show was The Tonight Show. My first Tonight Show was October 18, 1999, and then Letterman, The Late Show, Conan, Kimmel, and some that aren’t on the air anymore. It’s something that I just love doing, and I always thought it showed some versatility to be able to do all the different ones. I wasn’t just for one type of audience. Basically out of my sensitivity and need to please everyone, I had to be universal with my jokes and my stories. I could do different audiences and age groups and things like that. Maybe it’s different now, but when I first started it felt like Letterman was for this type of guy, Leno was for this type of comedian, and the alternative comedians would play Conan or whatever. I took some pride in that, and then I figured not a lot of my friends have done it, so it made me feel pretty good.
When did you move to New York from Boston?
I moved initially from Boston–from my mother’s house–to L.A. January of 2000. Every year I would get a development deal to make a sitcom, and it never got picked up. And then in 2006 I moved to New York for six months and became addicted to the stage time, and never went back. So I guess it’s eight years ago. At my best I was doing maybe four shows a week there. In New York that’s a typical Thursday or Friday night. It really enabled me to build my act. So yeah, that was the best move I ever made.
How has the local scene changed since you’ve moved here?
Oh man, I still think it’s the best place for a person who’s from somewhere else to come and take it to the next level. I often tell the younger comedians that if you’re always the best guy on the show in Boston or wherever you’re from, then you should probably try to challenge yourself and go to New York. I hardly ever recommend you go to L.A., unless you’re a really handsome young guy…or girl. I just don’t think it’s a great place for stand-up.
I don’t know how it’s changed. There’s always been great comedians here, and the shows are great. I guess there are more people doing it, and there are more outlets and venues. The only thing is, there’s some survivors’ guilt to it. I’m not ten times better than a lot of these younger guys who are working open mics and doing bringer shows or getting spots at clubs, but I got lucky in certain situations, doing Last Comic Standing, or just the timing of when I started. There’s a little bit of survivors’ guilt. But I feel like this is the place to become a great stand-up. If you get discovered and make a remarkable career at it, there’s a lot of luck involved. But I don’t think you can reach your potential anywhere else as well as New York. That’s always been the case.
You mentioned Last Comic Standing. As a veteran of the second and third seasons, what’s your assessment of the current incarnation?
I can’t watch it, because it makes me so nervous. It brings back all the anxiety I had when I was doing it. Everything’s on the line every night; it’s so nerve-wracking. I only know two of the people who are still on. I remember working with Rod Man–I really like that guy–and Joe Machi I think is a phenom. It’s amazing; I bet you there are people who think, “Oh, that’s an act.” But he’s the same offstage. He’s unbelievable.
Gary Gulman’s It’s About Time Fall Tour
September 11-13 Stand Up Scottsdale, Scottsdale
October 9-11 Helium Comedy Club, Philadelphia
October 16-19 Laughing Skull, Atlanta
October 22 Largo, Los Angeles
November 6-8 Tacoma Comedy Club, Tacoma
November 15 Sixth & I, Washington, D.C.
November 20 Turf Club, Minneapolis
November 21 Lincoln Hall, Chicago
November 29-30 Comedy Bar, Toronto
December 5 The Sinclair, Boston
December 13 Bowery Ballroom, New York